GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Panthers were huge underdogs coming into Thursday’s game against the streaking Coyotes.
With Roberto Luongo in net, however, the Panthers believe they always have a chance regardless of what the oddsmakers say.
Two days after upsetting San Jose, Florida couldn’t find a late goal and lost 2-1 to Phoenix at Jobing.com Arena.
“He’s stuck with it and doesn’t get rattled,” coach Peter Horachek said of Luongo, who is 3-3-1 with a shutout since coming back to the Panthers in a March 4 trade with the Canucks. He’s giving up an average of 2.42 goals with a .926 save percentage since his return.
The two goals Luongo gave up Thursday came in the opening period, and he wasn’t at fault in either. The first came on an early power play in which Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s long shot struck teammate Martin Hanzal in the skate while standing in front of the net. The puck snapped right back to Radim Vrbata who one-timed it into the back of the net.
Phoenix’s final goal — which turned out to be the game-winner — came late in the first period on a shot Luongo never had a chance at as he was run over by Mikkel Boedker.
The two lay in a heap as Antoine Vermette scored into an open net to make it 2-0 with 1:22 left.
Luongo and Horachek were told by the referee that Florida defenseman Dylan Olsen hooked Boedker and that if there was any penalty to be called during the play, it would have been on the Panthers.
“They felt our guy pushed him into me,” Luongo said afterward. “I felt the guy was already in the blue [paint] when contact was made. It makes it tough for me to do my job when I end up in the corner. It’s frustrating because you want to have the chance to make a save. When you’re taken out of the play, you can’t do anything about it.”
Said Horachek: “They felt Olsen was doing it, but without the ability to look at video, it’s hard. It was obviously not the right call. It should have come back. But those things happen and you have to deal with them. Everyone does.”
Phoenix, which beat the Panthers 3-1 in Sunrise earlier this month, had a number of chances against Luongo and the Panthers the rest of the way but couldn’t get anything else through.
Early in the third period, Luongo hit the deck after getting caught by the stick of Martin Erat. As Erat was swinging around the cage, Luongo went out to make some contact, and Erat’s stick got under his mask and knocked him to the ice.
After being looked at by head athletic trainer David Zenobi, Luongo got up and continued the game.
“I don’t think it was intentional, but they’re a big team, like to play the body,” Luongo said. “That was a physical game.”
Florida finally scored when Scott Gomez got his second of the season with 4:07 left.
Gomez whipped a shot past goalie Mike Smith’s glove to give the Panthers hope. Despite playing a skater up for the final minute, Florida couldn’t get anything else past the former Tampa Bay netminder.
“We knew it was going to be a tight game against these guys,” Brian Campbell said. “I didn’t think we were at our best, and that’s frustrating. We could have given a better effort.”
Gomez said he has gone longer stretches during his career between goals, but unless he’s talking about months away from the game because of a work stoppage, it’s hard to fathom that math.
His goal Thursday was the first he scored since the team’s first game of the season late in the opening period in Florida’s win at Dallas.
Gomez, 34, went six months between scoring on Oct. 3 and again Tuesday.
“It came a little too late, and we didn’t get the two points, so it really doesn’t matter to me,” said Gomez, who was a healthy scratch for big chunks of this season before becoming the full-time fourth line center after the trade deadline.
“My job is, I don’t know when it started, but I’m so into passing the puck. My job is to get the wingers the puck. I’ve been yelled at my whole career for not shooting.”
Gomez scored 33 goals in 2005-06 with the Devils and averaged over 16 goals through his first nine seasons. His scoring has slowed considerably.
After scoring 148 goals in 706 games with the Devils and Rangers, he has 25 in 272 games over the past five seasons with Montreal, San Jose (two goals last year) and the Panthers.
Florida has placed Gomez on waivers twice this season, so this well could be the end of his 14-year career. Gomez is 28 games away from playing in 1,000 NHL games with 12 games left in this season.
“I have to give a lot of credit to him. He missed all those games and never complained,” Horachek said. “He’s such a positive influence on the bench, always says the right things. He’s been a very good pro. If anyone has had a rough situation, it’s him. And he’s handled it.”