After watching the rival Tampa Bay Lightning tie the score early in the third period, the Panthers needed the perfect shot to beat goalie Ben Bishop and his Bolts.
With less than five minutes left, Reilly Smith delivered.
Smith’s goal from the left circle beat Bishop and led the Panthers to a much-needed 3-1 victory over the Lightning at BB&T Center. Florida is now 1-0-1 against the Lightning after losing in Tampa Bay in a shootout last month.
Derek MacKenzie iced the win with an empty net goal with 35 seconds left.
"Reilly’s got a great shot,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “That’s what he does best for us. He shoots the puck like that and he found a hole there. It wasn’t a bad goal, it was a great shot.”
Monday’s game, unlike the first meeting in Tampa, was a master’s course in goaltending put on by Roberto Luongo and Bishop — two of the best goalies in the league, much less the Sunshine State.
Luongo made 34 saves — some of which coming in spectacular fashion — as he held the high-scoring Lightning to just one goal. Bishop also made some slick saves, especially in the second period, and ended with 31 saves.
Florida took the 1-0 lead when Jonathan Marchessault scored his team-leading seventh goal of the season as the Panthers took advantage of an early power play chance minutes into the game.
The two teams traded optimal scoring chances with the two goalies making spectacular saves.
Tampa Bay tied the score early in the third when Ondrej Palat got to a puck that defenseman Alex Petrovic couldn’t clear from behind the cage and jammed it past Roberto Luongo after the Florida goalie lost sight of the puck in trying to get back in position.
Luongo complained to officials for goalie interference to no avail and the game was tied.
"At first I thought it was a good goal, but then when I saw it on the jumbotron I kinda felt like, as he tried to shoot it, he pushed my leg inside the net with the puck,” Luongo said. “I don’t know if that’s interference or not, but I would have liked them to review it."
Late in the game, Smith stole the puck from Victor Hedman at the blue line, drove through the Tampa zone and whipped a shot over Bishop’s shoulder and into the back of the net.
"I think they just got a little confused there,” Smith said. “They were swinging all over the place. I was lucky enough that (Victor Hedman) bobbled it a little bit. I just tried to get something on net, and luckily it went it."
▪ Jaromir Jagr left a game early for the second consecutive time with Gallant saying it was a similar problem. On Monday morning, Gallant categorized it as a ‘charley horse.’
The Panthers have two days before San Jose visits Sunrise.
“He plays hard, he works hard and he had a real good game going there,” Gallant said. “I don’t think it’s the exact same injury — it’s on the other side — but it’s the same thing. It’s cramping. It’s not a tore groin or anything like that. It’s just cramping.”