Five takeaways from the Florida Panthers’ 4-3 shootout win over the New York Rangers on Saturday night at the BB&T Center.
1. History at home. The Panthers won their eighth home game in a row, setting a record for the 25-year-old franchise.
Aleksander Barkov and Vincent Trocheck scored in the shootout for Florida. Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo made 34 saves through overtime and made two more in the shootout.
Jonathan Huberdeau had one goal and one assist, and Trocheck also had two assists. Frank Vatrano and Jamie McGinn also scored for Florida.
2. Trade pays early dividend. Right winger Vatrano, who was acquired from the Boston Bruins on Feb. 22, was impressive in his Panthers debut.
Now only did he score the goal, but he had a game-high-tying five shots and was plus-one for the night.
Vatrano had been out of the lineup due to an ankle injury, but he played a career-high 19:05, skating on the second line with Trocheck and Huberdeau.
“I haven’t played in about a month,” Vatrano said. “It was probably the most minutes I’ve played in two years (since his AHL days).”
With 8:13 gone in the second period, the Panthers extended their lead to 2-0 on the goal by Vatrano, who scored on a one-timer from the slot while receiving a pass from Trocheck.
The Panthers have high hopes for Vatrano, a 23-year-old who scored 10 goals in 44 games with the Bruins last season.
He scored 36 goals in 36 AHL games in 2015-2016, compiling 55 points, and Panthers scouts surely saw that when making the move to acquire him in exchange for a third-round pick this June.
3. The Panthers are more than just good at home. They are the hottest team in the NHL since Jan. 30, going 15-3-1 in their past 19 games regardless of venue.
Another good sign for the Panthers was that they won on a night in which they did not play particularly well. Luongo said he was upset at himself for the two third-period goals he allowed.
The first of those, by Mika Zibanejad just 17 seconds into the third period, and it was soft. Zibanejad scored off the rush, beating Luongo short side with a backhander. But Luongo wasn’t screened and should have had a clean look at the puck.
“I wasn’t too happy with my third period,” Luongo said. “I thought I should have had both of those.”
Another Panthers star, Barkov, also played below his extremely high level. Through overtime, Barkov took just one shot and was minus-one for the night. He atoned with his shootout goal, but it still was far from his best game.
4. The Devils made them do it. The Panthers (75 points) put the pressure on the Devils, who played later Saturday night.
Although the Panthers are also chasing the Columbus Blue Jackets (77 points), the Devils figure to be easier prey: The Devils on Saturday started a six-game road trip that swings way out west (Vegas Golden Knights, Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks) and then crosses back east to face the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Devils could be crushed by the time this trip is done. And the Panthers, with three games in hand, figure to take advantage.
5. Forget the power play. This is a power couple. Emily Pfalzer, who won a gold medal last month as part of the USA women’s hockey team, dropped the ceremonial first puck preceding Saturday’s game.
Pfalzer, who is dating Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson, talked to the media at the BB&T Center after Saturday’s first period.
“It’s awesome to share this (experience) with Mike,” she said. “To be celebrated and to grow women’s hockey is amazing.”
A native of Buffalo, Pfalzer said meeting Serena and Venus Williams was a highlight of her post-Olympic media blitz, which also included trips to Los Angeles, New York City, Washington DC and Tampa.
As for the Panthers recent run of success, Pfalzer said: “I’ve been on the road, but I try to catch as many games as possible. To see them on their win streak is awesome.”
Matheson, by the way, played a strong game on Saturday with five shots on goal. He also drew a penalty that led to a Panthers goal.