For the first time all season, the Panthers could sort of relax in the third period.
With a four-goal lead and Roberto Luongo in net, Florida finally got to enjoy a blowout of its own design and snapped a three-game winless streak with a 4-1 rout of the San Jose Sharks at BB&T Center.
“I think we really stuck to our game plan, and we were ready to go right from the start,’’ said Jimmy Hayes, who gave Florida a 1-0 lead midway through the first.
“We continued playing throughout the game. We got the quick start and kept the pressure on them. And Luongo was played like he does. He keeps us in every game.’’
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Florida has scored at least four goals in two consecutive games, although it would like to forget Saturday’s 6-4 loss to the visiting Flames.
The Panthers are 2-1 in games in which they score at least four times.
In 13 games this season, the Panthers have scored two goals or less in 10; they’ve scored four in each of the other three.
“We’ll take them when they come because this is a league where you don’t see many games like that,’’ said Luongo, who wasn’t challenged much as the Sharks mustered just 22 shots on goal as the Panthers blocked 17 shots.
“It’s kind of a nice change of pace when they do happen. As a goalie you take those and move on to the next one.’’
Florida looked as lifeless as the Sharks did in the first 10 minutes of the game, but Hayes’ second goal in as many games seemed to ignite the Panthers’ spirit.
Less than 90 seconds after Hayes made it 1-0, Aleksander Barkov whipped a wicked wrister that shot off the back of the cage with such force even Barkov wasn’t sure it counted. It did, and Florida led 2-0.
“I thought we played a very good game, got a lot of goals and played defense,’’ Barkov said. “We showed we could win if we scored four. We played better defense, didn’t give up great scoring chances. We played smart.’’
Unlike past games in which the Panthers opened with a two-goal lead, the opponent didn’t come back.
Florida took its first 3-0 lead of the season in the second when Derek MacKenzie scored off an Aaron Ekblad offering.
In the third, Tomas Fleischmann broke his long goal drought by muscling in front of the net and knocking a nice pass from Shawn Thornton past Antti Niemi.
Fleischmann had been benched on Saturday after not scoring in Florida’s first 11 games.
“It’s good to see a guy come back and get a goal,’’ coach Gerard Gallant said of Fleischmann, who hadn’t scored in 21 games dating to March23.
San Jose spoiled Luongo’s shutout bid when Joe Thornton tapped in a loose puck with 9:25 remaining.
Florida has now won six of its past seven games against the Sharks. Last season, Luongo made 52 saves as Florida upset the Sharks in San Jose.
The two teams meet again and conclude the season series at SAP Center next week.
“We played a hell of a game,’’ Gallant said. “That was the best 60 minutes we’ve played all year. We’ve played a lot of good games, but that was a great performance by our group. You couldn’t draw it up any better.’’
Winger Sean Bergenheim took part in Tuesday’s morning skate but wasn’t in the lineup against the Sharks.
Bergenheim has missed the past five games with what the team is calling a lower-body injury. He could be back Friday against the Islanders.
“We’re getting closer,’’ Gallant said. “Hopefully we’ll have him back in the near future. He’s a forechecker, an energy guy and goes to the net hard. When he’s in our lineup, he’s noticeable.’’
▪ With the Panthers having so many military veterans within the organization — including owner Vinnie Viola, a West Point graduate — Tuesday’s Veterans Day celebration took on a different feel than in past years.
For the first time, the Panthers wore special camouflage jerseys during warmups. During the first period, the team made the presentations of $25,000 from the Viola and Panther foundations to a pair of local veterans charities.
The team also used a timeout to honor the Canadian military as well.
“This is the least we can do to show we have respect for all the services,’’ said Eric Joyce, the general manager of Florida’s minor-league team in San Antonio, who is also a West Point graduate.