Erik Gudbranson called Florida’s game Friday night “boring” and he wasn’t wrong.
Despite it being the hockey equivalent of a large shot of NyQuil, coach Gerard Gallant seemed to love every minute of it as his Panthers continued their hot tear with a 2-0 win over the host Hurricanes.
Florida’s third consecutive victory was also its eighth in the past 10 road games. Overall, the Panthers have won nine of 12 to stay in the playoff conversation.
“We played three games in four nights and play again Sunday so we had to play smart,’’ Jaromir Jagr said. “We knew we wouldn’t have the legs, so we had to stick together.
“You have to find a way to win. I told the kids it was like a playoff game. All you need is one chance but take advantage. They shut you down all game, but take advantage.”
The first two periods were a non-prescription cure for insomnia as both teams skated around and fumbled the puck on bad ice blamed on N.C. State’s winter graduation ceremony held a few hours prior to the puck dropping.
The third didn’t offer up much early, but the Panthers — playing their ninth road game in the past few weeks — were happy to keep things simple, or as Roberto Luongo echoed Gudbranson, boring was good.
“We see how the standings are, there are a lot of good points, so we’re just trying to accumulate points,” said Luongo, who recorded his 70th career shutout and second this season by stopping 24 shots.
“The shutout is nice, but we’re all about the win. We’re really starting to play well as a five-man unit, not giving up odd-man rushes. That’s where it begins, the biggest difference for our team right now.”
Florida took the lead for good 4:09 into the third when Jonathan Huberdeau made a great play holding the puck off the boards and looked toward the net.
Huberdeau had a future Hall of Famer in Jagr around the cage as well as defenseman Willie Mitchell — who came into the game with no goals.
Huberdeau didn’t pass to Jagr.
“And he chose Willie Mitchell,’’ Jagr said with a laugh. “It’s time to retire. Bye. I’m done after this one.”
Mitchell flashed to the right side of the net and one-timed the perfect pass from Huberdeau, beating Cam Ward.
“He made a great pass like he always does,” said Mitchell, who hadn’t scored since doing it against the Hurricanes last spring.
“I don’t think the puck hit the ice again, it was right on my stick. It was nice to score again, I don’t score a ton. … I knew it was big when I scored it and that felt good. If you don’t score a lot of them, you want them to be big ones.”
Florida continued to play lock-down hockey as Luongo pushed back whatever the Hurricanes had to offer.
In the final seconds, Reilly Smith blocked a shot then fired the puck into an empty net for the final goal of the night.
Smith extended his team lead in goals as the empty-netter was his 11th.
Smith, who came to the Panthers in a July trade with Boston, scored on each game of the four-game (3-1-0) road trip that started with a loss to the Bruins last Saturday.
“There wasn’t much offense so both goalies had to make some key saves,” said Gallant, whose team has won five consecutive over the Hurricanes dating to last season.
“Louie was a real plus for us. Big Willie got his first of the year and it was a great play. Good for him. It’s good to see. It was a real nice goal, a timely goal for us.”
▪ Huberdeau continues to be one of the Panthers’ team leaders in dishing out the puck as his pass to Mitchell was his 15th assist of the season.
Former Carolina winger Jussi Jokinen leads the Panthers with 16 assists.
▪ The Panthers won both of their meetings with the Hurricanes in Raleigh this season and have won their past three at PNC Arena.
The season series between the two concludes in the final game of the regular season in Sunrise on April 9.