The longest winning streak in Panthers history is now the longest winning streak in the NHL this season.
Drake’s song Back to Back blared in the visiting locker room Tuesday night after the Panthers beat the Buffalo Sabres 5-1 to add on to their franchise-record streak with a tenth consecutive victory. Florida’s previous long winning streak was seven, surpassed against the Rangers on Saturday.
Having won six straight at BB&T Center, the Panthers resumed the solid road play which began their run of victories, winning for the fourth consecutive road game and ninth time in 11 games away from South Florida.
Florida’s victory was also the ninth consecutive trip to Buffalo in which the Panthers earned a point in the standings. The Panthers have also won 16 of 19 games since Thanksgiving.
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“We’ve been playing really well on the road. We try to keep our game simple,” said goalie Roberto Luongo, who made 31 saves in his team-record eighth-straight victory.
“It’s nice to get off on the right foot,” said center Derek MacKenzie, who scored the winning goal midway through the second period.
The Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers and Eastern Conference-leading Washington Capitals had all won nine consecutive games at one point this season. The Panthers are the first team in the league to win 10 in a row.
The Panthers have earned 52 points in 40 games, and with the Canadiens losing to the Flyers on Tuesday, the Panthers now have a five-point lead in the Atlantic Division. They still trail the Capitals by nine points (with one more game played) in the conference standings.
“We’re not really focused on the streak too much,” Luongo said. “We’re excited to be part of it, but at the same time we are focused on playing hard and winning games and that stuff will kind of take care of itself.”
The top line and the fourth line each produced two goals as the Panthers improved to 16-0-1 this season when scoring more than three times.
Jonathan Huberdeau and Corban Knight each had a goal and an assist. All-Star Jaromir Jagr opened the scoring with his team-leading 14th goal of the season. It was Jagr’s 736th career goal, moving him within five of Brett Hull for third all-time.
The Panthers won going away even though they were outshot 32-27 and spent just 28 seconds on the power play. Florida took six penalties which resulted in five power plays for the Sabres.
“We took too many penalties,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “You’re not going to win too many games on the road taking that many penalties.”
MacKenzie put the Panthers up 2-1 about nine minutes into the second period on a rush up the right side. His wide-open wrist shot from the right circle was one of just eight shots on goal for the Panthers in the period.
Howden worked hard to set up the insurance goal with 14:25 left to play, falling to the ice before recovering the puck in the left corner and sending it back to Knight.
Huberdeau scored on a feed from Aleksander Barkov with 3:54 left to play and Brandon Pirri added an empty-netter with 1:11 remaining.
The Panthers killed off two penalties in the second period after allowing the Sabres to tie the game on a power play less than three minutes into the period.
Buffalo rookie sensation Jack Eichel, taken second overall at BB&T Center this past June, drew the attention of Erik Gudbranson in front of the net and set up Ryan O’Reilly with a no-look backhand feed.
Eichel has 12 points in his last eight games. He did not record a point in the first two games against the Panthers.
The Panthers’ leading assist man set up the leading scorer to give Florida a 1-0 lead midway through the first period. Huberdeau dangled two Sabres defenders down the left wing before sending a cross-crease pass to Jagr for a one-timer.
“You know when you pass it to him he is going to have a great finish,” said Huberdeau, who has recorded eight of his 23 assists during the Panthers’ 10-game winning streak.
Luongo earned a shutout in his last three games in Buffalo and kept the scoreless streak going with 12 first period saves, including two on the penalty kill, and one on an in-tight shot from Eichel.
The Panthers have allowed only 18 first period goals this season, best in the NHL, while the Sabres have scored a league-low 15 first period goals.