The Florida Panthers signed Sasha Barkov to a six-year contract extension Tuesday afternoon and it paid immediate dividends.
About eight hours after Barkov put ink to paper, he put puck to the back of the net in helping lead the Panthers to a 5-1 win over Toronto in Sunrise.
“Nick Bjugstad told me every time someone signs a contract they score in their next game,’’ said Barkov, who tied the score at 1 in the second period. “So that was mine. It was because of that.”
Florida heads into the All-Star break riding a three-game winning streak and currently has a five-point lead on either Detroit atop the Atlantic Division.
Since losing four consecutive games, the Panthers have outscored Chicago, Tampa Bay and Toronto 14-3 during their most recent winning streak.
The Panthers’ first game back after the break is at Eastern Conference leading Washington on Tuesday.
“I think we’re playing some good hockey,” said Roberto Luongo, who extended his franchise-record home winning streak to eight with 22 saves and tied Tony Esposito for seventh all-time with 423 wins.
“We’re getting some goals which is really nice. It’s not going to happen all year round. When it happens, we’ll take them.”
The Panthers got off to a quick start against the Leafs and were outshooting Toronto 7-0 before things got stale quickly.
Florida was held without a shot for the final 11 minutes of the first period and went into the break down 1-0 after Nazem Kadri took advantage of a downed Erik Gudbranson and waltzed in on Luongo.
The Panthers awoke with a flurry of goals in the second, scoring three times to give Luongo a little bit of breathing room.
Barkov tied it 3:49 into the period after weaving through center ice after taking a Brian Campbell pass.
Barkov walked in on James Reimer and beat him with a slick backhanded roof shot.
“This was a big day for a kid like that,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “I’m sure he didn’t sleep all night. I know I wouldn’t have.”
The Panthers took the lead for good minutes late when Vincent Trocheck and Jussi Jokinen played a little give-and-go, with Jokinen sliding the puck to a hard-braking Trocheck in front of the net.
Jokinen got a goal of his own to make it 3-1 with 5:47 remaining in the period as his snap shot off a Reilly Smith pass zipped past Reimer.
“This is great. We had a great weekend and didn’t want a let down,’’ Gallant said.
The Panthers kept the onslaught going as they scored two more times in the third.
Smith got his goal to make it 4-1 as he took advantage of Reimer being stuck on the ice and Toronto defenseman Martin Marincin trying to fill the void.
Minutes later, Alex Petrovic fired off a shot from 50 feet away that somehow found its way home with 12:17 remaining.
That puck will remain with Petrovic for some time as it was his first NHL goal.
“It’s a good feeling, nice to have that going into the break,’’ Petrovic said. “We have something special here. We just need to keep that going.”
▪ Barkov was the center of attention at BB&T Center on Tuesday afternoon as his six-year extension that will pay him around $6 million annually became official.
The second-overall pick of the 2013 NHL Draft played in his 164th game with the Panthers over the course of the past three years and recorded his 91st point with his second-period goal.
Barkov’s contract runs through 2022 as the Panthers say they’re committed to locking up their young stars.
“In the past, this organization has drafted players, developed them and off they’ve gone,” general manager Dale Tallon said.
“It was a cycle that wasn’t very effective. The commitment [from owners Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu] is to build a winning team and win the Stanley Cup. You can’t do that unless you lock up your core guys for a long time and be committed to them.”
▪ Petrovic was the proud recipient of the team’s “Spacey In Space” sweatshirt — which goes to the most deserving player following a victory — after scoring his first NHL goal.
Now, fans can get their own — well, once the team orders more.
The team sold all 150 replicas after initially putting them up for sale before Tuesday’s game.
The sweatshirts were $40, with the team saying proceeds go to the Florida Panther Foundation as well as the Kevin Spacey Foundation.
“Yeah, but the original one is ours and it’s in our locker room,” Barkov said.