St. Louis scored three goals in the first period to knock Florida goalie Roberto Luongo out of the game, and the Blues held on from there to capture a 5-3 win over the Panthers on Friday.
Jonathan Huberdeau scored with 9:13 remaining in the game to cut the Blues’ lead to 4-3, but the Panthers couldn’t quite close the three-goal gap that St. Louis opened up in the second period.
Alexander Steen gave the Blues some breathing room with a top-shelf goal with 7:43 to go, and Blues goalie Brian Elliot held off late flurry, which included a Panthers power play with 7:39 to go in the game.
“You always believe you’re going to come back,” Huberdeau said, “but what killed us I think is the goal that came right after.”
The Panthers began their attempt at a comeback when Aaron Ekblad ripped a shot past Blues goalie Brian Elliott’s glove with 9:16 in the second period to cut the lead to 4-2.
But Florida missed too many easy opportunities, including a chance with just over 13 minutes to go in the third period when a free puck glided sideways through the crease with Elliott out of position.
“Almost,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “And that’s why we didn’t get two points tonight. Like I said, we had some good chances. I think it was 4-2 when we hit the goal post, and then we scored shortly after that. And then we gave up a cheap goal, a bad goal. We didn’t play good defense on that fifth goal, and the game was over.”
Though the Panthers finished with a 32-28 advantage in shots on goal, the Blues seemed a little bit sharper all night.
A series of nice passes in the offensive zone freed Jay Bouwmeester up on the left side to fire on backup goalie Al Montoya, who finished with 15 saves in relief of Luongo. Vladimir Tarasenko made quick work of the rebound to put the Blues up 4-1 in the second period.
Gallant said the decision to replace Luongo was made to “shake up the team.” He did not commit to a starting goaltender for Saturday’s game against Nashville.
Derek MacKenzie had given the Panthers an early lead when he buried home a rebound off a blocked Shawn Thornton shot with 14:55 to go in the first period. This wasn’t Mackenzie’s first taste of success against the Blues -- he scored two goals in a Dec. 1 win in St. Louis.
Not much went right for the Panthers after that.
David Backes evened the game at 1-1 after he played the puck off the boards in the neutral zone and deked out Aaron Ekblad.
Three minutes later, Florida defenseman Brian Campbell gave Colton Parayko room to shoot, and Jaden Schwartz knocked in the rebound with 4:03 to go in the first to put the Blues up 2-1.
Then, after a Vincent Trocheck delay of game penalty, Robby Fabbri pushed the St. Louis lead to 3-1 with a power play goal with 18.9 to go in the first period.
As Montoya took the ice to begin the second period, the Panthers failed to provide necessary offensive support. St. Louis killed off two straight Panthers power plays early in the second period as Florida struggled to possess the puck. They managed just two shots on goal during four straight minutes with a man advantage.
▪ Friday’s loss against the Blues kicked off a four-game stretch for the Panthers against teams that would currently make the playoffs. The Panthers play Nashville on Saturday before facing Pittsburgh and San Jose.
“They’re all tests,” Vincent Trocheck said. “They’re all great teams like I said. But we’ve been playing against great teams the last couple weeks, and we know what we’re able to do against them when we play our game. I think we’re one of the best teams in the league right now.”
▪ The Panthers recalled John McFarland from their AHL affiliate in Portland, Maine. In a corresponding move, Florida moved Corban Knight to Portland.
Friday marked Luongo’s 907th career start, which pushed him past Glenn Hall for sixth all time.
Saturday: Predators at Panthers
When, where: 7 p.m.; BB&T Center.
TV, radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640, WNMA 1210.
Series: Nashville leads 11-9-3.
Scouting report: After losing to the Predators twice last season, Florida won for the first time in Nashville in December since the Predators’ second season in 1999. Nashville had lost three of its past four heading into Friday’s game in Tampa.