Florida Panthers

Bittersweet Sixteen: Barkov honors Fernandez, leads Panthers to win with OT goal

Florida Panthers Jared McCain raises his arms as he approaches teammates hugging Aleksander Barkov who scored the winning goal in overtime as they defeat the New Jersey Devils in the season opener at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida on Thurs., Oct.13, 2016.
Florida Panthers Jared McCain raises his arms as he approaches teammates hugging Aleksander Barkov who scored the winning goal in overtime as they defeat the New Jersey Devils in the season opener at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida on Thurs., Oct.13, 2016. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

During warmups on Thursday night, all the Florida Panthers wore No. 16 as a homage to late Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez.

Only one got to wear that number during Florida’s season opener.

Sasha Barkov represented it well.

Barkov, who has worn No. 16 since arriving in South Florida in 2013, scored the game-winner with 2:12 left in overtime as the Panthers dropped the Devils 2-1 at BB&T Center to kick the 2016-17 season off right.

After the game, Barkov said he didn’t follow baseball all that much, but like many in the Florida locker room, Fernandez was his favorite player.

“I knew him; I knew he played in Miami and it was a big loss for South Florida and all of America,” Barkov said. “It felt great to honor him. It was a big loss for South Florida sports, and I feel bad for his family and everyone with the Miami Marlins.

“It was a big loss, he was my favorite baseball player. I missed the chance to meet him, but he was No. 16 with the Marlins and I’m No. 16 here. I thought we would get the chance to meet, but we never did.”

When reminded Barkov wore No. 16 on the night the Panthers honored Fernandez, coach Gerard Gallant smiled wide.

“That’s unbelievable, really,” he said.

Thursday’s game was a good, old-fashioned goalie duel between a pair of old teammates from Vancouver.

READ MORE: Florida Panthers go all in to honor Jose Fernandez

Roberto Luongo, who left Vancouver not long after Cory Schneider did, made 23 saves in his first game back from offseason hip surgery. Luongo didn’t have much to do in the overtime session, as the Panthers bottled the Devils down deep in their zone, but he saved the night with a pair of great saves in the final 90 seconds.

Schneider was traded to New Jersey at the 2013 draft, which was held in Newark and saw Florida take Barkov second overall. A few months later the Canucks traded Luongo as well, shipping him back to the Panthers.

“I think Jersey is a team that doesn’t give up much; they play tight,” Luongo said. “They are a patient team, and it’s hard to create chances. We stuck to our game plan, I thought, for the majority of the night.”

The Panthers scored their first goal of the season midway through the opening period when Jonathan Marchessault knocked a puck off New Jersey’s Ben Lovejoy and past Schneider.

Marchessault, who signed with the Panthers as a free agent from Tampa Bay, took a pass from Barkov and sent it toward the net — something the Panthers like seeing from a guy who is getting the best chance of his career playing on a line with Barkov and Jaromir Jagr.

“He’s a skill guy and you want him to shoot the puck; that’s what we talk about all the time,” Gallant said. “Jagr had a bunch of chances; they just didn’t go in. When you shoot, good things happen.”

The Devils evened things up late in the period with P.A. Parenteau — playing with his new team after just being picked off waivers from the Islanders — scoring with 28.7 seconds remaining.

The teams combined for 13 shots in a scoreless second period.

After warming up in Fernandez jerseys, the Panthers dropped the 2015-16 Atlantic Division championship banner from the rafters.

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