Jaromir Jagr came to the Panthers with the thought he would help their much maligned offense.
And even though the future Hall of Famer didn’t find the scoresheet Saturday, Jagr certainly had an effect as Florida recorded its fifth-biggest output of the season in a 5-3 win over visiting Buffalo to snap a losing streak at four games.
“He was outstanding,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “He makes your team a lot better, gives your team a a lot of confidence.”
Jagr made his Florida debut Saturday afternoon just hours after he arrived at BB&T Center and headed to the home locker room for the first time.
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The 43-year-old winger — who shares a line with 19-year-old center Sasha Barkov as well as 21-year-old Jonathan Huberdeau — ended up playing 21 shifts (17:09) with three shots on goal.
He will get another chance to snap his eight-game scoreless streak when Florida plays host to Tampa Bay at 5 p.m. Sunday.
“It was crazy for me since they told me about [the trade] at 4 on Thursday so I didn’t have much time to pack up and get down here,” Jagr said in an introductory postgame news conference.
“It’s tough to just go to the game without any practice or preparation. We need every point we can get but this was new for me, not practicing and just jumping in.”
Not only was Jagr on the ice for both of Brandon Pirri’s goals, but Pirri — who was activated off the injured list before the game — credited Jagr for getting him to take the shot in the first place.
Pirri’s goals came just over a minute apart and tied the score at 2 past the midway point of the second period.
“He told me to shoot the puck, said ‘you got it,’ ” Pirri said. “I knew I had to be the shooter there, [Brian Campbell] put it in my wheelhouse and I teed off on it.”
Buffalo, the worst team in the NHL, jumped to a two-goal lead on the Panthers even when it looked like it didn’t want to.
The Sabres, a team in tank mode as it hopes to hold the top pick in the NHL draft when it is held in Sunrise come June, was held to just 14 shots on goal yet found a way to get three past Roberto Luongo.
Buffalo’s final goal tied the score at 3 with 7:06 remaining; the Sabres were being outshot 40-13 at the time.
Yet just when it looked like the Panthers would go to overtime despite thoroughly outplaying an opponent, Scottie Upshall came to the rescue.
Upshall, whom the Panthers have been trying to trade before Monday’s deadline, took a feed from Derek MacKenzie in the slot and fired a wrist shot past Michal Neuvirth (42 saves) with six minutes left.
Buffalo didn’t make much noise after that as MacKenzie put the Sabres out of their misery with an empty-net goal in the final seconds.
“It felt great, nice to chip in and get on the board again,” Upshall said. “It was nice to start a big weekend here with a win.”
Said Gallant: “It was tough seeing it tied 3-3. Fortunately for us, it’s good to see your so-called fourth line get a goal for us.”
Florida at least kept pace with Boston for the final playoff spot. The Bruins opened their lead on the Panthers to four points after beating the Devils in overtime Friday.
With the Bruins playing host to an Arizona team that hasn't won since Feb. 9 on Saturday evening, the Panthers couldn’t afford to lose to the Sabres.
So the postseason hunt continues. Jagr should help things out.
“I’m going to do my best, that’s why I’m here,” Jagr said. “I’ve played the game so many years, when you add Europe I think it’s the most ever, so I have a lot of experience. This makes me a little more excited. This is a new life.”
The Panthers made another trade for an aging, former All-Star on Saturday, sending winger Tomas Fleischmann to Anaheim for a future third round pick and current minor-leaguer Dany Heatley.
Heatley, who scored four goals in the 2003 All-Star Game held in Sunrise while with the Thrashers, has battled injuries the past few years and is currently in the AHL.
The Panthers will keep Heatley in the minors for the time being with Tallon saying Heatley will get a chance with Florida if his play picks up.
“I think Dany can go down and give us some offense down the stretch,” Tallon said. “He has to prove to me that he can do it. He’s definitely done it before. He’s had some injury-plagued years so it’s not easy. But I told him [Saturday] he’ll get a shot with us if he earns that shot. I hope he goes to San Antonio and finds his way.”
Fleischmann led Florida in scoring during his first two seasons with the Panthers but the past two seasons have been a battle for him.
After scoring 39 goals with 96 points in his first two years here, he ended with 15 goals and 49 points in the final two.
“The performance just wasn’t there,” Tallon said. “He lost his confidence and just needs a fresh start.”