Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers’ focus is on winning, finishing road trip strong

It has been a tumultuous time for the Panthers what with popular — and successful — coach Gerard Gallant being fired just as a tough six-game trip began with a loss at Carolina.

Things could have gone south for the Panthers in a hurry, but general manager and interim coach Tom Rowe as well as assistant coaches Dave Barr, Robb Tallas and Scott Allen worked to smooth things over by getting the team focused on going back to work.

The Panthers responded as well as anyone could have hoped.

On Thursday night, they won their fifth overtime game of the season in Detroit to give them three out of four points since Rowe took over.

Florida’s defense, led by a pair of great performances from goalie Roberto Luongo, held Chicago and Detroit to a goal each.

The Panthers’ trip continues in Canada on Saturday against the Ottawa Senators. Rowe gave the team a day away from the ice on Friday.

“I think we were all sad when Gerard was let go, but we are professional athletes who want to win,” said Luongo, who made 20 saves, including a big one just before Sasha Barkov won it in overtime on Thursday.

“We had 24 hours to digest the news. But once you’re back on the ice, you do what you know and you don’t think about the other things.

“At the end of the day, it’s about guys in the locker room and not who is behind the bench. Coming together as a team, playing as a team is what will make us successful.”

Panthers captain Derek MacKenzie and other players praised Rowe for the way he handled a sticky situation and explained the rationale for the coaching move.

Rowe, who has extensive coaching experience in lesser leagues, made his NHL debut behind the bench at Chicago’s United Center on Tuesday night.

A veteran of 357 games as a player for the Capitals, Whalers and Red Wings, Rowe got his first NHL victory as a coach on Thursday.

The Panthers likely closed out their Joe Louis Arena experience with wins in seven of their final eight games there.

Unless Detroit and Florida meet in the playoffs, Thursday was Florida’s last game at “The Joe.”

“We have had some good luck here,” Rowe said.

Thursday was also an important divisional victory, as the Panthers stay close to the pack gunning for a playoff spot.

There are three games left on the trip and two are against teams from the Atlantic Division.

“The most important thing is we are in these games, we’re not giving up a ton of shots and opportunities,” MacKenzie said.

“Although I didn’t think we came out [in Detroit] the way we should, we responded to it and were in it until the end. We’ll take the positives from these games and move on.”

Said Luongo: “We’re not looking at the standings right now because it is so early. We’re just trying to become better as a team, try to win as many games as we can. That stuff will take care of itself. Sometimes those things can get overwhelming, so you just focus on what’s in front of you.”

▪ The Panthers are expected to start Luongo for the third consecutive game on Saturday.

In Florida’s last trip to Ottawa just two weeks ago, Luongo made 39 saves in a 4-1 victory.

Luongo has given up just a single goal in four of his past five games and has brought his goals-against average for the season down to 2.04. Last season, Luongo had a goals-against average of 2.35.

His 93 percent save rate would be the second-highest of his career.

“Louie is unbelievable,” Rowe said.

Saturday: Panthers at Senators

When/where: 7 p.m.; Canadian Tire Center, Ottawa.

TV/radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640.

Series: Ottawa leads 50-36-3.

Scouting report: The Senators have lost their past two games and will likely be without Craig Anderson. The former Panthers goalie, who continues to make his home in South Florida, has taken a leave of absence to be with his wife, Nicholle, as she receives treatment for a rare form of throat cancer in New York.

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