Florida Panthers

Ailing Panthers settle for one point in shootout loss to Stars

Panthers goaltender Dan Ellis stops a shot by Ryan Garbutt during the first period of the Stars’ 4-3 shootout victory on Thursday night.
Panthers goaltender Dan Ellis stops a shot by Ryan Garbutt during the first period of the Stars’ 4-3 shootout victory on Thursday night. AP

The Panthers had three players call in sick Thursday, but their playoff hopes stayed out of intensive care despite a 4-3 shootout loss to the Stars.

With Boston also losing in a shootout, Florida kept pace with the Bruins and remain two points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

With all the Panthers have had to deal with the past couple of days, coach Gerard Gallant says he’ll take the point and move on.

Not only did Florida lose its two goalies to injury, but at least seven players were suffering varying degrees of illness on Thursday.

Three — Jaromir Jagr, Willie Mitchell and Erik Gudbranson — didn’t play.

Four others had to, one of whom got physically sick on the ice during warmups.

“I’m not one for making excuses, but it didn’t look too good with guys showing up sick, others not coming in,’’ Gallant said.

“Four guys played pretty sick. We battled hard, played hard, came back from being down 2-0. We got a point. We’re not worried about Boston, just ourselves.’’

Not surprisingly, Florida didn’t show much life early and watched the Stars — who had lost seven of nine after losing leading scorer Tyler Seguin in a win over the Panthers on Feb.13 — take a 2-0 lead.

Brandon Pirri gave the Panthers a jolt of life with his fourth goal in as many games with three minutes left in the first period.

Florida took over the game in the second, scoring twice and chasing goalie Kari Lehtonen to the bench.

Jonathan Huberdeau tied the score by snapping his 18-game goal drought with a wrister from Nick Bjugstad.

Four minutes later, Dmitry Kulikov popped out of the penalty box, took a slick feed from Jussi Jokinen and charged in on Lehtonen.

Kulikov beat Lehtonen top shelf and gave the Panthers the lead for the first time.

Kulikov fought Curtis McKenzie in the first in response to Kulikov taking out Seguin on Feb.13 in Dallas. Kulikov ended up with his first “Gordie Howe Hat Trick,’’ as he got credited for a fight, scored and had the secondary assist on Huberdeau’s goal.

“They stuck up for their teammate, and I wasn’t going to back down,’’ Kulikov said.

“We needed a win. A point is good for us, but we needed two. We need to put this one behind and learn from what we did good and bad. We need to come out strong [Saturday].’’

Florida didn’t muster up much of a fight in the third, taking just two shots on goal as Alex Goligoski tied it with 6:39 left.

The Panthers had numerous scoring chances in overtime but couldn’t solve Jhonas Enroth, who stopped 10 shots not including all three faced in the shootout.

Dallas scored on its third and final shootout offering to sweep the season series against the Panthers.

“We have to start finding ways to win these games and not just get a point,’’ said Shawn Thornton, one of the sick players.

“Everyone goes through adversity. It’s just unfortunate it has happened to us at crunch time. But there are no excuses. We can’t be giving away points.’’

LUONGO OK

Gallant said Luongo would miss Saturday’s game against the visiting Islanders but could return to action next week.

After the Islanders game, Florida doesn’t play again until Winnipeg comes to Sunrise the following Thursday.

“He won’t play Saturday but after that he will be day-to-day,’’ Gallant said. “There’s a possibiltity we’re looking at him for [Thursday]. It’s tough to lose a guy like that.’’

Al Montoya is expected to be out a month with a groin injury.

Although the Panthers haven’t placed Montoya on the injured list yet, they will in the coming days.

▪ With illness racing through his team, Gallant canceled Friday’s scheduled practice.

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