The Florida Panthers scored a season-high six goals on Tuesday night.
The Panthers won by the smallest of margins Tuesday as they picked up two points in the playoff race with a hard-fought 6-5 win over the Ottawa Senators at BB&T Center.
Jason Demers gave Florida a two-goal cushion when his shuffleboard shot slid into an empty net with 35 seconds remaining. The Senators, who held a two-goal lead of their own early on in the second period, made it a game again however so briefly when Derick Brassard scored with 11 seconds left.
“It was good, a typical game after an All-Star Game, I guess,” coach Tom Rowe said. “It was good. I’m happy for the guys. They made a lot of good plays. Obviously, defensively we weren’t great, but we did a lot of good offensively and that’s what we’re going to take home.”
Florida, which has now won its past two games with both coming against Atlantic Division foes, moved up to just two points back of Philadelphia for the final wild card spot in the east and remained four points behind Boston for third place in the Atlantic Division.
Ottawa had come into South Florida holding a six-point cushion on the Panthers; that’s down to four after Tuesday.
The Panthers go for their first three-game winning streak of the season Friday against visiting Anaheim.
“The amount of games that we have left and the position that we’re in, we don’t have very much room for many more losses,” Matheson said. “It’s huge to be able to build the momentum going into a break and coming off of it.”
Florida jumped out of the All-Star break with a flourish as it appeared Jaromir Jagr gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead, only it was Mike Matheson getting a piece of the puck 2:24 in.
Ottawa bounced right back only to see the Panthers answer and make it 2-1 when Mark Pysyk scored at the 5:22 mark.
Things got a little — OK, more than a little — sloppy after that as the Sens scored three unanswered goals. Ottawa took a 3-2 lead into the second period when Chris Wideman scored with just over 30 seconds left in the first. The Sens then made it 4-2 game 2:19 into the second when Erik Karlsson scored.
The Panthers bounced back on the following shift, however, with Colton Sceviour getting the Panthers going with his first goal since getting three of them in Detroit on Oct. 30.
“It has been a long time,” Sceviour said. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t know how long it’d been. I’ve been pressing a bit, so it was nice to get that one.”
Midway through the period, Matheson tied it up with his second of the night as his shot found its way through traffic and past goalie Mike Condon.
In the third, Jonathan Marchessault gave the Panthers the lead back as he jammed up Condon as he mishandled playing the puck behind the net. Marchessault stole it and was able to slam it into the back of what was an empty net.
Florida iced its win when Demers literally scored into an empty net with 34.5 seconds left. Ottawa pulled back within one with 11 ticks left on the clock.
“It’s tough coming off the All-Star break,” Pysyk said. “It’s a couple days off and you have to find your legs again, but I thought we did a good job ... We don’t want to get into games like that. It’s good that we got the win to prove that we can be in games like that if we get there, but that’s obviously not what we want to do.”
▪ The Florida Panthers Foundation honored two South Floridians who are almost as well known for their philanthropic work as they are for their role in the sporting community.
On Tuesday night, the foundation made a $25,000 donation to the Boys & Girls Club of Broward County to honor the memory of Marti Huizenga. Later, Udonis Haslem’s foundation received a check for $8,000.
Ray Huizenga, the son of Wayne and Marti, said his mother would have been happy to see the Panthers make a donation to a cause she loved so much.
“The Panthers were extremely important to my family, but to my mom especially,” Ray Huizenga said. “The Boys & Girls Club ... it’s nice to see the team appreciate that and every thing she did in her memory.”
Brian Quail, the president and CEO of the Broward Boys & Girls Club, was also on hand.
“Without the Huizenga family,” Quail said, “we just wouldn’t be where we are today but in a local and national scale.”