The return of Jonathan Huberdeau and Sasha Barkov paid immediate dividends for the Panthers Friday night — just as they hoped they would.
Playing together for the first time this season, Huberdeau slammed home a pass from Barkov late in the second period leading Florida to a 2-1 win over the visiting Anaheim Ducks at BB&T Center.
The win marked Florida’s first winning streak of the season as the Panthers head into their league-mandated off week winners of three consecutive games.
“I had a lot of fun out there,” Huberdeau said after being mobbed by teammates following his first goal in 10 months. “It wasn’t my best game, and I was a little tired at the end, but I’m pretty happy with myself and this team. They played pretty well. That’s a good team over there. It felt good to be back with the guys.”
Huberdeau, activated Friday after severing an Achilles tendon in the final exhibition game of the preseason, gave Florida a 2-1 lead with 4:58 left in the second after taking a Barkov pass as he flew through the zone and zapped a high shot past goalie John Gibson.
Barkov, who rejoined Huberdeau and Jaromir Jagr on Florida’s top line, had been out the past month with a back injury. He took a long pass from Keith Yandle along the left side and found a streaking Huberdeau in stride.
“Right from the start we were pretty excited,” Barkov said. “I didn’t feel my legs at all — I was so excited. We went out there to have some fun and we were lucky to score a goal.”
Anaheim grabbed a 1-0 lead at 9:39 of the first when Hampus Lindholm’s long shot beat James Reimer on a 4-on-4 chance.
Moments later, the Panthers tied the score when Jason Demers fired a shot from behind the net toward Reilly Smith; the puck hit Smith’s skate as he was skating to a halt and went past Gibson.
Smith’s tying goal came just 13 seconds after the Ducks took the initial lead.
“My eyes were closed the whole time,” Demers joked. “No, I looked up and saw him going to the net and saw he had a step and threw it at him. He was in position and got his skate going in the right direction and made a play on it.”
Anaheim came into the game holding the second seed in the Pacific Division behind San Jose.
Florida, which had yet to win more than two consecutive games before beating the Ducks Friday, entered the night four points out of a playoff spot but hope the addition of Barkov and Huberdeau will help get things rolling.
Huberdeau’s goal was his first since he scored Florida’s long goal in its 2-1, double-overtime loss to the Islanders in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Panthers will be off until they hold a practice Wednesday afternoon; their next game comes Thursday against the Los Angeles Kings.
“The guys never lost any confidence,” coach Tom Rowe said.