Florida Panthers

Watch out, NHL: The red-hot Florida Panthers won (again!) and now hold a playoff spot

Roberto Luongo helps Florida Panthers win season-high fourth consecutive game

Roberto Luongo was the Florida Panthers' MVP and had the barbershop cape to prove it as the Panthers slid into a playoff spot with their fourth consecutive win - this one a 3-2 decision over the host Los Angeles Kings.
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Roberto Luongo was the Florida Panthers' MVP and had the barbershop cape to prove it as the Panthers slid into a playoff spot with their fourth consecutive win - this one a 3-2 decision over the host Los Angeles Kings.

Roberto Luongo has been through this before.

So, too, have his teammates.

Yeah, the Florida Panthers are back in the thick of a playoff race.

By virtue of beating the host Los Angeles Kings 3-2 early Sunday morning at Staples Center, the Panthers took over third place in the Atlantic Division and the playoff spot that comes with it.

The win over the Kings — Florida's first in L.A. since 2002 — marked the Panthers fourth consecutive victory and seventh in their past eight games.

The Panthers left California with a three-game sweep of the Sharks, Ducks and Kings for the first time in franchise history with the five-game road trip ending Monday in St. Louis.

Florida opened this trip with a rousing 7-4 win over Nashville.

“We're getting results and we're seeing that we're a pretty good team when we're playing,” said Luongo, who wore the team's barbershop cape which goes to the MVP following wins.

“We just want to keep 'er going right now. We have a lot of work to do. ... We know we're in a battle right now and every game is going to be key, going to feel like a do-or-die game for our club.

“But it should be a fun couple of months here; we should enjoy the ride and take it one game at a time.”

The Panthers took third in the division by virtue of having the same amount of points as the Boston Bruins in one fewer game played.

The Bruins come out of their week vacation Sunday at San Jose as Boston kicks off a four-game trip of its own with three California games and a finale in Dallas.

Boston came into the day holding the final wild card spot.

“When you can do what we've done on this streak - and there's still a long way to go - it's something to reflect on and something to build your game on,” said GM and interim head coach Tom Rowe.

“This is a group that fought the confidence bug a little when we were going through the rough times. Now they're taking advantage, feeling good and playing some good hockey.”

In Saturday's late game, the Panthers once again took the initial lead as Jonathan Huberdeau opened the scoring with 4:55 left in the first.

Florida made it 2-0 when Jussi Jokinen scored his fourth goal in the past five games off a Reilly Smith pass yet it seemed like that only woke up the Kings -- who handed Florida its only loss during this run with a 6-3 thrashing in Sunrise earlier this month.

Los Angeles, which has now lost four of five with the only win coming against Florida, jumped all over the Panthers in the second.

The Kings outshot Florida 15-5 in the second and tied the score off goals from Dwight King and Tanner Pearson.

The Panthers survived the onslaught, however, and came out swinging in the third.

“We told them if we came into the game knowing we'd go into the third 2-2 with a chance to win it, we would have taken that any day of the week,” Rowe said.

“There was definitely some motivation. The playoff race in the east is so darned close, there's a lot to play for.”

The Panthers got the goal they would need early in the third as Aaron Ekblad got the puck to Jaromir Jagr who found Sasha Barkov who buried his chance and made it 3-2 just 15 seconds into the period.

Luongo came up strong for the Panthers as he made 33 saves — including 10 in the third — to pick up the win.

The Florida top line of Barkov, Huberdeau and Jagr now has a combined 11 goals and 21 points since they were reunited Feb. 3 against the Ducks.

“It's a big win, we're playing good and this was a big road trip for us,” said Huberdeau, who has four goals and eight points since returning to the lineup after an Achilles tendon injury six games ago.

“This is a tough building to play in and they came out really hard. We stuck to our game plan and it worked.

“They came back, but we stuck to it and showed what kind of team we were in the third period.”

MONDAY: PANTHERS AT BLUES

▪ When, where: 8 p.m.; Scottrade Center, St. Louis.

▪ TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640.

▪ Series: St. Louis leads 20-8-3.

▪ Scouting report: The Blues are coming off a 3-2 loss in Buffalo on Saturday which snapped a six-game winning streak. This is the first of two meetings between the two with the Blues coming to Sunrise in April.

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