Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers beat Senators to stay in playoff hunt

Jaromir Jagr, right, and goalie Dan Ellis celebrate after the Panthers’ victory.
Jaromir Jagr, right, and goalie Dan Ellis celebrate after the Panthers’ victory. AP

Say what you will about the Panthers but they’re never boring.

Sunday’s 4-2 victory over the host Senators pulled Florida one point closer to ninth place. A win by Boston kept the Panthers four points back of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with a big meeting with the Bruins coming up Tuesday.

“It was a big win obviously and we had to win to keep hanging around,’’ coach Gerard Gallant said. “We’re staying around. ... We’ve got six games left, and we want to stay in the race. Obviously the next game in Boston is huge.’’

Florida snapped a nine-game losing streak to the Bruins on March 21 but haven’t won in Boston since 2011.

“This was a Game 7 for us, and now we have to get ready for the next Game 7 in Boston,’’ said Jaromir Jagr, whose scored a pair of highlight goals.

Although Jagr will get much of the glory for Sunday’s win, Florida wouldn’t have pulled to within a point of the Senators in the standings if not for a standup performance from backup goalie Dan Ellis.

Gallant said after Saturday’s overtime loss in Montreal that Roberto Luongo would play Sunday, but his injured shoulder tightened up after the game.

Plans had to be changed.

Ellis was told in the morning that he might start; a few hours before the puck dropped, it was made official.

“I try not to worry about the pressure, I’ve been up here for a while and I’m enjoying it,’’ said Ellis, who is 4-2-1 since being recalled when Luongo was initially hurt March 3.

“This was a big atmosphere with a full building and a lot on the line. It was fun. We played great.’’

Sunday, Ellis held down the fort as Florida gave him a two-goal lead thanks to power-play goals from Jagr and Jussi Jokinen in the second period.

Jagr made it 3-1 in the third with a goal reminiscent of the ones he scored 20 years ago. Dave Bolland ended things with an empty-net goal in the final minute.

“I went to church before the game. I didn’t think I still had it,’’ said Jagr, 43, who pulled Craig Anderson out of the crease, whipped around the cage and tucked the puck into an empty net.

“I was surprised myself.’’

Florida has played Boston and Ottawa — teams directly in front — in the past week or so and won both.

That gives this team confidence it can win its final two against the Bruins (Tuesday and at home on April 9) as it continues a desperate bid for the postseason.

“We knew we needed the two points with another big one coming up,’’ said Jonathan Huberdeau, who was instrumental in both of Jagr’s goals.

“We’re just trying to have fun with it. It’s fun being in the playoff push.’’

BOYES BENCHED

Defenseman Steven Kampfer got back into the lineup Sunday but not in the position he figured. Kampfer was informed in the morning that he would be jumping up to the Panthers’ fourth forward line.

Gallant benched veteran Brad Boyes — he hasn’t scored in eight games — and moved Scottie Upshall up to the third line.

“I just tried to use my speed to get pucks in and get them out,’’ Kampfer said. “I played one game at forward with [Shawn] Thornton in Boston, and it was funny because I was sitting with him when I was told.”

Said Gallant: “I thought he was great. He kept things simple. I really liked him.’’

▪ Bolland’s goal with 55.5 seconds remaining not only sealed Florida’s win but finally gave the Panthers their first short-handed goal of the season — the final team to get one.

▪ Anderson, who spent three seasons with the Panthers from 2006-09, lost two of three starts against Florida this year.

Anderson came into the season 10-2-0 against the Panthers.

▪ Ottawa fans had to be warned not to throw garbage onto the ice on two separate occasions. No delay-of-game penalties were called.

▪ University of Minnesota senior Kyle Rau signed with the Panthers and will report to the team’s AHL affiliate in San Antonio. Rau was a third-round pick of Florida in 2011.

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