As the lights flashed, the bass pumped and the home team celebrated, Roberto Luongo stayed down on his knees with his head hung low.
A shot from Milan Lucic had just zipped through Luongo’s legs and into the back of the net, a dagger of a goal which realistically ended the Panthers’ season.
Sure, Florida has five games left. But in order to make the playoffs, the Panthers needed to beat these Bruins on Tuesday night and Lucic’s goal with 69 seconds left gave Boston a 3-2 victory.
Florida needed a win to come a bit closer to the Bruins, yet Lucic landed Boston’s knockout punch.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
“We needed a win. That was it,’’ Willie Mitchell said in soft, reserved tones.
“On to the next one, you know? We’ll be playing our tails off doing everything we can to put points on the board. That’s all we can control. On to the next one.’’
A win in regulation would have pulled Florida within two points of the Bruins with five home games left — including a date with Boston next week.
Instead, losing in regulation gave Florida no points and Boston a pair of them as it opened its lead on the Panthers to six points.
Since Florida loses the first tiebreaker, it’s really seven points out with only 10 points available. Ottawa remains three points back of the Bruins and returned to three up on the Panthers.
“We still have a mathematical chance,’’ coach Gerard Gallant said.
“It’s probably going to take five wins. Can we do it? We just played five outstanding games on the road, went 2-2-1 and could have won all five. We’re going to work hard, battle and see what happens.’’
Luongo kept the Panthers in the game with one key stop after another.
Yet up 2-1 in the third, Luongo lost sight of a long shot from Ryan Spooner that David Pastrnak appeared to get a piece of and tied the score with 10:13 left.
Later, with the game seemingly headed to overtime, Lucic pulled the puck back into the Florida zone and sent a wrist shot from 25 feet out that was the biggest goal the Panthers allowed this season.
“I’m disappointed in myself, felt like I let my teammates down there tonight,’’ said Luongo, who ended with 25 saves including an unbelievable blocker stop on a point-blank shot from Carl Soderberg early in the third to keep it 2-1.
“I made some pretty big saves at the start of the third, but there are no excuses for the last two. My job is to make saves. When I don’t make them, I feel responsible. Those are goals that shouldn’t go in.’’
Florida had a final run at Tuukka Rask and the Bruins in the final minute when David Krejci took a penalty.
With Luongo on the bench, Florida had six skaters to four but couldn’t connect.
Boston has now won eight in a row against the Panthers at TD Garden and hasn’t lost to Florida here since 2011.
“We came out in the third and sat back, which is not what we wanted to do,’’ Gallant said. “They were in their building, and they really came hard in the third period.’’
Boston led 1-0 after the first period but as has been the case throughout this five-game road trip, Florida was terrific in the second.
Brandon Pirri tied the score less than a minute into the period on a power-play bomb from the right circle.
Later in the period, Brad Boyes picked off a mishandled puck by Matt Bartkowski and was off to the races, driving in on Rask and beating him to give Florida its first lead. It wouldn’t last as long as it hoped.
“There were two things we couldn’t do,’’ Boyes said, “and that’s sit back or take penalties and give them opportunities. We did both.’’
Although the Panthers played decent in the third, they didn’t do enough to get this one done.
It will be another long summer for South Florida’s hockey team.
“We’re not ones to feel sorry for ourselves,’’ Pirri said. “We’re going to play these final five games and if we play hard, maybe we’ll get some luck.’’
Jaromir Jagr got slashed in the hand during the second and spent the rest of the period in the training room.
Jagr had two mangled fingers taped together and returned for the third. Gallant said the fingers aren’t broken and Jagr should be well enough to play Thursday against visiting Carolina.
▪ Pirri scored his 21st goal of the season in his 100th NHL game.
Pirri has played in 65 games with the Panthers since making his Florida debut in Boston last March after being acquired in a deal with the Blackhawks.
▪ Dave Bolland’s empty-net goal with 55.5 seconds remaining Sunday not only sealed Florida’s win over the Senators but finally gave the Panthers a short-handed goal.
The Panthers were the only team in the league not to score at least one goal while killing off a penalty.
Bolland’s goal came with goalie Craig Anderson on the bench as Ottawa sent six skaters against Dan Ellis.