Florida Panthers

Panthers beat Hurricanes but gain no ground


Few would blame the Panthers for having a letdown Thursday night after their playoff hopes took a devastating blow in Boston two nights earlier.

Instead of pouting, the Panthers did a whole lot of scoring in a 6-1 win over visiting Carolina.

For the first time, the Panthers swept a season series from the Hurricanes/Whalers franchise as Florida won all three games this season by a combined 9-1.

“We played hard,’’ coach Gerard Gallant said. “I thought we played a complete game from start to finish.’’

Although Florida’s playoff chances are dim, by winning Thursday, the Panthers remained on the periphery of the race, six points behind Boston.

After coming from behind to beat Detroit, Boston needs just two more points to officially and mathematically eliminate the Panthers.

Both teams have four games left, including another matchup next Thursday in Sunrise.

“We still believe because you never know what can happen,’’ said Jonathan Huberdeau, who had two more assists to pad his lead as Florida’s leading scorer.

“We’re going to keep working. This is a good group. We feel we can’t let down now. You miss hockey in the summer. We’re going to go all out and hope we can squeeze in there.’’

Carolina, which has been out of the playoff race since Halloween it seems, came out firing. At one point, the Hurricanes had 12 shots on goal to Florida’s one.

Things quickly turned around. By the start of the third period, Florida was outshooting the Hurricanes 27-20 and had four goals on the board.

Although Florida’s scoring was welcomed Thursday, so, too, was a bounce-back performance from Roberto Luongo.

The Panthers’ goalie gave up two goals in the third period Tuesday — including the game-winner with just over a minute left — but was terrific Thursday.

After the game, Luongo’s teammates presented him with a tricked-out performance Scott road bicycle to celebrate his 400th career victory.

When asked about the milestone, Luongo said he wished to have gotten it either in Montreal or Boston — losses that hurt Florida’s playoff chances.

“I don’t take it for granted because I know I’m blessed to play in the NHL, do something I love,’’ said Luongo, who had 31 saves.

“At the same time, I would have liked to get it a few games earlier, get a few more points in the standings.’’

Florida took the lead with 49.4 seconds left in the opening period when Willie Mitchell’s snap shot off a faceoff win by Vincent Trocheck (two goals in the third period) went off a Carolina skate and past goalie Anton Khudobin. The Panthers then scored three times in the second (Brandon Pirri, Jaromir Jagr and Sasha Barkov) to take a commanding lead into the third.

Florida came within 1:19 of shutting out the Hurricanes for an entire season, but Chris Terry stuffed a rebound past Luongo on a power play for Carolina’s lone goal.

▪ With his goal, Jagr tied former teammate Ron Francis, with whom he won two Stanley Cups with Pittsburgh in 1991-92, for fourth on the all-time scoring list with 1,798 points.

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