Sometimes, it’s nice to lend an assist, and that’s what Jonathan Huberdeau did on Thursday night — again and again and again.
Huberdeau had his third three-assist game of the season, and Roberto Luongo snapped a personal five-game losing streak as the host Florida Panthers defeated the Arizona Coyotes 4-2.
Huberdeau leads Florida with 59 assists, which is his career high. He assisted on goals by Aleksander Barkov, Mike Hoffman and MacKenzie Weegar.
Barkov added an empty net goal with 50 seconds left for his 34th goal of the season, tying Hoffman for the team high.
Weegar nearly scored his second goal of the game with 9:07 left in the third period. But Arizona challenged the call, and the goal was disallowed due to goalie interference on Barkov. Had the goal stood, it would’ve been a fourth assist for Huberdeau.
Luongo, playing his first game since March 7, made 32 saves to end his skid.
Arizona’s Darcy Kuemper made 18 saves and took the loss. The Coyotes, clinging to the eighth and final playoff berth in the Western Conference, lost their third straight game.
The Coyotes opened the scoring with 7:45 gone in the first period as Michael Grabner pounced on a Panthers turnover and beat Luongo on a breakaway wrist shot.
It was Grabner’s ninth goal of the season and his sixth shorthanded score, which leads the NHL. For his career, Grabner has an astonishing 21 shorthanded goals.
Barkov tied the score with just 14.6 seconds left in the first. He took a pass from Huberdeau and waited patiently before spotting his opening and firing the puck past Kuemper’s right shoulder.
Florida took a 2-1 lead with 9:05 left in the second period. After Arizona was penalized for too many men on the ice, the Panthers swung the puck around until Huberdeau’s pass found Hoffman alone inside the right circle. Hoffman’s one-timer found the near-side of the net, which was wide open.
Weegar, who has scored three of his four goals this month, put the Panthers up 3-1 as he scored with 14:51 left in the third. Huberdeau had the primary assist as he did on the first two Panthers goals.
Brad Richardson, who assisted on Grabner’s goal, scored with 2:24 left in the third to cut Arizona’s deficit to 3-2, but the Panthers hung on for the victory.
THIS AND THAT
▪ Panthers rookie goalie Sam Montembeault, who had started six straight games, took a rest. In seven games this season, he is 4-2-1 and leads the team in goals-against average (2.58) and save percentage (.903).
▪ With Luongo starting on Thursday, James Reimer has been relegated to third-string goalie and hasn’t played since Feb. 26. He has lost his past two starts and is 13-11-15 this season with a 3.02 GAA and a .902 save percentage.
▪ Panthers coach Bob Boughner said Montembeault had earned playing time by winning four straight games, and Luongo handled the situation like a pro.
“The more ‘Monty’ stayed in there, and the team started winning, (Luongo) was the first guy to say, ‘Play him again,’” Boughner said. “It wasn’t difficult at all.
“We’ve always been honest and up-front with guys -- whether it’s uncomfortable or not. That’s the business we’re in. (Luongo) understood it and supported it.”
▪ Panthers 22-year-old forward Denis Malgin hasn’t played since Feb. 23 due to a lower-body injury. Since posting 11 goals and 11 assists in 51 games last season, his production is down. He has seven goals and seven assists in 46 games.
▪ Forward Serron Noel, Florida’s second-round pick in 2018, recently completed his OHL season, posting career highs in goals (34) and assists (47) in 68 games. Noel, 18, ranked 22nd in the league with 81 points, and the Panthers love his frame at 6-5, 210 pounds.