The Panthers were so banged up Saturday they were forced to use a defenseman as a winger.
Yet Florida still had Roberto Luongo and, truthfully, that was good enough.
The Panthers got goals from Willie Mitchell and Aaron Ekblad, but Luongo stole the show in Florida’s 2-1 victory over Philadelphia at BB&T Center.
“I don’t think a lot of people give us a chance to begin with,” said Luongo, who stopped 36 shots.
“I think the guys are starting to realize we have a pretty good team here. You’re seeing that confidence every game. Even though we’re not blowing people out, we’re finding ways to win. That’s key, especially at the beginning of a season.”
Luongo, who had shut out the Flyers until Vinny Lecavalier scored with 7.4 seconds left, led Florida to its second win in a row.
The Panthers are 4-0-2 in their past six games, grabbing 10 of 12 available points in the standings.
In the past four games, Luongo has stopped 137 of 144 shots. In the previous two games, the opponent has scored just once.
“I feel pretty good; the puck’s hitting me,” Luongo said. “You just want to keep it going. It’s a combination of many things. Our guys are playing hard, putting pressure on them by not giving them time or place. I wouldn’t be playing this well if not for the guys in front of me.”
The Panthers were down five forwards, with four players injured and Jonathan Huberdeau out with the flu.
Coach Gerard Gallant had no other choice but to give defenseman Colby Robak his first start of the season — only instead of playing defense he joined up with Florida’s fourth forward line.
Robak’s line played well enough that Gallant told him he should have played more.
“He was awesome,” Gallant said. “He had some great scoring chances and played real well. We were short with [Huberdeau] having a touch of the flu. He was the only extra guy we had. The more he played the better he was.”
Despite all its issues, Florida didn’t back down and took the game to a Philadelphia team that had spent the past few days on Fort Lauderdale beach after winning three of four.
Florida took a 1-0 lead in the first on a long shot from Mitchell and then held on by stopping six Philadelphia power plays before Ekblad gave the Panthers some breathing room with 4:22 left.
Ekblad, the 18-year-old rookie, was told after the game he would remain with the Panthers for the remainder of the season after he played in his ninth game Saturday.
With Lecavalier scoring late, Ekblad’s goal went from insurance to game-winner.
“We had to make a decision,” Gallant said with a grin, “and if he didn’t score tonight he was probably going to go back [Sunday]. With the winning goal, we’re going to keep him. It’s official.”
After the game, Ekblad was handed the puck from his first NHL goal.
When asked if he had been given official word he was staying, Ekblad said no but gave it away with a large smile.
“I haven’t gotten 100 percent official word,” Ekblad said, “but things are good.”
BACK IN FLORIDA
Because of Florida’s injury problems, Rocco Grimaldi and Vinny Trocheck were called up by the Panthers on Friday. They got the news together from San Antonio coach Tom Rowe.
Grimaldi, who made his NHL debut on Saturday, thought his coach was pulling a Halloween prank.
“I didn’t think he was being serious, so I just kind of stared at him,” Grimaldi said before Saturday’s game. “I didn’t smile or say thanks or anything. I just stared at him because I didn’t think it was real.”
Once Grimaldi wrapped his head around what was going on, he made some phone calls. His parents quickly booked a flight from California and landed in Miami about the time he touched down in Fort Lauderdale. A number of friends from college also made the trip for Saturday’s game.
“I’ve been dreaming about this since I was a kid,” Grimaldi said. “This should be fun. It’s just a game, and I’m looking to do the best I can.”
To make room for Grimaldi and Trocheck, Florida placed Brandon Pirri (concussion) and Dave Bolland (groin) on the injured list.