Florida Panthers

Late-game comeback energizes Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers center Nick Bjugstad (27), right, is congratulated by teammates after he scored a goal to tie the game against the Nashville Predators with 31 seconds left in the third period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. The Predators went on to win 3-2 in a shootout.
Florida Panthers center Nick Bjugstad (27), right, is congratulated by teammates after he scored a goal to tie the game against the Nashville Predators with 31 seconds left in the third period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. The Predators went on to win 3-2 in a shootout. AP

The Panthers don’t like losing, but the shootout loss to the host Nashville Predators on Saturday night felt as close to a victory as it possibly could.

Down 2-0 in the final minute, Florida scored two goals in a 12-second span to force overtime and gain at least a point in the standings. The Panthers had a chance to win it in the shootout, but only rookie Filip Forsberg scored in the four-round session, and the Predators escaped with a 3-2 win.

“Nice way to end a road trip,” coach Gerard Gallant told reporters afterward. “We played against a really good hockey team. ... The guys never quit. We’re not happy with the performance, but to get a big point out of it here at the end of a trip is real good for us.”

The shootout loss gave the Panthers five of the available eight points on their four-game trip with wins at Anaheim and San Jose, as well as a regulation loss at Los Angeles on Tuesday.

Florida kicks off its Thanksgiving three-game homestand Monday against the Minnesota Wild at 7-5-6 in its first 18 games.

The Panthers came into Sunday four points back of Toronto for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Rocco Grimaldi got the Panthers going by scoring his first NHL goal in his seventh game with 43 seconds remaining. Grimaldi, who passed up a prime scoring chance in the second, didn’t do any second guessing on this one as he teed off on a Brian Campbell rebound with a hard slapshot from the left circle.

“Well, obviously, it’s good. It’s a relief,” said Grimaldi, who was sent back to the minors on Sunday. “Obviously I wanted to win. We almost had it. We had a good comeback, just came up short.”

On Florida’s next trip up the ice, the Panthers carried the puck deep in the Nashville zone with Nick Bjugstad throwing up a shot shot from the right circle.

Somehow, some way, the puck got past Pekka Rinne with 31 seconds left in regulation.

“We didn’t play like we wanted to,” said Bjugstad, who has seven goals in his past eight games going into Monday’s game against his hometown Wild. “We figured it out at the end and waited a while to score, but [Roberto Luongo] kept us in it, which was nice. [Grimaldi] had a big goal. I just kind of threw it on net. Didn’t even know it went in.”

Tied 2-2, goalie Roberto Luongo returned to his post as both of Florida’s goals came with Luongo on the bench and the Panthers going with the extra attacker.

According to Elias Sports, Saturday marked just the fourth time since 2006 that a team avoided a regulation loss while trailing by two in the final minute of a game.

Luongo was strong throughout Saturday’s game, with both of Nashville’s regulation goals coming thanks to a bit of luck.

Nashville’s initial goal, which came on its 31st shot of the game, bounced off a Florida defenseman as Colin Wilson tossed it from the back boards and hit Luongo in the mask before going in.

“You could try that 100 times and it wouldn’t happen again,” Luongo said.

The Predators made it 2-0 with 5:59 left when Matt Cullen’s shot appeared to clip Dmitry Kulikov and get past Luongo.

Luongo ended with 48 saves in regulation and overtime and stopped three of four in the shootout.

“It’s the kind of game I enjoy,” Luongo told Fox Sports Florida after the game. “They were throwing pucks from everywhere, so I was able to get in the game early and get a good feeling going. Unfortunately, both of their goals weren’t even really shots on net, they both deflected off our guys. But we battled in the last minute and tied it up. That was good.”

▪ Florida’s eight overtime games — two wins — are second highest in the league just behind Anaheim with nine. The Panthers are now 1-3 in shootouts with goals on four of 12 shots. Florida was 0 for 4 against Rinne on Saturday with Jonathan Huberdeau, Jussi Jokinen, Bjugstad and Brad Boyes all failing to score.

▪ The Panthers sent Grimaldi back to San Antonio on Sunday as it appears a number of players are ready to come off the injured list. Scottie Upshall (lower body), Sean Bergenheim (lower body), Dave Bolland (groin) and Brandon Pirri (concussion) all skated before Saturday’s game.

▪ The Panthers are adding four more Spanish-language broadcasts to their schedule and will do a total of seven games this season including Wednesday’s game against the visiting Hurricanes.

Monday: Wild at Panthers

When, where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise

TV/radio: FSFL; WQAM 560

The series: Minnesota leads 10-4-1

Of note: The Wild had its four-game winning streak snapped in a 2-1 loss at Tampa on Saturday. Minnesota winger Thomas Vanek seems to like playing the Panthers, scoring 21 goals with 11 assists in 33 games against Florida.

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