Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers’ fourth line shows scoring touch

Florida Panthers' Derek MacKenzie (17) celebrates his goal with Quinton Howden (42) in the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015. The Penguins won in overtime, 3-2.
Florida Panthers' Derek MacKenzie (17) celebrates his goal with Quinton Howden (42) in the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015. The Penguins won in overtime, 3-2. AP

With the Panthers in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, much attention was focused on Jaromir Jagr’s top line and the damage they have been causing so far this season.

In Florida’s 3-2 overtime loss, however, it was the Panthers’ fourth-line players who did all the scoring.

After a few controversial moments in the third, Florida found itself down 2-0 to the Penguins.

The Panthers then got goals from Quinton Howden and Derek MacKenzie — the first of the season for both — to help force overtime and at least salvage a point in the standings.

“They were really good, the spark for our team obviously,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “They work really hard and do the right things. We talk about winning every night and you have put pucks behind the net, get down low. They did that, showed our teams how to score goals by paying a price. We like what we’re seeing from them.”

Unlike Florida’s other three lines, the fourth has seen some mixing and matching as the season has moved forward.

In the opener, MacKenzie and Connor Brickley were joined by veteran Shawn Thornton. That trio stayed together through the first two games with Howden replacing Thornton for the following two games.

On Saturday, Thornton was back in the lineup with Brickley sitting out.

In Tuesday’s game, Brickley returned and had the primary assists on both goals.

On the first, Brickley fired a long pass to Howden, who was in front of the net. Howden deftly secured the puck, spun around goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and fired a shot above his shoulder.

On the second, Brickley dug the puck out from the back boards and found MacKenzie in the slot where he one-timed the puck home.

MacKenzie jumped so high into the air when the puck went through it looked as though his skates were filled with IcyHot.

“It has been a lot of fun,” MacKenzie said. “These guys can play. Sometimes your line can be comprised of dump-and-chase type guys, but these guys can play a little bit.”

So far, the play of Brickley and Howden has mirrored their strong training camps and validates the decision to include them on the roster.

Both rookies — Howden has had brief stints with the Panthers in the past whereas Brickley made his NHL debut in the opener — have played extremely well, as evidenced by Gallant having that line on the ice during a time when the Panthers were desperate for goals.

“I think we did a decent job pushing back but we would have liked to get the win,” Brickley said. “We have three guys who work hard and want to be first on pucks in the offensive zone, cause some chaos and hopefully get some rebound chances.”

Said Howden: “We’ve said from the beginning of the season that our line isn’t doing anything special. We’re going to crash and bang and get to the net and score. Both goals were like that. We want to contribute but we know our roles. We’re an energy line. Hopefully it pays off.”

▪ The defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks have been a little slow out of the gate, starting the season 3-3.

Chicago will also be without one of its stars for the immediate future as defenseman Duncan Keith was placed on long-term injured reserve.

Keith is expected to miss the next four to six weeks after having knee surgery.

Thursday: Panthers at Blackhawks

When/where: 8:30 p.m.; United Center, Chicago.

TV/radio: FSFL; WQAM 560; WMEN 640; WNMA 1210.

Series: Chicago leads 19-9-3.

Scouting report: The Blackhawks haven’t played since beating visiting Columbus on Saturday. Florida is looking for its first win against the Blackhawks since 2011 and its first in Chicago since 2009.

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