Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers cool off Dallas Stars to close road trip

Florida Panthers center Jonathan Huberdeau (11) and Dallas Stars defenseman Jamie Oleksiak (5) crash into the boards during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015, in Dallas.
Florida Panthers center Jonathan Huberdeau (11) and Dallas Stars defenseman Jamie Oleksiak (5) crash into the boards during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015, in Dallas. AP

Desperately needing a victory, the Panthers’ veteran players held a meeting before Saturday’s game.

The message was Florida is better than it has played lately.

Hours later, the Panthers looked like one of the NHL’s elite as they snapped Dallas’ five-game winning streak with a 6-2 victory at AmericanAirlines Center.

“This was very encouraging to see,” said backup goalie Al Montoya, who made 33 saves for his second win of the season.

“This was a big statement, and it was for us only. In this room, we know what we’re capable of doing. It’s just, ‘let’s do it every night.’ We need to stop being that team where you don’t know if we’re going to show up every night. There’s no reason for us not to bring it.”

Florida had lost three in a row coming into Dallas and salvaged its third point out of six on a 1-1-1 road trip. The offense also broke loose for the first time in weeks, as the Panthers’ six goals were the most since scoring seven on Philadelphia on opening night.

“They’re a good team, but so are we,” Jonathan Huberdeau said. “We can beat every team in the league.”

With center Sasha Barkov out with an injured right hand, the Panthers had to shuffle some lines, including putting Nick Bjugstad in the middle of Jaromir Jagr and Huberdeau.

For one night at least, that trio clicked as they had a hand in Florida’s first three goals.

Bjugstad scored Florida’s second goal and assisted on its third. Jagr (goal, assist) and Huberdeau (two primary assists) also found the scoresheet as the Panthers built both a two- and three-goal lead against a Dallas team which beat Florida 4-2 in Sunrise just a week before.

“It was cool playing with those guys,” Bjugstad said.

Florida also got goals — their first of the season — from Aaron Ekblad and Dave Bolland. Reilly Smith gave Florida a three-goal lead in the third with his first goal since the season opener before Quinton Howden scored the finale with 3:05 left.

“It was a good win, we played a real good game with Montoya behind us,” Huberdeau said. “It was a good team effort, and that’s what we talked about. We needed to play our best. We hadn’t done that lately. Good teams stick together.”

Said Jagr: “We haven’t played very well since the Buffalo game, and even though we won that one, I had a bad feeling. We haven’t played our game since then. [Saturday] it looked like us for the first time in a while. We made plays.”

Dallas, 5-0 against Eastern Conference teams going in, scored eight seconds after Alex Petrovic went to the penalty box for delay of game.

Florida bounced back and made it 1-1 when Jagr took a pass from Huberdeau, worked around a downed Alex Goligoski and went top shelf on goalie Kari Lehtonen.

The goal was the sixth for Jagr in his first eight games. With New Jersey last season, Jagr didn’t score his sixth goal until Dec. 29 — 37 games into the season.

A little over three minutes later, Bjugstad — who hadn't scored in four games — took a pass from Huberdeau and rifled a slapshot the hit Lehtonen before going in.

The Panthers made it 3-1 less than 90 seconds into the second when Ekblad one-timed a drop pass from Bjugstad past Lehtonen.

Antti Niemi came in to finish the game and gave up three of his own as Florida never lost control.

I thought we played a real good game and caught a team just coming off the road,'' Gallant said. “We gave them too many chances, but Dallas is a top team and it was in their building. I'm pretty proud of the guys. We like our team when we compete and battle.”

Montoya, making just his second start and appearance of the season, gave Gallant another reason to have faith in his abilities to spot start for Roberto Luongo after a last year's inconsistent season.

The Panthers are now 2-0 with Montoya in net after he helped lead Florida to a 4-1 win at Carolina on Oct. 13.

“He made seven or eight Grade A saves,'' Gallant said. “He made some great saves and that's what it's all about. Luongo is our No. 1 goalie, but you need two to be real good. Montoya has been excellent this year. From Day 1, we haven't had a bad game in goal.”

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