Gerard Gallant hoped the challenge of playing the defending Stanley Cup champions would be magic elixir in helping his team out of a four-game funk.
The Panthers certainly responded.
Thanks in part to a three-goal opening period, Florida’s losing streak is history as the Panthers beat the Western Conference-leading Blackhawks 4-0 in front of 19,343 at BB&T Center on Friday night.
“They brought the best out of us,” said Gallant, who was coaching Jonathan Huberdeau in the Canadian junior leagues when Florida last beat Chicago in 2011.
The shutout of the Blackhawks was the first by a Florida goalie since John Vanbiesbrouck did it near the end of his South Florida run in 1998.
Roberto Luongo made 27 saves for his 72nd career shutout, which puts him 10th all-time.
“We knew if we had a good start, we could set the tempo and the pace,” said Luongo, who is scheduled to get a rare start on consecutive nights Saturday against visiting Tampa Bay.
“Our start [Friday] was more important than in any other game this season, I thought. ... Once we took the lead, we didn’t try and sit on it.”
The Panthers and Blackhawks both hold the distinction of the having the longest winning streaks in the NHL this season at 12. Chicago’s run was snapped Thursday in Tampa, as the Lightning pulled within a point of the Panthers in the Atlantic Division.
So, with Tampa Bay in Sunrise for a big game Saturday night, the challenge for the Panthers isn’t close to being over.
“Tampa beat us pretty good up there, so we have to get back,” said Brian Campbell, who beat the Blackhawks for the first time since being traded from Chicgao in 2011.
“We know how the standings look, where everyone is. There are no excuses. We have to keep going.”
Florida took its first lead since its 12-game winning ended in Vancouver on Jan. 11 when Reilly Smith took a Jussi Jokinen feed and beat Chicago backup Scott Darling midway through the first.
The Panthers continued coming hard at Darling and the Hawks, making it 2-0 when former Chicago defenseman Campbell drove in and scored from the left circle.
With 2.2 seconds left in the period, Quinton Howden made it 3-0, scoring his second goal in as many games.
“We played a full 60 minutes, which is what we were doing [during] our win streak,” Campbell said.
Darling stayed in and Aaron Ekblad — who hasn’t played in a loss since Dec. 12 — picked off the puck and scored less than three minutes into the second period to make it 4-0.
“The whole team should be happy; we were firing on all cylinders for sure,” said Ekblad, who missed the previous four games with a concussion.
The Blackhawks pulled Darling and decided to play with an empty net with 8:30 left in a desperate attempt to get something going. But as was the case for the Panthers in Calgary after their long win streak was snapped, nothing happened.
Florida lost 6-0 to the Flames two nights after its 12-game streak came to a close.
“We talked about how our streak ended and they played a pretty strong game,” Gallant said. “But we came out and got a pretty big lead and that helped us.”
▪ The Panthers sat the slumping Brandon Pirri on Friday amid rumors the team was looking to trade the winger.
Pirri, who hasn’t scored in the past six games, has nine goals this season after scoring a career-high 22 last year in three more games than he’s currently played.
▪ The Panthers not only had Ekblad back in the lineup for the first time since the Vancouver game, but Erik Gudbranson returned after leaving Monday’s game with a minor injury.
▪ Willie Mitchell was put on the injured list Friday with what is called a lingering lower-body issue. “He’s been limping around the past two weeks,” Gallant said.
Mitchell would be eligible to return Tuesday against Toronto.
▪ The only active member of the Panthers who was on the team when they last defeated the Blackhawks is Dmitry Kulikov.
Kulikov’s first NHL regular season experience came in Florida’s two-game set against the Blackhawks in Helsinki, Finland, to kick off the 2009-10 season.
▪ The past three head coaches of the Panthers were in Sunrise Friday as Kevin Dineen (2011-13) is an assistant coach for the Blackhawks.
Saturday: Lightning at Panthers
When, where: 7 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise.
TV, radio: FSFL; WQAM (560), WMEN (640), WNMA (1210).
Series: Florida leads 60-50-10.
Scouting report: The Lightning, which snapped Chicago’s franchise-record 12-game winning streak on Thursday night, has won seven in a row. Included in that is a 3-1 victory over the Panthers in Tampa last Sunday. … Florida is 2-1 against Tampa Bay this season.