The Panthers were clinging to a thin thread Monday night, hoping the one-goal advantage picked up in the first period would be enough to beat a dangerous Pittsburgh team.
As anyone could have predicted, it was not.
No, the Penguins tied things up with 3:19 remaining before the Panthers prevailed 2-1 in a five-round shootout at BB&T Center.
The victory was especially sweet for the Panthers, a team outscored 10-3 in two weekend losses coach Gerard Gallant described as “pathetic.”
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With a retooled lineup because of a variety of injuries, Gallant was singing a different tune Monday.
“It was a good game against a real good team,’’ said Gallant, whose team had lost its previous two games to Pittsburgh in overtime. “Every time we play them it’s a battle. We finally got on the winning side. We finally got the two points — and we needed them.”
The Panthers opened the scoring in the first period when Nick Bjugstad redirected a long pass from Alex Petrovic and beat Marc-Andre Fleury.
Florida had few prime-scoring chances as it appeared to play a prevent-style through much of the second and third with its Band-Aid lineup, yet had a few opportunities and failed to cash in.
The Penguins, who came back to beat the Panthers over a week ago despite trailing 2-0 late in the third, tied things up Monday when Chris Kunitz’s shot just got past the out stretched glove of backup goalie Al Montoya.
Montoya was strong in net once more for the Panthers, perhaps earning another start Thursday when San Jose comes to town.
Filling in for Roberto Luongo, Montoya stopped 31 shots — including four in overtime before stopping the final four shots in the shootout.
With the Panthers on the verge of elimination, Bjugstad kept Florida going by scoring in Round 3. The Panthers got their second shootout goal from Jussi Jokinen with Montoya stopping Matt Cullen to end it.
“This was huge,’’ said Montoya, who became the first three-time recipient of the “Spacey In Space” sweatshirt. “It was a little bit of a backbreaker when they scored in the third, but the boys sucked it up.
“It was a game of momentum, and they got their push. But we kept coming. And overtime was fun. We’ll take the two points.’’
Jaromir Jagr didn’t score a goal on his 44th birthday but was extremely happy to see his team battle back after the adversity of the weekend.
Not only did Florida suffer embarrassing losses to St. Louis and Nashville, but also lost Brandon Pirri and Quinton Howden to injury as well.
On the good side of things, Sasha Barkov and Erik Gudbranson are expected to return Thursday.
“We were missing five guys, top guys, but I thought we played great defense,’’ said Jagr, who hasn’t scored a goal on his birthday since 1999. “We gave up some chances but were responsible.
“We sacrificed for a team win. This was a big win. Everyone was down, this was huge for us. We played with what we had and played the way we needed to.’’
THIS AND THAT
▪ Marlins ace pitcher Jose Fernandez dropped the ceremonial first puck Monday as mascot Stanley C. Panther wore a special Marlins-themed hockey jersey.
Fernandez, Jarred Cozart and Mike Dunn all visited with the Panthers’ players before the game and received custom Florida game jerseys.
▪ The Panthers played a video during the second intermission with various teammates and old pals — such as radio voice Mike Lange — from the Penguins wishing him a happy birthday.
Some, like Shawn Thornton and Luongo, used the opportunity to make fun of Jagr’s advancing age.
“Happy 50th birthday,” said Thornton, who earlier said Jagr told him he was 43 when the two played together in Boston a few years back.
“It’s nice to feel young in the locker room sitting next to you,” Luongo cracked.
Jagr joked afterward that his gift was chasing Sidney Crosby around the ice all night.
“That was no fun,” Jagr said.
▪ Bjugstad became the ninth Florida player with at least 10 goals this season.
“This was a really tough weekend, and we weren’t happy,” Bjugstad said. “It was good to come back after we gave up five goals the past two games.”
At this time last year, the Panthers had just three hit the 10-goal plateau.