Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers new line of Jiri Hudler, Teddy Purcell with Nick Bjugstad finding chemistry

Florida Panthers center Nick Bjugstad (27) celebrates a goal with his teammates in the second period of an NHL hockey game against the New York Islanders in New York, Monday, March 14, 2016.
Florida Panthers center Nick Bjugstad (27) celebrates a goal with his teammates in the second period of an NHL hockey game against the New York Islanders in New York, Monday, March 14, 2016. AP

Some forward lines come together naturally and organically as the Panthers have joyfully discovered with their top two lines.

And sometimes, lines combinations are forced together. Sometimes they work, but more times than not, they do not.

In the case of Florida’s new third line, general manager Dale Tallon’s vision at the trade deadline appears to be right on.

When the Panthers traded for Calgary’s Jiri Hudler and Edmonton’s Teddy Purcell, the immediate thought was to keep them together on Florida’s third line with center Nick Bjugstad.

Because of immigration issues and injuries, the trio didn’t get together right away, but since they have begun playing alongside each other, the results have been as good as the Panthers ever expected.

“It’s still a transition period, a feeling-out process, but Jiri looks at the game like I do, and Bjugstad is a horse who is getting results,’’ said Purcell, who scored his second goal in as many games in Saturday’s 5-3 loss to Detroit. “We like contributing as a secondary source to take some pressure off the big boys.’’

Purcell and Hudler have done some scoring damage over the course of their NHL careers. Purcell’s bank-shot off the backside of Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard on Saturday was his 100th in 549 NHL games.

“Not the prettiest of goals,’’ said Purcell, whose first with the Panthers was an empty-netter in Toronto on Thursday. “It’s tough to score in this league, so I’ll take them. It’s nice to contribute, get some confidence.”

Hudler, who scored twice in his home debut against Boston on March 7, has 158 goals in 666 NHL games and has three since joining the Panthers full-time in Arizona on March 5.

“The line is coming together,’’ coach Gerard Gallant said. “Hopefully, they get the chemistry going, and [Saturday] was a real big step. Overall they’ve been good. I like what they’re doing right now. Lets hope it keeps going because we know what we have with the other two lines. We’re trying this line out, so far, it has been real good.’’

The biggest beneficiary of this chemistry experiment gone right is Bjugstad.

Florida’s leading goal scorer last year, Bjugstad struggled to find the back of the net this season. Before Bjugstad missed all of December with migraine issues, he was considered Florida’s second-line center.

Vincent Trocheck jumped up in his absence and has been a key contributor in a very successful combo with Reilly Smith and Jussi Jokinen.

When Bjugstad came back, he centered a mix-and-match line most nights and found cohesion hard to come by. The acquisition of Purcell and Hudler — a pair of veteran players who complement each other well — seems to have changed things.

Bjugstad, who had 10 goals in his first 53 games of the season, has three in his past four and comes into Monday’s game riding a five-game point streak.

“The other two lines can’t do it every night so we have to find a way,’’ Bjugstad said after Saturday’s game, one in which he gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead by rifling in a nice feed from Hudler. “We can’t be one-and-done; we have to keep going and stay focused. These guys are veterans, and they’ve been in the playoffs, been in these stretches. I’m pretty lucky to have them on my line. They’re playmakers, and I think we’re gelling on and off the ice. That’s good.’’

▪ Defenseman and team captain Willie Mitchell is said to be close to returning to the lineup, although he didn’t travel with the team to New York and won’t play Monday against the Rangers.

Gallant said Mitchell could join the team later in the trip.

Mitchell has been out since Jan. 18 after initially sustaining a lower-body injury with concussion issues popping up afterward.

▪ Sasha Barkov was the first Florida player to be awarded the “Spacey In Space” sweatshirt following the Panthers’ 3-1 win over Montreal on Dec. 29.

Barkov said he got to meet Kevin Spacey following Saturday’s game.

“I had only seen him on the shirt,’’ Barkov wryly said, “so it was nice to see him live.”

When Barkov announced he was signing a six-year deal with the Panthers worth an average of $6 million per season, he mentioned the actor and thanked him for the good luck.

Spacey apparently remembered.

“He said congrats on the contract,’’ Barkov said, “and that he wanted a piece of it.”

Monday: Panthers at Rangers

When/where: 7 p.m.; Madison Square Garden, New York.

TV/radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640.

Series: New York leads 49-33-6.

Scouting report: The Panthers snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Rangers with a 3-0 win on Jan. 2. That was the eighth consecutive victory for Florida in what would be a franchise-best, 12-game winning streak. The Panthers haven't won at MSG since March 21, 2013.

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