With the distinct possibility they may have to face Boston at some point during the playoffs, the Panthers needed to stand up to the Bruins on Thursday night.
Thanks to a 4-1 victory at TD Garden -- Florida’s first win here in its past 10 tries — the Panthers not only gave themselves a shot of confidence but also may have helped the Bruins continue their slide out of the playoff race.
Florida had also not won a game against a team holding a playoff spot in over a month.
“This time of year, those points are huge, especially when you’re playing teams that are all around you,’’ said former Bruins’ winger Reilly Smith, who scored Florida’s first goal.
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“It’s nice to get that win and push them back a little bit. ... If we do end up playing them some time in the playoffs, we put in a good effort tonight and show them who we are.”
As for goalie Roberto Luongo, well, his past history in Boston has been well documented especially the three losses suffered there in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals.
Luongo’s performances in Boston lately are such that a local columnist suggested the Bruins — who had lost their past four coming in Thursday — should have celebrated the fact “ol’ Shaky Luongo” was going to start against them.
The lack of success at the Garden isn’t something that escaped Luongo, either. He knows all about it yet played with confidence Thursday. At one point, he taunted former Florida teammate Jimmy Hayes by shoving his glove — while holding the puck — into Hayes’ chest.
So, if the Panthers have to come back here once the playoffs start — and it could happen in the opening round if Florida is the second Atlantic seed and Boston the third — Thursday’s 34 save performance was huge for the Florida goalie as well.
“Yeah, obviously, I mean it’s been a while but like I said [Wednesday], it’s a hockey rink like every other one and you go out and play the game the same way,’’ Luongo said. “Personally I don’t try to make a big deal out of it, but obviously it’s nice to get a win here — especially not knowing who we’re going to face in the first round.”
Now back in the Sunshine State, the Panthers’ attention shifts to another Atlantic Division foe, one whom they’ve had at least a little success against this season.
Florida and the host Tampa Bay Lightning have faced off four times with the Panthers winning three so far.
And believe it or not, first place in the division is on the line -- yes, the two NHL teams from sunny Florida are battling for the lead in a hockey division featuring four Original Six franchises.
Tampa Bay played host to the Islanders on Friday night with the Panthers enjoying a night off.
Florida has eight games left with just one (Tampa Bay) coming against a team holding a playoff spot.
The Panthers may not need to beat the Lightning Saturday to win the Atlantic Division and the top playoff seed which comes with it, but it sure wouldn’t hurt.
“We feel our game has been a little inconsistent over the past little while,’’ Luongo said. “We have eight games left and if we can play consistently every night, we’ll head into the playoffs in a good place. Saturday is a big game, it’s nice to have a rivalry. But until you get a team in the playoffs, the rivalry really isn’t there.’’
▪ The Panthers had what looked to be a good goal taken away after a lengthy review Monday in New York against the Rangers.
Thursday night, they may have gotten one back. Although it appeared Patrice Bergeron had wedged the puck across the goal line, the video reviewed at hockey central in Toronto ruled inconclusive.
Instead of being tied 2-2 with 11:57 left, the Panthers continued to lead 2-1. Not long after, Jussi Jokinen all but ended it by knocking Dmitry Kulikov’s pass past Tuukka Rask.
Jonathan Huberdeau really did end it in the final minute by scoring into an empty net.
“When it happened, I didn’t think it was in,’’ Luongo said, “and then obviously I saw the Jumbotron a couple times, so I wasn’t quite sure exactly what had happened there. Either way, it was nice to get a break going your way there.
“Those things even out over the course of a season. So, it was a big break for us there.”
▪ Defenseman Steven Kampfer, who was called of a high-stick which didn’t look high thus costing him a goal against the Rangers, saved a goal in the first period Thursday by playing a bit of goalie.
When Luongo bobbled a long shot from Matt Beleskey and lost the puck behind him, Kampfer hopped into the net and on the ice, sweeping the puck away from Luongo and the goal line.
“It was strictly instinct,” said Kampfer, who has played all three forward positions as well as both left and right defense since joining the Panthers last year.
“I was trying to shovel it back into Luongo. Then I was thinking to myself, ‘if another shot comes in, just be ready to make a save’.’’
Saturday: Panthers at Lightning
When/where: 7 p.m.; Amalie Arena, Tampa.
TV/radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640, WNMA 1210.
Series: Florida leads 61-50-10.
Scouting report: This appears to be the second time the Panthers and Lightning will go into the playoffs in the same season. The only other time came in 1996 when Florida went to the Stanley Cup Finals. Tampa Bay lost to Philadelphia in the opening round that year.