Teams in the NHL generally do not come back from a 3-0 deficit, especially when the score gets there midway through the second period.
Yet thanks to the scoring prowess of Sasha Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and the skate of Jaromir Jagr, the Panthers roared back from the three-goal hole and beat the visiting Montreal Canadiens 4-3 on Saturday night.
Barkov scored the game-winner off a rebound from an Aaron Ekblad shot with 28.1 seconds remaining. The goal should have been his third of the night as he got things started by putting a puck past goalie Mike Condon off Jagr’s skate and then scored late in the second to make it a 3-2 game going into the second intermission.
“We were down 3-0 and getting two goals at the end of the period gave us all a lot of confidence,” said Barkov, who again wore the ‘Spacey In Space’ sweatshirt after he inaugurated it by scoring twice against the Canadiens on Dec. 29.
“We knew we could tie it up and then win this game.”
How good was Florida’s top line of Barkov, Jagr and Huberdeau on Saturday?
“They’re phenomenal,” Montreal coach Michel Therrien said. “They’ve got size, and they’re strong on the puck. They dominate the game. It’s pretty simple.”
The Panthers — who set a franchise record with their 44th win — are now a single point away from clinching just their fifth playoff appearance after Detroit’s win in Toronto kept them from doing it Saturday night.
“It would have to be a perfect storm to knock us out,” said coach Gerard Gallant, whose team remained atop the Atlantic Division with the win.
Gallant wasn’t happy — at all — with a slow start by his team on Saturday, saying the Panthers must have thought the game started at 8 p.m. and not at 7.
“At least I can smile right now,” Gallant said. “It was a tough start.”
Montreal, which lost 21 of 26 games during a two-month period starting on Dec. 3, took a 3-0 lead after scoring a pair of goals within a span of 70 seconds midway through the second.
With Barkov leading the charge, Florida came right back.
With 6:47 left in the second, Barkov fired a shot that clipped the skate of Jagr and went in.
Although Barkov was originally credited with what was to be his 25th goal of the season, it was taken off the board and credited as Jagr’s 26th.
“I had tough luck, missed everything I could,” Jagr joked afterward. “I knew I couldn’t score with my stick.”
Barkov ended up becoming Florida’s third 25-goal scorer soon afterward as he hammered a shot through traffic and made it 3-2 with 33.6 seconds left in the period.
The Panthers tied the score midway through the third when Montreal native Huberdeau scored his sixth goal in his past five games to keep his career-high goal streak going.
Huberdeau knows he broke plenty of hearts in his hometown Saturday night — and was happy to do so.
“I’m glad I did,” Huberdeau said, grinning. “I hate them now.”
Florida got off to yet another dreadful start as Montreal took a 1-0 lead midway through the first and appeared to lead 2-0 late in the period after Andrei Markov knocked a puck past Roberto Luongo.
Gallant challenged that goal, and it was taken off as the Canadiens appeared to be offside.
The Panthers tried tying the score midway through the second with a barrage of chances against Condon, yet failed to get the puck through.
Florida and the Canadiens wrap up the four-game season series Tuesday in Montreal. The Panthers embark on their final road trip Sunday afternoon as they open up a three-game set away from Sunrise on Monday in Toronto.
The Panthers follow up the Maple Leafs game -- Toronto beat Florida here on Tuesday -- with games in Montreal and Ottawa before returning for the regular season home finale Saturday against Carolina.
▪ The Panthers have three 25-goal scorers for the third time in franchise history and for the first time since Olli Jokinen (38), Nathan Horton (28) and Joe Nieuwendyk (26) did so in 2005-06.
Florida has never had four 25-goal scorers in a season but are close as Reilly Smith currently has 24.
The Panthers haven't had a single 25-goal scorer in a season before this one since Tomas Fleischmann got 27 in 2011-12.
▪ Former Florida goalie Jose Theodore (2011-12) worked Canadiens' television for TVA on Saturday.