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Ekblad, Luongo help Panthers defeat Lightning again

by Alain Poupart /

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers played a completely different game in the back end of their home-and-home set Monday, but what stayed the same was a late goal by Florida defenseman Aaron Ekblad making the difference.

Ekblad scored with 20.2 seconds remaining in the third period, and Roberto Luongo made 39 saves to help the Panthers (8-7-3) sweep the home-and-home with a 1-0 victory at BB&T Center.

Panthers center Nick Bjugstad and Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman were battling in front of the net when Ekblad's soft wrist shot from the point hit Hedman's skate and got past Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy for the game-winner.

"Lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky,"���Ekblad said. "Good screens in front and just lucky. Can't say anything else. One little stick-handle out to the side, my hands were pretty high up on the stick, and I just kind of lobbed it in there and hoped for the best."

Ekblad's power-play goal in the final minute Saturday sent the game to overtime, and the Panthers won 5-4 in a shootout.

"Aaron Ekblad should buy a lottery ticket,"���Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "He should send somebody to buy a lottery ticket in the last minute of the game.

"We're thinking, let's just get this to overtime and get a point and see what happens. We got hemmed in, but guys (are)���in front of the net, and you're thinking that thing's not getting through at all. I don't know who it hit, but clearly it hit somebody and bounced over. It's a game of bounces, in a 0-0 game and they got the one they needed."

The victory was the 407th of Luongo's career, moving him into a tie for eighth place with Glenn Hall on the NHL's all-time list. The shutout, his first of the season and 69th of his career, moved him within two of Harry Lumley for 12th place on the League's all-time list.

It represented a nice bounce-back effort for Luongo, who expressed his displeasure about his performance Saturday, when he allowed four goals on 28 saves.

"It was better,"���he said. "I���haven't been too happy with the way I've been playing the last few games, so it's nice to give the boys a good performance after they bailed me out on Saturday there."

Vasilevskiy made 18 saves for the Lightning (8-9-3), who have lost nine of their past 12 games (3-7-2).

Tampa Bay played without forwards Tyler Johnson, Jonathan Drouin and Cedric Paquette, who each missed the game because of injury. Florida was without defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, who sustained a knee injury in the game Saturday.

Because of the injuries, the Lightning played 11 forwards and seven defensemen.

Tampa Bay outshot Florida 39-19, but they didn't have many great scoring opportunities.

It was the fourth time the Lightning were shut out this season; they were shut out once all of last season.

"Guys are crushed after the defeat. Guys are ticked off because they're working hard and the puck is not finding the back of the net,"���Cooper said. "They got the fortunate break at the end, but we still didn't score a goal."

Center Aleksander Barkov returned to the Panthers lineup after missing 10 games because of a broken right hand. He was reunited on a line with Jaromir Jagr and Jonathan Huberdeau.

Barkov led Florida's forwards with 20:52 of ice time and led the Panthers with three takeaways.

"Awesome,"���Gallant said of Barkov's performance. "Faceoffs weren't great; it was his first game back. Besides that, he was really strong and real good."

It was Gallant 100th game as Florida coach; he is 46-36-18.

The game was far different from the wide-open affair Saturday that featured four lead changes and two penalty shots.

Tampa Bay had the better of play in the first period and outshot Florida 13-4. The Panthers had one shot in the final 18:08 of the period, but the best scoring chance belonged to Florida forward Reilly Smith, who had a breakaway but shot wide.

Luongo's best save in the first period came on a shot by Nikita Kucherov in the slot.

Luongo made more big saves in the second period, including a save on Jonathan Marchessault on a rebound while he was on his stomach. Luongo earlier stopped defenseman Anton Stralman when he tried to deke him after a turnover in the Florida zone.

"We put a lot of shots on goal and had some chances,"���������Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. "It's unfortunate you don't get anything. It's tough, the last two games we've given up a goal in the last minute. We don't want to make a habit of that. We need to be better, a little more desperate, in those situations. For whatever reason, it's not going in the net. That's a tough one to swallow, but more positives than negatives tonight."

Florida's best chances in the second period were wrist shots from the wing, one from Huberdeau and the other from Barkov.

"On our side, we didn't create a whole lot and we weren't sharp and we didn't execute, the complete opposite of what we did [Saturday] night,"���������Gallant said. "And Tampa played a good, strong game. They worked hard. They probably deserved a better fate, but Luongo was outstanding tonight. He made some great saves. He was the difference in the game. I���������think the hockey gods took care of us, because we finally got one of those games that we didn't deserve."

Tampa Bay begins a three-game homestand Thursday against the New York Rangers. Florida continues its five-game homestand Thursday against the Anaheim Ducks.

"I'm just happy to get that win,"���������Ekblad said, "happy to have some momentum on our side, and hopefully we keep it rolling on these rest days and get into Thursday and play well."

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