SUNRISE, Fla. - The Florida Panthers took their first few steps on the long and winding road back into contention on Tuesday night, defeating the high-powered Dallas Stars, 4-3, in a thrilling shootout at the BB&T Center.
"It was nice," head coach Bob Boughner said of the victory. "I talked this morning about how well we've played in the last two games. It was a great start by us. The second period was obviously our downfall a little bit."
"We talked in between periods about getting back to our identity; doing the things we do well when we're playing our game. We did that in the third. We came out with a lot of juice. There was a lot of good things tonight."
With the win, the Panthers improved to 6-9-2 on the season, good enough for second-to-last place in the Atlantic Division and on pace for a 68-point finish.
Still, the team has been trending upward in recent games, as Florida's 30th-ranked defense has been showing steady improvement, allowing just six goals over its past three games (2-1-0). It's a start, for sure, but in order to climb out of the Eastern Conference cellar, the Panthers know they need to be even better.
"Even though I think we're playing better, we've been playing .500 hockey over the last four games," said goaltender Roberto Luongo, who stopped 40 of 43 shots in Tuesday's victory. "It's a process. We've got to stick with it. We can't take things for granted. If we come up with a win or whatnot, we can't just expect it to happen again the next game."
"It's a matter of putting in the work every day, getting better as a team and not taking anything for granted. You see teams win one, lose one all the time. The good teams are able to put it on the ice every night on a consistent basis and that's how we're going to turn this thing around."
Looking to win back-to-back games for just the second time this season, the Panthers will kick off a taxing three-game trek through California on Thursday night in San Jose. After that, the team will wrap things up with back-to-back matchups against Los Angeles and Anaheim on Saturday and Sunday.
The combined record of those three Cali-based teams: 29-18-5.
Luongo said that the Panthers aren't phased by their upcoming schedule, especially after last season's successful trip in which Florida scored 13 goals in wins over San Jose (6-5 OT), Anaheim (4-1) and Los Angeles (3-2) to complete the franchise's first-ever sweep through the Golden State.
"I think the fact that we did it last year, it's fresh in our heads," Luongo said. "We know that it's a possibility. But like I just said, we need a lot of work and effort and make sure that we play 20 guys every night. Those are not games that are very easy to win. It takes a special effort from everybody to try come away, in those buildings, with two points."
With injured forwards Derek MacKenzie (lower body) and Jared McCann (upper body) both questionable for Thursday's game in San Jose, the Panthers recalled forward Chase Basily from AHL affiliate Springfield on Wednesday.
This is the third recall of the season for Balisy, who has recorded no point in four games with the Panthers. In 13 games with the Thunderbirds, the 25-year-old has registered four goals and four assists.
While MacKenzie's status remains uncertain, Boughner said after Monday's practice that he hopes McCann will be able to rejoin the team in time for this weekend's matchups against LA and Anaheim.
"Cross our fingers and let's see what happens," Boughner said.
McCann, 21, has five points (2-3-5) in eight games this season.
The Panthers added quite a bit of speed to their prospect pool on Wednesday morning, signing smooth-skating forward Jonathan Ang to a three-year, entry-level contract.
"Jonathan is a highly-skilled young player who plays a strong two-way game and possesses world class speed," Panthers General Manager Dale Tallon said in the team's official release. "We've been impressed with Jonathan's development and look forward to watching him continue to progress as he works toward beginning his pro career."
Ang, 19, has appeared in 21 games with the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League this season, registering a team-leading 12 goals and 30 points.
A fourth-round pick (94th overall) of the Panthers in the 2016 NHL Draft, the 5-foot-11, 170-pound native of Markham, Ontario has amassed 158 points (70-88-158) in 215 career OHL games.
Ang is expected to compete for a spot with AHL affiliate Springfield next season.