TAMPA, Fla. – The Florida Panthers are heading home with a renewed sense of confidence after snatching victory from the jaws of defeat in a chaotic 5-4 shootout victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena on Saturday night.
“It was exciting,” said Panthers head coach Gerard Gallant. “There was lots of scoring, lots of open chances, and the guys competed hard and battled hard. I’m real happy with the win.”
Brandon Pirri, who also scored on a penalty shot in the second period, netted the first and only goal the Panthers would need in the shootout as Roberto Luongo stopped all three Lightning shooters he faced.
"It was huge,'' said Pirri. "We practice [the shootout] so much. Luongo said he's bad at it but ever since I've been here he stops a lot more than he lets in and gives us a chance every night.''
Luongo, who stopped Victor Hedman, Brian Boyle and Valtteri Filppula in the shootout, made 24 saves in addition to also denying Steven Stamkos on a penalty shot with 1:51 remaining in overtime.
"It was definitely one of the craziest games I've ever played," said Luongo. "It's a good character win for the boys. We stuck with it and got a big goal at the end to tie it up. Pirri scored a great goal in the shootout, and we were able to hold it there."
The Panthers (7-7-3) trailed for the majority of the final frame after Lightning forward Vladislav Namestnikov scored his second goal of the night to give the Lightning a 4-3 lead at 9:56 of the third period.
In the waning seconds of regulation, however, defenseman Aaron Ekblad tied the game with a power-play goal with 38 seconds left in the third period after Tampa Bay forward Ryan Callahan was whistled for delay of game for sending the puck over the glass at 19:17.
"That was just awesome,'' said Ekblad, who clocked a season-high 27:39 of ice time. "Guys are excited after a win like that. Confidence is what it's all about. It's a good rivalry -- the Battle of Florida. Sometimes that gets overlooked.''
What isn’t being overlooked, according to Ekblad, is the importance of Saturday’s victory.
"It builds momentum,” said Ekblad “The guys are excited and anxious to get back out on the ice after a win like that."
Hoping to build off their wild win and turn a single victory into a much-needed winning streak, the Panthers will host the Lightning (8-8-3) in the second game of their home-and-home series on Monday at the BB&T Center in the first game of a pivotal five-game home stand.
"We battled back and we found a way," said Gallant. "It was really good for our hockey team, so we just got to build on it. We're back to .500. We beat a real good team in their building. We play them again Monday night, but we've got to be better so we need to keep getting better and getting points."
Aleksander Barkov, who hasn’t played since suffering an upper-body injury on Oct. 22, skated with the Panthers before Saturday's game but didn't play.
The 20-year-old center could return to the lineup as early as Monday, according to Gallant.