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Panthers Top Line Shines in Victory over Tampa Bay

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop /

SUNRISE, Fla. - While there are still roster spots to be won up and down the lineup, the Florida Panthers can safely say they've already found their new top line for the 2017-18 season.

Jonathan Huberdeau scored two goals, each assisted by linemate Aleksander Barkov, to lead the Panthers to a 4-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning at the BB&T Center on Tuesday.

"I think, and I said it early on, once they get familiar with each other I think it's going to be a scary line," Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. "You could see that when they get out there and they've got puck control and they've got full speed. I think they're one of the best lines in the league, myself. We'll keep that line going as best as possible. We're happy about the way they've jelled."

Since first coming together as a unit in Sunday's victory over the Lightning at Amalie Arena, Florida's new-look top line of Huberdeau, Barkov and Evgenii Dadonov has combined for 10 points in two games.

"Everything seems to be clicking for me, [Barkov] and [Dadonov] right now," said Huberdeau, who has three goals in two preseason games. "It's an exhibition game, of course; we don't have our full team, but I think our line is clicking right now, so hopefully we can go throughout the whole season."

After a scoreless first period, Huberdeau opened up the scoring after taking a feed from Barkov off the faceoff and firing a precision wrist shot from the right circle past Andrei Vasilevskiy at 0:42 of the second. Less than six minutes later, Huberdeau tallied his second goal of the game on a deflection to extend Florida's lead to 2-0 at 5:57 of the period.

Vasilevskiy made 28 saves on 32 shots.

"We were missing some good players on our side, but I think they had a pretty full lineup on the other side," Huberdeau said of the Lightning. "We know what they're going to come with and, of course, the execution's going to be different [in the regular season]. But we feel good about ourselves. We've had a good training camp. We just got to keep going the next two games."

Ryan Callahan and Nikita Kucherov each scored for the Lightning.

In his first full start of the preseason, Roberto Luongo stopped 38 of 40 shots.

"It's good to get a game like that underneath me -- a full 60 minutes, 40 shots, all that kind of stuff," said Luongo, who missed the final six weeks of last season with a lower-body injury. "I was able to get through it without any problems and feeling good about my game and where I need to be. We've got two more games left; I've got one more before the season starts. I just want to keep ramping it up and make sure that when we get to next week we're where we need to be."

Connor Brickley and Vincent Trocheck also scored for the Panthers.

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