Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau help Florida Panthers win fourth straight

By Dennis Bernstein, The Sports Xchange  |  Feb. 19, 2017 at 8:20 AM
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LOS ANGELES --With Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau returning to a struggling lineup, the Florida Panthers could prove to be a very dangerous postseason opponent.

The young centers' performance against the Los Angeles Kings continued their late season run up the Eastern Conference standings.

Barkov scored the decisive goal in the third period and Roberto Luongo made 34 saves as the Florida Panthers defeated the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 on Saturday.

Florida (27-20-10) won its fourth straight game and seventh in its last eight to climb into third place in the Atlantic Division. Huberdeau and Jussi Jokinen added goals as the Panthers avenged a 6-3 loss Feb. 9 to split the season series. It was Florida's first win in Los Angeles since November 27. 2002.

Los Angeles (28-25-4) lost its second straight game after returning from its week off. Tanner Pearson and Dwight King registered goals while Peter Budaj stopped 22 shots.

Panthers coach Tom Rowe credited his squad's effort to break through in a building that the franchise has had no recent success.

"The guys did a good job tonight. If you told them coming into Los Angeles you'd have a chance to win the game in the third period with the score 2-2, we'd take that any day of the week," Rowe said. "The playoff race in the East is so darn close."

Luongo said he feels that it was a just a matter of time and good health for the Panthers to return to contention.

"Everybody is healthy, so it is a big boost for our club as far as knowing everyone is in the lineup," Luongo said. "We are getting results and we want to keep it going right now."

The Kings continue to struggle offensively as their 24th-ranked offense hasn't consistently support their season-long solid defensive play. As a result, they are on the outside looking in for the playoffs with 25 games remaining in the regular season, an unaccustomed spot for Kings coach Darryl Sutter.

"We were chasing the game again, down 2-0," Sutter said. "We did a good job to rally to tie the game but (Florida's) third goal was a bad one."

With another big game Sunday against their arch-rival Anaheim Ducks, Tanner Pearson knows that each game looms large in the playoff race.

"Letting these points slip away is not good," Pearson said.

The Panthers regained the lead at 3-2 on Barkov's 14th goal of the season 15 seconds into the third period. Barkov fended off Los Angeles' Jeff Carter on a solo rush and slid a backhand shot under Budaj's right pad with Jaromir Jagr and Aaron Ekblad registering assists.

Los Angeles tied the game 2-2 on Pearson's 19th goal of the season at 11:56 of the middle frame. Pearson took a feed from Carter, turned Florida defenseman Jason Demers to create space and beat Luongo with a backhander as Tyler Toffoli drew the additional assist.

The Kings narrowed the lead to 2-1 on King's eighth goal of the season at 5:39 of the second period. King converted a rebound off a goalmouth scramble with Trevor Lewis and Nick Shore getting assists.

The goal was upheld after a Panthers challenge for goaltender interference, claiming Shore impeded Luongo from making a play on the puck.

Florida extended to a 2-0 on Jokinen's ninth goal of the season at 1:14 of the second period. Jokinen was left alone in the slot and took a feed from Reilly Smith to wire a wrist shot from 30 feet past Budaj with Alex Petrovic earning the secondary assist.

The Panthers opened the scoring on Huberdeau's goal at 15:05 of the first period. During a delayed penalty call on Los Angeles' Marian Gaborik, Huberdeau finished an odd man rush by beating Budaj with a wrist shot off a back pass from Barkov with Vincent Trocheck drawing the secondary assist.

Huberdeau has four goals and four assists in six games since making his season debut after returning from an Achilles injury.

NOTES:

-- Florida did not dress D Jakub Kindl and C Michael Sgarbossa.

-- The Panthers conclude their five game road trip Monday in St. Louis. They start a stretch of seven home games in eight contests Wednesday against Edmonton.

-- Jaromir Jagr, the 45-year-old ageless wonder, is fourth in scoring on the Panthers (11 goals, 23 assists). His assist Saturday gives him 1,902 career points, trailing only Wayne Gretzky (2,857).

-- Los Angeles scratched C Nic Dowd and D Kevin Gravel.

-- Darryl Sutter coached his 400th game behind the Kings bench.

-- Los Angeles RW Tyler Toffoli is struggling since returning from a knee injury that sidelined him for 20 games. The Kings leading goal scorer last season potted only one goal in his last eight games and registered only nine goals in 38 contests this season, far off the pace of the career-high 31 from 2015-16.

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