Aleksander Barkov

SUNRISE, FL - NOVEMBER 26: Aleksander Barkov #16 of the Florida Panthers circles the net with the puck against the Columbus Blue Jackets at the BB&T Center on November 26, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida. The Panthers defeated the Blue Jackets 2-1 in a shoot out. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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Barkov’s beautiful goal pushes Panthers into playoff position

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The Florida Panthers just won’t be denied as they end the night in the East’s top eight.

It’s fitting, then, that Aleksander Barkov wouldn’t be denied on his game-winner against Los Angeles on Saturday.

Barkov bursts beyond multiple Kings, fights off what would have been an obstruction penalty and then beats Peter Budaj by the narrowest of margins to give the Panthers a 3-2 lead 15 seconds into the third period. They would never relinquish that edge to Los Angeles, winning their fourth game in a row.

In the process, the Panthers – a team that seemed to be fledgling when it fired Gerard Gallant – now find themselves in the East’s top eight. Heck, they’re actually above the wild card fray by a hair.

Before we get to that … just bask in the glow of this Barkov goal:

Again, it was such a small window to beat Budaj, too:

(If the Panthers’ place in the standings doesn’t sway you into taking them seriously, maybe note plays like that and the fact that Barkov has 20 points in his last 17 games.)

OK, so with this win, the Panthers did some serious leapfrogging. They now rank third in the Atlantic Division (thanks to a game in hand on Boston) and have more points than Toronto as far as wild card concerns go, anyway.

Atlantic Division rankings

1. Canadiens – 70 points in 59 games
2. Senators – 68 points in 56 games
3. Panthers – 64 points in 57 games

Bruins – 64 in 58
Maple Leafs – 63 in 47
Sabres – 62 in 59
Lightning – 58 in 57
Red Wings – 56 in 58

From a wild card perspective

Third in Atlantic – Panthers – 64 points in 57 games
Second wild card – Bruins – 64 in 58

Maple Leafs – 63 in 47
Islanders – 62 in 57
Sabres – 62 in 59
Flyers – 61 in 58
Devils – 60 in 58
Lightning – 58 in 57
Hurricanes – 56 in 54
Red Wings – 56 in 58

Everything’s so close that the Panthers can’t pop champagne bottles, but they’re also very much in control over their hopes. While it never hurts to see your competitors stumble, the Panthers can take care of business. They “control their own destiny,” to use silly sports parlance.

And considering how they’ve been playing lately, they might be as tough to handle in the playoffs as Barkov was to stop on that outstanding 3-2 goal.

Video: Jaromir Jagr scores first goal at 45 with style

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You know, it would make an awful lot of sense if a bye week would be especially kind to a guy like Jaromir Jagr.

Whatever the case may be, he’s been riding the wave of playing with talented teammates Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov, but you can’t say he was just a passenger on the 760th goal of his distinguished career.

To little surprise, it marks another milestone for the legendary Florida Panthers winger; he became just the third player in NHL history to score a goal at age 45 or older. He felt at least a little like a goal he would score at age 25, as you can see in the video above.

Maybe this is reaching a bit, but another interesting gray-haired accomplishment is in reach, too:

Strangely fitting on a night in which Mikko Rantanen, a player who was born in Jagr’s prime in 1996, scored his first career overtime goal for Colorado.

Update: The Panthers ended up beating the Ducks 4-1. Oh, and Jagr added another very specific bit of history.

Panthers’ present to Jagr: A wild OT win vs. Sharks

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The Florida Panthers twitter feed joked about needing coffee for a rare late game in San Jose against the Sharks, but their eventual 6-5 OT win could leave their fans so excited they’ll struggle to sleep.

(Or … conversely, so spent emotionally that they conk out on their coaches.)

If you want an idea of how thrilling this game was at times, consider this: the latter events of the contest probably topped the five-goal first period.

Consider some of the high points of what happened late in the contest:

  • Jaromir Jagr celebrated his 45th birthday with the 1,900th point of his distinguished, remarkable NHL career. At that point, it seemed like Florida might just put a bow on this game with a 5-3 lead.
  • Joe Pavelski had other ideas. The Sharks captain scored two goals to send this game into overtime, hitting the 20-goal mark in the process. It remains to be seen how injured Roberto Luongo is from the sequence in which Pavelski made it 5-5, but he was at least hurt enough to leave the game with about 30 seconds remaining in regulation.
  • This forced James Reimer into the net, aka the guy who very briefly joined the Sharks (watching Martin Jones during the playoffs, more or less). Reimer ended up making two saves and will probably be credited with a win.

  • The Panthers put together some exciting chances in a brief overtime period, including a thwarted semi-breakaway attempt by Michael Matheson. Eventually, Jonathan Huberdeau continued his red-hot if far-too-late start to the season with the OT winner, thanks to a ludicrous pass by Aleksander Barkov.

Oh yeah, the game also included some brilliant saves and a failed Pavelski penalty shot attempt … and that five-goal first period.

After the Blues really kept the lid on the Red Wings in a low-scoring game at Joe Louis Arena, just about everything happened at the Shark Tank.

San Jose has to be frustrated in its play lately, although grabbing a point here shows that the Sharks won’t just go easily. The Panthers, meanwhile, likely feel as optimistic as they’ve been in some time about a possible charge toward a wild card spot.

“Wild” certainly seemed to be the theme of this one.

Video: Jaromir Jagr celebrates 45th birthday with 1,900th point

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On his 45th birthday, Jaromir Jagr got what just about any reasonable hockey player wouldn’t even ask for: his 1,900th career regular season point.

Fitting for a guy who just seems to wade through milestone after milestone, right?

Jagr’s 22nd assist of 2016-17 did the trick on Aleksander Barkov‘s 13th goal of the season. At the moment, it seemed like the tally would put things away at 5-3 … but that wasn’t the case. Instead, Joe Pavelski remarkably fired two goals past Roberto Luongo – who was hurt on the second one – to send this game to overtime.

*Phew*

But let’s focus, for the moment, on that Jagr assist. Watch it in the video above.

On Jagr’s 45th birthday, Panthers begin crucial California swing

SUNRISE, FL - DECEMBER 22: Jaromir Jagr #68 of the Florida Panthers poses with puck marked with "1888". Jagr took sole possession of 2nd place in all time points in the NHL passing Mark Messier. The Panthers played the Boston Bruins at the BB&T Center on December 22, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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The Florida Panthers are rested and healthy and ready to make a run.

But a three-game journey through California could just as soon doom their playoff hopes. They’re in San Jose tonight (on NBCSN), Anaheim Friday, and Los Angeles Saturday. Then, on their way back to Florida, they have to make a stop in St. Louis to take on the revitalized Blues.

“We know these games are very important to us to start climbing the standings and get ourselves into a playoff spot,” defenseman Aaron Ekblad said, per the Miami Herald.

wild-cardThe Panthers are coming off a 7-4 victory in Nashville on Saturday, an encouraging bounce-back after that bye-week “hangover” loss to the Kings.

But in order to make the playoffs, it’s estimated the Panthers (24-20-10) will have to go around 16-9-3 in their remaining 28 games. With a full lineup, including Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau, that’s doable. Any extended losing streaks, however, and it will be tough to recover.

Of note, today is Jaromir Jagr‘s 45th birthday. The ageless wonder is by far the oldest player in the NHL. The next oldest is Shane Doan, who’s 40.

The fifth overall draft pick in 1990, Jagr played for the Pittsburgh Penguins as an 18-year-old rookie. At the time, the oldest player on the Pens was Bryan Trottier, who is now 60.

What’s been the key to his longevity?

“When they’re talented and skilled, if players in any sport decide that they can work as hard as anybody else, then they can play forever,” Jagr said, per the Sun-Sentinel. “They’ll always have the edge. … You can’t take a day off. Once you do you lose it very quickly.”