The Florida Panthers have won back-to-back contests, but with the Ottawa Senators threatening to run away with the last Wild Card spot on the strength of their red hot play, the Panthers had a lot of pressure on them coming into tonight’s game against Tampa Bay.
The first period didn’t go their way though. Lightning forward Brenden Morrow took advantage of a rebound opportunity to make it 1-0 just 5:49 minutes into the contest. A little less than two minutes later, Ryan Callahan stole a pass intended for Florida’s Aleksander Barkov and then fed the puck to Tyler Johnson who fired a powerful one-timer past goaltender Roberto Luongo.
You can see that sequence below:
With nine games left in its schedule, Tampa Bay is two points behind the Montreal Canadiens in the battle for the Atlantic Division title. The Lightning also have a shot of taking the Presidents’ Trophy.
Jaromir Jagr’s climb up the NHL’s all-time leaderboards continued tonight with another huge milestone.
With the help of 21-year-old Jonathan Huberdeau and 19-year-old Aleksander Barkov, Jaromir Jagr, who is older than both of them combined, found the back of the net for the 718th time in his career to give Florida a 1-0 lead over Detroit. Jagr has now surpassed Phil Esposito to claim sole ownership of fifth place on the NHL’s career goals list.
If Jagr is able to extend his career into the 2015-16 campaign, then he’ll have a chance of surpassing Marcel Dionne and perhaps even Brett Hull. Jagr trials Dionne by 13 goals and Hull by 23 markers.
Brandon Pirri scored for Florida less than four minutes later and Jagr assisted on that marker. With two points tonight, Jagr is up to 1,791 in his career. He ranks in fifth place on the all-time leaderboard in that category as well, just behind Ron Francis (1,798).
Few teams in the NHL need points right now more than Florida and Winnipeg. The Panthers and Jets are key squads in the Eastern and Western Wild Card races respectively, so given the importance of this contest it was appropriately close. However, Florida ultimately squeaked by with a 4-2 victory.
Jonathan Huberdeau and Jaromir Jagr led the Panthers with two points each, but the hero tonight was 19-year-old Aleksander Barkov who scored the game-winning goal at 16:07 of the third period.
Nick Bjugstad helped himself to his 24th marker of 2014-15 by firing on an empty Jets net with less than a minute left in regulation time.
The Jets, which held the second Wild Card spot going into tonight’s action, desperately needed a win tonight with the defending champion Los Angeles Kings on their heels. However, the missed points might prove to be just the tip of the iceberg. The Jets also lost defenseman Tyler Myers after he crashed into the post and then boards.
Winnipeg head coach Paul Maurice didn’t update Myers’ condition following the game, per the Winnipeg Sun’s Ken Wiebe.
For Florida these two points help, but the Panthers’ situation is getting desperate. They’re chasing Boston for the second Wild Card spot and remain six points behind with just 15 games left. Meanwhile, the Senators are only one point back of Florida after Ottawa earned its ninth win in 11 games.
The Florida Panthers’ young core of forwards got a reinforcement and new mentor on Thursday when GM Dale Tallon acquired 43-year-old Jaromir Jagr from the New Jersey Devils.
To say that he brings a wealth of knowledge to the table would be an understatement. His NHL career started in 1990 while the Florida Panthers made their debut in 1993. Jagr has participated in 202 playoff contests. Florida has been in 38.
“(The message is) that we’re buyers and committed to winning,” Tallon said, per the Sun Sentinel. “[Owner Vinnie Viola] and we all said we want to win a championship. We’re putting the pieces together step by step. Hopefully, Jaromir can lead these young guys to the promised land. It’s a win-win for us.”
The future Hall of Famer will play alongside either 19-year-old Aleksander Barkov or 22-year-old Nick Bjugstad in his Panthers debut on Saturday. In addition to his keadership role, the Panthers are also hoping Jagr can bolster their offense as the team has averaged just 2.28 goals per contest. That lack of firepower is the single biggest reason Florida is two points shy of the Boston Bruins and the second Wild Card spot.
Just three points out of a playoff spot and in the mix to be a deadline buyer, the Florida Panthers will be interesting to watch as Mar. 2 draws closer.
But to hear head coach Gerard Gallant explain it, any potential deal won’t involve the Panthers’ young prospects.
“I don’t foresee that happening,” Gallant said, per CBS Radio Miami. “We’re staying the course. We’re going to play our young guys, because our young guys are playing real well and they’re a big part of our team.
“I’d be shocked if anything like that happens. You’d have to get an unbelievable offer, but we’re planning on doing this for the long haul.”
It’s easy to see why Gallant was asked about parting with his young stars. Florida’s current position in the standings and reports that the club was interested in Toronto’s Phil Kessel kicked things off — and, obviously, the Panthers have enough tantalizing young assets to pull off a blockbuster. Their three leading scorers are 22-year-old Nick Bjugstad, 19-year-old Aaron Ekblad and 21-year-old Jonathan Huberdeau while the likes of Aleksander Barkov (who’s 19), Alex Petrovic (who’s 22) and Erik Gudbranson (who’s 23) are key contributors as well.
The club’s AHL affiliate in San Antonio also loaded. Promising prospects like Vincent Trocheck, Rocco Grimaldi, Jonathan Racine and Connor Brickley have played well this year and could be knocking on the NHL door sooner rather than later (Trocheck, Grimaldi and Racine have all made their big-league debuts already.)
Despite this seeming surplus of talent, Panthers GM Dale Tallon sounds loathe to part with any of his youngsters. Instead, veterans like Sean Bergenheim and Tomas Fleischmann are being dangled, in part to open up more spots on the active roster for young players.
“The young guys are coming up,” Gallant explained. “I don’t anticipate anybody being traded — any of our young players. We’d be shocked.”