Panthers slip past Leafs in shootout
SUNRISE, Fla. — Aleksander Barkov is a tough act to follow, but Florida Panthers teammate Nick Bjugstad made it work.
Barkov and Bjugstad scored in a shootout — and Bjugstad also scored in regulation — as Florida defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1 on Wednesday night at the BB&T Center.
The shootout went four rounds. In the first three rounds, the only scores came from Toronto’s Patrick Marleau, who beat Roberto Luongo five-hole, and Barkov, who had his momentum going left before scoring to his right, past Frederik Andersen.
“‘Barkie’ had a sick move,” Bjugstad said. “I was just trying to get over that.”
Bjugstad, who hadn’t scored in a shootout since Dec. 28, 2016, did just fine with his own deke, nailing the game-winner to help Florida (8-11-2) snap a two-game losing streak.
“Nick really sold that first shot,” Luongo said. “Andersen went down, and (Bjugstad) was able to stay patient and bury it into the net.”
Luongo, fourth on the NHL career win list, had his own strong performance, making 43 saves. He has won four of his past five games, allowing only eight goals during that span.
“He was really sharp,” Leafs coach Mike Babcock said of Luongo.
The Leafs (14-8-1), who had been off to a great start this season, lost their second game in a row. Nazem Kadri scored his 11th of the season for Toronto.
Toronto started the week with the NHL’s second-ranked offense (3.71 goals per game) but has scored only twice in its last two games. And some of Toronto’s top stars have been slumping, most notably William Nylander with one goal in his past 15 games.
“More teams are shutting down the neutral zone and not giving us speed through it,” Leafs right winger Mitchell Marner said when asked to explain Toronto’s offensive slump.
At least the Leafs got great goaltending on Wednesday as Andersen stopped 41 shots. And, for a long stretch, it looked like neither goalie would get beat all night.
In fact, it took more than 35 minutes before Florida broke up a scoreless tie on Bjugstad’s goal with 4:44 left in the second period. Operating behind Toronto’s net, Bjugstad jammed the puck off the skates of Toronto defenseman Connor Carrick, and the ricochet got past Andersen.
The assists went to Vincent Trocheck and Henrik Haapala. For Haapala, it was his first career NHL point.
“I was just chopping at (the puck),” Bjugstad said of his goal. “I was trying to get it to the front of the net. I was trying to feed it to (Haapala). I think it went off a skate, a stick and something else.”
It was just Bjugstad’s fifth goal of the season, and he found it humorous that after so many golden chances that were denied this season he scored one that was so fortuitous.
“When I saw it in the back of the net, I was laughing,” he said. “Those are good ones to get sometimes when it’s not going your way. It was a lucky goal, but we’ll take it.”
Toronto tied the score 1-1 on Kadri’s goal with 13:58 expired in the third period. On a two-on-one rush, Kadri took a pass Connor Brown and lifted a shot over the glove of Luongo.
That set up the shootout, which Panthers coach Bob Boughner did not witness.
“I didn’t even look. I looked the other way. I’m superstitious,” Boughner said. “But (the shootout win) was not a fluke. Those four or five guys practice those moves.”
NOTES: Florida recalled LW Henrik Haapala, 23, from Springfield of the AHL and played him on its second line with C Vincent Trocheck and Nick Bjugstad. Haapala, a native of Finland, led his country’s pro league in points last season. ... Florida came off a 1-2-0 California trip. ... RW Nikita Soshnikov, 24, made his second appearance with Toronto this season, playing on the fourth line. That forced C Dominic Moore to the bench and moved winger Patrick Marleau to center. Moore, 37, has three goals and three assists in 15 games. ... In addition to Moore, Toronto scratched D Roman Polak and LW Josh Leivo. ... Florida scratched Alex Petrovic and and LW Dryden Hunt. ... Injured Panthers are C Derek MacKenzie (lower body) and RW Radim Vrbata (face).