SUNRISE (AP) — Roberto Luongo played a big role in Saturday night’s perfect performance for Florida’s penalty killers.
Luongo made 36 saves and rookie Aaron Ekblad scored his first NHL goal, leading the Panthers to a 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers.
Captain Willie Mitchell also scored for Florida, which has won three of four. The Panthers killed off each of Philadelphia’s six power plays.
“Louie has been outstanding for us all year and again tonight he was real key at key times, especially on penalty kill,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “He was awesome.”
Luongo has stopped 107 of his last 111 shots, and the Panthers have picked up points in their last six games since a 1-0 loss to Ottawa on Oct. 13.
“I feel pretty good. The puck is hitting me,” Luongo said. “Guys are playing hard and putting pressure on the players, not giving them time and space, which allows me to do my job a lot easier than in normal circumstances.”
Vincent Lecavalier spoiled Luongo’s bid for his second shutout of the season when he scored in traffic with 7.4 seconds left.
Ekblad, the Panthers’ top pick in this year’s draft, converted a power-play slap shot from just inside the blue line, beating Philadelphia goalie Steve Mason on the short side at 15:38 of the third.
“Extreme thrill,” the 18-year-old Ekblad said. “Obviously, feelings that I felt in junior with my first goal and feeling it again here, it’s unbelievable. It’s special.”
Mason, who is 0-4-1 in his last five starts, made 28 saves.
Luongo faced his stiffest challenge with Jussi Jokinen (hooking) and Mitchell (delay of game) in the box, putting the Panthers at a 5-on-3 disadvantage for just over a minute in the third period.
“There is no room for excuses in this league. You just have to do whatever it takes to put the puck in back of the net and we didn’t do that tonight,” Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds said. “We’ve had opportunities, but we’re just not scoring. We just have to go back and look at the video and take it from there.”
Florida gave another blue-collar effort against the Flyers, who had won four of five and collected 15 goals in that stretch. The injury-riddled Panthers were playing without several key forwards, including Brandon Pirri and Dave Bolland.
“I thought the guys who came into the lineup played real well and competed,” Gallant said. “The first 30 minutes I thought was excellent and after that we ran into penalty trouble and it took some momentum away from us.”
Mitchell took a feed from Jokinen behind the net and fired a one-timer from the point past Mason to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead 9:07 into the game.
It was the first goal of the season for Mitchell, who signed with Florida on July 1 after spending the previous three seasons with Los Angeles. The defenseman’s shot went between Mason’s legs.
“Yes, I won’t lie. I feel really good,” Mitchell said. “For me it’s playing against the top players and trying to shut them down with a good stick, playing good defense. That’s as good a feeling as scoring a goal.”
It was Mason’s first start since he lost 4-0 to Chicago on Oct. 21.
“Wins are not coming right now on the personal front but you just have to keep working and stay positive,” Mason said. “I was happy for the most part with my game tonight but when the goalie at the other end plays pretty much a perfect game, it’s tough to come out on the winning side.”
NOTES: The Panthers’ victory was only their second in the last eight games against Philadelphia in Sunrise. … The Flyers also suffered their second loss in Florida in the past three days, dropping a 4-3 decision to Tampa Bay on Thursday. … Florida has allowed only 17 non-shootout goals this season. … Philadelphia is 1 for 19 with the man advantage over their last six games. … Panthers F Rocco Grimaldi made his NHL debut, logging 6:11 of ice time. … Jokinen’s assist on Mitchell’s goal was his fifth in the past four games.
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