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SUNRISE (The Sports Xchange) – For the second time in three days, Florida defenseman Aaron Ekblad scored a last-minute goal to help the Panthers beat the Tampa Bay Lightning.
On Monday night, Ekblad scored with just 20.2 seconds remaining in the third period as goalie Roberto Luongo earned his 69th career shutout as the Panthers defeated the Lightning 1-0 at the BB&T Center.
Ekblad’s shot caromed off the skate of Tampa defenseman Victor Hedman.
“Lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky,” said Ekblad, who got assists from left winger Jonathan Huberdeau and right winger Jaromir Jagr. “(We had) good screens in front and just lucky — can’t say anything else.
“(I made) one little stick handle out to the side, my hands were pretty high up on the stick, and I just kind of lobbed it in there and hoped for the best.”
The goal was originally credited to Panthers center Nick Bjugstad, who had set a screen.
“Bjugstad was in front battling with that guy (Hedman),” Ekblad said. “(Bjugstad) had no idea that it hit the guy’s skate. It goes up and over … It’s great. … It was lucky. I can’t believe that happened.”
Tampa coach Jon Cooper agreed with Ekblad’s assessment.
“He should buy a lottery ticket,” Cooper said of Ekblad’s good fortune.
The game marked just the second time in the past nine meetings at the BB&T Center that the Panthers have defeated Tampa.
But this contest was in stark contrast to the one played in Tampa on Saturday, when the Panthers beat the Lightning in a high-scoring 5-4 shootout. In that game, Ekblad scored with 37.9 seconds left in regulation to force overtime.
On Monday, Luongo, who made 39 saves, earned career win No. 407, tying Glenn Hall for eighth place on the NHL victories list.
“I got a few bounces,” Luongo said. “I haven’t been too happy with the way I’ve been playing lately. It was nice to give the boys a good performance after they bailed me out on Saturday.”
Asked about the difference in his play from his previous game to Monday, Luongo poked fun at his slip on Saturday by saying: “For starters, I didn’t fall.”
Indeed, Luongo was spectacular on Monday, outplaying Andrei Vasilevskiy, a first-round pick in 2012 who is in just his second year in the NHL.
Vasilevskiy, who has played for his native Russia in the World Championships and also won one game in last season’s Stanley Cup Finals, stopped 19 Panthers shots but got beat by his teammate’s skate.
“It stinks but, (stuff) happens,” Vasilevskiy said.
The Panthers win was joyous for Gerard Gallant, who celebrated his 100th game coaching Florida. His Panthers have won just three of their past nine games, going 3-4-2 during that span.
Tampa has also been slumping. The Lightning have won just three of their past 12 games, going 3-7-2 during that span.
During a scoreless first period, Tampa got the better of Florida, outshooting the Panthers, 13-4. Both teams went 0-for-1 on power-play opportunities. Florida went 14:54 without a shot on goal.
The second period was also scoreless. This time, Tampa, which had two power plays, outshot the Panthers, who had one.
Ekblad’s goal, though, made Florida a winner, allowing the Panthers (8-7-3) to tie the Lightning (8-9-3) and the Red Wings with 19 points for third place in the Atlantic Division.
“It wasn’t pretty,” Gallant said of his team’s win. “But anyone in your division — not just Tampa — when you can get four points off them in two games, that’s really big for us. And it puts us a game over .500.
“But we have to play a lot better than we did tonight. We didn’t create a whole lot. We weren’t sharp, and we didn’t execute. Tampa played a good, strong game. They worked hard and probably deserved a better fate.”
NOTES: Panthers C Aleksander Barkov (broken hand) came back for the first time since blocking a shot on Oct. 22. … Panthers D Dmitry Kulikov, who suffered a lower-body injury on Saturday, is expected to miss a few games. He is third on the team in blocks and takeaways. … Panthers D Steven Kampfer, usually a healthy scratch, played just his second game this season, replacing Kulikov. … Tampa rested starting G Ben Bishop. … Lightning LW Ondrej Palat (ankle) is out three to six weeks. … Tampa called up RW Mike Blunden and C Jonathan Marchessault from Syracuse of the AHL. Both were immediately inserted into the lineup. … Tampa scratched C Tyler Johnson (unspecified injury), C Cedric Paquette (ankle) and LW Jonathan Drouin (lower body). … Florida had two healthy scratches: LWs Shawn Thornton and Garrett Wilson.
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