CALGARY (CBSMiami/AP) — Don’t look now but the Florida Panthers are sneaking back into the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Indeed, Florida has been on quite a roll since the All-Star break and that continued Saturday night.
Mike Matheson scored twice, Aleksander Barkov had a goal and two assists, and the Panthers beat the Calgary Flames 6-3 for their seventh win in eight games.
“We’ve been doing a lot better job of playing within our systems,” Matheson said. “Early on in the year we were trying to get used to it a little bit. Since having a bit of time off at the All-Star break, I think we’ve been able to come back hard knowing we really can’t afford to be leaving points out there.”
Roberto Luongo stopped 30 shots in his first appearance since a groin injury on Dec. 4, and picked up his first win since Nov. 27.
“Still not quite as sharp as I want to be, but for the first game back I thought it was pretty good,” Luongo said.
Evgenii Dadonov and Vincent Trocheck each had a goal and an assist, and Jared McCann also scored to help the Panthers get their fifth straight road win.
Florida went into the league’s four-day break 12 points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They’ve cut the margin in half, now trailing the New York Islanders for the second wild card spot by six points.
“Guys are playing like it’s our playoffs right now,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. “We’ve got to just keep digging in and getting as many points as we can right now. We’re still in the thick of it and we have some games at hand.”
Dougie Hamilton scored three goals for his first career hat trick for the Flames, who are 0-3-3 in their last six at home. It was the first three-goal game by a Flames defenseman since Al MacInnis in 1992.
“Obviously a cool thing to do, but tough in a game like that,” said Hamilton, playing in his 400th NHL game. “I’ve had two goals before and you always say to yourself, well maybe there’s a chance you can score a hat trick, but never did it. The last one I had that I remember was minor hockey. It’s been a while.”
David Rittich started and gave up four goals on 15 shots before he was pulled early in the second period. Jon Gillies came on and stopped 13 of the 15 shots he faced.
The Flames, the league’s second-best road team, just completed a 4-2-0 trip. However, they couldn’t carry that over in their return home.
“What happened tonight is what everybody fears and talks about,” coach Glen Gulutzan said. “You come home from a road trip, you have a successful road trip, your first game back and every guy didn’t have enough to get us through this game.”
Tied 1-1 after the first period, Florida blew the game open in the second with three goals in the opening 6:03.
Trocheck completed a nifty give-and-go with Barkov by slipping a shot past Rittich at 58 seconds to put Florida ahead.
With Barkov providing the screen, Dadonov deflected Keith Yandle’s shot past Rittich at 3:09 to make it 3-1.
Barkov then gave the Panthers a three-goal lead at 6:03 as he redirected Dadonov’ shot between Rittich’s shot. Gillies came on after that.
“We just weren’t executing,” Flames captain Mark Giordano said. “It felt like we were a little bit off right from the start of the game.”
Calgary pulled to 4-2 with 7:45 left in the second on Hamilton’s second power-play goal of the night.
Matheson got his second of the game at 3:41 of the third, and McCann made it 6-2 just more than two minutes later.
Hamilton capped the scoring with 8:05 left when he banked in a shot from the corner off the leg of Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad.
NOTES: It was Rittich’s first start at home. His previous nine starts all came on the road. … Injured starting goalie Mike Smith (lower body) skated before the Flames’ game-day skate Saturday morning, but didn’t face any shots. His status remains day-to-day. … Hamilton played in his 400th NHL game. … Flames F Johnny Gaudreau snapped an eight-game scoring streak (four goals, seven assists). … Ekblad extended his point-streak to six games (three goals, five assists).
Panthers: At Winnipeg on Sunday night.
Flames: Host Boston on Monday.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)