Despite a historic night for both the franchise and Roberto Luongo, the Florida Panthers still had a job to do going into this matchup against Montreal.
The evening started early as the Florida Panthers commemorated Roberto Luongo for his time spent with the organization. Friends, family, and former teammates/colleagues were all in attendance and present on the ice as the ceremony took place.
Speeches were held with mixed emotions by those surrounding Luongo, ranging from laughter to tears of joy. After all the memorable (and funny) speeches took place, it was time to hang (and retire) the No. 1 for good.
Roberto Luongo’s number is the first number retired in the history of the Florida Panthers organization.
Enough tears, there was a game to be played! After Luongo spoke and ended off with some words of encouragement for his previous team, the puck was set to drop thirty minutes after his ceremony.
The Panthers came out with a lot of jump to open the first period of play. They knew that their playoff lives were on the line and that anything other than two points was deemed a failure.
Florida’s strong opening start didn’t go unnoticed as they immediately drew the game’s first power play. Everything seemed to be going Florida’s way from the very start, but once the power play unfolded, everything stalled.
The Cats only managed to record a single shot on goal, giving the Canadiens an easy out on the initial man advantage. They peppered Charlie Lindgren throughout the remainder of the first, but all their shots came from low-danger areas, easy for Lindgren to turn aside. After twenty minutes of play, both sides headed straight to the dressing room tied scoreless.
In the second, it was the Habs who came off on the front foot, dictating most of the play in the Panthers’ end early on. But thanks to Chris Driedger – who weathered the choppy waters – the Cats remained tied scoreless for the time being.
The Panthers were rewarded with their second power play of the game after Aleksander Barkov was hooked by Max Domi. Again, they failed to score while a man up, but they managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat that we haven’t seen for a while.
After receiving a pass that led to the buildup, Lucas Wallmark drove the puck towards goal and took it to his backhand, lifting it over Lindgren to record his first as a Panther, giving his side a 1-0 lead. For a team that has struggled to score – let alone generate any significant offense – this goal couldn’t have come at a more crucial time.
Unfortunately, the Panthers were faced with a difficult task after taking a series of penalties that led to a 5-on-3 for Montreal. It first started when Dominic Toninato was called for a high-stick, four minutes after blood was drawn. Then, Brendan Gallagher was taken down on a separate play, giving the away side some much-needed time on a two-man advantage.
Fortunately enough, the Panthers’ PK units fought through it, killing off both penalties and preserving Florida’s one-goal lead at the same time.
Later, just before the period expired, the Habs were caught with too many men on the ice, allowing the Panthers to return to the power play for the third time of the night. The Panthers created some good looks by the half wall but were unable to get a puck past Lindgren before the buzzer sounded. The Cats went straight to the locker room up by a goal after forty minutes of play. Thirty-nine seconds of their power play from the second would carry over to start the third.
For the third time, the Panthers failed to capitalize on their power-play opportunity, but as soon as the man advantage expired, MacKenzie Weegar got the home side on the board for the second time of the night.
At the point, Aaron Ekblad sent a pass over to Weegar – who stepped into the shot and fired home a rocket past Lindgren to double Florida’s lead. With an assist on the goal, Ekblad hit the 40-point mark for the first time in his career, setting a new career-high in points.
Moments later, the Panthers continued swarming the Canadiens in their end, reluctant to let their foot off the pedal. Erik Haula beautifully centered Jonathan Huberdeau a pass out in front, with the Quebec native tapping home his 23rd of the season to give the Panthers a three-goal lead.
Montreal, unfortunately, answered back through Jake Evans – who let a wrister fly over Driedger into the top corner. The Cats, as they have in the past, didn’t retreat in their own end after conceding, and instead applied even more pressure to close out the game comfortably.
They would end up icing the cake after Mike Hoffman fired a wrister from the length of the ice (from his own zone), which sailed its way into Montreal’s goal to officially call the game. The Panthers would end up closing the shop in 4-1 fashion, gaining the much-needed two points that now places them three points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs with a game in hand.
Not only was this game crucial for the sake of their standing within the playoff picture, but it was also a sentimental night for the entire Florida Panthers organization who retired an iconic player’s jersey number in Roberto Luongo. In short, it was a perfect night for all, including the legend himself, Roberto Luongo.
Your Panthers are back in action on Monday, March 9 @ 8:00 P.M. against the St. Louis Blues for the start of a two-game western road trip.