SUNRISE, Fla. — Jaromir Jagr drew rave reviews for his Florida Panthers debut Saturday despite being held off the scoresheet. His contributions in his second game with his new team were more tangible.
Jagr ended a career-high nine-game point drought with a goal and an assist when the Panthers defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 at BB&T Center on Sunday.
“I don’t really look right now to the goals,” Jagr said while wearing the Army jacket given to the Panthers player of the game. “My goal is different. I came here to help this team try to make the playoffs or make it as close as possible. It’s like a playoff for us already. We’ve got 19 games to go, and it’s going to be exciting. Hopefully we can play the same way we did tonight or yesterday and see what happens.”
Jagr, who was held without a point in the Panthers’ 5-3 victory against the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday, had his first multipoint game since Jan. 3, when he scored three goals against the Philadelphia Flyers while playing for the New Jersey Devils.
His goal was the 717th of his career and tied him with Phil Esposito for fifth on the NHL's all-time list.
“I watched many times this year the series between the Russians and Canada in 1972 and he was a dominating player there,” Jagr said. “After I watched the tapes, I respect him a lot more because he turned the series around. He was the guy. In that time, he was the best in the world. It’s a big honor for me to tie him.”
Brad Boyes scored his 200th NHL goal, Aleksander Barkov and Aaron Ekblad each had a goal, and Jonathan Huberdeau had three assists for the Panthers, who ended a five-game losing streak against the Lightning.
Ekblad's goal was his 10th, tying Ed Jovanovski for the most by a Panthers rookie defenseman.
“I was sitting there for a while at nine,” said Ekblad, who scored his first goal in 10 games. “It’s a nice thing to have, but we’re more focused on the win. We beat the Tampa Bay Lightning, one of the best teams in the League, which shows how good we can be when we play the right way. It’s pretty special what we can do.”
The Panthers’ nine goals over the weekend were only two fewer than they managed in their previous nine games combined.
“It was a lot of fun,” Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said. “The guys are going hard to the net. We got the first goal on a real nice play. [Jagr] gets his first goal with us. Yesterday we had an enormous amount of chances, and today there were some good opportunities and we cashed in with four goals.”
Montoya stopped Tyler Johnson’s penalty-shot attempt at 5:09 of the second period, 22 seconds before Barkov scored to give Florida a 2-1 lead.
“It’s huge,” Montoya said. “The team was buzzing after that first period. I thought we had the momentum and in the second we were all over them, so I knew if you make a save here, this is huge. Hats off to the guys, because they responded well. It’s a big save, but at the same time they came out and got a couple of more goals, which gives the team confidence.”
Anton Stralman, Steven Stamkos and Johnson scored for the Lightning, who had won three of their previous four, including a 4-0 victory against the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday.
"We get up for the big games (like Chicago), and then we come out with an effort like we did today,” Stamkos said. “It’s not acceptable. You can’t expect to win the way we played, turning the puck over and not winning any battles against a team that’s playing for their lives.”
Ben Bishop, who came in with a 5-0-0 record and a 1.89 goals-against average in five career games against Florida, made 22 saves.
The victory moved the Panthers (28-22-13) within two points of the idle Boston Bruins for the second wild-card spot into the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the Eastern Conference. The Bruins, who are off until Thursday when they host the Calgary Flames, have a game in hand.
The Panthers are 2-1-0 on their season-high seven-game homestand, which continues Tuesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Lightning (38-20-6) remained five points behind the Montreal Canadiens in the Atlantic Division and one point ahead of the Detroit Red Wings. They have played two more games than the Canadiens and three more than the Red Wings.
The Lightning ended a stretch of six games out of seven on the road 4-3-0. They face the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday to start a three-game homestand.
"If we don't want to play the right way, it's going to be a rude awakening,” Stamkos said. “Hopefully we can use this as a game that we can look back on and learn from because this isn't acceptable."
Florida hadn't defeated Tampa Bay since a 5-3 victory in the 2012-13 season finale. Tampa Bay won 3-2 in overtime when the teams met at Amalie Arena in October in each team's season opener.
“Back-to-back games, it’s never easy,” Panthers defenseman Brian Campbell said. “I felt like we skated well the whole night, and it’s points we desperately need to keep pushing forward. We’ve got to take care of this homestand here too. It’s a team we’ve had troubles with in the past too, so a lot of good things [came] out of it.”
The Panthers and Lightning will face each other two more times, March 24 at Amalie Arena and April 4 at BB&T Center.
Florida led 4-1 before Tampa Bay mounted a late comeback with goals by Stamkos at 8:31 and by Johnson at 17:16.
Jagr, acquired Thursday in a trade for two draft picks, opened the scoring at 10:24 of the first period after Stralman deflected Huberdeau’s pass on a 2-on-1 and the puck slid to the slot. Trailing the play, Jagr fired a quick shot that beat Bishop high to the glove side.
“Sometimes we struggle to get off to an early lead, and it’s important to have a guy like that that can come in and score a big goal in a big game,” Ekblad said. “He’s a legend of the game, and we’re happy to have him.”
Stralman tied the score at 12:08 with a high sharp-angled shot from the top of the left circle.
Barkov scored to make it 2-1 Panthers when he poked home a rebound while being knocked to the ice after Bishop stopped Jagr's close-range shot.
Boyes ended a 17-game drought with his goal at 17:00 of the second, and he was the benefit of a lucky break. Boyes was behind the net when his pass bounced in off the inside of Bishop's blocker.
“It’s been a while since I chipped in,” Boyes said. “It was nice. We need goals. When we were losing we were struggling scoring goals a bit. Myself, I’ve got to chip in and produce, so it’s nice to do it tonight. Again, however they go in. I’ve had a few of those, too, just putting pucks back on net.”
Ekblad made it 4-1 with a power-play goal at 4:18 of the third with his one-timer from the top of the left circle deflected off the knee of Tampa Bay defenseman Jason Garrison.
“Granted, they might have gotten some lucky bounces, but usually the bounces go to the team that’s working harder, and obviously they were the team that was working harder tonight,” Bishop said. “The only good thing you take out of it was how bad we played and we still had a chance to win. We had some chances and, if they don’t get a couple of lucky breaks, then maybe we win the game.”