Luongo be­comes 3rd goalie in his­tory to start 1,000 reg­u­lar-sea­son games

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - Sports - By Stephen Whyno

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Roberto Luongo doesn’t want to think about the long climb the Florida Pan­thers would have to make get to the play­offs.

Each vic­tory gets them a lit­tle closer, and they’ve won two in a row and six of their past eight games af­ter beat­ing the Washington Cap­i­tals, 5-4, in over­time Satur­day. Luongo made 26 saves and Mike Hoff­man scored the win­ning goal on the power play to move Florida nine points back of the fi­nal play­off spot in the East­ern Con­fer­ence.

“Some­times when you look at the big pic­ture, it can get a lit­tle bit over­whelm­ing and you want to stay fo­cused on the task at hand,” Luongo said af­ter be­com­ing just the third goal­tender in NHL his­tory to start 1,000 reg­u­lar-sea­son games. “Ob­vi­ously we’ve got to win a lot of games. But I’ve al­ways been the type of per­son that doesn’t like to look at the big pic­ture that much. Big win tonight.”

Hoff­man’s goal came 1:31 into over­time with Brett Con­nolly in the penalty box for slash­ing with 3.6 sec­onds left in the third pe­riod. The Pan­thers bounced back from al­low­ing the ty­ing goal to Evgeny Kuznetsov with 3:06 re­main­ing to win in over­time for the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive game.

Frank Va­trano, Keith Yan­dle, Colton Sce­viour and Der­ick Bras­sard scored in reg­u­la­tion for Florida, which is back on the fringe of the race in the East thanks to its re­cent run. The Pan­thers still have three teams be­tween them and a play­off po­si­tion in the con­fer­ence and might need 12 out of 14 points on their up­com­ing home­s­tand to stay in it ahead of the Feb. 25 trade dead­line.

“We’ve got to play well,” said Yan­dle, who set up Hoff­man’s 4-on-3 power play goal. “We know go­ing for­ward there’s not a lot of room for er­ror, and we’ve got to play well ev­ery night.”

The power play that is tops in the NHL since Nov. 1 de­liv­ered on a goal one sec­ond af­ter T.J. Oshie’s penalty ex­pired in the first pe­riod and then again in over­time. Coach Bob Bough­ner called the power play his team’s “back­bone” all sea­son.

The de­fend­ing Stan­ley Cup cham­pion Cap­i­tals con­tin­ued to lack dis­ci­pline and lead the NHL with 199 mi­nor penal­ties this sea­son. Con­nolly scored twice, but his of­fen­sive-zone slash on Pan­thers cap­tain Alek­sander Barkov with the clock run­ning out con­trib­uted to Washington’s win­ning streak be­ing snapped at two.

“I can’t take that penalty,” Con­nolly said. “It’s tough. It’s an im­por­tant time of the game.”

Lars Eller also scored for Washington, and Kuznetsov’s goal was his fourth in five games. Braden Holtby’s 26 saves and fell vic­tim to some bad bounces, de­flec­tions and mis­cues on the goals he al­lowed.

Luongo picked up his first vic­tory in Washington since 2011 and moved to within one of ty­ing Ed Belfour for third on the NHL’s all-time list. Luongo joined Hall of Famers Mar­tin Brodeur and Pa­trick Roy as the only goal­tenders with 1,000 ca­reer starts.

The 39 year old said he didn’t know un­til about an hour be­fore the game about the mile­stone.

“Sure, it’s a lot of games,” Luongo said. “We’re just play­ing to win games, try­ing to get back in the play­off race. That’s our goal, and that’s my goal per­son­ally is, I want to take part in the play­offs again. They’re nice when they come and go, but it’s not re­ally some­thing I keep tabs on that much.”

Luongo and the Pan­thers will keep tabs on the stand­ings as they hope to repli­cate the 25-8-2 run that got them close to a play­off spot last sea­son.

“I think we’ve just got a bit of our swag­ger back,” Luongo said. “We be­lieve in our­selves and the way we’re play­ing. We’ve been find­ing dif­fer­ent ways to win. We’re get­ting a lit­tle bit of that mo­men­tum go­ing like we did last year. It’s just a mat­ter of you’ve got to keep plug­ging away night af­ter night here.”

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