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