CALGARY — Red-hot since the NHL all-star Break, Florida’s push for a playoff spot continued on Saturday night.
Mike Matheson scored twice and Aleksander Barkov had a goal and two assists to lead the Panthers to a 6-3 win over the Calgary Flames, their seventh victory in the past eight games.
"We’ve been doing a lot better job of playing within our systems," said Matheson. "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."
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 and the second wild card spot by six points.
"Guys are playing like it’s our playoffs right now," said Panthers coach Bob Boughner. "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."
The beneficiary of the offensive barrage was goaltender Roberto Luongo. In his first appearance since suffering a groin injury on Dec. 4, the 38-year-old made 30 saves.
"Still not quite as sharp as I want to be, but for the first game back I thought it was pretty good," said Luongo, who won his first game since Nov. 27.
Evgenii Dadonov and Vincent Trocheck had a goal and an assist each for Florida (26-23-6). Jared McCann also scored as the Panthers win their fifth straight game on the road. They continue their current five-game road trip in Winnipeg on Sunday.
Dougie Hamilton had his first career hat trick, supplying all the offence for Calgary (30-21-8). It was the first three-goal game by a Flames defenceman 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."
The NHL’s second-best team on the road (17-7-5) and having just completed a successful 4-2-0 road trip, the Flames’ woes on home ice continue. Calgary is winless in its last six (0-3-3) and falls to 13-14-3 on the season.
"What happened tonight is what everybody fears and talks about," said coach Glen Gulutzan. "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 seven minutes.
The decisive blows were back-to-back power-play goals just over two minutes apart.
At 58 seconds, Trocheck completed a give-and-go with Barkov by slipping a shot past rookie goaltender David Rittich. Then with Barkov providing the screen, Dadonov deflected in Keith Yandle’s shot.
"We just weren’t executing," summed up Flames captain Mark Giordano. "It felt like we were a little bit off right from the start of the game."
On the final shot Rittich would face before being pulled, Barkov made it 4-1 at 6:03, redirecting Dadonov’s shot between the pads of the 25-year-old Czech.
Making his third consecutive start in the absence of injured starter Mike Smith (lower body), Rittich had 11 stops on 15 shots. Jon Gillies was beaten twice on 15 shots in relief.
Notes: It was Rittich’s first start at home after his first nine starts came on the road… Smith skated before his team’s game-day skate Saturday morning. His status remains day-to-day… Johnny Gaudreau’s eight-game scoring streak (4-7-11) was snapped… Ekblad extended his point-streak to six games (3-5-8).