NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Riding a three-game losing streak and fading in the wild-card race, the Florida Panthers needed something to get them going.
They got it from a totally unexpected source, a fourth line quickly dubbed the helicopter line. The reason: a center playing with two defenseman. In other words, no wings.
Mike Matheson, Mark Pysyk and Noel Acciari each scored and accounted for eight points as the Panthers got back on track with a 5-3 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night.
“The way that line played tonight, more lines have to follow that,” Panthers defenseman Anton Stralman said. “They honestly just went in working hard, doing the right things, playing on the right side of the puck and not complicated. Shooting, winning battles. They spent a lot of time in the offensive zone and that’s what we need.”
Florida coach Joel Quenneville, whose team had scored five goals in its last four games, smiled when asked if had found a new fourth line.
“I don’t know if I would call it fourth,” he said. “They were better than that.”
Quenneville had wanted to get Matheson back into the lineup after sitting him on Monday. Pysyk was told earlier in the morning he should be ready to play forward because someone was not feeling good.
Acciari was made their center.
“I looked at it as we’ll be a shutdown line,” he quipped. “We have four D out there and I was the honorary D. so make it five D out there. It was huge for our team. It was a bonus. I think we complemented each other out there. All three goals were in the gritty areas and that’s where they are going to come.”
Frank Vatrano and Brett Connolly also scored as the Panthers won for only second time (2-4-1) since returning from the All-Star break. Sam Montembeault had 25 saves in his first start since Nov. 24.
Jack Hughes, Kevin Rooney and Kyle Palmieri scored for the Devils, who saw their season-high six-game (3-0-3) point steak snapped. Louis Domingue made 28 saves in getting a start for MacKenzie Blackwood, who had shutouts in his last two starts.
“They didn’t look like defensemen out there to me,” Palmieri said of the Panthers’ big line. “Obviously, that’s their position but they played well. They were hard on the pucks. The offense they generated was the way to you want to generate offense.”
Matheson, who like Pysyk has eight goals, gave Florida the lead for good late in the first period, scoring on a rebound in close for a 2-1 lead.
Pysyk, who had a hat trick against Toronto last week, stretched the margin to 3-1 early in the second with a shot in close set up by Matheson.
After Rooney cut the deficit to a goal on a giveaway at 4:17, Florida, which had scored five goals in its last four games, got two more in a 39-second span to push the lead to 5-2.
Vatrano scored on a shot from right circle at 4:59 and Acciari got his 19th of the season on a wrist shot from the slot at 5:38.
Palmieri closed the deficit to 5-3 with 5:30 left in the second period. The Devils had a chance to get within one less than a minute later when Hughes broke in alone, but Montembeault made a great pad pad.
“Ït was my first start in a while so obviously I was a little nervous in the beginning, but I just felt better as the game went on and it’s easier as a goalie when you have a lead like that,” Montembeault said.
NOTES: The Connolly goal ended the Devils’ shutout streak of 147 minutes, 15 seconds. … Former Devil Brian Boyle missed his fourth-straight game with an upper-body injury. … Devils C Nico Hischier and D Sami Vatanen missed their fourth straight games with lower-body injuries. … On the Matheson goal, the fourth line kept the puck in the Devils’ zone for more than 90 seconds and attempted seven shots, four of which were blocked. … Hughes’ last goal was on Dec. 29. … The Devils held their annual Black Hockey History Month night at the game. … Devils F Joey Anderson got his first point of the season.
Panthers: Return home to host Philadelphia on Thursday.
Devils: Finish three-game homestand against Detroit on Thursday.
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