Huberdeau puts Panthers back in first with 2 goals
SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) The Florida Panthers had to beat the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night to reclaim first place in the Atlantic Division.
In a way, they had to overcome their own fans, too.
Jonathan Huberdeau scored twice and Florida killed off two third-period penalties after fans threw toy rats onto the ice to beat the Devils 3-2.
The rats were a giveaway item, with the team saying 10,000 were handed out. Fans threw them in the stoppages after each of Florida's goals in the third, and the Devils did not score on either resulting power play.
''They called it like they're supposed to call it,'' Florida coach Gerard Gallant said. ''When we throw stuff on the ice, it's been a rule for a long time, we've got to know better than that.''
The rats are an homage to the 1995-96 season, when Scott Mellanby supposedly killed a rat in the locker room of the team's old arena before scoring two goals.
''We love our fans and we love the rats, but I hope this doesn't happen again,'' Gallant said.
Jaromir Jagr had a pair of assists and Al Montoya made 23 saves for Florida, which broke a tie with Tampa Bay for the division lead. The Lightning lost to Montreal 3-0 Thursday night.
Both teams have five games remaining.
Florida's magic number to earn a playoff spot dropped to three points. The Panthers (43-25-9) also tied the franchise record for wins in a season, matching the 1999-00 club.
Mike Sislo and Blake Pietila scored for New Jersey, and Keith Kinkaid made 36 saves.
Huberdeau scored his second goal by skating in along the goal line left of Kinkaid and banking in a close shot for his 18th at 3:13 of the third period.
Jagr's assist on the play gave him 60 points this season, marking the 18th time he had accomplished the feat.
Jagr also assisted on Aleksander Barkov's 24th goal at 17:52 to put Florida up by two, faking a slap shot on Kinkaid.
''You know, I haven't played with him in a little bit. I really didn't think he was going to take a slapper like that,'' said Kinkaid, who kept the Devils tied at 1-1 despite being outshot 31-10 after two periods.
''He's good. He's got good vision and found Barkov on the back door. It was a nice play.''
Added Jagr of his line's dominant play: ''We felt we played a pretty good game. It was just a matter of time until we scored. He was playing excellent in net.''
New Jersey coach John Hynes said his team could have taken better advantage of the two minor penalties resulting from the rats.
''I think it's tough on the players and their team,'' Hynes said. ''It's a tough situation. The fans are trying to have fun and do their thing, but if we'd have capitalized on a couple of those power players it's a different game.''
The Devils opened the scoring during a shortened power play after a 4-on-4 stretch in a first period that featured five minor penalties.
Sislo collected a blocked shot in front of Montoya and netted his third goal at 8:30 for a 1-0 lead.
Devante Smith-Pelly assisted on the goal, giving him 12 points in 14 games since being traded to New Jersey by Montreal on Feb. 29. Smith-Pelly had the same amount of points in 46 games with the Canadiens.
Huberdeau took a diagonal pass from Thornton, was stopped by Kinkaid with the right skate on a shot in close but followed it up for his 17th goal at 7:57 of the second to make it 1-1.
Huberdeau, who set a career high Tuesday with his 16th tally, has goals in his last four games.
Pietila scored his first goal at 19:54.
NOTES: Tyler Kennedy returned to New Jersey's lineup after missing four games with a lower-body injury. ... G Cory Schneider (knee), who has missed 12 games, is expected to start Saturday in Tampa. ... Devils LW Patrik Elias (knee) participated in morning skate and has not ruled out returning this season. Elias turns 40 in two weeks. ... C Derek MacKenzie (out seven games) and D Erik Gudbranson (six) returned to Florida's lineup after suffering injuries blocking shots. ... Panthers LW Shawn Thornton's assist was his first point since Feb. 12 against St. Louis.