SUNRISE, Fla. -- The calendar provides hope indiscriminately, to teams running away with their division championships and to teams hovering on the outskirts of the playoff race alike. Wins provide more than hope, they bring substance, points and territory in the standings.
So prior to the Panthers' 3-2 win to the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night at the BB&T Center, optimism returned to the Florida dressing room. Fresh off a pair of road wins and welcoming a pair of middling teams, a window to the postseason chase cracked its way into Florida's path.
The Panthers nudged it slightly Saturday, inching their way back to making March meaningful.
Jonathan Huberdeau scored the game-winning goal with 7.7 seconds remaining in the third period, and the call withstood a review for goaltender interference. Huberdeau jammed the puck after providing a net-front presence for Keith Yandle's blast.
Detroit defenseman Danny DeKeyser scored two game-tying goals earlier in the game, negating tallies from both Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad and forward Aleksander Barkov.
The Panthers entered the day eight points back of a playoff spot, quickly shrinking a 12-point deficit by picking up back-to-back wins at the Islanders and at the Sabres this week. The two wins still left Florida with a mountain to climb in the Eastern Conference but allowed the team to dream with Detroit and Vancouver invading Sunrise in the next four days.
Ekblad opened the scoring with an unusual goal 3:14 into the game. After he ducked down from the blue line on the right side, he collected a pass from Jonathan Huberdeau and swiveled past a Red Wings defender. He switched to his backhand and flipped a puck into the top left corner of the goal.
But a horn did not fill the BB&T Center. A referee's arm did not signal a goal. So it was a goal with pomp but with confusion. Ekblad celebrated anyway in the corner with his teammates and the Panthers claimed a 1-0 lead after officials ruled it a good goal.
It was Ekblad's 10th goal of the season, the fourth straight season he's scored double-digit goals. Only 15 defensemen in NHL history have scored at least 10 goals in their first four seasons. Eight are in the Hall of Fame, including Ekblad's agent Bobby Orr and Panthers' color commentator Denis Potvin.
Then the DeKeyser Show began.
DeKeyser was an unlikely source of offense for Detroit. He entered Saturday night with just two goals and two assists in 33 games. Unlike teammate Mike Green, DeKeyser isn't lauded for his offensive ability. But he matched his season total for goals in just one game.
His first goal, at 8:51 of the second period, tied the game when he beat Harri Sateri with a wrist shot from the left circle. It marked DeKeyser's second straight game with a goal after he scored in Carolina the night before.
DeKeyser's second goal -- which tied the game at two after Florida regained the lead on Barkov's low wrist shot in the second period -- was less pretty. He crashed the net after a rebound and the puck caromed off his skate and into the net. The officials ruled that it was a good goal, scoring without the aid of a kick.
The Panthers' eight-point deficit for the Eastern Conference's second wild-card spot was the smallest it had been in nearly three weeks. Florida received secondary scoring on its two-game road trip through New York. Its top two lines had balance it didn't through the first three-plus months of the season.
On the line Saturday was Florida's second winning streak of at least three games. It won five in a row in December, but hadn't strung more than two wins together since.
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