Defenseman Alex Petrovic scored with 7:58 left in the third period as the Panthers defeated the visiting Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 on Monday night, keeping Florida in the wild-card race.
Rookie defenseman MacKenzie Weegar and veteran winger Evgenii Dadonov also scored for Florida. Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo made 26 saves for the win.
Since the All-Star break, the Panthers lead the NHL in points by defensemen.
The Panthers improved their points total to 88, five behind the idle New Jersey Devils in the battle for the last wild-card playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. Florida earned its 40th win of the season, marking the fifth time in franchise history that milestone was reached.
Carolina, out of contention for the playoffs, got goals from Trevor van Riemsdyk and Derek Ryan. Goalie Scott Darling made 31 saves in the loss.
The teams traded goals in a 19-second span of the first period.
Van Riemsdyk opened the scoring, following a shot by Brock McGinn. Van Riemsdyk earned his third goal of the season, getting the puck over the stick of defenseman Mike Matheson and past Luongo, who was out of position after stopping McGinn.
Florida tied the score on Weegar’s second career goal. With Carolina winger Jeff Skinner attempting to hook him from behind, Weegar lifted a wrist shot over Darling’s glove for his first marker since Oct. 20.
The Panthers went ahead 2-1 after Carolina’s Elias Lindholm was caught hooking Aaron Ekblad. Florida’s power play clicked quickly, scoring with 10 seconds left in the opening period. Aleksander Barkov whistled a pass from along the right boards, and Dadonov skated right down the middle for his 27th goal of the season.
Carolina caught Florida on a poor line change, tying the score 2-2 with 13:48 expired in the second period. The Hurricanes, on the rush, took advantage as Lee Stempniak fed the puck out in front to Ryan for his 15th goal of the season.
After Petrovic’s goal, the Hurricanes pulled Darling for an extra attacker but could not get the equalizer.