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SPOTLIGHT ON THE PANTHERS: Record-breaking shootout win gives Panthers some much-needed positive attention

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
A historic and extremely dramatic shootout victory over the Washington Capitals Tuesday night brought plenty of attention to a franchise not used to a whole lot of positive publicity.

The Florida Panthers' rousing 2-1 victory over the Capitals -- which came following an NHL record 20-round shootout -- brought the Panthers national recognition and league-wide praise for their unusual victory.

The longest shootout before Tuesday came months after the 2004-05 lockout ended with the Rangers topping Washington in 15 rounds.

"It was fun when it ended,'' coach Gerard Gallant told XM/Sirius Radio on Wednesday afternoon.

"It was pretty exciting to go 20 shooters in. It was a good game at 1-1 and I thought both teams played real well. There was a little bit of everything.''

The Capitals had five different chances to win the shootout but the Panthers -- who choose to shoot second -- held serve each time.

Tied at 5 going into Round 20, Roberto Luongo made a diving stop of an Alex Ovechkin shot.

That allowed Nick Bjugstad to become the hero. Bjugstad drove in on Braden Holtby, slammed on the brakes and got him to commit.

With Holtby heading toward the ice, Bjugstad roofed a shot that sent his teammates streaming onto the ice as rubber rats rained down from the crowd.

Florida's wild victory was featured prominently on ESPN's SportsCenter, Fox Sports 1 and the NHL Network in the U.S. as well as their Canadian counterparts.

"The pressure wasn’t really on me, which was nice, because I didn’t have to score,'' Bjugstad said. "I  don’t know, I  kind of relaxed, took a deep breath and tried going in there with confidence and it worked out.''

There were plenty of accolades to go around Tuesday.

After no one scored after the first three rounds, Washington took its first lead in Round 4 when Ovechkin scored on his first try.

Jussi Jokinen, historically one of the top shootout artists in the league, came up and made a terrific move on Holtby to get him to go to his left. Jokinen then poked the puck around to Holtby's right for the tying goal to earn ESPN's No. 3 top play of the night.

The score stayed tied at 1 until Round 7 when Brooks Laich scored only to be matched by Dave Bolland.

Florida also returned the honors in Round 11 (Derek MacKenzie), 12 (Sean Bergenheim) and 17 (Dylan Olsen).

"First-ever shootout,'' Olsen said, "little nervous, to be honest, especially when it came down to that and we needed a goal. I  really have only one or two moves, so I  had to stick with that one. And sure enough it worked.

Said Gallant: "Some clutch guys made some clutch goals.''

With 18 active skaters, each team hit the end of their rotation in Round 18. Florida had defenseman Willie Mitchell go and try and end it.

"We saved the captain for the end,'' Gallant said. "We thought he was going to win it for us.''

Only he was stopped and the shootout continued.

In Round 19, players were allowed to go a second time. Washington went with Nicklas Backstrom, Florida with Jokinen.

Neither scored, setting the stage for another showdown between Ovechkin and Luongo.

Luongo, although looking tired, made the big save to give Bjugstad his chance at another shootout winner.

"I  was OK,'' Luongo said. "We do it at morning skate every day. I was just trying to make the next save. Once you get into the later rounds, their guys are little bit less skilled and you want to make those saves. A couple went by, but the boys bailed me out.''

Even before going to the shootout, Tuesday's game had plenty of excitement to it.

Florida led 1-0 on a goal by Derek MacKenzie in the first period before Washington tied it up with a second period power play goal.

Tied at 1 late in the third, Washington looked to win it when Laich knocked in a puck. Laich kicked it in, however, and the goal was disallowed via video review in Toronto.

The game pressed on.

Bjugstad could have been the game's hero much earlier Tuesday.

In overtime, one of his shots hit the goal post. He also drilled a post in his first shootout attempt which would have given the Panthers a 1-0 lead in Round 2 and perhaps sent everyone home early.

Instead, South Florida became home to two of the longest games in professional sports history.

The Dolphins-Chiefs AFC title game in 1971 stands as the longest NFL game of all time.

Florida's win over the Capitals earns the NHL's honor for a regular season game as the shootout itself took over 20 minutes to complete. That was after 65 minutes of game time in regulation and overtime.

"Now I can go to bed!,'' radio voice Randy Moller yelled after Bjugstad scored in the 20th round.

Wrote Luongo on Twitter: "I blacked out what just happened?"

-- The Panthers sent defenseman Shane O'Brien back to their AHL affiliate in San Antonio. O'Brien was recalled last week but was a healthy scratch in the three games he was with Florida.


Thursday: Panthers at Flyers

When/Where: 7 p.m.; Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia

TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560

Series: Philadelphia leads 46-31-7

Noteworthy: The two teams have split the two-game series with the Flyers winning the previous meeting 4-1 in Philadelphia last month.