Panthers can’t rely on comebacks, Huberdeau, coach say

Andrew Brunette said he loves the way Jonathan Huberdeau is playing these days. Too bad he doesn’t feel the same way about his team as a whole.

The Florida Panthers coach watched the 28-year-old forward cap off a five-point performance (two goals, three assists) with a goal at 2:47 of overtime in a wild 7-6 victory against the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs in what proved to be a record night at FLA Live Arena on Tuesday. Huberdeau became the first player in Panthers history to score 100 points in a season and finished the game with 102 (26 goals, 76 assists), helping Florida to its fifth consecutive win.

Brunette will take the victory. What he found hard to accept is the way the Panthers went about it, falling behind 5-1 in the second period before coming back.

“It’s a bit worrisome as much as it is impressive,” he said. “Obviously we know we can score goals but it’s just some of the things we’re doing to fall behind and not be prepared for what was coming.

“A lot of grit in this group. We know that. It’s just that we have to stop doing this because this isn’t a good sign.”

The comeback victory came three days after Florida scored five straight goals for a 7-6 overtime win at the New Jersey Devils, in a game the Panthers trailed 6-2 entering the third period.

Florida (49-15-6), which leads the Eastern Conference with 104 points, the most in its history, have not won a Stanley Cup Playoff series since 1996, when it reached the Final before being swept by the Colorado Avalanche. Brunette understands all too well that postseason dry spell won’t end if the Panthers keep digging themselves early holes in games.

Video: TOR@FLA: Panthers turn 4-goal deficit into 7-6 OT win

“A little bit helter-skelter at both ends,” he said. “It’s entertaining but it’s not going to win you a lot of games in the playoffs.”

Huberdeau agrees with his coach’s assessment.

“It’s been happening a lot,” he said. “I mean, obviously we’ve got to figure this out. Because obviously in the playoffs this can’t happen, these types of things. You’re not going to get as many power plays, stuff like that.

“We’ve got to be more ready.”

Huberdeau, for one, certainly was on Tuesday. He has scored 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) in a nine-game point streak, 38 points (nine goals, 29 assists) in 23 games since the Panthers returned from the NHL All-Star break on Feb. 16 and is a strong candidate for the Hart Trophy, voted as NHL most valuable player.

Thought Maple Leafs Center Auston Matthews has been creating a lot of buzz to that end with his NHL-leading 54 goals, Brunette hopes the exposure Huberdeau received on national TV in Canada against Toronto will educate fans north of the border on how good the native of Saint-Jerome, Quebec, really is.

“Great night for him,” Brunette said. “It kind of showed what we’ve been talking about all year. Maybe for Canada to see what we’ve been talking about all year.”

Huberdeau is second in the NHL scoring race, trailing Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid, who has scored 106 points (41 goals, 65 assists). But it’s team goals Huberdeau is most focused on, especially with the lack of postseason success he and Florida have had since the Panthers selected him with the No. 3 pick in the 2011 NHL Draft.

“It’s been a roller coaster,” he said. “We’ve had some tough years. But I wanted to win for this organization. I was drafted here. They believed in me. And I’m still here after 10 years.

“Now is our time, I feel.”

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