SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — The Florida Panthers all took the ice for warmups wearing No. 16 jerseys with “Fernandez” on the back, a tribute to late Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez.
How fitting, then, that the Panthers’ real No. 16 got the game-winner in overtime.
Aleksander Barkov scored 2:48 into the extra session, and the Panthers topped the New Jersey Devils 2-1 on Thursday night in the season opener for both teams.
“You can tell that something’s been going on,” Panthers defenseman Michael Matheson said, “especially now that No. 16 gets the overtime winner.”
Matheson set up the winner, knocking New Jersey’s Damon Severson off the puck behind the net, then spinning and finding Barkov alone in the right circle. Barkov one-timed the puck past Cory Schneider, and the Panthers spilled onto the ice in celebration.
“He was my favorite baseball player,” Barkov said of Fernandez, who was killed in a boating accident last month. “I don’t really watch baseball, but I knew him, I knew he was playing in Miami and it was a big loss for all of South Florida and for all of America.”
Roberto Luongo stopped 23 shots for Florida, the last two of those coming in the final 2 minutes of regulation. Schneider stopped 32 shots for the Devils, including all 16 he faced in the third period.
“They came at us pretty hard in the third but we got a point,” Schneider said. “A couple breakdowns in the overtime and they put it in.”
P.A. Parenteau, claimed off waivers from the New York Islanders earlier this week, scored for the Devils. Jonathan Marchessault got the scoring for the night started for Florida.
And without Luongo’s heroics late, Panthers fans wouldn’t have gone home happy.
He stopped Taylor Hall’s one-timer from the low slot as a mass of bodies swarmed his crease, then got his glove out just far enough to grab Andy Greene’s slap shot from the left point with 29.9 seconds remaining.
Florida controlled play in the OT, and got its first home overtime win since March 30, 2013 — also against New Jersey.
“That’s my fault there,” Severson said of the final play against Matheson. “I got the puck in the corner, won the battle, and I tried to go behind the net. I heard reverse. I knew we had tired guys out there and I didn’t want to just throw it away. I ended up tripping up on the skate and there was a back-door play there. Tough play to end the game.”
The Devils went to the Stanley Cup final in 2012 and haven’t seen the postseason since, in a rebuilding place where Florida seemed to be perpetually stuck until the last couple seasons. The Panthers won the Atlantic Division last season and — even without injured forwards Nick Bjugstad and Jonathan Huberdeau to start the season — think they have enough to contend for a title.
“We start a new era of the Florida Panthers this year,” Panthers owner Vincent Viola said before the game. “You’ll see new uniforms on the team, you’re going to see a whole bunch of new faces on the ice … and there’s only one purpose and one mission — to win the Stanley Cup.”
The first two goals of the night bounced off Devils skaters.
Florida opened the scoring midway through the first when Marchessault’s shot was saved by Schneider, who actually knocked the puck into defenseman Ben Lovejoy and watched it ricochet into the net. New Jersey tied it in the final minute of the period, when Yohann Auvitu’s shot from the right point was deflected by a leaping Parenteau.
That was it, until Barkov’s dramatic winner.
“Unbelievable,” Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said.
NOTES: The Panthers presented a $35,000 check to Fernandez’s foundation in a pregame ceremony. … It was Jaromir Jagr’s 23rd NHL opening night. His teams are now 16-5-2 in those, with 11 wins in the last 12. … Devils center Travis Zajac played in his 700th regular-season game. … The Panthers’ Atlantic title banner from last season hangs from the rafters on the same end of the rink as their bench.
Devils: Visit Tampa Bay on Saturday.
Panthers: Host Detroit on Saturday.
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