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Patience paying off for Panthers’ Lundell, who’s finally finding offense. ‘Just keep going’

The call came from Paul Maurice only a few dozen seconds into overtime Tuesday, earlier than usual for Anton Lundell on Tuesday and yet right on time for the Florida Panthers. The 22-year-old forward hopped over the boards and found himself on the ice with Matthew Tkachuk, who slid him the puck to set up an unlikely hero moment.

Lundell glided down the left side of the ice, turned for the net and then waited. He waited for his teammates to help him out. He waited for opportunity to show itself. After four months of offensive frustrations for Lundell and a full game of uninspiring play for the Panthers, Lundell waited until just the right moment to deliver his first game-winning goal of the season, beating Joonas Korpisalo on a tight-angle shot to continue his best offensive stretch of the season and make sure Florida didn’t blow a lead to the lowly Senators.

“That was one of the coolest moments in this building, for sure, that I’ve had,” Lundell said.

The goal was only Lundell’s eighth of the season, but also his fourth in four games. Those at-times frustrating first months of the season are starting to become an afterthought for Lundell, who always has provided high-level defense and can help take the Panthers to new heights when he’s producing at a high-level on offense, too.

“I just keep going, keep shooting. It’s coming,” Lundell said. “As I said earlier in the season when I had some struggles, I had the chances, but it didn’t go in.”

The game-winner was the type of goal expected of a former first-round pick. Lundell cut toward the net from the left side of the ice, along the goal line, and waited for Korpisalo to make the first move. When he shifted his weight out of the crease to account for a potential centering pass to defenseman Brandon Montour, Korpisalo left a tiny hole above his right shoulder, in the top left corner of the net, and Lundell zipped a rising snap shot into the gap.

Lundell lifted his hands into the air, beckoned for the crowd to cheer and then pumped his right fist. Florida escaped for its 10th win in 11 games, a streak it will try to keep going Thursday when it faces the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina.

“You could say I was open, but I have to watch it again,” Montour joked Tuesday. “If he didn’t score that, I probably would have said something, but he is obviously a skilled player and he has all the confidence to make those plays.”

Almost as importantly, the Panthers kept the faith in Lundell.

Maurice, as badly as he wanted Lundell and his line to start producing a bit more offensively, never pressed too hard to get Lundell to come out of his comfort zone. On those rare occasions when star center Aleksander Barkov missed games earlier this season, Maurice stuck Lundell in the captain’s spot on the top line. There was a reason Maurice felt good about putting Lundell out onto the ice on the second shift of overtime.

As Florida was choking away a two-goal lead in the third period to Ottawa, one play stood out to Maurice. The Senators were piling up rush chances and Lundell singlehandedly erased one of them with a high-effort backcheck to break up a potential scoring chance and start a rush in the other direction. When the time came to choose who would be on the ice in overtime, Maurice remembered the effort and rewarded Lundell, and Lundell returned the favor.

“That’s why he went over in overtime, because he had done something good,” Maurice said Tuesday. “It’s not about earning it. As a coach, you’re thinking, Who’s got a chance? And Lundy was going in the third period.”