SUNRISE — The day the Florida Panthers signed Ryan Lomberg as a free agent in 2020, general manager Bill Zito said “I think the fans are going to love him … He is a very fast, speedy wing who plays with an edge.”
Zito was not wrong.
When Lomberg makes a big play, it is obvious that the 5-foot-9 bruising grinder has become an absolute fan favorite.
It has come naturally over the past two seasons.
Lomberg gave the crowd many reasons to be excited during Florida’s 7-4 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night, scoring two big goals and an assist. It was the first time Lomberg scored two goals in an NHL game and his first three-point night as well.
“It’s great, we feed off of the fans, especially someone like myself,” Lomberg said.
“I love all of them and we appreciate their support. It’s part of the reason why we have such a good home record.”
Yes, Florida’s raucous home crowd is a big reason why the Panthers hold a 27-6-0 record in Sunrise. And Lomberg plays a key role in juicing them up.
After spending a good chunk of his career in Calgary’s minor league system, Lomberg found a role last season as a rough-and-tumble forward who is not afraid to defend his teammates and can also be a spark.
Zito said fans would love Lomberg, but his teammates and coaches do as well.
Andrew Brunette often calls him the “heartbeat of the group.”
Earlier in the season, Lomberg earned a continued role with the Panthers, signing a two-year contract extension with an annual cap hit of $800k that kicks in next season.
“It has been a long journey, that’s for sure,” Lomberg said after signing the extension. “I have come a long way, have put in a lot of hard work on and off the ice. Having said that, I’m not going to stop.”
He has not.
Throughout the season, he could be found getting into it with opponents and amping up the crowd, but he contributed in a different way in Florida’s win over Montreal on Tuesday. It happened with his shot.
Lomberg gave Florida its first lead of the night with a laser through traffic and then extended it to 4-1 with a wrister which found the top corner of the net.
He looked like a natural goal scorer out there. And, if you look at Lomberg’s history, scoring is not something new to him.
“In practice, he can shoot the puck and score goals, so I wasn’t surprised,” Jonathan Huberdeau said. “But, obviously, he was picking corners.”
Lomberg was riding high with confidence and Brunette rewarded him, giving him playing time with both Huberdeau and Barkov down the stretch of the game.
Brunette said he deserved those minutes.
“Obviously it’s fun,” Lomberg said of his high-profile linemates. “They’re world-class players, so any time you get to share the ice with those players, you try to make it count.
“That’s what I did. I tried to get the puck back for them and let them make the plays.”
While Brunette was kicking himself for not getting Lomberg his third goal, the fan-favorite was able to contribute in a different way.
Lomberg picked up an assist on what was the game-winning goal, cycling the puck over to Sam Bennett, who then found Huberdeau on a cross-crease feed to make it a 5-4 game early in the third.
It was the spark Florida needed after giving up three goals late in the second period to allow Montreal to tie the game up at 4.
Mason Marchment scored the insurance marker to make it 6-4 with 5:17 to go in the third period to help the Panthers put this game to bed.
Barkov added the empty netter for good measure.
Huberdeau picked up his 400th career assist on and his 70th assist of the season, tying the all-time record for most assists in a season by a left wing.
The Saint-Jerome, Quebec native was happy to do so with his family and friends watching.
“It’s pretty cool, especially doing so against Montreal,” Huberdeau said.
“I have a lot of family and friends here, so it’s cool. It’s nice to get a big milestone, but it was a big win for us.”