PANTHERS 3, SHARKS 2
Pete DeBoer said the Sharks may be the best team in the league right now, so when San Jose got rolling against the Panthers on Sunday afternoon, it looked like things were going to get ugly.
The Panthers didn't do much against the Sharks, but stuck around long enough to get a most satisfying result. Despite trailing by a goal twice in the game, the Panthers somehow found a way to derail the high-flying visitors from San Jose as Jason Garrison's goal with just over two minutes remaining was the difference in a 3-2 win in front of an announced 16,217 at BankAtlantic Center.
San Jose had won nine of its past 11 games, losing just once in regulation during that time. Florida had lost nine of 11 – five of those defeats coming in overtime.
“We have to be patient against a team like that,'' center Stephen Weiss said. “We knew that wasn't our best two periods, but that's a good team. It's not easy to stick around against them. We found a way to win.''
As was the case last spring in San Jose, the Panthers looked like they were skating in mud against the quick and physical Sharks for much of the first two periods. Not only were the Panthers unable to test goalie Antti Niemi (Florida got off just four shots in the opening period) but were struggling just to put passes together and get the puck out of its own zone.
The Sharks scored first when Kent Huskins banged a puck past Tomas Vokoun in the opening period. Down 1-0, the Panthers were still in the game but weren't very competitive. Then, late in the second, former Panthers defenseman Dan Boyle hit Darcy Hordichuk hard. Bryan Allen took exception and ended up tangling with Jamal Mayers at center ice in front of the bench.
Allen ended up taking a game misconduct and didn't return until late in the game leaving the Panthers shorthanded, but the fight woke his team up. With 28.9 seconds left in the period, Mike Santorelli took a shot on Niemi that was blocked. Santorelli worked his way back to grab his own rebound and awkwardly shot the puck toward the net, the puck bouncing off the goalie and into the net to tie the score.
“That was a big play for us, sticking together, having [Allen] jump in there like that,'' DeBoer said. “[Allen's] a character guy. When one of your leaders gets involved like that, that's contagious, especially with a young team. I don't think it's an accident that we picked our game up and scored a goal after that.''
San Jose answered Santorelli's goal two minutes into the third to retake the lead, but the Panthers started getting their game together and put pressure on Niemi – Chicago's Stanley Cup winning goalie last year.
Chris Higgins had a great scoring chance go high with 14:05 left, but he made up for it a few minutes later when he corralled the puck from the corner and threw a backhanded shot that slipped through. Florida, again, had new life.
“They were really taking it to us for the first half of the game,'' Higgins said. “they're a good team and makes plays. We battled back. It seems like we've been on the losing end of games in which we played the better game. This was the flip result for us.''
The Panthers continued to keep heat on Niemi and refused to give up the puck on one big possession late in the game. During that marathon shift, the puck found its way to defenseman Jason Garrison. With Rostislav Olesz blocking Niemi's view, Garrison fired the puck through to give the Panthers their first – and final – lead of the night.
“We were able to maintain and battle through then finally put some pressure on them,'' said Garrison, who has three goals this season. Two of those were game-winners. Smiling when told of that stat, Garrison replied: “Shoot the puck. That's what I'm supposed to do.''
Sunday's game was very reminiscent of last season's surprising win in San Jose. The Panthers didn't do much in that game either, but like Sunday, they stuck around. Florida won as Allen – who got all of four goals last season – scored on a long shot in overtime. The Panthers have now beaten the Sharks three straight times.
“We weren't happy with the way we were in the offensive zone, but we stuck with it and poured it on at the end,'' Weiss said. “It's a win. We'll take it.''
--- Injured defenseman Dmitry Kulikov watched Sunday's game from the press box along with Evgeny Dadonov (broken finger), wearing a walking boot on his injured ankle. Joe Callahan was called up from the minors to replace Kulikov in the lineup.
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Florida Panthers Stick Around Long Enough to Shock Sharks 3-2 ... Win Very Similar to Upset in San Jose last season
PANTHERS 3, SHARKS 2