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Florida Panthers Face Old Demons, Get New Results in 3-2 SO Victory over Tampa Bay Lightning

The Panthers have long had a problem of giving up third period leads. 

That old standard came up again on Saturday as the new-look Panthers gave way to an old look as the visiting Lightning came back from a one-goal deficit on two different occasions in Florida's home opener. 

The Lightning forced overtime after tying the score 39 seconds after Kris Versteeg gave Florida its second lead of the third period, but the Panthers came back to win the game 3-2 on Marcel Goc's shootout goal.

The Panthers announced the opening crowd at 18,352 – less than capacity at the BankAtlantic Center. 

Florida has won two of its first three games of the season but now moves on for a tough two-game stretch as the Panthers will be the guests for Tampa Bay's home opener on Monday. Florida then visits Washington the following night. Tampa Bay finishes its season-opening five game road trip 1-2-2.

“I would be worried if this wasn't opening night and we didn't find a way to win,'' assistant general manager Mike Santos said afterward. “That may be a big difference from this year's team compared to last year.''

After Tuesday's loss to the Penguins, coach Kevin Dineen bemoaned his team's 'cute' play as a big reason for the defeat. 

Well, he couldn't say that on Saturday as the Lightning and Panthers reintroduced themselves in Florida's home opener as the game featured big checks and a nice fight. 

Rookie Erik Gudbranson, with his family in the stands from Canada to watch, got into a slugfest with Lightning tough Steve Downie and sure didn't look like an inexperienced 19-year-old just playing in his third NHL game. No, Gudbranson has this fighting thing down as he walloped Downie with one shot after another. 

Gudbranson tossed his elbow guards to the ice pro-wrestling style. Gudbranson and Downie had plenty of time to calm down – although Downie did go after Florida's Ed Jovanovski after taking his shots to the head – as the duo both were assessed multiple penalties. 

The fight came in the second period; Florida led 1-0 in the first as Jovanovski scored his first goal of his new season with the Panthers. Jovanovski, the first pick of the 1994 draft by the Panthers, was playing in his first home game in Sunrise since 1999. 

Jovanovski's goal came on the power play. The lead held up until the third when Marc-Andre Bergeron scored on Jose Theodore with 10:17 left in regulation.

Florida made it 2-1 on Kris Versteeg's pretty power play goal, the sniper who came to Florida via a trade with Philadelphia, lighting up the net while shooting while on bended knee. Unfortunately for the Panthers, Bergeron wasn't done as he scored a mere 39 seconds later to tie things once more.

“We found a way and that's a good sign,'' Jovanovski said. “No one wants to give that one up with 2 ½ minutes left, but it happens sometimes. It is a little learning lesson but shows that we can persevere and win games like that.''

Added Versteeg: “We haven't played many games together, so not that there's any excuses, but we had our chances. Give their goalie credit, he didn't give us much at times. We have to take positives from this game. If you let a goal in, we have to have a good shift. Things happen in hockey and it all depends on how you react. You have to rise to the occasion. This is a good two points.''

Unlike past seasons, the Panthers didn't crumble despite the pressure from the Lightning. Tampa Bay outshot the Panthers 5-0 in overtime and 14-9 in the final 25 minutes but couldn't put the game-winner past Theodore. 

Florida went 1-for-3 on the shootout, with Goc being the only player to score. 

“I told him that I hated playing against him all these years,'' Versteeg said of the former Nashville center. “We had a great rivalry when I was in Chicago. Guys just hate playing against him.''