JOVO'S TRIUMPHANT RETURN: Panthers Top Predators 5-4 in Shootout after Nashville Rallies in Third ... Jovo Plus-3 in Win, Petrovic Hurt
The Panthers started the second half of the season with their captain back on the ice after being denied his services for almost a year.
Ed Jovanovski didn't make the scoresheet but celebrated Saturday's 5-4 shootout win over visiting Nashville as if he scored each of the goals himself.
The Panthers feted their captain with a closed-door celebration following the game. Jovanovski, who played 15:54, received the hero hat from his teammates.
"It was nice to celebrate a goal,'' said Jovanovski, who had been out since having hip resurfacing surgery last spring. Jovanovski was on the ice for three of Florida's four regulation goals.
"I got a little antsy there, jumped around in warmups. It was nice to get the first shift out of the way, move the puck a little. It was good to move on from there.''
The Panthers will need plenty more wins in the final 40 games if the hope to play any role in the postseason chase. After closing to within four points of Toronto for the final playoff spot last month, the Panthers have fallen back.
Florida came into Saturday's game 10 points back of Detroit for the last slot.
On Saturday, Florida went the long way to victory after taking a 4-2 lead early in the third. Nashville scored twice within the final 4:08 yet its shootout struggles continue as Florida won it in the sixth round via Tomas Kopecky.
"It wasn't pretty but it felt pretty good,'' said interim coach Peter Horachek, who spent the past decade as an assistant in Nashville before being fired after last season.
"You want to beat your former team and they're all friends over there. The main thing is we need to keep moving forward, find ways to win. We let them tie it up but they stayed on point, got the extra point.''
Florida, which hadn't beaten the Preds since 2011, fell behind 1-0 before scoring the final two goals of the first period to take a 2-1 lead into the break.
Midway through the first, Brad Boyes got his team-leading 11th goal by jamming a loose puck past Marek Mazanec. With 2:04 left in the first, Kopecky gave Florida its first lead by teeing off on a poor clearing chance from Mattias Ekholm.
"I'm just working whatever strengths I have,'' said Kopecky, who has four goals in 37 games after tying a career-high with 15 in 47 last year.
"We have to learn from this. We have to learn to play if we're up, stick with the gameplan. We have to realize to play a little more defensively, keep it away from our goalie.''
Nashville tied the score late in the second on Mike Fisher's 11th of the year, but it took Sean Bergenheim 57 seconds to give Florida the edge again.
Bergenheim whiffed on his initial shot, but rookie Aleksander Barkov -- who now looks like a lock to represent Finland at the Sochi Games -- tapped the puck back and Bergenheim buried it.
Marcel Goc, who spent two years in Nashville, scored early in the third but the lead wouldn't hold up.
Seth Jones, whom the Panthers bypassed in last June's draft to take Barkov, make it 4-3 with 5:08 left. Playing with an extra skater and empty net, Nashville tied things with 48 seconds remaining when Paul Gaustad swept in a puck that got behind Tim Thomas (38 saves; five in the shootout).
Nashville is now 0-4 in shootouts off 1-for-16 shooting. Florida improved to 5-5.
General manager Dale Tallon said the 'lower body' injury to defenseman Dylan Olsen wasn't anything too serious. Olsen will be eligible to come off the IR in time for Thursday's game at Buffalo.
Olsen was placed on the IR to make room for Jovanovski.
-- Florida played shorthanded when defenseman Alex Petrovic left with an undisclosed injury five minutes into the third.
-- Winger Scottie Upshall returned to the lineup after missing the past three games with an undisclosed upper-body injury sustained against Tampa Bay just before the Christmas break.
-- The Panthers will hold an open practice Sunday at the Coral Springs Iceplex at 11 a.m.
Photo courtesy of @ChunkyNHL