SUNRISE, FL – The Florida Panthers took their home opener against in-state rival Tampa Bay Lighting to a shootout Saturday night, winning 3-2 at a sold out Lexus Rink at BankAtlantic Center Saturday night. Newcomer Marcel Goc scored the shootout goal to give the Panthers the win, but the whole night belonged to the new Panthers class.
The crowd was loud from start to finish, but the loudest ovation during player introductions was for returnee Ed Jovanovski. The 1994 first overall selection by the Panthers was a fan favorite during his first tenure with the team.
Jovanovski did not disappoint, scoring a power-play goal from the point just 11:48 into the game. It was his 30th career goal as a Panther in what could be called the longest scoring drought in Panthers history. Jovanovski last scored for Florida on New Years day 1999 in a tie against the Carolina Hurricanes. “It was a big goal at the time, but it’s more important to get the win. As you get later in your career, you appreciate them that much more,” the veteran defenseman said.
Rookie Erik Gudbranson joined the fun in the second period, using his size and skill to his advantage. The 19-year old scored his first fight, tussling with Lightning veteran Steve Downie. Downie was in Jovanovski’s face, with Gudbranson taking exception. Both players landed good punches, but Gudbranson admitted it was not as easy as the fights in juniors. “I hit him as hard as I could and he didn’t really budge.” According to most observers, Gudbranson won his first bout. Both players received 10 minute misconducts and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. Gudbranson also was tabbed with two minutes for instigating.
The Panthers were sitting pretty until midway through the third period, when Marc-André Bergeron ripped a shot from the point to tie the game at 1. Nate Thompson set up a screen on goalie José Théodore.
The air seemed sucked out of the jovial opener, until 17 minutes into the period when Kris Versteeg took a one timer from Dmitry Kulikov on the power-play. The shot caught Mathieu Garon off guard, and Versteeg took advantage of the left side opening to tuck it home to give the Panthers a brief 2-1 lead. It was his first of the season.
The Lightning, and Bergeron, came right back with his own one timer, again from the point. The goal came just 39 seconds after the Panthers took the lead. His second of the season sent the game into overtime and then a shootout.
Théodore came up big in the shootout contest, stopping shots from Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos, and Vincent Lecavalier. The Panthers had no luck with Versteeg and Tomáš Fleischmann’s attempt, but in-between, Marcel Goc was able to get the puck past Garon, sending the fans home happy. It was more exciting than it needed to be, as coach Kevin Dineen put it, but the Panthers victory puts them at 2-1-0 on the season, while their in-state rivals drop their fourth game and second in an extra frame. Last years Eastern Conference runners-up are just 1-2-2 in their first five games. The two teams meet again Monday night in the back end of the home-and-home series.
- The Panthers scored two power-play goals tonight. Last years 30th ranked team has moved up into a tie for 19th in power-play percentage.
- Florida announced a sell-out crowd of 18,352. However, tarps covered parts of eight upper deck sections.
- The San Antonio Rampage won a thriller in Houston tonight in an 11 round shootout. More on that tomorrow in the Panthers Organization Report.
3- Ed Jovanovski (1 G)
2- Marc-André Bergeron (2 G)
1- Kris Versteeg (1 G)