SUNRISE, Fla. – The Florida Panthers have Cory Stillman and Tomas Vokoun to thank for their first winning streak of the season.
Stillman had two goals and an assist, and Vokoun made 47 saves as the Panthers beat the San Jose Sharks 4-3 on Friday night. It was the second consecutive victory for the Panthers, who alternated losses and wins over their first six games.
“It’s a big win for us,” Stillman said. “It’s the first time all year we’ve won back-to-back, especially against a really good hockey team. We fell behind early in the game, then we showed a little bit of attitude that we were going to compete.”
Richard Zednik and Nathan Horton also scored for the Panthers. Zednik’s goal was his first of the season and the first since he sustained a life-threatening neck injury in Buffalo last February.
Defenceman Keith Ballard had three assists for the Panthers.
Joe Thornton, Ryane Clowe and Patrick Marleau scored for San Jose, which missed a chance at the first 7-1 start in franchise history.
“I thought our big-minute players played pretty well,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. “I was disappointed in our foot soldiers.”
Vokoun improved to 10-1-1 in his last 12 starts against San Jose. He made a key pad save against Clowe on a San Jose power play with about seven minutes remaining in the third period.
“Tonight they shot everything,” Ballard said. “There’s not much we can do about that. That’s why we have a goalie.”
Evgeni Nabokov made 30 saves for San Jose, which has allowed four or more goals in each of its last four games.
“I hope we’re figuring out that four is sort of the magic number,” McLellan said. “We’re not going to win many games giving up four goals.”
Nabokov, a first-team all-star last season, was in goal for each of the last four games. He gave up 18 goals on 100 shots in those games, a mediocre .820 save percentage.
“It’s early in the season and he’s working on his game,” McLellan said. “Our confidence in him hasn’t wavered one bit. He’s still one of the top goalies in the league.”
Stillman broke a 3-3 tie at 18:14 of the second period when he redirected Ballard’s wrist shot that was going wide of the net. It came 37 seconds after the Sharks had tied the game on Marleau’s short-handed goal.
“Stillman’s goal at the end of the second was huge for us,” Ballard said. “That was a terrible period. It gave us a little life and got us back in the game.”
Stillman’s first score started a three-goal run by the Panthers in the first period that gave them a 3-1 lead. He scored at 7:16 when his one-time slapshot from the blue-line caromed off the post to Nabokov’s glove side.
Stillman, signed as a free agent in the off-season, has five goals and four assists in seven games.
Zednik’s goal – a rebound through Nabokov’s legs – gave Florida the lead at 14:29.
Horton scored 36 seconds later when he fired a short shot over Nabokov’s glove after taking a centring feed from Stillman.
Thornton opened the scoring 51 seconds in with a power-play goal. He fired a wrist shot from the high slot and it went off a Florida player and through Vokoun’s legs.
Clowe had San Jose’s second power-play goal of the game at 11:38 of the second period to make it 3-2. Clowe scored when Christian Ehrhoff’s wrist shot from the wing went off his body.
Clowe had a goal disallowed earlier on that power play when it was ruled he kicked the puck in.
“We were talking on the bench and saying, ‘Whatever happens, we have to have a big shift,”‘ Clowe said. “It was nice to score right away.”
Notes: San Jose’s 6-2 start matches the franchise’s best after eight games set in 2005-06. … Florida beat San Jose for the first time in nine meetings. Its last victory was on Feb. 9, 2000. … Florida C Gregory Campbell missed the game because of a hip injury. … Florida was called for a penalty 16 seconds into the game. It’s the second time this season the Panthers have been short-handed in the first 20 seconds of a game.