SUNRISE, Fla. – Florida coach Peter Horachek found beating his old team very satisfying—even after the Panthers made it more difficult than it should’ve been.
Tomas Kopecky scored the winner in the sixth round of a shootout, and the Panthers beat the Nashville Predators 5-4 on Saturday night after wasting a two-goal lead late in the third period.
Kopecky’s shot went past Marek Mazanec high on the glove side, improving Florida’s record in shootouts to 5-5.
Horachek was an assistant coach at Nashville from 2003-2013 before being fired after last season. He became coach of the Panthers’ AHL affiliate in San Antonio before taking over the Panthers as interim coach after Kevin Dineen was fired on Nov. 8.
“It wasn’t pretty, but it felt pretty good. You wanted to win against your former team,” Horachek said. “We hung in there and we hung in there, even giving up the two goals, let them tie it up. The guys stayed on point and we eventually got the other point.”
Jonathan Huberdeau scored the first goal in the shootout for Florida. Kopecky also scored in regulation and Marcel Goc, Sean Bergenheim and Brad Boyes also scored for the Panthers. Tim Thomas made 38 saves in his second start after missing eight games due to a groin injury.
Florida won for just the second time in six games.
Thomas stopped five shots in the shootout after his team blew a two-goal lead.
“You never want to go that route, but if you’re there, you might as well get the two points,” Thomas said.
David Legwand scored in the shootout for Nashville. Paul Gaustad, Seth Jones, Mike Fisher and Craig Smith scored in regulation. Mazanec stopped 25 shots.
Nashville is 0-4 in shootouts this season and 0-17-2 when trailing after two periods. Their last shootout win was on Feb. 2, 2013, at San Jose.
The Predators scored twice in the last 5:08 to send the game into overtime.
Gaustad tied the game at 4 with 47.1 seconds left when he swept in a puck drifting through the crease behind Thomas. Nashville closed within one on Jones’ goal with 5:08 left. His wrist shot from the high slot went past Thomas for his first goal in 20 games.
“If you’re down by one goal it doesn’t give you any points. You’ve got to go for it and tonight we were fortunate enough to get that,” Gaustad said.
The Predators appeared to be in control in overtimes but couldn’t convert.
“I didn’t like the goals we gave up. They were too easy,” Predators coach Barry Trotz said. “But talk about a character way to come back, there was great character on the bench, there was great push, we got that tied up and I thought we played pretty well in the overtime.”
Panthers captain Ed Jovanovski made his return to the lineup for the first time since March 13, 2013. The 37-year-old Jovanovski underwent hip surgery and missed 83 games since the sixth game of last season. Jovanovski came into the game 1:20 and had 15:54 of total ice time and was on the ice for three goals.
“Good just being with the guys being able to celebrate a goal,” Jovanovski said. “They’re big goals during the game. We made it closer than we wanted to, but we found a way to come out with two points and that’s important.”
Leading 3-2, Florida stretched its lead early in the third. Huberdeau grabbed the puck behind the net and passed it to Goc in front. His shot beat Mazanec on the stick side at 1:34.
Trailing 2-1, Fisher tied it with 3:28 left in the second. He took a nice drop pass from Colin Wilson low in the right circle and rifled the puck past Thomas.
The Panthers reclaimed the lead a little more than 30 seconds later. Bergenheim wristed the puck into the net on the far side after getting a pass from Barkov to make it 3-2. Barkov has 11 points in his past 11 games.
Kopecky broke a 1-1 tie with 2:04 left in the first. The puck bounced off the skate of Nashville’s Mattias
Ekholm behind the net and out to Kopecky in front. He pushed the puck past Mazanec for his first goal in five games.
The Predators took the early lead on Smith’s goal at 6:32 of the first. The puck came out from behind the net to traffic in front. Smith found the puck behind the scrum and poked it past Thomas. Smith has six goals in his last eight games and leads the team with 12.
The Panthers tied it on Boyes’ goal. Barkov took a shot that was blocked but Boyes jammed the rebound under Mazanec’s pads at 11:03. Boyes leads the Panthers with 11 goals.
NOTES: Smith has eight points in eight games and 16 points in his last 20 games. … Fisher has nine points in his past four games. … Jovanovski was the Panthers’ first overall draft pick in 1994 and a key player in their 1996 Stanley Cup finalist team. Jovanovski, a five-time All Star, was traded to Vancouver in 1999 but was brought back to the Panthers in July 2011 under a four-year contract. … Panthers winger Scottie Upshall returned after missing his last three games with an upper-body injury.