SAN JOSE, Calif. – After more than a decade without a playoff berth, the Florida Panthers are playing like a true contender early this season.
Tomas Fleischmann scored the tiebreaking goal and Jack Skille added a short-handed score in a three-goal second period that carried the Panthers to a 5-3 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night.
“I think there’s really a lot of belief in our locker-room right now,” coach Kevin Dineen said. “Two games now, we got down a goal in the first two minutes and we readjusted from there. It was a really solid all-around effort from our special teams to our goaltending. It was a good hockey game.”
Stephen Weiss, former Shark Marco Sturm and Dmitry Kulikov also scored for the Panthers, who overcame an early deficit to beat the Sharks for the fourth straight time and matched Philadelphia for the most road wins in the NHL this season with nine.
It has been an impressive start to the season for the Southeast Division-leading Panthers, who have not made the playoffs or been in first place this late in the season since the 1999-00 campaign.
“The team’s been this way the whole season,” said backup goalie Scott Clemmensen, who improved to 2-0 this season. “We never feel like we’re down. We never get down on ourselves or each other. We have a lot of confidence as a team. One-, two-, three- goal deficits, this team battles, all the way to the end. You never count us out.”
Logan Couture had two goals and Jamie McGinn also scored, but the Sharks lost for the third time in four games.
San Jose was outshot 35-26 and committed far too many giveaways in front of backup goalie Thomas Greiss to earn a win despite taking a 2-1 lead in the first period.
“We were very sloppy,” said coach Todd McLellan, who took away Sunday’s planned off-day for his team. “That’s probably as poorly I’ve seen our six D play in four years altogether as a group with turnovers. Forwards didn’t create much of a forecheck. It was a full team game. If we didn’t want to work tonight we’ll find some time tomorrow to do it.”
The Panthers dominated the second period with plenty of help from the Sharks and then held on for the win.
Colin White, playing his first game since Nov. 20, started things down the wrong path for San Jose when his clearing pass went right to Sturm, who skated in alone on Greiss and beat him with a backhander between the legs to tie it at 2.
Midway through the period, Fleischmann took a pass from Kris Versteeg alone in front of the net and stickhandled past Greiss for his 12th goal of the season. That was set up by a turnover from Brent Burns.
The Panthers then took control with their third short-handed goal of the season. Dan Boyle turned the puck over twice coming out of his own zone on the power play.
Skille took the second turnover near the blue line and got a shot off while being pulled down by Boyle. Greiss made the save but the puck hit teammate Jason Demers’ skate and rolled back in off the post for Skille’s second goal of the season.
“A little bit of puck luck helps sometimes,” Skille said. “I’ll take it, and I’m sure everybody else in this league would, too.”
All three goals in the second came off San Jose turnovers.
“We gave them that game,” Boyle said. “A couple of soft plays from us ‘D,'” Boyle said. “Just bonehead stupid soft . soft stupid plays. We gave them a couple of goals. We gave the game away. Their third and fourth goals were both the result of stupid plays, soft plays, dumb plays.”
Couture added his 10th goal on the power play with 6:39 remaining but the Panthers iced it on Kulikov’s power-play goal with 1:35 remaining. Florida scored twice with the man advantage after having just two power-play goals in 27 chances over the previous six games.
The Sharks scored first for just the eighth time this season as Couture’s shot from near the point deflected off Kulikov’s glove and past Clemmensen just 1:16 into the game.
The Panthers tied it with a power-play goal midway through the period. Greiss made a strong pad stop on Fleischmann but then let in a soft rebound goal from Weiss that slid slowly along the ice underneath Greiss’ glove and past Douglas Murray for the equalizer.
McGinn’s second goal in as many games put San Jose back ahead.
Notes: The Sharks had been 5-0 when leading after the first period. … San Jose D Burns took his first penalty of the season when he was called for roughing Skille on a hard hit midway through the second period. … Sharks F Marty Havlat left briefly in the second period after taking a hard hit from Florida’s Sean Bergenheim while falling to the ice.