Sharks at Panthers game preview

Scottie Upshall scored a short-handed goal in the second period to help Florida defeate the New York Islanders on Tuesday.

TIME: Thursday at 7:30 p.m.

TV: FOX Sports Florida.

The San Jose Sharks have been the NHL’s best first-period team, regularly opening up early leads.

The Florida Panthers have struggled with slow starts all season but hope to gain momentum from a rare early outburst.

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San Jose seeks a second straight road win for the first time in two months Thursday night when it takes on Florida.

The Sharks (29-12-6) are a league-best plus-30 in the first period, while the Panthers are near the bottom of the NHL at minus-19.

San Jose led 1-0 after the first 20 minutes of Tuesday’s 2-1 shootout win in Washington to begin a three-game trip. It marked the 23rd time the Sharks have led after the opening period.

Florida (18-21-7) claimed a 3-0 first-period lead in Tuesday’s 4-2 home win over the New York Islanders. It was the first time the Panthers scored three goals in a single period since the third of a 4-2 win over Dallas in their season opener Oct. 3, and just their fourth time with multiple first-period goals.

The Panthers have entered the first intermission with a lead only nine times.

”We had chances tonight early in the game and they went in,” coach Peter Horachek said.

San Jose had dropped eight of 11 on the road, surrendering three or more goals nine times, before winning Tuesday on Patrick Marleau’s shootout goal. Antti Niemi stopped 35 shots against the Capitals and has recorded a 0.89 goals-against average over his last three starts.

”It’s huge because we’ve been struggling a little bit on the road. It’s a really big win for us,” said Niemi, who had a 3.74 GAA in his previous eight road games.

The Sharks, 13-10-3 on the road compared to 16-2-3 at home, haven’t won consecutive road games since taking three straight Nov. 12-15.

The Panthers are 3-0-1 in their last four home games after winning Tuesday, when Scottie Upshall’s second-period short-handed goal gave them a 4-0 lead. Tim Thomas finished with 31 saves, with 13 coming in the final period against an Islanders team that had won seven of eight.

”It’s rare in the NHL to have that kind of cushion,” said Thomas, 2-4-0 in six starts against San Jose despite a 1.99 goals-against average. ”It was nice, but at the same time it’s a challenge, too, because you don’t want to let the other team back into it. They were right on the brink of coming back there after they got the second goal.”

Captain Ed Jovanovski recorded his first points of the season with two assists. He was playing his fifth game after being out following hip surgery.

The teams haven’t met since Florida’s 5-3 victory Dec. 3, 2011, marking the Sharks’ fourth straight loss in the series after they had won seven of eight. San Jose held a first-period lead in each of the last three.

Florida’s Tomas Fleischmann has two goals and two assists in three career games against the Sharks.

Niemi has split two career starts against the Panthers.