Panthers 3, Lightning 2, SO

Jose Theodore saw the puck at his feet and threw his arms in the

air. It’s way too early to declare the Florida Panthers a playoff

contender, though moments like that from their new goalie are

certainly signs of hope.

Marcel Goc scored the lone goal in a shootout, Theodore stopped

all three shots he faced during the tiebreaker and the Panthers

beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2 on Saturday night – getting to

four points after three games for the first time since the 2005-06

season.

Theodore made 28 saves in regulation and overtime.

”Let’s not forget, Jose Theodore is a good player,” Panthers

coach Kevin Dineen said. ”He’s proven that over the length of a

career. We felt that he was a No. 1 goalie, but for me he really

had to earn it. He had a pretty stinky training camp, but since

then he’s been pretty solid.”

Theodore has yielded six goals in Florida’s first three games.

In the shootout, he denied Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos and

then Vincent Lecavalier to end it, quickly being swarmed by

teammates.

”Vinny, he’s one of my good friends from back home, so

obviously I didn’t want him to score,” Theodore said. ”Sometimes

he did score on me, but not tonight. It was a big win.”

Marc-Andre Bergeron scored a pair of tying goals in the third

period for Tampa Bay, which hasn’t gotten two points out of a game

since the season opener.

”We’re a team that came back a lot last year and we never

quit,” Bergeron said. ”We’re a hardworking team and right now I

think we’re a little off but it’s starting to come back and we’re

seeing it and we’re starting to understand a little more that it’s

not going to be easy.”

Ed Jovanovski got his first goal for Florida in nearly 13 years

to open the scoring, and Kris Versteeg’s power-play tally with 2:55

left in regulation gave the Panthers a short-lived 2-1 lead before

Bergeron tied it again 39 seconds later.

Mathieu Garon made 36 stops for Tampa Bay.

”I thought we played a solid game tonight,” Garon said. ”Guys

were real sharp and it was nice to see.”

Tampa Bay didn’t generate many great chances in the first two

periods on Saturday, then kept Florida pinned in its end for much

of the third.

The breakthrough goal came with 10:17 left. Bergeron faked a

slap shot from the right point, then wristed the puck through

traffic and past Theodore to tie the game at 1.

And with that, the flow opened right up.

Versteeg took a cross-ice pass from Dmitry Kulikov and slapped a

one-timer past Garon with 2:55 left for a 2-1 Florida lead. As fans

were still celebrating that goal, Bergeron struck again – getting

his second goal of the night, silencing most of what Florida

announced as a sellout crowd despite some tarps covering a small

number of seats in the upper level.

The Panthers unveiled their ”We See Red” marketing scheme for

the home opener, along with a slew of upgrades designed to upgrade

the experience for a fan base that hasn’t seen a playoff game in

South Florida since 2000.

Jovanovski gave the crowd another red sighting – the red lamp

that lights up when goals are scored.

With Florida on the power play, Jovanovski received a pass from

Tomas Kopecky at the high slot, then got the puck past Garon at

11:48 of the first period for his first goal with the Panthers

since Jan. 1, 1999.

Jovanovski spent more than a decade with other clubs, but one

thing never changed. The in-state rivals aren’t particularly

friendly with one another.

Florida’s Erik Gudbranson got into his first NHL fight in his

third game, tangling with Tampa Bay’s Steve Downie with 7:44 left

in the second period. It earned Gudbranson 19 minutes in penalties

(minors for instigating and roughing, a 5-minute major for fighting

and a 10-minute misconduct), while Downie got 17 minutes

(unsportsmanlike conduct, fighting and a misconduct) – and even

went after Jovanovski once linesmen stepped in to finally end the

first fight.

”I think that was a real shot in the arm for the team,” Dineen

said.

NOTES: The teams play again Monday night in Tampa, when the

Lightning open their home slate after five straight on the road to

start the season. … RW Teddy Purcell (who had three points in

Tampa Bay’s first four games) was a healthy scratch. D Keaton

Ellerby was scratched by Florida for the third straight game. …

Hall of Famer Bill Torrey, the Panthers’ first president whose name

sways on a banner hanging from the rafters – with the number 93, a

nod to Florida’s 1993 expansion season – was part of the pregame

ceremony.