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Florida Panthers settle down, wear down San Jose Sharks for OT win

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Frank Vatrano is mobbed by his Florida Panthers teammates after he scored in overtime to lead them to a 3-2 win over the host San Jose Sharks on Tuesday night. — AP Photo/Tony Avelar

The Florida Panthers were a little out of control in the second period of Tuesday night’s game in San Jose.

Florida took five penalties in the second alone — two for roughing, one for unsportsmanlike conduct — and found themselves in a rock fight with the Sharks.

The Panthers also found themselves trailing by a goal heading into the third although, with the chances San Jose got, Florida was lucky to only be down one.

As has been the case for the past two seasons, the Panthers flipped that switch again in the third, completely dominating play in the third and turning the tables on the Sharks.

Thanks to the play of former Florida goalie James Reimer, San Jose was fortunate to have only given up one goal in that barrage of shots in the third to force overtime.

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The Panthers kept up the heat in overtime and took the extra point on Frank Vatrano’s second goal of the night — he tied it in the third — as Florida headed to the bright lights of the Vegas strip with a 3-2 win.

Florida wanted to celebrate Joe Thornton Night at the Shark Tank and Vatrano certainly helped make sure that happened.

“We have done this all year long,” said Vatrano, who got his first goal since New Year’s Day against the Canadiens as he pummeled a fluttering pass from Noel Acciari at 3:29 of the period.

”We came out fresh in the third and always find a way to win the hockey game. We stick to the game plan and, hey, it has been working.”

Coach Andrew Brunette was certainly not happy with his team’s performance up until the third period.

Florida found itself down 2-1 after a mundane first period which was highlighted by a shorthanded goal from Jonathan Huberdeau.

The Panthers also briefly lost Gus Forsling after the defenseman blocked a Erik Karlsson power play shot with the inside of his left leg.

Forsling looked to be in serious pain and it certainly did not look like he was coming back after medical staff helped him limp off the ice.

Yet in the second period, Forsling was back, playing through the pain. He ended the night playing 22 shifts and 17:26 in the win.

“Such a vital piece to our group,” Brunette said. “We were really worried but once we knew it was OK, and it was nothing that threatened him — just playing through some pain.

”He is a gritty guy. He loves to play and loves to compete. He gave it his all tonight.“

If Brunette was not all too pleased with the first, well he certainly was not happy with the second.

The Panthers have the Sharks one power play chance after another — and Spencer Knight, making a surprise start, was up to the challenge.

Although Knight did not give up the toughest of goals in the first, he was a rock in the second. In the third, well, he didn’t have much to do.

Knight ended up watching most of the third as San Jose only took three shots in the entire period.

“It’s hard but I have had those kind of things happen before where I have had one shot in the first period or one in the third,” he said. “You kind of learn how to just do the best you can. You cannot get too wrapped up in the shots.”

The Panthers came out in the third and killed off the remainder of MacKenzie Weegar’s penalty for salty language toward an official and were off to the races.

Florida did not go to the penalty box again.

The Panthers spent almost the entirety of the third period in the San Jose zone, putting tremendous pressure on Reimer in the process.

Despite taking 36 shot attempts in the third, only the knuckled-fastball off the stick of Vatrano beat Reimer in the third.

“We kept our composure,” Brunette said. “I really liked our game aside from some of the things we were doing in the second period. We got carried away. But we kept our emotions intact. … I think we got frustrated, felt we had the puck a lot and felt we were maybe getting taken advantage of a little bit in things that were being called. We lost our composure. …

“We learned we had to tighten up and not worry about the outside but just the inside of our group, get some inner peace.”

San Jose took the first lead of the night on a power play goal from Logan Couture at 8:19 of the first period.

More important to the Panthers than surrendering the early goal was the health of Forsling. 

Before Couture’s goal, Forsling was struck on the inside of the left leg with a Karlsson slapshot.

Forsling hit the ice, struggled to get back to his feet but could barely put any weight on that leg. After the Sharks’ goal, the team’s medical staff came out and helped him get off the ice and into the training room.

When the game got going again, Sasha Barkov was hit with a high-stick penalty but the Panthers did a good job of slowing the San Jose power play this time — with Huberdeau driving down the ice and scoring the team’s ninth shorthanded goal of the season.

The score did not stay tied for long as San Jose defenseman Nicolas Meloche scored at 13:58 to make it 2-1.

Things stayed that way through a wild second period in which both teams took multiple trips to the penalty box — with the Panthers being able to kill off a 22-second 5-on-3 and the ensuing power play after Weegar took a delay-of-game for inadvertently sending the puck into the stands on a clear.

Knight, starting in place of Sergei Bobrovsky whom Brunette said was not feeling well on Tuesday, was terrific in the second and made saves on all 12 shots oSan Jose threw at the net.

Weegar went back to the box late in the third and did not seem to have any regrets for his “unsportsmanlike” behavior as he mockingly applauded the officials from his spot in the bin.

Florida ended up killing off that penalty — the Sharks went 1-for-5 on the power play overall — and finally tied the score at 3:29 of the third Vatrano hammered a wobbling puck sent in from Acciari that Reimer had no chance at stopping.

The Panthers, who dominated 5-on-5 play throughout the game, kept keeping the pressure on Reimer in the third.

Mason Marchment appeared to give Florida its first lead in his San Jose homecoming as he barreled toward the net — and sent Eetu Luostarinen into Marc-Edouard Vlasic who then got tangled up with Reimer.

Bob Boughner challenged the play and goalie interference was confirmed, the goal coming off the board.

GR’S THREE STARS OF THE GAME

1. Frank Vatrano, Florida

2. James Reimer, San Jose

3. Spencer Knight, Florida

FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK

FLORIDA PANTHERS AT VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS

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