Joe Thornton was smiling from ear-to-ear Tuesday night as the San Jose Sharks celebrated his 15 seasons with a long video tribute before their game with the Florida Panthers.
Frank Vatrano helped Thornton celebrate his return to the Shark Tank in style as he scored twice — including 1:11 into overtime — to lift the Panthers to a 3-2 win.
For the second consecutive game to kick off this four-game west coast swing, the Panthers went to overtime but it was not for lack of effort in the third period.
Despite absolutely dominating play in the third, the Panthers could only muster one goal against former goalie James Reimer.
And that goal came from Vatrano on a one-timer from Noel Acciari.
Not only did the Panthers outshoot the Sharks 16-6 in the third, they had a 38-6 advantage in shot attempts.
The Panthers found themselves down 1-0 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 defenseman Gus Forsling.
Before Couture’s goal, Forsling was struck on the inside of the left leg with a slapshot from Erik Karlsson and was in obvious pain.
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.
The good news: Forsling returned to the game in the second period.
Jumbo just wanted to get the game started 😂
WELCOME BACK, JOE 🐐 pic.twitter.com/6QXhmaYOj6
— San Jose Sharks (@SanJoseSharks) March 16, 2022
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 Jonathan 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 MacKenzie Weegar got hit with a delay for flying the puck into the stands on a clear.
Spencer Knight, starting in place of Sergei Bobrovsky after he needed over a dozen stitches from that errant puck on Sunday night, was terrific in the second and made saves on all 12 shots offered off.
Weegar went back to the box late in the third for saying something he should not have.
He 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 — 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 Reimer.
Bob Boughner challenged the play and goalie interference was confirmed, the goal coming off the board.
Florida had numerous other chances in the third period including Marchment hitting a post.
In overtime, Sam Bennett had a big scoring chance that Reimer stopped — only to have Vatrano end it soon afterward.
GR’S THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1. Frank Vatrano, Florida
2. James Reimer, San Jose
3. Spencer Knight, Florida