Jose Theodore, Ed Jovanovski got to enjoy a nice homecoming Saturday night.
Jovanovski scored a power-play goal in his first home game in a Florida uniform in more than a decade and the revamped Panthers went on to beat Tampa Bay 3-2 in a shootout.
"It feels good," Jovanovski said of his return to Florida. "The guys worked hard. It was nice to get that one early and feed off the crowd. It was a good one for us."
Marcel Goc scored the only goal of the shootout on Florida's second attempt and Theodore secured the victory by stopping Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos and Vincent Lecavalier. When Theodore denied Lecavalier's backhand deke on Tampa Bay's third try, he quickly and emphatically raised his right arm in celebration.
"They have a lot of skill," Theodore said of the Lightning. "You look at the players that came down and shot, they're really skilled players. When I saw Vinny, he's one of my good friends from back home, so obviously I didn't want him to score. Sometimes he did score on me, but not tonight. It was a big win. The guys played really well."
The Panthers improved to 2-1-0, while the Lightning completed their five-game season-opening trip with a 1-2-2 mark. The teams meet again in Tampa on Monday night in the Lightning's home opener.
Jovanovski opened the scoring at 11:48 of the first period with his 30th goal in a Panthers uniform but his first since Jan. 1, 1999, against Carolina. Sixteen days later, he was sent to Vancouver as part of the trade that brought Pavel Bure to Florida. The span between the two goals was 4,670 days — 12 years, 9 months and 14 days.
With Dominic Moore in the penalty box for goaltender interference, Jovanovski scored when his slap shot from the point in the middle of the ice deflected off the leg of Lightning forward Tom Pyatt and beat
Mathieu Garon to the glove side.
During the pregame ceremonies before a crowd of 18,352 at the BankAtlantic Center, Jovanovski received one of the loudest ovations.
"It was great," Jovanovski said. "I've always said these fans were always great to me. It was tough to leave them, but it's good to be back. Hopefully, we can build something here."
The Panthers were able to get the victory despite blowing the lead twice in the third period. Goc scored on a deke and backhander between the legs of Garon on Florida's second attempt.
Kris Versteeg added a power-play goal for the Panthers, while Theodore made 28 saves in regulation and overtime.
Marc-Andre Bergeron scored both goals for Tampa Bay.
"It's not exactly where we want to be but in watching this one we came back twice and worked hard," coach Guy Boucher said. "Last year in our last games of our road trips we were awful. We got
our butts kicked every time on the last game of our road trip and not this time."
The Lightning, who have lost four in a row since opening with a 5-1 victory at Carolina, play their home opener Monday night in a rematch against the Panthers.
"It's going to be big for us," Garon said. "I think this road trip was real important for us and now going back home is going to be fun for everybody. We've been on the road a lot the last month, so our
first game at home is going to be exciting."
Garon, making his second start of the season for Tampa Bay, made 36 saves.
But there was one play he wanted to have back and that was Goc's shootout attempt and his decision to attempt to poke-check the Panthers center.
"I usually don't do that," Garon said. "I don't know why I went for the poke check, but I don't like to do those things."
Theodore came into the game with a 7-0 record and a 1.86 goals-against average in his last seven games against Tampa Bay, which lost 6-0 at Florida in the Panthers' home opener last season.
Versteeg gave Florida a 2-1 period with 2:55 left in regulation when he one-timed a cross-ice pass from Dmitry Kulikov, but Bergeron tied it 39 seconds later with a one-timer from outside the right circle.
Bergeron had tied the game 1-1 at 9:43 of the third period with a wrist shot through traffic from the right point.
"A little more entertaining than it needed to be," said Panthers coach Kevin Dineen. "I thought we had such a good 45 minutes and we seemed to sit on our heels a little bit. And when you have a team
that talented, they're certainly going to try to take advantage of you.
"A very entertaining game, but the overall picture of it was I was just happy with the intangibles, the energy we had out there, the enthusiasm. We fed off a fabulous crowd tonight. Our crowd was really
into it. Definitely made for a very entertaining game."
Thanks to four power plays, Florida set a season high for shots in a period with 14 in the opening 20 minutes. The Panthers topped that with 15 in the second period.
Tampa Bay came into the game having killed off all 21 opposition power plays this season, but Jovanovski's goal stopped the Lightning's streak at 22 consecutive kills.
The Lightning went 0-for-2 on the power play and is now 0-for-14 in their last four games. Florida is 9-for-9 on the penalty kill this season.
Theodore came up big on those two Tampa Bay power plays -- just as he did in the shootout.
"Let's not forget, Jose Theodore is a good player," 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. He's slowly built up. Even before the season started, you could see he's amping things up. He's certainly answered the call for us in these first three games."