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Bjugstad lifts Panthers past Sharks in shootout

by Eric Gilmore

SAN JOSE -- Florida Panthers center Nick Bjugstad opened the season by going 10 games without scoring a goal. He's been making up for that drought ever since.

Bjugstad stayed hot Thursday, scoring two goals in regulation and getting the deciding goal in the shootout to lift the Panthers to a 3-2 victory against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center.

Bjugstad, the 19th player taken in the 2010 NHL Draft, scored two goals for the third time in his career and the second time this season. Florida's top-line center had two goals and four points Sunday in a 6-2 victory at the Anaheim Ducks. He has four goals and seven points in his past three games, and six goals in his past seven games. The scoring surge has given his confidence a huge boost.

"Scoring goals kind of changes your mentality," Bjugstad said. "It really shouldn't, but it does. It just gets the adrenaline going a little bit. Yeah, you just got to keep going when you're riding that wave. When it's going in, it's going in. It wasn't going in for me at the beginning of the year. Took me a while. So yeah, I've got a little ground to make up."

Bjugstad scored 24 seconds into the game and had a power-play goal late in the second period that put Florida ahead 2-1. But Sharks forward Patrick Marleau forced overtime by scoring with 33.1 seconds remaining in regulation after San Jose pulled goaltender Antti Niemi. Marleau took a pass in the lower right circle from Joe Thornton and snapped a shot past Roberto Luongo to the far side.

The Panthers got a power play when Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic was called for high sticking with 11 seconds left in regulation. The power play carried into overtime, but Florida was unable to capitalize. Sharks forward Logan Couture, who scored a second-period power-play goal, ripped a shot from the right circle with 1:00 left in overtime, but Luongo made the save.

Couture and Florida's Jussi Jokinen each scored in the second round of the shootout. After Sharks defenseman Brent Burns started the third round by hitting the post with his attempt, Bjugstad ended the game by whipping a high wrist shot past Niemi's glove.

"You don't really think too much when you're doing it," Bjugstad said. "You're just trying to get it through the net. I just tried getting it through, getting it off quick. That's the main thing."

Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said it was an easy decision to give Bjugstad his first chance of the season in a shootout.

"Tonight he was hot," Gallant said. "So I thought we'd go with him. He was putting the puck in the net and he hit a couple of posts too. That was a good shootout win for us."

Luongo made 28 saves through 65 minutes. Niemi stopped 26 shots.

The Panthers improved to 7-1-0 in their past eight games against San Jose. They beat the Sharks for the third straight time overall and swept the two-game season series. Florida won for the fourth straight time at SAP Center.

San Jose, which played 16 of its first 21 games on the road, opened a six-game homestand with a disappointing loss, though the Sharks did salvage a point.

"Obviously it didn't look too good with 30 seconds left so we'll take the point," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "Would have preferred two, tried to find a way to get that in the shootout.

"We get scored on on the first shot of the game, coming home from that long road trip, and we could have responded differently. At least we responded positively. I thought we found our game after that and were pretty good for about 36 minutes until they scored. Then I thought well into the third period we were on our heels and maybe the fear of losing crept into our thoughts."

The Sharks outshot Florida 25-15 through the first two periods, but the Panthers outshot San Jose 10-3 in the third and appeared headed for a 2-1 victory until Marleau delivered.

The Sharks had a prime chance to pull even with 6:53 left in regulation when Marleau was awarded a penalty shot after defenseman Brian Campbell slashed him from behind on a breakaway. But Luongo made a blocker save, preserving Florida's lead.

The Sharks pulled Niemi with 1:40 left in the third period but didn't put a shot on net until Marleau's game-tying goal.

Bjugstad gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead on the game's first shift. Huberdeau sent a cross-ice pass to defenseman Dmitry Kulikov above the right circle. Kulikov fired a shot, and Bjugstad redirected the puck from the circle past Sharks defenseman Justin Braun and Niemi.

"He's been a force for our team," Luongo said of Bjugstad. "We need it. It's nice to see him picking up his game and carrying the team now."

Kulikov, who returned to the lineup after missing four games with a knee injury, got an assist, as did Huberdeau.

The Sharks outshot Florida 12-6 in the first period but didn't have many good scoring chances. Their best one came late in the period while they were shorthanded. Tommy Wingels had a shot from short range, but Luongo caught it.

San Jose pulled even on Couture's power-play goal at 6:19 of the second period. Luongo made a sprawling pad save on Joe Pavelski's shot from in front of the crease, but Couture swooped in for the rebound and put the puck into a wide-open net for his eighth goal of the season, snapping a seven-game goalless streak.

Marleau, playing his franchise-record 400th consecutive game, and Pavelski got the assists.

Florida went back in front when Bjugstad struck again, this time on the power play at 17:23 of the second period. Bjugstad took a pass from Erik Gudbranson above the left circle and unloaded a slap shot that beat Niemi to the far side.

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