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Luongo, Panthers shut down Sharks

by Cristina Ledra

SUNRISE, Fla. -- If the Florida Panthers play more games like they did Tuesday, coach Gerard Gallant believes they're apt to win a lot.

The Panthers defeated the San Jose Sharks 4-1 at BB&T Center in what Gallant called Florida's most complete game of the season.

Jimmy Hayes, Aleksander Barkov, Derek MacKenzie and Tomas Fleischmann scored for the Panthers, who blocked 17 shots. Roberto Luongo made 20 saves.

"Everything went according to plan," Gallant said. "You couldn't draw it up any better. I thought the guys all competed. I don't think there was one guy that was a passenger tonight, and that's what we need."

The Sharks have struggled during the first three games of their seven-game road trip and trailed 2-0 12:18 into this one.

"Obviously, we want to fix that," Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic said. "It's troubling, but it's only three games and we can change things. We have four games left on this road trip and we have to figure out a way to get some points."

The Panthers held the Sharks to 10 shots in the first period and two in the second.

"That's not easy to do," Florida left wing Shawn Thornton said. "Those guys are very dynamic over there. I think we did a pretty good job of getting the puck into areas where we could get it back on the forecheck. We've said it all year: When we're playing a north/south game, we're an effective team."

The Panthers scored first when forward Jussi Jokinen dug the puck out of the left corner and passed it to Vincent Trocheck at goalie Antti Niemi's right. Trocheck spun and tapped it to Hayes, who fired a shot over Niemi's glove for his second goal of the season at 10:56 of the first period.

About a minute later, Tomas Kopecky shot the puck along the boards to Niemi's right to Scottie Upshall in the corner. When Upshall started toward the back of the net, Niemi turned his head expecting Upshall to come around to his left. Instead, Upshall passed to Barkov, who was at the bottom of the left circle. Barkov scored his second goal of the season at 12:18 on a shot Niemi never saw.

The Panthers made it 3-0 at 6:37 of the second period. Defenseman Aaron Ekblad dumped the puck into the Sharks end following MacKenzie's faceoff win. From the corner to Niemi's left, the puck came back to Ekblad at the point. Niemi stopped Ekblad's shot through traffic, but fell, and MacKenzie put in the rebound for his second goal of the season.

In the third period, Sharks forward Adam Burish attempted to clear the puck, but it slipped off his stick. Thornton was there to take it in the middle of the zone, down the left wing, with Vlasic playing him closely. Thornton slid the puck into the crease, and Fleischmann tapped it in past an outstretched Niemi at 3:01 for his first goal of the season.

"There were a number of (issues) tonight," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "First of all, we didn't execute at all. We didn't put two passes together, and when we did win battles for the puck and had an opportunity to get up ice, we didn't have the awareness we needed."

Joe Thornton scored for San Jose at 10:35 of the third period when he tapped in a puck that floated up behind Luongo after he made the initial glove save on defenseman Brent Burns' shot from the point.

Luongo made nine saves in the third period to cap Florida's strong defensive effort.

"We want to make sure we're good at the blue lines," Luongo said. "When you turn the puck over, that'll kill you … tonight we barely had any, if any at all. We're a good team when we take care of the puck."

Without the puck, the Panthers look to block shots.

"Successful teams block a lot of shots and give your goalies, not an easy night, but when your team's blocking shots you know you're all buying into the system, and they worked hard," Gallant said. "We talked about it a little bit. A big part of blocking shots from our defensemen is going to help our game because we didn't want second or third chances, and I don't think we gave them too many tonight."

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