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Luongo's 52 saves help Panthers fend off Sharks

by Eric Gilmore

SAN JOSE -- When he stepped onto the familiar ice at SAP Center for the Florida Panthers' morning skate Tuesday, goaltender Roberto Luongo had a feeling he was going to have a good game that night against the San Jose Sharks, a team he had faced often with the Vancouver Canucks.

Just good? Try great.

Luongo made 52 saves -- 28 in the third period -- and led the Panthers to a stunning 3-2 victory, snapping the Sharks six-game winning streak.

"Some days you feel it more than others," Luongo said. "Even this morning at practice I felt good, even though I was off yesterday. You just have that feeling sometimes when you know you're going to play well. I've always enjoyed playing in this building. It was a fun game."

Maybe for Luongo, but not for the Sharks (45-18-7), who missed a chance to take over first place in the Pacific Division after the Anaheim Ducks lost 3-2 to the Washington Capitals. Both teams have 97 points, but the Ducks have a game in hand.

"Really disappointing," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "We started average and didn't get better and then fell asleep. There wasn't a lot of emotion in the game, a lot of drive from our behalf and then fell asleep and tried to get desperate at the end. You can't win. It doesn't matter what you're in, you can't win like that. We've talked about this lesson a lot of times this year already with teams that are maybe not in the playoffs and we keep shooting ourselves in the foot. Until we fix that we'll probably end up with the same results."

Brandon Pirri, Quinton Howden and Scottie Upshall scored second-period goals for the Panthers (26-35-8). The Sharks outshot Florida 29-2 in the third period but scored only once; Brent Burns beat Luongo with 3:03 remaining to cut the margin to one goal. The 29 shots were a franchise single-period record.

Marty Havlat also scored for the Sharks, and goaltender Antti Niemi made 21 saves.

"Lu played well," Sharks captain Joe Thornton said. "He made some good stops. That's what he does. He's a world-class goalie. I thought we could do a little bit better getting in his eyes but he played well."

After a scoreless first period, Havlat gave San Jose a 1-0 lead at 4:02 of the second with a power-play goal, the Sharks' first at home since Feb. 3 against the Philadelphia Flyers. Overall, the Sharks went 1-for-6 on the power play and are 4-for-65 in their past 20 games.

Florida owned the rest of the period, building a 3-1 lead on goals by Pirri, Howden and Upshaw.

The Panthers pulled even at 11:23 on Pirri's unassisted goal. He intercepted forward James Sheppard's pass in Florida's zone and headed the other way. Pirri darted past defenseman Jason Demers and fired a wrist shot that bounced off Niemi and into the air. The puck landed behind Niemi on his left skate, then went through defenseman Scott Hannan's legs and over the goal line.

"I had some room there," Pirri said. "With the speed with (Jimmy Hayes) and (Howden), they create a lot of speed going down the wing. Kind of backs everyone off. Maybe their gap wasn't as good as they wanted it to be. I just shot it and obviously got a little lucky there."

The Panthers struck again 17 seconds later, this time on Howden's third goal of the season, all in four games.

Pirri won a faceoff against Andrew Desjardins, quickly brought the puck into San Jose's zone and fired a shot. Niemi made the save, but Howden ripped the rebound past him, giving Florida a 2-1 lead at 11:40.

"They came out with some good pressure," Howden said of the Sharks. "We needed to respond in a big way. You just kind of make it easy on yourself. You chip pucks and go after 'em. That first one Pirri made a great play himself, kind of holding onto it. He made a great play there, and the other one was just shooting pucks on net and going to the net."

Upshall made it 3-1 with 15 seconds left in the period, taking a pass from Joey Crabb and wristing a shot from the circle through Niemi's legs.

"They scored three pretty quickly," Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle said. " I don't think anybody is going to be too happy with their execution and effort through 40. We had some chances but overall we could have stepped it up a little bit better. Whether it was their first goal or us just not doing it a little bit more, a combination of both I think allowed them in the game and put them up two goals after two."

The Sharks turned up the pressure on Florida in the third period as the Panthers began a parade to the penalty box. San Jose sent a barrage of 15 shots Luongo's way during four power plays in a span of 7:09, but he stopped them all.

"You could tell he was just on his game from the beginning," Pirri said of Luongo. "It's pretty impressive what he can do. We probably would have liked to give him a little more help. He's the best goalie in the world for a reason."

Burns made it a one-goal game at 16:57. Thornton won a faceoff in the offensive zone, and Burns put the puck through Luongo's legs for his 19th of the season.

The Sharks pulled Niemi with 1:35 left and made a desperate push. Joe Pavelski had a chance to score from close range but was denied with less than a minute left.

"I'm upset about the second goal," Luongo said. " Should have had it. "It was coming in swirling toward me so I just went to go cover it, and as I went down I think Burns just spun around and shot it. I wasn't ready for a shot."

The Sharks have a huge game Thursday against Anaheim at SAP Center, but they said they weren't looking past the Panthers.

"We knew going in that they were going to come out and that they were going to work," center Logan Couture said. "I think we have more talent in this room than they have in theirs, but the first two periods, they outworked us."

The Sharks outshot Florida 10-8 in the first period but looked sluggish in their first home game after a three-game trip in which they swept the Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Islanders and New York Rangers.

Couture came close to opening the scoring with 7:54 left in the period when he darted toward the crease and redirected a pass from Patrick Marleau. But Luongo stopped the puck between his pads.

Panthers defenseman Dmitry Kulikov played his 300th NHL game, and rookie forward Garrett Wilson made his NHL debut, skating on Florida's fourth line.

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