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Panthers edge Coyotes on Upshall's goal

by Alain Poupart

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers got their payback against the Arizona Coyotes.

Scottie Upshall scored on a breakaway with 9:04 left in regulation to give the Panthers a 2-1 victory Thursday night. It was their first game at BB&T?Center since Oct. 13 after wrapping up a 2-0-2 road trip that concluded with a 2-1 overtime loss against the Coyotes on Saturday.

"We played a good team over there,"???Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said. "You figured the game was going to be the same as it was in Arizona, and sure enough it was. It was a battle; two teams had good chances to score and goaltending was great at both ends and we came out on top tonight."

Brandon Pirri also scored for the Panthers, who won at home for the first time in three tries this season. The goal was the third in as many games for Pirri, who was a healthy scratch for the Panthers' first three games of the season.

Roberto Luongo made 32 saves.

The Panthers (3-2-3)???are above .500 for the first time this season despite scoring two goals or less in seven of their eight games.

"We're battling hard as a team right now, which is nice,"???Luongo said. "I think defensively, we're playing really well. Our forwards are backchecking hard, putting pressure on the other team and our defensemen are doing a great job of playing the net. We're not scoring many goals, but that's OK. If we play well in our systems we'll give ourselves a chance to win every night. The goals will come eventually."

Martin Hanzal scored for the Coyotes, who are 0-2-0 on their four-game road trip. Arizona, which lost 7-3 against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday, closes out the trip with games against the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday and the Washington Capitals on Sunday.

Arizona has lost five of six; its only victory during that stretch was the game against Florida. The Coyotes had their four-game winning streak against the Panthers snapped.

Mike Smith made 24 stops for the Coyotes. He came into the game with a 4-0-0 record and a 1.06 goals-against average in his previous four games against Florida.

However, Smith had a 4.29 GAA???this season with a .858 save percentage, and was pulled in the third period Tuesday after giving up six goals on 33 shots.

"We were in a hockey game at least,"???Smith said. "But it's a game of inches and breaks and mistakes and right now we can't afford to make some of the mistakes we made tonight. Although we did some things a lot better, we just came up a little short.

"I???felt pretty good. Obviously disappointed, but I???thought I was better. [There] was definitely some positive to take out of that game and we'll move forward and look to the next game."

Upshall scored five seconds after he finished serving his second penalty of the third period. After Derek MacKenzie blocked an Arizona one-timer from the point, he stole a pass and fed Tomas Kopecky just outside the Florida zone.

Kopecky spotted Upshall skating behind defenseman Michael Stone after leaving the box and fed him a perfect pass at the Arizona blue line. Upshall beat Smith after deking to his backhand and sliding the puck between the goalie's legs.

"You always in the back of your mind wonder what you're going to do if that puck kind of squirts free on a PK like that and [Kopecky] made a great pass,"???Upshall said. "He hit me last year with one like that and it was a big goal for us and a big PK for our team.

"To be honest, I had a plan before the game with a breakaway, but it wasn't what I used. This was something that I kind of had in the back pocket."

Smith stopped Tomas Fleischmann on another breakaway with two minutes left to keep the score 2-1.

Arizona outshot Florida 14-9 in the third period, but Luongo was stellar. He also got some help from center Nick Bjugstad after a shot trickled through his pads and the puck found its way behind him in the crease.

"I?????????didn't know if anyone was behind me, so I?????????just kind of panicked and threw it,"?????????Bjugstad said. "It was good that we got it out of there. Lou played well for us. That was really the only really close call. We played well defensively, I thought, and everyone contributed. It was a good game."

The Coyotes opened the scoring at 17:37 of the first period the same way they finished things Saturday night, with an Ekman-Larsson wrist shot on the power play. The Swedish defenseman beat Luongo cleanly in Glendale; this time his shot from the right dot went off the stick of Hanzal and into the net.

Defenseman Keith Yandle had the second assist on the goal, giving him eight assists in eight career games against Florida.

Pirri tied it at 5:37 of the second period with one second left in a Panthers power play. With Yandle in the box for roughing, Jussi Jokinen faked a shot from the left wing before sliding the puck to the slot to Pirri, who beat Smith with a one-timer to the stick side.

Pirri also hit the post twice, in the first period on a wrist shot and in the second when he tipped defenseman Aaron Ekblad's shot from the point.

"He's played great,"?????????Gallant said of Pirri. "He's getting an opportunity to play. He wants to stay in the lineup and (scored) again tonight, so he's a big player for us."

Panthers center Aleksander Barkov left the game with a lower-body injury with a little under 13 minutes remaining in the third period. After the game, Gallant described Barkov's status as "day-to-day."

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