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Thomas, Panthers beat Luongo, Canucks in shootout

by Kevin Woodley

VANCOUVER -- When Florida Panthers coach Peter Horachek informed his players during the team's morning skate Tuesday that the franchise had never won a game at Rogers Arena, goaltender Tim Thomas quickly piped up.

"I have," Thomas said, setting off laughter.

Thomas, who won the Stanley Cup the last time he played in Vancouver, in the 2011 Cup Final, made sure he's no longer the only Florida player who can make that claim.

Thomas made 27 saves through the end of overtime, and stopped all three shots in the shootout, lifting the Panthers to a 3-2 victory against the Canucks on Tuesday night.

Jonathan Huberdeau scored the only goal in the shootout.

It was Florida's first win in Vancouver since 1994, and the franchise's first-ever victory at Rogers Arena.

"That's exactly what we said after the game: Now we've all won here," Thomas said.

The 39-year-old goalie forced Mike Santorelli wide, stuffed Alexandre Burrows and angled Chris Higgins' shot off the post in the shootout.

But Thomas quickly deferred questions about his own success in Vancouver, pointing instead to the Panthers' first consecutive wins of the season and three victories in their past four games, including against the Colorado Avalanche and Pacific Division-leading Anaheim Ducks.

"I don't think having it be here is a factor," Thomas said. "It's more that we'd won two of three coming into this, we'd been putting some good efforts together, playing some quality teams, getting some points and just to be able to keep it going to make it three in four and win back-to-back games for the first time this year was huge. So, it's not so much about being here as that was a result we needed."

The outcome was in question after Jannik Hansen put Vancouver ahead by a 2-1 score 2:45 in the third period -- the only time the Canucks have scored more than one goal in their past five games. But Shawn Matthias tied it six minutes later, and the Panthers carried the play late, failing to convert an overtime power play before Huberdeau won it in the shootout.

After Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo sprawled out with the right pad to rob Huberdeau on the overtime power play, the Florida center got the goalie sliding to his left before tucking the puck just inside that same post in the shootout.

"I'm trying to do different things every time, and it worked out tonight," Huberdeau said. "I was hoping I was going to score (in overtime), but he laid out his legs and it was a big save, but we found a way to win in the shootout. It was important to get two points for us."

It should have also been an important two points for the Canucks, who have lost five straight (0-3-2). But it was the Panthers who controlled the play early, with one apparent goal already waved off because of a quick whistle before Brad Boyes opened the scoring on a power play 3:43 into the game.

"It was easily our worst game of the year. We didn't deserve a point," Canucks coach John Tortorella said. "It's lack of respect, and we have no business to show a lack of respect to any hockey team. In the situation we're in going into tonight's game, I just don't know what we're thinking as far as how we started the game. If it isn't for (Luongo), we're down [3-0 or 4-0] in that first period, we get squat for points. So, I can't explain it."

Luongo finished with 34 saves, and kept it close with a shorthanded breakaway save off Marcel Goc midway through the first period, allowing Chris Higgins to tie the game 3:26 into the second.

Hansen finally broke Vancouver through the one-goal barrier after a bad pass from Florida forward Tomas Fleishmann from behind his own goal went straight to Hansen in the high slot. Playing his second game after missing 10 with a shoulder injury, Hansen fired a wrist shot past Thomas at 2:45 of the third.

Matthias tied the game from the high slot nearly six minutes later, one-timing a nice cross-ice pass from Bjugstad past Luongo's glove.

"They're never easy," Luongo said. "As soon as you start thinking that, it's game over for us. Especially given we lost four in a row, I don't understand why we would think it would be easy."

That should go double against Thomas, who held the Canucks to eight goals in the Cup Final and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff most valuable player in 2011. After being slowed by a couple early injuries, Thomas is showing signs of his old form, buoying the Panthers' confidence.

"He's won a Stanley Cup before, he's won a Vezina (Trophy), and that's why," Horachek said. "He's confident. He's got a smile on his face when he is doing it, and he gives our guys confidence."

Even -- or maybe especially -- in Vancouver.

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