Entering the night with a Western Conference-leading 23 wins at home, the Sharks, who also saw their torrid winning streak end at six games with tonight's loss to Florida, hadn't lost at home since Feb. 18.
"This building is a tough building to win in," Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. "To come out with that kind of effort… We had a little slow start. I thought that might happen because we've been off for a few days. But guys had great energy. They battled. We got some contributions throughout the lineup again."
After three days off, the Panthers admittedly took a little while to get going against the Sharks, entering the first intermission down 2-1 after registering just seven shots on goal in the opening frame. But from there on out, the game belonged to Florida, which outscored San Jose 3-0 over the final 40 minutes. "I think we were a little rusty off the start," Panthers winger Frank Vatrano said.
"I think it was three days off, so you feel a little rusty getting into the game. It takes a little bit getting into it, but we knew what our game plan was right from the get-go."
Vatrano was one of four different Panthers that lit the lamp in San Jose, joining Jamie McGinn, Dryden Hunt and Mike Hoffman, who netted the game-winner on the power play at 18:49 of the second period.
"We raised the level of our game," Hoffman said. "That's a good hockey club over there, and it's a tough building to play in. We knew that everyone had to be at their best. Everyone worked hard. We got some big saves from [Sam] Montembeault and special teams got us one [goal]. We were able to contribute."
Making his third straight start, Montembeault stopped 26 of 28 shots to improve to 3-0-1 on the season.
"It feels really good," the rookie netminder said of picking up his first NHL win on the road. "It's obviously different than playing at home. My first three starts were in Florida. It was just important to keep doing what I was doing before, just play my game and not get intimidated by the crowd here."
The Panthers (31-27-12) have points in 12 of their last 15 games, owning an 8-3-4 record in that span.
"We're not out of it yet," Boughner said of the road ahead. "We know it's a long way to get [to the playoffs]. We're concentrating on winning every game, really. That's the goal. Obviously, the young guys are developing and they're doing a great job of that and getting a lot of opportunity here. We want to make sure they're involved, but we're not giving up until the end. We're going to fight."
Here are five takeaways from Thursday's win in San Jose…
1. BACK IN THE TANK
McGinn came back to bite his former team on Thursday night.
With the Panthers in an early 1-0 hole, McGinn, who was originally a second-round pick of the Sharks in the 2006 NHL Draft, carved out a spot for himself near the top of the crease. Following a long shot from Aaron Ekblad, he banged home the ensuing rebound to make it a 1-1 game at 11:45 of the first period.
Video: FLA@SJS: McGinn pots loose puck at the doorstep
"I'm trying to take away the goalie's eyes," McGinn said of the play. "When I spun around quick, I knew [the puck] hit him and he wasn't sure where it was. I just made sure that I whacked it home. It was in and out pretty quick, so I was pretty fortunate that the puck laid there for me."
Held out of the lineup for the first 54 games of the season following back surgery, McGinn continues to shine since returning to the lineup. Playing mostly in the team's bottom-six with some time on the man advantage, the 30-year-old veteran has recorded four goals and three assists in his last 12 contests.
Additionally, with an assist on McGinn's goal, Ekblad notched his fifth helper in his last five games. Dating back to Feb. 25, the 23-year-old defenseman has tallied two goals and six assists in 10 games.
2. HUNT'S HEATING UP
It appears Hunt has broken the goal-scoring seal.
After picking up the first goal of his NHL career in Sunday's win against Detroit, the 23-year-old rookie found the back of the net for his second straight game on Thursday night, taking a pass and whipping a quick wrist shot past goaltender Martin Jones to make it a 2-2 game just 1:25 into the second period.
Hunt waited 33 games for his first goal, but needed just one more for his second.
Video: FLA@SJS: Hunt beats Jones with quick wrist shot
Recalled from AHL Springfield on Feb. 25, Hunt has been handling himself very well during his second stint of the season with the Panthers. In 10 games since being promoted to the big club, the third-year pro has accumulated two goals and three assists while averaging 10:42 of ice time per game.
3. THEY WERE DUE
You can only give the Panthers so many looks on the power play before they make you pay.
Entering tonight's matchup with the second-ranked man advantage in the league, Florida finally found the back of the net on its fifth power play in San Jose. Taking a pass from Keith Yandle, Hoffman turned and blasted a booming slap shot past Jones to the net to make it 3-2 with 1:11 left in the second period.
"If they're going to sit in the box the whole time, we were eventually going to get one," Hoffman said. "It was a good screen, a good entry by the guys, and I was able to find the back of the net."
Video: FLA@SJS: Hoffman blasts slap shot for PPG
By scoring his 32nd goal of the season, Hoffman has matched Ray Whitney for the most goals scored by a Panther in their first season with the franchise. Of the 29-year-old winger's 32 goals, 15 have come with the extra attacker on the ice, which places him first on the team and fifth in the league in that category.
With a goal and an assist in San Jose, Hoffman also reached a new career-high in points (63).
4. BIRTHDAY BASH
Vatrano celebrated his 25th birthday in style on Thursday night.
With the Panthers holding onto a narrow 3-2 lead, Vatrano finished off a series of slick passes from his linemates, Vincent Trocheck and Hoffman, by tapping the puck past Jones on the doorstep to extend the advantage to 4-2 with an important insurance goal at 8:17 of the third period.
Video: FLA@SJS: Vatrano pots goal off tic-tac-toe passing
"I didn't know that Troch was going to slip that pass through to Hoff," Vatrano said. "I kind of couldn't see a little bit, but he slipped that pass to Hoff. I knew there was a chance he was going to pass it. If it was me, I probably would have shot it. But he made a great pass to me. It was a great all-around effort."
Inked to a three-year extension in February, Vatrano, who was acquired from Boston around last year's trade deadline for a third-round pick, has reached new career-highs in goals (22) and points (36) during his first full season with the Panthers. Of his 22 goals, a team-leading 21 have come at even-strength.
Montembeault's star is certainly shining bright.
With a 26-save performance against the Sharks, the 22-year-old rookie netminder improved to 3-0-0 over his last three starts, posting a .933 save percentage in that span. Since surrendering four goals in his NHL debut on March 2 - a 4-3 overtime loss to Carolina - he has yet to allow more than two goals in a game.
After allowing two goals in the first period, Montembeault stopped all 20 shots he faced over the final two periods in San Jose. In the third, he made 12 saves to absolutely stifle the Sharks' late-game surge.
Video: FLA@SJS: Montembeault denies Hertl's point-blank shot
"He's not getting rattled," Boughner said. "He's just holding his own and coming up with some big saves like he did at the end. You sort of feed off his demeanor as well. He's a calm guy. It's nice to see. He's put in his time and he's making the most of his opportunity."
Montembeault is expected to continue seeing plenty of playing time down the stretch.