Panthers 5, Sabres 4 (SO)

A bittersweet night for Florida Panthers

 

After learning that Ed Jovanovski will have season-ending hip surgery, the Panthers recorded a shootout win over the Sabres.

grichards@MiamiHerald.com

A few minutes before the Panthers snapped a three-game losing streak Thursday night, the team announced captain Ed Jovanovski would undergo season-ending hip surgery.

And although the Jovanovski news wasn’t exactly surprising, it seemed fitting. The Panthers captain, after playing in just six games, was done for the season.

“It would be nice to be a surgeon,’’ general manager Dale Tallon said without hint of a smile. “It’s never easy. It’s been a tough year for all of us, but we’ll get through it and we’ll look forward to moving on and getting better.”

The Panthers, who beat the visiting Sabres 5-4 in the fourth round of a shootout thanks to a Mike Santorelli goal, have lost more than 210 games to player injury this season with Jovanovski missing 29 alone.

Jovanovski, 36, apparently has a degenerative hip condition that has been giving him trouble for some time.

When he left the Panthers’ loss at Tampa on Jan. 29 after a knee-on-knee hit from B.J. Crombeen, he decided to use that down time to try and relieve some of his pain in the hip — and even traveled to Europe for treatment.

“He’s our captain and I’ve said all along how we need him in this room,’’ said Erik Gudbranson, Jovanovski’s defensive partner. “He’s one of the best and he’s good to have on the ice. For long-term, I think he made the right decision. I hope it all goes well for him.’’

Jovanovski decided to give things one more try to see if he could play without surgery and worked his way into game shape. After missing 22 games, Jovanovski returned to the lineup March 16. He lasted less than two periods, leaving that game early and not returning.

Tallon said he expects Jovanovski — who signed a four-year, $16.5 million deal last season — to return to the team.

“I hope so. I think so. I know Jovo will do everything in his power to get back to playing,’’ Tallon said. “That’s what he’s all about. I hope it all works out for him. It’s never easy, but if anybody can do it, it’ll be Jovo.’’

Not long after Tallon spoke with the media atop the BB&T Center, the Panthers took a 2-0 lead on Buffalo before the Sabres roared back with three unanswered goals to close the second.

Buffalo scored twice within the final five minutes of the second to take a 3-2 lead into the third before the Panthers did some damage of their own.

The Panthers, who took the initial lead when Shawn Matthias scored his career-high 11th goal, tied things at 3 when Matthias got his second of the night with pure grit and determination.

Matthias outbattled Patrick Kaleta and Kevin Porter for the puck, then followed Peter Mueller’s rebound and put it past Ryan Miller.

“We got the result we wanted, and it feels pretty good right now,’’ Matthias said. “We let up for a bit but definitely came together in the third. It looked pretty bad for a bit, but we played our hearts out.’’

Just 43 seconds into the second, Tomas Fleischmann made it 2-0 with a power-play goal —- but the Sabres answered less than a minute later when Nathan Gerbe scored from 50 feet out.

With 5:03 left in the second, Andrej Sekera launched a shot from 55 feet out that found the back of the net to tie the score. With 55.4 seconds remaining in the second, Drew Stafford redirected a long shot from Christian Ehrhoff past Markstrom.

Florida trailed twice in the third, but fought back to tie it each time. After Matthias tied it at 3, rookie Jonathan Huberdeau got his first goal in 10 games by sliding into the slot and pushing a puck beneath Ryan Miller to help force overtime.

In the shootout, Huberdeau scored on a goal that was reviewed in Toronto.

“We came back in this game and it’s nice to get two points,’’ Huberdeau said. “We were up 2-0 and didn’t want to lose this game. We have some character and that’s what we were trying to show. Nine games [without a goal] is a lot, but you have to work for them.’’

In the fourth round of the shootout, Markstrom stopped Steve Ott before Santorelli sidestepped Miller’s poke-check and popped the puck into the vacated net. Rats rained down from the crowd, something that hasn’t happened much all season.

Florida is now 2-6 in overtime with both wins coming in a shootout. This was the first one on home ice.

“We haven’t been the best in overtime, so this really feels good to do it at home,’’ Santorelli said.

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