The Panthers have played so many overtime games the past few years, the team’s Zamboni has flipped its odometer and is no longer under factory warranty.
On Saturday, they went into overtime with Tim Thomas in goal for the first time. Not surprisingly, everything felt different.
Thomas earned his 31st career shootout win as he stopped both Minnesota shooters leading the Panthers to a much-needed 2-1 win. The victory halted Florida’s losing streak at three games as Thomas rose to the occasion time after time.
The lone goal Thomas surrendered Saturday was a fluke. It came off the stick of one of his own teammates.
“When you win in a shootout, it’s a true win for your team,” said Thomas, who stopped 32 of 33 shots, including the one-on-one shootout offerings from Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu.
“When you lose in a shootout, it’s not really a true loss. Seriously, that’s the way it is. We needed a win and we’ll take it anyway we can. We won in a shootout, but we earned it through hard work. We need that output every night.”
Thomas moved into a tie with former Florida goalie Roberto Luongo for seventh on the active list with 31 shootout wins. Brad Boyes, who scored the second shootout goal to end it, is tied with Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk for tops among active shootout scorers with 33 goals.
As coach Kevin Dineen said, Thomas can be hit-or-miss in the shootout session although his winning percentage (53 percent) is much better than that of his new franchise (38 percent).
“Timmie stood tall when we needed him to,” Dineen said, referring to a big save at the end of overtime. “You could see a little confidence when he’s out there. That’s why I elected to shoot second. He makes the save then [Jonathan] Huberdeau would work his magic.”
Said Thomas: “I haven’t been in a shootout in a long time. I didn’t think about that until right now. We had a lot of tight games in Boston, so it’s something I’m relatively familiar with.”
The shootout is generally regarded as little more than a game-deciding exhibition, like deciding a tied major golf tournament at the local putt-putt joint.
For a Panthers team that had won just two of its first eight, whatever.
“I think we’ve been gripping hard and working hard,” said Dineen, who was wearing a tie featuring tiny shamrocks he said was given to him by general manager Dale Tallon.
“It hasn’t been fun for us. We’ve been through the ringer here. Winning is a great cure for a lot of things.”
Like most in the sparsely-filled arena, Dineen was a little perturbed at the way the Panthers were outplayed much of the game.
Florida changed its pace in the third as Dineen played with a short bench. Boyes (four shifts) and Scott Gomez (three) didn’t see much playing time in the final 25 minutes of the game, although Boyes was a most obvious choice to come out for the shootout.
“It’s a tale of two cities with our team,” Dineen said. “I talked before the season about accountability before the season and guys who weren’t playing well didn’t see much ice in the third. I think that is starting to take effect, knowing this is a performance-based business. Do your job, you’ll be OK.”
Minnesota and Florida played a pedestrian scoreless first before the Wild took a 1-0 lead in the second as a shot from Josh Brodin hit the stick of Florida’s Jesse Winchester at 4:05 of the second.
The Panthers didn’t tie the score until Tomas Fleischmann fired a shot that rookie Aleksander Barkov clipped and put past Josh Harding (21 saves).
Florida and Thomas then had to do some heavy lifting by killing off two penalties after Gomez and Brian Campbell went to the penalty box 41 seconds apart.
Minnesota got a few good looks at Thomas but never got the puck past him despite having the two-man advantage as the score remained tied heading down the stretch.
Thomas made seven saves off Minnesota shots in the third period and overtime before Florida went 2 for 2 in the shootout, with Huberdeau and Boyes both scoring.
Florida will take Sunday off and return to practice Monday. The defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks visit Sunrise on Tuesday.
"We just needed the two points, get our third win and start winning at home,” said Jonathan Huberdeau, who hit the game-winner in the shootout.