Tim Thomas, Florida Panthers savor rare victory in Vancouver

11/20/2013 6:42 PM

03/14/2014 2:45 PM

Tim Thomas reminded his teammates that, yes, he had won a game at Vancouver's Rogers Arena before Tuesday's game.

During the game, Thomas made sure everyone wearing the Panthers sweater could make a similar claim.

By making 30 total saves, Thomas led Florida to its first win in Vancouver in three decades with a 3-2 shootout victory over the Canucks late Tuesday night.

The win was just Florida's second in Vancouver and first since the Canucks moved to what is now known as Rogers Arena in 1995.

Florida last beat the Canucks here during its expansion season of 1993-94.

“After the game, we said ‘now we’ve all won here,’” Thomas said with a grin.

“Winning here wasn’t [the biggest] factor. We won two of three coming into this. We’ve been putting quality efforts together against good teams. To be able to keep it going ... this was the result we needed no matter who it was against.’’

On Tuesday, it was Thomas who was a difference-maker again for the Panthers as they have won three of their past four games and two in a row for the first time. Florida is 2-1 on its five-game road trip, one that continues Thursday in Edmonton.

Thomas is 3-3 since coming back from injury, as he started the first game with new coach Peter Horachek behind the bench on Nov. 9 and hasn't stopped since. Thomas made 27 saves during the first 65 minutes before stopping all three Vancouver offerings in the shootout.

The Canucks have lost five in a row.

“They are a desperate team, much like ourselves,’’ said Thomas, 2-0 in shootouts this season with five saves on five shots.

“They’ve struggled and wanted desperately to break that. We were desperate to keep what we’ve started going.’’

Thomas came out strong in a building he obviously has great memories of. The last time he was here, he led the Bruins to their first Stanley Cup win in four decades in Game 7 of the 2011 NHL final.

There wasn’t as much on the line this time, although the Panthers seem to be finding their way.

Former Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo, who still lives in South Florida during the offseason, was stellar as well.

Luongo, who played for the Panthers from 2000 to ’06, made 34 saves — including a number in the final minute of regulation that kept the game moving. Florida came hard at Luongo in the opening period, as he made 13 saves off 14 shots.

“I thought they had a great first period. They came out hard and had a lot of chances,’’ Luongo said. “Once we tied the game, they kept firing pucks at the net. Give them credit. Obviously, a shootout can go either way.’’

Florida led 1-0 after Brad Boyes tapped in a rebound off Aleksander Barkov’s shot past Luongo. But the Canucks bounced back after getting an earfull from coach John Tortorella and scored in the second and early in the third to lead 2-1.

The Panthers weren’t done, however, with Shawn Matthias scoring the equalizer with 11:26 left in the third. Florida came strong at Luongo in the final minute of the game but couldn’t get that third puck through.

Florida also couldn’t capitalize on a rare — for the Panthers — power play in overtime.

Jonathan Huberdeau scored on Florida’s opening shootout attempt — and that’s all Thomas needed. Luongo stopped Barkov with Florida’s second shot, but the Panthers wouldn’t need a third.

“It’s the end result,’’ Horachek said. “We bent in the second period but didn’t break. In the third, we reacted after they scored. That was huge. The guys are reacting the right way.’’

•  Rostislav Olesz, the seventh overall pick of the Panthers in 2004, has left the NHL to play in Switzerland. The Devils released Olesz on Wednesday as he was already en route to Europe.

Olesz started with the Panthers as a 19-year-old in 2005 and spent six mostly inconsistent seasons with Florida.

Olesz signed a six-year deal worth $18.75 million with the Panthers in 2008. Chicago was on the hook for the final three years of the deal but bought Olesz out over the summer after acquiring him in exchange for Brian Campbell in 2011.

Former Panthers coach Pete DeBoer was reunited with Olesz in New Jersey this season, although Olesz only played in 10 games with the Devils and just 16 NHL games since leaving the Panthers.

• Florida could see former Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov on Thursday in Edmonton.

Bryzgalov, whom Philadelphia will pay $23 million over the next 14 years after buying him out in June, signed with the Oilers earlier this month and worked out with the team for the first time Tuesday.

Bryzgalov has won five of nine starts against the Panthers.

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