Scottie Upshall wasn’t happy about getting a penalty in the third period Thursday night — but he wouldn’t be upset for long.
Tomas Kopecky fed Upshall as he popped out of the penalty box and he beat Arizona Coyotes goalie Mike Smith to propel the Panthers to a 2-1 victory at BB&T Center.
The goal was the first of the season for Upshall and it came minutes after he was penalized for charging Michael Stone.
The Panthers, who have gone 3-0-2 in their past five games, are still struggling to score, but Upshall’s and Brandon Pirri’s goals — with more terrific goaltending from Roberto Luongo — was enough.
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“It was a hard play, but it wasn’t dirty,’’ said Upshall, who was penalized moments after officials let Keith Yandle’s hit on Pirri (one in which his hemet was separated from his head) go.
“I’ll take a penalty like that if I know our [penalty kill] is going to stand up like it did and I’m going to get one coming out of the box. You always wonder in the back of your mind what you will do if the puck comes to you there. Kopecky made a great pass, got me on one like that last year, too.’’
Florida’s offense, which came into the night with a league-low 10 goals in a league-fewest seven games, has given Luongo very little support.
In five of the first eight games, the Panthers have scored one goal or fewer. In seven of eight, Florida has scored two or less.
“We got just enough,’’ said Gerard Gallant, who got his first home win as coach of the Panthers. “We got timely goals, created a lot of chances and hit a post and missed a wide open net. We could have scored four or five [Thursday]. Two was good enough, fortunately.’’
Even playing Arizona — which was tied for 25th in the league for most goals surrendered — couldn’t cure Florida’s scoring ills.
In back-to-back games against the Coyotes, the Panthers scored just three goals.
Arizona’s average — not factoring in the Panthers — is 4.42 goals allowed per game.
On Thursday, Luongo once again had to keep the Panthers in the game until the offense caught up.
“We’re battling hard right now,’’ said Luongo, who stopped 32 of 33 shots. “We’re not scoring many goals, but that’s OK. If we can keep working our systems, we’re going to have a chance. The goals will come eventually.’’
The Coyotes, fresh off Tuesday’s 7-3 loss in Tampa, didn’t offer up a lot of offense against Luongo (39 saves on Saturday) early on.
Arizona did take the initial lead with 2:33 left in the opening period as Martin Hanzal deflected a shot from Oliver Ekman-Larsson past Luongo on a power-play chance.
Ekman-Larsson beat the Panthers with a power-play goal in overtime on Saturday.
Pirri, who now has three goals in the past three games, continues to force himself into the lineup as he tied the score by whipping a pass from Jussi Jokinen past Smith (24 saves).
In the third, Derek MacKenzie knocked down the puck in the closing seconds of the Upshall penalty. Kopecky found Upshall bounding out of the box and Upshall worked in on Smith and put a backhander past him.
After that, it was all Luongo.
“I heard the bench [yell] after the penalty ended,’’ Kopecky said. “I just waited for him to come out. It was a no-brainer, and he made a nice move. Great goal for us.’’
▪ The announced crowd at Thursday’s game was 7,691, just a touch better than the 7,311 from Florida’s previous home game against Ottawa on Oct.13.
The Ottawa crowd was the smallest for a home game in franchise history; Thursday’s was second-smallest.
▪ Upshall’s goal gave the Panthers the lead on home ice for the first time this season. Florida trailed New Jersey 5-0 before MacKenzie scored in the home opener, and Ottawa shut Florida out 1-0.
“It felt good, felt good to play a solid 60-minute game,’’ Upshall said. “Everyone stayed in the game. There were no lapses.’’
▪ Center Aleksander Barkov left in the third period Thursday with what Gallant called a lower-body injury.