Florida Panthers

Nick Bjugstad shines on Florida Panthers’ California trip

Florida Panthers center Nick Bjugstad (27) scores a goal past San Jose Sharks goalie Antti Niemi (31), of Finland, during a shootout of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014, in San Jose, Calif. The Panthers won 3-2 in a shootout.
Florida Panthers center Nick Bjugstad (27) scores a goal past San Jose Sharks goalie Antti Niemi (31), of Finland, during a shootout of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014, in San Jose, Calif. The Panthers won 3-2 in a shootout. AP

Nick Bjugstad has yet to have an NHL hat trick, but he sure came close this week.

In Sunday’s victory against Anaheim, Bjugstad had already scored twice when he banged what would have been his third goal off the post.

Late Thursday night, Bjugstad scored both of the Panthers’ goals in regulation, then potted the game-winning shootout goal in Florida’s 3-2 victory over San Jose.

Bjugstad’s shootout goal, however, doesn’t count as an actual goal.

Four goals in two wins, however, is good enough for Bjugstad.

“Things are clicking a little bit, with our line especially,” Bjugstad said from his hotel in Nashville, where the Panthers play the Predators on Saturday night.

“You can’t really describe how it sometimes goes in. When it doesn’t, you get frustrated, but that’s the way it works. Eventually, if you’re getting your chances and your shots, it’ll find the back of the net.”

Bjugstad got the Panthers’ first goal early on Thursday, deflecting in a long shot by Dmitry Kulikov just 24 seconds into the game.

Florida held its 1-0 lead until the second when Logan Couture scored, but Bjugstad gave the Panthers the lead back 11 minutes later when he scored on a power play.

Bjugstad now has a pair of two-goal games in Florida’s past three contests. Last year, he had just one, and it came in the 81st game of the season.

In nine games this month, Bjugstad has six goals, three assists and a shootout game-winner.

In eight games during October, Bjugstad — who led the Panthers in scoring last season — had just one assist.

“I’ve been focused on getting the chances,” said Bjugstad, who had four goals, three assists and the game-winning shootout goal during Florida’s California trip that ended Thursday. “You need some puck luck, and if you put your stick in the right place, sometimes you get them through. I was fortunate on the first one and was pumped up about it.”

Although the Sharks tied the score with just 34 seconds left after Patrick Marleau scored, the Panthers went into overtime on a power play and had a few good scoring chances.

In the shootout, Bjugstad won it in the third round. Jussi Jokinen also scored for Florida.

“It’s a great win against a good San Jose team after battling all night,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “We hung around; although they tied it up late, we got a good shootout win at the end. This is very satisfying.”

THIS AND THAT

▪ The Panthers have had great success over the past few years against San Jose.

Thursday’s victory was Florida’s seventh in its past eight games against San Jose.

The Panthers have won five in a row in San Jose and haven’t lost there since 2005.

▪ Florida improved to 2-5 in overtime this season with Thursday’s win. The shootout victory was Florida’s first in three tries.

In the shootout, Gallant switched up Florida’s lineup.

Although the first two shooters were the same as in the Panthers’ first two shootouts, Bjugstad took over the third spot usually held by Brad Boyes, who is tied among active players with 37 shootout goals.

Gallant said goalie coach Robb Tallas suggested Bjugstad get into the shootout lineup, and since he had two goals already, Gallant made the switch.

“He was hot, so we went with him,” Gallant said. “Bjugstad was putting the puck in the net, hit a few posts as well. I thought he played a great game. It’s good for our confidence to get a shootout win.”

▪ Goalie Roberto Luongo was given the postgame West Point cadet jacket after making 28 saves and helping the Panthers get the win.

Although the Sharks scored late to tie it, San Jose had other opportunities, including a penalty shot by Marleau that Luongo stopped with 6:53 left in the third. Luongo also stopped two of three shots in the shootout.

“He deserved it, that penalty shot saved the game for us,” Bjugstad said.

▪ The Panthers tweaked their lineup on Thursday, with Aleksander Barkov moving back to the top line with Tomas Fleischmann and Rocco Grimaldi after missing Tuesday’s game with an illness. Kulikov (knee) also returned after missing four games.

▪ Because of a conflict with the Miami Hurricanes football game at Virginia, Saturday’s radio broadcast has been moved from 560 AM to 1470 AM.

Saturday: Panthers at Predators

When/where: 8 p.m.; Bridgestone Arena, Nashville.

TV/radio: FSFL; WWNN 1470.

The series: Nashville leads 9-8-3.

Noteworthy: Florida has won just two of 10 games in Nashville — with those wins coming in its first two trips to the Music City in 1998 and ’99. This year, the Preds have won six of eight at home and came into Friday atop the Central Division.

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