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SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Jose Theodore saw the puck at his feet and threw his arms in the air. It’s way too early to declare the Florida Panthers a playoff contender, though moments like that from their new goalie are certainly signs of hope.
Marcel Goc scored the lone goal in a shootout, Theodore stopped all three shots he faced during the tiebreaker and the Panthers beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2 on Saturday night — getting to four points after three games for the first time since the 2005-06 season.
Theodore made 28 saves in regulation and overtime.
“Let’s not forget, Jose Theodore is a good player,” Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. “He’s proven that over the length of a career. We felt that he was a No. 1 goalie, but for me he really had to earn it. He had a pretty stinky training camp, but since then he’s been pretty solid.”
Theodore has yielded six goals in Florida’s first three games. In the shootout, he denied Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos and then Vincent Lecavalier to end it, quickly being swarmed by teammates.
“Vinny, he’s one of my good friends from back home, so obviously I didn’t want him to score,” Theodore said. “Sometimes he did score on me, but not tonight. It was a big win.”
Marc-Andre Bergeron scored a pair of tying goals in the third period for Tampa Bay, which hasn’t gotten two points out of a game since the season opener.
“We’re a team that came back a lot last year and we never quit,” Bergeron said. “We’re a hardworking team and right now I think we’re a little off but it’s starting to come back and we’re seeing it and we’re starting to understand a little more that it’s not going to be easy.”
Ed Jovanovski got his first goal for Florida in nearly 13 years to open the scoring, and Kris Versteeg’s power-play tally with 2:55 left in regulation gave the Panthers a short-lived 2-1 lead before Bergeron tied it again 39 seconds later.
Mathieu Garon made 36 stops for Tampa Bay.
“I thought we played a solid game tonight,” Garon said. “Guys were real sharp and it was nice to see.”
Tampa Bay didn’t generate many great chances in the first two periods on Saturday, then kept
Florida pinned in its end for much of the third.
The breakthrough goal came with 10:17 left. Bergeron faked a slap shot from the right point, then wristed the puck through traffic and past Theodore to tie the game at 1.
And with that, the flow opened right up.
Versteeg took a cross-ice pass from Dmitry Kulikov and slapped a one-timer past Garon with 2:55 left for a 2-1 Florida lead. As fans were still celebrating that goal, Bergeron struck again — getting his second goal of the night, silencing most of what Florida announced as a sellout crowd despite some tarps covering a small number of seats in the upper level.
The Panthers unveiled their “We See Red” marketing scheme for the home opener, along with a slew of upgrades designed to upgrade the experience for a fan base that hasn’t seen a playoff game in South Florida since 2000.
Jovanovski gave the crowd another red sighting — the red lamp that lights up when goals are scored.
With Florida on the power play, Jovanovski received a pass from Tomas Kopecky at the high slot, then got the puck past Garon at 11:48 of the first period for his first goal with the Panthers since Jan. 1, 1999.
Jovanovski spent more than a decade with other clubs, but one thing never changed. The in-state rivals aren’t particularly friendly with one another.
Florida’s Erik Gudbranson got into his first NHL fight in his third game, tangling with Tampa Bay’s Steve Downie with 7:44 left in the second period. It earned Gudbranson 19 minutes in penalties (minors for instigating and roughing, a 5-minute major for fighting and a 10-minute misconduct), while Downie got 17 minutes (unsportsmanlike conduct, fighting and a misconduct) — and even went after Jovanovski once linesmen stepped in to finally end the first fight.
“I think that was a real shot in the arm for the team,” Dineen said.
(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)