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Panthers welcome back Jovanovski with 5-4 shootout win

The SportsXchange

SUNRISE, Fla. - Florida Panthers defenseman Ed Jovanovski, who has played more than 1,000 NHL games, admitted he was nervous Saturday night.

After all, it was his first game in more than nine months and his first since hip-resurfacing surgery.

Even better for Jovanovski, it was a victory for his Panthers, who blew a two-goal third-period lead and then beat the Nashville Predators 5-4 in a shootout at the BB&T Center.

"A nice win makes the body feel much better," said Jovanovski, who was a plus-three in 15:54 of ice time, seeing action on the power-play and penalty-kill units. "In the warm-ups, I was kind of antsy, jumping around. It was nice to get that first shift out of the way."

Right winger Tomas Kopecky scored the decisive goal in the shootout as the Panthers won, 2-1.

Panthers goalie Tim Thomas, who had his streak of four straight games allowing two goals or less snapped, came up big in the shootout, stopping five of six Predators shots.

At least two of those shots hit the post, however.

"We had Timmy Thomas beat a couple times," Predators Coach Barry Trotz said. "Smitty (center Craig Smith) off the post right off the bat. (Center Matt Hendricks) had him on the outside of the post. (Left wing Gabriel Bourque) had him, and it flipped on him. We had chances to win that game, but we didn't get it."

Nashville started its rally when rookie defenseman Seth Jones scored his fourth goal of the season with 5:08 left in the third period to make it 4-3.

Then with 4:01 remaining in regulation and the Panthers clinging to that precarious lead, Florida killed off a two-minute penalty to left winger Tomas Fleischmann. But after the kill, the Predators pulled their goaltender and got a tying score from center Paul Gaustad with just 48 seconds left.

In the shootout, Thomas effectively cut off the angles on the Predators' shooters, getting beat only by center Dave Legwand on the second shot.

"There was some room there, but I was trying to stop them anyway I could and force them - if they started to beat me - to get it off quicker," Thomas said.

Jovanovski, 37, who had missed 83 of Florida's past 89 games, is believed to be the first player of the four major U.S. pro sports leagues to come back from hip-resurfacing surgery.

Thomas, a contemporary of Jovanovski at age 39, said it was great to see his teammate back on the ice.

"He has had such a great career," said Thomas, who made 28 saves Saturday. "To never know if he was going to be able to play again, it was special to him. When I won the shootout, the first thing I said was congratulations to him. He's a great defenseman. He reads the game the way few people do."

Thomas and the Panthers were able to beat Predators rookie goalie Marek Mazanec, who was playing in place of two-time Vezina Trophy finalist Pekka Rinne (hip injury). Mazanec, one of four goalies used by the Predators this season, made 25 saves and fell to 7-9-2.

The Predators opened the scoring on a first-period goal by Smith. But the Panthers rallied to take a 2-1 lead, getting first-period goals by right wingers Brad Boyes and Kopecky.

On the latter goal, the Predators mishandled a rebound off of a shot by center Marcel Goc. The puck found its way right in front of the goal, where Kopecky did not miss.

The Predators tied the score with 3:28 left in the second period as red-hot forward Mike Fisher scored for his ninth point in his past four games.

Florida took a 3-2 lead with just 2:31 left in the second period when left winger Sean Bergenheim followed his own shot and got his ninth goal of the season.

The Panthers capitalized on another Nashville mistake with just 1:34 elapsed in the third period. After a Predators turnover behind their net, center Jonathan Huberdeau pounced on it and fed the puck to Goc, who scored from point-blank range for his eighth goal of the season.

"I didn't like the goals we gave up," Trotz said. "It showed some inexperience on the back end. The goals were way too easy. But it was a character way to come back. We got it tied up late, which is tough to do in the NHL."

NOTES: Panthers RW Scottie Upshall returned after missing time due to an upper-body injury. ... The Panthers placed D Dylan Olsen (lower-body injury) on injured reserve. ... Panthers C Jesse Winchester (hand) and D Erik Gudbranson (eye) are also out. ... Panthers coach Peter Horachek was a longtime Nashville assistant coach. He worked with current Nashville coach Barry Trotz from 2003 until Horachek was fired in May 2013. The two men made it to seven playoffs together and still talk once a week. ... It will take a while to determine whether the Panthers made the right move in the 2013 draft when they took C Aleksander Barkov instead of D Seth Jones, who went fourth to Nashville. So far, both have played well. Barkov has seven goals and 14 assists. Jones has four goals and 10 assists. ... Up next, the Predators end their three-game road trip Sunday in Carolina. ... The Panthers start a three-game road trip Monday in Montreal.
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