Thomas strong for Panthers in return to Vancouver

Monte Stewart, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Tim Thomas returned to the scene of the glory Tuesday night -- and played the role of spoiler again.
The Florida Panthers goaltender made 27 saves, leading his team to a 3-2 shootout win over the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday night.
Thomas, 38, excelled in his first game in Vancouver since backstopping the Boston Bruins to the Stanley Cup championship in the seventh game of the 2010-11 finals.
Thomas downplayed his role in the win. He was just glad to see the Panthers (6-12-4) get rewarded for recent good efforts as they became winners of two games in a row for the first time this season.
"It didn't matter who we were playing tonight," said Thomas, whose club won three of its past four games. "That was the kind of result we needed."
Thomas also helped the Panthers earn their first win at Rogers Arena, which opened in 1996.
The Canucks (11-8-4) saw their losing skid stretch to five games. But Vancouver coach John Tortorella was not consoled by the close score.
"We sucked," said Tortorella. "It was easily our worst game of the year. We didn't deserve a point."
Florida center Jonathan Huberdeau was the only scorer in the shootout.
Huberdeau deked Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo on Florida's first shootout attempt. Canucks left winger Chris Higgins hit the post on Vancouver's final attempt.
"I'm trying to do different things every time, and it worked out tonight," said Huberdeau.
Florida led 1-0 after the first period and the score was tied at 1 after the second before the Canucks went ahead early in the third.
But Tortorella was not appeased by his team's lead. He felt the Canucks underestimated the Panthers, who are now led by interim coach Peter Horacek after Kevin Dineen was fired.
"It was a lack of respect, and we have no business to show a lack of respect to any hockey team. ... If it isn't for (Luongo), we're down 3-0, 4-0 in that first period," he said.
Right winger Brad Boyes and left winger Shawn Matthias tallied in regulation time for the Panthers. Higgins and right winger Jannik Hansen scored for the Canucks.
"We looked lethargic at times, and I wish I could give you an answer," said Tortorella.
The Canucks entered the game looking to end a scoring drought. The hosts scored just one goal in each of their previous four games.
But they struggled to turn the red light on against an old nemesis, Thomas, who was traded from Boston to the New York Islanders and discarded before signing with the Pantherrs at the outset of this season.
Tortorella declined to assess the goaltender's play.
"We were playing really good going into this game," said Tortorella. "But this clunker here, it just makes no sense to me."
Boyes opened the scoring 3:43 into the game on a power play as he put in center Aleksander Barkov's rebound off the post.
Higgins fired center Mike Santorelli's rebound through a cluster of Vancouver and Florida players to create a 1-1 tie at 3:26 of the second period. With the goal, Higgins, who played part of one season with Florida in 2010-11, earned his first point in five games.
Hansen scored at 2:45 of the second period on a giveaway as Florida foolishly attempted a pass up the middle. He intercepted the errant puck and fired it over Thomas' glove to give the Canucks a 2-1 lead. The goal was Hansen's first since Oct. 6. He was only playing his second game since missing 10 with an upper-body injury.
Matthias forged a 2-2 tie at 8:34 of the third period as he one-timed a pass from center Nick Bjugstad.
The Canucks were forced to kill a holding penalty to Higgins early in overtime, but succeeded as Luongo made key stops on Barkov and Huberdeau.
Thomas also came up big as he stopped a hard slap shot by defenseman Jason Garrison in the closing seconds of the extra session.
"It was kind of a funny game, protracted time periods in our zone and protracted time periods in theirs," said Thomas, whose team enjoyed a 36-29 edge in shots.
Before Higgins' final attempt, left winger Alex Burrows and center Mike Santorelli were unable to score for Vancouver in the shootout. Thomas is now 32-27 for his career in shootouts, but he is not a fan of the showdown session.
"I don't like it, and I don't think any goalie likes it," he said.
NOTES: Canucks G Roberto Luongo is the franchise leader in wins for both Vancouver and Florida (108). ... RW Dale Weise returned to the Canucks lineup after missing 10 games with a knee injury. As a result of his return, fellow RW David Booth, whose salary this season is $4.5 million, was scratched and missed a chance to play against his former Panthers club for the first time since he was traded to the Canucks early in the 2011-12 season. ... Panthers D Ed Jovanovski, a former Canuck, missed his 22nd consecutive game with a lower-body injury. ... Vancouver D Jason Garrison played his former Florida club for the first time since signing as a free agent with the Canucks in the summer of 2012. ... Canucks C Mike Santorelli played three seasons with the Panthers. ... The Canucks and Panthers will face each other again in March in Sunrise, Fla.

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