Jozef Stumpel scored the tying goal in the third period, then registered the shootout winner to earn the Panthers a 3-2 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers on Wednesday night. It was Florida's second victory in three shootouts after losing its first seven of the season. "If we'd won maybe half of those, we'd be in a different position right now," Stumpel said. "But this was our problem and hopefully we're going to solve it and get better and better at it."
Bryan Allen also scored for the Panthers, who are hanging on to slim playoff hopes. Florida is in 12th place in the Eastern Conference and trails eighth-place Montreal by six points with five games left.
The victory was only Florida's fourth in 18 overtime sessions this season. The Panthers' 14 overtime losses are tied for the most in the league with the Los Angeles Kings.
Craig Anderson, in goal for Florida after Ed Belfour started a franchise-record 27 consecutive games, stopped 33 shots in regulation and overtime. He then stopped Vyacheslav Kozlov and Marian Hossa in the shootout.
Anderson was 4-0 in shootouts this season for Rochester of the AHL, including three straight between Jan. 12-16.
"It's a terrific feeling," Anderson said. "I give credit to the guys.
"If we don't score, we don't win. It's up to those guys to put it in, and they did a terrific job of it."
Vyacheslav Kozlov scored twice for Atlanta, which increased its Southeast Division lead to three points over idle Tampa Bay. Both teams have five games remaining.
Kozlov also had a goal disallowed in the second when the score was 1-1 after it was ruled he had kicked the puck in.
"It was a pretty good game, but we didn't get the two points," Kozlov said. "They played hard. We should be happy with one point."
Kari Lehtonen made 33 saves for the Thrashers, who have lost three in a row.
The Panthers took the last two games of the season series after the Thrashers had won the first six.
"I know the playoff hopes are on the line," Anderson said. "I had to put out a good effort and keep it close for the guys."
Atlanta almost won at the end of regulation, but Anderson made a nice pad save on Marian Hossa's wrist shot from the slot.
"Even though we had pressure in their zone there, I knew I was going to have to make one more save, one more save," Anderson said. "So I was telling myself to stay in the moment, stay focused."
Each team managed only two shots in overtime.
After Lehtonen stopped Ville Peltonen and Anderson stopped Kozlov in the first round of the shootout, Nathan Horton gave Florida a 1-0 lead. After Anderson stopped Hossa, Stumpel clinched the victory.
Stumpel tied the game 2-2 with a power-play goal at 12:01 of the third period. He redirected a loose puck past Lehtonen after Olli Jokinen's slapshot from the high slot went off a stick.
"That tying goal in the third was a lucky bounce, I think," said Lehtonen, who played a strong game after the soft goal he gave up to Allen. "A pretty entertaining game, but not good for us that we didn't get two points."
Atlanta led 2-1 heading into the third period, but failed to capitalize on a 5-on-3 power play for 1:11 before Stumpel tied it.
Kozlov had given Atlanta a 2-1 lead on a 4-on-3 power play at 13:33 of the second period when he tapped home Scott Mellanby's pass across the crease.
"It was definitely a big point," Atlanta coach Bob Hartley said. "It was two situations: the point we lost and the point we gained.
"The way we played, we played a strong game. Those guys are playing very well, they took two points from Tampa last night. We leave this building with one point and that may be a very big point later."
Notes: Jokinen had his five-game goal-scoring streak snapped. ... The last Florida game not started by Belfour was Jan. 18 against Toronto, when Alex Auld got the start. ... Atlanta's 6-2 season record was its best against Florida, beating a 4-1-1 mark in 2003-04. ... Stumpel's goal was his 21st of the season, matching a career high for the 15-year veteran. He also had 21 in 1996-97 with Boston and the following season with Los Angeles.