Frank Vatrano tied the game early in the third period and scored the winner 1:11 into overtime to lead the Florida Panthers past the San Jose Sharks 3-2 on Tuesday night for their sixth victory in seven games.
Vatrano beat goalie James Reimer with a slapshot from the high slot to give the Panthers their seventh win this season when trailing trailing after two periods. They also did it in January in an overtime win at home against the Sharks. Those are San Jose's only losses this season when leading after two.
“I think we’ve done it all year long,” Vatrano said. “We get good pressure in the third and we always find a way to win hockey games. We just stick to the game plan and it’s been working.”
Jonathan Huberdeau also scored for Florida, and Spencer Knight stopped 24 shots to help make former Sharks great Joe Thornton a winner in his return to San Jose.
Get South Florida local news, weather forecasts and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC South Florida newsletters.
Logan Couture and Nicholas Meloche scored for the Sharks, who were seeking their first three-game winning streak since Jan. 6-11.
Reimer returned from a lower-body injury that sidelined him the past two weeks to make 31 saves in a losing cause on his 34th birthday.
“We did enough good things to get a point," San Jose coach Bob Boughner said. "Could have easily had two. But that’s one of the better teams in the league.”
The Panthers tied the game early in the third shortly after killing off their fifth penalty in six power-play tries for San Jose. Noel Acciari got the puck in the high slot to Vatrano, who beat Reimer with a drive to make it 2-all.
“When you’re watching him, you can tell there’s certain nights where he feels it and you can see the momentum shift in that third period,” interim coach Andrew Brunette said about Vatrano. “I thought he was good all game, but he seemed to have the puck a little bit more in the third and scored two huge goals for us.”
The Sharks jumped on top early when they converted on a power play that was essentially a two-man advantage after defenseman Gustav Forsling could barely move after blocking a shot by Erik Karlsson with his left leg.
San Jose capitalized, with Tomas Hertl setting up Couture in front for his 20th goal.
Forsling was then helped to the dressing room before returning in the second period.
Huberdeau extended his point streak to 11 games when he answered with a short-handed goal later in first.
Meloche put the Sharks back ahead later with a wrist shot that beat Knight.
San Jose was unable to add to the lead in the second period despite a two-man advantage for 22 seconds and Hertl hitting a goal post and missing an open net in the final 10 seconds.
The Sharks welcomed back the greatest player in franchise history with Thornton's return to the Shark Tank for the first time since the pandemic.
Thornton's last game in San Jose came March 8, 2020, and he last played here as a visitor on March 21, 2003, a span of 6,934 days between games.
The 42-year-old Thornton spent the night before the game catching up with some of his old teammates at Brent Burns' house.
“It’s so nice,” Thornton said before the game. “I saw so many of the guys yesterday, the trainers. You play somewhere for 15 years, you become family. It was great to see everyone.”
Thornton had a big smile during a pregame video tribute.
“I can’t say enough about him. I think he’s an incredible human," Burns said. “Obviously, an incredible hockey player, but I think it’s the off-ice stuff that he’s just special. I think he’s one of a kind. He’s an incredible, incredible guy.”
Thornton's arrival from Boston in 2005 transformed the Sharks into a perennial contender, and San Jose made the playoffs 13 times with four trips to the conference final and one Stanley Cup Final appearance in his 15 seasons.
Thornton's 841 assists are the most in franchise history and he ranks second to Patrick Marleau in points (1,055) and games (1,104).
Panthers: Visit Vegas on Thursday night.
Sharks: Visit Los Angeles on Thursday night.
More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports