SUNRISE, Fla. -- Panthers winger Scottie Upshall had the game-tying goal on his stick early in the third period right in front of the Sharks' net, but backup goalie Alex Stalock made a dazzling leg save.
That sprung the Sharks up the ice where Matt Nieto eventually swatted in a rebound over a prone Tim Thomas for the fatal blow in a 3-0 loss to the star-studded perennial Western Conference playoff contenders Thursday night at the BB&T Center.
The Panthers, who hadn't faced the Sharks in 25 months, lost to San Jose for the first time in five meetings and first time since Halloween 2006. The Panthers completed a short 1-1 homestand, and now play seven of their next eight games on the road.
"Upshall had a big chance to make it 1-1," Panthers coach Peter Horachek said. "Maybe that gets us back into it, tie game. Never know how momentum changes. When they scored the second one it really took the wind out of us.
"We weren't ready to play, I'm not very happy with that. ... It's concerning."
After the teams exchanged a series of ineffective power plays, the 30-12-8 Sharks broke the scoreless tie with 51 seconds left in the second period. Moments after Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau's doorstep shot was denied by Stalock, he was held by a Sharks' defender.
No penalty was called as the puck bounced to Sharks superstar Joe Thornton, who outraced defensemen Mike Weaver and Dmitry Kulikov before casually flipping a forehand over Thomas for his sixth goal to go with his league-leading 45 assists.
The Sharks are 24-1-2 with a lead after two periods. Stalock, 26, in for starter Antti Niemi, notched 24 saves for his first career shutout in his 14th game.
Thomas kept the deficit at one when he corralled Nieto's breakaway attempt 1:27 into the third. However, after Upshall was robbed, Nieto scored at 4:44 and that was followed seven minutes later by a rebound tally by Joe Pavelski for his team-leading 22nd goal.
"(Tomas Fleischmann) made a good play; he put it on the tape of my stick, the goalie came across and I pretty much had whole net to shoot at and he got his leg on it," Upshall said. "Then the turnover by me throwing the puck in front of the net. ... It could've been a game-tying play. Unfortunately, it went the other way."
For the Panthers to get out of the first period 0-0 was a moral victory of sorts. The Sharks, who lead the league in goals for and fewest goals allowed in the first period, fired 21 shots, including 16 quality scoring chances, but Thomas was outstanding.
"I'm happy we were still in the game and had a chance at that point," Thomas said. "Obviously, not happy they were taking it to us pretty hard. We gave it a shot there in the second period ... until the last minute breakaway and you're down 1-0 to a team that's very stingy defensively.
"They're the ones that flew thousands of miles. It didn't look like that tonight. It looked like they were the fresh home team."
The Sharks, who actually flew in from Washington, D.C. Wednesday, tied a season-high in shots by a Panthers' opponent (Ottawa on Dec. 3) in any period. The Panthers have been outscored 44-25 in the first period.
While the Panthers still haven't scored a power-play goal in 2014 (0 for 3 Thursday and 0 for 25 in their last eight games), they've also killed off 21 straight power plays over the same eight games, including a two-Sharks' advantage for 1:29 in the opening period.
Thomas still hoping for Olympics bid
Although Thomas was bypassed for the U.S. Olympic hockey team for next months Games in Sochi, Russia, he's still hopeful of a last-minute nod.
If any of the three chosen goalies, Sabres' Ryan Miller, Kings' Jonathan Quick and Detroit's Jimmy Howard, get hurt, Thomas or Lighting's Ben Bishop could be called..
"I got an e-mail a couple of days ago, basically to everybody that wasn't named that you're still on the drug-testing list in case of injuries," said Thomas, 6-2-2 with a 2.00 GAA since returning from a leg injury.
"Yeah, absolutely, 100 percent, (I would go)."
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