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Panthers captain Ed Jovanovski stars in victory over Sabres

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- It was for these special moments that Panthers captain Ed Jovanovski put himself through eight months of painstaking rehabilitation from major hip surgery to make it back to play a young man's game he still has a passion for.

Moments like scoring a big goal to lead the Panthers to a 4-3 victory over the hapless Buffalo Sabres in First Niagara Center Tuesday night for their first two-game winning streak since reeling off five straight from Dec. 10-19th.

Moments like being awarded the goofy, hero hat by teammates -- some young enough to be his sons -- in a raucous post-game locker room celebrating a 2-1 road trip and a rare sweep of back-to-backs.

"I love the game. I love to compete," said Jovanovski, 37, who notched a game-high plus-3 in his 1,100th career NHL game and ninth since last April's surgery, but first back-to-back set.

"I'm getting a little up there but for me to continue to be in the dressing room and doing something I love, I'm privileged. ... I take every day as a win."

"First and foremost it was a huge two points for our team. We got to find a way to get back into (the playoff race) and tonight was an added bonus."

The 15th-place Panthers made their stunning 5-1 rout of the Eastern Conference-leading Penguins Monday more relevant, even if this victory came against the NHL-worst Sabres, who have dropped four straight.

"Learning how to win, battling, seeing guys sacrifice and do what they had to do is good for our team," Panthers coach Peter Horachek said. "(Jovanovski's) just a warrior, incredible, the big goal, on the bench between periods he's the one saying all the things that need to be said.

"He makes sure the guys don't relax. His leadership is outstanding. What he's gone through the last year to get here is pretty incredible."

Just 52 seconds after Sean Bergenheim's deflection of Tom Gilbert's long shot tied it 2-2 at 18:04 of the first, Jovanovski sidestepped a defender to uncork his trademark slapper right past U.S. Olympic goalie Ryan Miller to give the Panthers a 3-2 lead after one.

Jovanovski, who also had an assist, scored his first goal since April 5, 2012. He's believed to be the first NHL player to make it back from a hip resurfacing operation.

Panthers goalie Tim Thomas, who sat out Monday's game with a flu bug, gave up two wide-open slot-shot goals by Drew Stafford in the first 6:16. He sharpened up as the game wore on and finished with 32 saves, including a breakaway stop on Cody Hodgson in the frantic third period.

"It was a little bit of chaos for awhile but it must've been entertaining for the fans. I can laugh at it because we came out on top," Thomas said.

The Panthers padded their lead with 3:48 left in the second period as rookie center Nick Bjugstad unleashed a rising wrister that hit off the crossbar for goal No. 11.

Sabres center Steve Ott swatted in a loose puck for his 100th marker for their second power-play goal of the game at 8:36 of the third to make it interesting.

It figured that the Panthers 10-plus game penalty killing streak of 29 straight kills would come to an end against the worst scoring offense in the NHL and the 29th-ranked power play instead of against the top-ranked Penguins' units.

But the PK units came to the rescue in the end, having to kill off a four-minute high sticking penalty by Brad Boyes and 16 seconds of a Jovanovski hook in the final 7:13.

"We grinded it out and got the big PKs when we needed them," said forward Jesse Winchester, who redirected a Jovanovski shot for his sixth goal and fourth point in two games since returning from a broken hand. "It's a rewarding feeling to get two back-to-back on the road.

"Especially in the third when guys were tired and battling, we held the fort and Timmy, obviously, no one's bigger than him back there."

With Dmitry Kulikov off for high sticking 56 seconds into the first period, Ott fed Stafford in the slot for a wide-open wrister at 2:23. It was the first PPG given up by the Panthers since Dec. 28 when Henrik Zetterberg scored in the first period of Detroit's 4-3 victory.

At 6:16, defenseman Mike Weber's bone-rattling check of Jonathan Huberdeau led to a turnover and another slot-shot goal by Stafford. ...

Fellow rookie center Aleksander Barkov, the Panthers' leading scorer with 23 points, got the secondary assist on Bergenheim's goal, but sustained a lower-body injury after just 5:31 of ice time and didn't return. It's not considered serious.

(c)2014 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

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Distributed by MCT Information Services


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