SUNRISE, Fla. – Roberto Luongo made 34 saves for his 24th career shutout, and Nathan Horton and Lucas Krajicek scored in the third period to lift the Florida Panthers to a 2-0 season-opening victory over the Atlanta Thrashers.

Luongo, who had seven shutouts and a league-record 2,303 saves during the NHL’s pre-lockout season of 2003-04, made 10 stops during a 5-minute shorthanded stretch of the third period, holding up a 1-0 lead.

Horton – the third overall pick in the 2003 draft – intercepted Mike Dunham’s clearing pass along the right wing boards, then sent a quick shot deflecting off the Thrashers goalie and into the net to break a scoreless tie 1:08 into the third.

But the Panthers quickly gave Atlanta a great opportunity to tie the game; defenseman Branislav Mezei drew a 5-minute major and a game misconduct for boarding with 15:26 left, and Sean Hill was sent off for hooking 15 seconds later to give the Thrashers a two-man advantage.

Didn’t matter. Luongo made six saves, including stoning Marian Hossa and Vyacheslav Kozlov, during the 5-on-3, and then stopped four more while the Panthers killed off the rest of Mezei’s penalty.

And with 3:34 left, Krajicek took a cross-ice pass from Kristian Huselius and sent a wrist shot past Dunham for a power-play goal.

Hockey’s new scoring friendly rules – including bigger offensive zones and allowing two-line breakout passes over the center line – were in effect. But for most of the night, the changes didn’t matter. The teams were scoreless for the first 41 minutes, combining for only 34 shots and few quality scoring chances through the first two periods.

Kari Lehtonen started in goal for Atlanta and stopped six shots. He was replaced to start the second period by Dunham because of a sore groin, but it was unclear when he was injured.

Notes: Daniel Rodriguez, the former New York police officer who gained widespread acclaim following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks for his singing of “God Bless America,” performed the national anthem. … Florida won a season opener for the fifth time in 12 chances; Atlanta has lost four of six openers. … Huselius’ first shot was stopped by Dunham with 8:36 left in the second; Huselius had scored on the opening shot in his previous three seasons. … The Panthers traded D Filip Novak to Ottawa on Wednesday for a conditional sixth-round draft pick in 2007.

AP-ES-10-05-05 2132EDT


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