The Panthers finally figured out that it’s better to lead than to follow.

For just the fifth time this season the Panthers scored first and they didn’t stop there as behind sterling goaltending from Tim Thomas they stunned the Colorado Avalance 4-1 Saturday night at the Pepsi Center.

It’s the first time in 10 years that the Panthers have defeated the Avs in Denver, where they are 5-5-3-2 all time. Florida, who had lost 10 of 11 (1-6-4), has won 2-of-3 and is 1-1 on this rugged, five-game road trip that continues in Vancouver on Tuesday.

They also proved how critical special teams are as the Panthers’ 30th-ranked power play came to life. While they only notched one PPG, two other goals came just seconds after two power plays had elapsed.

“I’ve been asking for it,’’ Panthers coach Peter Horachek said of a complete-game effort. “That’s a heckuva team over there. You have to play 60 minutes. They have so many weapons. I was proud of the guys.

“We wanted to start with that first period because it seems to be a period even though our good intentions are there they seem to fall backwards and end up having to come back in games. I was really happy with their response. The guys played hard and really felt like what it was like to play 60 minutes.’’

When Brad Boyes potted his team-leading seventh goal at 12:40 or just eight seconds after their first of three power-play opportunities in the opening period had expired, the Panthers took their first lead in the first 20 minutes since losing to the Oilers 4-3 in overtime on Nov. 5.

When the score held up after one, it was the Panthers’ first lead after the first period since losing to the Sabres 3-1 on Oct. 25, or 10 games ago.