Cats Open Homestand With Huge Win
By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com
SUNRISE – Big. Huge. Solid. Gutsy.
They were all words used Thursday evening by the Panthers to describe their 4-2 victory at BankAtlantic Center against Southeast Division-rival Carolina.
With the Panthers looking up at the Hurricanes in the division and conference standings, and with the Panthers kicking off a month-long schedule when they play seven of their next nine games here at BAC, it was imperative, in the words of defenseman Bryan McCabe
, to “take care of business.”
And so they did.
Behind goals from David Booth
, Nathan Horton, Jay Bouwmeester and Gregory Campbell, 31 saves by goalie Tomas Vokoun
and a solid effort from their blue line, the Panthers continued their climb up the standings with a strong overall effort.
“We played a smart, simple game and just kind of wore them down,” McCabe said. “It was a big effort coming off the road.”
Especially when you consider their Tuesday evening flight from Toronto was canceled due to mechanical problems and they didn’t arrive home in South Florida until approximately 6 p.m., Wednesday evening.
“We weren’t going to use it as a crutch if we lost,” said Panthers’ coach Peter DeBoer, who watched the Panthers not take a penalty in a game for the first time since April of 2007. “But what they went through on the travel…they came out with a gutsy, character effort.”
The Panthers have earned seven of a possible eight points in their last four games and their victory Thursday pushed them to within a point of the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and three points of Carolina in the Southeast.
Thursday’s game also signaled the official halfway mark in the Panthers season. Through 41 games, they have more points (44) than they have had in prior seasons since 1999-00.
“It was huge,” said Booth, who stretched his point-scoring streak to seven games with a goal and an assist.
“I think we played solid,” Vokoun added. “We stuck to the game plan and we got rewarded.”
And it was no easy task when considering Carolina came into BankAtlantic Center having won four consecutive games and eight of their last 11.
The key to the game came at the beginning of the third period. Tied at one, the Panthers got goals from Bouwmeester (power play) and Horton in the first 3:26 of the period.
Carrying 57 seconds of a man advantage into the final period, Bouwmeester picked up a cross-ice pass from Cory Stillman
while skating in from the left point and slid the puck past goalie Cam Ward 31 seconds into the third period.
Then it was Horton, scoring his fifth goal in the last seven games on a beautiful pass from Booth, who skated around Ray Whitney deep in the Carolina end down the left wing.
Despite a goal by Sergei Samsonov at 15:15 to make it 3-2, Campbell scored into an empty net with 36 seconds remaining in regulation to put the game out of reach.
Throughout the entire night, the aggressive forecheck of the Hurricanes was stifled by the Panther defense, who got the puck out of their end quickly and up to their forwards. And for the first time since April of 2007, the Panthers did not receive a penalty.
“You could tell in the dressing room between the second and third (periods) they weren’t going to lose tonight,” DeBoer said.
The Panthers and Hurricanes both had chances early but it was Booth who broke a scoreless tie at 14:15 of the first period when Jassen Cullimore’s shot from the point was redirected by Richard Zednik in front of the net. Ward stopped the puck, but the rebound bounced in front where Booth, also crowding the net, jammed the puck past Ward for his 17th goal of the season.
The Hurricanes tied the game at 17:50 when defenseman Anton Babchuk took a pass from Matt Cullen low inside the right faceoff circle and snapped a wrist shot past Vokoun.
After a back-and-forth second period, Bouwmeester, who was named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team earlier in the day, put the Panthers in front early in the third for good.
“We needed the win, we’re chasing those guys,” Bouwmeester said.
For the Panthers, the trick is to keep this run going. They’ll practice Friday at IncredibleIce in Coral Springs and prepare for a Saturday afternoon game at BankAtlantic Center against another Southeast Division rival in Atlanta before playing back-to-back games next weekend at home against Philadelphia and Saturday in Tampa.
“Now we’re climbing,” McCabe said. “Tonight was a four-point night. They were five points up on us, so we closed the gap. That’s what we need to do.”
Booth has 11 points in his last seven games…Stephen Weiss
, who picked up an assist on Bouwmeester’s goal, has points in his last five games and seven of his last eight. When Campbell registers a point, the Panthers are 11-0-1…The first penalty wasn’t called until 38:57, a hooking call on Hurricanes’ Ray Whitney…DeBoer said Thursday morning Kamil Kreps, who hasn’t played since injurying his shoulder Dec. 27 at Tampa, is improving, lifting weights, and could be on the ice soon. Rostislav Olesz
(groin) continues to skate but his return isn’t imminent…
|Three star selections