It was everything it was supposed to be…and so much more.
After nearly three hours of hockey Friday evening that featured three short-handed breakaways, a penalty kill in overtime, spectacular goals by Stephen Weiss and David Booth and huge saves by Tomas Vokoun, an exhilarated crowd of 19,250 had one more reason to be pulled out of their seats at BankAtlantic Center.
A shootout victory.
On their fifth attempt in the shootout, the Panthers hit the jackpot when Olli Jokinen slid the puck between the pads of Ranger goalie Steve Valiquette to help the Panthers to a 3-2 victory before an electric crowd at BankAtlantic.
It was the Panthers’ third consecutive victory and their fourth in their last five games as they pushed their way into a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference standings.
Three wins in one week. After winning only three games last year in the month of November and four the past two years, the Panthers have won six games this month.
“It was so much fun to be part of a game like that,” said Weiss, who scored the Panthers’ first goal while falling to the ice. “The building was alive, like a playoff atmosphere.”
But where to start in this 3-2 victory?
Begin with Vokoun, who stopped Brendan Shanahan, Jaromir Jagr, Petr Prucha, Marcel Hossa and, in the Rangers last attempt, Chris Drury in the shootout.
Move to the penalty killers, particularly Ville Peltonen, Bryan Allen and Jozef Stumpel, who stopped the Rangers during a 4-on-3 penalty kill in overtime.
And don’t forget Steve Montador, who sent Booth away to score his goal with a beautiful pass. Or defenseman Ruslan Salei, who had six blocked shots. Or Jokinen, who scored the game-winner in the shootout.
“We’re definitely going in the right direction,” said Jokinen of the Panthers, who are 2-0 in shootouts this season and moving up the standings only a game below .500.
“I think we played the best game we’ve played all year,” said Vokoun.
"The mentality is the same all the time. Stop the puck. There's not really much to it... It's always a pressure situation, and thats when you have the chance to make the difference." - goaltender Tomas Vokoun who stopped all five Rangers shooters in the shootout.
Stat of the Game
The Panthers won their second shootout game of the year. Compared to last season, the team won two shootouts all season and didn't win their second until March 28, a 3-2 victory over the Atlanta Thrasher
Despite out-shooting the Rangers 19-6 in the first period, the Panthers left the ice after 20 minutes down 1-0 when Chris Drury scored with only eight seconds remaining in the period.
“We were down a goal even though we outplayed them,” Salei said. “But we knew we had to win.”
The Panthers didn’t sag. Midway through the second period, Montador sent Booth down the left wing. He skated around Dan Girardi and backhanded the puck through Valiquette’s pads to tie the game.
Weiss put the Panthers ahead 2-1 on the power play at 1:06 of the third period when he wristed the puck into the Ranger goal while sliding across the ice.
But the Panthers, the NHL version of the ‘Cardiac Kids,’ made it interesting for the BankAtlantic’s full house. Just 52 seconds after defenseman Jassen Cullimore was penalized for tying up Girardi on a partial breakaway, Allen was sent to the box for delay of game.
While the Panthers killed off 1:07 of a 5-on-3, Drury scored his second goal of the game on the 5-on-4 to send the game into overtime.
The Panthers appeared to win the game in overtime when Montador scored on a shot from the point, but the goal was waived off on a delayed penalty to Richard Zednik. Once again, the Panthers were shorthanded. But despite facing a power play of Drury, Scott Gomez, Jagr and Shanahan, the Panthers survived and sent the game to a shootout.
It seemed the only way to decide a game in which Valiquette stopped two short-handed breakaways by Stumpel and another by Peltonen while Vokoun was making key saves on Martin Straka and Shanahan within minutes of each other in the second period.
Vokoun, who made 33 saves, shut down the Rangers, who tested the Panther goalie low and to the glove side. Valiquette, making only his second start of the season, stopped Peltonen, Stumpel, Horton and Rostislav Olesz before Jokinen scored the winner.
“It sounds funny but for the first time in my life I was practicing all summer and I told a couple guys I’ve got some new moves,” Jokinen said. “They asked me to show them those moves and I said, ‘I’ll wait for a game.’ I don’t think I’ve scored one in practice doing my old stuff.”
Jokinen was quick to give credit to Vokoun.
“I knew if we scored one (in the shootout) we’d be OK,” Jokinen said. “That shows you what kind of confidence we have in Vokoun.”
GM and coach Jacques Martin called the victory another confidence builder.
“Two games in a row we’ve faced adversity and we’ve reacted well,” said GM and coach Jacques Martin. “We’re building confidence. We’re using our speed. Our penalty killers have played well.”
The Panthers are on a roll. After winning two of three games on the road, the Panthers play five of their next six games at home. The Panthers will have a few days off before playing Wednesday in Washington. Then it’s five consecutive home games.
1 - 0 NYR
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 FLA