The Florida Panthers' celebrate their 3-2, overtime win against the Atlanta Thrashers' during a NHL hockey game in Sunrise, Fla., Saturday, Oct. 11, 2008. (AP Photo/Jon Way)
By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com
The puck was just sitting there, precariously resting somewhere between the slot and the back of the Thrasher net when David Booth saw an opportunity.
With a crowd of 18,401 buzzing in BankAtlantic Center, and the Panthers seeking to send them home happy in their 2008-09 home opener, Booth reached for the puck.
“It was just laying there,” Booth said. “I just tried to get my stick on it.”
And so he did. And the BankAtlantic Center erupted.
With just 1:06 remaining in overtime, Booth shoved the puck past goalie Kari Lehtonen, forward Eric Perrin and into the Thrashers’ net to give the Panthers a 3-2 victory and coach Peter DeBoer his first win behind an NHL bench.
“Relief,” is how DeBoer described his first coaching victory. “The guys worked hard tonight. The effort has always been there.”
And the Panthers earned this win. With the help of goalie Tomas Vokoun, who turned aside 31 shots, the Panthers survived a 5-on-3 man disadvantage in the opening minute of the game and then a Thrasher power play at 16:36 of the third period. Vokoun stopped six shots during the 5-on-3 power play and the Panther penalty killers didn’t allow a shot on goal during the late third period kill.
And after being outshot 15-4 in the opening 16 minutes, the Panthers pressed the Thrashers and outshot them 35-17 in the final 47:54.
It was a peak for Panther fans at the team’s new, aggressive style of play and the promise of what could be as the players get more familiar with the system.
“There’s more skating involved, and the defense pinching in really helps the forwards in the offensive zone,” said Booth, who scored two goals Saturday and has three in the first two games of the season after playing in just the first of the Panthers’ seven preseason games. “It requires more skating, but guys get their legs in the game and that’s why we’re having more shots and getting more opportunities.”
Panthers Win In Overtime David Booth became a fan-favorite in Florida last season, and he's doing his best to keep it that way. ...more
Stephen Weiss, who set up Booth’s first goal and scored the second, added: “That’s how you want to play as a player. You want to go. You don’t want to worry about where you have to be positionally. You just want to force them and get on the attack.”
Early in the game, however, it was the Thrashers on the attack when, just 10 seconds into the game, Keith Ballard was called for tripping. Then, only 33 seconds later, Brett McLean was led to the penalty box for hooking.
“We were a little flat early,” DeBoer admitted.
“Not the way you want to start a game,” Weiss said. “After last night, it was a lot of pressure early.”
Down 5-on-3 for 1:27, the Panthers survived with a huge assist from Vokoun, who turned aside six shots after admitting he wasn’t at his best Friday in Carolina.
“Your goaltender is always your best penalty killer,” said DeBoer of Vokoun. “Tomas really bounced back tonight. He was our best player.”
The Thrashers, who outshot the Panthers 10-2 in the opening 10 minutes of the game, scored the first goal when Vyacheslav Kozlov beat Vokoun on a nice pass from Ilya Kovalchuk.
The Panthers answered back 1:58 later to tie the game at one when Weiss slid the puck from the boards to the slot where Booth fired a wrist shot high over the glove of Lehtonen.
The Panthers ended the period strongly and kept that momentum into the second when Weiss made it 2-1 in the opening minute of the second period. Weiss moved into the Thrasher zone, dropped the puck for Richard Zednik and then drove to the net before Zednik sent it back to Weiss and scored his first goal of the season.
The Thrashers tied the game at two at 16:57 of the second on a goal from Jason Williams. The Panthers cranked up the pressure on Lehtonen and threw 18 shots at the Thrasher goalie, who made big third-period saves on Booth, Bouwmeester and Nathan Horton. At the other end, Kovalchuk clanged one off the crossbar.
But it was Booth who got the job done in overtime on a goal set up with the help of a Horton and assist from Horton and Keith Ballard.
“We still got a lot of work to do, but I think as we go along guys will get more comfortable with it and it will become second nature after a while. So far, we’re getting more pressure in their zone and a lot more opportunity to score more goals.”