SUNRISE – Cory Stillman stood in the Panthers’ lockerroom late Friday evening and mused, “Maybe we’re showing a bit of attitude.”
Panther fans couldn’t be happier.
Just 48 hours after exorcising demons in Ottawa, the Panthers returned home to the BankAtlantic Center and went shift-for-shift with one of the best teams in the NHL in the San Jose Sharks.
More importantly, they left with a victory.
Behind 47 saves by goalie Tomas Vokoun and two goals by Cory Stillman, including the game winner, the Panthers beat the Sharks 4-3 before an ecstatic crowd of 15,232.
It was the first time this season the Panthers earned back-to-back wins, climbed above .500, and the first time since Feburary of 2000 (eight games) they were able to beat the Sharks.
And the Panthers did it playing what is now their trademark: an aggressive, fast-paced game by a team that “never gives up,” according to Radek Dvorak.
“Even if we’re down a goal, or have a bad period, we know we can come back out and turn the game around,” he said. “You need this attitude.”
The Panthers? With an attitude?
“I hope so,” said defenseman Keith Ballard, who assisted on three of the Panthers’ four goals. “That’s kind of what we’re looking for, to be a tough team to play against. We’re starting to show that, yeah. I mean, when you take a team that hasn’t won very much the past, what, seven years? You really just need to learn to win.”
The Panthers seem to be learning that process with the help of Ballard, Stillman and Nick Boynton, who accounted for eight of the Panthers’ 11 points Friday night and 22 of the team’s 52 through the first seven games.
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But it’s been everyone who has bought into coach Peter DeBoer’s aggressive style. They showed they believed in their hard-fought 3-1 loss Monday in Montreal and now their consecutive victories against the Senators and Sharks.
Take the opening minutes of Friday’s game. The Sharks took a 1-0 lead just 51 seconds into the first period when Joe Thornton scored on the power play.
But rather than sink into the abyss, the Panthers came back at the Sharks and scored.
Three consecutive times.
First came Stillman.
After Nathan Horton won a faceoff in the Sharks’ zone, Stillman drifted back to the center of the blue line before getting a pass from Keith Ballard and slapping the puck past Evgeni Nabokov to the glove side.
Then came Richard Zednik, who scored his first of the season when he banged away from the left corner at a rebound of a Ballard shot.
Less than a minute later, Horton scored his third of the year with an assist from Stillman to send the Panthers into the lockerroom with a 3-1 lead.
The Sharks came back. Ryane Clowe scored on the power play at 11:38 to make it 3-2 and, six minutes later, Patrick Marleau tied the game at three on a two-on-one, short-handed goal.
Despite losing the lead, the Panthers didn’t lose their new-found attitude. Just 37 seconds after Marleau tied the game, Stillman redirected a Ballard wrist shot from the point past Nabokov for his fifth goal of the season (fourth in last four games) and a 4-3 Panther lead with only 1:46 remaining in the second period.
“It was huge,” said DeBoer of Stillman’s goal. “if we come out (of the period) tied, we’re probably deflated a little.”
The Panthers did allow 16 shots in the third period, and Vokoun had to make several huge saves throughout the period, including two on Clowe. But Vokoun saved the Panthers and sent them to St. Louis for tonight’s game against the Blues believing end a four-games-in-six-night stretch with three consecutive wins.
“Just because we have the lead in the third period doesn’t mean we can give up that many shots,” Stillman said.
“It’s too many shots,” DeBoer echoed. “But that’s also a very good team we’re playing. We’ve got to tighten up, but the other part is you’ve got to give them some credit.”
The Panthers left immediately after the game and flew to St. Louis, where the Blues were shutout by the Kings 4-0.
Keith Ballard has six blocked shots, Karlis Skrastins four… Defenseman Cory Murphy left the game in the second period and did not return. He’s doubtful for tonight’s game… With Gregory Campbell nursing a hip flexor, Wade Belak dressed and played on a line with Ville Peltonen and Kamil Kreps… Vokoun entered the game with a 13-8-1 against the Sharks…
Wrist shot -
1 - 0 SJS
1 - 1 Tie