TAMPA – The Panthers weren’t sure how to react late Tuesday evening here at the St. Pete Times Forum.
Yes, they earned two points and won for the third time in four games by beating the Lightning in a shootout 4-3. But they also blew a three-goal lead and allowed a whopping 52 shots.
In the end, the Panthers were saved by the goaltending of Tomas Vokoun, two power-play goals by Bryan McCabe, and Nathan Horton’s goal in the shootout.
As the Panthers continue to try and take baby steps, they knew deep down they were lucky to escape this town with a victory as they move on for games Thursday in New Jersey and Friday in Boston.
“We were lucky,” admitted McCabe, who has six points in his last four games.
“It was one of those nights,” added Brett McLean. “You’re happy with the result but there’s a lot of areas we can improve.”
Vokoun, who faced 50 shots Oct. 24 when beating San Jose, faced six shots in the opening 1:46 and 21 shots in the second period. He made several key saves, including one on Vaclav Prospal with six seconds remaining in overtime and two more in the shootout on Martin St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier (Jussi Jokinen missed the net on his attempt).
After the Lightning scoring their first goal at 14:42 of the second period, Tampa came at the Panthers with renewed energy and in waves the remainder of the game.
Mayors is the Official Jeweler of the Florida Panthers, please visit www.mayors.com or your local South Florida Mayors location.
“You have a very motivated team over there and we knew we were going to see their best hockey, and we did,” said Panthers’ coach Peter DeBoer. “We needed a night from him like that. Our goalie has to be a star on the road, especially in games like this, and he delivered tonight.”
“(Vokoun) was our best player tonight,” McCabe said.
After Vokoun withstood the Lightning’s early onslaught, the Panthers seemed to take control of the game.
They took a 1-0 lead at 7:50 of the opening period when McCabe ran his point-scoring streak to four games with a blast from the middle of the blue line that sailed over Mike Smith for a 1-0 Panther lead.
Vokoun made several big saves over the next 10 minutes, including stops on Lecavalier and Matt Pettinger. The Panthers rewarded Vokoun with only 17 seconds remaining in the period.
With Paul Ranger in the penalty box for tripping Stephen Weiss, David Booth scored his eighth goal of the season when he jammed away at a loose puck in the crease that eventually slid past Smith to give the Panthers a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes.
McCabe added another power-play goal at 7:48 of the second period when he beat Smith with a shot from the right point. For McCabe, it was his sixth point in the last six games.
But the Lightning never stopped skating or taking shots at Vokoun, and they finally broke through on their 34th shot of the game at 14:42 of the second period when Radim Vrbata scored his first goal of the season.
The Lightning then made it 3-2 when Lecavalier made a beautiful play behind the Panther net to keep the puck away from Jay Bouwmeester before sliding the puck to the slot to Evgeny Artyukhin, who wristed a shot past Vokoun for his first goal of the season.
With only 2:51 remaining in regulation, Steve Eminger took a 51-foot wrist shot through a crowd that found its way past Vokoun to tie the game at three and send it to overtime and a shootout.
But why did it have to go to a shootout?
“I think it was more of us sitting back,” McLean said. “We gave them a lot of chances with turnovers. Our game plan was to keep the puck out of the middle of the ice, and we definitely didn’t do that.”
Said Vokoun; “We’ve got to be tighter. We’ve been a fragile team, but a win is as important as anything in the game. We just have to learn from the mistakes we made.”
For the Panthers, there were enough good things to come out of the game, including a revived power play and a much-needed two points. And even if it wasn’t a flawless victory, “It don’t matter to me right now,” DeBoer said.