SUNRISE – When the door to the Panthers’ dressing room opened late Tuesday evening, the sound of Burl Ives singing ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’ filled the den.
And why not?
After goalie Tomas Vokoun pitched his second consecutive shutout and rookie Michael Frolik scored two goals in helping the Panthers to a 3-0 victory over the Predators, a good vibe permeated throughout BankAtlantic Center.
The Panthers left for their two-day Christmas break officially on a roll, the likes of which have not been seen around here since the 1999-2000 season.
Consider the Panthers enter the break on a 9-2-3 run (5-1-1 in their last seven games). Consider their 36 points and 16 victories mark the most they’ve had in either category after 33 games since their last playoff appearance in 2000. Consider it’s the first time they are three games over .500 in December since – yes, you guessed it – the 1999-2000 season.
Consider the possibilities.
“The guys are playing great and it shows,” said Vokoun, who’s stopped 50 shots his past two games while recording back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 2005-06 when he was with the Predators. “We’re playing simple but sound hockey.”
Dead last in the NHL a month ago, the Panthers are in the thick of the playoff hunt and playing some of the best hockey in the league.
“It hasn’t been easy,” said Stephen Weiss. “But we’ve climbed out of a pretty big hole.”
Mayors is the Official Jeweler of the Florida Panthers, please visit www.mayors.com or your local South Florida Mayors location.
Facing a Predators’ team that had allowed 30 or more shots only twice in their previous 15 games, the Panthers fired 43 shots at goalie Pekka Rinne and received even-strength goals by Frolik in the second period and Cory Stillman in the third for their efforts. Frolik added an empty-netter with 14 seconds on the clock.
“Tonight was a great effort,” said defenseman Bryan McCabe. “We had a lot of shots, we got great goaltending, and we really played our game. We had some legs tonight. Everyone was pretty much jumping. We did a great job on the forecheck and it paid off for us.”
The first period featured 27 shots (15 by the Panthers) and a number of good scoring chances by each team. Vokoun came up big on shots from Rich Peverley and Greg Zanon while Rinne made a save on a Ville Peltonen backhander a wrist shot off the stick of Nathan Horton.
“I thought the first period we were real loose (and) they were loose, too,” said coach Peter DeBoer. “We were exchanging out-numbered attacks.”
The Panthers tightened things up in the second, however, and Frolik seemed to take his game to another level. The rookie had five scoring chances in the second period and, eventually, the first goal of the game.
From the right corner, defenseman Nick Boynton sent the puck to the left faceoff circle and Frolik, who dragged the puck down to the bottom of the circle and then sent a wrist shot past Rinne for a 1-0 Panther lead at 13:12 of the middle period.
“Their goalie is big, so I tried to get him to move to the side a little,” Frolik said.
For Frolik, who’s been moved to center, his two goals now gives him 11 points (four goals) in his last 10 games.
“He’s been good for a long time, but he was outstanding today,” DeBoer said. “He ended up with (nine) shots on net. I’m a believer. He’s gotten better and better.”
Veteran Radek Dvorak said of Frolik; “He’s a young guy who’s getting better and better. He’s showing a lot of good stuff.”
Just 4:32 into the third period, the Panthers put a dagger into the Predators when Zednik raced down the ice and was stopped by Rinne. But Zednik got the rebound and delivered the puck to Stillman for his second goal in three games.
The Panthers were up 2-0, and Frolik’s empty-netter would break out the Christmas tunes.
Vokoun, who made a huge third-period save on a David Legwand shot while the Predators were short-handed, has now won three of his last four games. Vokoun and Craig Anderson have also pitched four shutouts in the last month.
“Both (Anderson and Vokoun) have been outstanding all year,” Weiss said. “They’re awesome.”
The Panthers take two days off before returning Friday to the BankAtlantic Center to play host to the Lightning. They then hop on a plane that night to play the Lightning the following evening in Tampa.
Until then, they can consider the possibilities.