The Panthers put on a show for thousands of children Saturday afternoon at BankAtlantic Center during the team’s first Kids Day when they scored five, third-period goals on their way to a 8-4 victory over the Thrashers.
The Panthers have now set a franchise record by scoring four or more goals in five consecutive games. They broke the previous mark of four consecutive games with four goals set in 1995-96 between Oct. 8-15 and 1999-00 between Jan. 8-15. The Panthers made the playoffs both teams.
Saturday’s eight-goal outburst was also the Panthers third consecutive victory, their fourth win in their last five games, and boosted their record to 13-5-5 in their last 23 games.
Coupled with Carolina’s 5-1 loss to Boston, the Panthers are one point out of second place in the Southeast Division.
Every day should be Kids Day.
“It was fun with all the kids,” said Radek Dvorak, who scored a short-handed goal and added an assist while his linemates Ville Peltonen and Gregory Campbell combined for another five points. “Every time you scored they were excited and happy.”
Leading 3-1 after the first period, the Panthers got “away from (our) game plan,” according to coach Peter DeBoer, and allowed Atlanta to tie the game at three after two periods.
But the Panthers came out for the third period and scored two goals in the opening 2:42 and three in the opening 7:05. Despite coming into the game off a 4-0 shutout over the Devils, it was too much for the Thrashers to overcome.
DeBoer said between the second and third periods the team was informed Carolina was losing to Boston and “this was an opportunity to close that gap (in the standings) again,” he said.
“Maybe we got up two goals and sat back a little,” said Gregory Campbell, who had three assists and now has 20 points, two more than his point total for last season. “We had that happen before. Montreal is a prime example.
“But we knew it was a huge game. We were going to have to sit on this game for five, six days (until Friday here against Philadelphia). We’re looking up at the standings and inching closer and closer to Carolina and closer to the eighth (playoff) spot. So going into the third period tied 3-3, we had to buckle down and do whatever it took to get the two points.”
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So first it was Peltonen, who snapped a wrist shot off to beat Thrashers’ goalie Kari Lehtonen top shelf just 1:34 into the third period to make it 4-3. Then Cory Stillman scored on an assist from rookie Michael Frolik, who in the first period scored on a penalty shot. Then David Booth on tic-tac-toe passing with linemates Nathan Horton and Richard Zednik. Peltonen and Horton rounded out the scoring. It was the first time the Panthers have scored five goals in a period since April 9, 2006 against the Lightning.
It didn’t hurt that goalie Tomas Vokoun stopped 28 shots including a few beauties to start the game on Ilya Kovalchuk and two in the second period on Jason Williams.
“It’s nice to know we can always come back,” Dvorak said. “It’s a big difference.”
The reason for the Panthers’ recent increase in scoring?
“With this team it’s confidence,” DeBoer said. “It starts with the saves. Tomas has been playing well for us and when he’s making saves like that, we have the confidence to jump up and rush.”
For the Panthers, the start of the game mirrored the ending as they jumped out to a 3-1 lead with the scoring starting with Frolik, named Friday to the YoungStars All-Star Game, being awarded a penalty shot at 9:50 when he was hooked on a breakaway by defenseman Niclas Havelid.
Frolik beat Lehtonen to the glove side for a 1-0 lead and the Panthers’ first successful penalty shot since Feb. 16 of 2008.
After Thrashers’ winger Colby Armstrong batted a puck out of the air in front of the goal to beat Vokoun and tie the game at 12:53, the Panthers kicked back into gear late in the first period thanks in part to Campbell, who fought for the puck in the Thrashers’ left corner, pin-balling off Todd White and Havelid, before getting the puck out to defenseman Jassen Cullimore at the point.
Lehtonen stopped Cullimore’s shot, and the rebound by Campbell, but the second bounce was knocked home by Jay Bouwmeester for a 2-1 Panther lead.
The Panthers got their third goal of the first period when Dvorak scored his second short-handed goal of the season and the Panthers’ fourth when he took a slap shot from the top of the left faceoff circle that beat Lehtonen.
“I was just trying to get it on net,” Dvorak said.
While the Panthers couldn’t hold that 3-1 lead in the second due to a power play goal by Todd White and a 4-on-4 goal by Eric Christensen, the Panthers finished off in a big way.
The team will now get two days off – one to play Monday in the second annual Panthers Foundation Golf Classic at Parkland Golf & Country Club – before returning to practice Tuesday at IncredibleIce and back to BankAtlantic Center to play host Friday to the Flyers and then play Saturday at Tampa.
The line of Campbell, Dvorak and Peltonen continue posting points. Dvorak has three goals (five points) in his last four games, Peltonen has four goals in his last five games, and Campbell has six points (two goals) in his last three games…Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester had a goal, six shots on net, and was a plus-4…Rookie Michael Frolik has eight goals (17 points) in his last 20 games…