SUNRISE – When it comes to the NHL shootout, Panther goalie Tomas Vokoun mused Friday evening, it’s “like the lottery.”
“It’s fun when you win,” he said, “and not so much when you lose.”
The Panthers did just about everything right when they returned to BankAtlantic Center off a five-day break to face the Flyers - including coming back from a 2-0 deficit – but they ran into a hot goalie in Antero Niittymaki.
Making his first start since Jan. 3, Niittymaki made 32 saves and shut out the Panthers in the shootout to give the Flyers a 3-2 victory. Simon Gagne scored the only shootout goal. Ville Peltonen, Michael Frolik and Nathan Horton (in that order) were shutout for the Panthers.
For the Flyers, overtime has been a familiar place this year. They lead the league in overtime games with 17. They’re record in OT is 8-9.
Despite the setback, the Panthers earned a point for the sixth consecutive game (4-0-2) and pulled even with Carolina in points with 47, tied for ninth in the conference as Pittsburgh won earlier in the night.
“Some nights we would have got the two points,” Vokoun said.
The Panthers left immediately after the game for Tampa and tonight’s game against the Lightning.
“I’m very happy with the effort,” said Panthers’ coach Peter DeBoer. “I thought we played well. We had good energy, good legs. But their goalie was outstanding. If we keep playing like that, we’ll win more than we lose.”
Tonight’s Mayors Jewelers Three Star Selections of the Game are:
1st: Simon Gagne 2nd: Jay Bouwmeester 3rd: Jeff Carter
Mayors is the Official Jeweler of the Florida Panthers, please visit www.mayors.com or your local South Florida Mayors location.
The Panthers knew the Flyers would come out strong after losing Thursday in Tampa and then being called out by captain Mike Richards. And DeBoer, who coached Richards in junior, gave fair warning to his team Friday morning.
To the Panthers credit, they came out strong in the first period. They outshot the Flyers 9-4 through the opening 10 minutes and had a good jump. Unfortunately, they left the ice after 20 minutes down 2-0.
“It was one of those games,” said defenseman Jassen Cullimore. “We came out pretty good. We outshot them. I thought we played better. But they came out two goals on top.”
It was Jeff Carter (30 goals) who put the Flyers up 1-0 at 12:12 of the first period when he jabbed a rebound past Vokoun. Less than two minutes later, Gagne sneaked the puck between Vokoun’s legs from the goal line for a 2-0 lead.
“I should have stopped the second goal,” Vokoun said.
But the Panthers, as they’ve done throughout the past eight weeks, didn’t get frustrated. They came out even stronger in the second period and, through a strong forecheck, were able to draw four Flyer penalties in the span of nine minutes.
And they took advantage of the man advantage with two power play goals.
The Panthers, who lead the league in goal scoring from their defensemen, made it 2-1 at 14:47 when Bryan McCabe took a shot from inside the blue line that found its way through a crowd in front of Niittymaki. It was McCabe’s eighth goal of the season.
Just 2:49 later, Jay Bouwmeester scored on the power play to tie the game when he skated into the high slot, retrieved a Cory Stillman pass that bounced off a Gagne’s skate, and wristed it past Niittymaki.
The Panthers, who outshot the Flyers 13-3 in the second period, had come back once again.
“We had four lines rolling,” said Anthony Stewart. “We had legs the whole way and had a feeling we would tie it up.”
But the Panthers couldn’t get any more pucks past Niittymaki, who made a couple nice saves on David Booth in the third and, after Peltonen missed the net, made saves on Frolik and Horton in the shootout.
Cullimore called the Panther performance a “good foundation.”
“I think it was a good game for us,” Vokoun echoed. “I think it was good how we played and how we responded.”
The Panthers only hope to improve Saturday evening in Tampa and avenge consecutive losses to the Lightning Dec. 26-27.
“We have to keep our focus and make sure we prepare for the next one,” Peltonen said.
“It will be a good game,” said Stewart of the matchup against the Lightning, who are 5-4-1 in their last 10 games and have climbed out of the Southeast Division cellar. “They’re rolling. We’re sort of rolling, too. We just have to keep it simple and things will take care of themselves.”
The Panthers lead the league in goal scoring from defensemen. They have 29 goals from the blue line, one more than Nashville…The Panthers are 3-4-1 in the second of back-to-back games…Keith Ballard and McCabe each had two blocked shots…Bouwmeester played 28:37, McCabe 25:48…The Flyers had no giveaways…Horton won six of 10 faceoffs…Flyer defenseman Kimmo Timonen, injured Thursday when he was hit in the mouth by a puck shot by Mike Richards, played 26:12…Defenseman Cory Murphy was loaned Friday to the Florida Everblades of the East Coast Hockey League…Stephen Weiss, who had an assist, has 19 points (5 goals) and a plus-11 in his last 23 games…Booth’s career-high points streak was snapped at eight games…
1 - 0 PHI
2 - 0 PHI
2 - 1 PHI