Believe that Richard Zednik can score while going airborne. Believe that Keith Ballard can drop to his knees and make a game-changing save in goal. Believe that Stephen Weiss can pass the puck behind his back to rookie Michael Frolik driving on net.
Do you believe?
“I think so,” said a smiling Zednik late Thursday night after the Panthers left the BankAtlantic Center to a standing ovation after a 5-1 victory over the Canadiens.
Playing their most complete 60 minutes of the season, the Panthers got a huge goal by Zednik, another on a penalty shot by Radek Dvorak, two power play goals and a 35-save performance from goalie Tomas Vokoun to improve their record in January to 7-1-3, the franchise’s second best month in its 15-year history.
Cory Stillman had three assists on the night while Weiss had a goal and two assists and Nathan Horton had two assists.
The victory pulled the Panthers into eighth-place in the Eastern Conference, improved their record since Nov. 24 to 16-6-7 and 7-1-3 in their last 11 games.
Meanwhile, they continue getting contributions from their entire lineup. Consider: The Panthers last 17 goals have come from 11 different players.
“It’s a great stat to have,” Weiss said. “We’ve got to get scoring from every line and our defense, and we are. It’s nice that everyone is contributing.”
Panther coach Peter DeBoer called it “probably our best 60 minutes of the season from the system point of view and how we want to play.”
“We got great minutes from our fourth line, our goalie made some great saves, the power play was clicking,” he added. “You don’t get many nights like that as a coach when you walk out and feel pretty good about almost every component of how the game went.”
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he Panthers, who had dropped five consecutive games to the Canadiens, beat them on home ice for the first time since December of 2006, and they did it by scoring two power play goals for the third time in their last six games.
Those two goals kicked off the scoring, and were sandwiched by Ballard’s Immaculate Save.
But first, it was Jay Bouwmeester who got the Panthers going at 3:54 with his 11th goal of the season, his seventh on the power play, and his fifth in his last eight games.
Eight minutes later with Montreal on the power play, Saku Koivu was looking at an empty net when he raced down the ice on a 2-on-1. With Vokoun out of position and on his back, Ballard took his place in the crease, dropped to his knees, and stopped Koivu’s shot to save a goal.
Ballard played down his save. “I just dropped to my knees and got lucky,” he said.
“That was unbelievable,” said Vokoun, who would make several key saves on the night, including those on Tomas Plekanec and Steve Begin seconds apart in the second. “I couldn’t see (the puck). I was trapped, on my back. Those (saves) don’t happen a lot.”
Zednik called Ballard’s save “huge.” Weiss called it a “big momentum change.”
“I think everyone sagged there for a second thinking it was going to go in,” he said. “And you pop back up when Ballard makes that save.”
The Panthers charged ahead and made it 2-0 on another power play goal at 15:36, with Stillman once again starting things off.
Set up behind the Montreal goal, Stillman passed the puck to Horton in front, but he was stopped by Price. The puck went back to Stillman, who this time found Weiss, who banged the puck past Price.
The Panthers got into trouble late in the first period and started the second period down two men for 40 seconds with Karlis Skrastins and Michael Frolik in the penalty box. While they survived the 5-on-3, Robert Lang scored on the power play to make it 2-1 just 53 seconds into the second period.
The remainder of the middle period was entertaining, wide-open hockey and it was punctuated by one of the prettiest goals of the year courtesy of Zednik.
Racing down the right wing off a pass by David Booth, Zednik skated around a diving Josh Gorges in the faceoff circle before cutting in on Price. Zednik held his shot until Price went down, then, while airborne over Price’s extended pad, Zednik lifted the puck into the Montreal net for a 3-1 Panther lead with only 5:16 remaining in the period.
For the streaky Zednik, it was his seventh goal of the season and his second in the last five games. Ironically, Zednik got hot around this time last year. After going 20 games without a goal, he scored six in five games between Feb. 2-10.
“It was the biggest goal of the game,” Weiss said. “It gave us a big boost going into the third period. That’s key, anytime you get a two goal lead going into the third.”
But the Panthers weren’t done. Hooked from behind on a breakaway by Michael Komisarek 11:13 in the final period, Dvorak snapped a wrist shot off Price’s glove and into the net for a 4-1 Panther lead. Frolik finished the scoring at 13:55 when he took a behind-the-back pass from Weiss while driving toward the net and scored his 11th of the season.
DeBoer was pleased.
“I thought we had real good legs tonight and did a good job of moving forward instead of backing up and waiting,” he said.
Zednik gave credit to his teammates.
“We got four lines playing well and we’re playing good,” he said. “Montreal is a great team, but we played hard and, when you’re winning, you have more confidence.”
The Panthers have little time to enjoy Thursday’s victory. They travel Friday to New York for a Saturday game against the Islanders, who defeated them Dec. 31 on Long Island.
“Now we have to reproduce this (game),” DeBoer said.
Along with his big save, Ballard had five hits, two blocked shots, and was a plus-one…Horton has 14 points in his last 14 game. He also won all five of his faceoffs in the first period…The fourth line of Kamil Kreps, Brett McLean and Nick Tarnasky picked up 10 minutes of ice time…
OLESZ SURGERY SUCCESSFUL
Rostislav Olesz underwent successful surgery Wednesday in Philadelphia for a sports hernia and has returned to South Florida for rehabilitation, said Panther GM Jacques Martin.
Olesz, who has not played since Dec. 4, is expected to be out a minimum of an additional six weeks.