SUNRISE – Panther forward Richard Zednik is making it a habit of scoring goals while being airborne.
Think LeBron James…on skates!
Zednik took his highlight reel to a whole new level Thursday night at BankAtlantic Center when he scored the game-winning goal while jumping over an Islander defender in the Panthers 3-2 victory.
Zednik, who scored while airborne Jan. 29 against Montreal, did it again Thursday as the Panthers improved to 9-2-3 in the new year while taking two more points in their race up the Eastern Conference.
At 12:39 of the second period, Zednik took a pass from Bryan McCabe (two assists) and started what Gregory Campbell described as “one of the prettier goals you’re going to see.”
First, Zednik flipped the puck around defenseman Radek Martinek entering the Islander zone on the right wing. Then Zednik took the rolling puck, cut toward the net, and then, in one motion, jumped over defenseman Brendan Witt while sliding the puck under goalie Joey MacDonald.
Game winner. “Highlight of the night,” said forward Cory Stillman.
“Probably could have done better,” said Campbell, a smile creasing his face. “I would have put it top shelf.”
Zednik’s goal, along with first period goals by defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Karlis Skrastins, avenged a loss last weekend to the Islanders on Long Island and kept the Panthers in eighth-place in the conference playoff race.
Goalie Tomas Vokoun, 7-2-2 in his last 11 games, stopped 20 shots for his 15th victory of the season while Zednik, David Booth, Nathan Horton and Stephen Weiss all picked up assists.
Tonight’s Mayors Jewelers Three Star Selections of the Game are:
1st: Richard Zednik 2nd: Jay Bouwmeester 3rd: Josh Bailey
Mayors is the Official Jeweler of the Florida Panthers, please visit www.mayors.com or your local South Florida Mayors location.
“It was a two-on-one and I know I’m going to shoot or go in the middle,” said Zednik of his eighth goal of the season. “That’s when the ‘D’ went down, so I have to go over him. I skipped over him and I shot it right away and it went under the goalie.”
Unable to score in the third period despite two power play opportunities, Zednik’s goal “was the difference for us tonight,” Stillman said.
“That’s what he’s good at,” said Campbell of Zednik. “That takes some skill, not only to flip the puck over a guy but to jump over (a defender) because the puck was rolling.”
Panthers coach Peter DeBoer, whose team has picked up points in 25 of their last 32 games, gave credit to the Zednik.
“There’s a guy…I haven’t given enough credit to lately,” he said. “He’s really battling hard. He’s doing a lot of the little things well away from the puck and he’s starting to get rewarded at the net, too. That’s the kind of contributions we need.
“In a lineup with a lot of guys that don’t have world class elements, he’s a guy that has got that world class speed and can score a goal like that for us. We need him to do that down the stretch.”
But it was the defense – which has a league-leading 36 goals – that got the Panthers on the board first.
Bouwmeester gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead at 5:41 of the first when he fired a shot from the right point that sailed through a crowd in front of the Islanders’ goal and past MacDonald, making his first start since January 8.
Bouwmeester’s goal was the 50th of his Panther career, making him the 18th player to record 50 or more goals in a Panther uniform.
Nine minutes later, the Panthers made it 2-0 on a goal set up in part by Weiss, who sent Frans Nielson flying into the bench with a hit along the boards. The play moved into the Islanders’ zone where Skrastins took a pass from McCabe and let a shot fly from between the faceoff circles that cleanly beat MacDonald low to the stick side.
The Islanders came back in the second period, however, on a pair of power play goals. But sandwiched between goals by Josh Bailey and Trent Hunter was Zednik’s game winner.
Zednik’s goal was another example of the Panthers having to win “all different kinds of ways,” according to DeBoer.
“Everyone has to contribute,” Bouwmeester said.
And that will be the Panther mantra come Saturday when they travel to play Southeast Division rival Washington, led by a lineup that includes Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin and Mike Green.
Defensemen Nick Boynton, McCabe, Skrastins and Jassen Cullimore each had three blocked shots…Campbell won 11 of 16 faceoffs, Weiss nine of 12…Keith Ballard had four hits…Weiss has eight points in his last five games…The Islanders were without two of their defensemen: Leading scorer and All-Star Mark Streit and Thomas Pock. Streit was out with an upper-body injury while Pock was placed on injured reserve with a hand injury. The Islanders called up defensemen Jack Hillen and Joe Callahan from their American Hockey League affiliate in Bridgeport… Noah Welch and Nick Tarnasky were the Panthers’ healthy scratches…