SUNRISE – Remember that three-headed monster Panther coach Peter DeBoer spoke of Tuesday morning?
It’s now two-headed.
The Panthers continued lining ‘em up and knocking ‘em down Tuesday night at BankAtlantic Center when they shutout Atlantic Division New Jersey 4-0.
Tomas Vokoun stopped 36 shots to record his fifth shutout of the season (second in last four games) and the Panthers got goals from Stephen Weiss, Richard Zednik (power play), Nathan Horton and Cory Stillman to climb into a tie for fifth place in the Eastern Conference. The Panthers now prepare for the remainder of the monster with games at BankAtlantic Thursday against the Blackhawks (32-15-8) and Saturday against the Bruins (39-10-8).
“It was really good Panther Hockey tonight,” said forward Brett McLean. “Not giving the opposition too much and working real consistently.”
Panther Hockey has now resulted in wins in four of the last five games and six of the last eight. The Panthers are also 13-4-3 with points in 16 of their last 20 games.
“It’s important our best players be front and center” with 25 games remaining in the regular season, DeBoer said.
And the Panthers are getting that. Against the Devils, Vokoun made key saves on Jamie Langenbrunner, Patrik Elias and Travis Zajac while Zednik, Weiss, Booth and rookie Michael Frolik each had two points.
“They’re known as a defensive team, but they’ve been scoring goals lately,” said defenseman Jassen Cullimore of the Devils, third in the East in scoring. “So to keep them off the board is a big deal.”
For the Panthers, who scored goals 2:38 apart midway through the second period, it all started at 4:18 of the first period when Bryan McCabe took a shot from the point that Devils goalie Scott Clemmensen stopped. But the rebound came out to the slot and an uncovered Weiss wristed the puck past Clemmensen’s glove and into the net to make it 1-0.
Despite having only one shot through the opening 9:50 of the second period, the Panthers took control of the game beginning at 11:27 with Zednik on the power play.
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The Panthers, who had converted on only two of their previous 32 man advantages, broke through on the power play on a play that started when Frolik took a shot from the faceoff circle. The puck was stopped by Clemmensen and the rebound whacked by Booth. The puck wound up sliding to Zednik, who wristed it home from the corner of the net to make it 2-0.
Just 2:38 later, the Panthers made it 3-0 when Zednik, with Travis Zajac all over him, back-handed the puck from behind the net to the slot, where Nathan Horton dragged it away from a Devil defender and fired it into the left corner of the Devils’ net for his 17th of the season.
The power play goal, Weiss said, gave the Panthers “a bit of a boast.”
“And that’s going to be huge down the stretch, special teams,” Weiss added. “Our penalty killers did a great job tonight and the power play did a good job of getting us at least one goal.”
The Panthers added their fourth goal at 17:06 of the third period when Weiss came out from behind the net and slid the puck cross-ice to Stillman who put it past Clemmensen for his 12th goal of the season.
Despite allowing 36 shots, many of the Devils shots came from the perimeter. The Panthers also did a good job in the neutral zone slowing the Devils down.
“We talked before the game about everyone collapsing in front of the net to try and keep the chances to the outside,” Weiss said.
“We didn’t give them a lot of room, collapsed down low and had a lot of blocked shots,” DeBoer said.
“They’re a transition team,” Cullimore said. “If you turn the puck over they come back at you pretty quick. We tried to keep it as clean as we could in the neutral zone, limit the turnovers.”
Vokoun handled the rest, stopping 26 shots in the first 40 minutes and five during a Devil power play with the Panthers holding a 1-0 lead.
“He’s been unbelievable,” said Weiss of Vokoun. “Any time it looks like they’re going to get one, he’s there for the big save. You can’t say enough about him.”
Vokoun, on pace to win 25 games for the sixth consecutive year with his 19th Tuesday, is like the rest of the Panthers, seeking separation from teams below the Panthers and tied with the Panthers in the Eastern Conference race.
“The more separation we get the better everyone in the dressing room will feel,” Vokoun said. “There’s a bunch of games left. It’s up to us to keep it going.”
And the Panthers will get their chance the remainder of this week at BankAtlantic, playing two teams in Chicago and Boston a combined 47 games above .500.
The Panthers last 18 goals have all come from their forwards, with Zednik scoring five, Horton four and Frolik three…Cory Stillman has 21 points in his last 20 games…Michael Frolik has a four-game point streak (three goals)…Zednik has 15 points (eight goals) in his last 20 games…Weiss has 15 points (12 assists) in his last 17 games…Horton has four goals in his last five games…The Panthers are 8-0 on Tuesday…Defenseman Karlis Skrastins led all skaters with six blocked shots…The Panthers had 21 blocked shots…The Devils were without forward Brendan Shanahan (bruised foot) and defenseman Paul Martin (upper body)…Nick Tarnasky and Noah Welch sat for the Panthers…
1 - 0 FLA
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Too many men/ice - bench