In five pivotal minutes during the third period Saturday evening, three plays – two by forward Radek Dvorak and another by goalie Tomas Vokoun – helped to send the NHL-leading Bruins reeling back to Beantown and the Panthers off the ice to a standing ovation and a 2-0 win before an Standing Room Only crowd at BankAtlantic Center.
One: With the Panthers shorthanded and the game scoreless, Dvorak streaked down the right wing, cut in on Boston goalie Tim Thomas, and shot the puck over Thomas’ left shoulder for a 1-0 lead at 1:44 of the third period.
Two: With the Bruins pouring on the pressure at 6:30 of the third, Patrice Bergeron skated from behind the Panther net and tried to stuff the puck in the corner. Vokoun, scrambling, managed to stick his pad out while facing the opposite direction to stop the puck.
Three: Just 15 seconds after Vokoun’s save, Dvorak took a cross-ice pass from Gregory Campbell and slides it under an outstretched Thomas to give the Panthers a 2-0 lead. Before the goal is allowed, Vokoun’s save on Bergeron goes to video review. No goal Bergeron. Goal Dvorak.
Panthers 2-0 final and sixth in the Eastern Conference, only three points behind fourth-place Philadelphia.
“This was a huge game for us,” said coach Peter DeBoer, whose Panthers went 3-2 during a homestand against five of the top teams in the NHL.
“We stuck to the game plan tonight,” said defenseman Bryan McCabe. “There were no passengers…we didn’t make any glaring errors.”
And they had Vokoun, who stopped 41 shots and pitched his third shutout in six games and sixth of the season, one short of the team record (seven) set by Roberto Luongo in 2003-04.
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Playing a Bruin team with more victories than any other in the NHL, the Panthers were a “little tentative in the first period,” DeBoer said. But they had Vokoun, who made a highlight save on a Chuck Kobasew redirect in the first period, and made key stops on Kobasew and Wheeler in the second period.
Thomas (25-7-5, 2.09 goals against) also made some big stops, but he also got help from the posts. First, Nathan Horton rang one off the crossbar in the first period, and then, off the rush in the second period, Ville Peltonen and Campbell hit the post within seconds while another puck hit the side of the net. Defenseman Mark Stuart eventually cleared the puck from the Bruin crease.
It seemed the Panthers were snakebit. But they managed to kill off a four-minute double minor in the first period, and they were killing off another four-minute penalty at the beginning of the third period when the game took a dramatic turn.
Dvorak’s first goal began when he took the puck off the right wing boards at center ice away from P.J. Axelsson and then raced into the Bruin zone with Zdeno Chara closing in. Dvorak leaned into Chara, protected the puck, and wristed the shot over Thomas’ left shoulder for a 1-0 lead.
“We hit three or four posts, so it was nice to see one go in,” said Dvorak.
“It was nice to see Devo get rewarded,” DeBoer said. “He had great legs tonight. He was all over the ice.”
With the crowd still buzzing over Dvorak’s third shorthanded goal of the season, Vokoun stretched out his pad and stopped Bergeron coming out from behind the net.
“I didn’t see it,” Vokoun said. “I knew what (Bergeron) was going to do. I was facing the other way so I just tried to put a part of my body out.”
The Panthers broke out of their zone after Vokoun’s stop and it resulted in Dvorak’s second goal. This time he took a hard pass by Campbell cross-ice and slid it low under Thomas.
Immediately after Dvorak’s goal, officials went to the video replay to make sure Bergeron’s shot hadn’t crossed the goal line. Several minutes later, it was official. The Panthers were up 2-0 instead of being tied 1-1.
So how big was Vokoun’s save on Bergeron?
“On that particular play, you think about the change of momentum if that’s in,” DeBoer said. “Our goal is disallowed and they get a goal and its 1-1. Obviously, that’s a pivotal point in the game.”
And how big has Vokoun been during this recent stretch of games?
“With the teams on the schedule we played – Washington, New Jersey, New York, Boston and Chicago - to come through that 3-2 and, really, less than a minute-and-half, two minutes away in the Washington game from being 3-1-1 or 4-1 in that stretch…he’s a prime reason for that. We’re playing well, but he’s giving us a chance to stay in games against good teams.”
Also giving the Panthers a huge boost has been their penalty killers, who stopped the Bruin’s power play (fifth in the league) during 8:56. The Panthers have now killed 17 consecutive power plays, and have allowed only one goal the last 27 times they’ve been down a man.
“It was a huge lift for us,” said forward Gregory Campbell. “We were not happy with our game Thursday night (4-0 loss to Chicago). Everybody is happy the way we came back.”
And, said Peltonen, it’s a “good win before the road trip,” a trip that kicks off Tuesday with stops against these Bruins Tuesday, and then the Rangers, Devils, Capitals and Thrashers.
“It’s going to be a tough trip,” McCabe said. “But we’re excited to go on the road on a positive note.”
BOUWMEESTER NEW IRON MAN
Jay Bouwmeester, who has played in 319 consecutive games, is the NHL’s new Iron Man. Andrew Brunette of the Wild, who had played in 509 consecutive games, missed Saturday’s game due to a lower body injury. So Bouwmeester is passed the title.
VOKOUN, ANDERSON TOPS IN LEAGUE
With Vokoun recording his sixth shutout Saturday, the Panthers now lead the league in shutouts. Vokoun and Craig Anderson (three shutouts) have combined for nine shutouts, one more than Columbus.
And the nine shutouts is also a franchise record, eclipsing the mark of seven set by Luongo in 2003-04.
Bruins coach Claude Julien wasn’t happy with his team’s performance Saturday evening. Julien, whose Bruins have lost five of their last six games, said; “We didn’t get inside, we didn’t want to get our noses dirty. As the game went on we got sloppier and sloppier.”…The Panthers first four opponents on next week’s road trip – the Bruins, Rangers, Devils and Capitals – have a combined home record of 81-28-9…Brett McLean, who had played in all 58 games prior to Saturday, was a healthy scratch. DeBoer said it wasn’t for lack effort, rather Nick Tarnasky’s fresh legs. Tarnasky played a strong game alongside linemates Anthony Stewart and Kamil Kreps, delivering four hits…Kreps was the only Panther play .500 or better in the faceoff circle, winning five of nine…Campbell had five hits and three blocked shots…Horton not only hit the post, but he was robbed by Thomas in the second period…The Bruins had 20 blocked shots, including eight – yes, eight – by Andrew Ference…
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