Fans at the BankAtlantic Center had something good to worry about going into the third period Saturday night.
Would I lose a cap?
Thanks to a pair of goals from Rostislav Olesz in the second and strong goaltending from Tomas Vokoun throughout, the Panthers didn’t have to sweat out another third period.
Olesz and Cory Stillman failed to record the Panthers fifth hat trick of the season Saturday, but they both scored twice and helped Florida to a fairly easy 5-2 win over the Lightning in Sunrise.
The Panthers swept the
home-and-home series against Tampa Bay, winning 3-2 on the west coast on
In Florida’s past two games, the third period was key as the Panthers blew a 4-2 lead and lost in a shootout to Washington on Wednesday only to come back and score two in the third the following night against the Lightning.
“It’s important to score
when the team wins,’’ said Olesz, who was trying to record his first NHL hat
trick. Olesz had a pair of two-goal games within a week, scoring twice in
Florida’s 3-0 win at Ottawa on Jan. 9.
“We needed the two points and we moved forward in the standings. That’s more important than who scored in the game.’’
Olesz, who got the game-winner Thursday in Tampa, gave the Panthers some breathing room against a Tampa Bay team the Panthers are competing with in the Eastern Conference standings. Going into Thursday, Florida trailed the Lightning by two points; the Panthers go into Sunday leading by two.
“It’s a huge swing,’’ said coach Pete DeBoer. “We came in wanting to sweep the two games. To their credit, they came out very hard tonight and worked right to the buzzer. That’s a good hockey team and we feel fortunate for the sweep. We haven’t had a lot of luck in a lot of situations, but I think we got some in these two games.’’
The Panthers started Saturday’s game off quickly, with Stillman getting his first goal on a power play chance as he knocked in a pass from Steven Reinprecht past starter Antero Niittymaki just 4:07 into the game.
Midway through the period,
Stillman was the beneficiary of another bad decision by rookie defenseman
Victor Hedman deep in his own zone.
Hedman, the second overall pick in last summer’s draft, gave up the puck twice in Thursday’s game – with Stillman and Olesz scoring off the turnovers. Saturday, Hedman misplayed a puck and Stillman pounced, snapping a shot past Niittymaki. It was just the third shot of the night for the Panthers.
Florida scored five goals on 13 shots and then let Vokoun do the work. Vokoun ended with 47 saves.
The Lightning scored two goals in the first to tie it up, but then it was all Panthers. Bryan Allen scored from the blue line to make it 3-2 only 32 seconds after Meszaros scored, then Olesz got the only goals of the second. But the Panthers held their lead thanks to their goalie.
“It was all Vokoun,’’ said Stillman, who was trying for his fifth career hat trick. “He stood on his head and made some saves. It’s a game where he’s really the first star. It was a big two points for us.’’
Even the team mascots got into the beating as Florida’s pair of stuffed cats tag-teamed the Lightning’s Thunderbug in a staged pro wrestling-type showdown in the lower level.
“This was a step in the right direction,’’ said defenseman Keith Ballard. “But let’s not start planning any parades or ordering any rings. But we’re going in the right direction. We won a gritty one in Tampa. [Saturday] we were opportunistic. But when we’re up 5-2, we should be up 6-2 or 7-2. We should have made them work for their chances.’’
Center Stephen Weiss played less than six minutes off seven shifts Saturday as DeBoer said he had a “nagging lower body’’ injury that he thought he could play through. With the team taking Sunday off, DeBoer says he thinks Weiss will be ready to play Monday against Atlanta.
“We shut him down,’’ said DeBoer. “He was very close tonight, but we were over optimistic. He wanted to fight through it, but looking at the big picture, I shut it down. We have a big week coming up.’’
(*) Niittymaki didn’t
stick around to the end of Saturday’s game as he was replaced by 20-year-old
rookie Dustin Tokarski at the start of the third period.
Tokarski, called up to fill in for the injured Mike Smith, made his NHL debut.
(*) The Panthers are 48-31-10 against their cross-state rivals since the series began in 1993. The Panthers first win in franchise history came on Oct. 9, 1993, in Tampa.