David Booth made a triumphant return to the ice Sunday afternoon, charging hard into the corner on his first shift.
On one of his last shifts of the first period, however, is where he looked like the Booth of old. Booth, who missed 45 games with a concussion, drove in on goalie Rick DiPietro and whiffed on a shot. He quickly recovered and fired a shot off the goal cage. Moments later, Jordan Leopold picked up the puck and scored Florida's first goal, a goal that would be the game-winner.
Thanks to another outstanding job in goal by Tomas Vokoun, Leopold's goal was all the Panthers needed Sunday as Florida beat the Islanders 2-0 at BankAtlantic Center. Booth got the second assist on Leopold's goal.
“There were a few rusty parts, but I just enjoyed being out there,'' said Booth, injured Oct. 24 in Philadelphia. “Winning is fun and I enjoyed it. This is the first step. I still have a long way to go. I'm going to keep pushing myself to be back where I need to be.''
Said coach Pete DeBoer: “He took a few bumps out there. There was nowhere to hide. He wasn't shy. He was giving and taking hits. It was good to see him jump in with both feet.''
The return of Booth was expected to boost the Panthers sagging offense, but on Sunday, it was Florida's defensemen who did the damage to the slumping Islanders. Florida made a strong charge against DiPietro in the second period but couldn't get anything through until Keith Ballard fired a shot from the left side that zipped past and snapped the net.
Ballard's goal gave Florida a 2-0 lead with 9.6 seconds left in the second period. The Panthers went into the second break on a nice high.
“They were desperate for a win and at ice level, it was a very physical game,'' said DeBoer. “We talked between the first and second that the grittier team was going to win. We played a smart game. .-.-. We limited their opportunities and we created more and just didn't finish some of them.''
The Panthers may have played their best hockey of the day in the second period, but that couldn't be said for the third. The Panthers took a couple of bad penalties in the third and put Vokoun to the test. Florida ended up killing off three power plays in the period as Vokoun ended up setting a career high with seven shutouts this season.
Vokoun stopped 33 shots for his fourth shutout in January.
“It's nice because we've been playing good and winning,'' said Vokoun. “It was a nice bonus. We played well, aside for taking some unnecessary penalties in the third. Obviously that second goal was huge, getting it late in the period.''
The Islanders looked to cut their deficit in half early in the third when Freddy Meyer shot a puck off the post. The puck bounced back and hit Vokoun; Meyer continued to charge in and was tripped up by Shawn Matthias. Meyer's momentum threw him into the cage and dislodged it. The puck slid past the line, but replay officials at Hockey Central in Toronto reviewed it and declared it a no goal.
Florida's win vaulted them back into the top eight in the Eastern Conference playoff race as the Islanders again lost ground to the Panthers. Florida won three of four against New York this season and captured seven of eight possible points.
“This was a four point game,'' Vokoun said. “There are six or seven teams fighting for three or four spots. Whenever you can beat someone close to you in the standings, it's big.''
-- Vokoun set a career high with his seventh shutout of this season and also tied the franchise record for most shutouts in a single season. Roberto Luongo also had seven shutouts with the Panthers, those coming in the 2003-04 season.
Ballard suggested that the team's Defenseman of the Month Award for January should be given to Vokoun. He recorded four shutouts in the month.
“What can you say? He's been great,'' said DeBoer. “Adversity reveals character and we've had some pretty significant adversity. We've gotten a lot of character performances from a lot of guys and he's at the top of that list.''
-- The Panthers set a franchise record for most home points in a month of January. Florida's 13 points last month (6-0-1) surpassed the 1999-2000 Panthers (6-2-0) who had 12.
The Panthers have won five straight at home after a rough stretch of not winning games in Sunrise.
-- As the Islanders were shipping out of BankAtlantic Center, the Ducks were ready to move in. Their equipment bags were stacked out outside the visitors dressing room as the Islanders gear was taken out. Florida plays host to Anaheim on Monday.
There is no television coverage of any kind for Monday's game. The game can be heard on AM-790 or online.
So guess what? Going LIVE! right here kind of like we did during the preseason games. Should be fun. Will be basically a LIVE! Panthers chat during the game.
Probably won't be much news up until game time tomorrow, but make sure you come back here then.
Tanks for Nuttin!