BY GEORGE RICHARDS
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Tomas Vokoun didn't have much to do during the regulation of Tuesday's game.
Overtime was a different story – and Vokoun a difference maker.
The Panthers goalie was sharp in overtime and in the shootout, backstopping Florida to a 3-2 win over the Wild at Xcel Energy Center. Vokoun only faced nine shots from the Wild in the first 60 minutes (the team was booed coming off the ice after the third), but was forced in action in the five minute overtime as the Wild dominated play in the Florida zone.
Vokoun then stopped all four shots he faced in the shootout as Cory Stillman's goal in the fourth round won it for Florida. The 11 shots by Minnesota set a Florida franchise record for fewest in a single game.
“He looked like he wasn't going to let us lose that game,'' coach Pete DeBoer said of Vokoun. “That's the kind of saves we need.''
The Panthers have now won three straight games as Tuesday's win was the 500th victory in franchise history.
Florida's win was also its first against the Wild since Minnesota's inaugural season of 2000-01 and the Panthers first-ever win in the state of Minnesota. The North Stars moved to Dallas prior to the Panthers first season in 1993-94.
It was a win that was hard to come by, for sure, as Minnesota scored on two of its first three shots and led 2-0 going into the third period. DeBoer said his message to his team was that it needed to keep doing what it was doing; Florida, DeBoer said “deserved the two points” because Florida was dictating play against the Wild but couldn't beat goalie Niklas Backstrom.
“We were definitely outplaying them,'' said defenseman Bryan McCabe. “We were creating a lot of scoring chances, we just weren't scoring. This is a big road trip for our club. We just need to keep winning. This was a big effort. Everyone was on board tonight. We knew it was going to come if we stuck to that program.''
Michael Frolik finally solved the Backstrom problem just over a minute into the third when he took a breakaway pass from McCabe and roofed a shot past the Wild goalie.
“We played a good game,'' said DeBoer. “We kept grinding away even though we weren't getting rewarded. [Frolik's] goal was big. Up to that point, it looked like we could shoot all night and not score on Backstrom. I thought he was fantastic.''
The Panthers kept applying pressure as the Wild sat back and watched. Midway through the third, Stillman tied the score as Steven Reinprecht left him a nice shot in the slot. The Wild, which had seven shots in the opening two periods, had yet to record a shot in the third to that point. When Minnesota finally got a shot off with 8:45 left in regulation, the Minnesota crowd cheered in mock approval.
Florida couldn't get anything else past Backstrom and went into overtime with a little bit of momentum. But after a quick rush into the Wild zone, the Panthers struggled to do anything as Vokoun kept them in the game. Florida not only couldn't sustain a charge in the Wild zone, but the Panthers barely cleared the puck out of their own zone.
In the shootout, Stephen Weiss and David Booth were stopped by Backstrom before surprise shooter Kamil Kreps failed to get a shot off in Round 3. Vokoun stopped all four shots he faced before skating off victorious after Stillman snapped Florida's five-game shootout losing streak.
“Everyone wants to be the hero,'' said Stillman. “I scored and we won and hopefully someone else can step up in the next game to win it for us.''