PANTHERS 5, LIGHTNING 2
Desperate to get some offense going, Panthers coach Pete DeBoer changed up his first line after they played together for just parts of two games.
The switch didn't work Saturday against Buffalo, but Sunday afternoon, DeBoer's tinkering paid off as the Panthers scored three goals in the opening period and rolled past Tampa Bay 5-2 at BankAtlantic Center.
Florida's new top line of Stephen Weiss, Cory Stillman and Nathan Horton accounted for two of the Panthers first three goals. Meanwhile, David Booth – dropped to the second line – scored his second goal in three games to give the Panthers a lead they would not relinquish.
Booth, Weiss and Horton were Florida's top line at the start of the season, but because of injuries to Booth (45 games) and Horton (17) the trio hadn't played together save for the first nine games. During the second period of Saturday's game, DeBoer changed things up again.
“We're just trying to get something going,'' DeBoer said after the Panthers snapped their three game losing streak by beating the Lightning for the third time in four tries this season. “Booth, we wanted to get some speed with [Steven] Reinprecht, so we moved him down. You're going to see that until we start getting some consistent offense. We did that [Sunday]. I hope it carries over.''
DeBoer also changed up his goaltender on Sunday, going with backup Scott Clemmensen as expected. DeBoer pulled Tomas Vokoun early in the second period of Saturday's loss to the Sabres, and Clemmensen played well in relief.
Sunday, Clemmensen was the victim of a bad Bryan Allen pass as Tampa Bay's Steve Downie intercepted the puck at the blue line and walked in on Clemmensen uncontested. Allen responded by smashing his stick on the goal cage.
The Panthers haven't released their frustration in that way since Keith Ballard went to smash the cage on Nov. 30 in Atlanta and hit Vokoun in the head instead.
“I didn't even see that,'' Clemmensen said with a laugh. “But you know what? I was mad at giving up the goal. Mistakes happen. As a goalie, I really wanted to make the save for Allen. I had a great read too. I knew he was shooting high-glove. And he beat me there anyway.''
Florida's Nick Tarnasky and Zenon Konopka fought twice in the opening period – with Konopka taking an instigator and game misconduct in the second bout. Florida tied the game on Horton's long shot (which struck Steven Stamkos' stick before beating Mike Smith) on the ensuing power play.
Less than five minutes later, Booth gave Florida its first lead after knocking in a shot from Byron Bitz. Just 46 seconds later, Stillman backhanded a shot to give the Panthers a 3-1 lead.
Clemmensen held the Lightning in check until Stamkos scored on a power play early in the third period. The Panthers bounced right back with Allen threading a pass to Weiss – who turned it into his 100th career NHL goal.
More importantly, it gave the Panthers much needed breathing room against a Lightning team without much fight left. Tampa Bay has lost seven of eight and slipped behind Florida in the standings.
“Those are key momentum shifts,'' said Weiss. “It's important for us not to sag when they score when they cut it one, then get one right away kind of takes the wind out their sails. Soon we get the fifth and the game is over.''
Tarnasky was back in the lineup after Gregory Campbell was forced to sit out after injuring his foot or possibly his ankle after being struck by a puck on Saturday. Campbell took a hard shot off the skate and limped off the ice, returning a few shifts later. Campbell ended up skating 20 shifts in 12 minutes.
“He's going to make the trip with us and we'll see what his pain tolerance is,'' said DeBoer, adding that Campbell was going to be re-examined Monday.
-- The Panthers power play was 1-for-5 on Sunday as DeBoer went with four forwards and a defenseman for the first time. Florida's top power play unit was Booth, Horton, Stillman, Weiss and defenseman Bryan McCabe. They were on the ice for Florida's lone power play goal.
Florida's power play definitely needed the juice. The Panthers came into the game ranked last in the league. The Panthers have converted on 42 of 276 chances (15 percent).
“It made a difference, with Horton back in the lineup,'' said DeBoer. “We talked about it for a while, but couldn't do it with Horton out. We thought it might open some things up. It makes a big difference for the power play.''
-- Sunday's win was Florida's 15th at home this season, keeping it tied with Boston and the Rangers for fewest in the Eastern Conference.