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Panthers Plan: Play a Team Game, All the Way Through

Hoosiers2CALGARY – The Panthers came out of their opening roadtrip with just two of six points, getting their first win on Thursday in Calgary against the host Flames.

There is little doubt, however, that the Panthers feel pretty good about themselves as they play their home opener Saturday night against the Lightning in Sunrise.

The Panthers dominated the Flames on Thursday just as they had the Edmonton Oilers in Sunday's season opener. The Panthers have played nine complete periods since the season has started, losing 3-2 to the Oilers off three fluke goals and dropping a 2-1 decision to Vancouver thanks to superb play by goalie Roberto Luongo and Daniel Sedin.

“This is the best start we've been off to since I've been here although the record isn't,'' said David Booth, who picked up his second assist in the first three games. “We keep playing games like this and we're going to win. In the past, we would be happy with just playing two good games or two good periods. We played nine good periods this trip and we have to keep rolling like this.''

In all honesty, the Panthers could be coming home with five or six points instead of just two. In years past, however, losing those close games probably would have meant disaster for the Panthers in Game 3. The Panthers have been a fragile bunch, but it appears general manager Dale Tallon's makeover in his first months on the job have been a success.

Yes, the Panthers still need scoring and have to play a perfect game to even hope to pull out a win. But the Panthers have shown they are willing to do anything to win and go after opponents from horn to horn.

“I think we deserved better in the first two games, so it was nice to be rewarded for the hard work,'' said Marty Reasoner. “This is something we've been building to and would like it to be the standard for the rest of the year. If we can do that, we're going to have success. You never feel good about losses, but we knew we were playing the right way. Sometimes you don't get the bounces in this game.''

After dismantling the Flames on Thursday, the “peppy Panthers'' as the Calgary Sun described them, may have converted at least some of the naysayers. Both The Hockey News and Sports Illustrated picked the Panthers to end the season last in the Eastern Conference. Florida went into Friday with the same amount of points as the 2009 Stanley Cup champion Penguins.

“They're great right now. The way they played reminded me of how we played two years ago,'' said Vancouver defenseman Keith Ballard, traded west over the summer. “Lines one through four are all buying in, doing the same thing. They just need to be consistent and do it every night. They can't count on one or two guys doing it all.''

DVORAK BRINGS IT

Radek Dvorak got the Panthers off to a great start on Thursday, scoring a pair of goals within the opening eight minutes of the game. The Panthers carried that 2-0 lead into the third period, with Shawn Matthias taking a nice pass from Radek Dvorak and beating Mikka Kiprusoff for the final tally.

“Every time you play with the lead you're more relaxed,'' said Dvorak. “We played with more confidence. We were good on the forecheck and the backcheck. Overall, I think we owned the game.''

SATURDAY: LIGHTNING AT PANTHERS
When; Where: 7 p.m.; BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FS Florida; 560-AM
The Series: Panthers lead 49-33-10
The Game: This is Florida's home opener. The two cross-state rivals split the season series for the second straight year. The Lightning won the final two games of the 2009-10 regular season, helping the Panthers secure the third overall pick in the 2010 draft. .-.-. The Bolts are off to a 3-0 start under new coach Guy Boucher, with wins over Atlanta, Montreal and Philadelphia. Steven Stamkos, who has six goals and four assists in 11 games against Florida, already has four goals this season. .-.-. The team is asking fans to wear blue for Saturday's game.


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