The Panthers scored seven goals in Friday night's victory over visiting Carolina but if it weren't for strong passing from Radek Dvorak or deft penalty killing from Marty Reasoner, the Panthers probably don't win.
Dvorak fed Chris Higgins and Reasoner for key goals as the Panthers held off their Southeast Division rivals 7-4 in front of an announced 14,761 at BankAtlantic Center. The two teams play again Saturday night in Raleigh, N.C.
All Reasoner did was help kill off Carolina's 5-on-3 advantage that would have lasted for a full two minutes had he not drawn Anton Babchuk into a penalty during it.
“It was a key point in the game where we had to buckle down,'' said Reasoner. “We did a good job of taking away what they want to do, get them off balance. I've made my money the past few years killing the penalty, but I'll take the goal any day.''
With the score tied at 3, Dvorak crashed toward the net and his nice pass allowed Higgins to beat Cam Ward and give the Panthers the lead back late in the second period.
Early in the third, Dvorak went back behind the net with the puck, reversed course, pulling Ward out of position. Dvorak sliced a pass to Reasoner on the right side of the net and he was able to give the Panthers a much-needed two-goal lead.
It may have been a little late revenge for Dvorak. Ward backstopped the Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup championship in 2006 over Dvorak's Edmonton Oilers. Ward was named the MVP of the 2006 postseason.
“This is a divisional game and we need these points against Carolina, Tampa, Atlanta,'' said Dvorak. “This was a huge game, especially with us playing them [Saturday].''
Reasoner's goal turned out to be huge as Sergei Samsonov – who played with Dvorak that Cup Finals season in Edmonton – answered just a few minutes later to cut Carolina's deficit to one.
Florida would finally be able to relax – after killing off a 5-on-3 chance for Carolina for almost two minutes – after Michael Frolik banged a puck past Ward with 2:47 remaining. That came seconds after Rostislav Olesz missed a wide open shot from point blank range.
Stephen Weiss, who scored Florida's second goal, added the final dagger by putting the puck in an empty net with 48.8 seconds remaining. The Panthers ended with 50 shots – giving them 105 in their previous two games. The franchise had never had 50 shots in successive games before this week.
“The first win in a home-and-home is obviously very important,'' said Higgins. “We have to keep it going, stay positive. Ten goals isn't too bad. We're playing an up-tempo style, putting pucks toward the net, funneling things to the net.''
Florida goalie Scott Clemmensen, getting some rare game action, held things down for the Panthers in the final 15 minutes. Clemmensen was in the game after coach Pete DeBoer gave starter Tomas Vokoun the early hook after Vokoun gave up two goals on seven shots.
“We had huge penalty kills and Clemm did a good job,'' DeBoer said. “Our best players were our best players. .-.-. It was a good game, it was definitely not an easy night behind the bench. That was like four games in one, but we got the right result.''
Vokoun's benching just 10:49 into the game was the second quickest pull in his four seasons with the Panthers. In 2007, he lasted just 7:10 into a game against Ottawa.
Vokoun put the blame of Wednesday's loss to Atlanta on himself after Florida outshot the Thrashers 55-23 yet lost 4-3. On Friday, Florida led 1-0 when David Booth picked up the puck in the Florida zone and took it all the way down the ice and shoved the puck past Ward just over two minutes into the game.
Only the Hurricanes stormed right back, getting goals from Erik Cole and Tim Gleason within a three minute span as Carolina took a 2-1 lead. That left the door wide open for Clemmensen to come in. He ended with 22 saves on 24 shots.