PANTHERS 2, THRASHERS 1
BY GEORGE RICHARDS
ATLANTA – Going into the final period clutching a tenuous one goal lead, the Panthers knew they were in for a wild ride. The Thrashers, after all, were thoroughly outplayed in the second period but were close enough to know they could get the better of their divisional rivals.
Only Tomas Vokoun wouldn't let the Thrashers beat him again.
Two weeks after Vokoun let in a pair of goals that allowed the Thrashers to escape Sunrise with an improbable win, the Florida goalie slammed the door shut as he threw back 18 shots down the stretch as the Panthers won 2-1 in front of an intimate gathering at Philips Arena.
“I thought we deserved to beat them the last time we played in Florida,'' coach Pete DeBoer said. “They controlled the third period, but it was two desperate teams battling for 60 minutes. You had desperation on both sides of the ice and the momentum shifted drastically both ways.''
Atlanta, which beat the Panthers despite being outshot 55-23 on Nov. 3, dominated the play in the third period but couldn't solve Vokoun. The Panthers held a 31-21 shot advantage going into the third; Atlanta ended up winning that 39-34.
The Panthers improved to 3-6-0 on the road with wins in four of six.
“I didn't have a good game the last time out. That was one we should have won and didn't,'' said Vokoun, who has surrendered one goal in each of his past three starts. “You always want to bounce back. We haven't had much success in this building so it's a big win. We have to get our confidence on the road. Hopefully this is a start.''
Vokoun let in a goal he would have loved to have back in the opening period as Zach Bogosian beat him as Atlanta went into the second up 1-0. But Stephen Weiss pulled the Panthers even as he took a pass from Cory Stillman, charged in on Ondrej Pavelec and backhanded the puck past him 1:13 into the period.
The Panthers then began peppering the shorthanded Thrashers as they played without defenseman Dustin Byfuglien after he was knocked out after being struck by a shot. Florida took 16 shots in the second period and kept the heat on as it kept the puck deep in the Atlanta zone. After three or four shifts of nothing but pressure on Pavelec, Florida finally broke through when Chris Higgins fed Radek Dvorak in the slot. The Panthers should have added more, but with Vokoun in a zone, the one goal lead would stand.
“Obviously Tomas kept us in it, but we did enough damage in the second to get us the win,'' Weiss said. “We've had a lot of interesting games in this building, a lot of weird stuff it seems like. We're definitely happy to get two points out of here.''
Florida's win did not come without some pain. Michael Frolik lost a tooth after being struck in the face with a stick during the third period.
Winger David Booth left the game in the final seconds after he was struck in the knee by a hard shot from Bogosian. Booth went down to the ice before finally getting up to try and play a little defense as the Thrashers went with an empty net. Booth limped into the training room. After the game he said the injury didn't appear to be serious.
The Panthers visit Boston for the first time this season on Thursday although the team was there not too long ago, beating the Bruins 3-2 in a shootout during the preseason. Florida was 2-0 against the Bruins during the exhibition season – and have been good in Boston the past few seasons.
Florida won both games at TD Garden last season and have won seven of the past 10 there.
The Panthers will reacquaint themselves with Nathan Horton (8 goals, 6 assists) and Gregory Campbell (1-3) as they face their former team for the first time. Both were drafted by Florida but traded away in the summer.
-- Even though Vokoun is playing so well, the Panthers could go with Scott Clemmensen against the Bruins based on his past. Not only did he stop Boston in the preseason, but he's 5-3-0 against the Bs all-time with two shutouts.
THURSDAY: PANTHERS AT BRUINS
When/Where: 7 p.m.; TD Garden, Boston
TV/Radio: FSNF; 560-WQAM
The series: Panthers lead 30-27-6
The game: The Bruins snapped a two-game losing streak by beating the Devils on Monday night. The Bruins played the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday; Boston is 1-2 in the second game of a back-to-back series. The Panthers are 0-3 in such situations. .-.-. The Bruins haven't been very good at home this season. Boston's 3-4-1 home record is ranked 24th in the league. Coming into Wednesday, the Panthers two road wins were tied for fewest in the league.
Florida Panthers Get Rare Road Win: Thanks Mr. Vokoun! Panthers 2, Thrashers 1
PANTHERS 2, THRASHERS 1
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