PANTHERS 2, WILD 1
BY GEORGE RICHARDS
With the Minnesota Wild completely down on itself after an embarrassing showing the previous night in Atlanta, it looked like the Panthers were going to have an easy game after scoring a pair of goals within a one minute span early in the first.
Minnesota coach Todd Richards promptly called a timeout, settled things down, and the Wild were definitely no pushover the rest of the way.
In fact, had defenseman Dennis Wideman not dove into the goal cage and saved a goal, it could have been a bad night for Florida. Wideman's one save – and the 22 from usual goalie Tomas Vokoun – helped the Panthers hold on for a 2-1 victory in Sunrise.
The game ended on a ugly note as the two teams fought as Steve Bernier hit the ice after being hit in the face by Minnesota's Brett Burns – while Burns was still clutching his stick.
Bernier is feared to have a broken cheekbone as he was taken by ambulance to Cleveland Clinic in Weston. Bernier, dressed in street clothes, was alert and drinking bottled water as he was carted from the Panthers dressing room to the Sunrise Fire & Rescue ambulance outside the arena.
Burns was given two penalties after the game. Cal Clutterbuck picked up five for fighting. Florida's Bryan Allen was assessed a penalty for cross-checking.
“It's disrespect for the game,'' said Mike Weaver. “Why do you need that? A player needs to respect another player.''
Said Burns: “I don’t know how it happened. I don’t know. It happened. I said sorry. I just saw he was bleeding there. I didn’t mean to do that. He just came at me, and I think it was my glove got him. I don’t know.''
What happpened was, Bernier checked Burns at the end of the game. Burns then facewashed Bernier with his right hand and then hit him with the butt-end of his stick with the left.
Florida came after the Wild from the start, peppering goalie Jose Theodore with seven shots in the first five minutes. Theodore didn't get much help on Florida's first goal as Chris Higgins swept in a rebound as a scrum broke out in front of the net and Theodore was blocked out of the fray by his own teammate.
Higgins' goal came at 6:53 of the first period. On the ensuing shift, Rostislav Olesz and Mike Santorelli broke loose on a 2-on-1 chance with Olesz sending a nice pass to his running mate for a 2-0 lead at the 7:46 mark.
“It was a quick start and we played our game and moved our feet,'' said Santorelli. “Things tightened up out there. It was a battle. They're a great team, a well-coached team and they are fast. They were battling hard. It was real competitive out there.''
Wideman had perhaps the play of the night a few minutes later. Cal Clutterbuck fired on Vokoun and it looked like he had squeezed the puck. Only it trickled out and headed toward the back of the net. Minnesota's Casey Wellman barely missed getting his outstretched stick on it as Wideman crashed through, covered up the puck and pushed it back.
“I was just right there and the shot squeaked through. He didn't get a stick on it so I had to keep it out of the crease,'' said Wideman, who chased after a loose puck that slipped through Vokoun's skates and kept it from crossing the goal line. “It never crossed. It didn't even touch the line.''
Clutterbuck ended up getting Minnesota's only goal late in the first as he fired a shot past Vokoun's paddle with 22 seconds left on a power play.
The win was Florida's second straight and third in four games as the team embarks on a tough four-game roadtrip with stops in Philadelphia, Atlanta, Boston and Long Island.
-- Winger Radek Dvorak set the franchise record for most games played as he passed friend and former teammate Robert Svehla.
When winger Cory Stillman went down with a shoulder injury on just his second shift of the night last Friday, the Panthers understandably feared the worst. After being examined on Saturday, it looked like Stillman might be out a month. A few days later, he was practicing.
Stillman missed just a week with his shoulder injury, returning to the lineup – and his spot with linemates Marty Reasoner and Dvorak – on Friday night against the Wild.
With Stillman back, Chris Higgins slid down to the fourth line and Darcy Hordichuk was a healthy scratch.
-- Defenseman Jason Garrison knew a bunch of friends from college would be watching Friday's game but he was forced to miss it because of his lingering groin injury. Garrison, an undrafted free agent signed out of the University of Minnesota-Duluth, has now missed four straight games with the injury. He's not expected to be in the lineup Saturday against Philadelphia, either.
-- Gulf War veteran and Panthers season ticket holder Andy Rubenstein dropped the ceremonial first puck Friday as the team celebrated Veterans Day. Rubenstein, from Davie, was joined by crew members from the USS Jason Dunham at center ice.
SATURDAY: PANTHERS AT FLYERS
When, Where: 7 p.m.; Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia
TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560
The series: Philadelphia leads 37-25-7
The game: The defending Eastern Conference champions play their first game at home in 10 games and come in with two straight wins – including an 8-1 thrashing of host Carolina on Thursday as Jeff Carter recorded a hat trick. The Panthers have played pretty well in Philadelphia of late, winning five of the past eight games. Florida took three of four against the Flyers last year, the only loss coming on Oct. 24 when David Booth got knocked out on an open-ice hit by Mike Richards.