PANTHERS 5, FLYERS 0
BY GEORGE RICHARDS
PHILADELPHIA – After Monday night's game, the Flyers don't play again until three days after Christmas.
When asked if he was a little envious of Philadelphia's quirky scheduling break, Panthers coach Pete DeBoer smiled and said he was more jealous of other things the defending Eastern Conference champions possess. “It's not just their schedule,'' DeBoer chuckled.
For one night, anyway, it was the Flyers who coveted something the Panthers had.
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette warned of his team falling into a trap against the Panthers but that's exactly what happened Monday as the Panthers jumped to a big lead before sending the Flyers to their lengthy break with a 5-0 defeat before a capacity crowd in south Philly.
“Never mind early leads, scoring three or four goals a night is something we're not used to,'' DeBoer said. “Pucks are going in for us. When that's happening, and you're on a streak, you better make sure you're putting points [in the standings].''
The first-place Flyers, who had won five straight and seven of their previous eight, went through the motions early – and the Panthers made them pay. By the time Green Day's Holiday was played over the PA with seven minutes left, it was obvious the Flyers had already been on vacation.
“We're playing with heart and working hard, getting to the loose pucks,'' said Mike Santorelli, who scored Florida's fourth goal. “Putting those pucks to the net is key. They have a great team and we had to stay on our game for 60 minutes. A lot of offensive power.''
Florida, for its part, didn't do much in the first half of the first but picked up the pace and went into the break with a 2-0 lead.
The Panthers, who have won two straight and five of seven, got its first goal with 2:33 left in the opening period after Bill Thomas fired a shot that deflected off Oskars Bartulis and past goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. The Panthers scored again less than two minutes later when Evgeny Dadonov chased down a loose puck and flew past Matt Carle before pulling Bobrovsky out the crease and putting the puck in the emptied net.
In the past three games, Florida has outscored its opponents 9-0 in the opening period and 14-6 overall. In consecutive wins, the Panthers have outscored the Sabres and Flyers by a combined 11-2.
“The first period is critical for us,'' DeBoer said before the game. “We had some bad starts and addressed it and have had real good starts the past few games.''
The Panthers continued to pour it on in the second period, sending Bobrovsky to the bench in the process. Bobrovsky has played extremely well for the Flyers and came into the night tied for third in wins. With the injured Michael Leighton back, Philadelphia is carrying three netminders so there is plenty of competition for starts.
Bobrovsky sure didn't look all that special against a Panthers team playing a smart team game. In the second, Shawn Matthias pushed a loose puck past Bobrovsky after Marty Reasoner hit the post at 3:53 of the period. Later on, Santorelli teed off on a pretty crossing pass from Steve Bernier on Florida's 24th shot of the night – ending Bobrovsky's night prematurely.
For the third straight game, the Panthers sent the starting goalie to the bench as Bobrovsky joined Carolina's Cam Ward and Buffalo's Ryan Miller as Florida casualties this week. Brian Boucher came on in relief and stopped nine of 10, his only goal surrendered coming off a long slap shot from Dmitry Kulikov.
With the Panthers scoring at a rapid (for them) clip, goalie Tomas Vokoun has been a little overlooked. Vokoun, who took the brunt of the blame for last week's 4-3 loss to Carolina, has now stopped 67 of 69 shots in the past two games.
The shutout was Vokoun's second in the past five games and fourth this season.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game for them being before the break as they're home for Christmas,'' Vokoun said. “It's easier to play with the lead. We've lost some tough games but have come back strong against good teams.''
-- Vokoun picked up his first assist of the season as he got the second helper on Thomas' goal. Vokoun had two assists last season, six for the Panthers in 2007-08 and now has 19 in his career.
-- With the victory against the Flyers, Florida is 7-10-0 against teams within the top eight in their respective conferences this season with wins in three of its past four against teams currently holding a playoff position.
Florida Panthers Pull Something Funny in Philadelphia: Tomas Vokoun Strong in 5-0 Win v. Flyers
PANTHERS 5, FLYERS 0