PANTHERS 4, AVALANCHE 3 (OT)
With all the injuries the Panthers have sustained over the past few weeks, don't be surprised if coach Pete DeBoer asked Brian Skrudland if he brought his skates to Tuesday's game.
Skrudland, the team's captain from 1993 until 1997, joined Colorado great Joe Sakic at center ice to drop the ceremonial puck.
Those two hockey legends wore their old sweaters but didn't suit up, although that fact couldn't have disappointed those who braved the South Florida cold to be at BankAtlantic Center. Tuesday's game was an exciting back-and-forth contest with the Panthers coming back from two deficits before Stephen Weiss broke the final deadlock less than a minute into overtime to lead Florida to a 4-3 win.
Before Tuesday, the Panthers had not won two straight since Nov. 10-12. The struggling Avs have lost six of seven including four straight.
Weiss' first goal of the night came right after Colorado's Daniel Winnik gave Colorado a 2-1 lead; David Booth's third period goal followed Matt Duchene's goal that gave the Avs a 3-2 advantage.
“It was a huge comeback goal,'' DeBoer said. “We've been in that situation a lot of times and haven't had a response. It was nice both our big guys responded to goal. That's what you need out of your best players.''
After going 21 games to start the season without playing in overtime, Florida has played in three of them in its past five. The Panthers have won all three of them.
“Overtime hasn't been our forte in the past,'' Weiss said. “Good teams find those points in overtime. We missed the playoffs by one point a few years ago. One or two points could be the difference in a season.''
The Panthers are missing four regular forwards as well as defenseman Bryan Allen because of injury and at times played a forward line consisting of players who have spent most of the season in the minors.
Bill Thomas, who is on a two-way contract and was one of Rochester's top players before being called up, got the Panthers on the board in the first when he poked the puck past former Florida backup goalie Craig Anderson 3:08 into the game.
The Avalanche battled back with two unanswered goals in the second period, but Weiss tied it with 1:05 left in the second. Florida trailed 3-2 early in the third, but Booth put the moves on Colorado's David Jones in the slot and slammed a hard shot past Anderson to tie the score again.
In overtime, Booth put up a shot that Anderson couldn't handle. Weiss was pulled down as he put a stick on it and beat his former teammate.
“Good job by [Booth] getting the puck to the net,'' Weiss said. “I'll gladly take the rebound goal.''
Anderson, who was 1-0-1 against the Panthers last season after leaving as a free agent on July 1, 2009, made 21 saves in the losing effort. Tomas Vokoun was back for the Panthers and made 22 saves in earning his 250th career win.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was in town for the annual Board of Directors meeting in Palm Beach and attended Tuesday's game as a guest of team president Michael Yormark.
In a brief meeting with local media, Bettman talked about a number of issues, including troubled franchises. Bettman repeated previous statements that some franchises need work, but says he's been impressed with the Panthers still drawing despite missing the playoffs for the past 10 years.
“If you go back not too many years ago, people said 'my word, what's going to happen to Ottawa or Pittsburgh or Buffalo','' Bettman said. “Those were all franchises that had issues that we fixed. We're comfortable that all of our markets can support our teams.''
When asked if he was worried about the Panthers losing cache within the South Florida sports market when LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined the Heat over the summer, Bettman was diplomatic.
“When a good sports community like South Florida is gets excited, it's good for all sports,'' said Bettman, who was an NBA executive before taking over the NHL in 1993. “This team is doing extraordinarily well.''
-- With all the injuries, the Panthers called up Evgeny Dadonov from their AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y. The Panthers now have four players who have been regulars at Rochester at one point this season.
Florida is missing Radek Dvorak (shoulder), Cory Stillman (back), Rostislav Olesz (finger) and Chris Higgins (foot) as well as Allen (foot). Allen could return Thursday at Washington.
“Any time someone got hurt, you would think about being the one called up,'' said Dadonov, who played in four games with Florida at the end of last year. “I want to be here. I tried to play hard down there, I will do that here.''
-- Scott Clemmensen said Tuesday that he wasn't upset at missing a start even though he stopped 40 shots and beat the host Coyotes on Saturday night. DeBoer said Monday that Vokoun would return to the net against the Avalanche.
“There's a lot of hockey left to be played, not only the rest of the year but this month, the next few weeks,'' Clemmensen said. “When you get the chance, do the best you can. I'll do that in the next start. Win or lose, you move on. That's the nature of this game, we play three or four times a week.
“You obviously want to play, but I'm not sulking because I'm not starting. I didn't assume I would. My role on this team is to be ready, not play back-to-back games.''