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Sunk by the Hurricanes: Florida Panthers Blow Early 3-0 Lead, Lose 4-3 in Sunrise

Titanic After a crummy loss in Raleigh last year, then-general manager Randy Sexton used the Titanic as a comparison when talking about his team.

The famous 'Letter from the Owners' came soon afterward.

I wonder what Randy would say about this one?

You can guess the kind of language Dale Tallon was using after the game. Lets just say they won't need to salt the popcorn in the press box for a few weeks.

HURRICANES 4, PANTHERS 3

BY GEORGE RICHARDS
grichards@MiamiHerald.com

The Panthers have blown their share of big leads to divisional rival Carolina over the past few years, but even Wednesday's debacle had some players unable to come up with words to describe it.

Coach Pete DeBoer and goalie Tomas Vokoun were not among that group.

“It's inexcusable to lose a lead like that,'' DeBoer said after his team watched visiting Carolina score four unanswered goals to beat the Panthers 4-3 at BankAtlantic Center. “There's no sugarcoating it. We didn't get any of the right plays at the right times from our goaltender on out. It's inexcusable at this time of year, the importance of that game. Not more you can say than that.''

Vokoun, who gave up three goals – including two to Tuomo Ruutu – in the third period, was pretty hard on himself after the loss. Florida had led 3-0 just over six minutes into the game.

“This one hurts, it's probably the toughest loss in my career,'' Vokoun said. “What can I say? It was my mistake, I can't make that at this time of the year. I'm disappointed in myself and there are no excuses. I can't do anything now to fix it. It's tough.''

Carolina, which had lost five of its past six games, pulled its goalie just minutes into the game but stuck around as the Panthers did little for much outside of those opening few minutes.

As expected, the Hurricanes finally woke up, scoring their first goal with just over five minutes left in the second when Erik Cole followed up a shot from 18-year-old center Jeff Skinner to make it 3-1. Carolina cut the deficit to just one early in the third when Jamie McBain knocked a rebound past Vokoun.

The Panthers did themselves in late in the third as both Michael Frolik and Jason Garrison were called for penalties 54 seconds apart. Tuomo Ruutu tied the score when he scored during Carolina's two-man advantage, then got the game-winner a few minutes later when he whipped a shot from the slot on Carolina's 31st shot of the night.

Carolina had been 0-11-1 when trailing going into the third period.

Florida chased Ward early as Evgeny Dadonov got his first NHL goal just 29 seconds into the game and Frolik scored his seventh of the season just over a minute later. Florida had a two-man advantage of its own later in the first with Bryan McCabe getting a power play goal by one-timing a shot from beyond the right circle. Replacement goalie Justin Peters gave up that McCabe goal but was strong for much of the night.

KULIKOV BENCHED

DeBoer made second-year defenseman Dmitry Kulikov a healthy scratch for the first time in the 20-year-old's career. Kulikov hasn't had a strong sophomore season, and with Bryan Allen back from a broken foot and Keaton Ellerby still up from the minors, DeBoer had an extra spot to play with.

“I think it’s been a while coming,'' DeBoer said. “We tried to let him play his way through it. I think his play has gotten better but there's still too much inconsistency night to night. .-.-. I think he’ll benefit from sitting up top and watching. Frankly, he hasn’t outplayed Keaton Ellerby lately. Ellerby deserves to play.''

-- DeBoer said Cory Stillman's fractured disc in his back will not require surgery – and Stillman could start light skating Thursday. Rostislav Olesz, DeBoer said, is close to returning from his broken finger.

-- Prospects Erik Gudbranson and Quinton Howden – first round picks this past June – were selected for Team Canada's entry in the upcoming world junior tournament held in Buffalo. “Next to playing in the Stanley Cup Final,'' DeBoer said, “I don’t think theres a greater thrill than representing your country on a national stage like that in a big tournament on Christmas. That’s great for them.''

FAN TALK

Panthers owner Cliff Viner joined team president Michael Yormark, general manager Dale Tallon and assistant general manager Mike Santos hosted a 'town hall' meeting with select fans prior to Wednesday's game in Sunrise.

“We're all in this together. Everyone wants the Panthers to win,'' Tallon said. “No one wants to go through nine, 10 years of not being in the playoffs. Everyone here has the same objective and that's to win the Stanley Cup. .-.-. There's no easy fix. Let's embrace the process and look for solutions, not excuses. That's the message to our players, our coaches, our scouts, our coaches. Find a way to get it done.''

When challenged by a fan, Yormark vehemently defended the team's efforts in selling tickets to fans of other teams – the team is marketing home games in cities like Montreal, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia -- saying he wished the team didn't have to do that.

“It's about economics,'' Yormark said. “We need to fill this building every single game and we're selling hockey here. We need to take advantage of being a destination market for snowbirds and vacationers and put hockey fans in the building. I understand the frustration, and if all things were equal, I wish we didn't have to do that.''

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