BRUINS 2, PANTHERS 1
BOSTON – The Panthers probably didn't deserve to win after the way they played Tuesday night in New York, only thanks to a fluke goal in the third, they somehow did just that.
Florida didn't really deserve to win Wednesday night, either, although the Panthers made a better case for themselves with a strong showing in the third. This time, however, the opposing goalie made sure Florida went home for the All-Star break empty handed.
Tim Thomas, who will be playing in the NHL festival in North Carolina this weekend, continued to control the Panthers offense as he made 34 saves as the Bruins swept the four-game season series from Florida with a 2-1 win at the Garden.
The Panthers scored four goals in four games against the Bruins this season.
“He's one of the best goalies in the league and when he sees the puck, he's going to stop it,'' winger David Booth said. “You have to get rebound goals against him. That's what we needed.''
The loss was Florida's fifth in its final six games going into the short weekend reprieve. The Panthers failed to pick up any more ground on division rivals Atlanta or Carolina in the race for the final playoff spot.
The Panthers, down 2-0 in the third, pulled to within one when defenseman Bryan Allen scored midway through the period. Florida had numerous other chances – including when Dennis Wideman and Chris Higgins went after Thomas later in the period – but couldn't find another goal.
“He's a frustrating guy to play against because he's not the most orthodox goalie,'' Higgins said. “He just throws himself in front of the puck. They're a solid defensive team and don't give up too many chances. Thomas made some big saves, especially in the third. You would like to gain a little confidence against a team like this. These guys seem to have our number.''
Florida may have lost center Shawn Matthias for a considerable amount of time after he was helped off the ice after he could barely stand after getting jammed against the boards.
Matthias, who has 13 goals and 19 assists in 102 games over the past two seasons, was driving hard at the net when he was pulled down by Adam McQuaid while putting a shot up against Thomas. Matthias whipped back and slid hard into the boards.
Matthias tossed his stick aside as he tried to get back up, only he couldn't support himself and he tried crawling along the side boards back to the Florida bench. An official finally – and mercifully – stopped play allowing teammates and trainers to come to his aid. Matthias was helped to the locker room and didn't return.
“It doesn't look good,'' coach Pete DeBoer said of Matthias' ankle injury. “We'll know more when we see a better picture of it. But it doesn't look good.''
Boston controlled the flow of the game as the Panthers were playing their second in as many nights – although the Bruins played in Los Angeles on Monday.
In the first period, Brad Marchand gave Boston the opening lead with a wraparound goal Tomas Vokoun (the game's third star with 33 saves) was a step late on. The play was reviewed in Toronto but the decision came back quickly as the puck obviously went past Vokoun's stick and over the line.
Milan Lucic gave the Bruins a two-goal cushion just before the Matthias injury at 1:52 of the second period. Lucic scored three goals against the Panthers in Florida's previous visit to Boston, a 4-0 Bruins victory on Nov. 18.
Former Panthers winger Nathan Horton, who assisted on all three of Lucic's goal in November, continues to struggle. Horton, who told general manager Dale Tallon he wouldn't mind leaving South Florida and then promptly got his wish, has one goal in his past 20 games and none in 10. Horton opened the season with seven goals in his first 12 games. Horton has 12 goals in 48 games this season.
Panthers prospect Erik Gudbranson was suspended indefinitely by the Ontario Hockey League on Wednesday after the 19-year-old defenseman crushed a forward from a rival team in retaliation for a hit put on a teammate.
Gudbranson, playing for the Kingston Frontenacs, went after Oshawa's J.P. Labardo after Labardo dropped Kingston goalie Philipp Grubauer with an open-ice hit. This is the second suspension this month for Gudbranson – the third overall pick of the 2010 draft. He was suspended for a game last week and stripped of his title as alternate captain by the team after he apparently got into a shouting match with members of his coaching staff.
Panthers assistant general manager Mike Santos said the team is not concerned with the suspensions as one (insubordination) had nothing to do with the other (defending a teammate). Labardo was suspended five games for his hit to the head of the Kingston goalie.
“He's an 18-year-old kid who has had a lot of things thrown at him in the past couple of months,'' Santos said. “He realized he spoke out of line a little bit and is willing to pay for that and did that with the one game suspension. He didn't lose any respect from his coaches or teammates. I want a guy who plays with a little edge, is a little nasty. But he's a kid and has to grow into that.''
In an interesting twist, Panthers coach Pete DeBoer is a part-owner of the Oshawa Generals. He said Wednesday that he has very little contact with the franchise as far as day-to-day operations go, and says he has never even met Labardo. DeBoer and former NHL winger Adam Graves bought the Generals last year. DeBoer had been coach and general manager of the OHL's Kitchener Rangers.
“As long as there wasn't an injury,'' DeBoer said, “I'm probably more concerned about Erik than I am about anything else.''
-- The Panthers used the same lineup Wednesday as they did Tuesday against the New York Rangers, meaning Vokoun got his second straight start since missing Sunday's game with a muscle pull. Steve Bernier, who has one goal in the past 24 games, was a healthy scratch for the second straight night as was defenseman Joe Callahan.
Callahan was sent back to Florida's AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y., following the game.