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Florida Panthers Squander Another Lead, Come Back and Beat Capitals 4-3 in OT


It's considered one of the more classic scenes in a series full of them. In the third season of the NBC hit Seinfeld, Jerry goes to pick up a rental car. He's told they have his reservation, only they don't have the vehicle he wanted.

“You just don't know how to hold the reservation and that's really the most important part of the reservation, the holding,'' the comedian rants, his arms flailing about.

“Anybody can just take them.''

The Panthers have become very good at taking early leads. But boy, they sure can't hold them. Perhaps, with the Heat hogging most of the local spotlight, they are doing it for dramatic effect.

Florida, which led the powerhouse Capitals by three in the second period, found themselves in a familiar position Tuesday night as Washington roared back and tied it.

The Panthers polished things off, however, as Dennis Wideman whipped a power play shot in overtime that beat Michal Neuvirth and gave the Panthers a much-needed 4-3 win at BankAtlantic Center.

“It was a big lift. We've struggled with the lead and any kind of confidence builder, where we get the right result, I'll take right now,'' coach Pete DeBoer said. “When you build a lead, sometimes you forget what you did well to get there. We weren't under duress much of the night. But that's a team that can capitalize. Give them a good look and they're going to put it in. That's a tough team to beat so we'll take the two points.''

The Panthers, who got three power play goals for the first time this season, have won two of three against the Capitals this season. Tuesday's win snapped a three-game losing streak. In Florida's past nine games, they have held at least a two-goal lead in six of them. The Panthers gave up the lead in five of those games and Tuesday's victory was just their third under those circumstances.


“Sure, it sucks,'' said center Stephen Weiss, who assisted on three of Florida's goals. “You work so hard to get the lead and then they're right back into it. That's when you can't worry about it and keep playing. No one cares that we gave up three goals now. We won the game. That's what it comes down to. If you're down three and lose, it doesn't really matter.''

The Panthers jumped all over the Capitals, looking to not only avenge Saturday's loss in Washington but to perhaps show they deserved to have at least one player in the upcoming All-Star Game.

Florida's last-place power play got a jolt in the first period when Washington was called for successive penalties, giving the Panthers a two-man advantage for a full two minutes. Weiss was stoned by goalie Michal Neuvirth on a point blank shot just before Mike Santorelli rang one off the crossbar. Florida quickly came back down and scored the first goal as Santorelli followed up on a rebound off a Weiss shot.

The Panthers, which later scored another power play goal while holding the advantage, hadn't scored on the power play since Jan. 2 against the Rangers. Florida had gone a whopping 279 minutes, 32 seconds without a power play goal.

“Hopefully that's the start of the second half,'' said DeBoer, whose team played their 41st game on Tuesday. “We need to get that going.''

Washington, however, wouldn't be denied. Marcus Johansson got his first of the night midway through the second by putting one past goalie Tomas Vokoun. Later in the period, Mike Knuble took a slick pass from Alex Ovechkin on a breakout and had little problem finding the back of the net.

Johansson tied the score in the third during a scrum in front of the net. Vokoun had initially made a save by trapping the puck, but he opened his legs just enough to allow the puck to sneak on through.

The Panthers had a great chance to win the game in overtime when Mike Green went to the box for hooking Cory Stillman 57 seconds in. Wideman took advantage just as the penalty was coming to a close, scoring from the left side.

“That's a good team and they are going to score some goals,'' Wideman said. “We did our best and stuck with them and got the win. I thought we played well in Washington, had some chances. Both goalies played well tonight but the power play was the difference. I haven't said that a lot this year, eh?''


The players who will compete in the upcoming All-Star Game were released Tuesday, and barring a player being named a replacement in the coming weeks, the Panthers won't be represented. Since the franchise's inception in 1993, Florida has had at least one player on an All-Star team save for 1998.

Phoenix, Buffalo and the New York Islanders also were shutout from the All-Star Game.

Rookie Evgeny Dadonov is the lone representative from Florida selected to compete at All-Star Weekend as he was picked for the rookie skills challenge. Florida had David Booth, Bryan McCabe and Tomas Vokoun on the All-Star ballot, but the three got very little support and received the fewest votes at their respective positions.

The All-Star Game is schedule to be played Jan. 30 at the RBC Center in Raleigh, N.C.

-- Mark Cullen spent the summer preparing for a chance to make the Panthers out of training camp, yet a freak injury during the team's opening-day physicals cost him that opportunity. “I never even saw the ice,'' Cullen joked on Tuesday.

Cullen needed Achilles tendon surgery after getting hurt running sprints, saying he made a quick stop and felt something pop. “I went down in a heap,'' he said. Cullen will likely to be assigned to Florida's AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y., once he is cleared to play. Cullen is in South Florida rehabbing, and says he hopes to be allowed to play in the coming weeks.

“It's been obviously frustrating. Things were going really well over the offseason and to have this happen was awful,'' said Cullen, who has been rehabbing in his native Fargo, N.D. “My goal is to be back by the end of the month, but we'll see what happens. It feels great to be back on the ice.''