Dale Tallon couldn't help but beam with pride as he watched Tuesday's game from high atop the BankAtlantic Center.
His new team, the homestanding Panthers, picked up three goals in the opening period to take a commanding lead on the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks – the team Tallon built into a winner before being asked to step aside.
Tallon's attitude didn't change as his former team made a comeback everyone in the building saw coming because the Panthers held their ground, withstanding a barrage of shots to pull off a 3-2 upset of the reigning champs.
Florida snapped Chicago's eight-game winning streak all while ending a five-game skid of its own. The Blackhawks outshot Florida 29-7 in the final 40 minutes but Tomas Vokoun stood strong and truly earned the win.
“It was a nice win. I was happy for our guys,'' said coach Pete DeBoer, who claimed his 100th NHL victory. “In the second and third they cranked it up a notch. We didn't try to do anything different, but they are that good. We bent but didn't break and got some big saves at the end.''
The Panthers came out flying like they haven't in a long time, getting three goals in the first period for the first time since winning in Buffalo on Dec. 23.
David Booth got the scoring started when he followed up a long shot from Michal Repik and put the puck past starting goalie Corey Crawford 4:06 into the game.
The Panthers quieted the large contingent of Chicago fans – some wearing Blackhawks gear, although many represented the Bears or Cubs – by taking a 2-0 lead when defenseman Clay Wilson slipped a shot past Crawford just before the midway point of the period.
The goal was Wilson's first in the NHL this season and only the second of his career. On March 26, 2008, Wilson got his first NHL goal as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets. That goal also came against the Blackhawks.
Florida didn't seem too aggressive against Chicago the rest of the period with the defending champs cranking up the pressure on Vokoun. But as the clock ticked down on the first, Marty Reasoner – who was a member of the Blackhawks for about five minutes last summer – fired off a shot that found its way to the back of the net for a 3-0 advantage.
It was the last shot Crawford would see on Tuesday as veteran Marty Turco was summoned from the bullpen to start the second.
“There's no animosity. I never even put on the jersey or even flew to Chicago,'' said Reasoner, who went to Chicago in a trade with Atlanta just before the draft. The Blackhawks traded him to Florida a month later. “We got a break late in the period and that can be a difference maker. If we could have got one early in the second it would have made our lives much easier.''
The Panthers didn't do much to work the rust off of Turco – who hadn't played since Feb. 11 in Dallas – as Florida got off just four shots in the second period. The Blackhawks, however, did a whole lot more.
Chicago looked like a different bunch in the second period as they peppered Vokoun with shots and turned things around in a hurry. The Blackhawks outshot the defensive-minded (read: hang on for dear life) Panthers 15-4 in the second period as they cut their deficit to one in that frame.
Patrick Kane, the first overall pick by Tallon and the Hawks in 2007, picked up Chicago's first goal at 11:03 of the second when he fired a pass from Brian Campbell (another Tallon acquisition) past Vokoun. Just over two minutes later, Marian Hossa – one of the last players Tallon signed before being demoted – made it 3-2 as he punched a pass from Dave Bolland past Vokoun.
Vokoun was assaulted by the Blackhawks in the third as Chicago dominated play as if they were the Monsters of the Midway. Chicago threw everything it had at the Panthers goaltender as Florida's defense gamely tried to keep the puck away. Vokoun tossed 14 pucks aside in the third period alone as Florida rarely even ventured into Chicago territory.
The Florida goalie ended up with 37 saves and has won eight of his past 11 starts against Chicago dating back to his days in Nashville.
“It's disappointing we're not going to the playoffs but you still have to perform,'' Vokoun said. “They're a great team. They're kicking it into a whole different playoff gear right now but we battled hard. Obviously it wasn't pretty but it's a big win.''
The Panthers brought winger Tim Kennedy up from their AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y., after he cleared re-entry waivers at noon on Tuesday. Kennedy, acquired from the Rangers in the Bryan McCabe trade, made his 2010-11 NHL debut against the Blackhawks.
Kenndal McArdle was sent back to Rochester to replace Kennedy.
Kennedy had spent this entire season in the minor leagues despite a strong 2009-10 season with Buffalo. After Kennedy was awarded a $1 million salary by an arbiter last summer, the Sabres walked away from the deal and he was signed by the Rangers.
Kennedy didn't make the Rangers out of training camp and was sent to the AHL where the Rangers kept him because they felt they would lose him for nothing coming through re-entry waivers (in which a team that claimed him only had to pay half of his salary).
Florida felt secure that Kennedy wouldn't be claimed because after AHL rosters were set on Monday, Kennedy couldn't play for anyone but the Panthers or Rochester for the rest of this season.
“He would have been picked up last week for sure,'' general manager Dale Tallon said, “just to be on someone's AHL playoff roster.''
-- DeBoer said defenseman Alexander Sulzer will likely miss at least a week with a rib injury. Sulzer was hurt Saturday in Atlanta and replaced in the lineup by Wilson.