BLACKHAWKS 4, PANTHERS 0
CHICAGO – Tomas Vokoun sat in front of his stall inside the United Center's visiting locker room with his pads and skates still on for a good 10 minutes after Wednesday's 4-0 loss to the Blackhawks.
After finally stripping off his gear, Vokoun was ready to talk. Some of his teammates aren't going to like what he had to say.
“You look at the goals, I don't know what to say. It's the same players over and over,'' said Vokoun, who didn't give up his first goal until late in the second period despite constant harrassment from the defending Stanley Cup champions.
“We haven't scored in two games and we're giving up 3-on-2s, guys are pinching up. It is what it is, but that's not 'playing for the team' to me. They're just hoping to get one goal. It's tough. We're in a bad situation and it's been tough around here. This shows you have to play for the other guy and we didn't do that in the third period. They have [Patrick] Kane and [Jonathan] Toews. We can't play run-and-gun with those guys.''
Vokoun is obviously frustrated after losing twice in as many nights despite playing as well as he probably can. On Tuesday, he stopped 32 of 33 shots in a 1-0 loss to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Wednesday at the Madhouse on Madison, the Blackhawks took aim at Vokoun 21 times before Brent Seabrook scored on a power play with 5:19 left in the second period.
Then, Viktor Stalberg scored just 46 seconds into the third to give the Blackhawks a 2-0 lead. The wind came out of the Panthers sail and a team desperate to score did just about anything it could to get on the board. That left Vokoun on an island.
“I understand Tomas' frustration. Guys are trying, the effort is there,'' coach Pete DeBoer said. “When your haven't scored in two games, guys are going to push and they are going to be out of position. Tomas has given us two outstanding games. He wants to win. I would disagree that it's a selfish thing. Guys are competing. Our margin of error is very small.''
The Panthers have done little to help Vokoun offensively the past two nights, with Corey Crawford becoming the second goalie to pitch a shutout against the Panthers in as many nights. On Tuesday, Henrik Lundqvist had to stop just 22 shots. Crawford was forced to stop 23 on Wednesday.
Florida hasn't scored a goal since Stephen Weiss tied Saturday's game against the Islanders in the third period. The Panthers drought: 2 hours 11 minutes 24 seconds of ice time. Weiss has missed the past two games with a leg injury but said he could return Friday against Buffalo. The Panthers sure could use him.
Since the Panthers officially waved the white flag last month, Vokoun has been solid. Save for the quick hook he got after giving up two goals on three shots against Montreal on March 9, the Panthers haven't been able to complain about his play.
Starting with the shootout win in Atlanta on Feb. 25 – in which he stopped 45 of 46 shots -- Vokoun has returned 226 of 245 shots for a success rate of 92 percent.
But Vokoun doesn't want to be playing some of his best hockey of the season for a team going nowhere – except, perhaps, further down in the league standings. Vokoun has only been to the playoffs twice in his 13 year career and he would much rather be helping a team make it to the postseason than just running out the string.
The Panthers have eight more games remaining before Vokoun can become an unrestricted free agent.
“We're trying to score, yes, but everyone on the ice has a responsibility,'' Vokoun said. “We're just not playing smart hockey. I have a pretty good idea what's wrong, but it's not for the newspaper.''
Tyler Plante has heard how Jacob Markstrom is called the Panthers 'goalie of the future.' Yet if Vokoun doesn't return, Plante could be in the running to back up Scott Clemmensen if the team decides to not sign a starting-caliber goalie during the free agency period.
Obviously that's a long way off with plenty of ifs and buts. The only thing Plante knows is he has played well for Florida's AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y., and probably deserves at least a look.
“I'm just pushing forward, trying to end as strong as I can,'' said Plante, recalled from Rochester on Tuesday after Clemmensen tweaked his knee Saturday against the Islanders. “I think I've been solid this year, feel like I've showed consistency and an ability to win games. I just have to keep showing that.''
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Tomas Overheats: Vokoun Upset With Defensive Lapses ... Panthers Haven't Scored in 2-plus Hours after 4-0 loss in Chicago
BLACKHAWKS 4, PANTHERS 0