PANTHERS 1, CAPITALS 0
Pete DeBoer likely coached his final game with the Florida Panthers on Saturday night. Tomas Vokoun may have backstopped his final game with the team as well.
If that is indeed the case, the two leave South Florida in winning fashion.
Thanks to a late goal from Bill Thomas and 28 saves from Vokoun, the Panthers ended what has turned into a miserable season on successful terms as Florida beat Washington 1-0 in its season finale at BankAtlantic Center.
Vokoun, who hadn't played since injuring his back March 27 at Pittsburgh, recorded his sixth shutout of the season, 44th of his career and 23rd since joining the Panthers in 2007.
“We've been talking about this for two month. [My emotions] are mixed,'' said DeBoer, who could learn his fate as early as Sunday. “I have had a lot of time for this to sink in. I'm not just dealing with it overnight. Again, we got the guys ready to play and they played right to the buzzer in the last game. I'm proud of the effort, not of the results.''
Vokoun had been working with the Panthers for a week saying he didn't want to have his season cut short because of a back injury as last season had. He looked forward to playing Saturday as the Panthers saluted their fans – an announced 18,371 were on hand – as Vokoun said afterward that they deserve plenty of credit for sticking around a team that hasn't made the playoffs for what is now an NHL record 10 straight seasons.
“What can you say? It's been tough,'' Vokoun said. “I'm glad for everyone that we ended that losing streak and we can go on a high note .-.-. start fresh next year, whatever, someone will next year.
"We're disappointed being out of the playoffs for 10 years and I've been here for four of them. This showed a lot. These fans can support this team. If there was a team that could have put wins and playoff position, this building will be pretty full. It's impressive how many people showed up for a game that didn't mean anything.''
Said DeBoer: “Hopefully he's back. If he's not, it's a fitting way for him to end his time in Florida.''
Panthers management has not said whether or not DeBoer and his coaching staff will be retained although it appears the franchise is leaning toward a change. DeBoer, who has a year remaining on his contract, is 103-107-36 in three seasons with the Panthers.
On Saturday, the rag-tag Panthers gave DeBoer yet another gutty effort as they went hard against a rested Washington team that wasn't playing for anything anymore.
The Capitals, for the second straight season, will go into the playoffs as the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Washington opens against the New York Rangers after Carolina's bid to jump into the top eight failed as the Hurricanes were upset at home to a Lightning team also not playing for anything on Saturday.
The Panthers, on the opposite side of the Eastern Conference standings from Washington, had the most of the scoring chances on Saturday yet failed to convert until late in the third when Kennedy controlled the face off, got the puck out to Patrick Rissmiller who found Thomas. Thomas' soft shot toward the net somehow found its way home.
Vokoun did the rest.
As has been the case all season, the Panthers struggled to score. Florida played in a league-high 48 one-goal games going 19-18-12. The Panthers also scored two goals or less in 48 games this year, with Saturday's win just the fifth in such contests.
“If there was a game to sum up our season, this is it,'' DeBoer said. “A one-goal game, [David] Booth misses an empty net in the crease. Thankfully we ended it on the right side. You saw a little of everything we dealt with all year: The tight games, the inability to get more than one or two goals and the reliance on great goaltending to find wins.''
-- Center Stephen Weiss ended up playing in Saturday's finale after DeBoer said he wouldn't play on Friday. Weiss has been struggling with a groin injury, but with Shawn Matthias re-injuring his bothersome ankle in the second period of Friday's loss in Tampa Bay, Weiss told DeBoer on the plane ride home that he could play Saturday.
Matthias, Scott Timmins (concussion), Darcy Hordichuk (oblique), Alexander Sulzer (groin), Ryan Carter (concussion) and Steve Bernier (shoulder) all missed Florida's finale.
-- The Panthers named Weiss team MVP for the season with Jason Garrison earning defenseman of the year honors. Vokoun earned 'three stars' of the season and Marty Reasoner was voted on by his teammates to be the team's nominee for the King Clancy Trophy. Booth will be Florida's nominee for the Bill Masterton Trophy.
FLORIDA PANTHERS LOWS*
POWER PLAY GOALS
23: David Booth 2010-11
23: Kristian Huselius 2001-02
27: Pavel Bure (56 games before traded) 2001-02
28: Stephen Weiss 2010-11
49: Weiss 2010-11
49: Bure 2001-02
GAME WINNING GOALS
4: Nathan Horton, Cory Stillman 2009-10
4: Marty Reasoner 2010-11
(*) Not counting the lockout shortened season of 1994-95.