For if Theodore was ill on Monday, he was flat out sick on Thursday.
Theodore carried the Panthers in a meeting of division leaders for much of the night, his 40 saves and a Tomas Kopecky goal in the closing minutes being the difference in Florida's 2-0 victory over the defending Stanley Cup champions at the Garden.
“We have to keep this going. We're playing confident right now,'' Kopecky said after Florida's third straight win that gave it a seven-point cushion over second place Washington in the Southeast Division.
“We're trying to prove those people who never believed in us [wrong]. I think we're doing a pretty good job of it.''
Kopecky's goal came when he and Shawn Matthias crashed the net with Tim Thomas (28 saves) going down after stopping Matthias' shot. Kopecky pounced on the loose puck and shot high, tumbling over the 2011 postseason MVP in the process. Thomas wasn't around when Kris Versteeg got Florida's second goal by depositing the puck into an empty net with 42 seconds left.
“Our goaltending was stellar. It was impressive,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. “We had to find a way to get some offensive pressure, it was so sporadic. We didn't have sustained pressure, just some snapshots here and there. For the most part, the ice leaned toward our end. When you find a way to win a game like that, it shows the confidence of your team. I think a little of that is built on what we've done so far.''
Theodore was felled by a bout of the stomach flu after the team came back from California. Theodore had the sweaty chills and estimated he may have lost 10 pounds off his lithe frame. You wouldn't have known that Thursday as Theodore was terrific in Boston once more, his game reminiscent of those classic battles against the Bruins when he backstopped rival Montreal.
The Bruins controlled play for the opening half of the first and third periods, but Theodore allowed the Panthers to stick right in there. Boston clanging the iron on a pair of first period shots definitely helped. But Theodore knew it was a fight between two goalies on Thursday, a battle he won.
“Actually I didn't feel too fresh, my energy level was a little low,'' Theodore said as he sat on a bench in the locker room draped in a white towel. “It was a game where I saw the puck well and knew it would be tough for them to score. When I am at the top of my game, I'm tough to beat. We played well, stuck with the game plan and didn't panic and got the win.''
It has been some time since the Bruins and Panthers played in a game of consequence, one those around the league had an eye on.
One may have to go back to the 1999-2000 season. That's when the Panthers last made the playoffs and current goalie coach Robb Tallas played 27 games for the Bruins that year. Or 1996, when winger-turned-TV voice Billy Lindsay's goal in Game 5 beat Boston in the opening round of the postseason.
Regardless, it has been a while since this match up mattered. Thursday's game definitely fit the bill.
A large media contingent awaited the Panthers after the morning skate as news is spreading about one of the league's biggest surprises this season.
The Panthers are tied with Philadelphia with a league-best 10 road wins as they go for their first four-game winning streak since 2007 at Buffalo on Friday night.
“We ground out a game and found a way to win. That's huge,'' Sean Bergenheim said. “We've showed many times we can hold leads or come back when we're down. We never panicked. We always knew we would get the one goal it would take. We don't care what people write or think about us. It's OK for us to fly under the radar right now. We're just doing our job quietly and see where it takes us.''
AROUND THE RINK
Newcomer Krys Barch made his presence known early as he knocked Boston's Daniel Paille out of the game on his first shift (and was called for charging) of the night then brawled with Shawn Thornton – again.
Barch, whom Florida acquired in a trade with Dallas on Wednesday, was called for a second minor in the second.
Florida also welcomed Mikael Samuelsson to the lineup for the first time this season. Samuelsson, who was injured for much of the 2003-04 season with the Panthers, hadn't played since Florida reacquired him in the David Booth deal on Oct. 22. Samuelsson played 17 shifts on Thursday.
() Florida was called for a number of penalties in the opening two periods but survived as Boston went 0-for-4 on the power play. The Panthers only got one power play chance.
“Usually we're the ones drawing the penalties,'' Dineen said. “[Thursday] we were taking them because of how they pushed us.''
() With Theodore starting Thursday after missing Monday's game against Washington, Dineen said it's very likely Scott Clemmensen gets the start Friday in Buffalo.
When, Where: 7:30 p.m.; First Niagara Center, Buffalo
TV/Radio: FSN; WQAM-560
The series: Sabres lead 41-25-4
The game: Florida was riding a two-game winning streak going into Thursday's game at Boston. The Panthers will play three games in a span of four days. .-.-. Each team has won on road ice this season; Buffalo won 3-0 in Sunrise on Oct. 20 with the
Panthers winning in Buffalo 3-2 nine days later. .-.-. The Sabres have lost three of four – all of those losses coming at home.