RALEIGH, N.C. – Wojtek Wolski didn't have much time to introduce himself to his new teammates after joining the Panthers following a Saturday afternoon flight in from New York.
In fact, he didn't even have time to get a new pair of shower shoes.
But boy did he ever endear himself to his latest team.
Wolski was acquired in a trade from the Rangers on Saturday afternoon and forced overtime by scoring with 1:47 remaining as the Panthers rallied to beat the host Hurricanes 3-2 in a shootout.
“It's always nice to contribute,'' said Wolski as his Rangers bag was packed just yards away from where he stood wearing Rangers sliders with his old number in Sharpie on the top. “The biggest thing was winning. We desperately needed those two points.''
Said coach Kevin Dineen: “He is a skilled player who is going to help us.''
Florida trailed 2-0 going into the third period and looked to be on the highway to its fifth straight loss despite outplaying the Hurricanes for all but a few minutes of the game. Then Tomas Fleischmann and Wolski within four minutes and change to give the Panthers momentum – and more importantly some valuable points in the standings.
Stephen Weiss, who has two goals in the past 31 games and none in the past 11, scored the game-winner as the Panthers won in a shootout for just the fourth time in 11 tries this season. Carolina is now 0-5 in shootouts and 2-13 in overtime.
Shootout goals may not count on the stat sheet, but Weiss could care less. Florida has now won three straight away from Sunrise and are back atop the Southeast Division with the victory.
“They've been hard to come by this year,'' said Weiss, who scored in the shootout along with Mikael Samuelsson. “That was a big goal for us, obviously.''
Florida jumped all over the Hurricanes and were outshooting Carolina 10-0 at one point. But the Canes went into the break up 1-0 on Justin Faulk's power play goal with 1:59 left in the first. Carolina then went up 2-0 on Jussi Jokinen's wide open shot from the top of the slot with 2:28 remaining in the second.
After Fleischmann made it a one-goal game after one-timing a slick pass from Kris Versteeg, Wolski took a nice feed from Shawn Matthias and beat Justin Peters (42 saves). Brian Campbell almost won it in the final minute, but the two went to overtime where they went at it 3-on-3 after Erik Gudbranson and Eric Staal went to the box for fighting behind the Florida goal.
Wolski was the second player Florida picked up for draft picks in as many days with Jerred Smithson coming over from Nashville on Friday.
Wolski had seen his playing time diminish in New York after having sports hernia surgery in November. It was speculated the Rangers may Wolski for salary cap room, but they instead traded him to Florida for future (a third round pick in 2013) considerations.
Wolski flew from New York to Raleigh after going through a bag skate and heavy workout on Saturday morning. He arrived at the arena around 5:15 p.m.
Instead of his usual No. 86 – denoting his birth year – Wolski took No. 8 (“It's a number I always wanted,'' he said) and was on ice for warmups.
“It was a little tough to jump right in,'' said Wolski, who played in his first NHL game since Jan. 15. “It was a crazy day but it worked out.''
Wolski is tied for 11th all-time in shootout goals with 22 – something the Panthers desperately need. Wolski didn't score on Florida's second shootout attempt on Saturday. General manager Dale Tallon said he's not done trying to improve the team. The trade deadline is Monday at 3 p.m.
“It was a matter of looking around the league and seeing what was available for offense,'' Tallon said. “He could play on our team for many years if he has success these 23 games. “He played for the No. 1 team in the league and it was hard for him to get into the lineup. You don't mess with success. I look for him to give us an option on the power play and in the shootout which has been a struggle for us.''
() Dineen switched centers during the game and broke up Florida's top line by putting Weiss with Samuelsson and Sean Bergenheim; Tomas Kopecky centered Fleischmann and Versteeg.
“I wouldn't call that moving down,'' Dineen said. “Bergenheim and Samuelsson have been excellent for us.''
SUNDAY: CANADIENS AT PANTHERS
When, Where: 5 p.m.; BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FS Florida/WFTL-640
The series: Florida leads 32-31-6
The game: The Panthers have won both meetings against the (surprisingly) last place Canadiens this season. Montreal has lost five of six – including the past three in which it has been outscored 10-2. Florida played at Carolina on Saturday night and recently polished off a homestand in which the Panthers went 0-3-1.