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PANTHERS FLYING MILE HIGH: Florida Gets Rare Lead, Rare Victory in Denver

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DENVER -- Falling behind early has been a problem that has plagued the Panthers all season regardless of who was coaching the team.

It wasn't Saturday as the Panthers never trailed in a 4-1 victory over the Avalanche at Pepsi Center.

The win was Florida's first in Denver since 2003 and oddly came almost a year to the day in which the Heat snapped its 10-year drought in the Mile High City against the Nuggets last season.

The Heat finally beat the Nuggets here on Nov. 15, 2012. Florida's win came on Nov. 16.

"That was the game we were looking for,'' said goalie Tim Thomas, who made 32 saves as Florida has won two of three after snapping a nine-game losing streak Thursday.

"We've been putting together good 40, 50 minute games but we're always behind. We played for 60 minutes and had the lead. When we had it, we played well. I think if we had the lead on a more consistent basis we'd do well with it.''

Saturday's game was notable in a number of ways.

The Panthers scored the first goal of a game for the first time since Peter Horachek took over for Kevin Dineen on Nov. 9.

Usually it goes the other way for the Panthers as Florida trailed 1-0 in each of Horachek's first four games going into Saturday and were down 2-0 in three of the four.

On Saturday, Brian Campbell's power play goal in the second gave the Panthers their first 2-0 lead in a game this season.

"I just play hockey and don't worry about all that stuff,'' Campbell said. "The big thing is we got off to a better start. .-.-. A good start and good things happen hopefully. We're working hard for each other. It's nice playing with the lead.''

Playing with a lead isn't something the Panthers have been used to as Florida has played from behind for much of the season. On Saturday, they seemed to revel in it as the Panthers built a three-goal lead when Jonathan Huberdeau scored with 7:44 left.

Instead of fading at this high altitude, the Panthers kept their shifts short and made them count.

"We played with a lot of confidence,'' said Huberdeau, nursing a nice cut on his bottom lip that earned the four-minute power play Campbell scored on. "We played a full 60 minutes and we know that's what we need to do.''

In the first quarter of the 2013-14 season, Florida's opponent has taken a 1-0 lead in 16 of the 21 games. Those teams made it 2-0 on 11 occasions.

The Panthers trailed going into the second period 11 times and were behind going into the third in all but seven games -- Saturday included -- this year.

On Saturday, Brad Boyes' seventh goal of the year gave Florida a 1-0 lead shortly after its second power play ended by lifting a shot over goalie Semyon Varlamov's head.

After Ryan O'Reilly slipped a loose puck past Thomas -- making his fifth straight start -- to make it 2-1, Tomas Kopecky got his second in as many nights to give Florida a 3-1 lead going into the third.

Huberdeau scored his second in as many nights after knocking in a rebound off a Nick Bjugstad shot.

"You have to put the losses behind you no matter how hard they are,'' Thomas said. "We played very composed with the lead. That's a good sign. It's been a tough go at times this year and the last thing we need to to have problems in that area too.''

-- Jimmy Hayes, one of two players Florida got for Kris Versteeg in Thursday's trade with Chicago, was in the lineup for the first time Saturday.

-- Winger Sean Bergenheim was scratched for the third time and for the second time in which the Panthers were playing games on consecutive nights.

Bergenheim missed all of last season and the beginning of this one after numerous surgeries related to his hip, abdominal and groin.

Defenseman Mike Weaver was sick and was out of the lineup for the first time this season.

-- The Panthers were scheduled to fly to Vancouver following Saturday's game and will take Sunday off. The team will hold a closed practice Monday afternoon at Rogers Arena.

-- The Avs had been 14-4-4 against the Panthers since leaving Quebec City for Denver in 1995.

Colorado, which swept the Panthers in the 1996 Stanley Cup Final, hadn't lost to the Panthers in Denver since Jan. 2, 2003 when Florida's Viktor Kozlov scored twice in a 4-1 win.

 

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