For a period Monday night, the Florida Panthers looked very much like the team that lost two straight games against Eastern Conference opponents at the end of last week. They were dominated for much of the period, and a defensive breakdown allowed a Dale Weise to finish a 2-on-1 breakaway to give the Vancouver Canucks a 1-0 lead at the first intermission.
Whatever coach Kevin Dineen said (or yelled) during the break, it worked as the Cats played one of their most dominant periods of hockey of the season that saw them outshoot the offensively-gifted Canucks 14-2 while scoring two goals, which would be enough to give Florida the winning margin. Dmitry Kulikov broke a 14 game goalless drought at 6:21 of the period when he threw a shot from the left boards that found is way past Roberto Luongo to tie it up. Just under three minutes later, Marcel Goc won a battle at the net in front of Luongo on the power play to give the Panthers all they would need on this night.
As lopsided as the shot count was in the second period in favor of the Panthers, it was the exact opposite in the third. The team with the best record in the Western Conference threw everything they had the Panthers including a 2-on-1 that would have likely produced a goal if not for the outstanding defensive play of Brian Campbell. Scott Clemmensen, the game’s first star, was forced to make 14 saves in the period to help preserve the win in front of the home crowd. In the end, the Canucks could barely even get Luongo out of his net, thanks to the Cats’ puck possession and an Alex Burrows interference penalty with 29 seconds left.
If a team ever needed a win of this magnitude, it was the Panthers. With wins tough to come and the top line slumping the past few weeks, beating a strong team like Vancouver goes a long way in giving the team a much needed jump as they continue to head into January’s brutal schedule. Goc and Mikael Samuelsson have been a shot in the arm for a team that has struggled for goals from secondary lines most of the season, as each have produced points in each of the three games they’ve played in since returning from injury. That fact cannot be overlooked as the Cats look ahead to the second half of their season and players return from injury and the top line gets going again.
The team will have a few days to rest as they won’t return to action until Friday, against the equally as wounded Pittsburgh Penguins. By virtue of the Panther win and the Washington loss in Los Angeles, the Cats stretched their division lead back to five and break the 50 point mark in their 42nd game.
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