SUNRISE, Fla. — Florida coach Kevin Dineen had some harsh words for the players on the ice for Los Angeles' late goal. They were about the only complaints he had about his team's performance all night.
Sean Bergenheim and Mike Santorelli scored second-period goals as the Panthers regained first place in the Southeast Division by beating the Kings 3-1 on Thursday night. With Florida's victory and Washington's 3-2 shootout loss to Winnipeg, the Panthers and Capitals both have 61 points, but the Panthers have a game in hand.
"It feels great," Santorelli said of being back in first place. "We've got to keep going, though."
The victory was Florida's first against Los Angeles since Nov. 27, 2002, snapping a seven-game losing streak in the series. The Kings won the other meeting this season, 2-1 at the Staples Center on Dec. 1.
The Panthers won the rematch by being opportunistic offensively and avoiding mistakes against the tight-checking Kings. The teams managed only 23 shots apiece, and Los Angeles had only 12 after the first period.
"We knew we were going to need a game that had a level of patience," Dineen said. "That's a word I kept going back to. Don't get frustrated. Patience was a real key for us tonight. That's a hard
team to generate offense against. There's not a lot of loose in their game, so you need to go out there and stay with it and we found a way to score goals."
Matt Bradley secured the victory with an empty-net goal with 48.4 seconds left. Shawn Matthias had two assists.
Coming off losses at Tampa Bay and Washington in which they looked overmatched, the Panthers avoided losing three consecutive games in regulation for the first time this season.
"The Washington game we just lacked energy," Bergenheim said. "We didn't have anything, it seemed. It was a big game for us and it was disappointing for us to come out that flat. Sometimes it just is like that. After the break we had a few very big wins and we kind of just ran out of gas in that game. Now we bounced back and we've got to keep on going here."
Scott Clemmensen made 22 saves in a solid bounce-back effort after giving up nine goals in the previous two games, although he was hardly tested by the offensively-challenged Kings.
"Tonight we played great, from the defense on out," Clemmensen said. "Obviously it takes five guys to play good defense and I thought we did that tonight. You can't ask for a much better defensive effort
than that. And it wasn't just the shots, it was the quality of shots. We weren't giving up scoring chances."
Drew Doughty scored Los Angeles' only goal with 2:28 left in regulation. But Bradley hit the empty net after the Panthers won a draw in their own zone.
The Kings, who came in as the lowest-scoring team in the League, were held to less than two goals for the sixth time in 10 games. Los Angeles has managed a 4-4-2 record during that span.
"We started the game in the first really well but couldn't find the back of the net," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "In the second period, for whatever reason, we had a letdown. They found a few soft
areas to score some goals. It's more of the same for us. We've got to find ways to score more goals."
Jonathan Quick stopped nine shots for Los Angeles in the first two periods before being replaced by Jonathan Bernier. Coach Darryl Sutter called the goalie change "no big deal," adding that he just wanted to try something different.
"Quicker really didn't have a chance on either one of those goals," Brown said. "I don't think it was a result of a decision on Quicker's play, it was sending a message to everyone else."
The Kings, who dropped to 1-3-0 on their season-long six-game road trip, had chances to take the lead in the first period when they had two power plays. But they failed to score and managed only three shots during those four minutes with the man advantage.
Bergenheim opened the scoring at 4:52 of the second period with his sixth goal in the last eight games. Marcel Goc skated the puck into the Los Angeles zone and tried a backhand pass to his left. The puck
went off the skate of L.A. forward Jarret Stoll and kicked back to the high slot, where Bergenheim one-timed a slap shot that beat Quick to the glove side.
"It was just a normal rush there," Bergenheim said. "Goc took it in in the middle there. There was a little bit of a fumble there. When I saw the loose puck, I just took a whack at it and it went in. I was happy.
"It's been feeling good. The line (with Goc and Mikael Samuelsson) has worked well. The Washington game wasn't that good by our line, but it's been very good playing with those guys. I've got to give a
lot of credit to them."
Santorelli added to the lead at 17:15 thanks to some strong behind-the-net work by Tomas Fleischmann. After Quick stopped Santorelli's wrister from the off wing, he tried to clear the puck but it bounced off a player in front and landed behind the net. Fleischmann outfought defenseman Willie Mitchell and passed to Santorelli, whose one-timer from the right faceoff dot beat Quick over the left shoulder.
Doughty scored when he took Anze Kopitar's centering pass between the circles and redirected it past Clemmensen's blocker side.
"I'm not happy with the last goal," Dineen said. "I thought that was a very preventable goal. There were some very low-IQ plays made on that goal. You know what, we've got to go all the way on 60 minutes.
You know they're going to push and you have to make some better decision-making.
"We were good in goal. I thought our defense, the kids played very well, I thought (Mike) Weaver was very strong, as well as Soupy (Brian Campbell) had a good, strong night for us. We need that kind of defensive effort, but we need it for 60 minutes."