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Panthers rally to beat Senators, 4-2

by Alain Poupart
SUNRISE, Fla. — The Florida Panthers heard some boos at the BankAtlantic Center in the final seconds of the first period. Down 2-0, the slumping Panthers appeared headed for yet another loss against the Ottawa Senators and more importantly another wasted chance to solidify their hold on first place in the Southeast Division.

The outlook all changed in 33 seconds.

Marcel Goc's goal in the first minute of the second period started a three-goal rally that lifted the Panthers to a 4-2 victory.

"Obviously we weren't happy, so we got a little bit of a kick in the butt and it got us going a little bit," said center Stephen Weiss, who assisted on the last goal of that second period by Mikael Samuelsson.

"That goal on the first shift of the second was big. It got us right into it and we were rolling from there, drew  a couple of penalties and kind of got the momentum back on our side. And that was enough."

Krys Barch and Jack Skille also scored for the Panthers, who snapped a nine-game losing streak against Ottawa. Defenseman Mike Weaver tied a career high with two assists.

The streak was tied for the second-longest active streak for one opponent against another behind the 10-game streaks of Boston over Edmonton and Vancouver over Toronto.

It was Florida's first victory over Ottawa since Jan. 9, 2010 and its first home victory over the Senators in almost three years — since a 5-2 decision on March 31, 2009.

More importantly, the Panthers solidified their hold on first place in the Southeast Division.

Florida, which had lost six of its previous nine, extended its lead over second-place Winnipeg to four points with one game in hand. Washington, which lost to Philadelphia on Sunday, is five points back and Tampa Bay is six points behind with the Panthers having a game in hand.

"You see the standings, you know there's not much room for error," Skille said. "We've got to know that at the end of the day if we stick with our character and play the way we're supposed to play, we'll be fine in the end. That's what we plan on doing here."

Florida fell behind 2-0 for the fifth time in its last six games, but managed to win for the third time after also rallying at Carolina on Feb. 25 and against Montreal the next night.

The Panthers also fell behind 2-0 against Nashville on Saturday night, but ended up losing 3-1 in large part because of the work of Predators goalie Pekka Rinne.

Ottawa, on the other hand, couldn't stop Florida’s comeback effort.

"When you get as thoroughly outplayed as we did in the first period, I think there has to be some kind of a response," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "We had a little chat and they understood there wasn't going to be any change in the way we were going to play our systems. I wasn't going to shake up the lines, it was going to come from within. To the credit of our leadership group, to our worker bees, to our team a as whole, we never gave up.  The response was extremely strong."

Samuelsson scored the game-winner with Chris Neil in the box on a four-minute high-sticking penalty after he clipped Ed Jovanovski in the face in the crease.

Samuelsson worked a nifty give-and-go with Weiss, whose pass to Samuelsson in front of the net found its way through traffic.

"It's frustrating, obviously," Neil said. "We had a good first period and then the first shift in the second they score. And then they get another one and then I take a four-minute penalty. It's one of those things you wish you could take that back. They had some momentum going, but (my penalty) gave them some more momentum."

Goc's goal in the first minute of the second period came when he deflected Weaver's wrist shot from the point. The deflection went off Lehner and bounced over him and into the net.

It was part of a big night for Goc's line, which not only got the momentum-changing goal, but also shut down red-hot Senators center Jason Spezza.

Spezza was held off the score sheet after coming in with 22 points during an 11-game point streak that was tied for the longest active streak in the NHL with that of Carolina's Eric Staal.

"I thought Marcel Goc and Jerred Smithson, as well as Tomas Kopecky, took pride in that end of the game, that they were going to go out there and do a job," Dineen said. "It's the old quote, you can't contain them, you can only hope to shut them down for a little bit. I'm not sure how it goes. At the end of the day, not only did they do that, but they scored a big goal to get us going."

Barch tied the game at 2:54 on a breakaway off a nice feed from Skille. Barch beat Lehner with a high shot after deking to his forehand.

It was only the second goal of the season and the 12th in 297 career games for Barch, who's known more for his physical play.

"Really nice," Weiss said. "He's got some moves. You see it in practice, he probably scores the most goals out of anyone in practice. When he gets chances, he can be pretty deadly. It was a great move and it was a big goal for us."

Jose Theodore made 21 saves for the Panthers.

Jared Cowen and Neil scored for Ottawa, which lost its second in a row after winning six of seven.

Making his fourth consecutive start in net in place of injured starter Craig Anderson, Robin Lehner made 24 saves. He allowed more than two goals for the first time in five starts this season.

"I think their first goal was a fluke, a very lucky goal," Lehner said. "But the second goal ... I feel like I have to have that one."

Ottawa remained in seventh place in the Eastern Conference standings with 76 points, one behind New Jersey and three behind Philadelphia. The Senators have played three more games than the Flyers, who beat Washington on Sunday, and two more than the Devils, who were shut out by the Islanders.

Ottawa came close to tying the game with under 4 minutes left when Kyle Turris' wrist shot from the right faceoff dot hit the crossbar.

Skille later added the insurance goal with 1:26 left in the third period on a nice rush before he put a close shot over Lehner's glove.

Cowen opened the scoring at 13:23 of the first when his wrist shot from about 15 feet inside the blue line found its way through traffic.

Neil made it 2-0 at 18:32 after Jim O'Brien's backhand coming from behind the net was stopped in front. The puck bounced to the slot, where Neil grabbed before spinning around and beating Theodore with a low shot to the stick side.

"Our competition level after the first period stayed the same and theirs obviously elevated to a higher level," Senators coach Paul MacLean said. "Instead of raising our competition level as the game went on to meet theirs, we got frustrated."
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