Josef Stumpel (15), celebrated his winning goal in an overtime shootout against the Montreal Canadiens during NHL hockey action in Montreal on Oct. 16, 2007 with teammate Rostislav Oloesz (85). (AP Photo/Ryan Remiorz, The Canadian Press)
By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com
The word “huge” was described Tuesday morning by both captain Olli Jokinen and goalie Tomas Vokoun to describe tonight’s game in Montreal against the Canadiens.
The reason? A victory tonight not only gets the Panthers back to .500, but it sets up two huge games at home before Christmas against the Southeast Division-leading Hurricanes on Thursday and Saturday against the Maple Leafs.
If the Panthers (15-16-2) win and get to .500 tonight, it will be a marked improved over their past two seasons. After 33 games last year, the Panthers were 10-17-6. Two years ago, they were 11-18-4.
“This is a huge two points,” said Jokinen, who knows a victory tonight sends the team home 3-1 on this road trip. “It gives us a chance to get back to .500 with a couple games at home before the holidays.”
Vokoun, who’s been spectacular during the road trip, echoed Jokinen’s sentiments.
“Tonight is a huge game for us and we need to continue to climb in the standings,” he said. “We want to be the team that other clubs are chasing for a playoff spot and we need to be ready for tonight.”
The Panthers, who Oct. 16 won in Montreal in a shootout, are 5-1-4 with one tie in their last 11 games at the Bell Centre. They’ll try to win tonight without David Booth, who’s out with a leg injury, and Ville Peltonen, who will miss between 4-to-6 weeks with a broken foot.
The Panthers will have to do a better job starting tonight’s game than they did Sunday in Chicago, where they escaped with a victory after Vokoun had to make 22 saves in the first period.
“Vokoun has been giving us a chance to win every night and we need a better effort tonight than in Chicago,” Jokinen said.
GM and coach Jacques Martin said he’s certain his players realize the opportunity they have in Montreal.
“We have a chance tonight to make this a really good road trip,” he said. “I believe that our guys realize the importance of this game and they know we need to play better than we did in Chicago. We need to play better away from the puck and limit our turnovers. Vokoun has been outstanding, but we need to give him more support as we try to climb up the standings.”