Panthers goaltender Tomas Vokoun makes a diving save on a shot by Tampa Bay Lightning's Ryan Malone (12) as Panthers' Keith Ballard (2) looks on during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday night, Jan. 17, 2009, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com
SUNRISE – Just last week, the Panthers took what coach Peter DeBoer called a “snapshot” of their four games leading into the All-Star break.
Four critical games, eight critical points, according to DeBoer Sunday morning at BankAtlantic Center.
There was a game at home against Philly and another on the road against Tampa. “There’s Buffalo, who’s above us (in the standings) and Dallas, a team that seems to be turning things around,” DeBoer said.
For the Panthers, they’re halfway home to the All-Star break and the news is good. As the prepare Monday evening to host Buffalo at BankAtlantic Center, the Panthers have moved into a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference after Saturday’s 4-3 victory in Tampa.
Through two of the four games leading into the All-Star break, the Panthers have taken three of four points and are humming along with a 5-0-2 record in their last seven games and a 14-5-6 record in their last 25 games.
And the trick now?
“We’ve got to keep our foot on the gas through the All-Star break,” DeBoer said. “We’ve got four important points left on the board.”
Knowing the Panthers had games in hand on Buffalo and Carolina, DeBoer’s plan the last 10 days leading into the break was to get some “separation from some teams in the standings and, hopefully, give us some breathing room going into the All-Star break.”
“We’re in a playoff spot today,” he added. “The key for our group is not to look back. You get above that (playoff) line for the first time and you want to stay above it and not drop down.”
The Panthers came back from a pair of two-goal deficits Saturday in Tampa to win their 21st game of the season. They did it after DeBoer made a change in goal after the first period in light of Craig Anderson allowing three goals on 11 shots. Tomas Vokoun stopped all 22 shots he faced the final 40 minutes.
DeBoer has made goalie changes eight times this season during the course of games. The Panthers are 1-4-3 with five points in those games. DeBoer reiterated it comes down to a gut decision.
“It’s something you like to do,” he said. “We’ve got two hard-working goalies. When they have an off night it’s not due to lack of preparation or because they haven’t worked hard in practice, which makes it even tougher. Having an excuse would be easier to pull them.
“Sometimes you make a decision on a gut feeling where your team is. If the team needs a jolt, sometimes it’s not the goalie’s fault. You just need a shot of energy. Coaches only have so many tools to provide that during the game. Some of (the changes) have been performance based, but we’ve responded the right way 90 percent of the time when it’s been done.”
Going into Monday’s game, DeBoer said Kamil Kreps will be ready to play after missing nine games with a shoulder injury. Unfortunately, Ville Peltonen, playing with a broken bone in his right foot, is “questionable,” for Monday’s game after taking a knee-on-knee hit with Evgeny Artyukhin
Peltonen was scheduled to see doctors Sunday.
DeBoer didn’t hide his feelings about Artyukhin’s hit.
“I thought it was a dirty hit,” DeBoer said. “Hopefully, the league will deal with it. It’s a dangerous play. You can end people’s career with it.”
The Sabres, seventh in the Eastern Conference and only two points ahead of the Panthers, visit BankAtlantic Monday off a 3-1 victory Saturday over Carolina. Goalie Ryan Miller made 36 saves for the Sabres.
It’s important game for Buffalo since it will be the first of a season-high, six-game road trip. They’re also in the midst of playing seven of eight games on the road.
Following Monday’s game, the Panthers will play host at BankAtlantic to Dallas on Wednesday evening before the All-Star break, where the Panthers will be represented by defenseman Jay Bouwmeester and rookie Michael Frolik.
In case you missed it: Nathan Horton has 17 points in the past 10 games – six goals and 11 assists…Bouwmeester has a six-game point scoring streak (4 goals, 7 assists)…Forward Rostislav Olesz, who hasn’t played Dec. 4 due to a groin strain, will leave Tuesday for Philadelphia to see a specialist regarding his injury…