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Panther Netminder Finding His Groove

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
Panthers Goaltender Tomas Vokoun has a .954 save percentage over the last three games (stopped 105 of 110 shots.) (Getty Images)
By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com


After helping the Panthers Tuesday evening leave the bright lights of Montreal like thieves in the night, goalie Tomas Vokoun took it easy Wednesday while the Panthers practiced at Ricoh Coliseum here in Toronto.

Vokoun had earned the time off after stopping 36 shots against the Canadiens, several worthy of TSN and ESPN, while helping the Panthers steal a 2-1 shootout victory.

Unable to sustain any pressure or many scoring chances during the first 40 minutes of the game, Vokoun kept the Panthers in the game while making several key saves during regulation and then shutting down Alex Kovalev, Saku Koivu and Christopher Higgins in the shootout.
 
In the words of defenseman Mike Van Ryn; “It was all Voky.”

During the Panthers three-game win streak, Vokoun has now stopped 105 of 110 shots. Clearly, his shaky start Oct. 4 against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden was nothing but an aberration.

“Tomas has been really steady the last three games after maybe a shaky start,” said GM and coach Jacques Martin, who prepared his team Wednesday at the home of the Toronto Marlies for Thursday’s game against the Maple Leafs. “He’s come on and played the way he’s capable. When we acquired him, we felt we were acquiring one of the top netminders in the league and we felt we were really solidifying that position. I like the way he’s progressed. In Nashville, he had to battle his way through to be No. 1, and he brought that team to an elite level.”

Vokoun has done the same for the Panthers, who are building confidence knowing that they have a top goaltender in net.

Vokoun, who won 25 games in each of the previous four seasons, appeared to be a bit shaky when making his Panther debut in a 5-2 loss to the Rangers. But Vokoun played better Oct. 6 when losing 4-1 to the Devils, and he’s very much one of the reasons the Panthers have reeled off three consecutive victories.

For instance, against the Canadiens, he made three quality saves on Christopher Higgins (including one a partial breakaway), stopped Francis Bouillon from the slot, and stretched his right pad to stop Kovalev during the shootout.

When asked if he believes he’s been playing better the past week, Vokoun said; “It’s obvious when you play good and feel good you’re more confident and you play better.”
   
“Obviously, the first game (against the Rangers), it was a bad, bad game for me,” he added. “It affected the whole team. I don’t think I played bad in the second game, but when things don’t go well bad things tend to happen, and that’s what happened that game. But that’s hockey. You’re not always going to feel great and things aren’t always going to go your own way. You have to deal with it. Like I’ve said before, it’s an 82 regular season games. You’re judged by what you do over the course of a season, not one game.”

Vokoun said for the Panthers to reach their ultimate goal, the playoffs, “You don’t want to think this is how we win.”

“That’s not going to happen on a regular basis,” said Vokoun, referring to winning games like Tuesday in Montreal. “If we want to be successful everyone has to do their part. If we want to be in the playoffs we have to be better. This is a team sport. You need 21 guys to do the job because if you’re not pulling your weight, you’re putting yourself in a vulnerable position.”

NOTES

Defenseman Noah Welch separated his shoulder during Tuesday’s game in Montreal. Welch returned Wednesday to South Florida to be evaluated. Martin said Branislav Mezei, who hasn’t dressed the past three games, will likely play against Toronto…

The Panthers will meet a fired-up Maple Leafs team Thursday, one that’s been taking it on the chin by local fans and press. Although the Leafs lead the league in goals scored with 26, they also lead the league in goals allowed – a whopping 29 in seven games. Defenseman Bryan McCabe has drawn the ire of some of the locals by shooting the puck in his own net in Monday’s 5-4 loss to the Sabres.

Coming off the ugly 2-1 victory Tuesday, Martin knows the Panthers have to improve to beat the Maple Leafs. “We know we have to play better (Thursday night),” he said. “They’re a team with a lot of fire power when you look at the number of goals they’ve scored. I’m sure they’re going to come out hard after the loss they had Monday night.”…

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