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Playing To The Final Buzzer

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
Florida Panthers' Gregory Campbell (11) puts the puck past Toronto Maple Leafs' goaltender Vesa Toskala, left, during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Toronto on Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2009. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Chris Young)
By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com


Before boarding a plane in Toronto Wednesday morning to carry the Panthers back to South Florida, coach Peter DeBoer repeated the word defenseman Bryan McCabe and forward Stephen Weiss used the previous evening to describe this team.

Character.

Despite being down 3-1 in the third period Tuesday evening against the Maple Leafs, the Panthers dug themselves out of the hole and left Air Canada Centre with two points and a 4-3 overtime victory.

“We’ve shown all year we play right to the buzzer,” said DeBoer as the Panthers prepared to return home for Thursday’s game at BankAtlantic Center against the Islanders. “We’re not a team to pack it in when we’re behind.

“We’ve shown a lot of character and resiliency. They believe in that room they can come back.”

And so they have. In their last nine games that have gone to overtime or a shootout, the Panthers have come back eight times from deficits. And Tuesday’s comeback was all the sweeter since leading scorer David Booth and goalie Tomas Vokoun were both out with the flu.

“To come back from 3-1 down shows the character we have in this room,” said McCabe, who called his game-winning goal and 10th of the season “special” after spending eight years in Toronto.

McCabe’s winning goal also brought smiles to the faces of his teammates.

“He’s done a lot for this team since he’s been here, and he’s gone through a lot (in Toronto),” said Weiss of McCabe, who had six shots and four hits. “The guy gives you nothing but heart and soul.”

Despite an inconsistent first period against Toronto – “We were chasing most of the first 20 minutes,” DeBoer said – the Panthers improved their play in both the second and third period while Craig Anderson, a late replacement for Vokoun, made some “critical saves,” DeBoer said.

The Panthers, sitting eighth in the Eastern Conference as of Wednesday afternoon, are only five points out of sixth and seven points out of fifth. They also have two games in hand on ninth-place Carolina and 10th-place Pittsburgh and a game in hand on seventh-place Buffalo, who play Toronto Wednesday evening.

The Panthers, however, can’t look too far ahead, not with the Islanders coming Thursday evening to BankAtlantic Center. Since shutting out the Islanders in Sunrise 2-0 back in October, the Panthers have lost twice to the Islanders on Long Island, including a 3-1 loss Saturday evening.

The Islanders are last in the Eastern Conference, but they head to the BankAtlantic Center on a season-high, four-game winning streak after winning Tuesday in Tampa 3-1. Improved defense and a more confident Yann Danis in goal have been a big reason for the turnaround.

Danis has allowed two or fewer goals in six of his last eight starts and has carried a shutout into the third period for the third consecutive game.

“We’re having fun right now,” said Islanders captain Bill Guerin to newyorkislanders.com. “We’ve got some guys back in the lineup and Yann has really found his game. We’re going with it.”

The Islanders have been led this season by All-Star defenseman Mark Streit (29 assists, seven power play goals), veterans Guerin (15 goals) and Doug Weight (26 assists), and Trent Hunter (26 points).

“We have four wins in a row because of the way we’re going about things now,” said coach Scott Gordon. “We’ll stay with that until we need to change it up.”

BOOTH, VOKOUN DECISION THURSDAY MORNING

DeBoer said the status of Booth, who’s missed the past two games with the flu, and Vokoun, who was scratched with the flu from Tuesday’s game, will be determined after Thursday morning’s skate…Anthony Stewart played a strong game in Toronto, registering three shots and five hits…The Maple Leafs blocked 19 Panther shots…Toronto visits BankAtlantic Center Feb. 10…After Thursday’s game against the Islanders, the Panthers go back on the road for one game Saturday against Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals, who will ride Thursday a three-game winning streak when hosting the Kings…By the way, Ovechkin is ranked first in goals (36), third in points (67), fourth in power play goals (12) and he’s tied for second with seven game-winning goals…
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