Panthers goaltender Tomas Vokoun along with forward Richard Zednik (AP Photo/Hans Deryk)
By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com
Goalie Tomas Vokoun, coming off consecutive shutouts, will help lead the Panthers out of the Christmas break when they play the first of a home-and-home series against the Lightning tonight at BankAtlantic Center.
Vokoun, who tossed 3-0 shutouts Sunday against Colorado and Tuesday against Nashville, stopped 50 shots in the two games and enters tonight’s contest against Southeast Division-rival Tampa playing his best hockey of the season.
The Panthers, 5-1-1 in their last seven games and three games over .500 in December for the first time since 1999-2000, will face a Lightning team whose 8-16-9 record is decieving, according to Panther coach Peter DeBoer after Friday’s morning skate.
“I think Tampa is a lot better team than its record indicates,” said DeBoer of the Lightning, who enter tonight’s game off a 2-0 shutout Tuesday in Pittsburgh. “Watching their game against Pittsburgh, I thought they were outstanding. They were outshooting Pittsburgh 17-4 or (17-2) at about the halfway point of that game.
“They seem to have gone through the same type of thing we did earlier in the year and seem to coming out the other end of it, so we”ll have to be prepared.”
Lightning goalie Mike Smith has been outstanding this season for the Lightning, posting a 2.40 goals against average and .925 save percentage despite the team’s record. And Martin St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier are still a dangerous combination.
The Panthers, 9-2-3 in their last 14 games, have gotten contributions from nearly everyone in the lineup over the last month, including rookie Michael Frolik, who has 11 points (four goals) in his last 11 games. Frolik had two goals in Tuesday’s 3-0 victory over the Predators.
When asked Friday if Frolik has exceeded expectations, DeBoer said; “I think he’s surpassed them, but, like the rest of the team, I think he’s still got another level to get to. I don’t think anyone would have expected he’d be playing the role or become the player as quickly as he has. But being on the ice with this guy every day, he’s getting better and better and I don’t think you’ve seen everything you can see from him yet.”
Jassen Cullimore, who missed Tuesday’s game with a hand injury, will be a game-time decision, according to DeBoer. Nick Tarnasky gets the start this evening and Anthony Stewart will be a healthy scratch.