By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com
SUNRISE – It was just last week that coach Peter DeBoer said he needed some heroes; players to step forward and help turn the Panthers fortunes and season around. Three games and six points later, DeBoer has seen more than a few of his players answer the challenge.
Where to begin…
Perhaps with center Steven Reinprecht, who has scored nine goals in his last eight games, including the game-winner Wednesday in the Panthers 3-0 victory over the Hurricanes?
Or maybe goalie Tomas Vokoun, who pitched his second consecutive shutout Wednesday and has now run his scoreless streak to 1:42.09?
Or maybe the line of Reinprecht, Cory Stillman and Nathan Horton, that’s combined for 18 points in the last four games?
A penalty killing unit that shut down the Hurricanes on three consecutive power plays in the first period…Defenseman Bryan Allen playing back-to-back games last weekend for the first time this season and scoring his first goal Wednesday since March 27 of 2008…
Let’s not get carried away. Three consecutive wins doesn’t get a ticket punched to the playoffs. But after starting the season 2-7-1, the Panthers, despite the absence of David Booth and Radek Dvorak, have slowly started to dig themselves out from the Southeast Division cellar.
“Everybody is a little more upbeat,” said defenseman Dennis Seidenberg, “We’re starting to play the system the way it’s supposed to be played.”
Still, the Panthers can make things interesting. The Hurricanes, attempting to break a nine-game losing streak, out-shot the Panthers 21-4 and had six minutes of power play time in a span of nearly eight minutes in the first period. Fortunately, Vokoun and the penalty killers came up big. The Panthers played better in the second period, holding the Hurricanes to only six shots, before finally breaking through at 5:09 of the third period thanks to Stillman and Reinprecht.
After taking a shot from the left faceoff circle blocked by Sergei Samsonov, Stillman collected his own rebound and fired it toward the net, where it ricocheted off Reinprecht’s shin pad and into the net.
“I’ll take it anyway I can get them,” Reinprecht said.
The goal gave the Panthers life. Eight minutes later, Stillman scored on the power play before Allen scored into a short-handed, empty net goal with 2:01 remaining in the game.
And then there was Vokoun, who turned aside 32 shots on the night for his 33rd career shutout.
“We gave up a lot of shots in the first period, but we kept the shots in spots we said we would,” Vokoun said. “They didn’t have any breakaways. I mean, we’re blocking more shots (nine Wednesday). Before, one guys wouldn’t do his job and the other guy was trying to help him, and it was like a domino effect and we paid the price.”
But watch Vokoun the past few games. His moves seem more compact; there’s no lunging or diving.
“I’m benefiting from the play in front of me,” he said. “I feel good, but it definitely helps me to be able to focus on that one shot. I don’t have to worry about what’s going to happen next. It’s a little easier to read the game for me then at the start of the season.
“When you see the puck well you don’t have to go out as far, you react to it and catch it. If I don’t see it, the tendency is to get out a little more. You have the benefit of a better angle, but it’s hard to recover for the rebounds. With the confidence I have, there’s a little more calmness and I can put the rebound where I want.”
The defense is “doing the little things right,” Seidenberg said.
“We’re supporting each other out of our zone and we’re running proper routes,” he added.
“The morale is better now,” Reinprecht said. “We’re moving in the right direction.”
This doesn’t mean all the kinks are worked out.
“I’m not sure we’re exactly where we want to be yet, but it’s definitely growing,” DeBoer said. “I think that with every game, every time we get rewarded for doing things the right way, you get that sense…we’re definitely in a better place than we were seven days ago.”
The Panthers try to carry their good feelings and mojo into this weekend’s home-and-home series against the Southeast Division-leading Capitals, who Friday visit BankAtlantic Center. NOTES
Seidenberg led the team with five hits, Bryan McCabe had four…Rookie Victor Oreskovich played 10:13 while Kenndal McArdle played 7:05 and just missed on another scoring opportunity….Stephen Weiss
had a shot hit the crossbar at 16:20 of the second period….Radek Dvorak skated for approximately 30 minutes Wednesday morning and said his injured knee is feeling “much better.”...McCabe plays in his 1,000th game Friday…The Capitals Alex Ovechkin, who suffered a shoulder injury in Sunday’s overtime loss in Columbus, told coach Bruce Boudreau Wednesday morning he’s feeling better. He’s still listed as week-to-week. He did not play Wednesday in New Jersey, but is traveling with the team…