Sunday’s game between the New York Islanders and the Florida Panthers was
supposed to be highlighted by the return of Florida’s star forward David Booth,
who came back after being out for over three months with a concussion.
However, with the Panthers being in a tight playoff race and every point
against direct opponents being twice as important, the defensive side of the
team stole the spotlight and was solely responsible for Florida’s 2-0 win.
“[The Islanders] looked like a team that was desperate for a win and they
battled hard. We limited their opportunities and stuck to the gameplan,” said
Panthers’ head coach Pete DeBoer.
With the win, Florida jumps five spots in the Eastern Conference standings
and is in a tie for sixth place with the Philadelphia Flyers. That wouldn’t
have been possible without a defensive corps that apparently has to do it all
Goaltender Tomas Vokoun notched yet another shutout – his fourth in the
month and seventh of the year – and defensemen Jordan Leopold and Keith Ballard
picked up the slack for the offense scoring the only two goals of the night.
DeBoer highlighted the importance of Ballard’s goal, saying that it was a
big swing in the game because it came with 9.6 seconds to go in the second
period and gave the Panthers the opportunity to “breathe easier” between the second
and third periods. Florida had outshot
New York 14-5 in that period and probably would have felt like it had let the
Islanders off the hook if they hadn’t scored.
“We sustained pressure during the second period, and it was nice for us
to be rewarded at the end of it with the goal,” said Ballard, who scored his
fourth goal of the season.
The importance of Ballard’s goal grew even more in the third period, as
the Islanders came out with the desperation DeBoer talked about and outshot the
Panthers 11-0 during the first ten minutes. Florida’s defense stood tough even
as they had to endure three different penalty kills by the Islanders during
that first half of the period.
The Islanders looked like they
were trying to score the tying goal before scoring their first, and their
desperation may have held them back from being able to think clearly and create
better scoring chances to get back in the game.
As far as David Booth’s return is concerned, he didn’t struggle with the
speed of the game and took some bumps for the first time since October 24. Booth got an assist as a reward for his hustle
late in the first period. He recovered a
rebound from his own missed shot and attempted to score once again, hitting the
post and setting up forward Michael Frolik’s dish to Leopold for the first goal
of the game.
“This is exciting, this is my life. I enjoyed being back out on the ice,
but I also know I have a long way to go to get myself back to where I was,”
said the 25-year-old forward.
DeBoer was satisfied with his star’s performance and added that his team
missed Booth’s speed and ability to back opposing teams off.
With the win, the Florida Panthers finished January with a 6-0-1 record
at home to start 2010. This is especially important since 15 of the Panthers’
last 27 games will be in the friendly confines of Fort Lauderdale as they make
their playoff push.