Panthers Blow Out Bruins to Extend Division Lead

Coming into this week, the Florida Panthers were ranked 14th in goals for in the Eastern Conference. In their past two games, they’ve been an offensive machine, scoring 11 goals, including six in their 6-2 victory over the slumping Boston Bruins Thursday night at a sold out BankAtlantic Center. The win extends the Panthers’ lead in the Southeast Division to three points, while also putting them just two back of the Bruins for second in the conference.

“We crawled through the 70s [points],” coach Kevin Dineen said. “It took us a while to get from 70 to 80. It was no fun to look at the standings.-.-. To be up in the 80s is where we want to be and hopefully we’ll be on a strong trot to the 90s.”

“It’s realistic now that we can catch some teams,” Stephen Weiss said. “We’ve gotta stop looking behind and start looking forward and push ourselves that way.-.-. It’s a realistic goal now to be at the top of the conference.”

The game seemed like it was going to be a chess match, with both teams matching lines in the opening minutes. It wasn’t until the final minutes, at the 17:57 mark, that the Panthers finally scored, and they never looked back. On the powerplay, Mikael Samuelsson took a pass along the right side from Brian Campbell, who had a spectacular night with three assists and a huge hit on Brad Marchand earlier on in the game. Samuelsson came to the back of the right circle and let one of his wrist shots, fooling Tim Thomas in the Bruins’ net, putting Florida up 1-0.

Florida doubled up their lead before many fans could return to their seats after the intermission. Just :38 seconds into the second stanza, Marcel Goc caught a turnover on the right side. He passed down low to Samuelsson who found Campbell at the center point. Campbell wound a shot that Goc deflected past Thomas to put Florida up 2-0.

The Bruins showed some signs of life 4:53 into the period, as they cut the lead in half at 2-1. Joe Corvo shot a floater from the point. The “knuckle puck” beat Jose Theodore and put Boston back into the game. A minute and a half later, at the 6:32 mark Stephen Weiss answered. Tomas Fleischmann wristed a shot through traffic from the right side, but Thomas made the pad save. The puck rebounded to his right and Weiss was there to put it home and put Florida up 3-1.

Florida was not done, as 15:27 into the second, John Madden was able to finally get his first goal and first point as a Panther. Madden stole the puck at his offensive point, sending it to Krys Barch on the right side. Barch then shot it off the boards to Jarred Smithson, who fed Madden in front. It was the 162nd goal of the 38-year-old’s storied career, and on a night with many heros, earned him the “champions belt” in the locker room.

Boston tried to turn things around, and was able to get some momentum back 1:44 into the third. Brian Ralston wound up a shot from the right point, fooling Theodore. His fifth goal of the year cut the lead in half again, at 4-2.

The Bruins’ momentum was short lived, as later on in the period, a pass went off a defenseman’s stick in the left corner of the B’s defensive zone. It ricocheted right to Tomas Kopecky in front of the net, who tapped it home to put the Panthers up 5-2 7:51 in. Wojtek Wolski also scored in the waning minutes, to give Florida its final 6-2 edge.

Florida has now won their last four games.

“We want to play well at home,” Dineen said. “We want to enthuse our fan base. We had thousands of Toronto fans in here and I think Boston was well represented as well. I think you take them out of it. We enjoy those folks coming down and enjoying South Florida, but we want our fans to come into this building and be proud putting on that Panther uniform.”

The Panthers look to sweep its four game homestand on Saturday night, as they host the surging Buffalo Sabres at 7:30. If they win, they will tie a team record with five wins.

NOTES:

- The Panthers expect to have at least Kris Versteeg and Dmitry Kulikov back Saturday.  Scottie Upshall has also been skating and could return soon.

THREE STARS:

1. Brian Campbell (FLA) 3 A

2. Mikael Samuelsson (FLA) G, A

3. Stephen Weiss (FLA) G, A

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