Panthers Solve Shootout Riddle, Edge Flames

SUNRISE, Fla. – The Florida Panthers finally solved their shootout woes, as the topped the Calgary Flames 3-2 at the BankAtlantic Center Friday night. It was Florida’s second shootout victory in six opportunities, and their first since their home opener against the Tampa Bay Lightning on October 15.

“It feels good,” coach Kevin Dineen said about the shootout win. “It’s one of those things that just kind of builds up if it doesn’t happen somewhere along the line.

It was Florida’s 11th consecutive one-goal decision at home.

The game was highlighted by some unlikely of heros. For Calgary, goalie Leland Irving was making his NHL debut. He is a survivor of a rare form of childhood cancer known as rhabdomyosarcoma. The often-fatal disease forced him to undergo more than a year of chemotherapy at ages 7 and 8.

Irving was stellar in net, stopping 39 of the 41 shots he faced. The Panthers peppered him from all sides. He was clearly up for the task.

“You like to see a guy get that first NHL game,” Dineen said. “I think that’s always a special moment.”

The two blemishes on Irving’s night both came off the stick of forward Sean Bergenheim, who brought home the team’s victory belt after the game.

Just seven minutes into the opening frame, Shawn Matthias had the puck in front of Irving. Bergenheim and Mikael Samuelsson kept pressure up front, batting the puck off Matthias’ pass. Bergenheim found the loose puck right in front, and had an open net to shoot at to put the Panthers up 1-0. It was his fifth goal of the year.

Florida dominated play until just minutes later, at the 10:00 mark, an old friend made his presence known. As Curtis Glencross came in on the left side, he took a sharp angle shot that went off either the side of the net, or goalie José Théodore. Former Panther captain Olli Jokinen was on the doorstep and sent the rebound in off the backhand, evening up the game at 1. Jarome Iginla registered the secondary assist on Jokinen’s 10th goal of the season.

After a silent second session, Calgary came out flying to start the third. After Kris Versteeg took a slashing penalty at the 3:40 mark, the Flames won the ensuing faceoff, scoring just 15 seconds later.

Alex Tanguay took a pass at the point on the left side. He dropped it for Jokinen, who couldn’t find a shooting lane, and dropped it for Rene Bourque, who was on the doorstep. His soft wrist shot went right past Théodore and put the Flames up 2-1. It was Borque’s 11th goal of the season.
The Panthers, and Bergenheim, weren’t done. After Irving saved Samuelsson’s shot from the point at the 15:25 mark, Bergenheim, who was in front, found the rebound, and shot the puck to Irving’s right. It was his sixth goal of the year. Matthias was credited with the second assist.

Florida controlled the rest of the period, but could not score on Irving. Instead, this game would need another hero. Dmitry Kulikov was that man.

After Tanguay scored in the first round, and both shooters were stopped in the second, Kulikov cruised down the middle, and let up a soft wrist shot on Irving. The puck went over the goalie’s glove and tied the shootout at one.

For Kulikov, it was his first shootout goal on his first shot.

“We were losing in the shootouts,” Kulikov said. “I wanted it. It turned out good for me.”

Kulikov had his move down, no matter what. “Either way, I was going to do it anyway,” he joked.

“We’ll see,” Kulikov said when asked if he’ll have to take part in the shootout more often. “Hopefully we won’t have to go to the shootout.”

“I had to get outside the box,” Dineen said on his decision to let Kulikov shoot. “At the end of the day I went with three different options to start.”

After TJ Brodie’s shot was saved by Théodore, Stephen Weiss had his chance to play hero once again. He took the puck from center, and made a few dekes on Irving. They worked and he was able to ice the game, as Theodore stopped Lee Stempniak’s attempt to keep things going, giving the Panthers the victory.

Florida enjoys a day off in Sunrise tomorrow, before taking on their Southeast Division rival Carolina Hurricanes Sunday afternoon.

THREE STARS:
1. Sean Bergenheim (FLA) 2 G
2. Shawn Matthias (FLA) 2 A
3. Leland Irving (CGY) SOL 39 SV

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