Strong Second Propels Panthers to Victory

SUNRISE, Fla – The Florida Panthers scored just two goals, but it was all they needed as they topped the Western Conference’s Kings of the Hill, beating the Vancouver Canucks 2-1 at the BankAtlantic Center Monday night.

The Panthers seemed to control the puck early in the opening frame, but just three minutes into the game, they committed a costly turnover as Manny Malholtra intercepted the puck in the neutral zone. He skated up the left side, past Erik Gudbranson, and found a chasing Dale Weise. The forward, who had been given criticism for being too one sided physically, tapped the puck in from the right side, and his third tally of the year gave Vancouver a 1-0 edge.

“Pretty good play by Manny,” Weise said, “Those are pretty easy to score. Obviously the goalie was anticipating the pass.”

Vancouver took the edge the rest of the period, outshooting Florida 10-6 in the frame. Weise and Malholtra found a second breakaway later in the period, but Brian Campbell was able to stop them on the second attempt.

Scott Clemmensen was flawless after the early wake up call, stopping all of the next 25 shots he faced, earning him the number one star. It would be up to the Panthers offense to settle this score.

Florida came out flying in the second, playing one of their most complete periods of the year. They had 14 shots reach net, and held the Canucks to just two. The key turning point came exactly five minutes into the period, when Marcel Goc fired a slap shot from the right side at Roberto Luongo. His pad save set the puck to the far left, where Dmitry Kulikov was racing in. He wound up a slap shot of his own past Luongo, tying the game at one goal apiece. It was his fourth goal of the year.

“I was just shooting towards the net, hoping for the guys to tip it,” Kulikov said. “Good for me, it went straight to the net. I’ll take it.”

10:52 into the second stanza, the Panthers took their first, and only lead of the game. It took multiple efforts. The Panthers had three men attaching the crease. Kris Versteeg attempted to punch it in but failed, Tomas Kopecky whiffed, and Goc wiffed on his first attempt. He was finally able to get the puck in, though, and his fourth goal of the season was the difference in the game.

Vancouver returned the favor to Florida, outshooting them 14-2 in the third period, but Clemmensen remained sharp, stopping all of the shots he faced. With just over a minute left in the game, the Canucks pulled Luongo, but Alexandre Burrows took an interference call with 29 seconds left in regulation. The ensuing power put the nail in the coffin for the Canucks, who were forced to keep Luongo in net to wrap up the game.

Florida has the week off, playing a home game with the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night. Vancouver is right back in action tomorrow, as they travel to Tampa Bay to face the lightning.

With the loss, coach Alain Vigneault will not be coaching the Western Conference All Stars in Ottawa. It was also the first time the Panthers beat the Canucks on home ice this millennium as their last win came October 20, 1999.

FAMILIAR FACES

Despite being on opposite ends of the continent, these two teams are very familiar with each other. Five former Panthers were dressed for the Canucks tonight: Keith Ballard, who playd in his 500th NHL game; Chris Higgins, Alexander Sulzer, Mike Duco, and Roberto Luongo all had tenure in South Florida. Injured forward David Booth was looking forward to returning tonight, but injuries have forced his out of the lineup for the better part of two months.

On the Panthers side, Ed Jovanovski and Mikael Samuelsson each spent time in Vancouver. Samielsson was traded to Florida in the Booth trade, but had tenure in Florida prior to th trade. Marco Sturm, who is recovering from an injury, was also sent to Florida in the trade. More on this story to come tomorrow, as InsideHockey talked with Ballard, Higgins, Luongo, Duco, Booth, and Samuelsson.

OFF THE MARK

Jacob Markstrom will be out a little longer than expected. He saw a specialist, Dr. John Uribe at the University of Miami.

“Unfortunately, it’s not great news,” Coach Kevin Dineen said.”It’s going to be a little while before he’s back in the swing of things.

“My own prognosis yesterday was a little inaccurate,” he said. Yesterday, coach Dineen speculated that Markstrom would not miss any games. This morning he told the media that Markstrom would see the specialist, and the Panthers called up goalie Brian Foster.

The Panthers will know more tomorrow, and InsideHockey will post the latest news as it comes in.

THREE STARS:

1. Scott Clemmensen (FLA) W, 25 SV

2. Marcel Goc (FLA) G, A

3. Dmitry Kulikov (FLA) G

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