Monday, 15 December 2008 13:08

Stepping Up Florida Panthers

Written by  Dave Joseph
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NHL Florida PanthersFlorida Panthers, December 13, 2008 -  Coach Peter DeBoer said Saturday afternoon in Vancouver he’s learned a lot recently about his Panthers, who’ve gone from basement dwellers to playoff contenders in all of two weeks.

“I’ve learned we’ve got some character people in the dressing room,” DeBoer said.

Never has that been more evident than in the Panthers’ last 10 games. Despite missing several of their most skilled players, including Cory Stillman, David Booth, Nathan Horton and Richard Zednik, the Panthers are riding high.

As they prepare for Sunday’s game against the Canucks, the Panthers are 7-1-2 in their last 10 games – have accumulated 16 of a possible 20 points in those games – and are riding a five game winning streak on the road.

Oh, and by the way, they’ve clawed their way from being the 30th ranked team in the league to being tied with Buffalo for eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

DeBoer said Cory Stillman, who hasn’t played since Dec. 14 due to concussion symptoms and then conditioning, is “probable” for Sunday’s game in Vancouver. As for the rest of his injuried players? “It will be day-to-day,” he said.

To make room for Stillman's return, Tanner Glass was reassigned to Rochester.

The Panthers are currently 3-0 on this current Canadian trek after winning Friday 3-2 in a shootout with the Flames. The winning goal in the shootout came off the stick of Stephen Weiss, who also scored the game winners in Ottawa and Edmonton.

“We have not used the adversity as a crutch,” DeBoer said. “We’ve played the game the right way regardless of the personnel. That’s an important part of this. The guys who have come up to replaced our injured players have committed themselves to the system and they’ve been responsible.”

Defenseman Jassen Cullimore mused last week the Panthers were given a confidence boost when they came back from 2-0 deficits to pick up single points Nov. 28 against the Devils and Nov. 30 against the Rangers.

DeBoer echoed that sentiment Saturday.

“I would say that had a lot to do with it,” he said. “We were in a battle. The injuries were piling up. We were behind in those home games, it was a critical home stand, and we were sitting last in the entire league. We were trying to use that week to turn things around.

“So the way we picked up points in those games, by coming from behind, that was real important to the team, which was pretty fragile at that time.”

The Panthers have showed no signs of weakness these past two weeks. Role players seem to step up every night, whether its rookie Michal Repik scoring his first NHL goal in Ottawa or Kamil Kreps scoring his first goal of the season Friday while Florida was shorthanded. And Jay Bouwmeester continues to pump life into the team, scoring 10 points (five goals) and being a plus-9 over the past 10 games.

Meanwhile, in Calgary Friday evening, it was Tomas Vokoun’s chance to shine in goal, turning aside 35 shots, including 17 in the third period. He also stoned the Flames’ in the shootout.

“He’s a true professional,” said DeBoer of Vokoun, who has been on the sidelines these past weeks while the Panthers have ridden Craig Anderson. “It was not an easy spot to be in (Friday). We threw him into a tough road game, but he responded the way I hoped.”

Anderson (8-2-3), who shut out the Oilers 2-0 Thursday, will be in goal against the Canucks. Anderson is ranked first in the league in goals against (1.94) and save percentage (.946).

The Canucks end a seven-game road trip Saturday evening in Edmonton. With Roberto Luongo still bothered with a groin injury, the Panthers’ will face either Curtis Sanford or Cory Schneider in goal Sunday.

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