Panthers Play to Perfection in 5-0 win at Philly

A strange link between the sports teams in Florida and Philadelphia began back on May 29. On that Saturday night in South Florida, Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay set out for another strong outing against the Florida Marlins while most Philly fans were likely tuned in to the Flyers-Blackhawks on NBC. A couple of hours later, Halladay had humbled the Marlins by tossing the twentieth perfect game in Major League Baseball history.

On Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center, the Florida Panthers returned the favor a tad, taking the Flyers down a bit in Florida’s own version of perfection.

The NHL doesn’t have a clear-cut perfect game to fall back on, but if the league did, then what the Panthers (15-16-0) accomplished over 60 minutes would have to rank right up there to meet the criteria. Shutout? Check. Penalty kill? Check. Win faceoffs and takeaways, plus limit scoring chances? Check, check, check. Complete domination of the league’s top team in every facet of the game except hits? Check.

In its game story, the Associated Press called the contest “an easy 5-0 win” for the Panthers, but I’m sure not one member of the Panthers left the arena thinking, “Wow, that was easy.” Scoreboard wise, the game may have appeared easy, and any casual observer who watched the score conveyor belt-by on ESPN’s crawl at the bottom of the screen may have thought it was an easy victory. However, the reality is Philadelphia is the league’s top team and was on a blistering 10-1-3 stretch in its last 14 games, so calling it easy from Florida’s standpoint doesn’t fit. But this was the same AP game story that in its notes section said Florida still hadn’t had a game go to overtime yet — despite being 3-0 in overtime.

This win took a ton of effort on Florida’s part. The club outhustled the Flyers all night, working the boards and clearing loose pucks in front of goalie Tomas Vokoun, who recorded his 42nd career shutout and fourth this year. The Cats also received contribution from the strangest of places. Of its five goal scorers, Florida had three of them tally just their second goal this season — AHLers Bill Thomas and Evgeny Dadonov, and sophomore defenseman Dmitry Kulikov. Florida started slowly and was outshot 4-1 in the game’s opening minutes, but the goals by Thomas and Dadonov late in the first period gave Florida momentum. It continued in the second when Shawn Matthias and Mike Santorelli helped them to a commanding 4-0 lead. Kulikov’s snap shot past Brian Boucher was the only goal of the third. Florida kept its record perfect when scoring at least four goals in a game, improving to 9-0.

Florida has a habit of playing some of its best games against Philadelphia. Since the 2006-2007 season, the Panthers are 12-5-1 against the Flyers, including winning six of 10 in Philly, and won three of four last year. It’s a strange set of stats considering Philly has been hanging out in the league’s upper echelon the past few seasons while Florida has simply been looking up at everyone.

It was also the third straight game the Panthers have knocked out the team’s starting goalie, with Carolina’s Cam Ward, Buffalo’s Ryan Miller and Philly’s Sergei Bobrovsky all having been victimized. Depth scoring has been key in the run, too, with 10 different players scoring the Cats’ last 11 goals. Only Marty Reasoner, who beat Miller twice last Friday, is a repeater in the last two games.

For one night, there was perfection in the City of Brotherly Love, but it had nothing to do with the right arm of Roy Halladay. Instead, perfection involved Vokoun and all those second-goal scorers, and Florida’s work ethic and commitment to the game plan. Meanwhile, the home team, likely looking forward to the holiday break, gave its fans a terrible Christmas present — a giant lump of coal shaped in the form of a goose egg on the scoreboard.

Score one for the Boys from the South.

Bill Whitehead
NHLHS Florida Panthers Credentialed Correspondent
Twitter: @BillWhiteheadFL