Panthers earn rare win at Colorado

Michael Kelly, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

DENVER -- The Florida Panthers earned a season-first Saturday.
They finally got a two-goal lead -- and it only took 21 games.
Goaltender Tim Thomas stopped 32 shots for his 200th NHL victory, defenseman Tom Gilbert had three assists and the Panthers beat the Colorado Avalanche 4-1 on Saturday night in a game which they never trailed.
"It's nice playing with a lead, it's a good feeling and that's what you want all the time," Florida defenseman Brian Campbell said.
Campbell had a goal and an assist, and right wingers Brad Boyes and Tomas Kopecky and center Jonathan Huberdeau also scored for the Panthers. Right winger Scottie Upshall also had two assists for Florida.
It was just the fifth win for the Panthers, who made a coaching change a week ago. They are 2-3 under coach Peter Horachek, with the two wins coming against a pair of top teams in the Western Conference.
They chalked up Saturday's win to a strong start a night after falling in Minnesota.
"We've been going in the right direction," Gilbert said. "We've lost a couple of games by a goal based off our starts. That's what we've been working on."
Goaltender Semyon Varlamov made 29 saves and center Ryan O'Reilly had the only goal for Colorado, which has dropped three straight.
"Three games, three losses," center Gabriel Landeskog said. "We are still going to play the same way."
The Avalanche may have lost more than the game. Center Matt Duchene -- the team's leading scorer -- suffered an oblique injury in the third period and didn't return.
"Hopefully it's not too serious," coach Patrick Roy said.
Duchene is a big reason the Avalanche got off to the best start in franchise history, but Saturday they looked far from the team that won 12 of 13 to begin the season. Florida controlled the play from the beginning and finally went on top when Boyes beat Varlamov with a one-timer 12:40 into the game. It was his seventh goal of the year.
"We set the pace pretty good," Gilbert said. "We've had slow starts and we just got pucks deep and played a great game down low."
Campbell made it 2-0 when he scored on the power play 1:15 into the second. The two-goal lead was new territory for the Panthers.
"We actually got the lead. We haven't had the lead very often, but when we have had it we've played pretty well," Thomas said. "We play very composed with the lead and that's a good sign. It's been our goal at times this year. The last thing we need is to have problems in that area."
After O'Reilly cut the lead in half with his eighth goal six minutes later, Kopecky spilt Colorado's defense and lifted a backhand by Varlamov to make it 3-1 with 6:07 remaining in the second.
"We got some energy back after the goal and gave up a goal," Roy said. "We were battling and played them more even in the third."
The Avalanche played desperate in the third but couldn't solve Thomas, who made 15 saves in the period. He had three of them in one flurry midway through that kept it a two-goal game.
Huberdeau scored with 6:44 left to put it away.
"As long as he can see it," Gilbert said of Thomas. "He makes a great first save and we had great back pressure, guys coming back. This team is great on the rush and we really focused on that. We tried to limit the opportunities for their guys coming up."
The Panthers were only 1-for-5 on the power play but two other times they scored within seconds of Colorado killing off a penalty.
"We got some chances," Horachek said. "You could really say three goals were directly responsible from the power play."
NOTES: The game featured the top two picks from the June draft. Colorado C Nathan MacKinnon was the top pick and Florida C Aleskander Barkov went second overall. ... Avalanche D Matt Hunwick played for this first time since being recalled from Lake Erie of the AHL on Nov. 4. ... Colorado LW Cody McLeod's wife, Jessica, gave birth to a baby girl early Saturday morning. It is their second child. ... The Panthers had played 12 one-goal games in their first 20 and six in their last seven games entering Saturday. They were 2-10 in those games. ... Colorado's penalty kill fell from third to ninth in the NHL in the last week.

What to Read Next