By Bill Whitehead
Just when you thought you had these Florida Panthers figured out, the club turns around and plays an outstanding game like it did on Thursday night.
The Panthers, fresh off being shut out to cap off a dismal four-game homestand, received 32 saves from Scott Clemmensen, and Jonathan Huberdeau and Peter Mueller each scored two goals, breaking a five-game winless streak and beating down the Philadelphia Flyers 5-2 at the Wells Fargo Center.
Huberdeau, 19, put the Panthers (5-7-4) up early when his centering pass found Peter Mueller skating through the slot. Mueller’s snap shot pass Ilya Bryzgalov put Florida up 1-0, but it didn’t stay that way long.
Just 29 seconds later, Mike Weaver sent a long pass to Tomas Kopecky, who fired another shot past Bryzgalov. The goal was Kopecky’s fourth of the season.
Then Huberdeau, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft in Minnesota, showed off his creative ability after he was wrapped up by Kimmo Timonen on a breakaway against Bryzgalov. The Quebec native was awarded a penalty shot, giving Florida a chance to extend its lead.
Huberdeau skated in and half-turned against the Russian goalie, faked on his forehand, opened the goaltender and slid the puck between his legs off the backhand. Bryzgalov then tossed his stick against the glass in frustration.
While the penalty shot may have been a major body blow to Bryzgalov’s night, Huberdeau put the netminder out by TKO with the only goal in the second period. Erik Gudbranson’s blast on the power play, which resulted in a shattered stick, was recovered by Drew Shore. The rookie flipped it toward Huberdeau, who tucked the puck near the post past Bryzgalov on his second poke at it.
The two goals gave Huberdeau, the only first-year player leading his club in goals, eight tallies on the year to go along with five assists. Brian Boucher replaced Bryzgalov, who again tossed his goalie stick — this time while stomping down the tunnel to the dressing room.
Clemmensen, something of a surprise starter in goal for Florida, denied the Flyers (8-10-1) until Luke Schenn scored from the point late in the third period. Jakub Voracek scored his seventh of the season on a wrap-around 62 seconds after Mueller scored following up a miss by Shore off a neat feed from Huberdeau on a play that started with the Florida winger outworking Philadelphia defenseman Nicklas Grossmann for puck possession at center ice. Clemmensen had solid support from his defense, who cleaned up numerous loose pucks in front of the Iowa native.
After a 7-1 rout by the Flyers at the BB&T Center on Jan. 26, Florida won the season series with a pair of wins in Philadelphia. The first one was a 3-2 win in a shootout on Feb. 7. In that one, Mueller and Huberdeau again were the culprits, beating Bryzgalov in the first two shootout rounds. It was just the second time in franchise history that Florida had swept the season series in Philadelphia.
It was a strong night in the Southeast Division standings for Florida as well. Carolina and Tampa Bay, both with 17 points and atop the division, lost in regulation, while Winnipeg gained two points in the 4-3 win over the Hurricanes. Last-place Washington lost 3-2 to New Jersey in the first of two games in D.C. in 48 hours; the two teams meet again Saturday.
The Panthers return to action Friday night in Western Pennsylvania, where goaltender Jacob Markstrom is expected to make his first start of the season against the Pittsburgh Penguins (11-6-0), a 6-5 loser to the Flyers on Wednesday.