SUNRISE, Fla. – In less than a minute, the Florida Panthers took control against the Minnesota Wild.
Chris Higgins and Mike Santorelli scored in a 53-second span in the first period, and Tomas Vokoun made 22 saves to help the Panthers beat the Wild 2-1 on Friday night. It was their third straight home win.
Cal Clutterbuck scored for Minnesota, and Jose Theodore stopped 25 shots.
The Panthers opened the scoring on Higgins’ goal at 6:53. Higgins picked off a pass near the blue line and brought the puck behind the net. He pushed the puck out to traffic in front, then grabbed a rebound off Theodore’s glove and poked it in the left side of the net.
“You’ve got to be tough in your own building,” Higgins said. “We want to make it tough for teams to come down here and grab points from us.”
The Panthers struck again when Rostislav Olesz passed from the left circle across to Santorelli to the right of the net, setting up a wrist shot.
“It was a big start. We came out moving our feet and got two goals and the game tightened up after that,” Santorelli said. “It was a hard-fought battle.”
Clutterbuck scored on a power play with 3:02 left in the period. Nick Schultz took a shot from the point that Vokoun blocked, but Clutterbuck got the rebound and beat Vokoun on the stick side.
“It’s tough when you put yourself in a hole like that,” Clutterbuck said. “Take away the first five minutes and it was a pretty good hockey game. Sometimes you don’t get the bounces to climb out of it.”
The Wild was coming off a 5-1 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers on Thursday night.
“You need your big dogs to step up in big games,” Wild coach Todd Richards said. “Coming off a loss, it’s a big game.”
As the game ended, Florida’s Steve Bernier took a stick to the face and sustained a cut on his cheekbone, below the eye. Minnesota’s Brent Burns received a fighting penalty and a game misconduct penalty at 20:00 for his role in the incident.
“I don’t know how it happened. I saw he was bleeding,” Burns said. “He just came at me, and maybe my glove got him, I don’t know.”
The extent of his injury won’t be known until later, according to Florida coach Peter DeBoer.
“It looks like he got a butt end in the face,” DeBoer said. “Whether there was intent there or not, that’s for other people to decide. He’s pretty hurt in there.”
NOTES: Florida RW Radek Dvorak became the franchise leader in games played at 574, breaking the mark set by Robert Svehla (1994-2002). Dvorak played five seasons for Florida from 1995-2000 before returning as a free agent in 2007… Florida LW Cory Stillman returned to the lineup after missing two games because of a sore shoulder. … Minnesota D Marco Scandella, a second-round pick in 2008, made his NHL debut.