SUNRISE, Fla. – Thanks largely to Tomas Vokoun, the Florida Panthers returned to .500 for the first time in six weeks.
Vokoun made 32 saves for his fifth shutout of the season and 43rd overall, and David Booth, Chris Higgins and Stephen Weiss scored in the Panthers’ 3-0 victory over the New York Rangers on Sunday.
The Panthers are 4-1-2 in their last seven games to get to .500 (17-17-2) for the first time since they were 9-9-0 on Nov. 20. They began a stretch of 11 of 13 at home with overtime losses to Boston (Monday) and Montreal (Friday).
“We were desperate,” Weiss said. “We knew we had to win this game after the last two where we played two pretty decent games but not getting the results we wanted at home.”
Martin Biron stopped 32 shots for New York. The Rangers, coming off a 2-1 overtime loss in Tampa Bay on Saturday night, lost for the first time (9-1) in the second half of back-to-back games.
“We had our chances, but Vokoun made some big saves,” New York’s Marc Staal said.
Vokoun opted to let his teammates describe his play.
“Tomas played a great game for us. He deserves a little more lead than just one and we gave it to him,” Higgins said. “He shut the door on them and obviously you can get a little momentum when Vokie’s making those big saves like he did.”
Higgins scored his sixth goal at 8:50 of the third period to give Florida a 2-0 lead.
Higgins poke-checked the puck away from Michael Sauer, skated down the left side, then waited for defenceman Michael Del Zotto to slide by before wristing a shot past Biron to the short side.
Weiss added an empty-net goal with 1:30 left with the Rangers on a power play.
Booth opened the scoring with a power-play goal midway through the second period. With Dale Weise in the penalty box for holding, Booth scored his 10th goal when he slammed home a rebound at 11:32. Biron stopped Mike Santorelli’s shot from close-range before Booth fired the rebound between several players around the crease.
“I don’t want to hear about a ‘rookie mistake,'” Rangers coach John Tortorella said about Weise’s penalty. “It was an offensive-zone penalty—a dumb penalty.”
Florida’s Cory Stillman appeared to have scored at 4:23 of the third period after taking a feed from Mike Reasoner. But replays showed the puck went off Stillman’s skate in the crease and the goal was disallowed.
“It’s good for us to respond the way we did,” Higgins said. “The disallowed goal could have been deflating because they actually took the play to us the next five minutes, but we hung in there, played some good defensive hockey and Vokie made the big saves and we got the win.”
NOTES: Tortorella said Rangers LW Ruslan Fedotenko suffered a “deep bruise” when blocking a shot with his hand in the first period. Fedotenko left the game and did not return … Del Zotto returned to the lineup after missing four games—twice a healthy scratch, once with the flu and once with a groin problem. … The Panthers had no word regarding C Steve Reinprecht, who was put on waivers Friday.