SUNRISE, Fla. -- It was by no means pretty, but in a span of just under 13 minutes Thursday night the Florida Panthers managed to finally solve the mystery of Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick, awaken from an L.A. nightmare and grab the top spot again in the Southeast Division.
But what the team put the fans through, at least offensively, was tough to watch. Florida produced just five shots in the first period, followed by six in the second. The Cats trotted out an offense that was as electrifying as O.J.'s low-speed chase and as murky and self-consumed as a smoggy day east of L.A. It was offensive offense.
The game's first 20 minutes left many wondering, "What's the highlight so far?" In fact, it was the kind of contest you don't want to bring someone to for his or her first hockey experience because it lacked action throughout, especially in front of the goaltenders. The only early fan noise was from those booing ex-Flyer Mike Richards every time he touched the puck.
It was also a stark contrast to Florida's 4-0 loss in Washington. In the Tuesday game, Florida peppered former Cats netminder Tomas Vokoun for 42 shots, but only eight or nine were legitimately good scoring attempts. Many just flipped in harmlessly and were gloved by the right hand of Vokoun, and once the Czech goalie gets in that zone, well, Florida fans have seen that act before.
Quick proved to be an equally difficult goalie to beat, and the Kings' defense was even better early in the game. But while the glove was good for Vokoun on Tuesday, it wasn't good to the left-handed catching Quick in the second period. Florida's Sean Bergenheim scored his tenth goal by whistling a shot from the high slot over Quick's glove. As the period was coming to a close, Mike Santorelli snapped a shot over Quick's glove up high for a 2-0 lead.
And if you can score two goals on Quick in just 11 shots, that's pretty much ball game, as the Kings (26-19-10) are the lowest scoring team in the league, now with just 119 goals.
Beating Quick was the main story. This is the same Jonathan Quick who came in to the game with a 1.89 GAA and a .935 SV%. The Quick who frustrated Florida on Dec. 1 at the Staples Center, stopping 41 of 42 shots and giving up just a goal to Bergenheim. It's also the same Quick who was pulled following the second period Thursday night. "No big deal. Just to shake it up a bit," said Kings coach Darryl Sutter of the decision to quit on Quick.
Panthers center Shawn Matthias, who fed the puck to Matt Bradley for the empty-net goal that ultimately crowned the Kings, said Los Angeles was a much different club the second time around, citing the coach differences from Sutter and previous coach Terry Murray.
"They play hard and are in your face," Matthias said. "The first time we played them, they played a little differently. They have a different system, but they played hard, and it was a tough game for us. It was a big win for us."
But it wasn't the only big win. There was one in Washington, where Vokoun allowed Dustin Byfuglien's shot from center ice to beat him in the closing minutes as the Capitals blew a very late two-goal lead and lost a shootout to Winnipeg, earning the home team one point instead of two. And there was one in Philadelphia, where the Flyers handled Toronto 4-3 in regulation. Both were good news for Florida, who needed it after losing two straight.
When it was done, the Panthers had beaten one of the league's top goalies, worked a little revenge on the Kings and moved back to first in the division.
And it all happened so Quick.By Bill WhiteheadFlorida Panthers Credentialed CorrespondentTwitter: @BillWhiteheadFLEmail: BillWhiteheadFL@hotmail.comPhoto credit: Getty Images