First, the good news: Nathan Horton looked terrific. His reinsertion to the lineup was a shot in the arm right from the first drop of the puck, playing physical and utilizing his rapidly developing mean streak. Number 16 ended with 2a (+1), Stephen Weiss had 1g-1a (+1), and David Booth collected a goal. Bryan McCabe and Cory Stillman each garnered two assists, as Tomas Vokoun stopped 43(!) shots. Dmitry Kulikov (0 points) led the Cats with 5 SOG. Coming out of the second period, Florida had a solid 3-0 lead.
Then there was the little matter of a funky, fluky goal late in the third...
On to Vokoun...yes, he allowed a routine Phoenix clearing shot from inches behind the centerline to escape his grasp, entering the Panthers' net with exactly 60 seconds remaining in regulation. Yes, it was the game-tying goal. Yes, it was gut-wrenching and heartbreaking and elicited violent emotions from just about anyone who cares deeply for this club. Yes, it will be said that TVo single-handedly lost this one. It wouldn't be an accurate assessment.
My own two cents here, but in a period (the third) in which Florida was outshot 19-6, the netminder can't be faulted for every turnover, opposition rush, un-fired shot, or failure to score on behalf of his forwards. Forgetting the two goals he allowed earlier in the same frame, Vokoun was absolutely, unquestionably to blame for the third. Just happened to be the important one.
If a team is required to have a superstar, highlight-reel player, he's been it for this franchise over the past three seasons. The crap this man's endured, from mismanagement to questionable coaching to trade rumors du jour, Tomas Vokoun has been a professional's professional. He never complains, never goes public, never demands a ticket out, unlike a number of so-called "superstars", past and present. There is also the tiny issue of his team collapsing around him when the going got uber-tough.
Keeping this short, it's not his fault if the Panthers - as has long been expected - fail to make the postseason because of this one bungled play. Everyone in front of him has been a goat in a long trail of goats this year.
The play sucked beyond words, but running him out of town - or more ridiculously mock-cheering - is neither fair nor responsible. Quantifying what he has brought to Sunrise - undeservedly solid goaltending - cannot be overestimated, nor thanked for enough. The Cats got a reprieve after losing Roberto Luongo in the guise of #29.
Anyway, Phoenix showed a gargantuan amount of heart in the third, with inspired play and goals by Martin Hanzel, Lee Stempniak, and Radim Vrbata. All 40 years of Mathieu Schneider grabbed two assists. Ilya Bryzgalov finished with 21 saves as the Coyotes won their 7th straight game behind goals by Lauri Korpikoski and Vrbata in the shootout. Horton scored for Florida.
Next up: Buffalo on Saturday.