Panthers 4, Avalanche 1

Florida Panthers’ fast start fuels win over Colorado Avalanche

 

The Panthers won for the second time in three games as they were first to score in a game since Oct. 25.

 
Florida Panthers left wing Tomas Kopecky (82), from Slovakia, celebrates a goal with teammate Matt Gilroy (97) against the Colorado Avalanche during the second period of an NHL hockey game on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, in Denver.
Florida Panthers left wing Tomas Kopecky (82), from Slovakia, celebrates a goal with teammate Matt Gilroy (97) against the Colorado Avalanche during the second period of an NHL hockey game on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, in Denver.
Jack Dempsey / AP

grichards@MiamiHerald.com

Falling behind early has been a problem that has plagued the Panthers all season regardless of who was coaching the team.

It wasn’t Saturday as the Panthers never trailed in a 4-1 victory over the Avalanche at Pepsi Center.

Florida has now won two of three after snapping a nine-game losing streak Tuesday; Colorado has lost three in a row.

Saturday’s game was notable in a number of ways.

Not only did the Panthers score the initial goal for the first time since Peter Horachek took over for Kevin Dineen on Nov. 9 but led 2-0 in a game for the first time all season.

Usually it goes the other way for the Panthers as Florida trailed 1-0 in each of Horachek’s first four games going into Saturday and trailed 2-0 in three of the four.

“We have to get over this mental part of the game,” Horachek said after Florida’s loss in Minnesota on Friday night. Florida trailed 2-0 before tying the score in the third. The Panthers lost to the Wild 3-2.

“Our guys sometimes feel like something bad is going to happen,” Horachek said. “We’re trying to get it out of our system.’’

Playing with a lead isn’t something the Panthers have been used to as Florida has played from behind for much of the season. On Saturday, they seemed to revel in it as the Panthers built a comfortable lead when Jonathan Huberdeau scored with 7:44 left.

In the first quarter of the 2013-14 season, Florida’s opponent has taken a 1-0 lead in 16 of the 21 games. Those teams made it 2-0 on 11 occasions.

The Panthers trailed going into the second period 11 times and were behind going into the third in all but seven games — Saturday included — this season.

On Saturday, Florida held a 1-0 lead at the opening break for the first time since Oct. 25, and its lead going into the third was the first since its home-opening win against Pittsburgh on Oct. 11.

Trailing that much is a recipe for the kind of season the Panthers have been having. Since Horachek took over for Dineen, the Panthers fell behind 2-0 in three of his first five games.

On Saturday, Brad Boyes’ seventh goal of the season gave Florida a 1-0 lead shortly after its second power play ended by lifting a shot over goalie Semyon Varlamov’s head.

Huberdeau took a stick to the face from Nate Guenin near the end of the first, and Brian Campbell scored on that power play early in the second to make it 2-0.

After Ryan O’Reilly slipped a loose puck past Tim Thomas — making his fifth straight start — to make it 2-1, Tomas Kopecky got his second in as many nights to give Florida a 3-1 lead going into the third.

Huberdeau scored his second in as many nights after knocking in a rebound off a Nick Bjugstad shot.

• Jimmy Hayes, one of two players Florida got for Kris Versteeg in Thursday’s trade with Chicago, was in the lineup for the first time Saturday.

• Winger Sean Bergenheim was scratched for the third time and for the second time in which the Panthers were playing games on consecutive nights.

Bergenheim missed all of last season and the beginning of this one after numerous surgeries related to his hip, abdominal and groin.

Defenseman Mike Weaver was sick and was out of the lineup for the first time this season.

• The Panthers were scheduled to fly to Vancouver following Saturday’s game and will take Sunday off. The team will hold a closed practice Monday afternoon at Rogers Arena.

• The Avs had been 14-4-4 against the Panthers since leaving Quebec City for Denver in 1995.

Colorado, which swept the Panthers in the 1996 Stanley Cup Final, had not lost to the Panthers in Denver since Jan. 2, 2003, when Florida’s Viktor Kozlov scored twice in a 4-1 win.

Read more Florida Panthers stories from the Miami Herald

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