Two of the most decorated goalies in Panthers history hail from the Detroit area. On Saturday night, they met up in Florida’s postgame locker room.
Tim Thomas and John Vanbiesbrouck seemed to really enjoy their chat.
Thomas, who wears the No. 34 made popular in South Florida by ‘The Beezer,’ led the Panthers to a 2-1 win at Joe Louis Arena.
The Panthers have won here just three times; Vanbiesbrouck and Thomas have picked up the victories in two of them.
“Any time you win it’s a good thing but saying that, I’m happy with the way things turned out,” said Thomas, who is from nearby Flint and is now 2-2 at the Joe.
Thomas has said he followed Vanbiesbrouck closely growing up and is wearing Vanbiesbrouck’s old number — and patterned his mask to look like the one Vanbiesbrouck wore when he led the Panthers to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1996 — in tribute.
“I didn’t know [Thomas] was going to do that, but I think it’s awesome,” said Vanbiesbrouck, who will have his own bobblehead night at BB&T Center Friday.
“I was in shock when I saw him there for the first time. It plays on your heartstrings. It’s nice people remember, but seeing top guys do that … makes you want to hug him.”
Thomas and the Panthers overshadowed Stephen Weiss’ first game against his old teammates since leaving Florida as a free agent in July. Weiss had a scoring chance early but didn’t contribute much as Florida outworked a Detroit team playing for the second consecutive night.
Detroit, which beat the host Devils 3-1 in Newark on Friday night, took a 1-0 lead 4:06 in when Dan Cleary pounced on one of Thomas’ rare miscues and popped a juicy rebound into the net.
After that, Florida pretty much dictated play.
The Panthers got a goal from Jimmy Hayes — his second in as many games — in a second period that Florida dominated. The Panthers outshot the Wings 17-4 in the second, momentum that carried into the third.
“This is one of the hardest buildings in the league to win in,” coach Peter Horachek said. “You have to play here with energy. [Detroit] played last night and we didn’t. That was an advantage. We just wanted to work both ends of the ice. We know how dangerous they are. They guys worked hard, capitalized on the chances we got.
“The guys deserved what they got.”
Jonathan Huberdeau gave Florida its first and last lead 3:29 into the third off a pass from Tom Gilbert. The Wings, who had mustered just 15 shots to that point, seemed to wake up and brought the fight to Florida’s end of the ice.
Thomas made seven of his 22 saves in the final 10 minutes as Florida successfully killed off two penalties.
“This was my first time here but it’s always good to get the two points,” said Huberdeau, the reigning rookie of the year who has seven goals this year.
Both Tomas Kopecky and Mike Weaver helped keep the puck out of the net Saturday. In the first, Kopecky swept a loose puck out of harms way as Thomas was sprawled on the ice. With 4:45 left, Weaver got rid of an errant puck that worked its way to the goal cage.
Florida GM Dale Tallon denied Saturday’s Hockey Night in Canada report that a trade between the Panthers and Colorado fell apart. The report said the supposed trade was the reason why defenseman Dmitry Kulikov was scratched from the lineup last Tuesday against Ottawa.
“No, we sat him because of his play,” Tallon said. “[Kulikov] needed a little refresher. I’ve liked the way he’s played since.”
Kulikov, 23, is a restricted free agent.• Defenseman Matt Gilroy cleared waivers on Saturday and was assigned to Florida’s AHL affiliate in San Antonio.
• Florida’s Reunion Week continues Sunday as the Panthers meet up with Kris Versteeg after trading the winger to Chicago on Nov. 14. Hayes (three goals) and defenseman Dylan Olsen (played past six games) came over in the Versteeg deal.