DETROIT — Move over Red Wings, there’s a new sheriff in Hockeytown.
After thoroughly dominating the world-class Red Wings in the second period, Panthers cub Jonathan Huberdeau applied the knockout blow early in the third period to stun the Joe Louis Arena faithful in a 2-1 victory Saturday night.
Panthers goalie Tim Thomas, a nearby Flint, Mich., native, did the rest with 22 saves, but he needed a late assist from defenseman Mike Weaver, who cleared a teetering puck away from the goal line. Weaver and the PK units also helped kill off two Red Wings’ power plays in the final 10 minutes.
One irate fan kept shouting, “Come on Red Wings, it’s Florida!” So instead of octopuses on the ice, there were plenty of sourpusses exiting into the chilly evening as the Panthers iced their second two-game winning streak of the season and just their third ever win in Detroit.
“This is one of the hardest buildings to play in,” Panthers coach Peter Horachek said. “You’re going to have to play with a lot of energy. They played last night so we had a little bit of an advantage.
“We wanted to work both ends of the rink. We knew how dangerous they could be with their transition game. ... The guys deserved what they got. They’re learning how to win the right way and how to be comfortable in one-goal games.”
The 15-9-7 Red Wings’ juggernaut had been purring even without two of their superstars, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, as they had won five of their previous six. However, after downing the Devils 3-1 in New Jersey on Friday, the Red Wings’ collective legs turned to mush as the Panthers outshot them 37-23.
The Panthers will see plenty of their new Atlantic Division foe, five games in all, including a rematch in Sunrise on Tuesday, again on Dec. 28 — and with Datsyuk in the lineup.
“You don’t have to remind me of that,” Horachek cracked.
Tied at 1-1 after 40 minutes, the Panthers took the lead for good at 3:29 when defenseman Tom Gilbert slid a pass to Huberdeau in the slot. Huberdeau flipped the puck to his backhand and lifted it behind red-hot goalie Jonas Gustavsson, who might’ve been distracted by a leaping Scottie Upshall.
“We knew we had to have a big effort from everyone,” Upshall said. “There was some confidence out there. Like our coach said after the game, we looked comfortable with the lead. It’s never easy coming in here stealing points from these guys.”
The Panthers absolutely owned play in the second period in which they outshot the Red Wings 17-5. Gustavsson, who has basically snatched the starting job away from Jimmy Howard with an 8-0-1 run, was sensational.
But he couldn’t prevent Jimmy Hayes from gathering Shawn Matthias’ rebound and squeezing the puck through the short side at 2:58 for a 1-1 tie.
“We got a new focus here,” said Hayes, who earned the goofy victory hat. “This is huge for our team’s success.”
Matthias, a second-round pick by the Red Wings in 2007, got the last laugh on his former housemate, Stephen Weiss, with two assists. Weiss, the all-time Panthers leader in games played and assists, was a non-factor in his first game against Florida (no shots in 15:53).
In an even first period the Red Wings got on their antiquated scoreboard when Thomas couldn’t corral a rebound that Daniel Cleary cleaned up at 4:06 or 40 seconds.
In the house
Iconic Panthers goalie John Vanbiesbrouck was in the pressbox Saturday and said he was excited for Friday’s bobblehead night in his honor Friday at the BB&T Center.
He also loves that Thomas wears his No. 34 jersey after wearing No. 30 in Boston, the number currently worn by Panthers backup Scott Clemmensen
“I love it,” Vanbiesbrouck said. “I respect Tim. We talked a lot and didn’t know he was going to do that. I was just shocked when I watched for the first time.” ...
Defenseman Matt Gilroy cleared waivers before rejoining the San Antonio Rampage in the AHL, leaving the Panthers with seven healthy defensemen.
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