Panthers take down Flyers in rare lackluster Philly effort

It would be easy to see how the best team in the NHL playing at home, and one mired in last place in its division on a road swing, might produce record-setting results.

The only problem is, the last-place Florida Panthers set the records, as 26 saves from Tomas Vokoun plus a late two-goal surge in the first period sent them to a shocking 5-0 victory over the Flyers on Monday night.

Vokoun posted his first career shutout against Philadelphia, while Bill Thomas, Evgeny Dadonov, Shawn Matthias, Mike Santorelli and Dmitry Kulikov tallied for the visitors.

It was the Panthers’ first shutout over the Flyers on South Broad Street since 1995, and is also Florida’s largest decision over Philly since the franchise entered the league in 1993.

Sergei Bobrovsky started but was pulled after allowing four goals on 22 shots through 33-plus minutes of action. Brian Boucher finished the game by yielding one score on 12 shots for the Flyers, who had won seven of eight coming in.

Near the end of a sedate first period that was eerily reminiscent of the neutral-zone chess matches between these teams in the late 1990s, the Panthers struck twice in less than two minutes to take control.

On the first Florida goal, Steven Reinprecht gained control behind the Flyers net and sent a short pass in front to Thomas, who fired a one-timer through the crease that caromed off the leg of defenseman Oskars Bartulis and veered into the net at 17:27.

It was 2-0 for the visitors at 19:16 as Bryan McCabe sent a long lead pass through the neutral zone towards the right boards hoping for Dadonov. The young Russian beat Philly blueliner Matt Carle to the puck, skated in, pulled Bobrovsky to his left, and slid a shot just inside the far post.

Matthias poked a loose puck home just ahead of a sliding Bobrovsky less than three minutes into the second and Florida had a three-goal advantage, then Steve Bernier sent a feed into the slot for Santorelli, who got a step ahead of a passive Bartulis and redirected the disc home at the 13:12 mark.

Kulikov rifled home his second goal of the year with 8:25 left in the contest to remove all doubt.

Despite the loss, the Orange and Black hit their pre-Holiday road swing respite with a 22-8-5 record, still tops in the NHL, and three points ahead of Pittsburgh for the Atlantic Division lead after the Penguins demolished Phoenix, 6-1.

For now, there will be eight days of rest before the resumption of an old tradition — the West Coast road trip — on December 28 in Vancouver which progresses to Los Angeles and Anaheim before the calendar year is complete.

Notes: Vokoun collected his fourth shutout of the season…Florida’s last blanking of Philadelphia came at the Spectrum on February 9, 1995 in a 3-0 win backed by 26 stops from John Vanbiesbrouck…The Flyers’ 49 points before Christmas is their most since amassing 52 in 1986-87…The 22 victories are also the most before Christmas since the ’86-’87 club had 25 before December 25…It was the third time Philly has been blanked this season and the second time on home ice.