VANCOUVER, B.C. - Coming off one of their worst games of the season and fresh off the news that star goaltender Roberto Luongo could be out several more weeks with a tricky groin injury, the Vancouver Canucks needed someone to step up on Sunday.
Pavol Demitra answered the call, although the skilled forward certainly had luck on his side. Demitra scored twice - one goal coming off an odd turnover and another off a Florida player's skate - to lift the Canucks to a 5-3 victory over the Panthers, the league's hottest road team heading into Sunday's game.
"Obviously I'll take those goals any night," said Demitra, who has 10 goals in 21 games this season. "But my legs were working very well, and my line (Demitra, Taylor Pyatt and Mason Raymond) was playing very well. We had the puck on our stick a lot. I just had so much fun tonight."
Darcy Hordichuk, Kyle Wellwood and Ryan Kesler also scored for Vancouver (17-11-3), while rookie goaltender Cory Schneider shook off a shaky first period and made 18 saves for his second NHL victory.
Nick Boynton, Jay Bouwmeester and Michael Frolik replied for Florida (14-13-3), which saw its franchise-best five-game road winning streak halted despite taking a 2-0 lead 6:50 into the game.
"I'm not sure the 2-0 lead was what we needed," said Panthers coach Peter DeBoer. "To Vancouver's credit they came out like a different team in the second period, and we didn't handle that adversity well. We were our own worst enemy tonight."
The win came despite news that Canucks captain Luongo suffered a setback in rehabbing his groin injury. Luongo suffered the injury Nov. 22 during a game in Pittsburgh.
"Just when I thought I was ready to get back into it, my groin was telling me something else," Luongo said on Sunday.
Luongo was working out with the team, but he Wednesday's practice after 20 minutes, and the all-star has been told to stop on-ice workouts indefinately.
"When it was in a controlled environment it was fine, but when it was more dynamic the soreness was there," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said of Luongo's rehab workouts. "We're still week-to-week, and hopefully it will be that instead of weeks-to-weeks."
The Canucks had a number of other hurdles to overcome heading into the game. Not only were they coming off a dismal 3-0 loss to Edmonton on Saturday, which saw them end their seven-game road trip with a 2-4-1 record, they were up against the league's top statistical goaltender in Craig Anderson.
Prior to the contest Anderson led the NHL with a 1.94 goals against average and a .946 save percentage.
But he was no match for Vancouver on this night.
Hordichuk cut Florida's lead to 2-1 midway through the first period, taking advantage of a Boynton turnover and wiring a perfectly placed wrist shot under the crossbar.
"I told the boys I'd put one top shelf for them - that's my shot I go to, something I have in my back pocket," Hordichuk joked, although the tough guy does have three goals in his past seven games. "A lot of guys haven't seen it. Goalies are only human. You pull the puck across and you go far side, and they're going to take the bait."
Hordichuk must have given his teammates advice on how to score, because they scored four goals in eight minutes during the second period.
Demitra got the barrage started at 5:25, poking the puck through Anderson's skates after Florida defenceman Karlis Skrastins had accidentally put the puck in his own crease.
Demitra struck again on a Vancouver power play just under six minutes later, firing a pass in front that hit Bouwmeester's skate and ricocheted past Anderson.
Wellwood batted in a Daniel Sedin pass on another Canucks power play 1:30 later, and Kesler finished the scoring barrage with a short-handed breakaway goal at 13:25.
Kesler's goal, which snapped a 14-game goal drought, came 38 seconds after Wellwood scored and exactly eight minutes after Demitra's first goal.
The Canucks had an 18-5 shot advantage in the middle frame.
"After Hordy's goal I knew we were going to win," Demitra said. "We started working much harder and took the game to a higher level. And in terms of luck, you always need luck. We got it tonight".
It didn't look that way early on as the Panthers scored twice on their first six shots, including Boynton's soft shot from the point that eluded traffic and somehow got through Schneider's legs.
It was an inauspicious start for the AHL call-up, who allowed two soft goals in a 5-4 shootout loss to Colorado on Dec. 7.
He redeemed himself by stopping Shawn Matthias on a breakaway with the score 2-1 Florida in the second period, but had another gaffe in the third when his giveaway to Matthias behind the net led to Frolik's goal.
"We're looking into that," Vigneault said with a smile when asked if the coaching staff was going to speak with Schneider about his penchant for wandering behind the net.
NOTES: The Panthers lost assistant captain Stephen Weiss, who had scored game-winning goals in three straight games, to an upper body injury in the first period. ... Cory Stillman made his return to the Florida line-up (concussion). He had played just one game since Nov. 2. ... Florida completes its five-game road trip in Carolina on Thursday. ... Bouwmeester has 10 points (six goals, four assists) in his past 10 games. ... The Panthers haven't won at GM Place since March 7, 1994, a span of 10 games.