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24 posts from March 2007

March 31, 2007

Playoffs? Playoffs!?

JimmoraAh, the Panthers were in fine spirits Saturday morning. They awoke to a beautiful spring day in South Florida, and by the looks of the standings, they are only four points out with four games left.

Could looks actually be deceiving?

The Panthers, while reinvigorated, still need a miracle. They have five teams they have to jump (the New Yorks, Montreal, Toronto and Carolina) because even if they win all four of their remaining games, they'll only have 38 wins. The first tie-breaker is total wins, and Toronto already has 37. Montreal? 40. The Rangers are at 39. So, Florida not only has to get to eighth place, they have to be in sole possession of it.

Long shot indeed.Horserace

But, at least things remain interesting down the stretch.

The Panthers are at least having some kind of a say in what teams make the playoffs even if they do not themselves. Looks like Tampa Bay is in right now, but the Panthers can keep the Hurricanes out with wins in their final two meetings of the season.

Talked to Ed Belfour today -- seriously -- and he knows the reality of things are the Panthers are running out of games. But he adds there's nothing they can do now but win. Looking back at a few wins that got away in November won't do them any good, although they sure would have helped right now.

Didn't we say that last year?

-- Eddie starts in net again Sunday. And if they win, he'll probably go Tuesday in Washington.

-- Home finale Sunday afternoon. Early start (5 p.m.) and plenty of giveaways. Might even have some leftover bobbleheads. Who knows.

-- Peltonen missed practice today after leaving yesterday's game early because of stomach-flu type symptoms.

March 30, 2007

Bobble Blunder

BobbleheadThe first 5,000 kids who attended Friday's game against the Capitals received a nice Stanley C. Panther bobblehead.

Cool, no?

Too bad no one knew about it.

According to people within the organization, the Panthers didn't make public the fact they were having a giveaway basically because they didn't have enough goodies to, you know, giveaway.

Because most season ticketholders and sponsors get guaranteed giveaways, a good portion of the 5,000 bobbleheads had to be pulled and held onto. So, there may have been a little more than 1,000 of them given out. According to the team, that's too few to advertise.

One person within the organization acknowledged there were mistakes made, and truthfully, if the team makes 5,000 bobbleheads, it probably should pony up to make some more and have a true promotion.

Eagle's Return

BelfourleafsThose who thought the Florida Panthers were set to begin the Craig Anderson Era after Anderson beat Atlanta on Wednesday have to wait a little while longer.

Ed Belfour is back in net tonight as Florida plays host to Washington.

JM confirmed Friday morning that Eddie would indeed be back between ye olde pipes tonight, noting that he was very happy and pleased with what Anderson has brought to the Panthers.

But Eddie's the starter, and he needs to start.

We're just about done here

Doody All good things must come to an end, and in this case, another Florida Panthers season will have to do.

OK, truth is, the Panthers have showed improvement and have showed they can be pretty good. Consistency is still a problem, but overall, this was a pretty good season.

And while the Panthers won't be in the chase for Lord Stanley's Cup again this year, they feel they are pretty close and next year -- no, seriously this time -- will be their year.

We're down to the end of things now, only a miracle finish Flutie
can save them from another lengthy offseason surely filled with cookouts at the arena and other fun things.

The countdown is on, as you know, with five games remaining on the schedule. Today marked the final pregame skate of the season at CorporateSponsorship Arena in south Tamarac, and tonight's game against the Caps is Florida's final night home game of the season. The Panthers play host to Carolina Sunday at 5 p.m. in the home finale.

18thhole2 Yes, the homestretch is in sight.

March 27, 2007

Danica, Oh Danica

DanicaPopular IndyCar driver Danica Patrick was on hand Tuesday in Tampa Bay, helping kick off the game with the Lightning's traditional 'Let's Play Hockey' start.

Yeah, I think it's hokey too, but it gave me a reason/excuse to look up Danica pictures online.

Good for me, and good for you.

And good for her. Good luck to Ms. Patrick in this weekend's race here in St. Petersburg. And thanks to the Herald for not making me stay up here to cover it like last year.

To hear Greg Cote's tribute song to Danica, click right HERE

-- Ed Belfour's 27th straight start in net tonight is a team record. Thought you should know.

-- PS: I think the streak ends tomorrow. Say hello to Craig Anderson.

Tarnished in Tampa

TampacupTampa Bay coach John Tortorella has long maintained the only way to create a rivalry is to have some great blood battles in the postseason. Torts points to the games his Lightning had in the playoffs against Philadelphia as evidence.

Hard to argue with that logic. The Panthers had a good rivalry going with Philly for a while after the 1996 playoffs run, but a lot of crummy seasons in between kind of muddled that.

Still, the Panthers look at Tampa Bay as a rival even if the Lightning don't reciprocate the hate (PS: That rhymes).  The two teams have locked up in eight different fights in their six games going into tonight's game at  CorporateSponsorship Arena West in beautiful downtown Tampa.

And Florida can go a long way toward establishing some more Tampa Bay dislike in the coming weeks. The Bolts, you see, were once a postseason lock. Then they started to suck. Really bad, like losing at home to Ottawa by a 7-2 score bad.

So, the Bolts are teetering on the brink of not making the playoffs. Since the Panthers really don't have anything else to play for, maybe messing up the hopes of their rivals is something to shoot for. As Herald colleague Sarah Rothschild explained today CHECK IT OUT HERE YO the Panthers can cause some serious damage to not only the Bolts, but Carolina too.

So they have that going for them, which is nice.

-- Going back to yesterday's lengthy post, which some have said they liked and some absolutely despised, but whatever: Talked to JM today, and he confirmed Murph the Surf's two-year contract starting next year is indeed a one-way deal, so bet the farm (if you live on one) that he makes the team out of camp next year.

-- Bad news Panther fans: Marc Denis is in net tonight for Tampa Bay. He's 2-1 against the Cats this year, stopping 92 percent of the shots. Johan Holmqvist, now available after suffering from the ever-popular 'flu-like conditions,' is 1-1-1 with a GAA of 4.54 and save percentage of 85 percent against Florida this year.

-- A special thanks to the Tampa exec who authorized the distribution of those really annoying bang sticks for tonight's game. I tried stealing as many as I could during the morning skate, but they just repopulated. Damned thunder sticks. Thanks a lot for making these stupid things popular Anaheim (Yeah, I know they changed their name) Angels. Thundersticks

March 26, 2007

Pop-Up Defenseman

Popupvideo Cory_murphyThe Panthers made their first move of the offseason on Monday, signing defenseman Cory Murphy to a two-year deal.

You mean the season is still going on? What the heck happened?

Anyway, here is the pop-up video version of Murphy's Life and Times in Hockey:

Cory Murphy is 29 and has played in Europe his entire professional career. His last stop was in Finland (two other Panthers, including captain Olli Jokinen are Finish).

Murphy is a native of Kanata, Ontario (which is where the Ottawa Senators play their home games and have their home office. Florida assistant GM Randy Sexton most recently worked for the Senators, and was headquartered in Kanata.

To take this a little bit further, both Sexton and Panthers coach/GM Jacques Martin -- known simply as JM -- both worked for the Senators. In Kanata. Got the Kanata part?


Also, the Panthers PA guy is named Bill Murphy. It is not known whether Bill and Cory Murphy are brothers, nor is it known whether Bill Murphy is from Kanata. Don't even know if either like drinking Murphy's Irish Stout while visiting Kanata.)

OK, back to Mad Guitar, err, Cory Murphy:

A graduate of Colgate, Murphy played in the Swiss League last year (2005-06). Current Florida forward Ville Peltonen played in the same Swiss league last year and spent three seasons playing in Switzerland. His children are fluent in Italian. Switzerland is known for its timepieces, decadent chocolate treats and fancy pocket knives no one seems to have when they are stuck in the wilderness or really, really, need a bottle opener.

Anyway, seems like a lot of people around the Panthers know Murphy -- and really like him. Florida signed him to a two-year deal and expect him to be one of its top 6 d-men next year.

That's bad news for Alexei Semenov, Steve Montador and the injured Branislav Mezei. Four d-men, assuming no one gets traded, are set for next year: Jay Bo, Bryan Allen, Mike Van Ryn and Ruslan Salei.

Newly acquired Noah Welch (picked up in the Gary Roberts trade) is in the thick of this mix, so toss in Murphy and Mez and you're talking seven guys. We'll have to wait and see how this shakes out, but it appears Murph the Surf (his new, and completely official, Miami Herald nickname) has a one-way deal. As we all know -- as does Semenov -- that gives him a leg up in getting a roster spot coming out of camp.

Murphy has never played in the NHL before. He went to Finland out of college in 2001 and has been in Europe ever since. He was MVP of the Finnish league this year after leading HIFK Helsinki with 13 goals with 37 assists. In 1998, Panther captain Olli Jokinen and current Devils star Bryan Rafalski teamed up to lead HIFK Helsinki to a league championship.

That's probably all the info you need right now.

Except this: There are two professional hockey players who share the tag Cory Murphy. The first Cory Murphy was born on Oct. 22, 1976  in beautiful Perth, Ontario (probably close to Kanata) and started his pro career in 1993 with the OHL Ottawa (definitely near Kanata) 67s. According to hockeydb.com, the other Cory is playing in Fresno (not near Kanata) of the ECHL this season.

So there are two Cory's. Who knew?


Those of you who just laughed at the last line (and the photo), you're welcome. Made it worth wading through the other junk, eh?

March 24, 2007

Gotta Support the Team

Facepainter4The Devils are in town, and boy, talk about a desperate bunch.

The banged-up boys from Jersey come into tonight's game in East Tamarac losers of three of four and now find themselves in a tie with the Penguins for the Atlantic Division lead.

To put a spin on something Olli Jokinen likes to say, the Devils need this win more than the Panthers do. OK, I know, no one is throwing in the towel yet. I get that and respect it. But Jersey needs a win to move ahead of the Pens again and Florida, well, Florida is playing for themselves right now. A playoff spot doesn't appear to be in the cards, not unless Florida goes on what would be a season-best eight game winning streak to finish the year.

And few goalies have befuddled the Panthers over the year like Martin Brodeur. The guy owns the Panthers, even though Florida pulled off an impressive win against these guys the last time out. That win helped fuel a nice little run that got the Panthers back in the playoff mix.

How 'bout This?

Have had some complaints recently about too many Bert and Ernie pics when referring to one Todd Bertuzzi.

I apologize for all the Sesame Street themed photos. Really, I do.

PS: Bert saw action in his first game since October on Thursday against Columbus. Hope his knee holds out....


March 23, 2007

Eddie Returns

Eddiebelfour1JM said today that Ed Belfour will return to the pipes tomorrow against New Jersey. JM said he's giving Eddie the benefit of the doubt after he had to pull him after he gave up four goals on nine shots in an eventual 4-2 loss to Ottawa.

This will be Ed's 26th straight start, which as you know, is a franchise record.

I love records. And CDs.

-- PS: Eddie came into the season leading Jersey's Martin Brodeur by 11 wins in the race for Patrick Roy (that's pronounced ROY) and the top spot among NHL goalies. Today? Marty's got the edge, leading Ed by eight, 489-481.

Eddie_4 -- Had this picture of our good friend Cousin Eddie. It was just going to waste. Figured I better use it. That is all.

Thinking of Summer

Eddie_3 Well, time is running out on the Florida Panthers.

Some would say they've made the turn at 9 and are headed toward the teebox at 18.

Yep, time to start thinking about golf. And boating, baseball, picnics, road trips, Disney World, Walley World, fishing, tennis, Jai-Alai, and various other fun things. Playoffs? Those are for other folks. Down here in SoFla, our hockey season traditionally ends in April.

The Panthers, see, haven't been to the postseason since 2000. They haven't won a playoff series since they played for the Cup in 1996 and haven't won a playoff game since 1997. That's 10 years ago folks. Funny, doesn't seem to be that long ago.

So, once the Panthers fade off into the offseason, what should this blog morf into? This is the first summer of On Frozen Pond, so I'll figure things out as we go.

I'm thinking of keeping this thing active throughout the playoff season, even delving into other stuff during the summer. Talking Marlins, Dolphins, Hurricanes, Jai-Alai perhaps. Just general things. Oh, and goofy pictures. Got to keep those up to date, I know.

Anyway, will let you all know what happens once we get there.

Until then, see you on the rides. And remember: They don't close the state of Florida.


March 22, 2007

Happy 1,000th!

HockeycakeTime for celebrating at CSA tonight as Chris Gratton plays his 1,000th game. Here is my story that ran on it today: click here for some good stuff, ya!

Here are some tidbits:

-- Gratts becomes the 217th player in league history to hit the milestone.

-- He becomes the 13th Florida player to hit the plateau.

-- Gratton is one of six players to hit 1,000 game while in a Florida sweater. The others: Scott Mellanby, Lyle Odelein, Greg Adams, Mike Foligno and Kirk Muller.

-- Here are all the Panthers (past and present) to hit 1,000 NHL games:

1,424: Scott Mellanby (552 games with Florida from 1993-2001)
1,349: Kirk Muller (162, 1997-99)

1,257: Joe Nieuwendyk (80, 2005-06)

1,232: Dino Ciccarelli (42, 1998-99)

1,208*: Martin Gelinas (156, 2005-present)

1,149: Gary Roberts (108, 2005-07)

1,097: Tom Fitzgerald (353, 1993-98)

1,084: Dave Lowry (272, 1993-97)

1,056: Lyle Odelein (82, 2003-04)

1,056: Greg Adams (60, 2000-01)

1,028: Gaetan Duchesne (13, 1994-95)

1,018: Mike Foligno (39, 1993-94)

1,000*: Chris Gratton (149, 2005-present)


1,222: Mike Keenan (153, 2001-03)
1,214*: Bryan Murray (59, 1997-98)
1,008*: Jacques Martin (156, 2005-present)
1,000: Roger Neilson (132, 1993-95)

(*) – Counts tonight’s game between Florida and Ottawa. Bryan Murray is coach of the Senators.

Bert Takes the Plunge

BertplungeAccording to various news gathering organizations, Florida legend Todd Bertuzzi returns to the ice tonight. Bertuzzi, whose number is expected to be retired by the Panthers any day now, hasn't played since October and had back surgery on Nov. 3.

Bertuzzi came to Florida in the ever popular Roberto Luongo trade, and was a huge hit on Opening Night. Bert scored the first goal of the season, then assisted on three goals in a romp over Boston. Bertuzzi played in the next six games before wrenching his back in a loss at Washington. He hasn't played since.

Until tonight, that is.

Bertuzzi will be in the lineup when the Blue Jackets visit Detroit's Joe Louis Arena at 7:30. Florida traded Bertuzzi to the Wings on Feb. 27 for a prospect and two conditional draft picks.

“I’m just going to go out there and try to find my way early," Bertuzzi told the Detroit Free Press' Freep.com. "Obviously you don’t want to be a hazard out there, but I think that we worked hard enough where I can go out and play my game. So I’m very confident in that.”

Here's the story from Detroit: BERT

Here's Bert in his new duds (photo courtesy of KIRTHMON F. DOZIER/Detroit Free Press) and his old:

Bertuzziwings Bertuzzi_todd_hor

March 21, 2007

Panthers au Gratton

GrattrookrealTomorrow is going to be Chris Gratton Night at CSA when your Ottawa Senators take on the homestanding Florida Panthers.

It's not every day that a Florida player plays in their 1,000th game, although quite a few Panthers are member of said club. We'll get more into that tomorrow.

The Panthers plan on having a nice ceremony for Chris with family and such on the ice. Should be nice.

So, you wonder, who else on the Panthers is close to hitting 1,000 games? While David Booth and Rostislav Olesz are getting there, there's actually a couple of fellows who are much closer.

Ed Belfour (957) for starters. Olli Jokinen is getting there, but still has a ways to go at 632. Jozef Stumpel plays in his 900th game Thursday, so congrats to him as well. That puts him on pace to hit 1,000 sometime during the 2008-09 season. He's only 34, so I think he'll make it.

In case you're wondering, Martin Gelinas is already there. Joe Nieuwendyk, Gary Roberts and Denis Potvin too.

Will have a story on Chris in tomorrow's editions of the Herald, and have plenty of left over quotes and stuff to share.

March 20, 2007

Bert's Back II

Bert2Breaking News! Todd Bertuzzi might be ready to play in a game.

Want to read about it, visit our pals in Motown: CLICK HERE EH

The long and short of it is, Bert -- one of the most popular Florida Panthers of his era -- may be back in action Thursday against Columbus. Of course, his grand return may not be until Saturday. We'll see.

And yes, that's me typing on the computer. Working on my alphabet.

Hot Dog Hop Aboard!

HotdogLike a good hot dog? I know I do.

Saturday is our night.

The Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest -- and the protesters that come with it -- will visit CorporateSponsorship Arena (CSA) on Saturday before the Panthers play host to the Devils (why'd you paint your face? Gotta support the team.)

Here's an official quote from Michael Yormark:
“As evidenced by last year’s event, the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest is quickly becoming an International phenomenon and we are proud to host one of the qualifying rounds at the BankAtlantic Center. It is this type of fun-filled event that makes Panthers hockey at the BankAtlantic Center the perfect choice for a night of family entertainment.”

Talk about a mouthful.

Anyway, the kiddies get to stuff their faces at 6, with the actual -- official -- regional qualifier starting at 6:30. I'll bring the Gas-X (and the mustard and relish). The winner gets the right (no, the privilege and honor) to move on to the main contest July 4 on Coney Island where he or she will get crushed by the 110-pound eating machine (I'm guessing) known as Kobayashi.

-- Speaking of Hot Dogs, got a favorite place here or elsewhere to chow down on them? Sure Miami Subs serves Nathan's, but my local best has to be Hot Dog Heaven in Fort Lauderdale or Fat Lou's on Hallandale Beach Blvd. and the Interstate. Both serve that spectacular Vienna Beef dog that made Chicago famous.

Superdawg Outside of SoFla, I'm partial to Superdawg in Chicago and to Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. If you've never had a Dodger Dog, get in your car and drive to Vero Beach right now! Pinks in L.A. is also a fave.

Anyways, let me know your favorite hot dog joint either here (need a place in Sunrise) or abroad.

Deja Vu, All Over Again

PatsGreetings from Sunny, yet still cold, Philadelphia. The home of the Cheesesteak, President Ben Franklin and Rocky Balboa.

Didn't we just go through this a few days ago?

Yep, back in South Philly for the second time in less than two weeks and having the time of my life! No seriously, digging the Philly scene so much I'm almost sad it's just about over for another season. But, my editors tell me I get to go to Phillies camp in Clearwater next week, so the good times just keep on coming.

Speaking of tough interviews (looking at you Pat Burrell), some of you have noticed Ed Belfour is legitimately talking [to the media] again. Seriously, that's good for you, the reader. Eddie is probably the story of the year for the Panthers, so getting his thoughts on things is key. Hope to talk to Mr. Elbow tonight after the game (we're in the first intermission) but ain't betting on it.

-- Goldie says what's up. His throat's a little sore from filling in for Hank 'Mr. Hockey' Goldberg this afternoon, but he's hanging in there.

-- Speaking of Goldie, he skipped out on Cheesesteak TasteTest II. Last time out, we tried Geno's; today we hit Pat's. The vote? Pat's wins. Better steak, less kitsch. Goldie says next time we have to check out Jim's on South and 4th, so, we will. Cheesesteaks are good. Seriously. Good.

-- Ummmmm. Cheesesteaks.


JM says he wants to see D Noah Welch play a little bit down on the farm before the Panthers call him up. Welch will return to Rochester -- along with guys like Anderson, Globke, etc. -- for the playoffs. IF the Panthers don't make it, that is.

-- Shock of the Week: JM says as long as the Panthers keep winning, Eddie Belfour keeps playing. The Belfour streak now at 24.

-- Chris Gratton plays his 1,000th game on Thursday. The team is planning on some nice stuff for Gratts. Good. They did a nice job honoring JM for his 1000th game and the bar has been set.

March 17, 2007

A Salute to Eddie O'Belfour

Lep2Tonight, a tip of the hat to our good friend, one Mr. Eddie O'Belfour, the most Irish of goalies in the entire National Hockey League!*

(*) -- Cannot validate claims that Panthers goalie Ed Belfour is of Irish decent, nor that the picture to the left is of Mr. Belfour. In fact, it probably is not. But those eyes! Uncanny resemblance is all I'm a'sayin.

Mr. O'Belfour will set the Panthers franchise record for consecutive starts by a goalie, a record that has stood the test of time. Wasn't it only a year ago (to the day, in fact) that another Irish goalie (RobertO'Luongo) set the record at 22? Actually, O'Luongo would have started No.23 on March 17 -- against these same Emerald Islanders.

Asked Eddie for a comment, he promised to get back to me later. And he also promised me a pot o' gold! Fired up about both.

-- JM says he has plenty of confidence in backup Craig Anderson, but until the Panthers are out, Eddie's the guy in net. And why not? He's played pretty well -- better than many expected this year, for sure. Eddie signed for $750,000 with incentives that could double that. JM says he doesn't remember what the incentives were, but expected Eddie to hit them all. So, with Florida shelling out $1.5 mill and the Leafs giving him $1.5 to walk away gives him a -- add it up -- $3 million payout for this season.

Eddie had been scheduled to make $4.5 with the Leafs this season, so he didn't do as well as he could have. But no state income tax in Florida, so good for him.

The real Eddie: Belfour

March 15, 2007

So easy, the Panthers could rip it off

CavemanThe Panthers are running new ads during breaks in which the team is trying to get season ticket holders to renew their seats for next year.

The ads are really clever.

They have this caveman looking dude in an airport (on one of those moving sidewalks) who goes by this billboard. On that billboard (this is where it gets really funny) are the words: 'Renew Now. So easy, a caveman could do it.' Well, the caveman doesn't take too kindly to the ad, not whatsoever. There's even a second ad where the caveman-looking dude apparently calls one of his other caveman buddies on his cellphone (ha! a caveman on a cellphone!) to tell him about the offensive Panthers sign.

I tell you, high jinx are sure to follow. I think the Panthers have a winner with these highly-original ads.  There was some insurance company that had similar ads, so I'm told, but they can't be as funny as these. Or as original. Have I mentioned that?

-- All of those who figured last summer that Ed Belfour was about to set the franchise record for consecutive starts in goal can go ahead and stand up right now. Wow, huh? Eddie wasn't available for comment to this blog entry unfortunately.

-- FYI: Nathan Horton says he likes Buffalo's new logo over its old ones. Says it's new-school. Thought some of you might like to know that.

-- Panthers get another backup goalie as Ty Webb, err, Conklin starts for Buffalo tonight.  I wonder if he has a lot of ties. Chevychase

-- Speaking of Cavemen (and Caddyshack): Happy birthday to my buddy Kentucky Mike, AKA Dr. Greene.

-- Speaking of Cavemen II: Love these current ads, but gotta believe the late, great Phil Hartman inspired them at least just a little. If you haven't seen the classic 'Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer' skits on SNL reruns, well, you just ain't lived Mister! Or Missus! The Panthers should just show those bits during commercial breaks. At least I would laugh.


March 09, 2007

A Major Award

Darren_mcgavin_leg_storyFirst off, apologies for not doing this sooner. Been kind of busy, and really, I kind of forgot.

For those not in the know, we had a contest here last month for readers to send in their best stories on how they became a Panther fan, but only if they became a fan during the 1996 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Got it? Anyway, lots of good stories. To read them, CLICK HERE EH

Well, me and Goldie voted, but disagreed on the winner. So, we have two winners. I'm going with Cat Fan and Goldie's going with Monica. So both win an official, authentic and still squeaky (I think) rubber rat from the 1996 playoffs.

Honestly, could anything be better? I don't think so.

So, Monica and Cat Fan, send me an email (gichards@miamiherald.com) and I'll get you your vermin.