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Mile High Hockey: Panthers @ Avalanche ... Welcome to Andytown North ... Schedule Waters Getting Rougher

Avs96 DENVER -- Whenever I come to Denver, I always feel like I'm back in 1996.

Just a few minutes ago, Bill Lindsay was standing in front of this large picture in the press box with a look of disgust on his face.

"That's the one they won against us,'' he said.

Like I didn't know that.

Speaking of 1996, the Panthers are opening the new Den of Honor next Saturday before the game against the Sabres. Since there are two games that weekend, the Panthers will celebrate the Den at both games.

Former players who have confirmed they will attend the weekend celebration are: Paul Laus, Brian Skrudland, Scott Mellanby, Mike Hough, Peter Worrell, John Jakopin, Randy Moller and Lindsay. Coach Doug MacLean will also be there, as will Bill Torrey and trainer Scott Tinkler. John Vanbiesbrouck apparently can't make it. When I hear of other confirmations, will pass them along.

-- Speaking of former Panthers, Craig Anderson seems to have a pretty sweet deal here in Denver.
Andy

Anderson was courted by the Panthers during the summer time, the team saying they hoped Anderson would return to compete for playing time with Tomas Vokoun for at least one more season.

Anderson had been there, had done that. Not long after the free agency period opened on July 1, 2009, Anderson moved on with his career, signing a two-year deal with Colorado with the knowledge that he would have a chance to be the full-time starter with the Avs.

There had been plenty of questions about Anderson's ability to be a full-time starter, mainly, because he had never been one before. Anderson has taken to his new role just fine, thanks, helping keep the youthful Avs in the playoff chase with a chance to win the Northwest Division title.

Many pundits picked Colorado to be among the bottom two teams in the conference when the season started. I had them 14th, just above the last place Coyotes. Yes, the Coyotes are currently ranked fourth in the west.

“When there is no clear cut No. 1 guy, you get to battle and it gives you extra incentive,'' said Anderson, who came into Thursday's game against the Panthers with a 33-19-5 record with a league-leading 1,701 saves.

“You earn everything you get. [Vokoun] earned everything he got through his past play and his current play. I’ve earned what I’ve gotten this year, but I have to continue to earn it. The moment you falter, someone else is going to come in and take your job.''

Anderson says he has settled in nicely in Denver, adding he sometimes looks at the majestic Rocky Mountains off in the distance as he works out at the team's training facility and figures “there's nothing better than this.''

Andy3 A Midwesterner from Illinois, Anderson liked leaving Panthers practices in shorts and sandals in February, but says he doesn't mind slipping on the parka before heading to his car here.

“It's nice having four seasons,'' he said. “I like seeing some snow on the ground.''

Anderson's success hasn't come as a big surprise to Panthers coach Pete DeBoer, who wasn't shy with giving Anderson a chance to play last season. Anderson carried a nice-sized workload for the Cats last season, starting in a career high 27 games and stopping 92 percent of his shots.

This season, Anderson has faced more shots than any other goalie in the league. Playing for the Panthers helped him ready for that barrage of pucks as he and Vokoun faced more shots than any other goalie combo the past two seasons.

“He's done a phenomenal job, and I don't think it's any surprise to us after what he did for us last year,'' said DeBoer. “It's nice to see him have success – especially in the Western Conference.''

Anderson's departure – and quick success out of the box – angered some fans who wanted the Panthers to do more to keep him in South Florida. Knowing he signed a two-year deal with the Avs, some of those same fans hope Anderson will return to the Panthers in the near future. He is 28, after all. But Anderson doesn't sound like he wants to come back to the Panthers. Been there, and such.

“As far as I'm concerned,'' Anderson said, “I have no ties there anymore.''

-- Anderson didn't make it to the end of his first encounter with the Panthers earlier this season as he was knocked out of the game after being rolled by Florida defenseman Keith Ballard. The Panthers ended up winning that game in a shootout. Anderson says he and Ballard haven't talked – or texted – about the incident, but Anderson figures it wasn't done with malice.

“Anyone goes out to hurt someone purposely,'' he said. “The guy was going hard at the net, lost control. For him, I highly doubt he said he was going to run me. You have to take it as it goes, the bumps, the lumps. I'm still playing. It was nothing serious.''

Still, word is some Avs might be targeting Ballard tonight. Will see.

-- The Panthers schedule gets progressively harder as the season winds to a close. Starting with the Avs, Florida will play teams currently sitting in a playoff spot in five straight games – with consecutive games against league leaders San Jose (Saturday) and Washington (Tuesday).

-- DeBoer said injured winger Byron Bitz will likely miss Saturday's game at San Jose as well. Michal Repik replaced Bitz in the lineup on Thursday.



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It would be astounding if the Avs won the Pacific Division.

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