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54 posts from March 2010

March 21, 2010

Panthers Win: Florida 5, Lightning 2 ... Gregory Campbell to Make Canadian Trip (Shocking!) ... Clemm Didn't See Allen's Swing

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PANTHERS 5, LIGHTNING 2

Desperate to get some offense going, Panthers coach Pete DeBoer changed up his first line after they played together for just parts of two games.

The switch didn't work Saturday against Buffalo, but Sunday afternoon, DeBoer's tinkering paid off as the Panthers scored three goals in the opening period and rolled past Tampa Bay 5-2 at BankAtlantic Center.

Florida's new top line of Stephen Weiss, Cory Stillman and Nathan Horton accounted for two of the Panthers first three goals. Meanwhile, David Booth – dropped to the second line – scored his second goal in three games to give the Panthers a lead they would not relinquish.

Booth, Weiss and Horton were Florida's top line at the start of the season, but because of injuries to Booth (45 games) and Horton (17) the trio hadn't played together save for the first nine games. During the second period of Saturday's game, DeBoer changed things up again.

“We're just trying to get something going,'' DeBoer said after the Panthers snapped their three game losing streak by beating the Lightning for the third time in four tries this season. “Booth, we wanted to get some speed with [Steven] Reinprecht, so we moved him down. You're going to see that until we start getting some consistent offense. We did that [Sunday]. I hope it carries over.''

DeBoer also changed up his goaltender on Sunday, going with backup Scott Clemmensen as expected. DeBoer pulled Tomas Vokoun early in the second period of Saturday's loss to the Sabres, and Clemmensen played well in relief.

Sunday, Clemmensen was the victim of a bad Bryan Allen pass as Tampa Bay's Steve Downie intercepted the puck at the blue line and walked in on Clemmensen uncontested. Allen responded by smashing his stick on the goal cage.

The Panthers haven't released their frustration in that way since Keith Ballard went to smash the cage on Nov. 30 in Atlanta and hit Vokoun in the head instead.

“I didn't even see that,'' Clemmensen said with a laugh. “But you know what? I was mad at giving up the goal. Mistakes happen. As a goalie, I really wanted to make the save for Allen. I had a great read too. I knew he was shooting high-glove. And he beat me there anyway.''

Florida's Nick Tarnasky and Zenon Konopka fought twice in the opening period – with Konopka taking an instigator and game misconduct in the second bout. Florida tied the game on Horton's long shot (which struck Steven Stamkos' stick before beating Mike Smith) on the ensuing power play.

Less than five minutes later, Booth gave Florida its first lead after knocking in a shot from Byron Bitz. Just 46 seconds later, Stillman backhanded a shot to give the Panthers a 3-1 lead.

Clemmensen held the Lightning in check until Stamkos scored on a power play early in the third period. The Panthers bounced right back with Allen threading a pass to Weiss – who turned it into his 100th career NHL goal.

More importantly, it gave the Panthers much needed breathing room against a Lightning team without much fight left. Tampa Bay has lost seven of eight and slipped behind Florida in the standings.

“Those are key momentum shifts,'' said Weiss. “It's important for us not to sag when they score when they cut it one, then get one right away kind of takes the wind out their sails. Soon we get the fifth and the game is over.''

CAMPBELL OUT

Tarnasky was back in the lineup after Gregory Campbell was forced to sit out after injuring his foot or possibly his ankle after being struck by a puck on Saturday. Campbell took a hard shot off the skate and limped off the ice, returning a few shifts later. Campbell ended up skating 20 shifts in 12 minutes.

“He's going to make the trip with us and we'll see what his pain tolerance is,'' said DeBoer, adding that Campbell was going to be re-examined Monday.

-- The Panthers power play was 1-for-5 on Sunday as DeBoer went with four forwards and a defenseman for the first time. Florida's top power play unit was Booth, Horton, Stillman, Weiss and defenseman Bryan McCabe. They were on the ice for Florida's lone power play goal.

Florida's power play definitely needed the juice. The Panthers came into the game ranked last in the league. The Panthers have converted on 42 of 276 chances (15 percent).

“It made a difference, with Horton back in the lineup,'' said DeBoer. “We talked about it for a while, but couldn't do it with Horton out. We thought it might open some things up. It makes a big difference for the power play.''

-- Sunday's win was Florida's 15th at home this season, keeping it tied with Boston and the Rangers for fewest in the Eastern Conference.


Sunday Funday: Lightning @ Panthers, 5 p.m.

Lighningcaddy With both the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers losing two more points in the standings, today's game is just another meeting of teams booking early tee times come April.

As we all learned from Bishop Pickering in Caddyshack, you don't want to play in a storm.

Especially in Florida. Let that be a lesson to ya!

Anyway, on to today's game.

Gregory Campbell took a shot of his skate last night, and while he continued to play, he's out at least for tonight. Word from the Panthers is its a bruised foot, but I heard he fractured his ankle. We'll see if I can get more information after tonight's game.

Also, it looks like Scott Clemmensen will indeed get his second start of 2010 today. This will only be Clemmensen's third start since Dec. 27, 2009.

Panthers in their Pittsburgh/Carolina blues today, Lightning going in its road whites.

-- Panthers currently sit in 14th place in the Eastern Conference, nine points behind the 8th place Bruins. The Lightning are in 12th place in the east, eight points behind the Bs.

No wonder there were two dozen people in the upper deck when warm ups started.

More later...

March 20, 2010

Buffaloed: Panthers Lose Third Straight ... Hurricanes Pass Cats, Maple Leafs Next?

Buffalo

With all the former Florida Panthers in the building Saturday night, it's a shame original goalie John Vanbiesbrouck couldn't make it.

He might have been asked to play.

Tomas Vokoun was pulled after giving up a pair of soft goals within the first 23 minutes Saturday night as the Northeast Division leading Sabres continued their march to the playoffs with a 3-1 victory over the Panthers at BankAtlantic Center.

Saturday's loss – Florida's third straight – spoiled the beginning of a reunion weekend of sorts as players from the team's past gathered to open the South Florida Hockey Den of Honor on the arena's concourse level.

Vanbiesbrouck, who backstopped Florida's run to the 1996 Stanley Cup finals, was working a college hockey playoff tournament in Detroit for television and couldn't attend the event.

“I didn't think he was good enough tonight, but it was a spark thing too,'' said coach Pete DeBoer, who has pulled Vokoun in the second period in two of the past three games. “It wasn't a good enough first period by anyone, including our goaltender. I don't analyze my decision. I thought it was the right thing to do. Clemmensen played well.''

The Sabres got going when Jochen Hecht drove in on Vokoun and put up a shot that Vokoun got a piece of but couldn't stop. Early in the second, Patrick Kaleta made it 2-0 when he fired a shot from the goal line that clipped a diving Vokoun but still found its way in.

Scott Clemmensen, who has made a grand total of one start in the 2010 calendar year, was summoned from the bullpen.

“There was a lucky bounce on the second goal against Vokoun, but there was a lot of game left,'' said Clemmensen, who stopped 16 shots but gave up the backbreaking goal to Mike Grier with 6:11 left. “I went in there to do my best and I thought we played well.''

Byron Bitz, who missed the past four games with what is believed to be a groin injury, was back in the lineup Saturday and paid almost immediate dividends. With the Panthers trailing 2-0 in the second, Bitz knocked down a shot from Kamil Kreps in front of the net, turned and pushed the puck past Buffalo's Ryan Miller.

Bitz, who was acquired from Boston in the Dennis Seidenberg trade deadline deal, got his first goal as a member of the Panthers.

“We were sluggish in the first period, but weathered the storm,'' Bitz said. “That's probably the best goalie in the league over there and he made some stops.''

With the loss, Florida dropped to 14th in the Eastern Conference as Carolina moved a point ahead. The Panthers are now endanger of finishing last in the entire conference as Toronto has moved to within three points of Florida.

DEN OF HONOR

The Panthers unveiled their 4,000 square foot tribute to hockey in the region on Saturday. The South Florida Hockey Den of Honor wasn't finished until a few hours before its grand opening as a number of staffers worked through the night to make sure it was finished. One said he had been at the arena for 29 straight hours.

By all accounts, the hard work was worth it. The 'Den' was a major hit.

“This weekend is very special to each and every one of us,'' said Brian Skrudland, the team's first captain.

Not only is there plenty of Panthers memorabilia from throughout the decades on display, but high school and youth hockey in the area. Each high school team from Broward County has its jersey on display – including the one worn by Peter Worrell's North Broward Prep team.

“This can be an inspiration for kids to see that they can make it to this level,'' said Worrell, who played for the Panthers from 1997-2003. “And I know they will be thrilled to come to a game and see their jersey hanging up. And they get to make fun of their coach when they see all those old pictures.''

All of the players and coaches – including Doug MacLean, Scott Mellanby and Paul Laus -- are expected to attend Sunday's game against the Lightning as well.


OnFrozenFilm: Welcome to the South Florida Hockey Den of Honor

In two parts: If you come to a game at The Billboard, you have to check this out. Very nicely done.

March 19, 2010

The Den of Honor is Almost Done

Denhonor2

The Panthers didn't practice today, and really, that's just as well.

The big thing going on with the franchise this weekend is its Den of Honor opening on Saturday.

A bunch of former players -- and Doug MacLean -- are in town, so if you see someone who looks kinda familiar tonight in Fort Lauderdale, go ahead and say hello.

And throw a rat their way.

Saturday afternoon, the Panthers will unveil the South Florida Den of Honor on the main concourse, a 4,000 square feet tribute to not only the Panthers, but all hockey in the region.

Of course, until H. Wayne Huizenga was granted an NHL franchise in 1992, there wasn't much hockey to speak of in South Florida.

“What hockey was here was pretty sporadic,'' said Randy Moller, who joined the team in its second season and is the team's radio voice. “It took off once the NHL got here and grew by leaps and bounds.''

The Panthers new den is an open air mini Hall of Fame. Images of former and current players are part of artistic murals wrapping the walls. Highlights and archived footage play on numerous flat screen televisions. Fans can walk through the area – which spans four seating sections – and check out memorabilia in numerous cases.

Most of the area is dedicated to the Panthers two decades in South Florida – and the original players aren't the only ones being honored. Former goalie Roberto Luongo has pieces of his equipment on display as does former captain Olli Jokinen.

Conceptual jerseys from before the team played its first game are also on display as are different authentic and replica trophies won by the franchise over the years.

Each high school that plays hockey in South Florida has its jersey on display and youth hockey has its own area as well.

The team first wanted to honor their past players early last decade and set up a small trophy case on the lower level and called it the Den of Honor. That display was dismantled this summer and a kiosk for a discount computer chain was put in its place.

The new den is a major upgrade. It's going to look really nice. I have to give the Panthers credit for this one.

“This concept has been talked about for a while and the one we had wasn't adequate,'' said Moller. “We wanted it to be bigger and better. We had less than 90 days to get this thing going and it has been a labor of love. There have been hundreds of hours put into this. It is amazing.''

Original goalie John Vanbiesbrouck was one former player who was critical of the team at the time it was discovered the old den was taken down, but everyone seems pleased with the new area. A good number of former players flew in to be part of the ceremonies. The players and coaches will attend both the Saturday game against the Sabres and Sunday's 5 p.m. game against the Lightning.

A few former players who live in the area – such as broadcasters Bill Lindsay and Moller as well as Peter Worrell, John Jakopin and Chris Wells – are expected to join former coach Doug MacLean, Mellanby, Brian Skrudland, Mike Hough and Paul Laus at the opening celebration.

Season ticket holders and those who bought special ticket packages will be part of a meet-and-greet with the players at different times throughout the weekend.

The original Panthers – and those who played on the team's improbable Stanley Cup Finals team in 1996 – will be in hot demand. As always.

“I find it hard to believe that I don't go through a week without someone mentioning 1996 or the rats. And I'm talking everywhere I go,'' said MacLean, who applied for the team's vacant general manager position last summer.

“That team kind of gripped the NHL. People still love that team. It's been a while and it's amazing. I go to dinner here and people always bring it up. It's a neat experience. I'm anxious to see everyone. It's always nice to see them and see all the fans.''

SATURDAY: SABRES AT PANTHERS

When, Where: 7 p.m.; BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise

TV/Radio: FSNF; WAXY-790

The series: Sabres lead 36-22-4

The game: This is the third meeting between the two this season with each team winning once. The Sabres are coming off a 6-2 win at Tampa Bay that snapped a three game losing streak. The Panthers have lost two straight after failing to hold onto a 3-0 third period lead in Thursday's 4-3 shootout loss to the Coyotes.

March 18, 2010

E-1: Panthers Take 3-0 Lead vs. Coyotes ... Lose 4-3 in Shootout

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COYOTES 4, PANTHERS 3 (SO)

BY GEORGE RICHARDS

There are a few reasons why the Phoenix Coyotes are gunning for the top seed in the Western Conference this season and the Panthers are only a few spots away from last place in the entire league.

Thursday night offered yet another example.

Leading by a goal late in the third period, Florida goalie Tomas Vokoun couldn't field a shot from 105 feet away, the puck skipping off the ice in front of the net before bouncing off his glove and into the back of the net.

Phoenix's goal tied the game – one the Panthers led by three going into the period – and forced overtime where the Coyotes ended up winning 4-3 in a shootout. The win was Phoenix's seventh straight; the Panthers have dropped two in a row.

“That's why that team is where they're at: They find ways to win,'' said coach Pete DeBoer. “You see one of those [goals] in a season in the NHL in all the games. It is what it is. For us, it seems like it's Murphy's Law. Whatever can go wrong does.''

With Nathan Horton back from injury, the Panthers had their top line intact Thursday for the first time since October and looked to have a celebratory reunion. But then came the third period.

Horton, David Booth and Stephen Weiss had a say in Florida's first three goals, but the visiting Coyotes scored three in the third as they outshot the Cats 19-6 in that session. Florida couldn't slow down the red-hot Coyotes as Phoenix made it a game with two quick goals in the third period. Even still, it looked like the Panthers would survive, with Ilya Bryzgalov coming out of his net with 1:03 left.

Radim Vrbata brought the puck up to center ice and shot it from behind the red line. Unbelievably, the shot from behind the center stripe got past Vokoun and the game was tied with 59.7 seconds left.

Vokoun has been part of the league highlights for his spectacular play all season, but this goal will be replayed over and over. The small crowd then turned on Florida's MVP, mockingly cheering his next save before backing him again in overtime as he turned back a number of tough shots offered by the Coyotes.

“He stops 50 shots a night for us every freaking game,'' said captain Bryan McCabe. “On our ice, anything can happen. It was bouncing all night. It was bound to happen once this year. It was bouncing like a tennis ball. What can you do?''

Said Horton: “The ice wasn't very good. It was a bad bounce, a bad break.''

Both Booth (45 games) and Horton (17) have missed extensive time because of injury. On Thursday the trio showed the Panthers what might have been as Weiss and Booth scored with Weiss and Horton assisting on Cory Stillman's goal – the one that gave the Panthers a 3-0 lead heading into the final 20 minutes.

The three – dubbed the 'Sunrise Express' -- each had two goals in the opening nine games before Booth was knocked out Oct. 24 in Philadelphia.

Horton2 “It was nice, it felt good out there,'' said Horton, who had two assists and scored Florida's lone shootout goal. “There's so much talent, you know you are going to get the puck and usually something good happens.''

Weiss got the Panthers going at the end of the first by scoring on a power play from the left circle with 6.7 seconds left for his 99th career goal. Booth made it 2-0 less than two minutes into the second by redirecting a McCabe shot from in front of the net. Later in the period, Cory Stillman backhanded a deflection with Weiss and Horton getting assists.

“We're a different team with Horton in the lineup, I think you can see that,'' said DeBoer. “We have a first line that takes some pressure off Stillman and Reinprecht.''

OLESZ STRUGGLING

Things have decidedly stalled for Rostislav Olesz as he has gone 19 straight games without a single point.

Olesz1 DeBoer said earlier in the season that he holds Olesz to a higher standard because of his high draft status (seventh overall in 2004) and his contract (Olesz signed a six-year deal worth $3.25 million per prior to the 2008-09 season).

So with Olesz struggling, DeBoer is obviously not happy. Olesz started on Florida's fourth line Thursday.

“I know I would be frustrated and I hope he would be,'' he said Thursday morning. “You want to see that channeled on the ice and see him fight his way through that and not just surrender and be happy with the spot he's in.''

-- With the Coyotes just a few points away from the top seed in the Western Conference after finishing 25th in the league last season, DeBoer says the Panthers can not only learn from Phoenix's success, but have hope as well. The Panthers came into the day ranked 27th in the 30 team league.

“That's where we want to get to,'' he said. “It shows organizations like us that we're not that far away.''

-- University of Denver goaltender Marc Cheverie, a Panthers prospect, was named one of the 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award -- college hockey's Heisman Trophy. Cheverie is 24-4-3 with a 1.94 GAA for the top-ranked Pioneers.


Horton is Back for some March Madness

Nathan Horton will try to pick up where he left off as he returns to the lineup tonight against Phoenix. It's Horton's first game back since taking a Dennis Seidenberg puck off the leg on Jan. 21 on Long Island.

Horton will be back on a top line with old pals Stephen Weiss and David Booth.

Michal Repik has been sent back to Rochester.

Now, back to basketball...PS: Most players have Kansas winning it all, with a few taking Duke, Kentucky or Syracuse. Pete DeBoer's pick: The Buckeyes of Ohio State.

Horton is Back for some March Madness

March 16, 2010

Redskins Drop Dolphins in Sunrise: Washington 7, Florida 3

Riggins CAPITALS 7, PANTHERS 3

BY GEORGE RICHARDS

No matter how good Tomas Vokoun has been playing, if his teammates can't clear the puck deep in their own zone or flat out turn it over in front of the net, he's not going to be very effective.

Especially when those miscues and defensive breakdowns come against the high flying Washington Capitals.

Vokoun ended up watching the end of Tuesday's game against the Capitals from the bench and that was just as well as the Panthers gave Washington one opportunity after another. As usual, the Capitals took advantage and rolled to a 7-3 victory at BankAtlantic Center.

“We left our goalies hanging out to dry,'' coach Pete DeBoer said. “There were too many second, third chances out there. We were too soft. You can't expect to get a playoff spot in this league when you come out and don't play harder than the other team – especially against the best team in the league.''

The Capitals swept the six-game season series from the Panthers as they collected all 12 available points – one big reason Washington became the league's first division champion this season. The Panthers got just one of those 12 points – a big reason why they are on the outside of the playoff chase watching from afar.

“In our division, these are big games,'' captain Bryan McCabe said. “To even go .500 against them would have put us in a better position. We didn't do that. They dominated us all year, and that continued tonight.''

Washington outscored the Panthers 33-15 this season – and 23-12 without superstar Alex Ovechkin in the lineup. The Caps have scored six goals or more in 11 games this season, three against Florida. Washington came into the night with a league-high 270 goals – 42 more than second-place Vancouver and 53 more than Pittsburgh.

Ovechkin missed four of Washington's six games against the Panthers, scoring a goal with an assist in the two wins he did partake in.

How good has Vokoun been? Tuesday was his 27th start since Dec. 31. Of those games, he gave up five goals twice (including Tuesday) and four goals three times. Vokoun gave up three goals or fewer in 22 of those 27 starts. Of the five games where Vokoun gave up more than three, the Capitals were the opponent in three of those games.

Unfortunately for Vokoun, his teammates haven't given him much offensive support as he went just 12-12-3 in those 27 games.

Tuesday was more of the same for Vokoun as the Panthers flailed and whiffed at the puck so often one would have thought they were taking batting practice against CC Sabathia.

“They take every opportunity they get and take advantage,'' defenseman Jason Garrison said. “You have to be very strong defensively against them. We gave up too much and it cost us too many goals.''

In the first, Washington scored a pair of goals as Alexander Semin knocked in a puck and Jason Chimera followed up a rebound.

Florida went into the first break down 2-1 after Steven Reinprecht took a nice pass from Dmitry Kulikov and raced down the left side and scored from the circle.

After that, it was all Washington. The Capitals scored four goals in the second period as Florida only countered with one from Kamil Kreps and the game was over early. Vokoun was pulled after Brooks Laich scored with 5:54 left in the second after Bryan Allen (who saved a goal in the first by dislodging the net and taking the penalty) couldn't clear the puck on a penalty kill.

That goal made it 5-1 and Vokoun was mercifully replaced by Scott Clemmensen. Even though Kreps scored seconds after Clemmensen came in, he didn't have much luck either as Nicklas Backstrom made it 6-2 on the second shot Clemmensen faced as Stephen Weiss (minus-3 in the first 40 minutes) failed to get the puck and move it out.

Michal Repik got Florida's last goal of the night with 1:33 left.

“It's nice, but it wasn't much help to the team,'' Repik said. “This was tough.''



Panthers vs. Ovechkin-less Capitals, Again

Ovechkin The Washington Capitals made their third and final visit to Sunrise of the regular season on Tuesday night.

For the second time, the Caps brightest star wasn't in the lineup.

Alex Ovechkin, the league's leading scorer, missed his fourth game of the season against Florida on Tuesday as he served the first of a two game suspension for ramming Chicago's Brian Campbell.

Ovechkin will return to the Caps lineup Saturday in Tampa, but Campbell – who suffered a broken clavicle as well as a fractured rib – needs surgery and is out for the remainder of the regular season and part of the playoffs.

Ovechkin rammed Campbell from behind a few feet in front of the end boards. Campbell lost his footing and slammed into the boards. Washington coach Bruce Boudreau says Ovechkin is so strong, Campbell just went flying.

“I know my own strength, and it's not very,'' said Boudreau. “He's 230 pounds and strong as an ox. I guarantee, he didn't hit the guy to send him into the boards to hit him. He was pushing, the first man on the forecheck, and then he was going to the bench. Nine times out of 10, that's not going to happen.''

Said Ovechkin: "I didn't mean to make someone injured. But you know, it's a hockey game."

The Panthers had different opinions on Ovechkin's hit, the suspension and the star's style of play. While each player and coach interviewed said they enjoy watching Ovechkin from afar, coach Pete DeBoer says if Ovechkin will change his hard-charging style “depending on whether he wants to be suspended multiple times a year.

“We all admire his skill and his speed and how he plays the game,'' DeBoer continued. “There isn't a coach out there who doesn't like talent with physical play. But when guys get seriously hurt, that's unfortunate.''

Ovechkin missed the Capitals 6-2 win against Florida in Washington on Dec. 3 because he was suspended for kneeing Carolina defenseman Tim Gleason in the previous game. Ovechkin was hurt for two other games.

According to The Washington Post, Ovechkin has been fined close to $335,000 this season. His latest suspension will cost him $232,645.

“He doesn't mean to do it, it's just his reaction,'' Panthers winger Cory Stillman said. “He plays hard. He's coming out and he is the star. If you have a young kid growing up who wants to be a hockey player, you want him to be Alex Ovechkin. He's complete. He hits, skates. Besides fighting, which he doesn't have to do, he's the whole package. He does it all."

Ovechkin put out a statement through the team on Tuesday:

"I am very sorry that Brian was injured and I hope he is able to return to his team soon. NHL hockey is a physical game. We all play hard every time we are on the ice and have battles each shift in every game we play so we can do our jobs and win. As players we must accept responsibility for our actions and I am no different but I did not intend to injure Brian and that is why I was disappointed with the NHL's decision yesterday. Every time I have the honor to play for my team, I will continue to do what I have done since I was taught to play. I will play hard, play with passion and play with respect for my teammates, opponents and fans. I look forward to returning to my team and doing everything I can to be the best player I can be."

-- DeBoer reiterated that injured winger Nathan Horton should be back in the Florida lineup sometime during the current homestand. Horton could return Thursday against Phoenix.

-- Injured winger Byron Bitz missed his third game Tuesday and DeBoer says he's doubtful for Thursday.

-- Just walked through the new Den of Honor area; the glass cases and stuff aren't up, but the new blue carpet, the flat screens and the mural wraps are. Looks pretty cool. Should be a nice addition to the arena.



March 12, 2010

Eight Is Enough: Panthers fall to Avs 3-0; Trail Boston in Postseason 'Hunt' by Eight Points

8enough AVALANCHE 3, PANTHERS 0

BY GEORGE RICHARDS

DENVER – Five times this season the Florida Panthers have won three straight games. They've yet to extend their marginal winning streaks to four.

And that's one of many reasons why the Panthers will not be part of the Stanley Cup playoffs for an NHL record-tying ninth straight season and record-breaking 10th year.

Thursday, former Florida goalie Craig Anderson hammered yet another nail in the Panthers 2009-10 coffin as he stopped 27 shots to beat his old mates 3-0 in front of a sparse crowd at Pepsi Center.

The shutout was Anderson's seventh of the season and 14th of his career.

“This was disappointing. They were the better team,'' Panthers coach Pete DeBoer said. “The result was deserved. Both goaltenders played well. We didn't give ours enough support.''

The Panthers continue to claim they are in a playoff chase, and mathematically, they are. Barely. After Boston and Montreal each won on Thursday, the Panthers slipped to eight points out of the eighth and final playoff spot.

To add to the points problem, Florida has three teams sitting in front jamming things up. The Panthers only have 16 games remaining and need to go on a long winning streak to have any chance of making the playoffs – and they have yet to prove they can do that.

Losing streaks are another story. The team has had four losing streaks of four games or more this season. The Panthers haven't been to the playoffs since being swept in the opening round of the 2000 postseason.

The Panthers are running out of daylight – and have a new suitor joining them in their “race.” Carolina, which started the season with losses in 16 of its first 18 games, won on Thursday and now are tied with the Panthers in overall points with 64.

“[Thursday] isn't what put us in this position,'' defenseman Keith Ballard said. “You look back through the year and losing six or seven in a row, or not showing up some nights. We put ourselves in this position. But until the numbers say we're out of it, we're not going with the mentality that we're out of it.''

Colorado, meanwhile, is in a legitimate playoff fight and needed a win Thursday to keep up in a crowded Western Conference. Former Panthers goalie Craig Anderson has been instrumental in helping the Avs rise up from the conference cellar – where they resided last season – and into the thick of the postseason conversation.

Anderson, who started his 22nd straight game on Thursday, didn't get challenged by his former teammates very much in the early going. The Panthers went half of the opening period before registering their first shot of the night, and ended up taking just five shots in the opening period.

The Avs got a huge lift from Paul Stastny five minutes into the second period when he knocked a loose puck past Tomas Vokoun at 4:54. Vokoun went into the second break down 2-0 as Stastny scored a second goal with 4:39 left in the period. The Panthers put themselves in a tough spot as Cory Stillman (serving a bench minor) and Radek Dvorak (roughing) both went into the penalty box to give the Avs a 5-on-3 advantage.

Stillman had just come out of the bin when Stastny – camped out and by himself along the goal line – snapped a shot off a Chris Stewart pass into the net.

Anderson made two good saves on Stephen Weiss in the first six minutes of the third and ended up stopping 13 in the final 20 minutes. Anderson was able to relax with 3:34 left when Matt Hendricks drove in and beat Vokoun for the Avs third goal as the Panthers were slow to get back on defense – bringing sharp words from Vokoun to his bench.

The Panthers have been shutout seven times – five since the start of 2010.

“Both goalies were good,'' said DeBoer. “We didn't do enough for our guy.''

-- Weiss was seen coming out of the X-ray room at Pepsi Center following the game. He said he was OK but looked to be in pain.

March 11, 2010

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.



March 09, 2010

Panthers Win a Historical One: Florida 3, Wild 2 (SO)

GOLDYS PANTHERS 3, WILD 2 (SO)

BY GEORGE RICHARDS

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Tomas Vokoun didn't have much to do during the regulation of Tuesday's game.

Overtime was a different story – and Vokoun a difference maker.

The Panthers goalie was sharp in overtime and in the shootout, backstopping Florida to a 3-2 win over the Wild at Xcel Energy Center. Vokoun only faced nine shots from the Wild in the first 60 minutes (the team was booed coming off the ice after the third), but was forced in action in the five minute overtime as the Wild dominated play in the Florida zone.

Vokoun then stopped all four shots he faced in the shootout as Cory Stillman's goal in the fourth round won it for Florida. The 11 shots by Minnesota set a Florida franchise record for fewest in a single game.

“He looked like he wasn't going to let us lose that game,'' coach Pete DeBoer said of Vokoun. “That's the kind of saves we need.''

The Panthers have now won three straight games as Tuesday's win was the 500th victory in franchise history.

Florida's win was also its first against the Wild since Minnesota's inaugural season of 2000-01 and the Panthers first-ever win in the state of Minnesota. The North Stars moved to Dallas prior to the Panthers first season in 1993-94.

It was a win that was hard to come by, for sure, as Minnesota scored on two of its first three shots and led 2-0 going into the third period. DeBoer said his message to his team was that it needed to keep doing what it was doing; Florida, DeBoer said “deserved the two points” because Florida was dictating play against the Wild but couldn't beat goalie Niklas Backstrom.

“We were definitely outplaying them,'' said defenseman Bryan McCabe. “We were creating a lot of scoring chances, we just weren't scoring. This is a big road trip for our club. We just need to keep winning. This was a big effort. Everyone was on board tonight. We knew it was going to come if we stuck to that program.''

Michael Frolik finally solved the Backstrom problem just over a minute into the third when he took a breakaway pass from McCabe and roofed a shot past the Wild goalie.

“We played a good game,'' said DeBoer. “We kept grinding away even though we weren't getting rewarded. [Frolik's] goal was big. Up to that point, it looked like we could shoot all night and not score on Backstrom. I thought he was fantastic.''

The Panthers kept applying pressure as the Wild sat back and watched. Midway through the third, Stillman tied the score as Steven Reinprecht left him a nice shot in the slot. The Wild, which had seven shots in the opening two periods, had yet to record a shot in the third to that point. When Minnesota finally got a shot off with 8:45 left in regulation, the Minnesota crowd cheered in mock approval.

Florida couldn't get anything else past Backstrom and went into overtime with a little bit of momentum. But after a quick rush into the Wild zone, the Panthers struggled to do anything as Vokoun kept them in the game. Florida not only couldn't sustain a charge in the Wild zone, but the Panthers barely cleared the puck out of their own zone.

In the shootout, Stephen Weiss and David Booth were stopped by Backstrom before surprise shooter Kamil Kreps failed to get a shot off in Round 3. Vokoun stopped all four shots he faced before skating off victorious after Stillman snapped Florida's five-game shootout losing streak.

“Everyone wants to be the hero,'' said Stillman. “I scored and we won and hopefully someone else can step up in the next game to win it for us.''




March 08, 2010

Panthers off to Minnesota ... Special Audio from Practice

Northstars2 MINNEAPOLIS -- The Panthers had their final practice in South Florida today before moving on to Minneapolis where they will play the Wild tomorrow.

Michael Seff filled in for me today in Coral Springs. Here is his report. Michael also did a special audio segment, which you can listen to at the bottom of the file.


By MICHAEL SEFF

The Florida Panthers will be tested and then some as they embark on a three-game Western Conference road trip this week.

With their postseason hopes fading, the Panthers will visit a trio of playoff contenders, beginning Tuesday night with a trip to Minnesota.

If familiarity breeds contempt, perhaps Florida can benefit from facing teams they have little experience with. But recent history, especially with the Wild, would suggest otherwise. The Panthers are 1-7-1 lifetime against Minnesota.

“The Western Conference is tough,” head coach Pete DeBoer said. “The three teams we're playing are all very good teams in tough buildings. It'll be a great test for us.

“I'm excited, and I think the guys are excited to get out on the road. At least early in the season, we played some real good hockey on the road. We've gotta get back to doing that again.”

Easier said than done, however. The Colorado Avalanche, Thursday's opponent, have 80 points and trail the Vancouver Canucks by just two points in the Northwest Division.

And then there's the San Jose Sharks, Saturday's foe. All they've done is rack up 93 points, two better than the Chicago Blackhawks for best in the West.

“It's going to be a challenge for us, obviously,” winger Gregory Campbell said. “But I think we're looking forward to it. We're going into it with some confidence, which is good.

“For us it's about the two points. They're not divisional or conference games, so it doesn't matter how we get those two points.”

-- Ballard leaves practice early

Defenseman Keith Ballard left Monday's morning skate early, but DeBoer would not elaborate on what the injury was.

“He felt a little strain on something. So we'll have a better idea after [getting it checked out], but I think he'll be alright.”

Nicks and bruises are common at this time of year, which might also explain center Nick Tarnasky's swollen nose, suffered in Saturday's 4-1 win over Carolina.

“He took one off the nose and got a little bit of a nosebleed, and it swelled up a little bit. But he was fine. He finished the game, no problem.”

-- Homecoming for duo

Ballard is a native Minnesotan, but he won't be the only Panther making a homecoming of sorts on Tuesday.

Fellow defenseman Jason Garrison played collegiately at the University of Minnesota Duluth, so it's understandable that he has been a popular figure around those parts as Tuesday's game nears.

“I've had a lot of guys contact me over the last week,” Garrison said. “I think I'm probably going to have about 15 to 20 people at the game, so I'm pretty excited.”

The Canadian-born Garrison also knows just how big hockey is in Minnesota.

“When I first got there, I couldn't believe how big [Minnesota] was for hockey,” he said. “It reminded me of back home. The high school hockey there is huge, the college is huge, and the pro is huge. Everybody's a hockey fan.”

-- Three cheers for McCabe

The recent play of defenseman Bryan McCabe has not gone unnoticed, as the 14-year veteran was named third star of the week.

McCabe tallied eight points over three games, with one goal and seven assists. He credits the two-week Olympic break as helping him get re-energized.

“I think mentally it was a big thing just to get away from the rink for 10 days,” he said. “I think everyone's come back with a little more spark and a little more jump in their game.”

Colorado's Chris Stewart and Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos were named first and second stars, respectively.

 

Seffaudio


Ballard OK

Panthers say Keith Ballard is fine, just needed treatment and is on flight to Minny...

Ballard Leaves Practice ... McCabe Third Star

CHARLOTTE -- Keith Ballard left practice Monday with some sort of strain and there is a question whether or not he'll be on the plane today headed to the Twin Cities. Will keep you updated.

Also, captain Bryan McCabe was honored as the NHL's third star of the week. McCabe tied a career high with four points Wednesday and then had three Saturday.

Ballard Leaves Practice ... McCabe Third Star

CHARLOTTE -- Keith Ballard left practice Monday with some sort of strain and there is a question whether or not he'll be on the plane today headed to the Twin Cities. Will keep you updated.

Also, captain Bryan McCabe was honored as the NHL's third star of the week. McCabe tied a career high with four points Wednesday and then had three Saturday.

March 05, 2010

Another Bet Paid Off

Keith Ballard bet video coach Jamie Pringle that he would wash his car if Canada beat Team USA in Sunday's Gold Medal game.

Ballard paid off the bet today.

"That made my week," Pringle boasted as he snapped a few shots of Ballard wiping down the Honda.

Another Bet Paid Off

March 03, 2010

OnFrozenFilm: Stu Siegel and Cliff Viner Talk NHL Trade Deadline

OnFrozenFilm: Pete DeBoer NHL Deadline 3/3/10

OnFrozenFilm: Randy Sexton, NHL Trade Deadline, 3/3/10