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28 posts from April 2010

April 29, 2010

GR's Fourth Period Presented by Titleist: Playoffs Round 2 ... News, Notes from the Panthers

HappyGood morning hockey fans, hope you are enjoying these Stanley Cup playoffs as much as I am.

First off, have to apologize to all of you who religiously check this site each day looking for some Panthers updates, but there hasn't been much going on.

Don't know if you heard, but the Rochester Americans -- the Panthers AHL affiliate -- opened their first round series with the Abbotsford (Miami) Heat by splitting a pair of games in Rochester before heading west for three games.

The Amerks won the first two games and took a commanding 3-1 lead. Sounds great right?

Eh, not so much.

Like the Capitals, the Amerks took it on the chin and lost the next three games (unlike the Caps, Rochester lost the final two playoff games at home) and were bounced from the postseason. Folks in Rochester are not happy at all, with the crowd at War Memorial chanting for coach Benoit Groulx's job during the Game 7 loss to the Heat. I would guess those disgruntled fans will get their wish.

Jason Garrison had a solid series for the Amerks, registering nine points off two goals. Shawn Matthias has two goals and five assists in the seven game series.

-- Also of note, the Panthers -- who announced their offseason was going to be sponsored by a Japanese luxury car maker that rhymes with Texas -- have signed two of their prospects to entry level deals.

Center A.J. Jenks of the Plymouth Whalers signed on Wednesday as the 2008 fourth round pick recently finished his OHL season with 23 goals and 40 assists. He'll be at the Coral Springs training camp (I haven't heard if Florida has finalized its rookie camp info yet) and likely start the season with the Amerks.

Florida also signed free agent forward Eric Selleck out of Division III Oswego, N.Y. The Panthers like this guy as he is said to be a real gamer. He had 21 goals in 28 games last season for the Lakers.

-- How bout those NHL playoffs, eh? Pretty fun stuff. Like many, I was absolutely floored to see Washington flame out the way they did against the Canadiens -- especially offensively. JM's defense smothered the Capitals and held them to three goals in the final three games of the series.

That's darned impressive. The Capitals can usually score three goals in half a period, but they were stymied by the Habs and star goaling in the making Jaroslav Halak (who stopped 94 percent of shots faced in the series).

Montreal's special teams also flattened the Caps as Washington went just 1 for 33 on the power play in the seven games. You would think that would be last in the league, but it wasn't. Buffalo, which lost to Boston, went 0-for-19 with the advantage in its six game series.

Would have loved to have been in Montreal last night for that party.

Alas, I don't see the Canadiens partying all that much after this. They draw the Penguins next.

-- Speaking of predictions, I went 6-2 in the opening round. That Jersey pick was right on (did the Devils even look like they were interested in playing) but the Red Wings had me sweat out a Game 7 that turned into a laugher. The two losses: Buffalo and, yes, Washington.

Here's what I got for the second round.

In the east, I like the Penguins to ease on down the road and knock off Montreal in five. That will set up a Keystone State Eastern Conference final for the second time in three years because Philadelphia keeps its truck running by knocking off the Bruins in six.

Out west, I hate to do this but I think the Red Wings are going to be a little gassed and this might just be the Sharks year. I'm taking San Jose in 7 -- but feel awful about it. Also taking Chicago over the Luongos in 7. Hope I'm wrong though. Would love to see a Chicago-Detroit west final.

Here's the schedule for all the games.

Hopefully I'll have some more news for you in the coming days. Fore!


Date                         Time (ET)         #4 Pittsburgh vs. #8 Montreal                Network        
Friday, April 30                 7:00 p.m.         Montreal at Pittsburgh                        CBC, RDS, VERSUS**
Sunday, May 2                 2:00 p.m.         Montreal at Pittsburgh                        NBC, CBC, RDS
Tuesday, May 4         7:00 p.m.         Pittsburgh at Montreal                         CBC, RDS, VERSUS
Thursday, May 6         7:00 p.m.         Pittsburgh at Montreal                        CBC, RDS, VERSUS**
Saturday, May 8 *         7:00 p.m.         Montreal at Pittsburgh                        CBC, RDS, VERSUS**
Monday, May 10 *         7:00 p.m.         Pittsburgh at Montreal                        CBC, RDS, VERSUS
Wednesday, May 12 *         TBD                 Montreal at Pittsburgh                        CBC, RDS, VERSUS

Date                         Time (ET)         #6 Boston vs. #7 Philadelphia                 Network
Saturday, May 1        12:30 p.m.         Philadelphia at Boston                         NBC, TSN
Monday, May 3                 7:00 p.m.         Philadelphia at Boston                        TSN, VERSUS**
Wednesday, May 5         7:00 p.m.         Boston at Philadelphia                        TSN, VERSUS**
Friday, May 7                 7:00 p.m.         Boston at Philadelphia                        TSN, VERSUS**
Monday, May 10 *         7:00 p.m.         Philadelphia at Boston                        TSN2, VERSUS
Wednesday, May 12 *         TBD                Boston at Philadelphia                        TSN, VERSUS
Friday, May 14 *         7:00 p.m.         Philadelphia at Boston                        TSN, VERSUS


Date                         Time (ET)         #1 San Jose vs. #5 Detroit                  Network
Thursday, April 29         9:00 p.m.         Detroit at San Jose                         TSN, VERSUS**
Sunday, May 2                 8:00 p.m.         Detroit at San Jose                        TSN, VERSUS**
Tuesday, May 4         7:30 p.m.         San Jose at Detroit                         TSN, VERSUS
Thursday, May 6        7:30 p.m.         San Jose at Detroit                        TSN, VERSUS
Saturday, May 8 *         10:00 p.m.         Detroit at San Jose                        TSN, VERSUS
Monday, May 10 *         7:30 p.m.         San Jose at Detroit                        TSN, VERSUS
Wednesday, May 12 *         TBD                 Detroit at San Jose                        TSN, VERSUS

Date                         Time (ET)         #2 Chicago vs. #3 Vancouver                 Network
Saturday, May 1         8:00 p.m.         Vancouver at Chicago                         CBC, VERSUS**
Monday, May 3                 9:00 p.m.         Vancouver at Chicago                        CBC, VERSUS
Wednesday, May 5         9:30 p.m.         Chicago at Vancouver                         CBC, VERSUS
Friday, May 7                 9:30 p.m.         Chicago at Vancouver                        CBC, VERSUS**
Sunday, May 9 *         8:00 p.m.         Vancouver at Chicago                        CBC, VERSUS
Tuesday, May 11 *         9:30 p.m.        Chicago at Vancouver                        CBC, VERSUS
Thursday, May 13 *         8:00 p.m.         Vancouver at Chicago                        CBC, VERSUS

April 18, 2010

Roadtrip to Rochester II: Goalies in Battle

Plantemask1 Again, this was written before Saturday's game, a 4-1 Amerks win as the series is tied 1-1.

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- The Panthers are in a pretty good position when it comes to having quality goaltenders within its system.

Whether its All-Star Tomas Vokoun or backup Scott Clemmensen on the big club, or minor leaguers Tyler Plante or Alexander Salak with the AHL Americans, general manager Randy Sexton knows his team is deep in net.

And with Jacob Markstrom and Marc Cheverie on the way up, there isn't room for everyone.

The Panthers are expected to shop Vokoun and the one year remaining on his NHL contract this offseason. Even if Vokoun, who has a no movement clause in the contract he signed with Nashville in 2007, is moved, the Panthers still have a numbers problem.

Florida will likely have to make a decision on whether to keep Plante or Salak. With Rochester in the AHL playoffs, their postseason play could make Sexton's decision for him.

“Every team is the same way, no matter the level, in having guys compete for ice time, spots on the roster,'' said Plante, who started for Rochester on Saturday night against the Abbotsford, British Columbia, Heat in Game 2 of the best-of-7 opening series.

“You can't let it affect your friendship. Hockey is an up and down sport and you have to be there for them and help them out. Good things will come for both of us if you do that.''

Salak, a free agent signed by former general manager Jacques Martin, is in his first professional season and has one year left on his contract. Plante's deal is up, but if the Panthers decide to tender him, Salak could be traded away. Markstrom is expected to start at Rochester next season but that's a long offseason away. Plante was called up for the Panthers final two games this season after Vokoun hurt his back but didn't play.

“This has been Plante's best year as a pro,'' said Sexton. “We have lots of options and you need depth in net because it's such a critical position. We have four very good young goalies so we're in a good spot.''

Markstrom, 20, has spent the past three seasons playing professionally in Sweden in a league with comparable – or even better – talent than the AHL. The Panthers would like to ease Markstrom into the North American system and that's valuable experience the AHL would provide.

Yet both Plante and Salak have had strong seasons for the Amerks. Plante ended the season with a flourish. After missing a big chunk of the season with a knee injury, Plante took over for Salak in net and set a career high in wins (12), saves (701) and shutouts (three). He was named the AHL's goalie of the month in March.

Plantemask2 Plante, who turned 23 on Friday, also has one of the coolest masks in the game – regardless of the league. Plante has two Will Ferrell characters on each side: Ricky Bobby from Talladega Nights and Chazz Michaels from Blades of Glory. Movie lines and a Bible passage also adorn the mask.

“Getting hurt in a contract year isn't what you want and I think I tried rushing myself to get back,'' said Plante, who stopped all 20 shots he faced after replacing Salak in Thursday's 3-2 series opening loss to the Heat.

“My injury lingered because I came back too soon. But my confidence came back when [coach Benoit] Groulx showed confidence in me and put me back in there. Being out so long, I didn't know I even had a roster spot anymore.''

It was a bit of a surprise to see Groulx go with Salak in the opening game as well as Plante had been playing. Salak didn't look sharp, with Abbotsford scoring a mere 35 seconds into the game. Salak stopped six of nine shots, the Amerks trailed 3-1 going into the second and Plante was informed during the first break that he was taking over.

Groulx has shown confidence in both goalie, however, although Plante would have to play poorly for Salak to get back in.

Salak carried the Amerks for much of the season and their hot start – the team opened 17-3-1 – was directly related to Salak's play. Named to the AHL All-Star team, Salak went 29-14-0 with the Amerks and made his NHL debut as Vokoun's back up at the beginning of the season when Clemmensen had to leave the team to attend to family matters in his home state of Iowa.

“Alexander Salak had a great start for us,'' said Groulx. “Tyler was off to a great start too, before the knee injury. Then Salak got hurt. That hurt our team because we had to play 12 straight games without them. We struggled. It was a tough couple of months, but they both came back and played well.

“We're still confident in both of them, but you can't play them both at the same time. We all want to win here. This is big for those guys because teams want to see players have success in the postseason.''

Roadtrip to Rochester: Good Play in Postseason Key to Future

Rochesterplayers Here is the story I wrote off Thursday's game in Rochester. Note the Amerks won Game 2 by a 4-1 score over Abbotsford....

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Randy Sexton hasn't had much to cheer about the past few months. That was the case once more Thursday night.

The general manager of the Florida Panthers sat in a semi-private box watching the Rochester Americans lose their opener of the American Hockey League playoffs to the Abbotsford, British Columbia, Heat.

Sexton wears his emotions on his sleeve, so when the Heat jumped to a 2-0 first period lead, Sexton was obviously not happy.

At the end of the night – the Amerks lost 3-2 – Sexton was able to reflect a little more and look at the big picture.

The Panthers haven't made the playoffs in 10 years, their nine season drought (the 2004-05 season was canceled) tying an NHL record for postseason futility. But a good number of players the Panthers are looking at to be on next years team are here with the Amerks, getting valuable playoff experience.

Sexton says he talked to players like Jason Garrison, Shawn Matthias and Michal Repik that what they do in these playoffs will go a long way in determining their future with the club.

“I was very clear that how they play in the playoffs here will go a lot further in convincing us that they're ready to make that permanent step next year than just playing some end of the year games in the NHL,'' said Sexton. “This atmosphere is very intense, it's a lot harder to succeed. That's why we're here. We're going to be at these games, watching all of them so we can make the assessment of whether or not they are ready.''

Matthias and Garrison have definitely upped their presence with the Panthers after they finished the season strong. Matthias is going to be penciled in as one of Florida's four centers when next season starts and Garrison is going to be given a shot to be one of the top six defensemen.

Both know they have a great opportunity with the Panthers organization as the team goes through a rebuild after yet another disappointing season. And as they help the Amerks in the playoffs, they help themselves. Players like winger Michal Repik and defenseman Keaton Ellerby are on the periphery of making the 2010-11 Panthers but a strong push in the postseason would keep them on the radar.

“The playoffs show who is ready to play, who is ready for these big games,'' said Matthias. “Florida wants to be in the playoffs next year and this is good experience for us, show we can step it up in the big games. We're here to make a point.”

Said Garrison: “This is a different level of play, very gritty and guys are doing things on the ice they may not do during a regular season game. We know they are watching. Everyone wants to be part of a winner. We're trying to take this thing to the end.''

Center Jeff Taffe, who played 21 games with the Panthers this season, has experienced the playoffs twice in his career. He says the younger players on the Panthers roster are gaining invaluable experience now that the postseason has started as the intensity and speed of the game has kicked up.

“It's going to be a shock for some of them,'' said Taffe. “There are highs and lows in a seven game series so you have to battle through things. It's great experience. I'm sure a lot of guys with the Panthers would love to be playing right now because it's a different atmosphere. No one wants it to end. We have one opponent to focus on. That makes it fun to play.''

This is the Amerks first trip to the playoffs since 2007, a long break for one of the league's traditional powerhouse clubs. Rochester has won the Calder Cup – the league championship – six times in its history, but with shaky ownership, the franchise had fallen on hard times.

Because of the team's financial troubles, the Sabres broke their 29 year affiliation with the team and moved to Portland, Maine. The Panthers worked out the financial issues and became the lone parent club when millionaire Curt Styres bought – and likely saved the team -- in 2008.

Injuries on the big club forced the Panthers to raid the Amerks for players throughout the year, with seven Rochester players being on Florida's lineup card in Sunday's season ending loss to the Lightning in Sunrise.

For players like Steve MacIntyre, Victor Oreskovich, Matthias and Garrison, the losses in Florida are behind them. The Panthers limped to the end of the season with losses in 11 of the final 15 games, but this postseason is a fresh slate.

The Amerks, down 1-0 in the best-of-seven series, play Game 2 Saturday.

“It's a different season,'' said MacIntyre. “It's all about preparation and some of these young guys are learning that every game counts right now. Four losses and we're done. You lose one and who have to regroup, pick yourself up. It's playoffs. You let it all hang out.''

April 15, 2010

Stand Up, Make Some Noise: Heat beat Amerks

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Alexander Salak gave up three goals in the opening period before being pulled but the damage was done. The Abbotsford, BC, Heat didn't score again but held on to beat the Rochester Americans 3-2 in the opening game of the best-of-seven series.

Abbotsford had a 2-0 lead 8:16 into the game before Jordan Henry scored. Roch got a goal with 27 seconds left but couldn't get a third.

Tyler Plante played the second and third and stopped all 20 shots. Salak stopped six of nine. Plante will start Game 2 on Saturday at the War Memorial.

Great seats still available. Bring the kids....

Jim Playfair vs. Jamie Koharski Part II?

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Former Flames coach Jim Playfair became a YouTube sensation much like Keith Ballard not too long ago when he went bananas of referee Jamie Koharski during an AHL game.

Playfair coaches the Abbotsford Heat, which plays the Rochester Americans on Thursday night.

Koharski is the ref.

Good times, we hope....

Enjoy the video (if you haven't seen it)

Playoff Time for (some) Panthers: Heat @ Rochester Amerks Tonight

RochrivROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Good evening from atop the Blue Cross Arena where the Rochester Americans -- the Florida Panthers Triple A affiliate -- opens its first round playoff series against the Abbotsford (Miami) Heat.

Abbotsford is in British Columbia, and their logo is a little similar to our playoff bound Heaters (check out the A in the logo below).

Old Panthers pal Duane Sutter is here -- the Heat are the Calgary Flames affiliate.

Also familiar to Panthers fans: Not only are there a ton of Panthers playing for the Amerks, but opposing goalie David Shantz spent a few years in the Florida system and played in Rochester for parts of three seasons.

Alexander Salak, who made his NHL debut in Florida's North American opener at Carolina way back in October, is between the pipes for Rochester.

Going to have a number of stories from here over the next few days, although my main story is being held until Saturday so it can get better play in the printed edition.

Which is cool. Gives me time to walk around aRochriv2 and talk to more people.

Great town, Rochester is. Serious. I have had a good time already and have only been here one day.

The area around the arena is real pretty (first two pics) and everyone is pretty cool. They have Tim Hortons as well, so you can't beat that. Thinking about having a sandwich along the river tomorrow after practice.

Randy Sexton is here and I will be talking to him as well -- not during lunch. Well, you never know.

Feel free to check in throughout the night for updates -- either here or on my Twitter Abbotsford (@OnFrozenPond) or Facebook (On Frozen Pond) pages.

Another great site for Amerks news is Kevin Oklobzija's site at the Rochester Democrat&Chronicle. You can access it right here.

He's going to be live throughout the night and the playoffs so if you want to check up on your Panthers on the farm, this is the place to do it.

Here are the lines from practice yesterday thanks to Kevin:


Evgeny Dadonov-Chris Taylor-Graham Mink

Jeff Taffe-Jamie Johnson-Mike York

Michael Duco-Shawn Matthias-Michal Repik

Steve MacIntyre-David Brine-Victor Oreskovich

See you in a bit....

April 14, 2010

Time for the Playoffs: NHL Kicks off Second Season Tonight

CrosbycupWho says a Florida Panthers beat writer doesn't get to cover playoff hockey?

Rochester counts, right?

Yeah, on my way to New York to check out the Rochester Americans as they kick off their postseason Thursday night against the Abbotsford (Miami) Heat.

Led by Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem, the Heat look pretty tough. But the Americans have home ice advantage and Wade doesn't skate all that well. Haslem, unfortunately for Rochester, does.

I would give you my predictions and breakdowns for the opening round of the AHL playoffs, but I plum ran out of time. Instead, here are some news and notes -- including the full schedule -- for the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Can Pittsburgh repeat as champs? Is Detroit just tuckered out after their mad dash to the playoffs? Is there a Tim Hortons in Rochester? We'll get these answers to these pressing questions soon enough.

Feel free to comment on my crazy picks (Philadelphia over New Jersey? What are ya smokin' GR?!) and leave your own as well.


-- (1) Washington Capitals vs. (8) Montreal Canadiens

-- Season Series: Split four games with Montreal winning final meeting 6-5 on Feb. 10

Ovechkin3 -- Recent postseason history: Washington won the Southeast Division for the third straight season. After being knocked out in Round 1 in 2008, the Caps went to the second round in 2009. The Canadiens slipped into the playoffs for a second straight season. Montreal was swept by Boston in the opening round in 2009.

-- What to Watch: The Capitals have been on cruise control for the past couple of months as they clinched the Southeast Division in March. With Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green, Nicklas Backstom and Alexander Semin, the Capitals are a lean, mean scoring machine. Goaltending is a question, although Semyon Varlamov did a good job in net last postseason. Montreal backed into the playoffs but have pretty good goaltending. Jacques Martin has a big decision in whether to roll with Carey Price or Jaroslav Halak. In his 15 games since the Olympic break,Halak has gone 9-3-3 with a 2.07 GAA and a .926 save percentage. Twelve of the 20 players who dressed for the Canadiens' playoff opener in 2009 are no longer with the team.

-- Schedule – Thursday @ Washington, 7 (Vs.); Saturday @ Washington, 7 (Vs.); Monday @ Montreal, 7; Wednesday @ Montreal, 7; April 23 @ Washington*, 7 (Vs.); April 26 @ Montreal*, 7 (Vs.); April 28 @ Washington*, TBA.

-- Prediction: Capitals in 6.

-- (2) New Jersey Devils vs. (7) Philadelphia Flyers

-- Season Series: Flyers won five of six including the final three. Philadelphia outscored the Devils 20-13.

-- Recent postseason history: The Devils lost to Carolina in the opening round last season as Philadelphia was bounced in Round 1 by the Penguins.

-- What to Watch: The Flyers have owned the Devils (who have made the playoffs for 13 straight seasons) this year with 19 goals scored on Martin Brodeur in his five starts in the series. But Brodeur has experience on his side as he and Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fluery are the only two expected starting goalies to have ever won the Stanley Cup in these playoffs. Broduer has won 98 of the 176 playoff games he's started in his career. New Jersey Devils' coach Jacques Lemaire has the most experience among active NHL coaches with 60 wins in 112 games. Philadelphia didn't make it to the playoffs until beating the Rangers in a shootout on Sunday afternoon. The Flyers haven't played well down the stretch, going 3-7-1 in their final 11.

-- Schedule – Wednesday @ New Jersey, 7:30; Friday @ New Jersey, 7; Sunday @ Philadelphia, 6; Tuesday @ Philadelphia, 7:30; April 22 @ New Jersey*, 7; April 25 @ Philadelphia*, TBA; April 27 @ New Jersey*, 7:30.

-- Prediction: Flyers in 7.

-- (3) Buffalo Sabres vs. (6) Boston Bruins

-- Season Series: The Bruins won four of six in the season series, including 3-1 on April 8.

-- Recent postseason history: The Sabres haven't been to the postseason since losing to Ottawa in the 2007 Eastern Conference finals. Boston swept Montreal in the opening round before being upset by Carolina in seven games in the semifinals.

-- What to Watch: Team USA goalie Ryan Miller didn't get the gold in Vancouver but he hopes to lift the silver chalice once the Stanley Cup Finals are over. Miller had the second best GAA (2.22) and save percentage (.929) in the league this season. Aside from Miller and a handful of others, the Sabres look much different from their previous playoff appearance as half of the roster has been turned over. Don't expect much scoring in this series as Boston has the second best defense in the league but scored the second fewest goals. According to the NHL, only one team has ranked lower in the league in the past 20 years and qualified for the playoffs – the 1988-89 Vancouver Canucks finished last in the 21-team league with 251 goals (45 more than the Bruins scored this season). Tuukka Rask ended the season leading the league – and Miller – with a 1.97 GAA and a .931 save percentage. Last year, Boston's Tim Thomas (who backed up Miller in Vancouver) led the league in those categories.

-- Schedule – Thursday @ Buffalo, 7; Saturday @ Buffalo, 1 (NBC); Monday @ Boston, 7 (Vs.); April 21 @ Boston, 7 (Vs.); April 23 @ Buffalo*, 7; April 26 @ Boston*, 7; April 28 @ Buffalo*, 7.

-- Prediction: Sabres in 6.

-- (4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5) Ottawa Senators

-- Season Series: The two teams split the season series, with all four games decided by three goals or more. The Pens outscored the Sens 15-13 in their meetings.

-- Recent postseason history: The Penguins claimed their third Stanley Cup in franchise history after entering as the fourth seed in the east. Pittsburgh won the Cup in a Game 7 at Detroit. The Senators missed the playoffs last season and were knocked out of the 2008 postseason by the Penguins.

-- What to Watch: Sidney Crosby got his first 50 goal season as he scored twice Sunday against the Islanders to earn a share of his first Rocket Richard Trophy as he and Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos both ended with 51. Before this season, Crosby had never scored more than 39 goals in a season. Coach Dan Bylsma is trying to become just the second coach in NHL history to win the Cup in his first two seasons behind the bench. Montreal's Toe Blake won Cups in each of his first five seasons (1956-60). The Senators have spread out the scoring -- captain Daniel Alfredsson led the team with 71 points but 13 different players ended with 22 points or more.

-- Schedule – Wednesday @ Pittsburgh, 7 (Vs.); Friday @ Pittsburgh, 7 (Vs.); Sunday @ Ottawa, 6:30 (Vs.); Tuesday @ Ottawa, 7 (Vs.); April 22 @ Pittsburgh*, 7 (Vs.); April 24 @ Ottawa*, 7 (Vs.); April 27 @ Pittsburgh*, 7.

-- Prediction: Penguins in 5.


-- (1) San Jose Sharks vs. (8) Colorado Avalanche

-- Season Series: The two teams split the four game series with the Avs winning the final meeting 5-4 on April 4.

-- Recent postseason history: The Sharks had another disappointing postseason experience last season as they were bounced from the first round in six games by the Ducks. Colorado missed the playoffs last year.

-- What to Watch: Former Panthers backup Craig Anderson was a workhorse this season, setting the Avs franchise record for games (71), starts (71), minutes (4,235), shots faced (2,233) and saves (2,047). Anderson started 34 of Colorado's final 37 games as the Avs hung on to grab the last spot. Colorado is young (it has five rookies in its lineup) but the Sharks are experienced but under a lot of pressure. The Sharks have made it to the playoffs six straight years and have at least 99 points in the standings in the past six years – but they've only made it as far as the west finals once. Goalie Evgeni Nabokov has three straight 40 win seasons, but he hasn't played all that well in the postseason, going 32-31.

-- Schedule – Wednesday @ San Jose, 10 (Vs.); Friday @ San Jose, 10:30 (Vs.); Sunday @ Colorado, 9:30 (Vs.); Tuesday @ Colorado, 10 (Vs.); April 22 @ San Jose*, 10:30 (Vs.); April 24 @ Colorado*, TBA; April 26 @ San Jose*, TBA.

-- Prediction: Sharks in 6.

-- (2) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (7) Nashville Predators

-- Season Series: The Blackhawks won four of the six games played including the final two. The teams have not met since Dec. 27.

-- Recent postseason history: Chicago made a splash in the postseason last year, advancing to the conference finals before falling to the Red Wings. Nashville missed the playoffs last year and have yet to win a postseason series in four previous trips.

-- What to Watch: According to the league, Chicago is the NHL's only team to improve on its record in each of the past five seasons. The Blackhawks set a franchise record with 112 points and 52 wins as they won their first division title since 1993. Last year, Chicago made its first postseason appearance since 2002 and had little playoff experience. That's not the case this year, although goalie Antti Niemi is making his postseason debut – and only played against the Predators once this season. Nashville is a strong defensive team led by goalie Pekka Rinne who went 32-16-5 in his second season in Music City with seven shutouts. But the Preds can score, too, with 10 players scoring 30 points or more. Pittsburgh and Washington had 11 players. Martin Erat had five goals in six games against the Hawks this season.

-- Schedule – Friday @ Chicago, 8:30 (Vs.); Sunday @ Chicago, 8:30 (Vs.); Tuesday @ Nashville, 9; April 22 @ Nashville, 8:30 (Vs.); April 24 @ Chicago*, 3 (NBC); April 26 @ Nashville*, TBA; April 28 @ Chicago*, TBA.

-- Prediction: Blackhawks in 7.

-- (3) Vancouver Canucks vs. (6) Los Angeles Kings

-- Season Series: The two teams split the four game series with the Kings winning the final meeting 8-3 on April 1.

-- Recent postseason history: The Canucks opened with a series win against the Blues last season before losing in six games to Chicago. The Kings are back in the postseason for the first time since 2002.

-- What to Watch: Not only has it been a while since the Kings were in the playoffs, but that goes for their coach as well. The last time Terry Murray coached in the postseason, it was with the Florida Panthers in 2000. The Panthers haven't been back since. A sixth seed has advanced through the first round every year since 2003 – including four of the past six years in the west. Former Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo is trying to get the Canucks past the second round for the first time since Vancouver played for the Stanley Cup in 1994.

-- Schedule – Thursday @ Vancouver, 10 (Vs.); Saturday @ Vancouver, 10 (Vs.); Monday @ Los Angeles, 10 (Vs.); April 21 @ Los Angeles, 10 (Vs.); April 23 @ Vancouver*, 10; April 25 @ Vancouver*, TBA; April 27 @ Vancouver*, TBA.

-- Prediction: Canucks in 7.

-- (4) Phoenix Coyotes vs. (5) Detroit Red Wings

-- Season Series: The two teams split the four game series with the Coyotes winning the final meeting 5-4 in Detroit on Jan. 26.

-- Recent postseason history: Like the Kings, the Coyotes haven't been to the playoffs since 2002. The Red Wings were denied a chance to repeat as Stanley Cup champs last year when they lost Game 7 to Pittsburgh.

-- What to Watch: There isn't a hotter team in the league than the rejuvenated Red Wings – and there isn't a better story than the Bad News Dogs. Phoenix wasn't expected to be very good as the team was of secondary concern as the franchise went through bankruptcy court during the summer. But Phoenix set franchise records with 50 wins and 107 points. Phoenix was a league-best 19-7 in overtime games this season. The Wings, with rookie goalie Jimmy Howard leading the way, are making their league best 19th straight appearance in the playoffs.

-- Schedule – Wednesday @ Phoenix, 10 (Vs.); Friday @ Phoenix, 10 (Vs.); Sunday @ Detroit, 3 (NBC); Tuesday @ Detroit, 6:30; April 23 @ Phoenix*, 10 (Vs.); April 25 @ Detroit*, 2 (NBC); April 27 @ Phoenix*, TBA.

-- Prediction: Red Wings in 7.

April 13, 2010

Panthers Headed to the Draft: Florida Set to Pick Third

MurrayPanthers general manager Randy Sexton said he took a lucky trinket with him to the NHL Draft Lottery in Toronto.

Because it didn't work, he wouldn't divulge what it was.

But hey, it wasn't unlucky either. The Panthers started and ended the lottery in third place and didn't drop.

Of the 14 teams jockeying for position Tuesday, no team moved up or down. The first 14 picks in the draft – barring trades – will mirror the NHL standings from the 2009-10 season.

Edmonton will become the first Canadian team to pick first overall since Ottawa did so in 1996 – a few months after firing Sexton as its general manager. Boston, which acquired Toronto's first round pick this past offseason for 30-goal scorer Phil Kessel, will pick second.

“It would have been fabulous to move up,'' said Sexton, “but it would have been demoralizing to move down emotionally. It could have been better, but we are happy where we are with the third pick.''

The Panthers have picked third overall in past seasons. In both 2002 and 2003, the Panthers won the lottery and had the top pick. Both times the team traded down. In 2002, Florida picked Jay Bouwmeester with the third pick. The following year, Nathan Horton was taken with No. 3.

Florida hasn't had such a high pick since. In 2005, the team took Rostislav Olesz with the seventh selection.

Sexton said the Panthers would have kept the top pick this time around if they had won the lottery, but he is leaving his options open with No. 3. With forwards Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin almost assuredly going 1-2, the Panthers are in a rare position to control what happens in the draft after that.

The Panthers could possibly move up to second (Edmonton says it's keeping the top pick) in a trade with the Bruins. Sexton already traded for an additional pair of second round picks by trading Dennis Seidenberg and Jordan Leopold at the deadline. One of the second round picks Florida has came from the Bruins.

Sexton could also trade down in the draft and pick up even more picks for later on depending on how deep the Panthers figure the pool to be.

“We have a number of options available to us,'' said Sexton. “We are in a real good position to be in.''

-- Sexton said the Panthers cannot begin their negotiations with goalie Jacob Markstrom – Florida's first pick of the second round in 2008 – until after the upcoming World Championship tournament in Germany. Markstrom is currently a candidate to represent Sweden at the Worlds, and if he was left off the roster, Florida could begin negotiations then.

Markstrom is considered the Panthers goalie of the future – although he is expected to start next season in the minors as he adjusts to the North American style of play.

-- Team president Michael Yormark said Tuesday that the confetti celebration at the end of Sunday's season finale was not meant in any way to honor the way the Panthers finished the year. The Panthers ended up finishing last in their division for the first time in franchise history and missed the postseason for an NHL record-tying ninth straight season.

Yormark said the confetti and streamers were meant to reward those fans who have stuck with the team during some pretty lean years.

“Our fans are unbelievable,'' Yormark said. “We all know it was a disappointing season.''

April 12, 2010

Panthers Looking for Change ... Randy Sexton: "I Fully Expect to be Back" ... Clemmensen, Vokoun to Worlds ... Back to Rochester

JerseybacksThe Panthers gave their jerseys away Sunday evening for a price. Monday they packed up everything else and headed out on the town for their annual players party.

The team usually holds its season ending locker clean out at their arena in Sunrise, but with a new training facility, the team held its final day of meetings in Coral Springs on Monday.

Even though the venue had changed, the disappointing feeling was very familiar.

“Where do you start? This is not the day we want to be dealing with. It's like a bad dream that keeps reoccurring,'' said defenseman Bryan Allen. “It's definitely too familiar.''

Coach Pete DeBoer and general manager Randy Sexton each held individual meetings with players throughout the day.

DeBoer said he was surprised by the honesty and accountability from players when he asked “what was your role in why we're sitting here today out of the playoffs?''

Sexton said “most players were sincere, but a couple guys were telling me what I wanted to hear and not what reality was.''

Randysexton Regardless, both DeBoer and Sexton agree that changes need to be made. The Panthers have now missed the playoffs for an NHL record tying nine straight seasons and record-setting 10 straight years. The team finished ranked 28th in the 30 team league, ended last in its division for the first time in franchise history and its 77 points were fewest since the lockout.

“We all had bigger dreams, that's for sure,'' said captain Bryan McCabe. “That's the way it goes. We have to work hard this summer, come back with a new attitude and get off to a better start. Our consistency wasn't there at all. We didn't play great for a month. We don't deserve to be in the playoffs and have no one to blame but ourselves. We have to try and turn this ship around.''

Deboer2 Said DeBoer: “Everyone is disappointed and no one is shirking responsibility or hiding or pointing fingers. I think the collective message is we can all do more so we're not in this spot again.''

In February, team management announced that major changes were coming to the roster. Sexton, working on a one year deal, may or may not be back as the team's ownership say there will be future discussions on Sexton's future. On Monday, Sexton said he was moving forward and expects to help mold the Panthers future.

He says he and DeBoer will meet soon to talk about Florida's coaching staff – DeBoer is under contract for next season but his assistants have expiring contracts – as well as to talk about players they want back.

“There has been no change in my status,'' said Sexton. “I expect to be back, there have been no signals otherwise. I fully expect to be back.''

Goaltender Tomas Vokoun is one player who is expected to be shopped during the offseason. Vokoun has one year left on his contract with a cap hit of $5.7 million and could bring back some serious assets. Vokoun has a no movement clause, but reiterated Monday that he would be willing to talk about waiving it. Vokoun made similar comments at the trade deadline.

Other core players -- like Stephen Weiss, Nathan Horton and McCabe -- could also be shopped during the offseason as the Panthers try to get "bigger, faster and stronger" as Sexton said.

“It's a hard situation and it's all hypothetical now. We'll see,'' said Vokoun, who missed Florida's final three games with a back strain. “It's a little in their hands, a little in mind. We'll see where we go, what the changes will be. Right now, no one knows much. They have a vision, but you can only do so much. Just because you want to trade someone or bring someone in, it doesn't mean that's easy to do.''


Goalies Scott Clemmensen (United States) and Tomas Vokoun (Czech Republic) will be playing in the IIHF World Championships next month in Germany. For Vokoun, international play is old hat; he led Czech to a Bronze medal in the 2006 Olympics and was their starter at the Vancouver games.

Clemmensen says he's looking forward to what will be a new experience.

Clemm “This is coming late in career, but it's a good opportunity to get some international experience and keep playing hockey,'' he said. “It's something new for me.''

Said Vokoun: “It's painful for me not to play in the playoffs these three years. I have the opportunity to play and I'm going to take advantage.''

Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov will play for Russia in the tournament and coach Pete DeBoer will be an assistant for Canada. Stephen Weiss says he hasn't been contacted by Canada yet, and Michael Frolik won't play for Czech because he needs nasal surgery.

-- A large number of players boarded a mini bus Monday afternoon headed for the airport. Destination: The postseason.

Roch Steve MacIntyre, Keaton Ellerby, Shawn Matthias, Tyler Plante, Evgeny Dadonov, Victor Oreskovich and Jason Garrison all flew to Rochester, N.Y., on Monday to rejoin their AHL teammates.

Rochester opens its best-of-seven series Thursday against the Abbottsford "Miami" Heat. The Heaters are the AHL affiliate of the Calgary Flames. 

-- Sexton will represent the Panthers at Tuesday's draft lottery in Toronto. The Panthers are ranked third with a chance to jump up to the top pick – Florida has won the lottery twice in its history. The lottery will be shown live on Versus at 8 p.m.

And Then it was Done: The Panthers Highlights and Lowlights from 2009-10


-- Fans voted Stephen Weiss as the team's Most Valuable Player after the center scored a career high 28 goals and led the team in scoring with 60 points.

But it was the play of goalie Tomas Vokoun that gave the Panthers a chance to win every night – and for a few months, Vokoun played just about every night.

Vokoun may have slipped at the end of the season, but by then, the Panthers probably benefited from losing.

-- The Panthers found a gem in the draft last June, with Florida taking Russian defenseman Dmitry Kulikov with the 14th overall pick.

Kulikov was rated in the top 10, but fell to Florida as teams were scared off because he had a contract in Russia. Kulikov had a strong training camp, finagled his way out of the contract and made the team as a 19-year-old. Kulikov ended up logging big minutes and the team has high hopes for his offensive upside.

-- Florida's 36 road points was only 21st in the league, but the Panthers had some of their biggest moments away from Sunrise. The Panthers won in Detroit for the first time since 1996 – part of a three game road sweep that saw the team win in Buffalo, Detroit and New York.

The Panthers also got some revenge for Mike Richards' hit on David Booth by beating the Flyers in Philadelphia both on the scoreboard and in the ring on Dec. 21.

-- The Panthers were only 6-10 in shootouts this season, but that was a big improvement over last season when Florida won just three shootouts. Florida started the season with wins in four of its first five shootout games.

Since the start of the shootout format in 2005-06, the Panthers have the most losses (37) and the lowest winning percentage (.351).

-- On Jan. 3, Radek Dvorak scored three goals in a win over the defending champion Penguins, making him the fourth Panthers player to record a hat trick in the season. The last time Florida had four hat tricks in a single season came in 2005-06.

Nathan Horton (Dec. 14 at the New York Islanders), Stephen Weiss (Dec. 2 vs. Colorado) and Steven Reinprecht (Oct. 30 at Dallas) were the other three to accomplish the hat trick.


-- David Booth led the Panthers in scoring last season and was expected to post over 30 goals again this season. But on Oct. 24, Booth was knocked unconscious by Philadelphia's Mike Richards and missed 45 games. After returning and finally getting up to speed, Booth was knocked out again in Montreal on March 25 and lost for the rest of the season. Booth ended with eight goals.

-- The Panthers didn't have much of a home ice advantage as their 14 wins at BankAtlantic Center were fewest in the league. Florida even lost as the designated home team on opening weekend in Helsinki, Finland.

Florida also struggled against Southeast Division teams, going 8-13-3. The Panthers lost all six matchups with the Capitals. For the first time in franchise history, the Panthers finished last in their division.

-- Florida's power play didn't offer anything special this season, with the Panthers finishing 29th in the 30 team league when holding the advantage. The Panthers scored 44 goals on 309 tries for a success rate of 14.2 percent. Before getting a power play goal Saturday in Tampa Bay, the Panthers hadn't scored a power play goal in six straight games.

The penalty kill wasn't much better; Florida ended ranked 23rd with a stop rate of 79.4 percent. St. Louis led the league with a rate of almost 87 percent.

-- The Panthers struggled to score throughout the season and their 202 total goals were third worst in the league, leading just Calgary (201) and Boston (196). The Panthers set a franchise record by scoring two goals or fewer in 14 consecutive games. The Panthers also ended the season by scoring three goals or less in their final 10 games.

-- Florida expected much more production from certain players than it got back. Rostislav Olesz scored Sunday, giving him 14 goals – tying a career high. In his final 30 games, Olesz had one goal and two assists. Kamil Kreps (five goals, nine assists) and Gregory Campbell (two goals, 15 assists) definitely struggled throughout the season.

The Panthers had hoped free agent signee Ville Koistinen would help out on the blue line, but Pete DeBoer played him at forward instead before the team waived him and sent him to the minors. Koistinen had season ending knee surgery while playing in the AHL.

April 11, 2010

Florida Panthers Celebrate Last Place with Confetti: Fireworks, Champagne Not Available ... Seen Stamkos Win Rocket Richard?

Finalice2010 Stephen Weiss has seen many final games come and go.

He never participated in one in which his team finished in last place in the Southeast Division.

He never partook in one in which confetti fell from the rafters of the Sunrise arena as the players were on the ice "celebrating" the end of what was a most disappointing season.


“Maybe that's a word I'll use off the air,'' Weiss said, his eyes fixed on the wall across the room.

“I don't know what to say. It got under my skin to see that. I've seen a lot here. I don't know where these things come from, who makes these decisions. It's certainly not the right way to do things. The jersey off your back is fine, that's good for the fans. But confetti and streamers?”

Usually losing the final two games of your season isn't a cause for celebration, but when it comes to the Panthers, any silver lining will do.

Florida's 3-1 loss to Tampa Bay on Sunday ensured the team will have a top draft pick this summer, good news for a team that could use an infusion of talent.

Of course this wasn't the season the Panthers hoped for when the season opened with a rousing shootout win against the powerhouse Blackhawks in Helsinki, Finland. No one then could have guessed the Panthers would finish in last place in their division – the first time a Florida team had done so in its history.

The Panthers may not have hit rock bottom – the tradition rich Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs finished behind the Panthers. But if you are going to miss the playoffs anyway, you might as well nosedive like the Panthers.

Sometimes you need to be really bad to get better.

The Panthers, realistically out of the playoff race since the Olympic break in February, lost 12 of their final 20 games and scored three goals or fewer in its final 10 games.

“Obviously it's nothing to be proud of,'' said goalie Scott Clemmensen, who stopped 28 of 30 shots in Sunday's loss. “I don't think it was for lack of effort, but for whatever reason, we finished up short. There's room for improvement.''

Had the Panthers won Sunday, their hopes off securing one of the top junior players in the June draft would be remote. The Panthers would have ended with 79 points – ahead of Columbus, Tampa Bay, Toronto and Edmonton. Only teams in the bottom five have a chance at the top overall pick in Tuesday's draft lottery and the Panthers would have been fifth.

At third, the Panthers have a decent chance to jump up to No. 1. And Florida has history on its side as the franchise did win the lottery from the third slot twice before. Of course, the Panthers traded the pick away.

Believe it or not, but the players knew Sunday's third period was a no win situation. Florida came into the third down 2-1 and to win the game meant hurting the franchise in the long run.

“That's difficult because you want to play in meaningful games,'' said Weiss, who led the team in scoring this season but didn't score in the third despite a few chances.

“For me, I've played in a lot of these kind of games. And I've never seen confetti rain down on a team that finished in last place. Those are things that get under your skin a little bit. We need to change that next year, make sure we're inside the playoffs. It gets frustrating.''

The Panthers took a 1-0 lead in the game when Rostislav Olesz scored his first goal since getting two in Tampa Bay on Jan. 16. Olesz has struggled the past few months of the season, getting just three points off a goal and two assists in his final 30 games of the season. The Panthers expected much more out of Olesz this season as he did himself. Statistically, however, Olesz matched his career high with 14 goals.

“We lost and we wanted to win the game in front of our fans so it was disappointing,'' Olesz said after the game. “I'm not glad it's over, although it's been a challenge for me. I didn't play bad. I had a lot of scoring chances. I just couldn't score, couldn't put it it.''

The Lightning came back, with Alex Tanguay – who was hotly pursued by the Panthers during the offseason – scoring six minutes after Olesz did.

Just over two minutes later, Vinny Lecavalier scored to make it 2-1. And that's where the game stood until Steven Stamkos got his 51st goal of the season on an empty net Dmitry Kulikov and Weiss tried to save with 13 seconds left.

So maybe the confetti that fell onto the ice during the postgame ceremony was for Stamkos? His goal tied him for the league lead with Sidney Crosby and earned him a share of the Rocket Richard Trophy.

“It was just a disappointing year,'' said coach Pete DeBoer. “It's the toughest month – from the trade deadline – of my coaching career. But like I told the players: We made our bed, we have to lay in it. Just hope we never have to go through this again.''


Stamkos, who scored his 49th and 50th goals of the season on Saturday against the Panthers, became the third player from a Florida team to win the Rocket Richard Trophy after he tallied three goals against the Panthers within a 24 hour span.

Pavel Bure won it twice with the Panthers from 1999-2001 and Tampa Bay's Vinny Lecavalier won in 2006-07.

"I wouldn't have been playing like that under different circumstances,'' said Stamkos, who raced up ice with the puck after the Lightning won the faceoff. “This team just supported me so much and was looking for me. I appreciate that. They were trying to pass to me the whole game. I think it just shows the circumstances and shows the class guys we have on our team and the coaching staff."

-- Bryan McCabe was named the team's defensive player of the year. McCabe, the Panthers captain, was trying to win Sunday's game as he fired off a shot late that Mike Smith had trouble with. McCabe ended with eight goals and 35 assists.

-- Goalie Tomas Vokoun was named the team's star of the season after going 23-28-11. He missed the final three games of the season with a back strain suffered in last week's loss to Ottawa.

“It's sore but it's nothing really bad or anything,'' Vokoun said. “I've been through it here for the last while and we've had some tough times. You'd like to finish it off and be done with it. But it made no sense trying to push it.''

-- Weiss was named the team's MVP as voted on by fans.

Florida Panthers: Lets Wrap It Up ... Season Finale TODAY

WrapWell, it doesn't seem like that long ago that we were in Port Hawkesbury, Nova Scotia, for the start of training camp.

OK, it kind of does.

But this is it kids. The end.

And what a 2009-10 season it was!

Here are some of the highlights:

-- The Panthers win the season opener in Helsinki.

-- The Panthers sweep a three game road trip through Buffalo, Detroit and New York.

-- Tomas Vokoun.

Here are some of the lowlights:

-- Panthers lost second game in Helsinki 4-0.

-- After sweeping three games in Buffalo, Detroit and New York, Panthers come home, put on new uniforms designed by the Tampa Bay Rays and lose three straight.

-- Tomas Vokoun gets little support way too many times as Panthers go a franchise record 14 straight games with two goals or less.

And I could write up more lowlights, but I have a game to watch here.

-- Anyway, here's some of the news...

We've seen the last of these players -- at least for this season:

Vokoun; Cory Stillman; Byron Bitz; Gregory Campbell.

Today is fan appreciation day. If you are a fan, and buy tickets, I would think the Panthers appreciate you. For a franchise that hasn't made the playoffs in a decade, they have to be pretty happy to still have you around.

April 08, 2010

Devils Go Down In Florida: Unable to Find a Goal to Steal ... Clemmensen Puts Jersey In a Bind ... Cheverie Signs




Scott Clemmensen said he didn't want to stick it to his old team, but by beating the New Jersey Devils 3-2 Thursday night, he kind of did just that.

The Devils are trying to wrap up the Atlantic Division title and Thursday's loss did them no good.

With Pittsburgh beating the Islanders in the final regular season game at the Igloo, the two teams are now tied for the division lead – and the third overall seed that comes with it.

“I'm not worried about them, they'll be fine,'' said Clemmensen, who stopped 42 shots in his second win against the Devils this season. “New Jersey has a great team over there. They have all the components to make a good run at the Stanley Cup.''

The Panthers are playing for nothing more than draft position these days, but don't tell that to the players who were out there Thursday. The Panthers rallied from a 1-0 lead and third period goals from Radek Dvorak and Nathan Horton held up.

“We only have a couple games left and we want to finish strong,'' said Horton, who pounced on a rebound and blasted a shot past future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur. “It's tough playing these games, but that's what we're paid to do. We're trying, trying to finish the season off right. Clemmensen played there and played great tonight. We wouldn't have won without him tonight.''

Dante And as Dante Hicks – the New Jersey convenience store worker in the cult classic Clerks – would say: Clemmensen wasn't even supposed to be working on Thursday.

Coach Pete DeBoer said Wednesday that Tomas Vokoun would start, only his back started acting up on him after Wednesday's practice and Clemmensen got the call. He's now won four of his past six starts.

Clemmensen spent parts of five seasons backing up Brodeur in New Jersey, starting 39 games for the Devils last season when Brodeur got hurt. That extended action earned Clemmensen a three-year deal in Florida, and Thursday's start was his 18th of the year – second only in his career to last season.

On Dec. 11 in Newark, Clemmensen beat the Devils 4-2 by stopping 26 shots.

“The more you play the more comfortable you feel,'' said Clemmensen. “More playing time helps you. I like where I'm at right now, not worrying about the standings or other external factors. I want to feel good about my game. I wish there was more hockey left, or that it was earlier in the season. But it's not.''

Thursday, the Devils got to Clemmensen 59 seconds into the second period when Patrik Elias scored his 19th career goal against the Panthers by jabbing at the puck in front of the net and putting it in past a downed Clemmensen.

The Panthers broke up Brodeur's shutout streak later in the period as Michael Frolik got his 20th of the season after whipping a nice shot from a Horton feed. Brodeur had earned shutouts in New Jersey's past two wins, going 151:29 without giving up a goal before Frolik scored.

Frolik became the third Florida player in history to start his career with back-to-back 20 goal seasons. Frolik had 21 as a rookie last season.

Frolik apparently earned his spot back on the first line after rookie Evgeny Dadonov took it away in his NHL debut on Tuesday. Dadonov started his second game in the bigs back on the top line with Stephen Weiss and Nathan Horton – but didn't stay their long.

The Panthers took the lead in the third when Dvorak – who was stopped on a short handed chance in the second -- rifled off a shot from a nice feed from Rostislav Olesz. The goal was Dvorak's first since March 25 and Olesz's second point in the past 28 games.

With 7:37 left, Horton scored for a 3-1 lead. Clemmensen ended up surrendering a goal to David Clarkson with 5:14 left, but didn't give up anything else to earn his ninth win of the year.


University of Denver goalie Marc Cheverie has signed an two-year entry level contract with the Panthers meaning he's done playing with the Pioneers and will be at training camp come September.

Cheverie had a terrific junior season at Denver and was named one of 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award – the Heisman Trophy of college hockey. Cheverie led the nation in wins (24), shutouts (six) and save percentage (.937) as the Pioneers reached the NCAA regional semifinals.

“It's great to have this done,'' said general manager Randy Sexton. “He's a good young goaltending prospect. He made himself a player. He went to Denver as a backup and became one of the top goalies in the NCAA.''

-- Sexton said he will represent the Panthers at the NHL draft lottery show Tuesday in Toronto. The lottery will be held in New York at 7:45 with live television coverage and results shown a few minutes later. No word on what lucky charm Sexton will be bringing with him.

-- Rookie defenseman Dmitry Kulikov confirmed Thursday that he would participate in the World Championships for Russia.

April 07, 2010

Bryan Allen Fights to Play ... McArdle to Have Surgery No. 2

BryanalleenBryan Allen had the seventh surgery on his left knee last season, a major procedure called microfracture surgery. Allen missed all but two games because of the surgery and didn't start skating on it until the summer.

Coach Pete DeBoer understandably didn't exactly know what Allen was going to be able to do on the ice this season.

“What surprised me is his personal resiliency and toughness to play through,'' said DeBoer. “I'll be honest, it's still worrisome and there's still a lot of stuff going on. But this guy won't take no for an answer and wants to play badly and help the team badly. He's sacrificing his body to do that.''

On Wednesday, Allen was named the Panthers nominee for the annual Bill Masterton Trophy. The award is given to the NHL player who “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.” It is awarded by the Professional Hockey Writers Association and Allen was nominated by the Florida chapter.

Allen hasn't rebounded all the way from his most recent surgery as he and the team have had to monitor it throughout the season. Yet before he had to miss two games with a rib injury, Allen played in 71 of Florida's first 77 games. Allen is expected to return to the lineup Thursday against the Devils.

“I feel good, better than expected,'' said Allen. “If there's a chance you should be playing, you should. I don't want to end this year on an injury, especially how last year went. Last year was one of my hardest year's ever and moving forward, it's something I have to take care of.''

One of the team leaders, fellow defenseman Keith Ballard says Allen is a professional in every sense of the word. Allen has been known to make new players feel welcome and is pretty good at picking out restaurants on the road.

And those who see how hard Allen works to be able to stay on the ice know how much he loves the game.

“Everyone sees him on the ice, playing a physical game, blocking shots, sticking up for teammates, playing great defense,'' said Ballard. “People don't see him warming up for an hour before a game to get his knee ready, staying after practice for treatments on it every day. I room with him on the road, and several times a day at the hotel, he gets treatment.''

Mcardle2 -- Kenndal McArdle was expected to have surgery on his right shoulder in Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday.

McArdle, who played in 19 games for the Panthers this season, was lost for the season when he injured his left shoulder in the minors. McArdle had surgery on that shoulder six weeks ago. He says he should be healthy and ready to go by training camp.


When, Where: 7:30 p.m.; BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise

TV/Radio: FSNF; WFTL 640

The series: Devils lead 41-20-7

The game: The Devils moved to two points ahead of Pittsburgh in the Atlantic Division race after blanking Atlanta 3-0 on Tuesday. Martin Brodeur notched his second straight shutout and league-leading ninth of the season after stopping just 19 shots. The Panthers will counter with Tomas Vokoun who has lost seven straight starts. The Panthers have scored two goals or less in seven straight games as the team has lost nine of 12.

Keith Ballard: "I'm Getting Pretty Good at YouTube"

Ballard3It's been one of those years for Keith Ballard -- and like Randy Moller, he's becoming a YouTube sensation.

In the first year of a six-year deal with the Panthers, this season has been filled with ups and downs for the Florida defenseman.

Tuesday, he had another one of those moments. Trying to clear the puck away from goalie Tomas Vokoun, Ballard went to swat the puck away and instead tossed the puck backward.

Vokoun tried to stop it, but the puck went into the net.


"That's how it's gone for me this year,'' Ballard said Wednesday morning. "When it's bad, it's bad. I'm not beating myself up. It's a bad bounce. It didn't come in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Ask any defenseman and they've done something similar whether it went off their skate or stick. You stand around the net, it's going to happen.''

Ballard is an affable a player as there is in the league. Ballard laughed when we brought up the incident, shaking his head recalling how it all went down. The puck got stuck on his glove apparently and he didn't even know where it went.

This comes at the end of a season in which Ballard smashed Vokoun with his stick and ran over former teammate Craig Anderson in successive games.

"It's been one of those years,'' Ballard said with a laugh.

And now, the video: 

Picture Day: Panthers Practice at Billboard ... Bryan Allen Back ... Tomas Vokoun vs. Devils

TeampicThe Panthers took their official team photo for the 2009-10 season on Wednesday morning.

Congrats to Clay Wilson and Evgeny Dadonov for taking part.

Dominic Moore, Dennis Seidenberg and Jordan Leopold missed out on the fun.

-- Bryan Allen was back on the ice today and went through the full practice. Allen met with the coaching staff after the workout and the word is he'll play tomorrow against New Jersey. 

Pete DeBoer continues to heap praise on Allen for playing through the pain. Will have more on Allen in a separate post later.

As far as Allen playing in all three games this weekend, well, that's doubtful. I think we see him tomorrow, with Clay Wilson back in Saturday against the Lightning. Allen will probably be back for the home finale on Sunday.

Loubrowbn -- Tomas Vokoun is back in net tomorrow after a rough go of it against the Sens.

He was pretty flustered last night in the locker room after Florida installed the 'Ole' defense and left their goalie on an island.

-- Gregory Campbell was out in uniform and skates for the photo today but didn't practice. Neither did Byron Bitz.

DeBoer wouldn't say those two are done for the season, but that's the way it looks.

"There's an outside chance,'' he said. "They both want to play, but I don't know if that's realistic.''

-- Dadonov had a pretty strong NHL debut last night with DeBoer even putting him up on the top line with Nathan Horton and Stephen Weiss for a little bit.

"He was just playing much better than Michael Frolik was,'' DeBoer said simply. 

DeBoer also said he liked the way Dadonov carried himself as he tried to make plays and not just sit back and watch. "Sometimes they're a little awestruck,'' DeBoer said.

Said Dadonov: "I just played hard, tried hard the whole game. I was a little nervous. Well, a lot nervous during the first couple of shifts. I had no hands. But it got better after a few shifts. Playing with [Horton and Weiss] was pretty easy. They are so good. It felt like my first game in the NHL. But I'm pretty happy. I waited so long for it.''

April 06, 2010

Senators Cruise Past Panthers 5-2: Friends, Family Attend the Service ... Horton, Kitchen Clear Air

MarlinssparseSENATORS 5, PANTHERS 2

With Brian Elliott playing so well in net, Pascal Leclaire has been banished to the Senators bench as Ottawa charges into the postseason.

He didn't show much rust on Tuesday night. Of course, the way the Panthers are playing these days, they are veritable WD-40 for creaky goalies.

Leclaire got his first start since March 20 and the Panthers didn't offer up much of a challenge as the Senators rolled to a 5-2 win in front of perhaps the smallest actual crowd at BankAtlantic Center this season. The Panthers announced it at 11,790 – making it the fifth home game to be under the 12,000 mark.

And the Panthers aren't exactly making fans want to come to the rink as they crawl to the finish.

Florida has lost nine of 12 as Tomas Vokoun has lost his past seven starts. The Panthers sure haven't helped their goalies too much as they have scored two goals or fewer in seven straight games. The team set a franchise record with 14 such games earlier this season.

Ottawa, meanwhile, clinched the fifth overall seed in the upcoming Eastern Conference playoffs as captain Daniel Alfredsson played in his 1,000th game. The Senators will open against either New Jersey or defending champion Pittsburgh. The Panthers clean out their lockers on Monday.

“The good news is our young guys were our best players,'' said coach Pete DeBoer. “What's bad is we need the veterans to play better. I would expect some of these veterans to be playing for jobs too. They don't realize the situation they are in if they don't think they are playing for their jobs. For me, going through what we're going through and the season we're going through, we're evaluating everyone.''

The Panthers trailed by two in the second but Shawn Matthias got his seventh goal of the season at 8:41 of the period. But just 19 seconds later, Florida defenseman Keith Ballard tried to knock down a puck in front of his net and instead deflected it past Vokoun to make it 3-1. Chris Neil was credited with the goal that took whatever momentum the Panthers had away. “Hopefully,'' DeBoer lamented, “we get all of those out of our system this year.''

Ottawa scored twice within a 90 second span in the third to make it 5-1 before Kamil Kreps scored his fifth of the year.

“Everyone needs to be accountable for themselves,'' said Vokoun. “You have to prepare the same every day. It's tough around here. It's not fun, but everyone needs to be prepared.''


Nathan Horton stormed off the ice Tuesday morning after getting into a verbal altercation with assistant coach Mike Kitchen. Horton apparently was shooting pucks into a drill Kitchen was running with the defensemen in the corner. When Kitchen objected, the two had heated words with DeBoer separating them.

After the argument was broken up, Horton continued screaming as he skated toward the tunnel leading to the locker room, repeatedly smashing his stick along the Panthers bench. Once the stick was obliterated, Horton flung the bashed up shaft of his stick clear across the ice.

While everyone kind of looked around in stunned silence, Rostislav Olesz – who watched the stick shaft come to rest at his feet -- picked it up and skated it to the bench where it was thrown away.

Horton was spotted rushing out of the locker room moments later as he left the arena.

“We had a heated discussion on the ice and that was it,'' Kitchen said after the game, noting that Horton came looking for him before Tuesday's game to talk it out. “It's nothing serious. It's nice to see a little emotion.”

Said DeBoer: "It's that time of year. If you didn't have people who were upset about the situation we were in, if the nerves weren't frayed, you'd worry about people's competitiveness.''

-- Nick Tarnasky finally got to fight Ottawa's Chris Neil on Tuesday, almost eight months after Neil fractured Tarnasky's orbital bone during the first preseason game of the year in Nova Scotia.

The injury cost Tarnasky almost half the season as he had complications from the hard hit. Tarnasky didn't return to the Panthers until Dec. 27.

Pete DeBoer Assistant for Team Canada ... Nathan Horton Not Amused, Leaves Practice

DeboerCoach Pete DeBoer is going to have plenty of time to play golf this summer, although his offseason will be a little more shorter now that he's been named an assistant coach to Craig MacTavish for the Canadian World Championships team.

The worlds opens up next month in Germany.

"I'm excited about that,'' DeBoer said. "I've been able to coach for Canada before, and it's always an honor to go and represent your country. It's a little bittersweet though. The only time you get to do this tournament is when your team is out of the playoffs.''

DeBoer was on Canada's coaching staff in 2005 when it won gold at the world juniors.

It sounds like DeBoer is excited about having some expectations again.

"It's going to be nice going is as one of the favorites,'' he said with a sly grin. "I haven't been a favorite in a game in a long time.''

-- And Pete could be joined in Germany by a few of his players. Stephen Weiss and Nathan Horton would have to be under consideration to play. Will they? Who knows.

"I would hope so, but I'm not in that loop. I'm just coaching. I would expect some of our guys will be in that mix, be in the discussion.''

Mark Messier, who watched the Panthers on Saturday night, is the GM of this Team Canada squad.

-- Horton stormed off the ice this morning after getting into an altercation with assistant coach Mike Kitchen. Apparently Horton skated into a drill Kitchen was running in the corner and the two had heated words.

Horton wasn't amused.

He started screaming and smashed his stick along the Panthers bench, shattering the stick before continuing to scream while throwing the bashed up shaft of his stick across the ice.

While everyone kind of looked around in stunned silence, Rostislav Olesz -- who was on the other side of the ice from the bench -- picked up the stick shaft and skated it to the bench. It was then given a proper burial in a plastic garbage can. Then practice resumed.

Horton wasn't around after practice as he was spotted rushing out of the locker room pulling on his shirt about 10 minutes before practice officially ended. Kitchen told TSN.ca that he and Horton would speak before Tuesday's game and he didn't think there would be a problem moving forward.

I wouldn't put too much stock in this one. It was pretty funny stuff -- and I'm sure Horton is probably feeling a little red faced about the whole thing.

"It's that time of year,'' DeBoer said. "If you didn't have people who were upset about the situation we were in, if the nerves weren't frayed, you'd worry about people's competitiveness.''

Cup Awarded in Sunrise: Team BankAtlantic Center Wins Kegger Cup

KegwinnersWhen the final horn sounded, the trophy was brought out onto the ice and Florida Panthers co-managing partner Stu Siegel lifted it over his head and skated around the ice.

It wasn't the Stanley Cup. It wasn't the Prince of Wales trophy.

It was a Budweiser keg painted gold.

And, as Siegel noted, it wasn't even full of St. Louis flavored water.

But it was something.

On Monday night, some members of the Panthers support staff took to the Sunrise ice for the third year, the two teams battling it out for the Kegger Cup. A group of folks who spend most of their time inside the BankAtlantic Center took on those who spend most of their working hours at Incredible Ice in Coral Springs.

Kegbill There were a few ringers out there, for sure. Bill Lindsay, the team's television analyst, played for the BAC team. Panthers goalie coach Robb Tallas played for Incredible Ice. Panthers strength coach Craig Slaunwhite also suited up for the Icees.

In the end, Team BAC -- I call them the Billboards -- beat Coral Springs Ice 11-7.

Lindsay (pictured at right with Brian Lenihan and Bill Murphy) scored twice in the win. Matt Sacco, director of PR for the team, also scored twice.

On the Ice side, Tallas notched a goal as did equipment manager Chris Moody and team Kegstulift services manager Mike Dixon also put the biscuit in the basket. Matt Redmond, who runs the pro shop at II, scored twice.

All in all, it was a fun night. I even got to run the penalty box. Almost kept Sacco in past his allotted time. Figured I owed him that much.

See you tomorrow.

Wonder if the keg is going into the Den of Honor?

-- Speaking of winning, the NHL Draft lottery is next Tuesday. It will be broadcast live on Versus.

Can the Panthers win it? Or at least get one of the top two picks? In the NBA, teams send different Ewingdraft personalities from their franchise's history with some sort of good luck charm to the lottery drawing.

Perhaps Lindsay could go with the keg.

Only problem is, if he flies JetBlue, they're going to charge him a baggage fee to put that thing on the plane. But the television more than makes up for that.

April 05, 2010

David Booth Back at Incredible Ice ... Injury Updates ... Fun with the Leafs

Booth2 David Booth stood outside the Panthers locker room in Coral Springs on Monday morning talking to a local reporter about his brand of shades.

“You don't just want to talk about sunglasses, do you,” he joked.

It's been almost two weeks since Booth's season was ended after he suffered his second concussion in a six month span – but at least the Panthers winger still has his sense of humor.

Booth spoke publicly Monday for the first time since he was knocked out during a collision with Canadiens defenseman Jaroslav Spacek on March 25 in Montreal. Booth was playing the puck near the boards when he was hit in the face from Spacek on a play completely within the rules.

Booth suffered a large cut on the bridge of his nose and was taken to a local hospital for tests. He was released and sent back to South Florida where he is under strict orders not to do much of anything. Luckily for Booth, the second concussion wasn't as severe as the first – but having two concussions in one season is a concern.

“I feel a lot normal quicker than I did then,'' Booth said. “There aren't many symptoms now, just some sleep and headaches. Those things are expected. It's definitely not as bad as the last one.''

Booth missed 45 games earlier this season after he was concussed after being hit in open ice by Philadelphia captain Mike Richards on Oct. 24. Booth admits to trying to come back from that concussion too soon, and that only set him back more. Booth not only wanted to come back to help the Panthers, but also to try and make the U.S. national team at the Olympics.

Because of the uncertainty of his return, Booth was left off Team USA. Today, Booth knows time is on his side in this recovery as he doesn't have any hockey in his immediate future. The Panthers don't open training camp until Sept. 10.

“I have the whole summer,'' said Booth. “I'm not doing much, just relaxing at home. It's been nice.''

Coach Pete DeBoer and the Panthers training staff were extremely cautious with Booth after his first concussion, knowing full well that Booth's work ethic could be a deterrence to his recovery. “I was worried about coming back, playing on the Olympic team,'' he said. “I forced myself.'' This time around, Booth says he's fully sticking to the plan as he has experience on his side.

“He has plenty of time to heal and get himself right,'' said DeBoer. “All the results back have been positive compared to the last one. We definitely miss him. We're a different team with him in the lineup.''


The Panthers injured list continues to grow as winger Cory Stillman is out after injuring his back Saturday against the Rangers. Florida sent back two forwards to its AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y., on Sunday, but quickly called back two on Monday.

“He wasn't moving around well [Monday],'' DeBoer said regarding Stillman.

Enforcer Steve MacIntyre is back after being returned to Rochester on Friday; Evgeny Dadonov will make his NHL debut on Tuesday.

Dadonov, the 71st overall pick in the 2007 draft by the Panthers, has 17 goals with 23 assists with the Americans this season. This is Dadonov's first North American pro season as he played in Russia last year.

“He's a very skilled, talented player, but he had to adjust to the North American game,'' general manager Randy Sexton said of Dadonov. “He's done that and has worked hard on both ends of the puck. His offense has really picked up in the second half of the season as he's adjusted. We're rewarding a guy who deserves the chance.''

-- Victor Oreskovich missed the past two games with an undisclosed injury but practiced Monday and will play Tuesday against the Senators. Defenseman Bryan Allen (ribs) didn't practice Monday and is out against the Sens as Clay Wilson will play in his second straight NHL game.

-- Here is the local media schedule for the rest of the season. Some of you in South Florida will have to get your radio fix somewhere else at the end of the week as 790 The Ticket is broadcasting the Marlins. This is direct from Randy Moller.

4/6  Panthers vs Ottawa 7pm  No FS Florida on Center Ice Package  Radio: 790am

4/8  Panthers vs NJ Devils 7:30pm  FS Florida, and Center Ice Package Radio: 640am

4/10 Panthers @ TB Lightning 7:30pm  FS Florida, on Center Ice Package  Radio: 640am

4/11 Panthers vs TB Lightning 5pm  FS Florida and Center Ice Package  Radio: 790am


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

TV/Radio: No local TV; WAXY 790

The series: Senators lead 34-26-3

The game: Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson will play in his 1,000th career NHL game on Tuesday. Alfredsson knows the Panthers well. Not only did he score his first NHL goal against Florida in 1995, but he has 22 goals and 25 assists in 49 career games against the Cats. The Panthers won the season series against the Sens last year for the first time since 1998-99, but can only finish .500 against them this season. Ottawa has won two of the first three meetings this season and are 27-10-0-2 against Florida since the start of the 1999-2000 season. Tomas Vokoun will be in net for the Panthers after Scott Clemmensen started the previous two (1-1-0).

-- I know I'm late to this game, but here is some completely unbiased fan coverage of a Toronto Maple Leafs loss to Atlanta earlier this season. Good stuff.