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54 posts from March 2011

March 31, 2011

Panthers Lose to Sens Twice on Thursday: Stephane Da Costa Signs with Ottawa

The Senators beat the Panthers on Thursday afternoon, hours before the two teams took the ice as Ottawa landed coveted collegiate free agent Stephane Da Costa.

The Senators signed him to a CBA-mandated two-year deal. The 22-year-old winger scored 30 goals in two seasons with Merrimack College.

“You never know how close you are because of the process, but we worked on this since July. I had a relationship with him for three years,'' Florida assistant general manager Mike Santos said.

“He was sought after and it wasn't a money issue. He just chose where he wanted to go, and for whatever reason, he chose Ottawa.''

Pete DeBoer: What, Me Worry?

Al When asked how he handles not knowing whether he'll return to the Panthers next season, Panthers coach Pete DeBoer joked “by drinking heavily.''

DeBoer, who has one year left on his contract, hasn't been told whether he'll be back although he says he wants to finish what's been started.

Panthers assistant general manager Mike Santos said DeBoer and his coaching staff will be evaluated after the season by GM Dale Tallon and himself and declared that no decision has been made on the coaching situation.

The topic was brought up as Ottawa coach Cory Clouston is also rumored to be out. DeBoer interviewed for the Senators job before being hired by the Panthers in 2008 and could be a candidate in Ottawa again.

“You don’t put it out of your mind. Anyone who tells you that is lying to you,'' DeBoer said. “But I have to do my job. You owe it to the guys in the room. .-.-. I would be cheating them if I took any other approach than to do what we’ve done here every day for the last three years. .-.-. I feel they have given us all that they have. They’ve tried to play the right way.''

Florida Panthers Triumphant in Race for 28th, Lose 4-1 to Senators ... Cats in Tie for Last in East

Usher SENATORS 4, PANTHERS 1

By the time the third period started, the only suspense remaining for those Panthers fans in the building was whether or not backup goalie Tyler Plante would finally make his NHL debut.

The Panthers never did bring Plante in Thursday night, although there was plenty of speculation they would after the visiting Senators scored three goals in the second period off Scott Clemmensen en route to a 4-1 win at BankAtlantic Center.

Florida's loss, its seventh straight, pulled them into a tie with the Senators for last place in the Eastern Conference. More importantly, the Panthers are now tied for 28th overall in the NHL standings. If Florida can continue to lose and finish in 28th, it would likely give them a top three pick in the upcoming draft. The Panthers have won just four of their past 18 home games.

“That was a disappointing effort and we haven't had many of those,'' coach Pete DeBoer said. “We didn't deserve points here and that's the bottom line. There haven't been many nights where I've questioned their effort, but [Thursday] was a bad one.''

Ottawa, led by 37 saves -- “you could have stopped 30 of them'' DeBoer said -- from former Panthers backup Craig Anderson, snapped a two-game losing streak as it finishes its string of games.

The Panthers coaches and players have long maintained they don't care about draft seeding although last year's team lost eight of its final 10 as the Panthers finished last in the Southeast Division for the first time in franchise history and picked third – defenseman Erik Gudbranson – overall.

Thursday's 'tilt' was a battle of two teams making early tee times and potential big-time changes this offseason. The Panthers don't know if DeBoer will return nor what the team will look like after general manager Dale Tallon revamps things with a ton of money to spend.

Florida, swept in the season series by Ottawa for just the second time in franchise history, had plenty of energy early as Darcy Hordichuk finally got his fight with Ottawa's Francis Lessard. When these two played March 10, Lessard was ejected for knocking out Scott Timmins (who still hasn't returned from the concussion suffered that night). Hordichuk tried to fight him then, but Lessard declined. Hordichuk got his opportunity just 2:41 into the game. Hordichuk and Lessard also fought Feb. 23 in Ottawa. 

And that was about the lone highlight of the night for the sagging Panthers. Oh, Michal Repik scored a pretty goal, slicing a puck along the goal line to beat Anderson. Other than that, it was all Senators.

“I missed an empty net earlier so I was glad to find a way to score one,'' Repik said. “Basically I just put it on the net and was lucky it stayed in the net.''

Ottawa led 2-0 after goals from Nick Foligno and Colin Greening before Repik cut the deficit with his goal at 6:02 of the second. Greening got his second of the night 24 seconds after Repik's goal, with Filip Kuba making it 4-1 with 5:36 left in the period.

-- DeBoer said he's treating Clemmensen like the Panthers starter while Tomas Vokoun is out with a back injury saying Clemmensen deserves the chance to play. Clemmensen has spent the past two seasons as Vokoun's backup. Plante is expected to make his NHL debut eventually as it appears Vokoun could be out some time – although DeBoer says it's too soon to tell whether Vokoun's season is over.

“We're trying to win every game and Clemmensen has paid his dues here,'' DeBoer said. “He's been here every day for two years, practiced every day and has been a good teammate. He's also played well. This isn't training camp. We're trying to send the right messages and the message is he deserves to play for what he's done.

"Vokoun is a free agent so there's a question mark about our goaltending going forward. Clemmensen is under contract and we know he'll be back for sure.''




Don't Forget: Panthers Photoshop Contest for NHL Record Commemorative Banner/Patch Continues

Dannycast1 Since I'm not really going to be doing much work on Friday, the deadline for our Photoshop contest -- in which you are invited to help the Panthers on their design for a patch/banner to commemorate an NHL record 10 straight seasons out of the playoffs -- is being extended.

You now have until Saturday at noon to get in your work.

Email your original artwork to onfrozenpond93@yahoo.com by Saturday afternoon to have a chance at two free tickets for next week's season finale.

Anthonybiancardi And according to long-time reader Andy Rubenstein, Michael Yormark says there will be NO confetti falling from the rafters after that game -- no matter what happens.

Shame.

Here are some of our newer submissions.

Have fun with it!

Dannycast2

March 30, 2011

David Booth: Call it a Comeback

PANTHERS NOTEBOOK

COLUMBUS, Ohio – With all the talk around the NHL regarding concussions and head injuries, David Booth is proof that players can come back from such injuries if they are treated correctly.

Although Booth may be an exception, he has come back strong after missing big chunks of the 2009-10 season after suffering not one, but two major concussions. The biggest one came in November as he was blindsided by Philadelphia's Mike Richards in open ice. Booth made what, to him, was a slow comeback, returning to the ice on Jan. 31.

Turns out, Booth probably rushed things. Booth's season came to a close in March as he was walloped by Montreal's Jaroslav Spacek along the boards.

That concussion, however, allowed Booth to truly take some time off. He spent most of the summer taking it easy and not stressing his brain too much. Booth slowly got back into his intense physical regimen and impressed the Panthers with how good he looked coming into training camp.

Booth, who doesn't like talking about last season, says the time away made him appreciate the game that much more.

“It was my goal to play in all 82 games this year and I'm still fighting to do just that,'' Booth said. “I just get more comfortable in every game I play. It's good to be playing again. Last year was just so messed up. I might as well have missed the whole season. I played in 10 games then practiced for two months. I knew this year would be tough but I demand more of myself than others demand of me.''

After the two concussions, the Panthers were rightfully worried not only for Booth's health and future, but for what he could bring to the ice this season. Coach Pete DeBoer said he was going to take it slow with Booth, but that normally doesn't happen as Booth seems to have one speed.

“We were worried, no doubt,'' DeBoer said. “Guys have been all over the map with how they respond and react the following year. I was warned it could take a year for him to get back to where he was. I think he has shown lately that he's back to where he needs to be. We're so scoring challenged, we need him to score and it's at the sacrifice of his defense. As our scoring improves around him, he'll be able to be a real good two-way player.''

Booth worked his way through the complications and has had another strong season. On Tuesday, he scored Florida's first goal in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Blue Jackets. It was Booth's 22nd goal this season, the Michigan State product getting his second-most goals in a season. Booth scored 22 during his breakout campaign in 2007-08 before getting a team-high 31 in 2008-09.

“Coming off last season with the concussions, no one knew how long it would take to get back into form,'' DeBoer said. “For him to get 22 goals, less than a year removed from what he went through is quite accomplishment. That said, I think there's a lot more there. He's capable of getting 30-plus and also tightening up his defensive game. He's one of the hardest working guy in the league – on his body, his game. Almost to a fault sometimes.''

And Booth knows what could have been. He has had opportunity to score at least a dozen more times and eclipse the 30-goal mark for the second time in his career. Both DeBoer and pal John Vanbiesbrouck have said Booth can be a consistent 30-goal scorer in the NHL.

“I wish I could have put a lot more in. I've had my chances,'' Booth said. “I'm going to clean things up this summer. I'll be working hard.''

THE MASK

Tuesday's game in Columbus was stopped for a few minutes in the first period after Scott Clemmensen was struck in the mask by a shot.

Time out was called so the Panthers equipment staff could repair the problem. Clemmensen wasn't able to switch to his secondary mask because he broke the plastic neck shield in Tuesday's morning skate.

The repair Tuesday night was to the clip that holds the cage on the mask; the face cage was also dented.

“I have two masks on the physically unable to perform list now,'' Clemmensen lamented. “I have to repair two of them before the next game.''

THURSDAY: SENATORS AT PANTHERS
When, Where: 7:30 p.m.; BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSN; WQAM 560
The series: Ottawa leads 38-26-3
The game: Florida is on the verge of being swept in the season series by Ottawa for only the second time in franchise history and first since 2006-07. Of course, that's not a bad thing. The Panthers and Senators are battling for the 28th overall spot in the standings. The bottom three finishers all have a shot at the first overall pick in the 2011 Draft. Ottawa is currently 28th in the league behind Edmonton and Colorado. Florida is two points ahead of the Senators.

March 29, 2011

Florida Panthers Comeback, Fall Short in Shootout Again ... Blue Jackets Beat Panthers 3-2 ... Cats Go 0-3-2 on Roady

Catsbanner BLUE JACKETS 3, PANTHERS 2 (SO)

COLUMBUS, Ohio – In his advance of Tuesday's game, one local scribe used the term “March Meaningless” to describe the matchup of two teams going nowhere and running out the schedule.

The game actually lived up to that billing for much of the night.

Yet in the third period, the intensity picked up and two teams playing for nothing seemed to allow pride to take over. The hits picked up, shots too. The Panthers, heading for an early vacation for an NHL record 10th straight season, tied the score in the third before falling 3-2 in a shootout.

The loss was Florida's sixth straight as the team went winless in its season-long five-game road trip.

The Blue Jackets, playing in front of a mostly empty Nationwide Arena, had lost six straight shootouts before scoring on 1-of-3 shooting on Tuesday. Florida was 0-for-3 in the shootout as the Panthers are now 4-7 in such situations.

“We looked like we were playing our fifth game in seven nights there in the first,'' Panthers coach Pete DeBoer said. “I thought in the second and third that we were the better team. We had more shots, more chances.''

Columbus had ample opportunity to put the Panthers away early in the game, with the Blue Jackets swarming goalie Scott Clemmensen and getting plenty of good looks at the net. Two shots bounced off the cage and two more deflected off Clemmensen's mask in the opening frame, yet the only goal Columbus getting coming Maclean from Scottie Upshall as he rifled a shot over Clemmensen's shoulder from 20 feet away 7:06 into the period.

“You just keep battling. They came out with a lot of speed and we were a little slow to match it,'' said Clemmensen, who stopped 30 of 32 shots faced. “We did a pretty good job of weathering the storm. They were a few steps ahead of us early.''

The Panthers ended up tying the score in the second as David Booth pushed a loose puck past Steve Mason on a power play chance. The goal gave Booth the team lead as it was his 22nd of the season. Booth had a career-high 31 goals in 2008-09, tied his second best goal output of his career with the goal. One more eclipses the 22 he scored in his first full season with Florida in 2007-08.

The game continued to trudge on with the Jackets retaking the lead with 1:02 left in the second as Antoine Vermette – who tied the game late in the third period when Florida lost to the Jackets in overtime earlier this season – banged in a rebound after the Panthers failed to get the puck out of their zone.

Florida seemed to get new life in the third with Evgeny Dadonov beating Mason with a sweet wraparound move 7:31 into the period. The Panthers took 12 shots at Mason in the third but couldn't find that elusive third goal and the game went into overtime. Florida was forced to kill off a penalty in the final minute of the third and the opening minute of overtime. Columbus only managed one shot in that session, however.

PLANTE, WILSON RETURN

The Panthers shuttle to their AHL affiliate (for the next few weeks) in Rochester, N.Y., was in action again on Monday as goalie Tyler Plante and defenseman Clay Wilson were recalled from the minors.

Plante, who has yet to make his NHL debut despite being called up a few times, backed up Clemmensen as Tomas Vokoun was out with tightness in his back. Vokoun had back soreness last year, playing his final game on April 6 before shutting it down for the season.

Vokoun said Tuesday night that this was a different condition as he “was rammed” by a Pittsburgh player early in the third period on Sunday. It's not known how long Vokoun will be out.

Wilson was needed because Alexander Sulzer suffered a groin/hip injury in the Pittsburgh game. DeBoer didn't sound optimistic that Sulzer would be back in the coming days. Keaton Ellerby also was banged up in that game but practiced and played Tuesday.

-- The Panthers played without center Marty Reasoner for the final 40-plus minutes after he left the game upon being struck in the groin area with a puck. How painful was that?

“Real painful,'' DeBoer joked while cringing. “That's real pain.''


Tyler Plante is Back Up; And He Brought his Mask ... Alexander Sulzer OUT

IMG_1271 COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Tomas Vokoun's back is acting up again, and if this back problem is anything like last year's, we may have seen the last of Mr. Vokoun this season.

Vokoun shut 'er down last year on April 6 because of tightness in the back.

With Vokuon out for the time being, the Panthers went back to Rochester to call up Tyler Plante. He's yet to make his NHL debut, but lets hope -- for his sake -- that it comes soon.

IMG_1267 With Plante back in the NHL, that means he's got the coolest mask in the NHL. If you remember, Plante had the Will Ferrell customized mask last year. This year, he went all Tombstone. Even though the Panthers made him get rid of the six shooters, he still has the bullet holes.

And in a Miami Herald exclusive, Plante says next year's mask is going to be a homage to the mullet. Looking forward to that one.

IMG_1268 -- Pete DeBoer says defenseman Alexander Sulzer has a serious groin injury and could be out some time. Clay Wilson has been called up.

-- So, tonight's Panthers-Blue Jackets tilt should be considered the NHL's must-see Game of the Night, right? This is going to be like watching the Washington Nationals play IMG_1269 the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sept. 14.

IMG_1273 IMG_1274

IMG_1272

 

March 28, 2011

Panthers in Pursuit of another Hot Shot Prospect?

DaCosta Thanks to a tip from a loyal reader, I started looking up some information on top prospect Stephane Da Costa.

According to EagleTribune.com out of North Andover, Ma. -- which covered Da Costa during two sensational seasons at Merrimack College -- the Panthers are in the running to sign this coveted young center.

The story, written by Mike McMahon, says the Panthers are one of three teams (Ottawa and Minnesota) who have the best shot at signing the free agent.

The CBC's Elliotte Friedman also weighs in on Da Costa meeting with his new agents and also lists Ottawa and Minnesota as a favorite but does not mention the Panthers. Friedman has the Sens, Wild, Bruins, Ducks, Penguins and Preds as the front-runners.

So we'll just have to see. Sounds like the kid wants to sign sometime this week. So we could have news on this in the coming days.

Florida has already been busy on the free agent collegiate/junior market this season with Mike Santos signing Jonathan Hazen to a three-year deal just last week.

A native of Paris, France -- not Texas, you goof -- Da Costa led Merrimack to the regionals where they were knocked off by Notre Dame in overtime this past weekend.

In two seasons with the Merrimack Warriors, Da Costa scored 91 points in 67 games with 30 goals.

'Killer' Keaton Ellerby: My Attitude's Right ... Jordan Leopold Breaks Hand v Panthers

Killer PANTHERS NOTEBOOK

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Keaton Ellerby was a little upset when sent back to the minors in February, only he understood why the Panthers made the move.

Ellerby, who has spent most of this season up with the big club, had lost his confidence and that was showing in his play. In the eight games leading up to his demotion to Florida's AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y., Ellerby had a minus-rating in each game. Through those eight games, Ellerby was minus-10.

“It was a little tough being told I had to go back, but now, I think it was the best thing for me,'' Ellerby said. “My play had slipped, I had lost confidence in my game. That happens to everyone sometime in their career. But going back helped me get that confidence back and I think I came back better. I know I have to play hard every minute that I'm here.''

ELLERBY Ellerby's recent trip to the minors didn't, as expected, last long. The Panthers traded away defensemen Bryan McCabe, Bryan Allen and Dennis Wideman and needed Ellerby back. He says he got over being sent back to the minors as quickly as he went, saying he came back with a different attitude and both coach Pete DeBoer and assistant Gord Murphy say they have noticed a difference.

Ellerby missed two games while on his most recent assignment to Rochester. Since coming back, the 22-year-old has been rated even or plus in eight games – including Sunday's 2-1 shootout loss to the Penguins -- and has graded out at a minus-3 in a total of 14 games.

“This is a tough league and he's had to earn his spot,'' Murphy said. “One of the hardest things for young players, especially defensemen, is that consistency. Not just game to game, but shift to shift. That's part of the process. He went down, playing big, key minutes and he got his confidence back. He's good when he's playing aggressively. That's him at his best and we're seeing that again.''

The Panthers have high hopes for the future of not only Ellerby but his defensive partner Dmitry Kulikov as well. The two youngsters – both former first round draft picks – have shown a cohesiveness together with Ellerby saying “we hope to play together and play well together for a long, long time.'' When Ellerby was struggling at his most, Kulikov was out of the lineup with an ankle injury.

At this time last year, Ellerby had been called up from Rochester but found playing time to be at a premium. DeBoer, in one game, gave him just two shifts. Ellerby is now finding himself playing close to 20 minutes per night.

“Keaton was brought along at the right pace,'' DeBoer said. “I remember being asked about him playing three, four minutes last year. You guys asked 'why can't he play.' Well, he wasn't ready yet. It took multiple trips back and forth to the minors. Now he's ready and you're seeing the results of developing a young defenseman the right way. He's done things the right way and has to keep building on it.''

Because of the February changes – Florida traded McCabe, Wideman and Allen within a three-day span and also brought in Alexander Sulzer – the Panthers defense looks much different. For young players like Ellerby and Kulikov, not to mention Jason Garrison and Joe Callahan, this is an good opportunity to play big minutes and in different opportunities against NHL competition.

“I think they're doing a very good job,'' DeBoer said. “Look at the games we've played and we're not giving up 40 or 50 shots a night. We're playing in some tough buildings on the road and they are getting the job defensively. It would be nice to get them some more support – and their goaltender as well – with some more goals, but these guys have been thrown into the fire at a tough time of year. Teams are playing desperate hockey and they're holding their own.''

Leopold ALUMNI UPDATE

The Buffalo Sabres announced Sunday that defenseman Jordan Leopold would miss the rest of the regular season after breaking a bone in his hand against the Panthers on Friday night. Leopold signed a one-year deal with Florida not long after his rights were traded to the Panthers for Jay Bouwmeester in 2009. Florida traded him to the Penguins for a second-round pick at last season's trade deadline.

Leopold, who scored a goal in Buffalo's 4-2 win despite the injury, got hurt when he chased down Ryan Carter on a shorthanded scoring chance.

Monty The Sabres hope to have Leopold back for the playoffs. He has been replaced in the lineup by, coincidentally, former Florida defenseman Steve Montador.

TUESDAY: PANTHERS AT BLUE JACKETS
When, Where: 7 p.m.; Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio
TV/Radio: FSN; WQAM 560
The series: Columbus leads 6-4-0
The game: This is Florida's last game against a Western Conference opponent, with the Panthers going 7-9-1 against the west so far. Columbus' Antoine Vermette tied the score against Florida with 53 seconds left in the third before R.J. Umberger won beat the Panthers 3-2 by scoring with 54 seconds left in overtime on Jan. 19 in Sunrise. Fall2010 459 Scott Clemmensen is expected to start in place of Tomas Vokoun after he left Sunday's game with tightness in his back. Steve Mason, who won against Florida in January, will start for the Blue Jackets. Columbus has lost six of seven and four straight.

March 27, 2011

Late Night With the Panthers

Clemmgatorade AKRON, Ohio -- Sitting here in LeBron's hometown checking some email as I watch television and stumbled across some stuff I would like to share.

First off, thanks to @joshluecht for coming across this photo of Scott Clemmensen. I'm assuming it was taken during his short stint earlier this afternoon in Pittsburgh.

Hope he wasn't too thirsty!

Larman Also, compliments of PuckDaddy comes a story about former Panthers prospect Drew Larman and his crimefighting ability on the west coast (of Florida). Now with the Everblades, Larman told Woody Wommack of the Naples Daily News about the time he helped an older lady get her purse back after being mugged at a supermarket.

Good stuff.

LeBron's high school -- Akron's St. Vincent-St. Mary -- won a state championship in Columbus on Saturday, the Irish's second title in three years.

I'm covering the parade in Akron for The Miami Herald tomorrow -- can NEVER have Lebronakron too much Heat coverage -- so I won't be around to do hockey stuff. Sorry.

-- Just kidding. I'm not covering the parade mainly because I don't know if there even is one.

But if LeBron was planning on coming up to the school tomorrow, I'll be at the school tomorrow. The Heat plays at the Cavaliers on Tuesday night.

That reminds me. Here's a story from the Beacon Journal on how scalpers are struggling to sell tickets to LeBron's return to Gund Arena on Tuesday.

Have a story tomorrow on Keaton Ellerby and Florida's new-look defense. Make sure y'all come on back now, ya hear?

 


Rules of Nature: Penguins Like Shootouts, Panthers Don't ... Pittsburgh sets NHL Record with 4th Straight SO Win ... Cats have lost 5 Straight

Penguin PENGUINS 2, PANTHERS 1 (SO)

PITTSBURGH – Even without Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and a host of other regulars, the Penguins have found ways to win games and stay in the running for home ice when the Eastern Conference playoffs start in a few weeks.

The Penguins, who have all but wrapped up the fourth seed in the east, are actually looking for more.

With Crosby on the mend from a concussion suffered in January, Pittsburgh is taking aim at the Atlantic Division leading Flyers and pulled to within two points of their Keystone State rivals with Sunday's 2-1 shootout victory over the vacation-bound Panthers. The Penguins' four straight shootout wins is an NHL record.

As the Penguins gear up for what should be an epic battle against the Flyers Tuesday night at Consol Energy Center, the Panthers trudge along and head to Columbus to end a second-long five-game road trip. Florida has lost the first four games of this trip and five straight overall.

“You have to give their coaching staff a lot of credit. They're doing a great job,'' coach Pete DeBoer said of the Penguins. “They are also getting great goaltending. That isn't a secret. And their first four defensemen are as good as there is in the league. There's a reason teams like this win the Stanley Cup. You can take out superstar players, but .-.-.- it's a deep team.''

Florida played its best game of the trip – by far – on Sunday and had ample opportunity to jump on the Penguins. The Panthers did take a 1-0 lead in the second period as Ryan Carter redirected a shot from  Alexander Sulzer and put it past Marc-Andre Fleury with 4:28 left in the second period. That goal was the first Fleury had surrendered in two-plus games.

Fleury set the Penguins franchise record by not giving up a goal in 150 minutes 13 seconds. The previous record of 136:13 was held by Jocelyn Thibault.

“I just hung out in the middle of the ice. Sulzer made a nice fake. All I did was get a stick on it,'' said Carter, who has two goals in his first eight games with the Panthers. “We had a good first period, probably could have had a 2-0 lead. We have to find a way to get those in the back of the net.''

The Penguins didn't let the Panthers hold the lead for long as Ben Lovejoy tied it two minutes after Carter's goal. The Penguins had a nice possession in the Florida zone as the Panthers failed to clear the puck, Lovejoy getting loose shortside and roofing the puck past Tomas Vokoun off a feed from Alex Kovalev.

The 1-1 score would stick as the Panthers and Penguins had a hard-fought third period. The Penguins were definitely the aggressors during the third, but Vokoun held up and stopped 11 shots.

Vokoun, it was later learned, was playing with a sore back. He said he pulled a back muscle early in the third period and had contemplated coming out and letting backup Scott Clemmensen come in. But, Vokoun said, he didn't think it was fair for Clemmensen to be forced into coming into a game cold so Vokoun held down the fort.

When the game went into overtime, Vokoun moved to the locker room and Clemmensen took over between the pipes. 

“I just jammed my back but the doctor says it's just a strain and it should be fine,'' Vokoun said. “Hopefully it's going to be good.''

Clemmensen stopped four shots in the overtime period, but wasn't as luck in the shootout. The Penguins hit on two of three shots as Florida's Mike Santorelli and Niclas Bergfors were blocked. Florida dropped to 4-6 in shootouts this season with Clemmensen winning just twice in seven shootout attempts.

Florida outshot the Penguins 38-28.

“That's about as good a road game as we can play as a group,'' DeBoer said. “We limited their opportunities. We had chances, but I don't think we penetrated enough around their net like we needed to. Our fourth line got us a goal but we couldn't find a way to get another one. That's when you lose points.''

-- The Panthers played without Jack Skille and Shawn Matthias for a second straight game after the duo reinjured ankles that had cost them large chunks of the season already. Skille joined the team Tuesday after missing a month with a high ankle sprain; Matthias also played Tuesday after missing two months with a broken ankle. Matthias said he rolled his ankle a few times during Wednesday's game in Chicago.

-- The Panthers have lost the first three games of the season series to the Penguins and on the verge of not getting a win against Pittsburgh for the first time since their inaugural season of 1993-94. Florida went 0-3 with a tie against the Penguins that season. Florida went 1-0-3 against the Penguins last year.

The Penguins visit BankAtlantic Center for the final game of the series on Saturday night.






March 26, 2011

Florida Panthers Offensive Numbers Continue to Sink ... David Booth, Tomas Vokoun IN vs. Penguins

Moller PITTSBURGH -- Everyone keeps asking me why Randy Moller doesn't do as many funny movie lines or song lyrics after Panthers goals this season.

Oh, Molls still does them. The Panthers just don't score 'em.

The Panthers are averaging 2.4 goals per game, but they have scored two or less in 12 of the past 17 games. Florida has won just one of those 12 games.

Even more shocking: The Panthers have scored two or less in 41 games this season. They have won just FOUR of those games.

Oy.

Here's my latest notebook on the power outage. It's nothing really new, but bears a look at.

PANTHERS NOTEBOOK

PITTSBURGH – Scoring has been a big concern for the Panthers this season. And it has only been getting worse.

The Panthers have scored 180 goals this season (ranked 27th in the 30 team league) and are averaging  just over two goals per night.

Through their first 75 games, the Panthers have been held to two goals or fewer in 41 (55 percent).      As one may imagine, Florida hasn't had too much success in those low-scoring affairs, winning just four.

After losing in Buffalo, the Panthers have now scored two goals or fewer in 12 of their past 17 (71 percent) with just one win – a 2-1 shootout win against Atlanta – in those games. In three losses this week, the Panthers scored a total of two goals, with Evgeny Dadonov's marker coming with just 2.5 seconds remaining in a 4-2 loss at Buffalo.

On Sunday, the Panthers play the Penguins for the third time this season. Pittsburgh has held the Panthers to two goals or less in both of its wins against Florida so far.

“Our chances have really dried up over the past month. We've had some spurts, but we're not getting a lot done,'' coach Pete DeBoer said. “The league is tightening up and we're offensively challenged to begin with.''

Scoring has been a worry for the Panthers since DeBoer took over the team in the summer of 2008. Not long after taking the job, general manager Jacques Martin traded leading scorer Olli Jokinen to Phoenix. The following offseason saw the departure of defenseman Jay Bouwmeester (who recorded 203 points in 471 games with Florida) and then Nathan Horton (295 points in 422 games) this past summer.

The Panthers, with limited scoring talent up front, relied on defensemen to chip in. At the time he was traded in February, Dennis Wideman was second on the team in scoring and was one power play goal away from tying the franchise record for such goals in a season. Bryan McCabe, Chris Higgins and Michael Frolik were also traded away, their scoring not being replaced.

“Even early in the year when we were scoring, it was 5-on-5 and it was by committee,'' DeBoer said. “A lot of it was from defensemen. Obviously some of the guys taken out of the lineup drove that; Wideman, McCabe, Higgins, [Radek] Dvorak, those kind of guys. You have young guys that have to take advantage of the playing time they're getting.''

The Panthers have tinkered with the lineup and have added players like Jack Skille, Sergei Samsonov, Ryan Carter and Niclas Bergfors. Since joining the Panthers, that quartet has combined for five goals (Samsonov has three of them) with 15 assists.

“The past few games have been tough, and for me, you kind of lose confidence. You just don't feel as comfortable out there when you're struggling,'' Bergfors said. “Mistakes have cost us goals, so you may be thinking too much about it. We're working hard, but in tight games, sometimes you grip the stick too tight. We're all going through it. Losing streaks are tough.''

NEWS, NOTES

The Panthers will have the services of winger David Booth on Sunday against the Penguins after Booth was hit in the throat by a puck Friday night in Buffalo.

Booth, who was forced to leave the game, was taken to Buffalo General Hospital for precautionary reasons but was released and met the team at the airport. The worry with Booth was that he could have complications because of the air pressure of flying. He was on Florida's short charter flight to Pittsburgh.

DeBoer said through a spokesman on Saturday that the Panthers would have the same lineup on Sunday that they had on Friday, meaning forwards Jack Skille (ankle) and Shawn Matthias (ankle) would miss their second straight game and Tomas Vokoun would be in net.

-- Weiss did not face any disciplinary sanctions from the league for his hit to the head of Buffalo's Paul Gaustad during Friday's game. Weiss took a two-minute penalty for elbowing, but was not fined nor suspended. Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said the league needed to look at the hit, adding that Weiss has never been known for dirty play.

Gaustad had to leave the game to be evaluated under the league's new concussion guidelines. Gaustad, who glared and shouted at Weiss as he left the ice, did return to the game after passing all the tests.

"It's definitely a play you have to look at now,'' Ruff told reporters after Buffalo's 4-2 win. "It was a blow to the head. Whether Weiss did it accidentally or on purpose, it was still an elbow to the head. He's not that type of player. But at the same time, those types of plays have to be dealt with.''

SUNDAY: PANTHERS AT PENGUINS
When, Where: 1 p.m.; Consol Energy Center, Pittsburgh
TV/Radio: FSN; WQAM 560
The series: Penguins lead 33-30-4
The game: The Penguins have won three straight and seven of their past nine dating to March 5 – and that's been without stalwarts Sidney Crosby (concussion) and Evgeny Malkin (knee) among others. The Pens did get center Mike Comrie back Friday against the Devils after he had hip surgery in December. Pittsburgh went into Saturday just two points back of Atlantic Division leading Philadelphia (who played the Islanders on Saturday) and the two meet in Pittsburgh on Tuesday.


Photoshop Contest: Design the Panthers New Patch/Banner

10years2 BUFFALO -- Missing the NHL playoffs for 10 straight seasons is nothing to sneeze at. It's pretty hard to do.

I mean, I don't think you could do it on purpose. If a team sat down and said 'we want to miss the playoffs for an NHL record 10 seasons just to see what would happen.'

I don't think they could.

That team would make the playoffs at least once just by mistake.

Well, the Panthers haven't been able to make that mistake -- although they've come real close over the past few years.

Still, the Panthers were eliminated from the postseason on Friday for an NHL record 10th straight season -- and 11th year overall.

Torrey The team has a few banners in their rafters celebrating things -- hosting the NHL Draft in 2001, the All-Star Game in 2003, a Celine Dion concert -- so will they add another one?

The team has a banner honoring its expansion team of 1993-94, the one that ended as the NHL's best first-year team ever with the most wins and points of any expansion team.

Why not celebrate this? It's an NHL achievement as well. Getting to the point, we here at On Frozen Pond are offering you a chance to help the Panthers along. By tapping into your creative juices, you can offer up your suggestions to the team on how to properly honor this NHL record.

Do the Panthers raise a banner to the rafters? It could go right next to the one for the Saveology.com Incredible Ice Plex.

Do they wear it on a commemorative patch next season? On those rumored-to-be new jerseys?

That's your call.

Winner gets two tickets to the season finale April 9 against the Washington Capitals.

Can't promise tickets to the ADT Club, but if you 'do your homework' and come up with something clever, you might just get to enjoy yourself on a nice Saturday night at the rink.

If we get some good ones -- which we already have -- I'll try and scare up some other goodies to get to other finalists.

Email your submissions to: onfrozenpond93@yahoo.com

Deadline is by noon, Friday April 1. I want to go to the Marlins game that night. Opening Day baby!

Here's some of the submissions we already have in. Good stuff kids. Keep 'em coming.

LuisDuran

From Luis Duran: 10 Years of Visiting Publix for Headwear.

 

 

 

Dannycast

 

 

 

From Danny Cast: 10 Years of Fun in the Sun.

 

 

 

 

 

Henrygil From Henry Gil: 10 Years of Feeling the Growl.

March 25, 2011

Tee It Up in April: Panthers Officially Eliminated, Set NHL Record for Futility ... David Booth OK after Puck to Throat ... Skille, Matthias Hurt Again

10years2 BUFFALO -- It's obvious I'm not too good at the artwork. But, for whipping that together in eight minutes after filing on deadline, not too bad me thinks.

Anyway, if you would like to submit your original artwork for what a Panthers 10-season anniversary patch might look like, be my guest.

The winner gets two tickets to Florida's season finale on April 9 against the Capitals.

Second place gets four tickets to the game.

Just kidding. Second place gets to let the confetti fly after the game.

Send your photos (and whomever won the Olli Jokinen picture contest in 2008, email me; I have your draft T-shirt from Ottawa) to this address. Good luck and happy Photshopping.

onfrozenpond93@yahoo.com

DEADLINE: Friday, April 1

Now onto my story from tonight:

SABRES 4, PANTHERS 2

BUFFALO – The Panthers have been on the wrong side of plenty of scores this season, but Friday's 4-2 loss to the Sabres at HSBC Arena was a historical one.

With the loss, Florida was mathematically eliminated from postseason consideration.

Although that's been a foregone conclusion as the Panthers ride out of the string of remaining games, Friday's loss officially assures the Panthers will miss the playoffs for an NHL record 10 consecutive seasons – and by counting the strikeout season of 2004-05, 11 straight years.

Florida had been tied with the California/Cleveland/Minnesota and Colorado/New Jersey franchises in missing the playoffs for nine straight seasons. Florida hasn't been to the playoffs since being swept in the opening round by the Devils in 2000.

“It doesn't hurt anymore,'' said coach Pete DeBoer, in his third year with the team. “We've been hurting for a while. You just get numb to that pain.''

The Sabres are currently holding the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and eliminated the Panthers by winning in regulation. Had the Panthers forced overtime and picked up a point, they would still have had the slimmest of chances. With only seven games left, Florida can get a maximum of 14 points; The Sabres' lead over the Panthers now stands at 15.

Buffalo, which has won three of four, jumped on Florida early with Jason Pominville knocking a loose puck past Tomas Vokoun 1:23 into the game.

The Panthers, who hadn't scored a goal in two-plus games coming in, finally broke that drought as Sergei Samsonov charged in on Ryan Miller and backhanded the puck past Buffalo's All-Star goalie at 4:01 of the period.

Florida put a few more shots on Miller down the stretch, but not enough to do much damage. Drew Stafford scored the go-ahead goal 2:33 into the second period with Jordan Leopold getting the game-winner against his former team as Samsonov served what DeBoer called a “marginal” penalty midway through the third period. The Sabres blew things open when Stafford knocked a rebound past Vokoun 13 seconds later to make it 4-1.

The Panthers offense didn't get much help as David Booth left the game late in the first after being struck in the throat by a puck. Booth was slow to get up and was advised by a Sabres team doctor to go to Buffalo General and get checked out, the worry being whether Booth could fly because of the danger of swelling in his trachea. Booth was released from the hospital soon after the game and planned to meet the team at the airport for the charter flight to Pittsburgh.

“He took a shot in the windpipe and was fine when he left here,'' DeBoer said. “It was all for precautionary measures.''

BACK DOWN

The Panthers welcomed Weiss back to the lineup after he missed the past two games, but as has been the case lately, every time Florida gets one player healthy, another gets hurt.

This time, it's Jack Skille and Shawn Matthias. The two forwards both missed long stretches with ankle injuries, returning Tuesday in New York. But both said playing in back-to-back games was just too much.

Matthias, who missed two months with a broken ankle, said there was just no way he could play Friday. Skille, who missed a month with a high ankle sprain, says playing Wednesday in Chicago “killed me. It's 10 times worse now.''

With two players out and only Weiss returning, Patrick Rissmiller was recalled from the Panthers AHL affiliate in nearby Rochester, N.Y. Rissmiller was a healthy scratch in New York and had been sent back to the Americans on Wednesday.

SOUTH FLORIDA POSTSEASON DROUGHTS

The longest time between playoff appearances by South Florida's four professional teams

Florida Panthers: 10 seasons (2000/2001-present)
Florida Marlins 7 seasons (2004-present)
Miami Dolphins 6 seasons (2002-07)
Miami Heat 3 seasons (1988/89*-1990/1991)
(*) The Heat's first season in the NBA

NHL POSTSEASON DROUGHT
10 – Florida Panthers (2000/01-present)
9 – California/Cleveland/Minnesota (1969/70-1978/79)
9 – Colorado/New Jersey (1977/78-1986/87)
8 – Boston Bruins (1958/59-1966/67)
8 – Washington Capitals (1974/75-1981/82)

 

March 24, 2011

Jack Skille Returns to Chicago, Wants to be Part of Panthers Turnaround ... Shawn Matthias Working Way Back

Skille2 PANTHERS NOTEBOOK

CHICAGO – An hour before he took to the United Center ice for the first time as a visitor, Jack Skille methodically pushed away on a stationary bike, his head down low.

Skille had the hood of his sweatshirt pulled high. Skille wanted to focus on the task at hand and not play meet-and-greet in the busy hallway. Skille was a popular figure with the Chicago Blackhawks before being traded to the Panthers for Michael Frolik last month, and understandably, folks wanted to stop by and say hello.

One Chicago staffer noticed the seriousness on Skille's face and simply gave him a soft tap on the shoulder as he walked by.

Skille's name was the only one the Chicago fans cheered when the Panthers starting lineup was announced on Wednesday.

“To be honest, this was really awkward, being on the other side of things,'' Skille said after Florida's 4-0 loss to his former teammates. “There are a lot of good fans out there, saw some signs with my name on it and that was nice. It was nerve wracking at the start but I kind of got the hang of it as the game went on. I know how these fans are; they either love you or hate you. And they're very competitive. I was wondering how I would be received and they showed a lot of class. I commend them for that.''

With the Blackhawks, Skille was a grinder, the life of the locker room. In Florida, Skille sees opportunity to be something more and he's taking that role seriously. Skille can still crack wise with the best of them, but he sure isn't doing it as frequently.

Panthers general manager Dale Tallon selected Skille in the first round (seventh overall) of the 2005 draft, so he obviously knows what kind of player he was getting when he traded the talented – yet slumping – Frolik to the Blackhawks. Tallon wants the Panthers to be bigger and meaner and stronger, and Skille – despite the smiles and the friendly banter – definitely brings some toughness.

While Skille had to be disappointed to leave the friendly confines of Chicago, the opportunity presented with the Panthers is something he craved. The Panthers wanted Skille – and he's ready to prove they were right.

“We're in a rebuilding process and we're learning the game better as a group,'' he said. “They believe in me here and hopefully they continue to believe in me. I have to cash in here soon but I'm not trying to put too much pressure on myself. In the role I'm playing, I have to step up. I can't let anyone else do it.''

-- Skille missed a month with a high ankle sprain suffered Feb. 23 in Ottawa, returning to the lineup Tuesday against the Rangers.

Center Shawn Matthias also returned to the lineup that night after missing two months with a broken ankle. Matthias had only gone through a few full practices with the Panthers before being thrown into game action. After Tuesday's game against the Rangers, Matthias definitely looked winded.

“I told them I was ready to go, so it's my responsibility to be in shape and be game ready,'' Matthias said. “I felt pretty good out there but it's been a while. The timing and stuff, that's going to come.''

-- Anyone who has ever questioned Stephen Weiss' importance to the Panthers only need to watch the team when he's not playing. Whenever Weiss is out, the Panthers offense goes into a deeper funk than usual. Weiss has missed the past two games with what is believed to be a nagging groin injury and didn't practice Thursday in Chicago. Weiss plans to take part in Friday's morning skate and will be a game-time decision in Buffalo. The Panthers can only hope he comes back soon.

Florida has not scored a goal in two-plus games since Weiss tied up the Islanders in the third period on Saturday night in Sunrise. Florida's drought stands at 2 hours 11 minutes 24 seconds of ice time.

“You can see his value to our lineup,'' coach Pete DeBoer said. “That's obvious. The two games he's missed, well, yeah.''

FRIDAY: PANTHERS AT SABRES
When, Where: 7:30 p.m.; HSBC Arena, Buffalo
TV/Radio: FSN; WQAM 560
The series: Sabres lead 39-24-3
The game: Buffalo has won two of its past three games as it makes a charge for a playoff berth. Florida has won two of the first three games in the season series, and the Panthers slumping offense may be looking forward to playing the Sabres. In two December wins, Florida erupted for 10 goals. Of course, that Panthers team was much different from the one taking the ice these days.



March 23, 2011

Tomas Overheats: Vokoun Upset With Defensive Lapses ... Panthers Haven't Scored in 2-plus Hours after 4-0 loss in Chicago

Thomss BLACKHAWKS 4, PANTHERS 0

CHICAGO – Tomas Vokoun sat in front of his stall inside the United Center's visiting locker room with his pads and skates still on for a good 10 minutes after Wednesday's 4-0 loss to the Blackhawks.

After finally stripping off his gear, Vokoun was ready to talk. Some of his teammates aren't going to like what he had to say.

“You look at the goals, I don't know what to say. It's the same players over and over,'' said Vokoun, who didn't give up his first goal until late in the second period despite constant harrassment from the defending Stanley Cup champions.

“We haven't scored in two games and we're giving up 3-on-2s, guys are pinching up. It is what it is, but that's not 'playing for the team' to me. They're just hoping to get one goal. It's tough. We're in a bad situation and it's been tough around here. This shows you have to play for the other guy and we didn't do that in the third period. They have [Patrick] Kane and [Jonathan] Toews. We can't play run-and-gun with those guys.''

Vokoun is obviously frustrated after losing twice in as many nights despite playing as well as he probably can. On Tuesday, he stopped 32 of 33 shots in a 1-0 loss to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Wednesday at the Madhouse on Madison, the Blackhawks took aim at Vokoun 21 times before Brent Seabrook scored on a power play with 5:19 left in the second period.

Then, Viktor Stalberg scored just 46 seconds into the third to give the Blackhawks a 2-0 lead. The wind came out of the Panthers sail and a team desperate to score did just about anything it could to get on the board. That left Vokoun on an island.

“I understand Tomas' frustration. Guys are trying, the effort is there,'' coach Pete DeBoer said. “When your haven't scored in two games, guys are going to push and they are going to be out of position. Tomas has given us two outstanding games. He wants to win. I would disagree that it's a selfish thing. Guys are competing. Our margin of error is very small.''

The Panthers have done little to help Vokoun offensively the past two nights, with Corey Crawford becoming the second goalie to pitch a shutout against the Panthers in as many nights. On Tuesday, Henrik Lundqvist had to stop just 22 shots. Crawford was forced to stop 23 on Wednesday.

Florida hasn't scored a goal since Stephen Weiss tied Saturday's game against the Islanders in the third period. The Panthers drought: 2 hours 11 minutes 24 seconds of ice time. Weiss has missed the past two games with a leg injury but said he could return Friday against Buffalo. The Panthers sure could use him.

Since the Panthers officially waved the white flag last month, Vokoun has been solid. Save for the quick hook he got after giving up two goals on three shots against Montreal on March 9, the Panthers haven't been able to complain about his play.

Starting with the shootout win in Atlanta on Feb. 25 – in which he stopped 45 of 46 shots -- Vokoun has returned 226 of 245 shots for a success rate of 92 percent.

But Vokoun doesn't want to be playing some of his best hockey of the season for a team going nowhere – except, perhaps, further down in the league standings. Vokoun has only been to the playoffs twice in his 13 year career and he would much rather be helping a team make it to the postseason than just running out the string.

The Panthers have eight more games remaining before Vokoun can become an unrestricted free agent.

“We're trying to score, yes, but everyone on the ice has a responsibility,'' Vokoun said. “We're just not playing smart hockey. I have a pretty good idea what's wrong, but it's not for the newspaper.''

PLANTE'S FUTURE?

Tyler Plante has heard how Jacob Markstrom is called the Panthers 'goalie of the future.' Yet if Vokoun doesn't return, Plante could be in the running to back up Scott Clemmensen if the team decides to not sign a starting-caliber goalie during the free agency period.

Obviously that's a long way off with plenty of ifs and buts. The only thing Plante knows is he has played well for Florida's AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y., and probably deserves at least a look.

“I'm just pushing forward, trying to end as strong as I can,'' said Plante, recalled from Rochester on Tuesday after Clemmensen tweaked his knee Saturday against the Islanders. “I think I've been solid this year, feel like I've showed consistency and an ability to win games. I just have to keep showing that.''

Is Tyler Plante the Panthers 'Goalie of Next Year?' ... Stephen Weiss OUT for Second Game ... Patrick Rissmiller to Rochester

Plante PANTHERS NOTEBOOK

CHICAGO – Tyler Plante has heard all the talk surrounding Jacob Markstrom, the Panthers 'goalie of the future.'

Plante may just become the team's 'goalie of the meantime.'

If Tomas Vokoun doesn't return to the Panthers next season – he's scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent July 1 – Florida could look at having a combination of Scott Clemmensen and Plante in net next season. Of course, with over $30 million to spend just to get to the salary cap floor, the Panthers have plenty of money to throw at Vokoun – or another starting caliber goalie.

Plante would like the chance – and feels his strong play in Rochester the past two seasons has helped his cause. Plante, a second round pick by Florida in 2005, has made saves on 91 percent of shots faced in each of the past two years in the AHL.

“It's been an up-and-down year, I had some injuries early on and didn't get off to the start I wanted,'' Plante said Tuesday night, hours after he was called up from Rochester after Clemmensen suffered a minor knee injury. “I'm just pushing forward, trying to end as strong as I can. I think I've been solid this year, feel like I've showed consistency and an ability to win games. I just have to keep showing that.''

Plante hasn't received any of the hype that Markstrom has, with the Panthers putting plenty of hope that the 31st overall pick of the 2008 NHL Draft will take over in net sometime down the road.

Markstrom, just 21, looks like he's going to need at least another year in the minors to develop his game.

Markstrom struggled early on in his first North American professional season with the Panthers AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y., before suffering a knee injury in February that ended up requiring surgery. Markstrom did play better after a rough start, with Panthers goalie coach Robb Tallas crediting Plante's guidance for some of that.

“Tyler has been very patient,'' Tallas said of the 23-year-old Plante. “We were honest with him when we signed Jacob and told him we were going to give him every opportunity to play this season. He became a leader and helped [Markstrom] but never lost that edge, that will to play. He's a lot more mature than when he first came in and thought it would be easy. When he's had opportunities, he's made the most of them.''

Plante was called up last season when Vokoun shut things down early when his back tightened up, only unlike Markstrom and Alexander Salak, Plante has yet to make his NHL debut.

Salak, whom Plante replaced in Rochester last year and carried the team into the postseason, backed up Vokoun early in the 2009-10 season when Clemmensen had to return to Iowa because of family issues. Salak replaced Vokoun during a game at Carolina and has since been traded to the Blackhawks. Markstrom came up for one game in January and took over for Clemmensen for the final 40 minutes of a loss to New Jersey.

Plante wouldn't mind making that next step and could have started Wednesday night against Chicago. But with Vokoun looking outstanding in a 1-0 loss to the Rangers on Tuesday – and his record against the Blackhawks – he was given another start.

If Clemmensen's knee feels better on Thursday, Plante would fly with the team to Buffalo and then report back to Rochester.

“Every goalie wants to play, and I'm here for the guys,'' Plante said. “If I don't play, I'll try to be good in the room, do everything I can in practice to help them get better.''

-- Center Stephen Weiss missed his second straight game with what coach Pete DeBoer said was a leg injury, adding that it didn't have anything to do with Weiss' knee.

-- The Panthers returned winger Patrick Rissmiller to Rochester on Wednesday after determining that the team's forward lines – save for Weiss – were healthy after Tuesday's game in New York. Florida got forwards Jack Skille and Shawn Matthias back on Tuesday.

-- Florida is scheduled to practice in Chicago on Thursday morning before resuming their road trip by traveling to Buffalo. The Panthers visit the playoff-hopeful Sabres on Friday night at HSBC Arena.

Time for a Cheesesteak: We're in Chicago!

Superfans CHICAGO -- Good afternoon from Chicago, IL., the city of big shoulders, and home, of course, to a certain hockey team, which has carved out a special place in the pantheon of professional greats.

That team, which is known the world over, as ... Da Hawks!

Thanks to Bill Swerski for that great intro. Just got into Chicago, IL., the city of ... OK, enough of 'dat.

Because of the time change (I believe I found that hour I lost a few weeks back) kickoff for tonight's Panthers-Blackhawks tilt is at 8:30 Miami Time. Just gives you more time to get ready.

Familyguybartman Don't know what to expect tonight. Last night's game was just brutal and a number of players were pretty ticked off about it afterward. Before Pete came out to speak to the gathered (me) media, heard a lot of shouting, a lot of those infamous 'F-bombs' everyone keeps talking about.

One the locker room opened, a few guys had barely moved. And they stayed there, looks of disgust on their face.

Dmitry Kulikov, who got beat on the lone goal of the night, stared at the game sheet before finally loudly crumpling it up in a ball and throwing it into the garbage. Keaton Ellerby, sitting nearby, did the same. Mike Santorelli just mumbled about how mad he was.

So it'll be interesting to see what kind of level of intensity the Panthers bring.

As for myself? I'm bringing the intensity for you, the loyal reader.

Because of deadline concerns, I'm going to have an extra-bonus Panthers notebook in addition to my normal game story. Have some good stuff from Tyler Plante (who isn't expected to start tonight, but if he is, I'll tweet it once I find out) and Shawn Matthias.

So don't be a stranger tonight. Keep checking back here -- or better yet, start following me on Twitter. I update that all the time. Perhaps too much.

Regardless, if you aren't into the Twitter thing, isn't today a great day to get started? I think it is. And start by following this guy right here. It's easy, and it's free. Just visit:

twitter.com/OnFrozenPond

and then click the follow button. It really is that simple. All the cool kids are doing it.

If you just like Facebook, I have the same info there as well. You can follow us there by going to FB, searching for the 'On Frozen Pond' page and then clicking like. That only costs $3.50 a month. Just kidding. It's free too.

Here's what the Twitter page looks like:

Screengrab

Panthers Doing Good: Donate $10K to Japan Relief

From the Panthers:

SUNRISE, Fla. – Sunrise Sports & Entertainment announced today that Florida Panthers players, led by veteran defenseman Mike Weaver, have donated $10,000 dollars to aid the Japan relief effort in response to the tragic earthquake that recently struck the island nation.

“As a team, we felt it was important to do our part to aid the people of Japan who are struggling in the aftermath of this horrible natural disaster,” Weaver said.

“Hopefully, our modest donation can help raise awareness and inspire support from others who are involved with the Florida Panthers organization.”

March 22, 2011

Tomas Vokoun Can't Do It All: Rangers blank Florida Panthers 1-0

Summer10 033 RANGERS 1, PANTHERS 0

NEW YORK – Panthers coach Pete DeBoer bemoaned the fact that his team couldn't put away the Islanders on Saturday, saying when teams stick around “bad things happen.''

On Tuesday night against the Rangers, Florida's game plan seemed to be just hang around and hope to surprise them with a goal. That never transpired.

Brandon Dubinsky scored the Rangers first goal less than eight minutes into the third period and the Panthers – doubled up in shots for much of the night – couldn't answer as New York continued its march to the postseason with a 1-0 win over the Panthers at Madison Square Garden.

The Panthers, who kicked off their longest road trip of the season, have lost five of their past six away from Sunrise. Florida visits the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks on Wednesday.

“It's tough. We're missing our leading scorer of what's left of this team,'' said goalie Tomas Vokoun, referring to Stephen Weiss missing the game with a leg injury. Bryan McCabe, one of the castoffs from Florida's trade deadline purge, stood in the hallway not 50 yards away as Vokoun spoke.

“We battled hard but this where we're at right now. It's tough in this league to play on the road; we had some decent games at home, but we're playing top teams on this road trip. It's not going to get any easier.''

Vokoun kept the Panthers in it, turning back the first 30 shots he faced against a Rangers team that seemed to get frustrated with the slow pace of the game. The Rangers had a number of good chances in the first 40 minutes, but came after Vokoun and the Florida defense with a renewed energy in the third.

Just moments before Dubinsky scored, he had a shot get past Vokoun. The puck slowly trickled toward the line, but Florida defender Keaton Ellerby knocked it out of harms way. He couldn't do the same later as the Rangers worked the puck around the Florida zone with Dubinsky backhanding a loose puck past Vokoun from his position in front of the net.

The one goal was plenty good enough for goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who has been on fire lately. The shutout was the 34th of Lundqvist's career and fifth all-time against Florida. Lundqvist has shutout the Panthers and neighboring Devils the most times in his career. Lundqvist has won his past five starts and seven of his past eight as the Rangers won their fifth straight.

Florida had a good chance to tie with 4:01 left as Lundqvist pounced on a loose puck after Jack Skille tried to push it through a scrum in front of the net.

“[Vokoun] gave us a chance in the third, but you're not going to win in this league unless you can score a goal,'' coach Pete DeBoer said. “Our forwards, really 1-through-12, didn't bring enough to the table. We had some chances in the third but not enough. We didn't get enough out of our forward group.''

McCabe, Florida's former captain, made his presence felt early as Vokoun made a save on his big shot from the point during the only power play of the night. That came midway through the first period.

TWO UP, TWO DOWN

Just as the Panthers begin getting some players back from injury, a few more need to take some time off. At least new injuries to center Stephen Weiss and goalie Scott Clemmensen don't appear to be serious. Both players missed Tuesday's game but are considered day-to-day. Clemmensen (knee) won't play Wednesday in Chicago although Weiss (leg) may.

Florida welcomed back forwards Jack Skille and Shawn Matthias after both missed substantial time with ankle injuries. Skille had been out since suffering a high ankle sprain Feb. 23 at Ottawa; Matthias broke his ankle on Jan. 26 at Boston.

Tyler Plante was brought up from Florida's AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y., to backup Tomas Vokoun in net. Florida made room for Skille and Matthias by sitting Weiss and Patrick Rissmiller.

Adam Reasoner, the younger brother of center Marty Reasoner, filled in for Clemmensen at Tuesday's morning skate as Plante was flying in from Cleveland. Adam Reasoner, who played at Boston College, is a bond trader on Wall Street and took a cab from work to help the Panthers out. “It was a chance of a lifetime,'' he said.

WEDNESDAY: PANTHERS AT BLACKHAWKS
When, Where: 8:30 p.m.; United Center, Chicago
TV/Radio: FSN; WQAM 560
The series: Chicago leads 12-9-3
The game: The Panthers have fared surprisingly well against the Blackhawks lately, winning four of the past six – including a 3-2 decision in Sunrise earlier this month. Florida led 3-0 after the opening period then held on for dear life as the Hawks outshot the Panthers 29-7 through the final 40. Tomas Vokoun, who saved the Panthers in that game, is expected to start for Florida on successive nights. Vokoun started Tuesday against the Rangers in New York.