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Mike Santorelli Feeling Right at Home with Panthers


Mike Santorelli doesn't have to worry about where he's going to play next season.

On Tuesday, Panthers president Michael Yormark told a group of season ticket holders that the team has offered Santorelli a two-year contract.

That kind of job security isn't something Santorelli is used to. A member of the Predators organization the previous three years, Santorelli bounced from Nashville to its minor league team in Milwaukee.

“I'm so happy here. I'm just grateful to have this opportunity,'' Santorelli said. “I've learned so much this year as a player. My mindset is that I just want to keep getting better every day. But there's no doubt I want to be here. I love it here.''

Although Santorelli says he is happy to be wanted by the Panthers, he's not worried about contracts right now. He just wants to get his game back to where it was earlier in the season.

“My main concern right now is getting things back to where they were,'' Santorelli said Wednesday morning, a day before scoring his first goal in almost a month Thursday against the Maple Leafs. “My agent deals with all the other stuff. If it gets done now great.''

When the Panthers acquired Santorelli in a trade with Nashville last summer, it wasn't a headline move. Santorelli was looked upon as a depth acquisition, with the 25-year-old having an outside chance at making the opening night roster.

Santorelli impressed in training camp, perhaps fueled by the knowledge former Nashville assistant general manager Mike Santos was now with the Panthers and had initiated trade talks with the Predators in the first place. Santos and coach Pete DeBoer told Santorelli he had a good chance to make the team if he did the right things and gave it everything he had.

The work paid off. Santorelli was at one point leading the Panthers in scoring and in goals, and his 18 goals this season have shown that he can be a scorer in the NHL.

Things haven't been going all that well for Santorelli lately. Before scoring against the Leafs on Thursday, Santorelli had gone 11 straight games without a goal, his previous score coming Feb. 21 against the Islanders.

“It feels good to get one,'' he said afterward.

Some wonder whether the rigors of playing a full NHL schedule – against bona fide NHL competition – wore on Santorelli as the season wore on. Sure, Santorelli is used to playing a 80-plus game schedule, but with more responsibility on the defensive end against better players, it's possible Santorelli is going through an adjustment period.

Michael Grabner, the winger Florida waived during training camp to create a roster spot for Santorelli, seems to have gone through the same thing a few weeks ago. Grabner, the NHL's rookie of the month after scoring 10 goals with six assists in 14 games in February, went eight games without scoring. Grabner has three goals in his past six games heading into the Islanders game in Carolina on Friday. The Islanders visit Sunrise on Saturday night.

“I'm definitely in a slump and I want to pull through it. The only way you can do that is through hard work,'' Santorelli said. “I've been trying to work harder. Hopefully things work out. Everyone goes through this. The important part is how you come out of it. I want to come out strong.''


Santorelli's goal on Thursday gave the Panthers a 3-0 lead on Toronto going into the second intermission. That gave the Panthers some rare breathing room.

Florida's 4-0 win against Toronto was its biggest margin of victory since beating the Rangers 3-0 on Jan. 2 as 19 of Florida's previous 22 games had been decided by a goal. The Panthers have played in 44 one-goal games this season, more than any team in the league and three shy of the franchise record (2007-08). Florida hadn't beaten a team by more than a goal since the Rangers win.

“I'm glad it wasn't a one-goal game, that's for sure,'' DeBoer said. “These kids are competing hard. It's not always pretty and we don't win them all, but we've been in every game since the trade deadline with a lot of guys who haven't played in a lot of NHL games. It's pure work ethic and attention to detail. And there will be some games down the stretch where we look pretty bad, where our energy is off and it catches up to us.''

-- The Panthers are quickly getting healthier as DeBoer said that injured winger Evgeny Dadonov would play Saturday against the Islanders. Defenseman Alexander Sulzer (oblique) will be a game-time decision. To make room for Dadonov, Mike Duco was sent back to Florida's AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y., after he played in two games – and got into two fights.

When, Where: 7 p.m.; BankAtlantic Center
TV/Radio: FSN; WQAM 560
The series: Panthers lead 36-29-8
The game: The Panthers are playing the final game of what has been a fairly successful seven-game homestand. Florida has wins over Chicago, Tampa Bay and Toronto, lost in overtime to the Capitals and lost in regulation to Ottawa and Philadelphia. The Islanders, who beat the Panthers 5-1 on Feb. 21 to help kickstart the Panthers sell-off at the trade deadline, had lost two straight going into Carolina on Friday night.