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51 posts from January 2012

January 30, 2012

Florida Panthers Get Back to Work


Fresh off their vacations that stretched from British Columbia all the way to Key West, the Panthers were back to work on Monday.

Well, most of them were.

Brian Campbell was excused from Monday's workout in Coral Springs as he was traveling back from the All-Star weekend in Ottawa. Kris Versteeg also missed with an undisclosed illness, although he's expected to join Campbell and the rest of the Panthers on Tuesday morning.

Wednesday's game against the Capitals will be Florida's first in eight days.

“I was really impressed with them, we had some real bounce out there,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. “They took it upon themselves to skate more at the end. For that long of a break, I'm very happy with the jump we had. We'll come back [Tuesday] and be fully charged.''

Dineen put the team through a quick but intense practice with a big portion dedicated to Florida's 4-on-4 play. The Panthers have a league-most 11 overtime/shootout losses.

Washington defenseman Dennis Wideman, traded away from the Panthers last February, said the first game back from a long break is usually tough. The Capitals get to wear off a little rust before coming to South Florida as their post-break game is Tuesday in Tampa.

Dineen says he's not worried about his team's motivation going into Wednesday. The Panthers and Capitals are both tied atop the Southeast Division with 55 points.

“They'll be ready for it and so will we,'' Dineen said. “We both know what's on the line. It's an important game.''

INJURY UPDATES

Marco Sturm was back on the ice and could be ready to play soon. He's been out since December after being struck in the face by a puck and suffering a concussion. Sturm was sitting on the Panthers bench when he was hit.

Jack Skille was held out of the practice session as Dineen wants him to continue strengthening the shoulder he injured on Dec. 20. Skille played in back-to-back games against Chicago and Winnipeg but was held out of the final pre-break game against the Flyers. Dineen denied that the Panthers may shut Skille down because of the injury.

“I wouldn't call it a big concern,'' Dineen said. “It's another situation where maybe an extra day or two could give him a chance to get comfortable again. We want him feeling good for the long stretch drive.''

ALL-STAR MEMORIES

For the ninth straight All-Star Game, Florida has had one – or fewer – players making the trip. Last season, only rookie Evgenii Dadonov (since traded to Carolina) was selected, and that was just to take part in the skills competition. Ed Jovanovski is Florida's active leader with five All-Star appearances although none have come while with the Panthers. Campbell played in his fourth on Sunday.

Coach Kevin Dineen played in two All-Star games while with the Hartford Whalers. He said his favorite 'All-Star' memory comes from being selected for the 'Rendez-vous '87' – a two-game series pitting stars from the NHL against counterparts from the Soviet Union.

“Instead of an All-Star Game, we played two games against the Russians in Quebec City,'' Dineen said. “To be picked for that was a special moment for me. To be able to represent the NHL before the Iron Curtain came down and play against the Russian bear was a great feeling.''

January 29, 2012

NHL All-Star Game Fun for All, Especially Alfredsson and Gaborik ... Florida Panthers Brian Campbell is Plus-7 in Team Chara Win

AllstariceBY GEORGE RICHARDS

OTTAWA – Not long before being inserted into Sunday's NHL All-Star Game, Montreal goalie Carey Price said he had no faith in his team playing any semblance of defense. 

“I feel like a lamb being led to slaughter,'' Price deadpanned. “I'm just going to hang on and hope I don't get too lit up.''

Price was right, although many inside Scotiabank Place were happy because of it. With Price in goal, Daniel Alfredsson, Ottawa's 39-year-old captain, scored twice in the second period. Alfredsson's goals weren't enough, however, as his team lost to one captained by Boston's Zdeno Chara 12-9. 

'Team Chara' got a goal from its namesake in the third period with New York's Marian Gaborik earning MVP honors by scoring three goals within the first 22 minutes of the game. 'Team Alfredsson' was outscored Allstarphoto6-3 in the third period as Boston's Tim Thomas earned his fourth All-Star win in goal. 

“To have a weekend like this is surreal. You can never dream of anything like this,'' said Alfredsson, who was given a standing ovation as play stopped after he scored his first goal with 5:27 left in the second. He scored his second just a few minutes later. 

“You don’t really know how to embrace it, really. I don’t think until the kids go to bed, you can kind of sit and relax, I’m sure I’ll be dead tired, but take it all in and realize that this is something that not everybody gets to experience. I don’t know if I deserve it or not, but it’s definitely humbling. It’s been great.’’ 

Gaborik opened the scoring against Rangers teammate Henrik Lundqvist and mimicked the 'shooting gun' celebration that the Rangers' Artem Anisimov did after scoring against Tampa Bay last month.

Unlike Anisimov, Gaborik wasn't kicked out of the game for his antics and once again showed the game's main goal is to have fun.

“We planned that actually,'' Chicago's Marian Hossa said. “He told me about it so I kind of knew when he was going to score. Especially, he want to score on Hank. I was laughing when he pulled it off. I tried to feed him towards the end of the first to get a hat trick right away. Lundqvist came up to me and said 'c'mon you can't feed him that much'.'' 

Said Gaborik: ''I think [Lundqvist] is one of the best, if not the best,  goalie in the league. But I’m glad I got a couple of goals against him. .-.-. I think I tried to get into his mind over the whole weekend. I think it was a pretty good challenge against him but it worked out better for me.''

Florida was represented by defenseman Brian Campbell. Making his fourth All-Star appearance, AllstarcampbellbannerCampbell knows what the game is all about – and it's not defense. Still, Campbell ended up with an assist and was tied with Chara as a plus-7. 

Only one penalty was called during the game – Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos' spin-o-rama on the penalty shot was stopped – and the official tally on hits stood at one (Philadelphia's Scott Hartnell). 

“You want to compete as much as you can for the fans. But, no, it's not too intense and there's no hitting,'' Campbell said. “But there some pretty nice goals scored out there. You can see the skill that's out there. You try to make it fun for the fans and you hope it's close at the end. Usually it's pretty tight and that's when it picks up. It was fun.

 

January 28, 2012

NHL AllStar Notebook: Sidney Crosby Suffered Second Concussion, Neck Injury ... Ovechkin on SoBe ... CBA Talk ... Panthers Brian Campbell in Awe of Bruins Zdeno Chara

Crosby2BY GEORGE RICHARDS

OTTAWA – The biggest news at the NHL's All-Star weekend on Saturday had nothing to do with the players on the ice participating in the made-for-television skills competition.

It was all about one who wasn't.

The Pittsburgh Penguins confirmed an initial report from Canada's SportsNet that captain Sidney Crosby isn't just dealing with another concussion, but also a neck injury that was revealed during an MRI. 

Pat Brisson, Crosby's agent, told Hockey Night in Canada that Crosby may have fractured the C1 and C2 vertebrae. The Penguins had not confirmed that Crosby suffered another concussion until releasing their statement Saturday night. Crosby's neck injury was discovered by Los Angeles-based neurological spine specialist  Dr. Robert S. Bray.

Various news outlets are reporting that Crosby is back in Pittsburgh and will be evaluated there.

“Dr. Bray reports that the neck injury is fully healed,'' the statement from the Penguins read. “Those findings will be evaluated by independent specialists over the next few days. The most important goal all along has been Sidney's return to full health, and we are encouraged that progress continues to be made.”

Crosby missed last year's All-Star game as he was held off the ice from January through November. Crosby returned Nov. 21 and played in eight games before concussion symptoms after a hard hit from Boston's David Krejci on Dec. 5 shut him down again.

Alex Ovechkin, Crosby's rival as far as popularity goes, was also missing from the festivities as he decided to skip the weekend after the NHL suspended him three games for a shot to the head of Pittsburgh's Zbynek Michalek. Ovechkin will miss Washington's game against the Panthers in Sunrise on Wednesday. 

OvechkinA photo forwarded to the @OnFrozenPond Twitter account shows Ovechkin enjoying his break by posing with fans on Miami Beach.

As far as Crosby goes, the Penguins confirmed he has been doing some on-ice work both in Los Angeles and Atlanta. General Ray Shero told reporters he was optimistic Crosby would be back this season.

"We want to continue to look to see how we can get this under control and manageable,'' Shero told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “Hopefully we'll have him back here at some point soon."

LABOR STRIFE?

Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr met with the media Saturday morning with both saying there is no real rush to sit down at the bargaining table. The Collective Bargaining Agreement, which has been in effect since the lockout wiped out the entire 2004-05 season, expires Sept. 15. 

"My guess is we'll have some discussions in the not-too-distant future," Bettman told reporters after Saturday morning's board of governors meeting. "We're ready, and have been ready. But the union has had some work to do. .-.-. We're patient. I'm not concerned about the time frame."

() Bettman announced the 2013 All-Star Weekend will be held next January in Columbus, Ohio. The Blue Jackets hosted the 2007 NHL Draft in which the Panthers selected Keaton Ellerby with the 10th overall pick and also traded for goalie Tomas Vokoun.

() Brian Campbell, the lone representative from the Panthers at All-Star Weekend, competed in two events at Saturday's skills competition.

TargetsCampbell stumbled out of the gate in his fastest skate competition – the first event of the night – losing in the one-lap race to Pittsburgh's Kris Letang. Campbell also competed in the accurate shot competition.

Campbell will play for captain Zdeno Chara's team in Sunday's All-Star Game. Chara, meanwhile, won his fifth straight 'hardest shot' title by ripping a shot in a record 108.8 mph. The Bruins captain is the first person to win the event five straight times, eclipsing Hall of Famer Al MacInnis. 

“It was fun being down there and seeing it all go down,'' Campbell said. “[Chara] is a tall, tall man. Not many guys are going to get in front of that shot after seeing that. That's why penalty killers are a special breed. They'll sacrifice.''

Chara, who started his NHL career with the Senators, got a warm greeting from the sold out crowd on Saturday. 




Zdeno Chara: King of the Shot Once More ... Sets Record with Slapper of 108.8 MPH at All-Star Skills Competition

CharaOTTAWA -- Zdeno Chara did it again Saturday night. For the fifth straight time, the Bruins big d-man rules the hardest shot segment of the NHL's All-Star skills competition.

Here's a story I wrote on Chara for The Hockey News back before the start of the season. 

When Zdeno Chara was just getting his size 12 skates wet in the National Hockey League, fellow countryman Tomas Vokoun wasn't very impressed.

“When he came into the league, he was a very average player,'' the Capitals goalie said of Chara. “Not good at all.''

Look at him now.

Sure, it took Chara, a 6-foot-9 defenseman, a few years to find his way in the league.

Chara hit his stride with the Senators as a 24-year-old after being traded to Ottawa at the 2001 draft. The Islanders got Alexei Yashin in exchange for the second overall pick (Jason Spezza), Chara and Bill Muckalt.

Today, Chara is captain of the reigning Stanley Cup champions with one of the most feared shots in the league.

When the big Bruin uncorks, goalies around the league cringe. And they aren't the only ones.

Last April, Chara's booming slap shot took down Ryan Callahan of the Rangers when he had the audacity to try and block Chara.

“You have to respect a guy like that,'' Chara said after being told about Callahan breaking his ankle on impact.

How hard is Chara's slapper? He's the four-time defending hardest shot champ at All-Star Weekend, with his latest winning shot topping his previous record.

Chara, who left the Senators for Boston in 2006, had his first shot clocked at 105.9 mph at last season's skills competition in Raleigh.

Chara will go for a record fifth straight hard-shot titles this season in, coincidentally, Ottawa.

Aside from Chara, only Hall of Famer Al MacInnis has won the title four straight times.

“He has really worked on his game. He works as hard as anyone,'' said Vokoun, who also hails from the Czech Republic.

“He has plenty of strengths and it isn't just his shot. He's a very smart player. But I respect him for that work because he wasn't very good at all with the Islanders and now he could be the best defenseman in the league.''

Panthers Brian Campbell Happy to be Back in Ottawa, Share All Star Memories with Family

Campbell2BY GEORGE RICHARDS

OTTAWA – Brian Campbell wasn't too upset when he learned he wouldn't be going to last year's All-Star game. He had a secondary plan, one that involved a little bit of skiing in Colorado and, well, some other business.

Campbell, playing for the Blackhawks at the time, proposed to his girlfriend Lauren as they vacationed in Aspen. 

CampbellfianceShe said yes.

A few months later, he had some more big news for her.

The Blackhawks called and asked Campbell to waive his no-trade clause. After thinking about it, Campbell told the Florida Panthers yes, he would bring his game south. Lauren Miller said yes to the Panthers as well. Sight unseen.

“At first, it was a bit of a shock. I've never lived anywhere but Chicago,'' Miller said Thursday while joining Campbell and his family at All-Star Game festivities.

“It really has been a great experience, a great adventure for us to take together. It's been awesome. And it's been really good for Brian.''

BACK IN OTTAWA

Campbell has played in a number of places over the course of his career, but he got his real start here in Ottawa. Campbell, now 32, grew up in Strathroy, Ontario, about a seven hour drive from the Canadian CampbellASG2
capital. 

Drafted by the Ottawa 67s of the Ontario junior Hockey League meant many long drives for his family to see him play. Being in Ottawa for this All-Star Game, Campbell's fourth, brought back many memories.

Campbell, former captain of the 67s, dropped the ceremonial puck at their game Friday night. 

“He had four real good years here in Ottawa and it was pretty exciting when they won the Memorial Cup,'' Ed Campbell, Brian's father, said. “I remember that very well. It was quite a week.''

Being back in Ottawa has meant a lot of time with friends and family. Campbell's mom Lorna and Ed were in the audience Thursday when Campbell was taken in the 11th round of the fantasy draft – he'll be on Zdeno Chara's team in Sunday's game. 

Campbell estimates he will end up buying more than a dozen tickets. His family, he says, has been there every step of the way and has attended all four of his All-Star games. “Tickets aren't cheap,'' Campbell says with a smile.

“We beat him up and showed him the ropes playing street hockey,'' said Craig Campbell, Brian's older brother by six years. “We may have beat him around, you know, he was always the best. He would show us up. He's always had good hands, even as a kid, he had that hockey sense. Watching him and Jason Garrison do what they have done this year has just been amazing.''

Campbell helped lead the 67s to the Memorial Cup in his final season, earning league MVP honors along the way. Being able to enjoy Ottawa in an All-Star type setting, and not having to have his game-face on as he does when he returns to face the Senators, is a nice perk.

“You can go out and relax a little more,'' Campbell said. “There isn't as much prep work, that's for sure, but you want to play well. It's important to yourself and your organization. You always take pride in your game.'' 

TALLON'S GUY

When Campbell was named to the All-Star team earlier this month, he said it the most satisfying selection he had received. The Blackhawks signed him to an eight-year contract in 2008; his average salary of $7.14 million was more than the salary cap strapped Blackhawks wanted to pay.

Florida general manager Dale Tallon was the Blackhawks GM in 2008 and signed Campbell to the big contract. With plenty of money to spend in Florida, Tallon orchestrated a deal that not only brought Campbell – one of Tallon's favorite players – to the Panthers but also rid them of Rostislav Olesz's inflated contract. 

Campbell may not fully admit it, but being traded to the Panthers felt like a slight. He wanted to prove to everyone he was still one of the top defensemen in the league and worthy of the contract Tallon gave him.

Through 48 games, Campbell has scored three goals and assisted on 32 others. His 35 points are second most by a defenseman in the entire league and his assists are tied for seventh among all skaters.

Campbell is 13 assists away from tying his career high set in his first season in Chicago.

If the Panthers finally break their NHL record postseason drought, Campbell's play – and leadership – will be a big reason.

“It's been a great situation for me in Florida,'' Campbell said. “This was the best decision for me. It's good to get the chances I am now. I enjoyed my time in Chicago and learned a lot. But that's the past. I've moved forward.''

HOME SWEET HOME

Campbell started his NHL career not long after that Memorial Cup, debuting with the Sabres on Oct. 2, 1999. Campbell spent eight seasons in Buffalo and is still popular there even though the Sabres traded him to San Jose for the final 20 games of the 2007-08 season. Campbell moved on to the Blackhawks that following offseason. 

It was in Chicago where Campbell reached the pinnacle of his profession as the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010. It's also where he met his future bride. Campbell and Miller have a June wedding planned back in Chicago. 

Not long after the wedding, the two will pack up and head south again. Campbell is signed through 2016 so South Florida is home as well. 

“How can you beat stepping outside and it being 80 degrees in January,'' Lauren Miller said with a laugh. “I definitely don't miss the snow in Chicago.''

January 27, 2012

NHL AllStar Notebook: Surprised by the Panthers this Season? McGuire, Wideman, Strader and Weekes say 'No, Not Really.' ... Caps Ovechkin Skips ASG, Suspended for Weds Game in Sunrise

CampbellASGBY GEORGE RICHARDS

OTTAWA – Picked to finish near the bottom of the Eastern Conference before the season started by most experts, the Panthers are not only in the hunt for a playoff spot, but a division championship as well.

The Panthers went into the All-Star break with 55 points – tied with Washington for the Southeast Division lead and seventh overall in the conference.

There are 34 games left. Surprised?

“I am not surprised at all,'' said Pierre McGuire of NBC Sports. “Breaking down what [GM] Dale Tallon had Ottsnow1done by bringing in a veteran presence and stability in goal with Jose Theodore, I'm not surprised with what Florida has done. I am a little surprised at where Washington is right now. 

“[Coach] Kevin Dineen has made a huge difference as has [assistants] Craig Ramsay and Gord Murphy. And of course, Dale Tallon as well. That team was crying out for leadership and direction. Look at what it has done for them.''

When the All-Star break ends, the Panthers could be in make-or-break mode as All-Star defenseman Brian Campbell put it on Friday. Florida opens with four divisional opponents – including two against Washington. The Capitals visit BankAtlantic Center in the first game after the break on Wednesday. 

Defenseman Dennis Wideman was part of the Panthers salary purge at the trade deadline last February, sent to the Capitals for basically a third round draft pick. An All-Star selection this season,

Wideman knows it could be the Panthers keeping Washington from its fifth straight division title.

Wideman“They signed a lot of good players in the offseason so when things started, I looked at them as a contender, a playoff team,'' Wideman said. “They've been playing real well. It should be an interesting game after the break. It probably won't be a pretty game but it'll be intense. We have a lot of games down the stretch against the Panthers. These four point games are getting to be important.''

Both Dave Strader and Kevin Weekes have history with the Panthers organization and have paid attention to what Florida has done this season. Strader, Florida's television voice from 2005-07, credits Tallon's sweeping changes as the reason for the early success. 

“I honestly thought Florida would be the surprise team in the Eastern Conference,'' said Strader, now with NBC. “It was such a terrific makeover of the Ottsnow2roster, although you never know how a team will gel. But they have. I watch as many of their games as I can and it's great to see how the market has embraced what the team has done. I'm happy for everyone involved with the Panthers.''

Weekes, Florida's backup goalie in 1997-98 after being an original draft pick in 1993, gave credit to Dineen and Tallon for changing not only a losing atmosphere but bringing the fun back into the locker room. The Panthers, led by newcomers Kris Versteeg and Campbell, are a much looser bunch than in years past. 

“I like that Dale Tallon thinks outside of the box so he didn't just take players based on predisposed notions,'' said Weekes, who works for the NHL Network. “He looks at the player and the person. I think he's done a great job with the transformation. And I played against Kevin Dineen and think he has a great approach to the game and it has rubbed off. They are in position to succeed now.

“It's very upbeat in Florida right now. Guys love Weekescoming to the rink, but know they have to work. It's still a game. You have to work, but it should be fun being an NHL player. I think you see that with the Panthers now. They have redefined who the Panthers are. They are an honest team and one that is fun to watch.''

NO OVECHKIN 

One member of the Capitals who won't be facing the Panthers on Wednesday is star winger Alex Ovechkin. The NHL suspended him three games for a hit to the head on Pittsburgh's Zbynek Michalek  and his first game served was Washington's win over Boston just before the break.

OvechkinOvechkin, who will also miss the Feb. 4 game in Montreal, used the suspension as a reason why he decided against participating in the All-Star Weekend.

“No matter what he did, there was going to be some backlash,'' Wideman said. “I understand why he isn't here. As a suspended player, he didn't want to be a distraction. I respect his decision.''

() Campbell will be busy in Saturday's SuperSkills competition as he will compete in both the speed skating and accurate shot. 

January 26, 2012

Florida Panthers Brian Campbell Back With Old Blackhawks on Team Chara, Taken 11th at NHL All Star Draft ... Bruins Tim Thomas Speaks. A Little

RinkBY GEORGE RICHARDS

GATINEAU, Quebec – For the second straight year, the NHL split up its All-Star roster not by Eastern and Western conferences, but by picking two captains and allowing them to choose the guys they want to play with on Sunday.

Like an old schoolyard draft -- be it hockey, football or kickball – no one wanted to be the last man standing.

Last year in Raleigh, it was Toronto's Phil Kessel who was the final selection. He picked up a new Honda and a $20,000 donation to charity as a consolation prize.

Thursday night, San Jose's Logan Couture ended up being the final pick of the NHL All-Star Draft; a new car was also waiting for him. A $20,000 donation to youth hockey from the NHL and NHLPA will also be made in Couture's name.

“I knew it could happen with this lineup and these players,'' Couture said. “It's just awesome to be here and my phone is blowing up with people wondering what I'm going to do with the car.''

Boston captain Zdeno Chara, who started his NHL career with the Senators, had the first pick of the draft – he already had Toronto's Joffrey Lupul on his team as an assistant captain – and went with Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk.

Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson selected teammate Erik Karlsson with his first pick. Chara took teammate Tim Thomas with his second pick and let Lupul take Kessel with the eighth.

“I admire the way he plays,'' Chara said of Datsyuk.

Defenseman Brian Campbell is the only member of the Panthers represented at the Ottawa All-Star Weekend and he went in the 11th round to Team Chara.

Campbell will be reunited with former Blackhawks teammates Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane.

"I like this team,'' Campbell said.

Campbell is making his fourth appearance in the All-Star Game although this was his first experience with a 'pick-me' draft since his much younger days.

“This was fun,'' he said. “It brought you back to the backyard rink kind of thing. It was cool.''

Campbell, who grew up about seven hours away from Ottawa in Strathroy, Ontario, got his real start here by playing for the Ottawa 67s of the Ontario junior Hockey League.

Campbell got a loud cheer as he was obviously remembered for leading the 67s to a Memorial Cup in 1999 when he was league MVP. He has a large group of family with him this weekend and will be dropping the ceremonial puck at the 67s game against the Sarnia Sting on Friday night.

Although many of his teammates are having fun in the sun during this extended break, Campbell says there's “plenty of time for the beach.''

“I love it here, I played junior here,'' Campbell said. “This is something that in 10, 15 years I can look back and say I played on so-many All-Star games. I know the boys are having fun wherever they are, but I'm having fun right here.''

() Thomas, last year's playoff MVP, didn't elaborate on his recent White House snub after he was selected, although he said he “followed his [conscience]'' by not joining his teammates to celebrate their Stanley Cup championship.

Thomas put out a statement afterward writing “this was not about politics or party, as in my opinion both parties are responsible for the situation we are in as a country. This was about a choice I had to make as an individual.''

He added that was all he would speak on the subject. He stuck to that Thursday although one wise guy in the crowd yelled ''yeah Obama!'

“We're here in Ottawa to celebrate hockey,'' Thomas said after pulling on his new blue All-Star jersey. “I'm extremely excited about that.''

January 25, 2012

Florida Panthers Take Off for All-Star Break ... Lots of Work to Do. Next Week.

Ottawallstar2Just a reminder that I'm off to Ottawa tomorrow for the All-Star Weekend.

Going to have updates throughout the weekend here on this site, although if you want up-to-the-minute stuff, you're best bet is following me on Twitter. 

I'm going to be linking to some of the biggest media names at the All-Star Game so you'll have the best coverage around.

Again, it's free and easy to do. 

Just follow me here @OnFrozenPond

Here's my story on the Panthers and their All-Star Break plans and what's up next for them:

BY GEORGE RICHARDS

The Panthers have had few days off since training camp started back in September.

Now they get a real break.

Allstar3The All-Star Weekend, which takes place in Ottawa this year, gives the Panthers almost a week away from the game. Aside from defenseman Brian Campbell, the Panthers won't be lacing up the skates until Monday's afternoon practice in Coral Springs. 

“We have a five day break and that's a really good time to just step away,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. “This gives you a chance to relax mentally. It's like anything else; when you recharge the batteries both mentally and physically, it's a good place to be.''

Campbell left town for Ottawa on Wednesday night although he is one of the rare few headed north.

Rookie defenseman Erik Gudbranson is heading to his hometown of Ottawa as well. Most other teammates plan on going as far north as Disney World.

A big portion of the Panthers will remain in South Florida, either in Fort Lauderdale or driving to the Keys. 

One of the benefits of playing in Florida is not having to travel during hockey's version of spring break. 

“The options here in Fort Lauderdale, South Florida, are quality ones for things you want to do. One good one is just stay home,'' Dineen said. “We want them to get away from the game, be well rested.''

And Dineen's plan?

“I am going to see the Intracoastal waterway for the first time since I've been here,” he said with a grin. “I have some great friends coming down from Maine and Ohio. We're getting a boat and go for a little Intracruise from Boca to Fort Lauderdale then sneak down to the Keys. It's a rough life. You have to take advantage of being in South Florida.''

When the Panthers come back, however, it's time to get down to serious business.

Florida goes into the break tied with the Capitals with 55 points after losing 11 of its past 15 games. Since the Capitals have more wins, they win the tiebreaker putting the Panthers in seventh place in the Eastern Conference. 

“We're in good shape right now,'' goalie Scott Clemmensen said. “We earned our keep and are in the driver's seat instead of past years where we were so far behind the 8-ball that we dug ourselves into a hole we couldn't get out of. We've earned the right to be where we are, in a position to make a big playoff push. And we completely expect to make the playoffs. Without a doubt.''

The Panthers will hold two practices before Washington comes to town, the first of four divisional opponents the Panthers face coming out of the break. With the points so close, the games are becoming more important by the day. 

“We know we're going to have a really tough schedule as we move forward,'' Dineen said. “When we hit the ice on Monday, we're going to have two crisp practices and we're going to jump right into the heat of it. We're playing a lot of divisional opponents. This is going to be a key part of the schedule for us.''

() The Panthers got a little experience on their blue line after recalling Tyson Strachan to replace the injured Dmitry Kulikov. Strachan has spent parts of the past three seasons with the Blues but didn't see much playing time in Tuesday's 3-2 shootout loss to the Flyers. 

Strachan played a total of 18 shifts and only three in the third period. Strachan didn't see the ice in the overtime session. 

“I'm excited that the day is here and I'm excited to be in the lineup,'' Strachan said before the game. “I look back to those first few days of being called up and the nerves that come with it. Now I have been there. I've spent some time up here so there's a little bit of a comfort level.''

Said Dineen: “He's played NHL games before and what's nice about giving Tyson the call is it wasn't an easy call. We have many options at San Antonio and we haven't had to use them at all. A large chunk of the forwards we have but we haven't had to reach out for a defenseman. We think he's the right fit for us right now.''

January 24, 2012

Taking a Break: Florida Panthers Tied with Caps in Points but Really 7th in East after 3-2 SO Loss to Flyers

FtlbeachFor a team that finished in dead last in the Eastern Division last season, the Panthers have plenty to be proud of heading into the All-Star break.

Their record in shootouts is not one of them.

Florida lost their sixth shootout and 11th overtime game of the season as Philadelphia's Claude Giroux was the only player to score as the Flyers left the BankAtlantic Center with a 3-2 win. 

The Panthers are just 3-6 in shootouts this season with two wins and all of the losses coming on home ice. Florida goes into its lengthy break tied in points with Washington for the Southeast Division lead but technically are seventh in the Eastern Conference.

“It was a close game but it ticks you off when you lose,'' said Kris Versteeg, whose assist on Tomas Fleischmann's second period goal tied the score. “We have to find ways to win those again. You can't be throwing away so many points. We have to find away.''

Florida took a 1-0 lead at 2:49 of the first when Mikael Samuelsson – playing backside on the power play – hit a slap shot from 50 feet out to beat Sergei Bobrovsky (23 saves). Later in the period, the Flyers got their lone power play chance when Erik Gudbranson went to the box for interference and a strange bounce off Scott Clemmensen's back went into the net. 

The play was reviewed as the goal cage came dislodged but Brayden Schenn's goal was deemed a good goal. The Flyers made it 2-1 late in the first when Jakub Voracek knocked in a nice pass from Tom Sestito.

In the second, Versteeg broke free on a breakaway but didn't shoot, instead backhanded a pass to Tomas Fleischmann. His spin-o-rama move pulled Bobrovsky out of the net and he was able to flip the puck into the empty net.

“Flash made a great play and put it in the net,'' Versteeg said.

Florida had a lot of chances in the third and in overtime, with Fleischmann hitting a post from 15 feet back with 6:08 left. Marcel Goc also missed out on a prime chance a few moments later. 

Clemmensen was sharp for much of the night, stopping 35 shots in his 65 minutes of work before the shootout began. 

“We go into the break feeling good because that was an honest effort,'' Clemmensen said. “We took a point out of this game. We're disappointed any time we lose but we played well. We'll come back. You want to win no matter what and you don't accept defeat. But this is nothing to panic about. They're a good team and we stuck with them. Anything can happen in a shootout''

KULIKOV OUT

The Panthers lost defenseman Dmitry Kulikov for at least the next six weeks after he underwent knee surgery Monday at Doctors Hospital in Coral Gables. Kulikov was injured during Florida's victory on Saturday in Winnipeg yet finished the game by playing eight shifts in the third and three in overtime.

"I think I just twisted it or hit it against the boards," Kulikov told NHL.com. "That aggravated it, made it worse. I was able to finish the game. I was getting worse and worse throughout the game. Afterward, on the plane, it was getting worse. The next day I couldn't even get downstairs at my house. I had to get it done." 

Said Dineen: “That's obviously a big loss for us. I wish his knee felt as good as his attitude. He's such an enthusiastic young man and has been a big part of what we've done this year.''

– Dineen said that no members of the Panthers have been asked to be replacements for the upcoming All-Star Game. The team's lone representative this weekend will be defenseman Brian Campbell.
“We're going to be well represented by Brian and we're excited for him,'' Dineen said. 

– The Panthers are now off for the All-Star break and won't be back together until Monday's afternoon practice in Coral Springs. 


Panthers Lose Dmitry Kulikov for 6-8 Weeks After Knee Surgery ... Tyson Strachan Ready to Go

Kulikov (2)Panthers defenseman Dmitry Kulikov had knee surgery in Coral Gables on Monday and will miss the next six to eight weeks.

Kulikov was injured during Saturday's win against Winnipeg, although he continued to play. Kulikov played eight shifts in the third period, then three in overtime.

“That's obviously a big loss for us,'' Dineen said. “I wish his knee felt as good as his attitude. He's such an enthusiastic young man and has been a big part of what we've done this year. We have some resiliency and we're going to need it.''

Tyson Strachan is in tonight and could be paired with former Blues teammate Mike Weaver.

Strachan says he is glad to be up with the Panthers and didn't think he would have taken this long for Florida to need a d-man from San Antonio. 

He also says he and Matt Bradley are cool.

Despite this:

"I really need to get that off YouTube,'' Strachan said with a laugh.

 

 

January 23, 2012

Florida Panthers Without Dmitry Kulikov, Recall Tyson Strachan ... Marco Sturm Skating with Team, Out v Flyers

StrachanThe Panthers had gone all season without losing a defenseman to injury, the only position on the team in which the team hadn't needed to go to its minor league team for a replacement.

That streak is over.

With Ed Jovanovski out with a broken hand suffered last Monday and Dmitry Kulikov suffering an undisclosed injury Saturday, the Panthers need to find defensive help from its AHL affiliate in San Antonio.

Tyson Strachan was recalled Monday afternoon.  

“It's just the nature of the game,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. “Things seem to come in bunches and we'll put a quality group on the ice for Philadelphia and then we'll have some good rest time.''

The Panthers have plenty of defensive options these days. Both Strachan and Nolan Yonkman have NHL experience as Strachan has played in 67 games with the Blues and Yonkman has played in 66 games with Phoenix and Washington. 

Colby Robak, 21, is San Antonio's top offensive scorer from the blueline, earning AHL All-Star honors with five goals with 19 assists. Robak is also tied for the team lead with a plus-11 rating. Robak has yet to play in an NHL game. 

“Those three have really stood out on a consistent basis,'' Dineen said. “I just want to put out there what we feel is the best choice and move forward.''

Kulikov isn't expected to miss much more than Tuesday's game against the Flyers. The Panthers will not workout this week because of the All-Star break so Kulikov may be back next week. Strachan is expected to be sent back to San Antonio for its weekend series against Texas and Houston. 

Dineen said Kulikov got hurt in Saturday's game but played through it. Kulikov played eight shifts in the third period of Florida's 4-3 shootout win in Winnipeg, then three in overtime.

“He had a confrontation in Winnipeg but continued to play through the game,'' Dineen said. “We felt the right steps were to keep him off the ice. We'll know more [Tuesday].'' 

() Forward Marco Sturm has been out of the lineup since being struck on the side of the head by an errant puck while sitting on the bench on Dec. 20. Sturm has spent the past few weeks skating and joined the team for its final workout before the week long break.

Although Sturm has plans to take some time off, he won't stay off the ice too long as he hopes to return next week as the Panthers kickoff a run of four straight divisional games on Feb. 1 against the Capitals.

“I've been feeling good out there and it was good to get back out with the guys,'' Sturm said. 

() Jack Skille played the past two games after missing 13 games with a shoulder injury suffered Dec. 16. Dineen held Skille out of Monday's practice and he's unlikely to play Tuesday.

“I don't want him in the lineup unless he can play 100 percent,'' Dineen said.

() The Panthers snapped an eight-game road losing streak with Saturday's win. The team appeared to be a lot looser on Monday. The Panthers held their final full practice before the All-Star break on Monday. 

“One thing that I haven't faulted is on is our work ethic,'' Dineen said. “To come out with a emotional win is a good way to start us head into the All-Star break. We want to have really good energy against a quality Flyers team.'' 

TUESDAY: FLYERS AT PANTHERS 

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

TV/Radio: FSN; WFTL-640

The series: Flyers lead 41-26-7

The game: This is just the second meeting between the two teams this season with the Flyers winning 3-2 in Sunrise on Nov. 13. The Panthers snapped a four-game losing streak by beating Winnipeg 4-3 in a shootout on Saturday but have still dropped 10 of the past 14. The Flyers have lost two of their past three games. 

 

January 22, 2012

Special Panthers Feature: Kris Versteeg Back on Track? Picks Up Two in Cats Win in Winnipeg

Versteeg2By Adam Wazny, Miami Herald Writer

WINNIPEG — Now that he’s back doing what he does best, how does KrisVersteeg explain his last month of net frustration?

The Florida Panthers right-winger scored two goals in the 4-3 shootout win over the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday, putting an end of a scoring funk that stretched over nine games and 25 calendar days.

In that span (from Dec. 30 to Jan. 20), Versteeg took 24 shots in exactly 216 minutes of ice time, but failed to light the red lamp.

“I’ve been kind of brutal as of late,” he said following Saturday’s win, a statement mixed with equal parts truth and relief.

The honesty didn’t stop there, either.

Versteeg, 25, said it’s easy to look back at the nine games and find a moment where the unwanted streak should have stopped. A missed open net here and a blown breakaway chance there — underlined with countless pucks clanged off posts or crossbars — suddenly morphs into a situation where the player starts to press.

And with that extra press comes extra pressure and a small,unproductive molehill turns into a mountain of concern.

“I couldn’t really explain it,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. You try to fight through it, but you also pray to the hockey gods for a bounce here of there. It does wear on your confidence — I was shaken — but you have to keep going out and play your game.”

The two goals Saturday gave Versteeg at a team-leading 19 and leaves him just three short of his career-high set with the Chicago Blackhawks during the 2008-09 season. Barring another extended lapse in offense this year, Versteeg will set a new scoring standard for himself and in the process, validate general manager Dale Tallon’s belief in his abilities prior to this season.

The Panthers knew he could be an offensive difference maker again — not the misguided mess he was last year with Toronto and Philadelphia, where he could never really get comfortable and eventually found himself regressing into more of a depth guy who could chip in a goal once in a blue moon.

“I’m not saying I’m a top guy, I’m not saying I’m a No. 1 guy, but I always believed I could be a Top-6 forward in this league,” Versteeg added.

What impressed Panthers coach Kevin Dineen was the goal Versteeg potted in the shootout against the Jets Saturday. Winger Mikael Samuelsson eventually scored the winning goal in the seventh round (a hat-tip to goaltender Scott Clemmensen, who made five saves on seven shots), but it was Versteeg’s nifty backhand goal into the top of the net in the second round that caught the coach’s eye.

“He hasn’t great success in the shootout, but he certainly found a little something special," Dineen said. "That was a heck of a goal.”

Versteeg was 0-for-4 in the shootout before his successful attempt against Winnipeg. Overall in his career, the Panthers leading scorer now has five goals in 17 shootout chances.

Thanks to Pittsburgh’s 4-3 overtime win over Washington Sunday, the Panthers (22-15-10, 54 points) remain in first place in the Southeast Division, one point up on the Capitals and four up on Winnipeg.

Florida is back on the ice Tuesday, when the Philadelphia Flyers invade BankAtlantic Center.

It will be the final game for the Panthers before the NHL’s All-Star break, which officially starts Thursday.

January 21, 2012

Florida Panthers Show Up Late, Beaten Early as Blackhawks Settle 3-1 Win in Opening Period ... FLA Takes Just Three Shots After Garrison Goal

ChicagostadiumCHICAGO – The Panthers bus, like every other commuter on the streets, got stuck in horrific traffic Friday night because of a major snow storm. The team was late arriving to United Center, thus delaying the start of their game with the Blackhawks.

By the end of the first period, the Blackhawks had made quick work of the struggling and slumping Panthers. Chicago got goals from Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith in the final 2:20 of the opening period and held on for a 3-1 win in front of an announced 21,777 who braved the elements to enjoy Friday's win at the 'Madhouse on Madison.'

Florida remains tied with the Capitals with 52 points atop the Southeast Division, although both teams are in danger of being outside the final eight in the Eastern Conference due to recent play. The Panthers have dropped eight straight (0-4-4) away from home and 10 of 13 overall. 

Winnipeg, which plays host to the road weary Panthers on Saturday, are three points away from the top spot in the division despite winning just three of nine this month. 

“We've put ourselves,'' coach Kevin Dineen lamented, Chicagoarena“back in the muck.''

Indeed. Florida once held a nice lead on both the Capitals and Jets but have since crashed back to earth.

Despite having three of their injured forwards back Friday, the Panthers only created a few offensive chance while the Blackhawks seemed to sit back and beat Jose Theodore when the opportunity arose.

Toews' opening goal with 2:20 left in the first came on a breakaway after a Stephen Weiss shot was cleared around the boards. Chicago's third goal came in similar fashion when Patrick Kane scored his first in eight games by picking off a loose puck, blowing past Dmitry Kulikov and firing high on Theodore. 

Keith's goal came on a 55-foot slap shot from just inside the blueline with 16.4 seconds left in the first.

The Panthers' lone goal came early in the third when Jason Garrison picked up his 13th of the year – all from around the same spot – as he slapped in a Kulikov feed from 50 feet back. 

Florida welcomed back three forwards as Scottie Upshall, Jack Skille and Sean Bergenheim all returned after lengthy absences. 

To make room for that trio, Michal Repik was sent back to the minors on Friday. Mike Santorelli and Matt Bradley, who got his face busted up courtesy of a Colorado stick on Wednesday, were the healthy scratches.

“I'm really excited to get back out there and it's going to be a great opportunity to get the speed back,'' said Upshall, who suffered a sports hernia/hip injury way back on Nov. 10. “This is a big game for all of us.''

DELAY OF GAME 

The Blackhawks pushed back the start of Friday's game 30 minutes after the Panthers bus got stuck in traffic. According to Santorelli and Bradley, the bus didn't get to the arena until 6:40 local time. The game was scheduled to start at 7:30.

Instead, the puck didn't drop until 8:08 CST.

The Panthers were told they could fly to Winnipeg following Friday's game.

 

January 20, 2012

Snow Night in Chicago: Your Panthers/Blackhawks Friday Nightbook (NOW! With Pictures!) ... Cats Getting Healthy But Likely Stuck in Chicago

IMG_0614CHICAGO – For the past few weeks, a handful of Panthers have gone through the monotony of rehabilitation with the goal of getting back into the lineup their sole motivation. 

Friday night, all three made it back.

The Panthers got a much-needed boost of depth to their forward lines as Scottie Upshall, Jack Skille and Sean Bergenheim all got back on the ice for Friday's late game against the host Blackhawks at United Center. 

To make room for that trio, Michal Repik was sent back to the minors on Friday. Mike Santorelli and IMG_0603Matt Bradley, who got his face busted up courtesy of a Colorado stick on Wednesday, were the healthy scratches.

For the injured three, getting back in couldn't come soon enough.

“I'm really excited to get back out there and it's going to be a great opportunity to get the speed back,'' said Upshall, who suffered a sports hernia/hip injury way back on Nov. 10. “This is a big game for all of us.''

IMG_0606Bergenheim is believed to have been playing with a minor groin injury before really hurting it Dec. 18 against Carolina. Bergenheim didn't skate for a few weeks but came on of late.

Coach Kevin Dineen had a heart-to-heart with him on the ice following the morning skate on Friday. Bergenheim must have convinced his coach he was ready to go.

“I had something earlier on and hopefully it's all in the past now,'' Bergenheim said. “It's been a long time to wait. Those rehab exercises are getting annoying. Watching the team play is the hardest. It's IMG_0607tough watching your friends battle each night. I think I bring something to the team. The past few weeks haven't gone as we had hoped, so now we can get back to that groove we had.''

Skille injured his shoulder Dec. 16 and there was some thought he may need to have surgery on it. But Skille credited the Panthers medical staff for strengthening it enough that he didn't need to go under the knife. 

Instead of missing a sizable chunk of the season, Skille was back in just over a month.

“When we come back, hopefully we add something and help out,'' he said. “I reacted really well but it was really scary at first. We have a great training staff here and they are committed to helping injured IMG_0616players come back in due time. They did a great job with me.''

DELAY OF GAME 

The Blackhawks pushed back the start of Friday's game 30 minutes because of the huge snow storm that hit the Chicago area and delayed the Panthers arrival. 

According to Santorelli and Bradley, the Panthers bus IMG_0589didn't get to the arena until 6:40 local time. The game was scheduled to start at 7:30. Instead, the puck didn't drop until 8:08 CST.

The Panthers were scheduled to fly to Winnipeg following Friday's game, although they are now expected to stay overnight in Chicago and fly north early Saturday morning because of the heavy snow.

IMG_0597() Dineen said he isn't “a message guy,'' by benching Santorelli, but with so many healthy players back, someone had to sit. Santorelli, who scored 20 goals in 82 games for the Panthers last season, missed the start of this campaign with a shoulder injury and has yet to catch fire.

Santorelli has five goals in 37 games – and just one over his past 17 games. 

“One thing we have not had this year is depth,'' IMG_0609Dineen said. “This is the first time our core group has been able to go out and play.''

() Former Panthers winger Michael Frolik – who came to Chicago for Skille – has struggled lately and came into Friday's game with no goals in his past 16 games. Frolik has been relegated to Chicago's fourth line.

“It’s not easy when they’re not going in,” Frolik said. “I try to work hard in practice and do some extra stuff. Hopefully, it’s going to turn.'' 

IMG_0612() There will be a watch party for Saturday's 8:30 game at Winnipeg as it not being televised locally. The party, which will include the dedication of a 'Panthers Patio,' will be at the Duffy's at 4800 West Hillsboro Boulevard in Coconut Creek. 

January 19, 2012

Florida Panthers Jack Skille Poised to Return v Blackhawks ... Michal Repik Waived ... Jose Theodore: South Florida is Final Destination

Skille2Jack Skille, who hasn't played since injuring his shoulder Dec. 16, looks to make his return Friday against the Blackhawks.

Traded for Michael Frolik last February, Skille was on a line with Shawn Matthias and Scottie Upshall (out since Nov. 10 with a hip injury) during Thursday's practice.

“The shoulder feels strong and they've made sure I didn't rush anything,'' Skille said. “I think it's able to go with my style of play. That was the big concern.''

Michal Repik, who has been playing the best hockey of his Panthers career, was put on waivers and will be sent to San Antonio if he clears Friday at noon.

“I've played more minutes here than I'm used to. I feel confident and good,'' Repik said. “Before I was scared to do anything on the ice.''

Theo-- Speaking of being at home, goalie Jose Theodore was joking with a reporter from the Denver Post Thursday when he declared “Florida is my last stop.'' 

Theodore, who has played for the Canadiens, Avs, Capitals and Wild, made it clear he isn't thinking about retirement.

“I didn't say this would be my last contract,'' he said.

Theodore is signed through next season. Theodore made 40 saves in Wednesday's loss to the Avs.

 

Florida Panthers Coming 'Home' to Chicago ... Five Panthers from Blackhawks 2010 Cup Team Return

BluesbroDENVER – As the Panthers were packing up their gear inside the visitors locker room at Pepsi Center, one equipment manager was heard singing 'Sweet Home Chicago.'

For a number of the Panthers, South Florida is home now yet Chicago still holds a dear place in their heart.

A total of five players who were part of the Blackhawks' 2010 Stanley Cup championship team now Chicagocupplay for the Panthers and some will be returning to Chicago for the first time since leaving the Hawks when the two meet Friday night at United Center. 

Brian Campbell and Tomas Kopecky left Chicago over the summer; Kris Versteeg was traded to Toronto after the championship run and hasn't been back. Jack Skille played there as a member of the Panthers last season and John Madden played two games in Chicago with the Wild.

“It's more than just another game. That place was close to me and a lot of players in this room,'' said VersteegcupVersteeg, who has the date Chicago won the Cup tattooed on the inside of his right bicep.

“It's something I've been looking forward to. I want to see the banner, one a lot of us didn't get to see get raised. I still haven't seen it. Hopefully we have a big game as well. There's no bitterness. It was business. I'm happy Chicagobannerwhere I'm at.''

The Panthers flew to Chicago Thursday afternoon and some of the Florida Blackhawks had plans. Campbell needs to check up on his house in Lincoln Park while Kopecky had dinner plans. Versteeg said he wasn't going to do much, not with the Panthers playing back-to-back games in Chicago and Winnipeg.

A Florida win here on Wednesday may have made the trip back a little more relaxing. But after dropping seven straight road games, the Panthers are starting to feel a little desperate. Nostalgia and visits are fun. The Panthers need a win.

“It'll be nice to be back in the city, check up on everything,'' Campbell said. “It's always fun playing in that barn. But we need to put some wins together, Ferriswe've been running below .500 for this stretch. Chicago was good to me, a good place.''

Chicago won in a shootout in the previous meeting on Nov. 3 at BankAtlantic Center.

“It's special to play against your old teammates but that's it,'' Kopecky said. “We gave them two points the last time and we need to come out of that building with two points.''

FRIDAY: PANTHERS AT BLACKHAWKS

When, Where: 8:30 p.m.; United Center, Chicago

ChicagostadiumTV/Radio: FSN; WQAM-560

The series: Chicago leads 14-9-3

The game: This is the final game of a two-game set with the Blackhawks beating the Panthers in a shootout in November. Chicago has won two straight and four of the past five. The Panthers played their first game in franchise history in Chicago, skating to a 4-4 tie on Oct. 6, 1993. Jack Skille and Scottie Upshall (out since Nov. 10) are expected to return to the lineup with Mike Santorelli sitting out.

Florida Panthers Road Woes Continue as Avs Rally for 4-3 OT Win ... Cats Led 3-1 in Third Period ... The Ten OT Losses Most in League

DENVER – The Florida Panthers may still be in line for a postseason spot, although tough overtime losses like those from Wednesday night could derail their hopes.

The Panthers lost for the 10th time in overtime this season – more than any team in the league – when Ryan O'Reilly's goal beat Jose Theodore and handed the host Avalanche a 4-3 win.

Florida led 3-1 early in the third when Tomas Kopecky scored on the opening shot of the period.

The Panthers have lost seven straight away from home (0-3-4) and nine of the past 12 overall. Florida is 3-10 in overtime/shootouts this season.

“Whenever you have a two goal lead in the third, you want to win. Yeah, we're disappointed,'' a curt Stephen Weiss said. “We know how to play. It's just a matter of us burying our chances when we had them and they got half a chance and it went in. That's the difference.''

Weiss looked to be one of Florida's heroes as he snapped his 15-game goal drought by putting the Panthers up 2-1 late in the second period. Yet after Kopecky scored 20 seconds into the third, the Avalanche battled back and found a hero of their own.

Peter Mueller was playing in just his fourth game of the season after missing all of last year and the first 40 of this one. Mueller scored the Avs first two goals of the night and may have had a piece of the game-tying goal credited to Paul Stastny with 3:17 left. 

Colorado fans, who thought the goal should goal to Mueller, showered the rink with hats and ski caps anyway.

Florida had plenty of chances in the third to extend its lead but failed to score on a four-minute power play and looked tired late. The Avs outshot Florida 17-7 in the third period.

“The altitude probably played into it,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. “There was a fatigue factor going down the stretch and we were playing hang-on hockey. That's a tough way to play the game.''

The Panthers had starting goalie Jose Theodore back in the net for the first time since he was run over in the second period of Florida's 3-2 win over Montreal on Dec. 31.

Theodore looked sharp for much of the game against the hard-shooting Avs – whom he played for for parts of three seasons – and stopped 40 shots. 

Florida took a 1-0 lead in the opening period when Marcel Goc knocked in a loose puck while battling in front of the net during a power play. 

Weiss made it 2-1 in the third. The last time Weiss had gone 16 games without a goal was during his first full season with the Panthers back in 2003. 

As is usually the case during long slumps, the puck found an unorthodox way into the net. Weiss, playing in his 600th NHL game Wednesday, charged in on goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere but was pulled down by Colorado's Ryan O'Byrne. 

Weiss hit the ice and slid hard into the goalie and the cage. He also took the loose puck with him as it rolled across the line to give the Panthers a 2-1 lead with 1:12 left in the second period.

Weiss is now 13 games away from tying former teammate Radek Dvorak for the top spot in games played in franchise history.

“He worked hard for that goal,'' Dineen said. “Nothing's coming easy right now.''

DADONOV DEALT

The Panthers gave up on Russian winger Evgenii Dadonov on Wednesday, trading him and center A.J. Jenks to Carolina for a pair of prospects. Dadonov was Florida's lone representative at last year's All-Star Weekend (he played in the future game) but had a poor training camp and was sent to AHL San Antonio soon after the season started.

Dadonov, 22, played in 15 games for the Panthers this season with two goals and an assist. He had eight goals in 36 games last season. Florida got AHL center Jonathan Matsumoto and 20-year-old winger Mattias Lindstrom from the Hurricanes. Lindstrom, a third round pick in 2009, is playing in Sweden this year. 

() Defenseman Ed Jovanovski had surgery on his broken right hand on Wednesday and coach Kevin Dineen said the 35-year-old could be out as long as two months. Jovanovski broke his hand during a first period fight Monday. 

() Tomas Fleischmann played in his first game in Denver since leaving the Avs as a free agent on July 1. Fleischmann had 21 points in 22 games for the Avs last season before his season was ended in February because of blood clots in his lungs. Fleischmann, who came to Colorado last season in a trade with the Capitals, was stopped on a great scoring chance in the third period. 

 

January 18, 2012

Florida Panthers John Madden Quick to Get into Swing of Things ... Notes from Cats and Avs

MaddencatsDENVER – John Madden wasn't smiling when he came out of the Panthers locker room to partake in the age-old pregame ritual of reworking his stick before making his debut with the team on January 6.

That's because he was too nervous to smile. 

“I felt like a rookie again,'' Madden said.

Before taking the ice with the Panthers that night in New Jersey, Madden hadn't played since his final game with the Minnesota Wild on April 2. Madden waited throughout the summer for a contract offer that never came. Then the season started. Someone was sure to call, right?

Finally, in December, the injury ravaged Panthers called the three-time Stanley Cup champ to see if he was interested in playing hockey down south.

“This is a great group to play with and the system here fits me well,'' Madden said before Florida's late game against the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday.

“I'm still trying to find my way through some things, but I'm having fun. Even though I haven't put up any points, I feel I am contributing to the team on a daily basis. Moving forward, I think I'll fit in more and do more on the ice.''

Madden made his debut with the Panthers just two days after signing a pro-rated one-year contract with the team. Although the Panthers had discussed sending Madden to the minors for a few games to get ready, they never did.

“I'm not going to lie, it wasn't easy although I'm glad to have gotten into games so early,'' Madden said. “I sat home for eight months and that was very difficult. They have really helped me acclimate myself.''

Before the Panthers officially signed Madden – he had visa issues he had to take care of – former teammates praised his hard-nosed style of play and how quickly he would adapt to the Panthers. 

They seemingly were right on. Madden may have showed signs of rust in his third game back with the team against Vancouver, but aside from that, he's played strong.

Coach Kevin Dineen joked that it would be easier for Madden to play his style after months off, comparing him to a Ford F-150 that had been sitting in a garage. “They usually fire right up,'' Dineen said. 

“He's definitely an intelligent player,'' Dineen said.

DADONOV DEALT

The Panthers gave up on Russian winger Evgenii Dadonov on Wednesday, trading him and center A.J. Jenks to Carolina for a pair of prospects. Dadonov was Florida's lone representative at last year's All-Star Weekend (he played in the future game) but had a poor training camp and was sent to AHL San Antonio soon after the season started.

Dadonov, 22, played in 15 games for the Panthers this season with two goals and an assist. He had eight goals in 36 games last season.

Florida got AHL center Jonathan Matsumoto and 20-year-old winger Mattias Lindstrom from the Hurricanes. Lindstrom, a third round pick in 2009, is playing in Sweden this year. 

() Defenseman Ed Jovanovski had surgery on his broken right hand on Wednesday and Dineen said the 35-year-old could be out as long as two months. Jovanovski broke his hand during a first period fight Monday. 

() Center Stephen Weiss played in his 600th NHL game on Wednesday, all of which coming with the Panthers. Weiss is 13 games away from tying Radek Dvorak in becoming the team's all-time leader in games played.

() Goalie Jose Theodore was back in net for the Panthers after missing the past few weeks after tweaking a knee after getting run over Dec. 31 against the Canadiens. Theodore spent parts of three seasons with the Avalanche. “I have a lot of good memories from here,'' he said.

For complete coverage of Florida's late game against Colorado, visit The Miami Herald's On Frozen Pond blog at http://bit.ly/2LyIGw

Florida Panthers Season Ticket Renewal Includes Postseason 'Discount' as 'Free' Parking Era Ends at The Billboard

PanthersseasontixThe Florida Panthers are as close to a playoff berth as they've been in the past decade.

And they're ready to cash in. 

Now.

All the gimicks, most of the giveaways, the free parking -- over.

Well, for now anyway.

According to a season ticket renewal secured by The Miami Herald, the Panthers will sell postseason tickets to season ticket holders at their current price.

But only if they pay up in full for next season by Feb. 13 or make three monthly payments and have the account paid for.

For instance, a fan sitting in the 400 level would pay around $12 per playoff ticket – same as what he/she pays for regular season games – if purchased in advance and with next year secure. 

If you don't renew? 

The strip of 16 playoff tickets can still be purchased, only the price goes from $200* to $1,100 – or $53 per game.

That's an increase of more than 400 percent over what one would spend by renewing.

(*) – Season ticket holders who do not renew have to buy the entire playoff run (16 games) in advance. Full season ticket holders who renew for next season can buy the playoffs round-by-round.

Whatever games aren't played will be refunded at a later date. Or turned into Panther Bucks. Your choice!

-- The 'free*' parking that most have enjoyed the past few seasons is ending at the end of this regular season. 

Panthersseason2The Panthers will charge at the gate for parking in the postseason – unless you are a full season ticket holder in good standing for 2012-13, you get in free. 

If you are not renewed, you have to pay. Included in that $1,100 bill is $240 for 'game day parking.'

The Panthers also say they will charge a “minimum” of $15 per car next season for everyone except for FULL season ticket holders.

The wording on the document says that it will be 'variable price, based on event.' 

So, don't be surprised if fans coming to see the CanadiensRangers and Canadiens get hit with $30 parking.

The Panthers will offer $5 parking (in advance) for those who buy half season plans and $10 for those with some sort of a mini plan.

Other charges:

-- $5 service charge.

-- $10 donation to the Panthers Foundation.

-- $59.99 subscription to the 'Panthers Insider' magazine.

PantherslebronAccording to one season ticket holder, you can have the previous two charges taken off your bill. 

-- It's $20 extra to get real tickets instead of e-tickets.

-- Season ticket holders are getting a 'free' Panthers home jersey (maximum of six per account).

So that's cool.

January 17, 2012

#FlaPanthers Hit the Road ... Jovo's Injury Opportunity for Ellerby ... Theo's Back

BY BILL VAN SMITH

A lot of puzzles come in pieces, and as Florida Panther Keaton Ellerby said Tuesday, “We know it’s a big piece of the puzzle that went missing Monday night.”

Ellerby, speaking after Tuesday’s practice in Coral Springs following Monday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Boston Bruins, was referring to veteran defender Ed Jovanovski. And Ellerby knows all too well that he is the replacement puzzle piece.

“It’s tough to see one of our biggest leaders go down like that,” Ellerby said. “He went down fighting. He went down supporting the team. Now I have to step in and do what I can and do everything the coach has asked.”

When he said Jovanovski went down fighting, Ellerby was talking literally. Jovanovski injured his hand – probably broke it – during a first-period fight with Daniel Paille, and he could miss substantial time. The fight was Jovanovski’s first of the season and it will keep him from going on the Panthers’ upcoming three-game road trip.

So, in the overall picture, Jovanovski’s counter-punching against the Bruins turned out to be counter-productive.

“He’s going to see a specialist Wednesday morning and won’t be going on the road trip with us,” coach Kevin Dineen said. “He’ll be getting an evaluation and a diagnosis and a length of treatment, so we’ll wait until Wednesday to make any statement on that.”

Is Dineen confident with Ellerby?

“Absolutely,” Dineen said. “He can go out there and fill right in but you don’t replace a guy like Ed Jovanovski.

''But with Ellerby, when preparation meets opportunity, that’s basically where he’s at. I like his size [6-5, 217] and his skating and his willingness to be a physical player and engage a defenseman.

“I give him credit. He has put in the work and now the opportunity has presented itself. He needs to be in the thick of things.”

Ellerby, 23, readily admitted the season has been frustrating. “It’s never fun to sit out and watch,” he said of minimal playing time. “It’s been a long year so far personally."

Nevertheless, he said he has been learning -- particularly from Jovanovski. He said it's hard not to from Jovanovski.

"He's the hardest worker out there, in the rink and off the rink," Ellerby said. "Look at him, he's played in the Olympics, All-Star games, the playoffs."

Ellerby will be putting some of that learning to use soon.

“Now it’s time to step up,” he said.

THEODORE TO TRAVEL

Goalie Jose Theodore skated Tuesday and Dineen said he would make the upcoming road trip, which begins Wednesday at the Avalanche.

The Panthers sent goalie Brian Foster back to San Antonio, and Dineen said, “That’s a fairly telling statement. I wouldn’t send him back unless Theo was close. But it’s really day to day and I haven’t got today’s report.”

Asked if he expected Theodore to play on the road trip, Dineen said, “I do.”

STRONG FINISH?

The Panthers have won only one of their past five games and are trying to put that behind them and finish with a flourish in their four games before the All-Star break.

“We want to finish up strong,” Dineen said. “We look at the next four games as extremely important to us. That really has been our focus since our Christmas break, but it hasn’t gone great in the standings or on the scoreboard so far. “

FORWARD HO

The Panthers have gotten suddenly healthy at the forward position. Marco Sturm (concussion), Jack Skille (shoulder), Scottie Upshall (hip) and Sean Bergenheim (groin) have all been practicing.

Sturm is the only one who will not make the road trip.

Dineen said “there are no guarantees” on who will get playing time. “No matter what language you speak, we can all count. If there are 14 healthy forwards, that means there will be two out,” Dineen said.

#FlaPanthers Hit the Road ... Jovo's Injury Opportunity for Ellerby ... Theo's Back