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29 posts from February 2012

February 29, 2012

Panthers Mike Santorelli Hopes Big Night in T.O. Leads to Big Finish ... Kopecky Doesn't Skate ... Cats in Winnipeg for Key Date with Jets

SantorelliTOBY GEORGE RICHARDS Twitter: @OnFrozenPond

TORONTO – No one had to remind Mike Santorelli of his struggles this season. 

Even though he feels he was creating more offensive chances, he came into Tuesday's game against the Maple Leafs with seven goals in 52 games – a sharp contrast to the 20 goals he scored in last year's breakout season.

With the trade deadline coming, Santorelli naturally assumed he might be a player the Panthers could move in an effort to get more offense. When that deadline came and went and Santorelli remained, it appears some burdens were lifted as well. 

In Tuesday's game in Toronto, the first one following Monday's deadline, Santorelli scored two of Florida's first three goals in leading the Panthers to a 5-3 win over the Maple Leafs. It was Santorelli's first two-goal game since Nov. 20, 2010 – and was first multi-point game of the year. Santorelli's opening goal was his first since Feb. 9. 

“It's been a tough year but the chances have been there. It's frustrating when the puck won't go in, but hey, you have to stick with it,'' Santorelli said after Wednesday's practice at Air Canada Center. “I think everyone thinks about the deadline in the back of your head. You never know what will happen. But we have a great group here and I'm glad we all stuck together. I'm looking forward to the run and doing it here. I love playing here.''

Teammate Jason Garrison – who heard his name mentioned on Canadian coverage of the trade deadline – said that he didn't think Santorelli should have worried about being dealt as much as he may have. Garrison thinks Santorelli is a very talented forward who can create chances and bury them as he did last year. 

More power play time wouldn't hurt, either. Five of Santorelli's 20 goals last year came with the advantage. Ths season, Santorelli has been limited on the power play; he came into Tuesday's game with one power play goal before scoring his second against the Leafs.

“He has had a different and difficult year but he's worked on different parts of his game that maybe he didn't have a chance to work on before,'' Garrison said. “He's a really good player and is more of a complete player now. He has such offensive capability that I was telling him he could score two goals no problem. It's only a matter of time before they start going in.''

Coach Kevin Dineen doesn't buy the notion that Santorelli was stressed out about being traded to the point in which it affected his game. “Hey, he isn't a Maple Leaf, lets not kid ourselves,'' Dineen said, pointing out that if Santorelli wants to know what external pressure really means, he would find it here. 

Dineen and the Panthers have been waiting on Santorelli to break out of his prolonged slump – he missed most of October after suffering a shoulder injury during training camp – and hope he is coming out of it now. With 20 games left and the Panthers in the midst of a playoff run, well, later is better than never. 

“Two goals is helpful to the team and we expect him to score,'' Dineen said. “He needs to work for them, go to those hard places. Nothing comes easy this time of year. He worked extremely hard for those goals and they were well deserved. But we expect those things from him every day.''

() Tomas Kopecky didn't partake in Florida's light practice on Wednesday after missing Tuesday's game with what Dineen described as soreness. Kopecky is questionable for Thursday's game against Winnipeg. 

“He still has some minor issues that are truly day-to-day,'' Dineen said. “If he's good enough to skate [Thursday] he'll play.''

() Not only are the Panthers going for their first four game winning streak since 2008 on Thursday, they are also trying to sweep the road portion of the season series in Winnipeg.

Florida is 2-0 in Winnipeg this season and 3-0-1 against the Jets overall. 

Florida hasn't won all of the road games against the Jets franchise since the Atlanta Thrashers came into the league in 1999. The Panthers lost 19 of 34 in Atlanta before the franchise moved to Winnipeg this past summer.

JetslogonyTHURSDAY: PANTHERS AT JETS

When, Where: 8:30 p.m.; MTS Center, Winnipeg, Manitoba

TV/Radio: FS Florida/WQAM-560

The series: Jets lead 38-29-5

The game: The Jets desperately need to win Thursday to keep their postseason hopes alive. Winnipeg lost two straight after briefly taking the division lead from the Panthers – including a disappointing home loss to Edmonton on Monday. The Jets trail the Panthers by four points and have played three more games. 
















February 28, 2012

Panthers Bag Leafs 5-3; Have Won Three Straight, Four on Road ... Santorelli Scores Twice as Versteeg, Kopecky Miss Game

LeafBY GEORGE RICHARDS Twitter: @OnFrozenPond

TORONTO – The only two teams who haven't made the playoffs in the post-lockout NHL met Tuesday with eyes on being invited to this spring's big dance.

One drought may continue and – surprise! – we're not talking about the Florida Panthers.

The Panthers jumped all over the listless and reeling Maple Leafs, scoring twice in the opening three minutes before continuing to pour it on in a 5-3 win at Air Canada Center. Florida is 3-0 against the Leafs this season, outscoring Toronto 15-7 in those wins.

“We've started slow in the past few games so it was nice to get off to that start,'' said Mike Santorelli, who scored twice and was the top star of the rout. 

Florida has a three point lead over Washington in the Southeast Division and holds the third overall seed in the Eastern Conference that comes with it. 

Toronto, on the other hand, may just be done. 

Tuesday's loss was the ninth in 10 games and fifth Stanleypricestraight for the Leafs as they are four points back of Washington for the eighth and final spot.

The Panthers haven't been to the playoffs in an NHL record 10 seasons and 11 years; the Leafs have been shutout since 2004. 

“This building has been good to us this year,'' said coach Kevin Dineen, whose team has won four straight road games and three straight overall. “We want to be a good road team and [Tuesday] was a pretty good night for us.''

The Panthers were without two of their top forwards for the game as well, with Kris Versteeg staying home with a mysterious ''lower body injury” and Tomas Kopecky missing the game after partaking in the morning skate. 

Marcel Goc and John Madden took their spots – and paid immediate dividends. Goc, out after apparently injuring a foot during practice, scored 13 seconds into the game as newcomer Wojtek Wolski stole the puck deep in the Toronto zone and fed his new center. 

A few moments later, Santorelli took a slick pass from Jack Skille and beat James Reimer for the 2-0 lead. Florida had taken two shots on Reimer and scored on both of them.

“Against a team like that, it's extremely important to get nice leads,'' said Jason Garrison, who scored Florida's fourth goal to make it 4-1 early in the third. “We know they can score some goals. You can't beat the start. Our forwards came to play. They were moving their feet, creating chances. That may have won the game for us.''

Toronto looked to make it 2-1 at the end of the first period, but Joffrey Lupul kicked the puck past Jose Theodore on a power play chance and the goal was disallowed by a Hockey Central review.

Toronto finally made it 2-1 early in the second on Phil Kessel's power play goal, but the Panthers answered three minutes later when Santorelli scored on Florida's second power play of the night.

Whenever the Leafs scored, save for the last time, the Panthers answered. And every time the Panthers scored again, the boos and cat-calls rained down from the Leafs very frustrated fan base.

Stephen Weiss, a Toronto native, all but ended things midway through the third when he scored another goal by crashing the net. By the time Joffrey Lupul scored with 2:38 left, many weren't around to see it.

MORE INJURIES

Dineen said that Versteeg would not play through Saturday's game against Nashville as the Panthers leading scorer could miss a week to 10 days. Florida isn't divulging what Versteeg's injury is, although he limped off the ice Sunday against Montreal in both the second and third periods. 

Florida will definitely miss him Thursday against the host Jets in Winnipeg. The Panthers is 2-0 in Winnipeg this season as Versteeg has scored five goals there. In four games against the Jets, Versteeg has six goals and eight points.

“He's had something bothering him for a week now so we decided to give him some rest,'' Dineen said. “He's certainly had great success in that building and against Winnipeg in general. But that's part of a season, part of the package.''

Kopecky came off the ice after the morning skate and said he couldn't go. Dineen says he should be available to play Thursday. 



Kris Versteeg Out with Injury, Out at Least a Week ... #FlaPanthers Ready for #Leafs

TORONTO -- Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said that Kris Versteeg has been battling an undisclosed lower body injury for some time and he's been shutdown for the next week.

Versteeg will miss games against the Leafs, Jets and Predators at the very least.

It looks like John Madden (foot) is back in tonight, with Wojtek Wolski replacing Versteeg on the Fleischmann-Kopecky line.

Theodore v Reimer tonight from the Eastern Airlines Centre.

More later....

Kris Versteeg Out with Injury, Out at Least a Week ... #FlaPanthers Ready for #Leafs

February 27, 2012

Dale Tallon Works Phones But Panthers Stand Pat at Deadline ... Cats En Route to Face Maple Leafs in T.O.

PhoneBY GEORGE RICHARDS Twitter: @OnFrozenPond

The Panthers are in a much different position this year than they were at last year's NHL trade deadline.

General manager Dale Tallon's work at this time last season is a big reason for that.

And it's a big reason why the Panthers were so quiet as this year's trade deadline came and went.

By the time the 3 p.m. deadline hit, the Panthers stood pat. They didn't add, and unlike last year, they didn't subtract. 

“It's no fun being a seller,'' Tallon said. “It was necessary last year.''

Tallon said he didn't really come close to making a deal as “you have to have a partner to dance with,'' and that he was happy with the two minor moves the team made over the weekend. Florida brought in Jerred Smithson from Nashville for a sixth round pick on Friday before acquiring Wojtek Wolski from the Rangers for a minor leaguer and a third round selection in 2013. 

Phone2At last year's deadline, Florida shipped out Dennis Wideman, Radek Dvorak, Chris Higgins and Bryan Allen. Bryan McCabe and Cory Stillman, who eventually retired, were traded away in the days leading up to the 2011 deadline. 

Those moves helped the Panthers clear a ton of salary as Tallon went into the free agency period pockets filled with cash and contracts. Tallon was able to rebuild the Panthers roster with players who have helped the team go into the final 21 games atop the Southeast Division. 

“We made a lot of phone calls and identified what we wanted to add to our lineup,'' Tallon said from the BankAtlantic Center just before leaving for the airport to join the team for their flight to Toronto. 

“We couldn't get what we wanted without mortgaging our future. There just wasn't a lot of activity. We made our moves early and they would Gekkohave cost us more to do [Monday]. I'm happy with our team. We improved it. We're going to stay with the team that has 70 points, is in first place and is battling for a playoff spot.''

Tallon wasn't alone as there was only a handful of minor deals before 1 p.m. and fewer than in years past. A number of trades were made leading up to the deadline day.

There had been talk that the Panthers may be shopping defenseman Jason Garrison because of his pending free agency, although assistant general manager Mike Santos scoffed at that idea on Sunday. Tallon reiterated that Garrison – who came into the season with seven career goals and has 13 this year alone – is a key piece to the Panthers. 

“We're going to continue to negotiate and get him a fair contract,'' Tallon said. “He's a valuable asset. One of our strengths is our defense. It's very good. We're a good mobile fast defensive team that can move the puck out and contribute offensively. Jason is a good shutdown guy with a big shot. We're going to continue to work diligently to get a contract.''

Mikael Samuelsson, another potential free agent come July 1, is now playing on Florida's top line with Stephen Weiss and Sean Bergenheim and wasn't being shopped either. 

Florida coach Kevin Dineen seems happy with the additions the Panthers made before the deadline as a pair of veteran NHL players were added to the fold. 

“It makes you a better coach,'' Dineen said after Florida's 4-2 win over the Canadiens on Sunday.

“Better players really diversify your options. You can look down the bench and you don't have to tap the same guys on the shoulder time after time after time. And that really helps with guys wearing down. Both the players we have added bring good qualities.'' 

Both Smithson and Wolski come to the Panthers fresh as both had seen their playing time diminish.

Smithson seemed to lose a numbers battle in Nashville while Wolski got hurt and needed sports hernia surgery in November. When he came back, the Rangers were the top team in the Eastern Conference and he saw just three games of action. 

Both players are obviously hungry to help the Panthers get to the postseason for the first time in more than a decade. 

“It's great to be here because it's been a tough year,'' Wolski said. “I didn't expect to get injured and I didn't expect the team to go on a tear like they did. It was hard to go to the rink and be positive sometimes but that's what you need to do.''

Said Smithson: “I kind of had an idea I would be traded and I'm happy it was here. This is a team going in the right direction. There is a good bunch of guys. It was strange to leave Nashville because I had been there so long, but this is a nice change for me, a new chapter. This will keep me energized and on my toes.''

() Tallon said he didn't have an update on winger Kris Versteeg after he left Sunday's game. Dineen said Versteeg was sore after Saturday's game in Carolina but played Sunday. He is considered questionable for Tuesday's game against the Maple Leafs.

TUESDAY: PANTHERS AT MAPLE LEAFS

When, Where: 7 p.m.; Air Canada Center, Toronto

TV/Radio: FS Florida/WQAM-560

The series: Toronto leads 29-22-7

The game: The Maple Leafs have struggled of late and have fallen below the playoff mark after losing four straight and eight of the past nine. The Panthers have won both meetings between the two this season, outscoring the Leafs 10-4 in the process. Florida has won two straight games overall and three straight away from Sunrise. 

February 26, 2012

Florida Panthers Rally Again, Dump Canadiens 4-2 ... Stephen Weiss Stuffs Struggles in a Sack, Scores Twice ... Kris Versteeg Leaves Game, Status Unknown for Leafs

Weiss3BY GEORGE RICHARDS Twitter: @OnFrozenPond

In much of Stephen Weiss' tenure with the Panthers, the team has sold off players at the trade deadline for future considerations and players on a try-out basis who rarely make the cut.

This is not one of those years. The Panthers are contenders. They are buyers, not sellers. Weiss is obviously happy for the change.

Led by a pair of goals from Weiss, Florida won its second straight game on Sunday by routing the last-place Canadiens 4-2 in front of 18,108 at BankAtlantic Center. 

“It's a nice feeling, not saying goodbye to seven or eight guys who are your buddies,'' said Weiss, who was honored in a pregame ceremony to commemorate setting the franchise record for games played.

“It's nice to be in the race at this time of year. This is what it's all about. This is what we've been talking about all along is getting this team to this point. We're not there yet but we're getting there.''

The wins on consecutive nights came after the Panthers made two minor, albeit necessary moves to bolster their forward depth. 

On Saturday, newcomer Wojtek Wolski scored the game-tying goal at Carolina. On Sunday, Jerred Smithson won 10 of his 15 face offs and was third among forwards in short-handed play. 

And general manager Dale Tallon may not be done dealing to improve a first-place Panthers team vying for their first trip to the postseason since last making it way back in 2000. The trade deadline comes Monday at 3 p.m. 

“I think Dale has done a great job so far,'' said Brian Campbell, who scored Florida's final goal midway through the third. “I don't know that he's done. He's brought in some pieces for us.''

Florida avoided its first five game home winless streak since this time last season but it didn't come easy as the Panthers spotted the Canadiens a 2-0 lead. First David Desharnais beat Scott Clemmensen during 4-on-4 play before P.K. Subban whipped in a shot when Montreal held a 5-on-3 advantage. 

Those were the highlights for the Canadiens. 

As was the case Saturday in Raleigh, the Panthers dominated play after that and closed the gap to 2-1 on Weiss' goal in which he out-muscled Josh Gorges down low and banged in a rebound. It was Weiss' first official goal (his shootout winner from Saturday doesn't count) in a span of 12 games and was only his third in the past 32. 

“I've always gone to the net,'' Weiss deadpanned. “It's a matter of the puck laying there for you to tap in. It's nice to get some bounces but I didn't change anything. I played the same way. Hopefully this kick-starts something.''

In the second, Sean Bergenheim tied it on a nice snap shot 1:09 into the frame before Weiss got his second less than three minutes later after getting tangled up with goalie Peter Budaj and knocking home a shot from Mikael Samuelsson. 

Weiss now centers a line with Samuelsson and Bergenheim, a trio that was on fire Sunday. The three combined for three goals and five assists. 

Sunday's win comes on the heels of a disappointing homestand in which the Panthers went 0-3-1 and not only failed to build a nice cushion in the Southeast Division – but eventually lost the lead. Florida goes into deadline day – an unofficial Canadian holiday – up two points in the division on Winnipeg and three on Washington. 

“This is a nice place for us to be at this time of the year,'' Dineen said. “To be able to wake up in the morning and pick up the Miami Herald and read the standings is nice. You can see we're in the playoff hunt, the team is adding players and we're serious about putting a push together.''

() Dineen said Kris Versteeg was “hurting” after Saturday's win in Carolina and had John Madden (foot) warm up as a precaution. Versteeg played but left the game during the second and third periods and Dineen said – without disclosing the injury – that Versteeg is questionable for Tuesday's game in Toronto. 

“He was a little sore [Saturday] in Carolina and rallied and gave us what he could,'' Dineen said.



 

February 25, 2012

Wojtek Wolski Needs Panthers Gear; Fits In Just Fine as Cats Drop Canes 3-2 in SO

RangerbagBY GEORGE RICHARDS Twitter: @OnFrozenPond

RALEIGH, N.C. – Wojtek Wolski didn't have much time to introduce himself to his new teammates after joining the Panthers following a Saturday afternoon flight in from New York.

In fact, he didn't even have time to get a new pair of shower shoes. 

But boy did he ever endear himself to his latest team. 

Wolski was acquired in a trade from the Rangers on Saturday afternoon and forced overtime by scoring with 1:47 remaining as the Panthers rallied to beat the host Hurricanes 3-2 in a shootout. 

“It's always nice to contribute,'' said Wolski as his Rangers bag was packed just yards away from where he stood wearing Rangers sliders with his old number in Sharpie on the top. “The biggest thing was winning. We desperately needed those two points.''

Said coach Kevin Dineen: “He is a skilled player who is going to help us.''

Florida trailed 2-0 going into the third period and looked to be on the highway to its fifth straight loss despite outplaying the Hurricanes for all but a few minutes of the game. Then Tomas Fleischmann and Wolski within four minutes and change to give the Panthers momentum – and more importantly some valuable points in the standings. 

Stephen Weiss, who has two goals in the past 31 games and none in the past 11, scored the game-winner as the Panthers won in a shootout for just the fourth time in 11 tries this season. Carolina is now 0-5 in shootouts and 2-13 in overtime. 

Shootout goals may not count on the stat sheet, but Weiss could care less. Florida has now won three straight away from Sunrise and are back atop the Southeast Division with the victory. 

“They've been hard to come by this year,'' said Weiss, who scored in the shootout along with Mikael Samuelsson. “That was a big goal for us, obviously.''

Florida jumped all over the Hurricanes and were outshooting Carolina 10-0 at one point. But the Canes went into the break up 1-0 on Justin Faulk's power play goal with 1:59 left in the first. Carolina then went up 2-0 on Jussi Jokinen's wide open shot from the top of the slot with 2:28 remaining in the second.

After Fleischmann made it a one-goal game after one-timing a slick pass from Kris Versteeg, Wolski took a nice feed from Shawn Matthias and beat Justin Peters (42 saves). Brian Campbell almost won it in the final minute, but the two went to overtime where they went at it 3-on-3 after Erik Gudbranson and Eric Staal went to the box for fighting behind the Florida goal. 

TRADE DAYS

Wolski was the second player Florida picked up for draft picks in as many days with Jerred Smithson coming over from Nashville on Friday. 

Wolski had seen his playing time diminish in New York after having sports hernia surgery in November. It was speculated the Rangers may Wolski for salary cap room, but they instead traded him to Florida for future (a third round pick in 2013) considerations.

Wolski flew from New York to Raleigh after going through a bag skate and heavy workout on Saturday morning. He arrived at the arena around 5:15 p.m. 

Instead of his usual No. 86 – denoting his birth year – Wolski took No. 8 (“It's a number I always wanted,'' he said) and was on ice for warmups. 

“It was a little tough to jump right in,'' said Wolski, who played in his first NHL game since Jan. 15. “It was a crazy day but it worked out.'' 

Wolski is tied for 11th all-time in shootout goals with 22 – something the Panthers desperately need. Wolski didn't score on Florida's second shootout attempt on Saturday. General manager Dale Tallon said he's not done trying to improve the team. The trade deadline is Monday at 3 p.m.

“It was a matter of looking around the league and seeing what was available for offense,'' Tallon said. “He could play on our team for many years if he has success these 23 games. “He played for the No. 1 team in the league and it was hard for him to get into the lineup. You don't mess with success. I look for him to give us an option on the power play and in the shootout which has been a struggle for us.''

() Dineen switched centers during the game and broke up Florida's top line by putting Weiss with Samuelsson and Sean Bergenheim; Tomas Kopecky centered Fleischmann and Versteeg.

“I wouldn't call that moving down,'' Dineen said. “Bergenheim and Samuelsson have been excellent for us.''

SUNDAY: CANADIENS AT PANTHERS

When, Where: 5 p.m.; BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise

TV/Radio: FS Florida/WFTL-640

The series: Florida leads 32-31-6

The game: The Panthers have won both meetings against the (surprisingly) last place Canadiens this season. Montreal has lost five of six – including the past three in which it has been outscored 10-2. Florida played at Carolina on Saturday night and recently polished off a homestand in which the Panthers went 0-3-1.  

 

Florida Panthers Stay Busy Before Deadline, Add Wojtek Wolski in Deal with New York Rangers

WolskiRALEIGH -- The Panthers continued to add forward depth on Saturday afternoon after acquring winger Wojtek Wolski from the Rangers.

Florida sent a third round pick in 2013 and San Antonio defenseman Mike Vernace to the Blueshirts. 

Wolski is on his way to Raleigh now and should be in the lineup against the Hurricanes.

Jarred Smithson -- picked up Friday for a sixth round pick -- was the first non-goalie on the ice for Saturday's morning skate and should be on a line with short-time Nashville teammate Mike Santorelli tonight.

Florida sent Michal Repik back to San Antonio before the morning skate; would expect Jon Matsumoto to be following suit soon enough.

The Panthers get a shootout specialist who has shown he can score at the big level in Wolski.

Slowed by injuries this year, Wolski has no goals in nine games with the Rangers -- who were desperate to clear some cap space before the deadline.

Wolski has 22 goals on 51 shootout attempts in his career. Those 22 goals are tied for 11th in the league since the shootout came into existance in 2005-06. Pavel Datsyuk and Carolina's Jussi Jokinen both lead with 30 apiece.

For Florida, shootouts have been a major concern since, well, 2005-06.  

Wolski hasn't done much scoring, but as I said before, he has in the past.

In his rookie season with the Avs in 2006-07, Wolski had what became a career-high 22 goals with 28 helpers.

In his first four full-time seasons with the Avs from 2006-10, Wolski had 71 goals in 293 games. Since being traded to Phoenix (and later the Rangers), Wolski has all of 18 goals in 100 games.

He does have eight goals and nine assists in 27 playoff games.

And, last year's salary dump is a memory.

Florida adds over $1 million in true salary with this move as Wolski carries a $3.8 million cap hit.

Wolski, believe it or not, makes $4 million this year in salary which is the same as Stephen Weiss as the two are the second-highest paid forwards on the team behind Tomas Fleischmann.

EDIT: He is an unrestricted free agent after this year.


February 24, 2012

Florida Panthers Add Depth, Trade 6th Round Pick to Predators for Jarred Smithson

SmithsonRALEIGH -- The Panthers dipped their toe into the trade deadline pool on Friday afternoon and decided to get a little wet.

They didn't go all the way in, however, but they did wade in a bit. 

Florida sent a sixth round draft pick to Nashville for 33-year-old forward Jarred Smithson. 

Nashville liked Smithson – which means Florida assistant GM Mike Santos probably dug him as well – but with the Preds getting better and deeper on the forward lines, Smithson was expendable. 

Said Dale Tallon in the Panthers release: “Jerred is a hard working, responsible, veteran player who plays well at both ends of the ice. He is a very good penalty killer, who has consistently ranked among his team’s leaders in face-off win percentage.”

Smithson has played in 526 NHL games for Los Angeles (2002-04) and Nashville (2005-12). He has 89 points off 36 goals.

Where does this put the Panthers moving forward as the deadline approaches? 

Well, they have a stockpile of forwards and Smithson is signed through next season.

I was told last night that Marcel Goc's 'lower body' injury – probably a groin – wasn't too serious and John Madden skated yesterday (don't know if he did today because I was flying to Carolina). 

Expect one of the AHL guys to go back down tomorrow – if they haven't already headed back to Texas already – and we'll see what happens.

And for all of you Tweeting and emailing me about possible Panthers trades, sorry, I'm just not going to guess or speculate.

You all know what the Panthers have to trade and who they aren't going to touch. There isn't much out there right now, but Dale and Mike have been busy working the phones. They'll make some moves – if they can. 

February 23, 2012

Heat Beat Knicks -- Oops, Wrong Blog ... Panthers Go Down Again, Lose to Wild 3-2 in Shootout ... Weiss Sets Record as Struggles Continue

BY GEORGE RICHARDS Twitter: @OnFrozenPond

It had appeared the schedule had become easier for the Florida Panthers as they came home after winning consecutive road games and welcomed in four teams below them in the standings.

Nothing comes easy for the Panthers. 

Florida, on the verge of losing its lead in the Southeast Division to Winnipeg, lost for the fourth straight time Thursday as the struggling Minnesota Wild won 3-2 in a shootout at BankAtlantic Center.

The Panthers went winless on their four-game homestand, picking up just one of the eight available points. 

And on a night in which Stephen Weiss became the franchise leader in games played at 614, no one was in any mood to celebrate. Especially the frustrated Weiss.

“We're not worried about the past three games but [Thursday] we needed a better result,'' said Weiss, who has just two goals in the past 30 games and none in the past 10.

“We have to find some ways to score some goals. One point is better than none, but that's not good enough.''

Thursday's game matched two of the league's early surprises who have both fallen on hard times. Luckily for the Panthers, they play in the Southeast Division so their four-game losing streak hasn't hurt them as much as losing hurt the Wild. 

Minnesota started the season 20-7-3 and led the league in points in December; since then, the Wild have gone through a brutal stretch (7-17-6) and started Thursday 12th in the West. Before beating Boston last Sunday, the Wild had lost seven straight.

“We can't look at other teams to lose; we have to bear down and do our part,'' Mikael Samuelsson said. “We have to win to make the playoffs and that's our goal.''

On Thursday, the Panthers woke up after a slow start and dominated play for much of the second period.

Florida broke its goal drought when Samuelsson scored on a power play with 6:37 left in the second.

The Panthers had gone 2 hours 14:03 since Tomas Fleischmann scored with 40 seconds left in the first period of Friday's 2-1 loss to the Capitals.

The Panthers were at one point outshooting Minnesota 13-1 in the second period but the Wild got things going at the end of the frame and started peppering Jose Theodore – Minnesota's backup last season – with shots.

The Wild tied the score with 19.8 seconds left when Marek Zidlicky fired a shot that bounced off Dany Heatley and Kyle Brodziak put home.

With Weiss in the box in the third, Minnesota made it 2-1 on Matt Cullen's goal in which he trapped a Theodore rebound and pushed it through. Florida tied it and basically earned its first point since Feb. 12 after Sean Bergenheim backhanded a shot while backing down Greg Zanon with 4:12 left.

Even though the Panthers had chances late and in overtime, they couldn't score and watched the Wild score on both of its shootout shots. Florida, now just 3-7 in the shootout, went a quick 0-for-2. 

“Sometimes you go through stretches when you just don't score,'' Bergenheim said. “But all-in-all, we have to do a better job in front of both nets.''

NEWS, NOTES

The Panthers apparently lost center Marcel Goc to an undisclosed 'lower-body' injury as he reportedly left Wednesday’s practice early. Goc is listed as day to day by the team. 

With Goc and Matt Bradley (concussion) out, Florida was forced to bring up two forwards from its AHL club in San Antonio. For Michal Repik, Thursday marked his 17th game of the season with the Panthers. For center Jonathan Matsumoto, it was his first.

Florida acquired Matsumoto from Carolina in the Evgenii Dadonov trade last month. 

Matsumoto played in 13 games with the Hurricanes last season with two goals.

“I've been trying to get accustomed to San Antonio but I'm excited to come up here and show what I can do,'' said Matsumoto, who scored 17 goals in the AHL this season.

() The Panthers got defenseman Ed Jovanovski back after he missed 14 games with a broken right hand suffered in a fight on Jan. 16. Jason Garrison, who has missed five games with an undisclosed injury, is expected to return Saturday against Carolina.

Nolan Yonkman was returned to San Antonio after playing in one game with the Panthers. 

“He's a player,'' Dineen said of Jovanovski, “and he comes to play. He'll be a great benefit for us."

() The Panthers don't play the Wild often, but when they do, a milestone is usually reached.

Radek Dvorak became the Panthers' all-time leader in games played when the two teams met last on Nov. 10, 2010. On Thursday, Weiss passed Dvorak for the honor. 

SOUTH FLORIDA LEADERS

Games played, franchise record

1,128: Luis Castillo, Marlins

614: Stephen Weiss, Panthers

593: Alonzo Mourning, Heat

242: Dan Marino, Dolphins

 

February 19, 2012

Bad Things Come in 3s for Panthers: Cats downed 2-0 by Ducks .. Losing Streak in Regulation Season's Longest ... Matt Bradley Hurt

3companyBY GEORGE RICHARDS Twitter @OnFrozenPond

Brian Campbell sat in his locker stall for more than 10 minutes following Sunday's game in full uniform alternately staring into space and muttering under his breath while shaking his head. 

Campbell sure didn't look like a player on a team that remains in first place in its division, one that holds the third overall seeding in its conference. 

It can be said the Panthers don't much look like a first place, playoff-bound team either.

For the first time this season, Florida has lost three straight games in regulation after Anaheim got a first period Teemu Selanne goal and held on for a 2-0 win at BankAtlantic Center.

The Panthers, which won back-to-back games in the New York area last weekend, are 0-3 in their four-game homestand and have scored a grand total of three goals in those losses.

Florida, which still remain atop a toothless Southeast Division, have been outscored 10-3 in those losses. 

Alberta“It's disappointing,'' said Campbell, whose team was shutout for the fifth time this season and second in the past three weeks. “It's really frustrating and it's really disappointing. The last two games were tight. We need to find a way to get things done.''

Florida appeared to sit back once again and let its opponent dictate the pace of the game. Anaheim, which has gone 15-3-4 since Jan. 1, controlled play for the first 30 minutes as the Panthers rarely made goalie Jonas Hiller do much. Florida was already down 1-0 when Lubomir Visnovsky's high stick caught Mikael Samuelsson and sliced his right eyelid.

The Panthers did nothing with the four minute power play, however, registering no shots while watching the Ducks play keep-away with the puck in the Florida zone. The Panthers went 0-for-4 with the advantage.

“We need to find ways to score. We're not creating enough on offense to get us two points at the end of the night,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. “We got off to a Wade3slow start and that has been an issue lately and is something we need to correct.''

Florida definitely picked up the pace in the second half of the second and created a bunch of chances in the third. Hiller, who has played in 53 of Anaheim's 60 games, was stellar and kept the Panthers off the board. Sean Bergenheim had a great chance to tie the game with 1:25 left but was rebuffed by Hiller as he earned his 22nd win and 14th shutout of his career. 

Ruth“We played well in the third period,'' said goalie Jose Theodore, who gave up one goal (the second was into an empty net) on 26 shots. “Maybe we're holding the sticks a little too tight around the net. We're working hard, have had some good practices. We have to build on the third. Things just aren't going our way.''

With the trade deadline now a week away, it's apparent the Panthers need more offensive help if they want to stop their 11-year postseason drought – longest in NHL history.

General manager Dale Tallon has been furiously working the phones and the Panthers are expected to Tresbe buyers on the trade front. 

“We're really struggling. Three goals in three games obviously isn't enough,'' Samuelsson said. “We have to play with desperation. I think we did that in the third but we can be better early. It doesn't matter that we got points in New York after this three in a row. It's very disappointing and it's never good. We just have to keep our head high, keep working and stay in this.'' 

BRADLEY HURT

The Panthers lost winger Matt Bradley to an undisclosed injury after he slammed into a stanchion near the Florida bench while trying to check George Parros into the glass. Parros saw the hit coming and stopped, with Bradley going crashing into the post. Play had to be stopped while the subsequent broken glass was replaced. 

Bradley left the locker room without commenting to the media. The Panthers are calling it a 'upper body' injury although Bradley looked like he hit his head on the collision. Dineen said the Panthers will call up a forward from their AHL club in San Antonio and Michal Repik – who was sent down a month ago – is considered the frontrunner to return.

() Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau says he thought Bergenheim blindsided Niklas Hagman when Bergenheim threw a shoulder on a big hit at the end of the first period.  

“Maybe the total contact on one angle wasn’t to the head, but it grazed the shoulder and then hit the head full on,'' said the former Capitals coach. “But it was totally blind side. He didn’t see it coming.''

Said Hagman, who spent parts of four seasons with the Panthers: I didn’t expect that whoever was going to be there had that much speed. I didn’t see the hit. He got me pretty good. I don’t know what to say. For sure, I didn’t see him.''

() Center Stephen Weiss played in his 613th game with the Panthers, tying him with Radek Dvorak for the franchise lead. Weiss will become the team's all-time leader in games Thursday against Minnesota.

 

February 18, 2012

Florida Panthers Stephen Weiss to Tie Radek Dvorak With 613 Games Played with Team

WeissdraftStephen Weiss' NHL career started in South Florida almost a year before he ever hit the ice wearing a Panthers sweater.

It's more than fitting that Weiss is still around. 

Weiss, taken by the Panthers with the fourth overall pick at the 2001 draft held in Sunrise, will play in his 613th game on Sunday against the Ducks.

When he plays Thursday against the Wild, he'll be atop the Panthers record book.

Sunday's game will put Weiss in a tie with Radek Dvorak for most games played with the franchise. He'll break that Thursday.

Although Dvorak set the Panthers record in two stints with the Cats, Weiss has never played for a team Weissother than the Panthers. It pains him to talk about the franchise's NHL record postseason drought, and no one wants to see that come to an end more than Weiss. 

If Jeff Conine was Mr. Marlin, does that make Weiss 'Mr. Panther?' King Cat? Niner? Actually, Conine has that one too.

Say a Prayer for Panthers as Ducks Fly South on Sunday ... Nolan Yonkman Up, Takes Beezer's Number

TheocapsI'm in Lakeland on 'special assignment' for your Miami Herald, but I watched Friday's loss to the Capitals and came away with some thoughts. 

Yes, getting three penalties in the third period limited the Panthers opportunities and helped the Capitals score twice and pull off a 2-1 win.

But I thought the Panthers were too passive for much of the second and third periods and should have done more to press Tomas Vokoun and the Caps.

Florida sure could have used some points on Friday - especially after Wednesday's disappointing loss to the Senators.

Beat the Sens and Florida comes into Friday up six on the Capitals. With that cushion, a loss on Friday doesn't hurt so much.

Now the lead is back down to two.

I'm not pushing any panic buttons because I think the Panthers are in good position. But this team sure doesn't make things easier on itself does it?

As impressive as last weekend's sweep of the Devils and Islanders were, it is now all but forgotten with the losses to the Caps and Sens.

And if the Panthers don't make the playoffs, you can look back at the Sens loss with more than a twinge of regret.

The good news on Saturday was that team president Michael Yormark tweeted that he visited temple and said a prayer for the team.

Hey, you take all the help you can get.

-- I'll be back for Sunday's game against Anaheim; in the meantime, follow @RobbieLevin for your Panthers updates on the old Twitter thing.

Yonkman-- The Panthers recalled defensemen Nolan Yonkman on Saturday and he'll make his Florida debut on Sunday against the Ducks.

Rookie Colby Robak was sent down to San Antonio.

Yonkman will wear the No. 34 that John Vanbiesbrouck first broke out in 1993. Some have said BeezerBeezer's number should be retired. Maybe, in time, it will.

For now, Yonkman joins Beezer, Mathieu Biron, David Shantz (but did not play), Alexander Salak and Patrick Rissmiller as those who have rocked No. 34 for the Panthers. 

DucksSUNDAY: DUCKS AT PANTHERS

When, Where: 6 p.m.; BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise

TV/Radio: FS Florida/WQAM-560

The series: Florida leads 10-9-3

The game: Anaheim, as was the case last season, have caught fire after a slow start and have worked itself into postseason consideration. With former Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau (hired by the Ducks days after being canned in Washington) behind the Bruceslapshotbench, Anaheim had gone 15-3-3 since Jan. 1 before losing Friday in New Jersey. The Panthers have lost two straight at home and are 5-4-0 since the All-Star break. The Panthers have lost two straight to their 1993 expansion cousins.

And, yes, that's Boudreau making his move against the Charlestown Chiefs in some movie about hockey from the 70s. Don't think I've ever seen it.

 

February 15, 2012

Former Florida Panthers Captain Bryan McCabe: "I'm Done.''

Mccabe2 (3)BY GEORGE RICHARDS Twitter: @OnFrozenPond

Bryan McCabe, captain of the Panthers from 2009 until his trade to the Rangers at last season's trade deadline, says he is unofficially retired.

McCabe watched Wednesday's game from the press box and says he has been working with Florida general manager Dale Tallon for the past few months and is helping the team scout ahead of the Feb. 27 trade deadline.

McCabe and his family reside in Boca Raton. “Florida is home for us now,'' said McCabe, who played 1,135 games over 16 seasons with the Islanders, Vancouver, Chicago, Toronto, Florida and the Rangers.

Mccabe4He was with the Panthers from 2008-11.

“Am I trying to play again? No. I'm done,'' McCabe said. “I'm down here, retired, have three kids now so that's what I'm doing. That's real work. The offers came in, but I don't want to leave here. We called it a day.

"I knew this day was coming and I'm fine. I'm settled in.''

Florida Panthers Can't Keep Up With Senators, Lose 6-2 ... Cats Bid for Four Straight Foiled as Sens win Ninth Straight over Cats ... Tyson Strachan Gets New Deal

Sawgrass2BY GEORGE RICHARDS Twitter: @OnFrozenPond

When teams come from Canada to play the Panthers, most stay near the beach. The Senators don't. Instead of heading to the surf, Ottawa settles in out west at the hotel across from the Sawgrass Mills mall.

Why mess with success?

Ottawa won its fifth straight game at BankAtlantic Center and ninth straight overall against the Panthers with a 6-2 victory Wednesday night. Florida hasn't beaten the Senators on home ice since 2009 as its bid for its first four-game winning streak since 2008 came to an end.

NHL teams have won at least four straight 55 times this season and plenty have beaten the Senators.

Both of those tasks seem impossible for the Panthers.

Before beating Tampa Bay 4-0 on Tuesday, the Senators had won just one of their previous nine.
With Washington off, Florida retained its four-point lead on the Capitals atop the Southeast Division. The Caps come to town Friday.

“The got a couple goals, bang-bang, and the rain kept falling from there,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. “Obviously it was a disappointing game in front of our home fans. This was not a good showing by us.''

Florida dominated play in the opening period, yet it was the Senators scoring first with Jim O'Brien wrapping the puck around the net with Scott Clemmensen out of position. Florida tied it on a rocket shot from Shawn Matthias from the left circle that beat former Panthers goalie Craig Anderson with 8:13 left in the period.

That was about it for the Florida highlights.

Anderson, now 7-0-1 against the Panthers, stopped all 17 shots faced in the second as the Senators scored three times to take a 4-1 lead into the third. Daniel Alfredsson's short-handed goal was the last shot Clemmensen faced as he was pulled for Jose Theodore with 5:54 left in the second.

Theodore wasn't immune to the Senators either, with Milan Michalek scoring 1:24 into the third before Sean Bergenheim picked up Florida's second goal by deflecting a Brian Campbell shot three minutes later. Ottawa's Filip Kuba ended the scoring with a late power play goal.

“I thought we were all over them, we felt pretty good and then things quickly changed,'' Matthias said. “They are so skilled, you give them anything – especially power plays – they are going to score. We just have to hope we don't lose 10 straight to them. They're coming up in the standings. We didn't play the way we wanted to.''

STRACHAN SIGNS

Defenseman Tyson Strachan signed a one-year contract extension with the Panthers on Wednesday that all but assures he'll be with the team next season.

Strachan's contract, worth $600,000, is a one-way deal which means Florida would have to pay his NHL contract if he were sent to the minors. Strachan is on a two-way contract this season and could be sent back to AHL San Antonio but would have to clear waivers.

“It's nice to know they're thinking of me for the future and that's exciting,'' said Strachan, who has played in parts of four NHL seasons including nine games with the Panthers since Dmitry Kulikov was hurt. “I'm excited and that's the only word to describe it.''

() The Panthers are 5-3-0 since the All-Star break and have been outscored 16-5 in the three losses. Florida has outscored its opponent 16-6 in the five wins.

 

February 14, 2012

Long Time Coming: Florida Panthers Go For First Four Game Streak Since 2008 ... Senators: Lots of Success v Cats ... Jason Garrison out 7-10 Days

JmandolliBY GEORGE RICHARDS Twitter: @OnFrozenPond

The Panthers are attempting to do something Wednesday night that they haven't done in a very, very long time.

Winning four straight games in the NHL isn't a rarity by any stretch. It's happened 55 times this season alone. 

For the Panthers, however, winning more than three straight games has been an extremely difficult task.

The last time Florida won four straight games was on Thrash2March 8, 2008. The Panthers beat Atlanta 3-2 and would eventually tie the franchise record with seven straight wins. Florida's late season run wasn't enough to make the playoffs and that cost Jacques Martin his coaching gig.

Here's how long ago that was: Not only was Martin the coach and GM of the Panthers at the time, but Olli Jokinen was the team's captain and leading scorer. Stephen Weiss is the only player remaining from that game against the Thrashers – which have since moved to Winnipeg.

“Thanks for that,'' Mike Weaver said. “Thanks for reminding us.''

The Panthers go for their first four-game winning streak in almost four years on Wednesday when the Senators visit BankAtlantic Center. 

“We're just going to try and keep playing the way we've been playing,'' Weiss said. “It's nice to be playing big games at this time of the year.''

Although the Panthers are definitely preaching the “one game at a time” cliche as they make a run at the postseason, there's little doubt the team needs a sustained winning streak to hold off Washington and Winnipeg in the Southeast Division. Florida goes into Wednesday's game with a four point lead on the Capitals and a seven point cushion on the Jets. 

Of course, nothing comes easy for the Panthers.

Florida has lost eight straight to the Senators since beating them last in 2010. The Panthers haven't topped Ottawa in Sunrise since 2009. 

“We have gone through some tough times here and I think we have learned from that and have become stronger,'' Weaver said. “Guys are starting to remember how we did things at the beginning of the season and that's why we had success. This is such a long season and there's still a lot of games left. A lot of things can still happen.''

This seems to be the perfect time for the Panthers to go on a nice winning streak. Ottawa comes to town after playing in Tampa Bay on Tuesday night with Washington here on Friday. Florida kicks off a four-game homestand Wednesday where the Panthers have played well of late. Florida's 35 points at home are ranked 12th in the league.

“It's amazing how a few days things can play out,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. “We've played well the past week and have been rewarded. But it can reverse itself. We have a big game coming up against Ottawa. It's a heck of a big game for us.''

() Weaver and Erik Gudbranson both got buzz cuts WeaverbuzzMonday night in the parking lot of the Duffy's sports bar in Plantation. The event benefited the St. Baldrick's Foundation to raise money for pediatric cancer research. Gudbranson and Weaver raised over $2,600 in donations; the Panthers donated another $5,000 to the cause.

Gudbranson said signing up for the event was a no-brainer. His younger brother Dennis battled leukemia as a child but is now healthy and playing junior hockey for the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League. 

“It's the best haircut I've had,'' Gudbranson said. “This was a fun thing to do. It's for the little kids who are going through tough times and battling through this. We're going to raise a lot of money, but the biggest thing is bringing some smiles to those young faces. This gives them a glimmer of hope and that's huge. Moral support is everything sometimes.'' 

() Dineen said defenseman Jason Garrison will miss the next seven to 10 days after suffering what is thought to be an ankle/foot injury on Saturday against New Jersey. “That's a big hole in our lineup,'' Dineen said. At one point during that game, Florida was down to just three defensemen. 

Weaver had his skate blown out after blocking a shot from Ilya Kovalchuk that was so hard, the rivets had to be replaced. While Weaver was in the locker room, Gudbranson came in after Steve Bernier's skate sliced Gudbrason's laces down the center of his boot. Then Garrison hobbled in. 

“We were going to have to play Versteeg on defense,'' Weaver joked. Florida did actually use winger Mikael Samuelsson on defense for a time. 

AndyWEDNESDAY: SENATORS AT PANTHERS

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

TV/Radio: No local TV/WQAM-560

The series: Ottawa leads 41-26-3

The game: After winning three of four against the Senators in 2008-09, the Panthers have struggled against Ottawa. Florida has not only lost eight straight against Ottawa, but have won just five of 22 against the Senators. Ottawa played in Tampa Bay on Tuesday night. 


February 13, 2012

Here's to No Hair: Florida Panthers Erik Gudbranson, Mike Weaver Getting Snipped for Charity Tonight in Plantation

MatthiasbaldFlorida Panthers defensemen Erik Gudbranson and Mike Weaver are shaving their heads tonight at Duffy's in Plantation.

It's for a good cause: The duo are donating whatever they raise to the St. Baldrick's Foundation which raises money for Pediatric Cancer research. 

Shawn Matthias and Jack Skille took to the clippers last season. 

The event starts at 6 p.m., with a number of Panthers sticking around to answer questions and sign autographs out on the Panther Patio.

Duffy's is located on University Drive in the Fountains Shopping Center just north of I-595 and south of the Broward Mall.

To make a donation to the boys, you can do so online.

CLICK HERE TO DONATE ON MIKE WEAVER'S PAGE

CLICK HERE TO DONATE ON ERIK GUDBRANSON'S PAGE

Florida Panthers Get Boost From New D-Men Tyson Strachan and Colby Robak ... Jose Theodore Ready to Be No. 1 Again?

TysoncolbyBY GEORGE RICHARDS Twitter: @OnFrozenPond

NEW YORK – For months, Panthers coach Kevin Dineen rapped his knuckles on a wood table whenever the health of his defense was brought up.

For the first 43 games of the season, the Panthers had seven healthy defensemen.

It was a luxury that couldn't – and wouldn't – last.

In the past month, the Panthers have lost three of their core defensemen. The injury run started on Jan. 16 when Ed Jovanovski broke his hand in a fight. Five days later, Dmitry Kulikov injured his knee and has been out since having surgery.

On Saturday, Jason Garrison was the latest to go out after apparently injuring a foot. His status will be known later.

Fortunately for the Panthers, defensive depth didn't just exist on the big club. Florida had players who could step in playing for its AHL club in San Antonio, players who are being counted on now.

On Sunday, Tyson Strachan, whom the Panthers signed over the summer, played in his eighth game since being called up and scored his first NHL goal in Tysonhis 75th career game. Strachan's goal tied the score at 1 in the first period.

“He has really opened some eyes and earned the respect of the staff and his teammates,'' Dineen said after Florida's 4-1 win over the Islanders on Sunday. “He has given us a level of stability that we have needed on the blueline. I think he looks good out there. He doesn't look out of place or get frazzled.''

Strachan, who played in 67 games over the course of three seasons with St. Louis says he feels comfortable with the Panthers as it's obvious they are getting more and more comfortable with him in the lineup.

“One of the big things about hockey is the chemistry of a team and fitting in,'' Strachan said. “I like the system here and I love the coaches and the guys here. I feel comfortable here and we're winning some games. That's always great.''

Strachan's landmark goal came in the NHL debut of Colby Robak, a 21-year-old whom the Panthers drafted in the second round of the 2008 draft.

RobakRobak scored seven goals with San Antonio this season and was paired with Strachan against the Islanders.

Robak, in his second professional season, was informed that he was coming up to play with the Panthers during his afternoon nap. San Antonio, after all, was playing in Rochester, N.Y., on Saturday night. Robak – who like many members of the Rampage played for Rochester last season – wouldn't return to his old haunts as he headed to New York to meet up with the Panthers.

“It was a little surreal getting the call. I wondered if I was dreaming,'' said Robak, who played 14:40 on 20 shifts in his first NHL game. “I got it out of the way. I'm not going to lie, that was probably the most nervous I have ever been. I'm sure that's normal. But I had fun. You just have to play through it.''

Said Strachan: “We were roommates on the road and got along real well so I was very happy to see he got the call. Obviously this was his first game but I thought he played great. He fit right in. I told him to have fun with it, but he's a confident guy who knows what to do.''

() Goalie Jose Theodore picked up his first win since beating Toronto on Dec. 27 on Sunday as he stopped 26 shots to move to 2-0 against the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum this season.

Theodore missed 13 of 15 games with a knee injury.

He said Sunday that the knee feels good but he wouldn't say he's ready to re-establish himself as the Panthers starter.

“I was just looking forward to playing in that first game and getting it out of the way,'' said Theodore, who is now 15-9-5. “I only had a few practices. I felt better as the game went on. I'm going to work really hard in practice to get my game to where it was a few months ago. I'm ready to finish strong.''

With the way Scott Clemmensen played in his stead, however, Florida feels pretty comfortable with whomever is in net. Clemmensen is 7-4-3 since Theodore was hurt on Dec. 31.

“He has been their savior,'' said current Devils and former Panthers coach Pete DeBoer.

“We always knew he was a good goalie, you saw what he did in New Jersey and when he was given the opportunity when I was there, he gave us big games. I'm glad to see it. He's a good guy.''

February 12, 2012

Panthers Ground Islanders 4-1, Win Consecutive Road Games for First Time Since Dec. 8 ... Jose Theodore and Jack Skille Shine in Return ... Tyson Strachan Gets 1st Goal in Colby Robak's 1st Game

FishermanBY GEORGE RICHARDS Twitter: @OnFrozenPond

UNIONDALE, N.Y. – The Panthers run to their first playoff appearance in more than a decade got a much needed boost this weekend.

Florida, which hasn't been in the postseason an NHL record 11 straight years, won consecutive road games for the first time since early December as it scored three times in the second period to beat the host Islanders 4-1 at Nassau Coliseum on Sunday afternoon.

The Panthers win on Long Island gave them all four available points during a rare matinee weekend in the New York area. Florida beat the Devils in Newark 3-1 on Saturday afternoon.

“It was a good weekend for us,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. “It's satisfying. We went out played hard and were rewarded for it.''

The last time Florida won consecutive road games was Dec. 8 at Boston. The Panthers went into a slide after that, however, going 8-9-7 before snapping off three straight wins.

Celebrate1Florida goes for its first four game winning streak since Jacques Martin coached the Panthers during a seven-game run at the end of the 2007-08 season. 

“It sure has been nice to get a couple goals here,'' said Kris Versteeg, whose team is 3-0 against the Isles this season. “When the team is going and everyone is going, the job is so much easier. That's the way we've been going lately. The team is winning, that's all that matters.''

With the win – and Washington's 3-2 loss down the road at Madison Square Garden – the Panthers now hold a four-point lead on the Capitals atop the Southeast Division with a four-game homestand kicking off Wednesday against Ottawa. The Capitals visit Sunrise on Friday night. 

Florida has won five of seven since the All-Star break.

“We struggled a little bit but now it's crunch time and it's never too late to start doing the right things,'' said Jose Theodore, who was back in net for the BrinkleyPanthers after missing 13 of the past 15 games with a sore knee. “Winning back-to-back games on the road is always huge.''

Theodore showed a little rust as Florida continued its trend of giving up early goals. Frans Nielsen scored on New York's first shot 3:35 into the game as the Panthers surrendered the opening goal within the first four minutes of a game in four straight road games. 

Yet as was the case on Saturday, the 1-0 deficit didn't deflate the Panthers as they came back to win.

Before Saturday, the Panthers had won just one of their past 14 in which the opposition scored first. 
The Panthers evened the score with 5:03 left in the first when defenseman Tyson Strachan took a feed after Marcel Goc won a faceoff deep in the Islanders zone and whipped the puck past starter Evgeni Nabokov.

The goal was Strachan's first in 75 NHL games through parts of four seasons. 

“Giving up the first goal hurts, but we came back quick and got one to go in off the post and we rolled from there,'' Strachan said. “I thought that [first NHL goal] was never going to come, but one had to roll in there eventually. It was a great draw by Goc and he teed it up perfectly. I just closed my eyes and let it fly.''

Florida really opened things up in the third with Tomas Fleischmann kicking things off by knocking a crisp pass from Versteeg past Nabokov at 4:17 of the period. Then, Versteeg fired a feed from Fleischmann from 40 feet out on a power play. The goal was Versteeg's 22nd of the year, tying a career-high through just 53 games.

Jack Skille – playing for the first time since Jan. 21 – made it 4-1 by scoring when spinning after taking a Shawn Matthias pass off a faceoff and whipping it past Nabokov. 

Al Montoya took the net to start the third and stopped all four shots faced. Theodore, now 2-0 against the Islanders this season, gave up one goal in two starts at the Coliseum this season after shutting the Islanders out on opening night. Theodore stopped 26 shots on Sunday. 

“It's good to be back out there,'' Theodore said. “I only had a couple of practices, so I was a little rusty. You like to get a couple of easy shots to get the feel of the puck, but their first four were quality chances. I didn't start the way I wanted to, but I didn't panic and the team played a heck of a game in front of me.''

() Defenseman Colby Robak, 21, made his NHL debut for the Panthers on Sunday as he replaced the injured Jason Garrison in the lineup. Garrison apparently hurt his foot when struck by a puck Saturday against the Devils. 

Although general manager Dale Tallon wouldn't confirm the nature of the injury, he did say Garrison will have an MRI on Monday in South Florida. “I don't think it's serious,'' Tallon said. When asked if Garrison hurt his foot or ankle, Tallon laughed. “It's lower body,'' he said.

TorreybannerNYI() Panthers alternate governor Bill Torrey was shown on the center scoreboard during the second period and drew warm applause from the fans. Torrey is known as the architect of the Islanders four Stanley Cup championship teams from 1980-83. 

TorreybannerFLATorrey's banner hanging from the Coliseum rafters features a blue and orange bow tie and the words 'The Architect' in script.

February 11, 2012

#FlaPanthers Drop #nhlDevils 3-1 in Final Meeting of Season: Or Is It? ... Cats Lose Jason Garrison to Injury, Colby Robak On Way to Long Island ... Theodore Ready to Go, Skille Close

DevilsBY GEORGE RICHARDS Twitter: @OnFrozenPond

NEWARK, N.J. – If the Panthers and Devils do meet in the opening round of the playoffs, expect a lot of close games.

Saturday's game marked the fourth time the two have played with the game being a one goal affair going into the final minutes.

Florida didn't do much offensively against the Devils on Saturday, but really didn't need to. Goals from Sean Bergenheim, Kris Versteeg and an empty netter from Mikael Samuelsson were enough as Scott Clemmensen made 27 saves against his former team to lift the Panthers to a 3-1 win at Prudential Center. 

“I think the big difference between this group and the ones we have had before is the mental toughness,'' Clemmensen said. “We had new guys come in from different winning organizations and they know how to play in those [close] situations. Their panic level is so high. You just see the confidence.''

The Panthers and New Jersey split the season series.

DevilFlorida's win kept the Panthers atop the Southeast Division and the third slot in the Eastern Conference. New Jersey dropped to sixth in the East. If they both hold those positions, they'll play a few more games come April. 

New Jersey swept Florida in the opening round of the 2000 Stanley Cup playoffs – the last time Florida advanced to the postseason. 

“These are two hard working teams,'' said Devils coach Pete DeBoer, who was fired by the Panthers after three seasons.

“I think we play similar styles and they've been entertaining games. I don't want to think about the playoffs right now. We have two months to go and I think they're saying the same thing with what they've been through. We're all day-to-day right now.'' 

If you believe the old adage that stats don't lie, the Panthers had a lot going against them Saturday. New Jersey opened the scoring 1:39 into the game when former Panthers winger Steve Bernier took a nice pass from Alexei Ponikarovsky and beat Clemmensen on the third shot of the day. 

That was an omen the Panthers weren't coming out of this one with a win.

Instead, Bergenheim knocked in a long shot from Erik Gudbranson to tie the score in the first before Versteeg scored off a big rebound from Martin Brodeur in the second.

“This was a very satisfying win because it was built around a team effort,'' said Panthers coach Kevin Dineen, whose team has won four of six – and two straight – since the All-Star break.

“We got a lot of quality minutes out of players. We spread some of the responsibility around the lineup.''

The Panthers are just 8-16-5 when the opposing team scores first. Saturday's win was just the second in Florida's past 15 games in which it won when the opposition picked up that first goal. 

Florida also earned a rare road win as the Panthers had won just three of their past 16 games away from Sunrise. 

“When you're going through it, you don't really realize it,'' Stephen Weiss said. “I heard a stat [Saturday] and couldn't believe it. The games just come so fast so you get caught up and don't realize how long it has been. This was a big win for us. We had to dig down and find a way to win. And we did.''

() The Panthers lost defenseman Jason Garrison to an undisclosed 'lower body' injury and replaced him – temporarily – with Samuelsson.

With Garrison questionable for Sunday's game on Long Island, the Panthers will recall Colby Robak from their AHL club in San Antonio.

The Rampage played in Rochester, N.Y., – which was Florida's AHL affiliate until this past summer – on Saturday night.

() Goalie Jose Theodore is expected to start Sunday against the Islanders after missing Florida's past eight games with a sore knee. Theodore, originally injured Dec. 31 against Montreal, has missed 13 of the past 15 games. 

Theodore has started both games against the Islanders this season and got his first shutout as a member of the Panthers in his Florida debut on Oct. 8 in New York. He left the home game against the Islanders on Oct. 22 with the score tied at 2; Jacob Markstrom relieved him and earned the win. 

“The knee is really good so now it's just about getting back out there,'' Theodore said. “I needed the rest because it didn't feel good. I have a couple practices under my belt so I'm ready. It was tough sitting out and watching. It's good to be back with the team.''

() Florida could also have winger Jack Skille back in the lineup Sunday as he traveled with the team and skated with goalie coach Robb Tallas before Saturday's game. “He looks strong,'' Tallas said.

The Panthers will fly home from New York following Sunday's game and don't play again until Wednesday when Ottawa comes to Sunrise. 

SUNDAY: PANTHERS AT ISLANDERS

When, Where: 3 p.m.; Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, N.Y.

TV/Radio: FS Florida/WQAM-560

The series: Panthers lead 38-30-8 (Florida has won both this season)

The game: Both the Panthers and Islanders will be playing on back-to-back afternoons, with the Islanders beating visiting Los Angeles in overtime on Saturday. The Islanders have been playing very well of late, going 4-1-1 since the All-Star break. The Panthers have also won four of six during that span.

Panthers Drop Devils 3-1 in Final Meeting of Season: Or Is It? ... Cats Lose Jason Garrison to Injury, Colby Robak On Way to Long Island ... Theodore Ready to Go, Skille Close

DevilsBY GEORGE RICHARDS Twitter: @OnFrozenPond

NEWARK, N.J. – If the Panthers and Devils do meet in the opening round of the playoffs, expect a lot of close games.

Saturday's game marked the fourth time the two have played with the game being a one goal affair going into the final minutes.

Florida didn't do much offensively against the Devils on Saturday, but really didn't need to. Goals from Sean Bergenheim, Kris Versteeg and an empty netter from Mikael Samuelsson were enough as Scott Clemmensen made 27 saves against his former team to lift the Panthers to a 3-1 win at Prudential Center. 

“I think the big difference between this group and the ones we have had before is the mental toughness,'' Clemmensen said. “We had new guys come in from different winning organizations and they know how to play in those [close] situations. Their panic level is so high. You just see the confidence.''

The Panthers and New Jersey split the season series.

DevilFlorida's win kept the Panthers atop the Southeast Division and the third slot in the Eastern Conference. New Jersey dropped to sixth in the East. If they both hold those positions, they'll play a few more games come April. 

New Jersey swept Florida in the opening round of the 2000 Stanley Cup playoffs – the last time Florida advanced to the postseason. 

“These are two hard working teams,'' said Devils coach Pete DeBoer, who was fired by the Panthers after three seasons.

“I think we play similar styles and they've been entertaining games. I don't want to think about the playoffs right now. We have two months to go and I think they're saying the same thing with what they've been through. We're all day-to-day right now.'' 

If you believe the old adage that stats don't lie, the Panthers had a lot going against them Saturday. New Jersey opened the scoring 1:39 into the game when former Panthers winger Steve Bernier took a nice pass from Alexei Ponikarovsky and beat Clemmensen on the third shot of the day. 

That was an omen the Panthers weren't coming out of this one with a win.

Instead, Bergenheim knocked in a long shot from Erik Gudbranson to tie the score in the first before Versteeg scored off a big rebound from Martin Brodeur in the second.

“This was a very satisfying win because it was built around a team effort,'' said Panthers coach Kevin Dineen, whose team has won four of six – and two straight – since the All-Star break.

“We got a lot of quality minutes out of players. We spread some of the responsibility around the lineup.''

The Panthers are just 8-16-5 when the opposing team scores first. Saturday's win was just the second in Florida's past 15 games in which it won when the opposition picked up that first goal. 

Florida also earned a rare road win as the Panthers had won just three of their past 16 games away from Sunrise. 

“When you're going through it, you don't really realize it,'' Stephen Weiss said. “I heard a stat [Saturday] and couldn't believe it. The games just come so fast so you get caught up and don't realize how long it has been. This was a big win for us. We had to dig down and find a way to win. And we did.''

() The Panthers lost defenseman Jason Garrison to an undisclosed 'lower body' injury and replaced him – temporarily – with Samuelsson.

With Garrison questionable for Sunday's game on Long Island, the Panthers will recall Colby Robak from their AHL club in San Antonio.

The Rampage played in Rochester, N.Y., – which was Florida's AHL affiliate until this past summer – on Saturday night.

() Goalie Jose Theodore is expected to start Sunday against the Islanders after missing Florida's past eight games with a sore knee. Theodore, originally injured Dec. 31 against Montreal, has missed 13 of the past 15 games. 

Theodore has started both games against the Islanders this season and got his first shutout as a member of the Panthers in his Florida debut on Oct. 8 in New York. He left the home game against the Islanders on Oct. 22 with the score tied at 2; Jacob Markstrom relieved him and earned the win. 

“The knee is really good so now it's just about getting back out there,'' Theodore said. “I needed the rest because it didn't feel good. I have a couple practices under my belt so I'm ready. It was tough sitting out and watching. It's good to be back with the team.''

() Florida could also have winger Jack Skille back in the lineup Sunday as he traveled with the team and skated with goalie coach Robb Tallas before Saturday's game. “He looks strong,'' Tallas said.

The Panthers will fly home from New York following Sunday's game and don't play again until Wednesday when Ottawa comes to Sunrise. 

SUNDAY: PANTHERS AT ISLANDERS

When, Where: 3 p.m.; Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, N.Y.

TV/Radio: FS Florida/WQAM-560

The series: Panthers lead 38-30-8 (Florida has won both this season)

The game: Both the Panthers and Islanders will be playing on back-to-back afternoons, with the Islanders beating visiting Los Angeles in overtime on Saturday. The Islanders have been playing very well of late, going 4-1-1 since the All-Star break. The Panthers have also won four of six during that span.