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29 posts from February 2012

February 09, 2012

No Glitz, No Glamour: Panthers Grind Out 3-1 Win over Kings ... Mike Santorelli Nets Game Winner ... Ed Jovanovski on Track to Return

SobeachBY GEORGE RICHARDS

Twitter: @OnFrozenPond

After getting rolled in Washington two nights before, the Panthers were desperate to come back with a strong game Thursday against the visiting Kings.

Sometimes you take what you can get.

The Panthers survived a strong defensive push from the Kings and picked up a pair of opportunistic goals in the second period to beat Los Angeles 3-1 at BankAtlantic Center. 

The Panthers hadn't beaten Los Angeles on home ice since 2001 and snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Kings in the process. It wasn't pretty nor very exciting. Yet it was a much more desired result than the 2-1 loss in December when Florida clearly outplayed the host Kings. 

HollywoodIt sure wasn't flashy as the words coach Kevin Dineen used to describe the match up: “Hollywood versus South Beach.''

BrownsNo, it was more Rust Belt. 

“Sometimes it's like that,'' said Sean Bergenheim, who scored Florida's opening goal on the Panthers seventh shot of the night 4:52 into the [itals] second [itals] period.

“It's very easy to get frustrated playing against that team. It wasn't by any means the prettiest win. Not at all. But we knew what to do, we followed the game plan. We're happy about that. It showed something about our team.''

Florida kept pace with Washington and is technically back atop the Southeast Division after the Capitals blew a late lead at home and lost to Winnipeg in a shootout. Although the two teams have the same amount of points (61), Florida has played one fewer game.

The Panthers looked like they were on west coast time for much of Thursday's game as the Kings came out strong and had a number of scoring chances on Scott Clemmensen early. Clemmensen kept the Kings at bay, stopping all 11 shots faced in the first and 22 overall to give his offense a chance. 

Florida didn't get its first real scoring chance until Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg were stopped late in the first period as the Panthers only took five shots in the first. 

The Panthers only took six in the second although two of them – from Bergenheim and Mike Santorelli – found their way past Jonathan Quick to give Florida a 2-0 lead going into the second break. Quick didn't make it out for the third with new Kings coach Darryl Sutter putting in Jonathan Bernier. 

Bergenheim gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead at 4:52 of the second with a crisp slap shot from 25 feet out. Twelve minutes later, Santorelli beat Quick on a slapper of his own. 

Eighteen of Florida's 25 wins have come when it has scored the opening goal. 

“It was a tight checking game and it was like a playoff game. Points are so crucial, it's great to come out on top,'' Santorelli said. “Every game is so important every team needs those points.''

The Kings made it interesting with a Drew Doughty goal with 2:28 left that had Dineen upset with the Florida defense. But Matt Bradley scored into an empty net off a nice pass from Shawn Matthias to close it out.

() Defenseman Ed Jovanovski had the cast removed from his surgically repaired right hand on Monday and says he is feeling good and is close to returning to the lineup. Jovanovski still needs to start working on stick handling drills, but it's thought he isn't more than two weeks away from a return.

“Everything is going according to plan. It was three weeks [Wednesday],'' Jovanovski said. “It's tough to put a timetable on it because you don't want to be disappointed. But I'm right there. I'm doing everything I can to come back. I'm aiming for soon.''

() As Jose Theodore was added back to the Panthers lineup after sitting out the past few weeks with a sore knee, Jacob Markstrom is also getting closer to returning to game action. Markstrom had knee surgery in January and participated in Thursday's morning skate.  

() Center Stephen Weiss was held off the score sheet as the Kings remain the lone NHL team he has yet to record a point against. Weiss has played eight games against Los Angeles. 

February 08, 2012

Slow Starts Costly for Florida Panthers, Success Comes When Cats Score First ... Jose Theodore Back Thursday as Kings Come to Town

Clemm2BY GEORGE RICHARDS Twitter: @OnFrozenPond

WASHINGTON – Like most teams in the National Hockey League, the Panthers are more comfortable playing with the lead and have been very successful in games in which they have scored first. 

Of Florida's 24 wins, 17 have come when it takes the initial lead. 

When the opponent scores first, well, the Panthers don't fare so well. Washington scored early in Tuesday's game and won 4-0, dropping Florida's record to 7-16-5 when the other team breaks the ice.  
Florida's seven wins when down early is ranked 12th in the Eastern Conference – tied with Tampa Bay and ahead of Carolina (six) and the Islanders (five). 

ClemmSince beating the Bruins 2-0 on Dec. 8, the Panthers have gone 8-9-7. Florida has won just one of 14 games (Montreal) when the opponent scored first.

On the flip side, the Panthers are 6-0-4 when they scored first during that span and 17-1-6 overall when they get that first goal.

The only playoff contender with fewer such wins than the Panthers, surprisingly, is Vancouver. The Canucks, currently holding the second overall seed in the Western Conference, have won four games when trailing 1-0. The Canucks have given up the first goal 17 times, however, compared to Florida's 28.

“You never like to be scored on early like that,'' Matt Bradley said. “[Washington] had a lot of jump and were the better team. Getting scored on so quickly is tough, but part of being a good team is being able to come back and forget whether you scored or got scored on. Just play the same way. If you don't do that, they just start scoring more.''

If the Panthers had any momentum Tuesday in Washington, it was quickly sucked away as the Capitals scored 13 seconds in on their opening shot of the game. That goal marked the second straight start in which goalie Scott Clemmensen gave up a goal on the first shot faced. It was also the sixth time in 15 starts that Clemmensen gave up a goal within the opening 3:11. 

In five starts this season, Clemmensen has surrendered a goal within the first two minutes of a game. 

“It's something we'll address, but you can't blame one person for that,'' goalie coach Robb Tallas said after Tuesday's loss. “We as a group need to be prepared from start to finish. That goes for Clemm as well. We're not going to build a mountain out of this. We talk about this a lot, but I don't think it's a big issue.''

Clemmensen, after beating Winnipeg last Friday, had given the Panthers a chance to win in just about all of his starts as he picked up at least a point in 13 of 15 appearances.

This past stretch marks the first time Clemmensen had lost games in regulation on successive nights. It is also the first time the Panthers have lost two straight in regulation since October. 

“We're just hovering around .500 a lot lately and that's not where we want to be,'' defenseman Brian Campbell said. “We came in [to Washington] and hadn't played in a few games. I felt we were ready to go. We made too many minor mistakes that turned into major mistakes and into goals.''

THEODORE RETURNS

TheoClemmensen is expected to be back in net Thursday against the visiting Los Angeles Kings, although Jose Theodore could start as he's been cleared to dress again.

With Theodore back, the Panthers sent Brian Foster back to AHL San Antonio. Theodore missed almost a month after being run over by teammate Dmitry Kulikov and Montreal's Mike Blunden during the second period of a game Dec. 31. Theodore returned on Jan. 18 and played against Colorado and Chicago before his knee acted up again. 

() The Panthers took Wednesday off, although Theodore, Jack Skille (shoulder) and Ed Jovanovski (fractured hand) all skated. Only Theodore will dress on Thursday. Jovanovski had surgery on his hand and is expected to miss a few more weeks at least. 

() Tomas Vokoun never likes sitting on the bench – especially when one of his former teams is on the other side of the ice. On Tuesday, the former Panthers goalie made his second start against Florida since leaving last summer. He's 2-0 against the Panthers, tossing shutouts both times. The Panthers are 2-0 against Washington when Vokoun is on the bench. 

“It's a different team,'' Vokoun said. “There's probably four guys since I played there. There are different coaches, different everything. It's nice to get a shutout, I won't lie.''

KingshatTHURSDAY: KINGS AT PANTHERS

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

TV/Radio: FS Florida/WFTL-640

The series: Kings lead 12-8-3

The game: This is the second meeting between the two after Florida played strong at Staples Center on Dec. 1 yet lost 2-1. The Panthers have lost seven Billystraight to the Kings, last winning in 2002. Florida hasn't beaten the Kings at home since Oct. 26, 2001. Bill Lindsay (the team's current TV analyst) scored 29 seconds into the game and Roberto Luongo made 31 saves as the Panthers won 3-2. 

 

February 07, 2012

Tomas Vokoun Stops 42 Shots as Capitals Drop Panthers Back to Ninth with 4-0 Win ... Caps up 3-0 Early in 2nd, Win Laugher

WASHINGTON – Capitals coach Dale Hunter said if a regular season game should be treated like the postseason, well, Tuesday's game was the one to do it. 

Panthers coach Kevin Dineen added that his veteran players “can count, look at the paper and know what the deal is'' when looking at the division and conference standings. 

One team got the message on Tuesday – and it wasn't the Panthers. 

Florida don't have a spot in the playoffs right now after Washington ran away with a 4-0 win at Verizon Center. The Capitals took a one point lead on the Panthers in the Southeast Division as Florida lost its second straight and fell to ninth place in the Eastern Conference. 

The Panthers have been outscored 10-3 in losses at Tampa Bay and Washington. 

“We got beat by the better team,'' Dineen said postgame. “They were the better team and we need to recognize that, fess up and know our game has to improve as we move forward. .-.-.

"What are you going to do? I don't think anyone feels sorry for us. This is NHL hockey. It's the best league in the world. You have to understand that when you get a good tail kicking, you recognize it and get better for the next one.''

The way the east is looking, the runner-up in the Southeast Division is probably going to be outside the playoffs. By the way the Panthers have played their past two games, that doesn't bode well for Florida's hope to end a NHL-record 10 seasons outside the playoffs.

Florida is two points back of Ottawa for the eighth and final postseason spot and have played three fewer games. 

“I can't see why anyone's confidence wouldn't be there,'' Kris Versteeg said. “We were still clawing in this one for a while.''

Washington, which had lost five of seven coming in, took control from the start as Mathieu Parreault snapped a shot past Scott Clemmensen a mere 13 seconds into the game. Alex Ovechkin made it 2-0 after scoring on a breakaway with Marcel Goc in the penalty box midway through the period. 

Florida had a number of scoring chances in the first – including John Madden missing an empty net and Tomas Vokoun stopping Shawn Matthias on a breakaway. But the Panthers failed to find a way to beat their former goalie as Vokoun is now 2-0 against the Panthers since leaving the team as a free agent in July. 

The Capitals made it 3-0 when Jason Chimera tapped a loose puck into the net early in the second while Florida was on a power play chance. Ovechkin, who was suspended for Florida's 4-2 win in Sunrise last Wednesday, scored midway through the second to end Washington's scoring.

The Panthers took 42 shots at Vokoun as he shutout the Cats for the second time this season. 

“It was a big game and obviously they were ahead of us,'' said Vokoun, who has four shutouts this season and 48 in his career. “It was a very desperate situation, but we came out great, scored a goal 13 seconds in and that was big – especially at home, get the fans going.

"We have a great first period. They get a lot of shots, but we were able to score a few goals, and it's a little easier to play when you know you're not so pressed about making a mistake and you have a few goals in the bank.''

() With the Panthers being delayed coming out of Fort Lauderdale by more than two hours on Monday, it was probably a good idea that Dineen left goalie Jose Theodore at home. 

Theodore, who has been doing on-ice workouts, didn't have to hang out on the team charter as it sat near the runway while mechanics and technicians worked on the plane. 

Dineen said Theodore was to skate in South Florida on Tuesday and should be on the ice Wednesday whether or not the Panthers hold a practice session.

Theodore suffered a minor knee injury after being run over by teammate Dmitry Kulikov and Montreal's Mike Blunden on Dec. 31. Theodore returned to play in two games last month but has been out since. 

The Panthers would like to have Theodore back for this weekend's back-to-back series against the host Devils and Islanders. 

“He's getting close, but if he wasn't going to play [Tuesday], he was better off staying at home,'' Dineen said. “We had a bit of a tough day, some technical difficulties with the plane. That happens.''

February 05, 2012

Florida Panthers Need to Improve on Back-to-Back Nights: Cats Actually Getting Schedule Help

BY GEORGE RICHARDS

TAMPA – Playing on consecutive nights is a reality in the National Hockey League, a problem each team has to deal with.

How a team succeeds in those games, especially in the second game of a back-to-back set, can help determine whether a team makes it to the postseason or not.

The Panthers sure could do a lot better in that department – although there are teams who handle it much worse. 

Florida visited Tampa Bay on Saturday night for the third and final time this season. Two of those trips came when the Panthers had played at home the night before. Florida lost both, outscored 11-4 in the process. 

The Panthers are 2-5-1 in the second game this season with five more to go. The next set of back-to-back games comes this weekend when the Panthers visit the Devils on Saturday afternoon then play the Islanders on Sunday. 

Winnipeg, which came into the weekend five points back of the Panthers in the divisional race, has lost all nine of its second night games this season. 

“You have tired legs so you have to manage your ice time,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. “You can get the same amount, but it has to be distributed differently. You really have to stay mentally sharp in these games. You have to stay in the game and not let how your body feels be more important that being in the right position.''

Although Florida has five more games in which it will be playing on successive nights, the schedule does turn in its favor a little bit down the stretch. Because of travel, many teams head south and play both the Lightning and Panthers. 

Six times over the next two months those games will come on consecutive nights in which a northern team plays in Tampa on the first night and then faces a rested Florida team the next. Only once will a team (Washington) start the back-to-back stage against the Panthers. 

Florida will be rested and await Ottawa (Feb. 15), Carolina (March 11), Edmonton (March 23) and the Islanders (March 25).

Last week, the Panthers took advantage of that same scenario by beating the Capitals (4-2) and Jets (2-1) after both those teams played across the Alley the night before. 

And things sure could be worse. In the AHL, teams routinely play weekend series that include night games on Friday and Saturday with a Sunday matinee thrown in for fun. 

“We had 12 three-and-threes last year and you do that a lot in the AHL,'' said Dineen, who spent six seasons coaching the Portland Pirates of the AHL. 

BIG DAY 

Goalie Brian Foster hoped to get the start for the Panthers on Saturday against Tampa Bay. Not only would it have marked his NHL debut, but the start would have come on his 25th birthday. Dineen went with Scott Clemmensen instead as Florida went with the same goalie on consecutive nights for the first time this season.

No matter. When Tampa Bay scored its fifth goal with 4:52 left in the second period, Dineen turned to his left and made the call. Foster would make his NHL debut after all. Foster closed the second and made a save on the only shot he faced. Clemmensen returned to start the third.

“There were a million thoughts going through my head,'' Foster said. “I was nervous, excited. I can't really explain it. I was nervous when he told me, but then you skate out there and it all goes away. It becomes natural. You could see the way the game was going. If it kept up, you have to make a change. I was preparing myself mentally to go out there and do the job.''

By using Foster – even for such a short period of time – the Panthers have officially used four goalies in a season for just the third time in franchise history. 




February 04, 2012

Panthers Out of Gas as Lightning Roll 6-3 ... Free Hats for St. Louis ... Foster Makes (brief) Debut on Birthday

BY GEORGE RICHARDS
Twitter: @OnFrozenPond

TAMPA – As was the case the last time they were here, not much went right for the Florida Panthers.

Well, goalie Brian Foster made his NHL debut on his 25th birthday. He'll be the only Panthers player who left Saturday's 6-3 loss to the host Lightning with a positive memory.

“We had a tough second period to say the least and were our own worst enemy,'' said coach Kevin Dineen, whose team played in its third game in four nights and went 2-1-0. “They have good players. When you turn the puck over, it will be the difference in the game.''

Florida, which now leads Washington by just a point in the Southeast Division, didn't do much against the resurgent Lightning as Tampa Bay – which has at least a point in its past seven games – scored four goals in the second to chase starter Scott Clemmensen from goal.

Clemmensen returned to start the third period after Florida cut the deficit to two when Sean Bergenheim – Tampa Bay's playoff hero from last spring who is now booed here whenever he touches the puck – scored with 45 seconds left in the second period.

The Panthers didn't do a whole lot, however, in the third, registering just six shots in the period. The period all but came to a close with 20 seconds left when Martin St. Louis registered his fifth career hat trick by depositing the puck into an empty net. St. Louis scored twice against Clemmensen in the second as Florida's defense didn't help out a whole lot.

“We just had a couple of breakdowns in the second and some turnovers really killed us,'' said Clemmensen, who ended with 27 saves. “We had a 10 minute span in the second that was the story of the game. Obviously they made plays, but they took what we gave them. We made some costly mistakes.''

The Panthers lost 5-1 here on Thanksgiving weekend and Saturday's win gave Tampa Bay the season series with wins in four of six. Florida took the first two games of the series back in October then dropped four straight.

Florida hadn't lost the season series to the Lightning since Tampa Bay's Stanley Cup championship season in 2003-04.

“What happened in Tampa is in the past. I'm just ticked we didn't win this game,'' said Bergenheim, who had nine goals in Tampa Bay's run to the Eastern Conference finals. said. “We have to take care [of the Lightning] better next year. These are such important games. Congrats to them. They were the better team [Saturday], I thought.''

Tampa Bay opened the scoring 1:37 into the game when Florida's Mike Weaver's shot was blocked and Nate Thompson scooped it up at center ice and fired through Clemmensen's skates on Tampa's opening shot of the night.

Florida got right back in it on Tomas Fleischmann's soft off-speed wrist shot that beat Mathieu Garon two minutes later.

Only the Lightning opened things up in the third, taking a 3-1 lead on goals from Vinny Lecavalier and St. Louis within a span of three minutes. After Mikael Samuelsson scored by firing away from an awkward angle, Steven Stamkos made it 5-2 tapping in his own rebound.

Dineen then brought in the now 25-year-old Foster. With the Panthers down two, Clemmensen returned.

“We were down two with 20 minutes to go,'' said Clemmensen, who stopped all seven shots faced in the third. “For me, I just wanted to shut the door and let the team do the rest. Two goals isn't something you can't come back from.''

Said Dineen: “I wanted to give him a breather. My full intention was to bring him back. There may have been one he wanted back but there were breakdowns. We felt we could come back and push and I think, for the most part, we did.''

--Foster's NHL debut didn't last long as he was in net for under five minutes and faced just one shot. For Foster, who was called up from AHL San Antonio last week, it was fine.

“Just to get the nerves out, even though it wasn't long,'' Foster said. “I'm not disappointed, I'm just happy to be here. Whatever I have to do, I will. I'll go with whatever they tell me. I'm just trying to get better every day''

--The Panthers will take Sunday off and return to their practice facility in Coral Springs for an early morning skate Monday. The team will then fly to Washington, D.C., for Tuesday's divisional game against the Capitals.

February 03, 2012

Panthers Now 2-for-2 Out of Break, Ground Jets 2-1 ... Kris Versteeg Not Very Popular in Winnipeg ... Sturm, Skille back on DL

HeatjetBY GEORGE RICHARDS Twitter: @OnFrozenPond

The Panthers circled the first four games coming out of the All-Star break as extremely important to their challenge of trying to end an NHL-record 11 year postseason drought. 

So far, things couldn't have worked out better.

Florida won its second straight game against a divisional rival on Friday, beating Winnipeg 2-1 at BankAtlantic Center as Kris Versteeg and Sean Bergenheim scored with Scott Clemmensen continuing his hot streak with 20 saves.

The Panthers continue their run through the Southeast Division Saturday in Tampa as Clemmensen returns to the net.

Florida is now 9-2-3 within the division and hold a three-point lead on Washington. The Jets dropped back to five points back of the Panthers as they are now 0-9 in the second game of a back-to-back set. Winnipeg beat the Lightning in overtime on Thursday. 

Winnipeg has been outscored 35-6 in those nine games. 

“This is what we need,'' said Versteeg, who now has six goals in Florida's past three games (all wins) against the former Atlanta Thrashers. “You look at the standings every day and see where you are, where other teams are. Obviously you want to play in these kind of games because of the severity of the points. We know what is at stake every game. We need to put a long winning streak together.''

Versteeg, who returned Friday after missing Wednesday's win over the Capitals after a bout with the flu, got the Panthers going with a power play goal with 4:14 left in the first. Versteeg, who recorded his first career hat trick in Winnipeg on Nov. 10, one-timed a Mikael Samuelsson pass from the right circle to beat backup Chris Mason. 

The Jets got on the board midway through the second on a goal from Bryan Little, only the Panthers matched that and retook the lead three minutes later when Bergenheim snapped a pass from Marcel Goc over Mason's glove.

Clemmensen, who hasn't made starts on consecutive nights since his days in New Jersey, stopped all seven shots faced in the third period as he improved to 8-2-5. Since starter Jose Theodore tweaked his knee Dec. 31, Clemmensen has gone 5-1-3.

“I don't have to do too much right now, I'm just trying to keep the rhythm going,'' said Clemmensen, who will become the first Florida goalie to start in consecutive nights this season.

“These divisional games against teams we're in the mix with are big. They are the end-all, be-all, but they are big games for us. For me, if I just play solid, I think this team in front of me will win. I don't have to do anything special with this group.''

TWO BACK ON DL

The Panthers placed forwards Jack Skille and Marco Sturm back on the injured list Friday not long after the two returned to the lineup after long absences.
Sturm missed 14 games after suffering a concussion but played Wednesday against the Capitals.

Sturm is thought to have a groin injury and coach Kevin Dineen said he'll be evaluated next week.

Skille missed 13 games with a shoulder injury but played in back-to-back games Jan. 20-21. He was put on the injured list retroactive to Jan. 22. 

“I think I may have rushed it,'' Skille said, adding he is aiming to return at the end of next week. “I'm going to do this smart and take my time, get it as healthy as I can. Once the trainers say I'm good, I'll be back.''

() Versteeg said he missed out on enjoying the bulk of his All-Star break as he and his younger brother caught some kind of nasty bug last weekend.

Versteeg said he was basically bed-ridden from Saturday through Wednesday. He spent the weekend watching the All-Star festivities and caught Wednesday's game against the Capitals via his television.

“It really hit me on Saturday. So I didn't get to do much during the weekend except stay in a bed,'' said Versteeg, who returned to practice Thursday. “It was tough to not play in a game of that magnitude. Now it's time to get back and help the team win again.

"It's way more nerve-wracking watching a game from the house. You are praying every time they shoot. I don't get nervous playing, but when it's out of your hands, it's tough.''

Versteeg's goal was the 20th this season. Versteeg has scored at least 20 goals in four straight seasons although this is by far the quickest (48 games). His career high of 22 goals came in 78 games with the Blackhawks in 2008-09.

February 02, 2012

Florida Panthers Get Loan from Broward County: Michael Yormark 'Dances' Out of Comment

ClubredAs most of you know by know, the Broward County Board of Commissioners voted to loan the Panthers $7.7 million so the team can renovate their exisiting suites and boxes.

A big chunk of the money will help create a huge luxury bar called Club Red -- a lot of cement will be
Clubred2blown out once hockey season is over -- that will encompass a large number of center ice seats in Sections 102, 101 and 134.

As you can see by the above illustration, there will still be center ice seats. They just won't belong to the season ticket holders who currently hold them now -- unless they decide to pony up and join (use deep voice here) CLUB RED. Some will, sure. Many probably won't. 

And, yes, the area will likely look pretty bad on television. Think about all the empty seats you see behind the Maple Leafs bench at the start of periods (while everyone is still 'visiting' in the luxury bar). Same with the Heat.

Of course, both of those entities are making a ton of cash on those bars. The Panthers think they can do the same thing. Will Broward patrons go for it? We'll see.

It does look like a cool place to be seen, kind of South Beach meets the burbs. 

You can read all about the details of the loan here and the questions that were raised (it doesn't seem to be a very good deal for the county, but what else is new?) by the county's auditor here

Channel 10's Bob Norman tried to get some answers from Panthers president Michael Yormark following the meeting but it seems Yormark wasn't very interested in speaking with Channel 10.

Dude has some pretty good dance moves.

Yormark did send out a Thank You tweet to the Broward commission. It was a sweet tweet.

Of course, this loan is nothing but a drop in a FlanigansFlanigan's cup if the Panthers land one of the destination casinos that may or may not be coming to South Florida in the coming years. 

I've heard the Panthers are in very Miamicasinotight with the Wynn group. They'll be able to pay that loan back pretty quickly then.

Again, we'll see.

Mikael Samuelsson Finding Stride with Panthers ... Sturm Takes Day Off, Versteeg Back on Ice ... Markstrom Skates as Jets to Land in South Florida

Samuelsson2BY GEORGE RICHARDS Twitter: @OnFrozenPond

Mikael Samuelsson's second tour with the Florida Panthers started out like his first one.

In 2003-04, Samuelsson struggled with injuries, playing just 37 games with the Panthers as he missed two big stretches.

Brought back in the David Booth deal on Oct. 22, Samuelsson came in hurt. A sports hernia surgery performed last May left complications. Samuelsson missed 20 games and didn't make his second Panthers debut until Dec. 8.

Samuelsson, who later missed five games with a concussion, has seemingly turned the corner and found his stride in a Florida sweater.

“It feels good to play, first of all, because it makes you realize how much you miss it,'' Samuelsson said on Thursday, a day after his two goals from long range helped the Panthers beat Washington 4-2. “I knew when I was traded, I wasn't day-to-day. I was prepared for a long rehab. Hopefully that's all behind me.''

Samuelsson has been a part of winning teams since Samuelssonwingsleaving the Panthers in 2004, helping Detroit win the Stanley Cup in 2008 and being with the Cup finalist Canucks last season.

Samuelsson was patient during rehabilitation upon coming back to the Panthers as was coach Kevin Dineen. Although it looked like a never-ending process, Dineen knew what kind of player Samuelsson is when healthy and was willing to wait for that.

In the 10 games since returning from his concussion, Samuelsson has four goals with three assists.

“I like what he brings to our team,'' Dineen said. “He has a large level of creativity and skill that was on display [Wednesday].

"Dale Tallon is smart like a fox and understands to get quality you have to give some up. That was where his thought process was on this deal. We gave up someone [Booth] who had had been here a long time and had kind of the stamp of the franchise on him. He also knows he got players who have been down this line before. We can talk more of it on Game 82.''

The Panthers are definitely counting on the leadership Samuelsson and others who have won the hardware bring down the stretch. Florida hasn't made the playoffs in an NHL record 10 straight seasons, a drought the Panthers could end this season.

“Having Samuelsson is unreal, he's played on some of the best teams the NHL has seen over the past few years,'' said 23-year-old defenseman Keaton Ellerby.

“He's seen it all, has the experience and the knowledge. He keeps things calm, keeps an even keel. You have to stick to the game plan and do what worked in the past.''

Florida has a handful of players – including Samuelsson, Tomas Kopecky, Kris Versteeg, John Madden and Brian Campbell – who know what it's like to go on a run to the playoffs.

“I think we bring a calmness to the room,'' Samuelsson said. “We know what it takes to win games. You can't panic, you just need to relax and play their game. The younger players have to hear that, have to believe it. That's what a team is all about.''

() Kris Versteeg returned to practice on Thursday after missing the past three days with the flu. Versteeg, who had his own water bottle on the bench, is questionable for Friday's game against the Jets.

He said he still felt “crummy” as he left the locker room on Thursday. Versteeg has five goals in the past two games against Winnipeg.

“I'm wondering where his energy will be later on [Thursday] and when we go out for the morning skate,'' Dineen said. “He's had the flu for the past three or four days. We've all been there. You just feel rotten and wore down. That's where he's at.''

() Marco Sturm missed 14 games with a concussion before returning Wednesday night. Sturm took Thursday off but should be back Friday. “It's not always easy,'' Dineen said. “He worked hard to get back in the swing of things.''

() Goalie Jacob Markstrom had knee surgery on Jan. 10 and returned to the ice for the first time on Thursday. Markstrom is still expected to be out the next two weeks and, if Florida's top two goalies are healthy, will be returned to AHL San Antonio. “That first day on the ice is always a good first step,'' Dineen said.

() Jose Theodore (knee) didn't skate on Thursday but Dineen would not rule him out for Saturday's game in Tampa Bay. Scott Clemmensen will start Friday against the Jets.

FRIDAY: JETS AT PANTHERS

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

TV/Radio: FSN; WQAM-560

The series: Panthers lead 2-0-1

The game: Scott Clemmensen stopped 41 shots – including five of seven in the shootout – as Florida won at Winnipeg 4-3 on Jan. 23. The Panthers are 8-1-2 against Canadian opponents this season and 4-0-1 at home (Winnipeg won here in a shootout on Oct. 31). Winnipeg went into Thursday's game at Tampa Bay five points back of the Panthers in the standings.

 

February 01, 2012

Florida Panthers Back in First, Top Capitals 4-2 ... Upshall Surgery in Philly on Thursday, Theodore's Knee Bothersome

BY GEORGE RICHARDS

Although he no doubt had fun cruising up and down the Intracoastal Waterway and hanging out on Duval Street during the All-Star break, Panthers coach Kevin Dineen was ready to get “back to business” on Wednesday night.

So, too, was his team.

Thanks to a pair of long-range goals from Mikael Samuelsson that would have impressed the Heat's Mike Miller, the Panthers downed rival Washington 4-2 at BankAtlantic Center.

With the win, the Panthers regained sole possession of first place in the Southeast Division and jumped from ninth place in the Eastern Conference all the back back to third. Washington picked up one of an available four points on its Sunshine State swing after losing in overtime to the Lightning on Tuesday.

Florida leads the Capitals by one in the division with three more meetings, including one Tuesday in Washington, remaining this season.

“We’ve got to get rust — whatever the word is when you take a good break – off,'' Dineen said before the game. “I think it’s a great way to mentally rejuvenate yourself, but sometimes if you watched games [Tuesday] night, there were a lot of plays that weren’t happening. We have to make sure with the extra day of practice that we had that we come out with lots of energy and good execution.”

The Panthers did exactly that and had plenty of good chances against Washington backup goalie Michael Neuvirth – who played in place of former Panthers netminder Tomas Vokoun.

Florida didn't convert in the opening period but out-chanced the Capitals and got a fluke goal early in the second when Samuelsson whipped in a shot from almost 90 feet out that somehow find a way past Neuvirth.

Samuelsson's shot, estimated by the league at 88 feet, came from, well, way downtown.

The Capitals evened things later in the period when Brooks Laich made a nice move down low and snapped one over Scott Clemmensen's shoulder top corner. Clemmensen, Florida's new temporary starter with Jose Theodore's knee acting up, made 26 saves.

Clemmensen is now 7-2-5 and 4-1-3 since Theodore initially injured his knee during the second period of a game against Montreal on Dec. 31.

Samuelsson picked up his second of the night on a power play chance in the third, making it 2-1 on a shot from 51 feet away.

Florida got some much-needed breathing room midway through the third when a loose puck hit Stephen Weiss just before he barreled into Neuvirth. The puck caromed over Neuvirth's head and into the net. Although the play was ruled no-goal on the ice, the call was reversed after a lengthy review at Hockey Central in Toronto and Florida took a 3-1 lead.

Washington made it a one-goal affair with 2:21 left on a nice goal from John Carlson, only Shawn Matthias all but ended it with an empty net goal with 52.8 seconds remaining.

SURGERY FOR UPSHALL

The Panthers lost winger Scottie Upshall for approximately four to six weeks as the right winger is scheduled for sports hernia surgery on Thursday. Upshall was hurt Nov. 10 and worked to get back into the lineup without the surgery.

Upshall returned on Jan. 20 in Chicago and also played last week against Philadelphia. If Upshall is to miss the rest of the season – as is very possible – he will have scored a goal with two assists in 17 games after signing a four-year deal worth $3.5 million per season (second highest paid forward on team) on July 1.

Upshall will have the surgery Thursday in Philadelphia by noted sports hernia specialist Dr. William Meyers. Dineen missed nine weeks when Meyers performed the surgery on him back in the day. Dineen says he was the first NHL player Meyer performed the operation on.

“He’s a big part of what our team and we haven’t seen a lot of Scottie Upshall this year,'' Dineen said. “I think sometimes you move on and we didn’t see him for such a long time, that’s the nature of it.

“I don’t want him coming back and limping through this season. I think that it’s important that if we get Scottie in the lineup, we have to get the real deal instead of what we’ve seen for the majority of this year, which is just not good enough to help us get where we are.”

() Upshall wasn't the only Florida player to miss Wednesday's game as Theodore is again hampered by a knee injury. Florida recalled Brian Foster from AHL San Antonio to replace Theodore on the roster and back up Clemmensen. If Theodore isn't ready to go by this weekend when Florida plays back-to-back games against Winnipeg and Tampa Bay, Foster could make his NHL debut.

“We’re going to give him a couple more days,'' Dineen said of Theodore. “His knee is not feeling as strong as we want it and we’ll give him a couple of days to heal that up.''

() Jack Skille, out for the second straight game because of the shoulder he injured Dec. 20, may return to practice Wednesday and could play this weekend. Skille missed 13 games with the injury but returned for games against Chicago and Winnipeg before the All-Star break.

Leading scorer Kris Versteeg also missed the game because of illness.