« February 2012 | Main | April 2012 »

40 posts from March 2012

March 31, 2012

Florida Panthers Need to Forget Recent Past, Move Toward Future ... Panthers Visit Detroit After Day Off ... Final Week of Season Underway

50firstdatesBY GEORGE RICHARDS grichards@MiamiHerald.com

TWITTER: @OnFrozenPond

FACEBOOK: On Frozen Pond

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Forget, forget, forget.

That has to be the Panthers mantra these days after losing five of their past six games. Of course, that's much easier to do in theory than in reality.

Coach Kevin Dineen gave his battered troops Saturday off after a brutal two-game stretch in which Florida held a 2-1 lead in Minnesota before losing that with 30 seconds left and losing in overtime. On Friday, the Panthers got blown out by the worst team in hockey playing a 22-year-old goalie making just his third NHL start as Columbus rolled to a 4-1 win.

With losses to five teams already booking summer cabins in its past six games, things don't get easier for Florida as it visits league power Detroit on Sunday. Then comes the final three games against a scrappy Winnipeg team, a Washington squad trying to overtake the Panthers for its fifth straight Southeast Division title and a season finale Saturday against TotalrecallCarolina.

Yes, the final week of the season is upon us. The Panthers hope this isn't their last week of said season.

“This road trip is all about getting as many points as we can,'' Scottie Upshall said. “Sunday's game, right now, is our biggest game of the season. This is where our attention has to be.''

Dineen has preached “amnesia” is the best remedy for stretches like this, although before hitting this recent rough patch, the Panthers won five straight for the first time in four years. So although the Panthers should forget about what's happened lately, they also should remember what it felt like not too long ago.

“We are .500 on this road trip so a win Sunday makes it a good road trip,'' said Brian Campbell, whose team has gone 1-1-1 in the first three games of the trip. “Anything is possible.''

Scoring some goals sure would cure what ails the Panthers. In the past six games, Florida has scored a Backtofutuetotal of nine goals. Florida scored a grand total of three in losses to the Wild and Blue Jackets – two teams who cashed in their playoff hopes long, long ago.

Detroit is not one of those teams. The Red Wings are fighting for the top seed in the Western Conference. That may actually be a good thing for the Panthers. Instead of playing a loose team with nothing to lose, Florida and Detroit will both be focused on winning. 

“Detroit is a fun place to play and a great challenge,'' Campbell said. 

() According to sportsclubstats.com, the Panthers went into Saturday with a 95 percent chance of winning the Southeast Division just by going 2-2 in their final four games; by going 1-0-3, the Panthers will clinch the division for the first time in franchise history. 

Elias Sports Bureau reports that only one team lead its division with five games left and didn't make the playoffs – and the Panthers had a hand in that. In 2007-08, Carolina had led the Southeast from the start of the season until the final day when it was overtaken by Washington. 

CanesThe Hurricanes could have clinched the division in their season finale on April 4, 2008, yet lost at home to the Panthers. Carolina then needed Florida to beat the Capitals the following day. The Panthers lost 3-1 and Washington claimed what became the first of its four straight division titles. Carolina dropped from the third seed in the Eastern Conference to ninth and missed the playoffs by three points.

() Kris Versteeg is obviously still dealing with the hip injury that shut him down for nine games as he hasn't scored since Feb. 12. Versteeg got an assist on Tomas Kopecky’s goal against the Blue Jackets – his first point in nine games. 

Versteeg3Versteeg is still second on the team with 22 goals and fourth with 50 points. 

“I liked his game in Montreal, thought he had some bounce to his step,'' Dineen said. “He was moving his feet, creating some chances. He's a valuable piece, plays on both sides of the special teams. He's a valuable part of our team. There will come a time when his skill will pop open. It's coming. We have plenty of confidence in him. He has his work boots on right now. That's most important.''

() The Red Wings will likely be watching Stephen Weiss very closely Sunday as the Florida center has three goals and four assists in eight games against Detroit.

SUNDAY: PANTHERS AT RED WINGS

RedwingsWhen, Where: 4 p.m.; Joe Louis Arena, Detroit

TV/Radio: FS Florida/WQAM-560

The series: Detroit leads 13-4-5

The game: The banged-up Red Wings should be nice and hungry for the Panthers after losing two straight, first in Columbus on Wednesday and then to Nashville on home ice Friday night. The Panthers, who have lost five of six, are 0-4-1 against Central Division teams. Florida won in Detroit two seasons ago for the first time since 1996. 

 

March 30, 2012

Florida Panthers Lose Again, This Time to Last-Place Blue Jackets 4-1 ... Cats Still Lead Capitals by Four With Four to Go ... Dineen Returns to C-Bus

CbusbugBY GEORGE RICHARDS grichards@MiamiHerald.com

TWITTER: @OnFrozenPond

FACEBOOK: On Frozen Pond

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Those Florida Panthers fans who were making plans for the playoffs should have known better.

These are, after all, still the Panthers.

Only the Panthers, it seems, could go from being a postseason lock with six of the worst teams in the league on the schedule and win just one of those games. Friday was an absolute disaster for the Panthers as Columbus – the NHL's worst team – took Florida out 4-1 at Nationwide Arena.

“We have to find a way to win that game,'' Brian Campbell said. “We have four games left and we really have to pour it on. Everyone knows what is at stake.''

Friday's meltdown – one team employee called it “Chernobyl” – came off Thursday's loss in which the Panthers coughed up a 2-1 lead in Minnesota with 30.3 seconds left before losing 15 seconds into overtime.

“We looked tired for one and a little tight and there were some coaching mistakes from the bench,'' said coach Kevin Dineen, whose team gave up four power plays with two coming off having too many men on the ice in the second period alone.

“We're going to move forward from here, take care of the tired part and get some rest. We're going to move on. It's not like we're going to pass this off. We made mistakes. Self-inflicted mistakes. We need to learn, get our energy back and get some trust in each other back.''

Are Florida's postseason hopes done? No.

The Panthers still hold a four point lead on Washington with both teams having four games remaining. If Florida loses Sunday in Detroit, which has to be expected at this point, the Capitals could overtake the Panthers for first place in the division before the two meet next Thursday in Washington.

Since beating Philadelphia on March 20, the Panthers have lost to Carolina, Edmonton, the Islanders, Minnesota and the Blue Jackets. The only win in this stretch was a shootout win in Montreal on Tuesday. Florida has picked up at least one point in four of the past six games.

“It was a big game for us and a disappointing finish and outcome,'' said Scottie Upshall, who finished last season in Columbus. “This could have gone either way. They were very loose and we don't play that style. We're used to playing a tight game and they have guys flying the zone and they took advantage of our mistakes.''

The Panthers looked flat from the start of the night as the Blue Jackets (who have now won two straight) took a 1-0 lead when RJ Umberger pounced on a rebound in front of Jose Theodore and flipped it into the net.

That goal seemed to light a spark on the Panthers who then ended the first outshooting the Jackets 15-1. Florida had a lengthy 5-on-3 power play advantage, yet rookie goalie Allen York kept Florida at bay until Tomas Kopecky made it a 3-1 game almost eight minutes into the third. Columbus' final goal came into an empty net in the final minute.

York, 22, picked up his first NHL win on Wednesday against the Red Wings after bouncing around the ECHL, AHL and NHL this season. York – who made 31 saves – has been pressed into duty because Columbus' goaltending situation is so bad with injuries to Steve Mason and Curtis Sanford that the team signed former University of Michigan walk-on Shawn Hunwick to be the backup not long after his season ended in Ann Arbor.

Hunwick2Hunwick still wears a Wolverines football-themed mask, although the Blue Jackets covered the yellow “wings” in dark tape, this being Ohio State country and all.

BACK IN C-BUS

Dineen said Columbus held a special place for him. Not only did his playing career end as a member of the Blue Jackets, but he also got his first taste of the coaching side of the game when Columbus offered him a job after he retired.

Dineen left the Blue Jackets organization in 2005 when Anaheim's Brian Burke hired him to coach the AHL Portland Pirates.

“I enjoyed many fond memories here,’’ said Dineen, who played in 129 games with Columbus. “It's always good to come back to mid-Ohio.''

DinnencbusDineen was shown on the scoreboard during the second period as fans cheered, although Dineen was in no mood for such things. Florida had just been called for its second penalty for having too many men on the ice just prior.

--Dineen sat Mike Santorelli for the fifth straight game on Friday as Mikael Samuelsson and Krys Barch returned to the lineup. Jered Smithson, Marco Sturm and Keaton Ellerby – who has been scratched eight straight games – also were out.

--Defenseman Erik Gudbranson could find himself meeting with the league's Department of Player Safety after ramming Jared Boll into the boards during the second period.

Boll was slow getting up as Gudbranson went to the box for boarding.   

March 29, 2012

Panthers Stunned in Minnesota as Wild Rally for 3-2 OT Win ... Cats Give up 2 in 45 Seconds ... Cats off to Ohio

FargoBY GEORGE RICHARDS grichards@MiamiHerald.com

TWITTER: @OnFrozenPond

FACEBOOK: On Frozen Pond

ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Panthers got no help from their friends in Boston on Thursday night – and they sure didn't help themselves. 

Yes, Florida got a point out of its 3-2 overtime loss to the host Wild. But, for the third time in a week, the Panthers left that extra point sitting on the ice. 

The Wild scored with 30.3 seconds left to force overtime then won it when Mikko Koivu broke loose early in the extra session to give the Washington Capitals a little more hope as the Capitals beat host Boston in a shootout and now trail the Panthers by four points in the Southeast Division.

Florida had hoped to wrap up its first-ever division title by the weekend. 

The Panthers did hit the 90 point mark for the first time since the 2008-09 team missed the postseason despite getting 93.

“That [third period] goal could have gone either way,'' said Scottie Upshall, whose second period goal gave Florida a 1-0 lead. “We gave a 60 minute effort but they worked hard to come back and got one. These games are crucial and we're not far up on Washington. They're pushing hard.''

After a slow first period, Florida came hard in the second and got the Upshall goal 13:27 into the frame. Upshall, who has only played in 21 games because of sports hernia surgery, shoveled the puck through Backstrom's legs. Upshall scored his first goal as a member of the Panthers on Oct. 24; Thursday's goal was his second. 

Upshall has had success playing against the Wild – he now has eight goals and six assists in 16 games – yet he didn't enjoy what happened early in the third as he was slashed working his way through the Florida zone. No penalty was called as Upshall was seen in pain on the ice as he yelled choice words both at the official who didn't make the call as well as toward the Wild bench.

With no penalty called, the Wild tied it soon afterward as the Panthers failed to clear the puck deep in their own zone. Kyle Brodziak picked off the puck and fired it toward one-time Wild goalie Jose Theodore. The long rebound escaped capture from the Panthers and Brodziak swooped in and knocked his own rebound through. 

Florida had a great power play chance shortened in the third when Kris Versteeg's stick got caught in the face mask of Minnesota's Tom Gilbert three seconds in what would have been a 5-on-3 chance for a whopping 1:52.

The Panthers didn't have that second man advantage, but did have an extra skater when Tomas Fleischmann potted the game-winner with 6:44 left. Fleischmann took a nice feed from Minnesota-educated Jason Garrison, moved in on Backstrom and froze him, scoring top corner. 

The Wild tied it with 30.3 seconds left when Erik Christensen followed up Gilbert's rebound off the post and deposited it. 

Minnesota didn't waste any time in the overtime, with Koivu charging in on Theodore and beating him for the winning goal. The Panthers are now 7-16 in overtime as the Wild improved to 10-10 as it beat the Panthers in OT for the second time this season. 

“That's a tough one. We were 30 seconds away,'' said Theodore, who made 22 saves. “We still got a big point, but with 30 seconds away, you want the win.''

Florida is 1-0-1 in the first two games on this four-game trip with game No. 3 coming Friday in Columbus against the last-place (in the entire league) Blue Jackets. The Panthers are 6-1-4 in their past 11 games. 

MADDEN'S RETURN

Madden4It wasn't too long ago that John Madden was trying to stay in game shape by playing in beer league games not far from the arena he was playing in on Thursday. Madden was a free agent waiting for a call until joining the Panthers in January. 

Madden, 38, says the toughest part of waiting was the staying in shape part. With a family and no one, really, to skate with, Madden really had to self-motivate. 

“I didn't know if that was the end or if there was going to be more hockey. We were about ready to turn the page and move on,'' said Madden, who played for the Wild last season. 

--The Wild celebrated its professional hockey heritage NorthstarsThursday as large group of former Minnesota North Stars were honored on the ice before the game. The North Stars moved from Minneapolis to Dallas in 1993; the Wild started play as an expansion team in 2000.

The Wild hadn't done anything to honor the North Stars since a number took part in the first opening night festivities. 

--Mikael Samuelsson was a surprise healthy scratch Thursday after scoring the game-tying goal in Tuesday's shootout win in Montreal. Dineen said after practice that Samuelsson isn't hurt, but at 35, could use a night off as the Panthers are playing at least every other night through the end of the regular season.

Mike Santorelli, Krys Barch and Keaton Ellerby were the other scratches. 

FRIDAY: PANTHERS AT BLUE JACKETS

When, Where: 7 p.m.; Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio

WoodyhayesTV/Radio: FS Florida/WQAM-560

The series: Columbus leads 7-4-0

The game: The Blue Jackets, who have the fewest points in the league by a wide margin, had lost two straight before upsetting visiting Detroit on Wednesday. Florida has lost four straight to Columbus and haven't beaten the Jackets since 2007.  

 

March 28, 2012

Minnesota Twitter

Jose Theodore: Thanks, Minnesota ... Florida Panthers Visit Wild on Thursday

TheowildeBY GEORGE RICHARDS grichards@MiamiHerald.com

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Jose Theodore will be back in net for the Panthers on Thursday, returning to Minnesota after spending last season here as Niklas Backstrom's backup.

Theodore said he has nothing but good memories of his short stint with the Wild as he thanked the organization for the opportunity. 

Despite going 30-7-7 with the Capitals in 2009-10, Theodore had no offers to play in 2010-11 until the Wild needed a backup after Josh Harding got hurt just as the season was starting. 

Theodore had a strong season in Minnesota – current Panthers teammate and former Wild mate John Madden said he was the team's MVP most nights he played – and eventually signed a two-year deal with the Panthers on July 1. 

“I got to see some of the trainers before practice and I have great memories here,'' said Theodore, who also took part in the 2004 All-Star Game here. “This is a city that's been good to me. And I think I'm in Florida here because they gave me a chance to play.''

THURSDAY: PANTHERS AT WILD

GoldiegopherWhen, Where: 8 p.m.; Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, Minn.

TV/Radio: FS Florida/WQAM-560

The series: Wild leads 8-3-1

The game: Minnesota has lost three straight and six of the past eight games but beat the host Panthers 3-2 in a shootout on Feb. 23. Florida snapped a three-game losing streak Tuesday in Montreal as the Panthers have gone 6-1-3 since losing to Philadelphia on March 8. 

Forget Capitals, Florida Panthers Need to Focus on Southeast Division ... Cats only Franchise in Division to Not Win Championship

PantherplayoffBY GEORGE RICHARDS grichards@MiamiHerald.com

TWITTER: @OnFrozenPond

FACEBOOK: On Frozen Pond

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Panthers coach Kevin Dineen admits math wasn't his favorite subject in school as he says philosophy and history were his strong suits. 

So when talk comes up regarding what the Panthers have to do to clinch the Southeast Division championship, Dineen backs away. Only this math is pretty simple. And with six games left, the Panthers should be done looking behind them as they aim for the first divisional title in franchise history. 

“You can play with numbers so many different ways,'' Dineen said, obviously uncomfortable looking too far into the future. “The only thing we can control is our effort. If we play solid hockey the next two nights, we'll put ourselves in a good position. It will become much clearer.''

Simply put, for the Panthers to end Washington's four-year run atop the division, all Florida has to do is win a few games. Although that sounds easy enough, even the most casual observers know few things ever come easy to the Panthers. This, however, should be one of them. 

Washington comes into Thursday trailing the Panthers by five points and only has five games left. The Capitals can only get 94 points; at worst, all the Panthers need to do to get 95 and clinch the division is pick up six points in six games. 

And if the Capitals lose in regulation Thursday in Boston and the Panthers win here on Thursday against the slumping Wild, well, the Panthers could leave Columbus on Friday night with the division in hand.

Florida would become the first team to win the division aside from Washington since Atlanta won it in 2007. The Capitals' run of divisional titles started in 2008 after the Panthers beat Carolina on April 4 to help Washington leap the Hurricanes on the final day of the season as it beat the Panthers 3-1. Florida is the only franchise in the division to have never won the division championship. 

“Sometimes you look at the big picture and it's right in front of you,'' winger Kris Versteeg said after a light workout on Wednesday at the Xcel Energy Center. “It's ours to lose right now. We have to handle our business the next three games here on the road. We need to get the job done.''

Washington hoped the Canadiens would finish the Panthers on Tuesday night after the Capitals lost 5-1 to the visiting Sabres. But the Panthers rallied from a 2-1 deficit as Mikael Samuelsson sent a shot from inside the blue line – 65 feet away – over Carey Price's shoulder to tie it. Florida then won a rare shootout to get two points in the standings after almost getting none.

The Montreal win helped put the Panthers directly behind the wheel of their own fate. It's very possible when Florida travels to Washington next week the game won't mean much at all to the Panthers. With the division, Florida will be the second or third seed in the east when the playoffs start next month. 

Washington, meanwhile, is still very much alive in the race for the eighth and final playoff spot so the Panthers aren't expecting any letdown from the Capitals. For now, though, the Panthers honestly don't need to worry about Washington. If they win, they are in and the NHL record for most years between postseason appearances is done.

“The focus has to be for us to take care of our business although we're still paying attention,'' goalie Jose Theodore said. “We win our games and we're fine. We want to get that 'X' next to our name in the standings as quick as we can.''

Photo Courtesy of Andy Slater/640 Sports

March 27, 2012

Florida Panthers Sneak Out of Montreal w/ 3-2 SO Win ... Lead on Caps Back to Five

Celebrate3BY GEORGE RICHARDS

grichards@MiamiHerald.com

MONTREAL – The Panthers run to their first postseason appearance in over a decade couldn't have been set up better.

Following a hard-fought win in Philadelphia, the Panthers had seven straight games against the worst teams in the league.

After losing the first three, the Panthers finally beat one of them.

Thanks to a long-range goal from Mikael Samuelsson in the third, a shootout goal from Wojtek Wolski and stellar play in net from Scott Clemmensen, the Panthers swept the season series from the Canadiens for the first time in franchise history with a 3-2 win at Bell Center on Tuesday night.

More importantly than sweeping the Canadiens in what has been a disastrous year for the storied franchise is that Florida came a little closer to not only ending the NHL record postseason drought, but winning the franchise's first division title.

With the red-hot Sabres beating host Washington on Tuesday, the Panthers have a five point lead on the Capitals atop the Southeast Division with under two weeks left in the season. Florida visits the Capitals next Thursday.

Panthers coach Kevin Dineen acted as if he didn't know the outcome of the Washington game before meeting the media, yet it was obvious he, too, had been scoreboard watching. Florida went from almost getting no points in the standings to picking up two within a few minutes. Fans in Washington cursed; the Panthers celebrated.

“Lets not kid ourselves, we're all doing that,'' Dineen said. “It's a nice win for us. Give Buffalo credit. They were counted out three weeks ago. But we have road games left and have to take care of business before we get too excited.''

Dineen somewhat surprisingly started Clemmensen against Jose Theodore's old team – it's well known Theodore does not like playing in Montreal since leaving – although Clemmensen has definitely earned the playing time. Clemmensen stopped 27 shots – including five in overtime – to pick up the win. In the shootout, Wolski gave Florida the only lead on his first offering as Clemmensen stopped one and had the other two shots faced go off the iron.

Fine by him.

“We'll take it,'' said Clemmensen, whose team 'improved' to 6-10 in shootouts and 7-15 in overtime. “You don't know what to expect against a team that's out of it. To get two points when Washington lost is huge. But it's going to be tough. We're on the road still, but this was a good way to start it. We have a game in hand, but that's meaningless if we don't win it. We have to take care of our own.''

The Panthers took a 1-0 lead with 6:56 left in the opening period after Wolski flashed up the right wall of the ice and blistered a shot past Carey Price. The lead didn't last, however, as Montreal tied it 56 seconds later when Erik Cole got his 31st of the year as Stephen Weiss served a holding penalty.

Florida was definitely the aggressor in the second and third periods, with the Panthers outshooting Montreal 13-4 in the second period alone. Problem was, Tomas Fleischmann coughed up the puck at center ice leading to a 3-on-none rush that Louis LeBlanc finished with a backhander past Clemmensen.

“You give up a 3-on-0 and it's, 'eww.' We had 5-on-1 versus Winnipeg and those are plays you look back on in the summer,'' Dineen said. “At the end of the day, you don't critique the wins too bad. We played a solid road game and had some bite in the third. We were fairly tenacious and confident. We kept pushing.''

SHORE SIGNS

The Panthers added another one of their top prospects to the fold on Tuesday as Drew Shore announced he was leaving the University of Denver to sign with Florida. Shore will sign a three-year entry level deal with the Panthers but will be on a amateur try-out for the remainder of this season. Shore will play with Florida's AHL team in San Antonio for the time being and is expected to take part in training camp.

Shore, 21, was a second round pick of the Panthers in 2009. In three seasons with the nationally-ranked Pioneers, Shore scored 50 goals with 68 assists in 123 games. As a junior this season, he scored 22 goals with 31 assists.

“I think he's ready for this. Timing is everything and we're excited to have him,'' general manager Dale Tallon said before Tuesday's game. “He has good size, is smart. He's a good player with a bright future.''

() Blake Geoffrion, the first South Florida born NHL player, wasn't in the lineup Tuesday as he has been scratched the past six games after playing in the first eight after being called up from the minors. Geoffrion, the grandson of Hall of Famer Bernie 'Boom Boom' Geoffrion, was born at Plantation General but left Broward County when his family moved to Tennessee when he was 1.

Montreal Police Department: Merci Beaucoup

MontrealpoliceMONTREAL – Just wanted to thank the professionalism shown to me not only by the Montreal airport Police Department on Monday evening, but also to the fellows working airport security, lost and found as well as their information department.

I did a real dumb thing yesterday and these guys bailed me out. Big time.

What happened was, I landed in Montreal around 6 p.m. and walked outside to find a cab. My backpack – with everything I need to do my job in it, including my laptop, hard drive, Kindle, iPod, etc. – is a little heavy and I had been wearing it for the 45 minutes it took to get through customs. So I sat it down.

And then I got distracted, saw someone I knew from Fox Sports and hopped into a cab. On the way to downtown I thought 'did I put my backpack in the trunk?' but since I never go anywhere without it, figured I had.

I did not. I left the backpack sitting on the ground about 10 yards from the bus stop. Uh oh.

So, I jumped into a cab and raced back to the airport. After going right to the spot where I left the bag – and seeing it was long gone – a feeling of dread hit me. How was I going to work? How would I replace all this stuff? So, I grabbed a Diet Coke, found a security guard and went through the process of putting in a report. Oh yeah, I remembered. The only set of keys to my truck were also in the bag. Great.

I took a cab back to the hotel then raced up St. Catherine's street in 25 degree weather in only jeans and a long sleeve shirt to find a replacement charger for my phone. Once back in my hotel, I plugged in the phone and called my dad to see how much it Montrealairportwould cost to replace my keys. We hung up after I told him I was hopeful someone would grab the valuables out of the bag, ditch it and it would be recovered.

As soon as I hung up, the phone buzzed. It was an email from Officer Carmine of the Montreal Police Department. He had found the bag sitting by the bus stop although there had been another lost bag reported. After the other person said my bag was not his, Officer Carmine dug through the bag and found contact information and tried calling me. Then he emailed me with the good news.

Everything was in the bag right where I left it. I went back to the airport and picked it up. Unbelievable.

I'm so stupid.

Thanks again guys.

See you next year.

March 25, 2012

Florida Panthers Back on Road After Disappointing Run at Home ... Cats lose in Shootout to Edmonton, then Islanders on Sunday ... Jerseys Raise some Cash

Bulldurham2BY GEORGE RICHARDS grichards@MiamiHerald.com

TWITTER: @OnFrozenPond

FACEBOOK: On Frozen Pond

This short two game run won't go down as the worst homestand of the season for the Panthers. It just feels like it.

The Panthers picked up another point in the standings Sunday yet definitely go back on the road with a twinge of regret as the lowly Islanders took a Muppets3-2 shootout win home with them.

Florida got just two of the available four points in games against Edmonton – with the second-lowest point total in the entire league – and an Islanders team back at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.

“We would have liked to get that other point. It's heartbreaking,'' said defenseman Ed Jovanovski, whose stick save with 1:07 left likely saved an Islanders goal and kept the Panthers from losing outright. 

“We need to get re-energized and I think the road will be good for us. We're not happy about this. Two Slapshotbusteams were completely out of it, but we have to realize the pride and the parity in this league is right there.''

With the host Capitals beating Minnesota on Sunday, Florida's lead in the Southeast Conference shrunk to three points. Florida starts a four-game road trip Tuesday in Montreal, the last big roadie of the regular season. The Panthers lead both Buffalo and Washington by three points for the final spot in the postseason. 

“We wanted four of four, but hey, that's life in the big city,'' said center Stephen Weiss, who gave Florida a 1-0 lead 5:55 into the game. “You don't always get what you want. We'll regroup and get back at it.''

Coach Kevin Dineen said he felt better about Sunday's game than he did after the shootout loss to Edmonton on Friday as the Panthers definitely showed a more concerted effort at working toward scoring. Goals have been at a premium for the Cats of late as Florida has been held to three goals or fewer in five straight and are averaging less than two a game during that span.

Sunday, Weiss' opening salvo came when Tomas Fleischmann dug a puck out from behind the net and rifled off a pass to a charging Weiss in the slot. The Islanders ended up tying things late in the first as Jason Garrison sat in the penalty box for a cross-check. Matt Moulson made it 1-1 with his career-high 34th goal of the year. 

Bulldurham1Jose Theodore saved Florida on numerous occasions throughout the night and ended with 35 saves. Florida retook the lead midway through the third on Fleischmann's 24th of the year as he picked off a clearing pass from Mark Streit and skipped a shot past Evgeni Nabokov (33 saves). But the Islanders tied it not long after when a shot ricocheted off Dmitry Kulikov's stick in front of Theodore and through. 

“Tough break for Kulikov,'' Jovanovski said. “His stick was in the right place, right in the lane.''

The Panthers kept coming at Nabokov but couldn't get anything else through. The Islanders, coming off a loss in Tampa Bay on Saturday night, didn't stop charging either and nearly won it in the final minutes when Theodore came out of his crease and tossed his stick while down on the ice. Jovanovski got a piece of the loose puck and kept it from going into a basically empty net. 

Florida had chances in overtime, but as usual, didn't finish in the five minute period. The shootout has been a pain for the Panthers ever since it was introduced in 2005 and Sunday was no difference. The Panthers went 0-for-3 and the Islanders got a goal from Frans Nielsen to win it. 

RoadtripThe Panthers are a disappointing 5-10 in the shootout and 6-15 in overtime games this season. Those are a lot of points to be left on the table.

“The shootout has been a little bit of a stickler for us this year,'' Dineen said. “We've approached it in different manners and it's still an issue for us.''

NEWS, NOTES

The Panthers played in their alternate blue jerseys for the final time on Sunday as they were officially retired. 

The silent auction in which fans bid on their favorite player's game jersey from Sunday and had them autographed on the postgame ice raised over $38,000 for the Panthers Foundation's pediatric cancer research fund. Brian Campbell's jersey raised the most, fetching $4,200.

() Referee Tim Peel hasn't had a good week in South Florida. Peel missed Friday's game against Edmonton as Sportsnet reported he suffered from food poisoning. On Sunday, he needed some emergency maintenance after taking a stick to the face, bloodying his nose. 

() Florida scratched Mike Santorelli for the sixth time in the past nine games, Keaton Ellerby (fifth straight), Scottie Upshall and Krys Barch on Sunday. 

March 24, 2012

End of an 'Era': Florida Panthers Retire Blue Alternate Jerseys on Sunday

JetbluesBY GEORGE RICHARDS grichards@MiamiHerald.com

TWITTER: @OnFrozenPond

FACEBOOK: On Frozen Pond

The Panthers officially say goodbye to their two-toned blue alternate jerseys on Sunday as they will be worn for the final time. The Panthers introduced the jersey three seasons ago and planned to change the team's color scheme to the dark blue-light blue motif before returning to the franchise's original look. 

The team will hold a silent auction during Sunday's game where fans can bid on their favorite player's jersey; after the game, there will be a ceremony on Jetblue3the ice in which each player autographs and hands over the jersey worn against the Islanders.

The auction benefits the Panther Foundation for pediatric cancer research. 

“We've been doing good in them, but I like the red ones better,'' said Weiss, noting Florida has won the past three games in the third 'Sunday-only' jerseys and are 4-2-1 in them this season.

“They're alright. But they aren't the most intimidating things around. It is what it is. We wore them for a few years, now we're moving on.''

 

 

Florida Panthers Need Home Win v Islanders on Sunday to Help Playoff Push ... Kris Versteeg Not Only Cat Struggling

BenchBY GEORGE RICHARDS grichards@MiamiHerald.com

TWITTER: @OnFrozenPond

FACEBOOK: On Frozen Pond

Panthers coach Kevin Dineen isn't going to categorize any game as a “must-win” contest, not when the Panthers still hold a nice lead in the Southeast Division and hold a solid postseason spot with eight games left.

With the Islanders coming to town Sunday at 5 p.m., the Panthers would do themselves a big favor simply by winning. Players have constantly insisted there are no easy games this time of year.

Teams in the playoff race fight for every point. Teams who are out play for pride, and more importantly, future employment. 

The Islanders came into Saturday's game against the host Lightning tied for the fewest points in the Eastern Conference with Montreal. Yet the Islanders have beaten the likes of playoff-bound New Jersey and Philadelphia this month. They would like to add a little intrigue to the Panthers run to the postseason as well. 

“I'm not worried about the outcome so much as I concern myself with the way we play and the process,'' Dineen said. 

Florida has played very well against the Islanders this season, winning all three meetings without much effort. The Panthers opened the season with a 2-0 shutout on Long Island and have outscored New York 10-3 in the three wins. 

A win over the Islanders would give the Panthers three of four points in this quick two-game homestand after Friday's shootout loss to the Oilers. With a tough – but manageable – four game road trip coming up, the Panthers need these two points if they hope to clinch a playoff berth this week.

“Let's not kid ourselves, we have to be a good player at home,'' Dineen said. “We need to acknowledge that home is where we make our stand. That has to be important to us.''

VERSTEEG STRUGGLES

Kris Versteeg is obviously pretty frustrated with his play of late and went on an expletive-filled rave after Friday's game. Versteeg had a great chance to win the game in the final seconds of overtime, only the puck was blocked by Edmonton's Devan Dubnyk and slid along the goal-line and never went across.

Verteeg – who hasn't scored since Feb. 12 against the Islanders -- has been getting opportunities, but like Friday's failed chance, the puck just isn't finding its way home.

Versteeg isn't alone. Dineen said Friday that Tomas Fleischmann is “the guy running the engine” and many of his teammates are just “back on the passenger side.'' Dineen had Versteeg playing on a second line with Wojtek Wolski and Shawn Matthias at Saturday's practice; Florida's first line was center Stephen Weiss, Fleischmann and Tomas Kopecky. 

“For us to have success the next 15 days and hopefully through the postseason, Versteeg is going to be a big part of our offense,'' Dineen said. “We place a lot of pressure on him. We need to see him succeed. When he does, the team responds.''

SUNDAY: ISLANDERS AT PANTHERS

Islandergirl1When, Where: 5 p.m.; BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise

TV/Radio: FS Florida/WQAM-560

The series: Florida leads 39-30-8

The game: The Islanders snapped a five-game losing streak with a win in Montreal last Saturday and had won two straight going into Saturday's game in Tampa Bay. The Islanders are 4-5-2 in the second game of a back-to-back set this season. The Panthers have gone 5-0-1 in their past six home games.

 

March 23, 2012

Edmonton Oilers Get Defensive, Florida Panthers Offense is Offensive in 2-1 SO Loss ... Versteeg Stopped at Doorstep in Final Seconds

NugenthuberdeauBY GEORGE RICHARDS grichards@MiamiHerald.com

TWITTER: @OnFrozenPond

FACEBOOK: On Frozen Pond

Only one team has finished below the Panthers in the standings the previous two seasons. On Friday, the Edmonton Oilers – minus one of the two rising stars they drafted ahead of Florida – came to town trying to make the Panthers run to the playoffs a little more difficult.

Playing each other for the first time since the 2010-11 season opener, one of Edmonton's top youngsters was a difference maker as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins helped start one goal then hit the game-winner in a shootout as the Oilers escaped Sunrise with a 2-1 win. Florida hasn't beaten the Oilers on home ice since 2002. 

Despite the loss, Florida picked up a point in the standings and continue to hold a four-point lead on Washington for the lead in the Southeast Division and four on Buffalo as the Sabres fight Washington for the last playoff spot in the conference. Florida's standing in the conference and division was of little consolation to the Panthers, however, as this was a winnable game lost. 

“We need to produce more offense and not just hope, play the game the way it's supposed to be played,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. “It's a disappointing loss for our team.''

Said goalie Jose Theodore: “You have to look at what's ahead. You look at the scoreboard, but we have to approach every game the same.''

Since the two teams rarely see each other, the Panthers coaching staff had to do some extra scouting. Edmonton, which lost in a shootout on Thursday in Tampa Bay, started 25-year-old goalie Devan Dubnyk adding a little more intrigue to things since Florida players have limited experience against him.

Florida failed to get anything past the 6-foot-5 goalie until Jason Garrison took a nice feed in the left circle and sliced one five hole to tie the score. And that would be the only goal Dubnyk surrendered as he stopped 26 shots in regulation and overtime before stoning Florida on four shootout attempts.

The biggest save of the night came with 1.8 seconds left in overtime as Stephen Weiss found Kris Versteeg streaking down the ice all alone. Versteeg walked in on Dubnyk and was stopped on his initial offering but corralled the loose puck and tried pushing it through. Dubnyk got a skate on the puck, however, as the Panthers ended up inches from a win – and an extra point.

“I was [terrible] all night. When you're playing that bad, it really doesn't matter. You're not going to get the bounces,'' an angry Versteeg said, liberally mixing in profanity in his post-game comments. 

“It was on the line. It almost went in. I don't know what to tell you. It comes down to playing better. I have to be better because I've been brutal.''

Nugent-Hopkins, taken first overall last June as Florida took Jonathan Huberdeau two spots later, got Edmonton's first goal going as he picked up a loose puck in front of Dubnyk and took off on the fast break. Nugent-Hopkins fed Jordan Eberle who found Ryan Jones on his left as Jones beat Theodore  1:37 into the second period.

Florida tied it three minutes later as Garrison set the Panthers record for goals by a defenseman with 16. 

HallgudsTaylor Hall, whom Edmonton took first in 2010 before Florida grabbed Erik Gudbranson, missed Friday's game with a concussion. The Oilers are a better team with Hall in the lineup, but were good enough to beat the Panthers once more without him. Florida has now lost three straight to the Oilers. Edmonton once again sits at the bottom of the NHL standings and will definitely finish below Florida for a third straight year. 

“I hope that's not a point we need down the stretch. Two points were on the line and we didn't take it,'' Mikael Samuelsson lamented. “We didn't play a good game. They played [Thursday] and we should have taken over. One goal is not enough against a skilled team like that.''

CADDYSHACKED

Count Dineen as one who wasn't a big fan of Sean Bergenheim taunting the Carolina Hurricanes after Wednesday's game for their place in the standings. Bergenheim reportedly swung his stick as if it were a golf club, an old hockey joke meaning teams out of the playoffs – like the Hurricanes – should start making tee times come April. 

Bergenheim helped Tampa Bay come to within a goal of the Stanley Cup Finals last season although he now plays for a team that owns the NHL record for not making the postseason in 10 seasons/11 years. 

“I think it's a little early for that,'' said Dineen, as Bergenheim wasn't available for comment as he left soon after the morning skate ended. “I would be certainly be more worried about our own play than I am wondering where everyone else is suited in two weeks.''

() Defenseman Brian Campbell played in his 700th NHL game on Friday.

 

March 22, 2012

Ed Jovanovski Comes Full Circle with Florida Panthers ... Scottie Upshall is Back ... Oilers Back in South Florida

Jovo3BY GEORGE RICHARDS grichards@MiamiHerald.com

Twitter: @OnFrozenPond

Facebook: On Frozen Pond

RALEIGH, N.C. – One of Dale Tallon's first targets on July 1, the opening day of the free agency market, was a familiar name to hockey fans in South Florida. 

Ed Jovanovski, the five-time All-Star, came back to the Florida Panthers after Tallon offered up a four-year deal worth $16.5 million.

Jovanovski, 35, wouldn't have gotten that kind of money nor that long of a term from anyone else but the Panthers. 

Jovo1Jovanovski had come full circle. His first NHL contract came from the Panthers after the team made him the first overall pick of the 1994 draft. This is likely his last.

Some hockey pundits criticized Tallon for his wild spending in the first few days of free agency as Tallon remade the Florida roster by signing or trading for 11 NHL veterans and dropping $33 million in payroll for this season alone in the process. Jovanovski's big deal was one of the most scrutinized. 

Like most of those contracts Tallon handed out in the first few days of July, the Jovanovski signing has worked out just as he had hoped. Although Jovanovski is a step slower than he was in his prime years on some nights, he is someone coach Kevin Dineen relies on in numerous situations. 

Some said Jovanovski came to Florida to retire. It didn't look like that on Wednesday when he took on Carolina's Bryan Allen after the final whistle blew on the Hurricanes' 3-1 win against the Panthers. 

“I'm feeling great. The past few weeks have rejuvenated me,'' Jovanovski said. “I have my legs back. I know my role on my team. I have no problem with it.''

To paraphrase country star Toby Keith, Jovanovski may not be “as good as he once was,'' but there are many nights in which he is as “good once as he ever was.''

“There were some questions in bringing Eddie back, but what a competitor,'' said Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff, an assistant with the Panthers when Jovanovski broke in with the Panthers in 1995.

“He's a big man and he's a tough man. Are there some holes in his game some nights? Yes. But when he comes to play, he comes to play. That's a pretty good veteran presence on that back end.''

Dineen points to the leadership Jovanovski brings to the Panthers as one of his strong suits. When he signed with the Panthers, he was expected to play the role of mentor to Florida's young defensemen.

By being paired with 20-year-old Erik Gudbranson or Keaton Ellerby, Jovanovski has in many ways helped those two become better on both ends of the ice. 
Jovo2Back in the day, it was Florida defenseman Gord Murphy who took the young Jovanovski under his wing. Now Jovanovski is returning the favor as Murphy is an assistant coach in charge of Florida's defense. 

“He's a true leader who gets it and has been around,'' Dineen said. “Those are things that come with years of experience. But he's backed it up with his play this year. He's given us all that we could have expected. I'm happy for him. He got to come back where it all started. There's renewed enthusiasm for him.''

And with the Panthers on the verge of advancing to the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade, Jovanovski sure is enjoying the ride in these familiar environs. 

“It's nice, personally for me, playing somewhere where you are appreciated,'' said Jovanovski, who has played in 27 of Florida's 31 postseason games in franchise history. “We have loyal fans in South Florida and we're giving them something to cheer about. Getting to the postseason, and making some noise, is a goal of ours.''

UPSHALL RETURNS

Scottie Upshall perhaps the only free agent deals the Panthers haven't seen much return on this season because of injuries to the 28-year-old winger. Upshall played in just 17 games before being shutdown with sports hernia injury that required surgery. Upshall returned to the lineup Wednesday in Carolina and wants to help the Panthers down the stretch. 

With Upshall missing so much time, if he can get back to form it's as if the Panthers made a late season trade. Upshall can score, as he had 22 goals in 81 games for Columbus and Phoenix last season. He has scored once for the Panthers. 

“You want to just chip in. There's a lot of pressure to play well,'' Upshall said. “[Wednesday] was big for me to be able to jump in. There's a lot of room to improve, but I like where our team is. We're close to being where we need to be heading into the playoffs.''

FRIDAY: OILERS AT PANTHERS

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

TV/Radio: FS Florida/WQAM-560

The series: Edmonton leads 10-8-3

The game: This is the only meeting of the season between the two, with Edmonton winning the previous two meetings. Florida has not beaten Edmonton on home ice since 2002. The Panthers had their five-game winning streak halted Wednesday in Carolina; Edmonton, which played Tampa Bay on Thursday, had won three of four.

March 21, 2012

Wednesday's Fun with the Twitters

Panthers Blacked Out by Hurricanes 3-1 as Five-Game Streak Ends ... Tempers Flare as Canes Win First vs Florida ... Wolski Goes from First Line to Press Box

BlackoutBY GEORGE RICHARDS grichards@MiamiHerald.com

Twitter: @OnFrozenPond

Facebook: On Frozen Pond

RALEIGH, N.C. – A day after winning a defensive-minded game in Philadelphia, the Panthers tried to run with the fresh Hurricanes and, in the end, couldn't keep up. 

Eric Staal's power play goal midway through the third helped Carolina end Florida's five-game winning streak as the Hurricanes held on for a 3-1 win at PNC Arena. 

Carolina, which hadn't played since beating Winnipeg on Sunday night, kept its faint playoff hopes alive. Florida, meanwhile, kept a five-point lead over Washington atop the Southeast Division and remain two points back of Boston for the second overall seed in the Eastern Conference. The Panthers have gone 9-4-1 since coming back from a 2-0 deficit to beat the Hurricanes here 3-2 on Feb. 25. 

“We didn't expect to play a loose game,'' said coach Kevin Dineen, whose team took 31 shots after getting a total of 30 in its previous two games combined. “We wanted to be patient, use our strengths like board play and special teams. Those were an issue. Overall, the jump and enthusiasm leaned toward the home team.''

Florida was 4-0 against Carolina although the Hurricanes played with the confidence of a team who has now won four straight. Carolina didn't take any guff from the Panthers and the two teams exchanged words, shoves and punches throughout the game – and even after the final whistle. 

Carolina's Bryan Allen – traded from the Panthers last season – said Florida's Kris Versteeg made a late slash on Staal which led to Allen and Ed Jovanovski squaring off at center ice as the both teams converged on each other. Although there were a few minor scuffles, it was more tough words than punches. The two full teams finally broke things off as coaches and officials restored the peace. 

“Verteeg two-handed Staal as he was skating away. It was on then,'' Allen said. “It was a cheap play against out star player. Can't let that happen. It was a pretty gutless play I thought. It's an emotional game with a lot on the line. Sometimes emotions get the best of you.''

Said Dineen: “We've had their number pretty good this year. They are desperate for points to keep this thing going.''

The Panthers played on their heels most of Tuesday against the high-octane Flyers and the fatigue showed on Wednesday. Florida had a number of players fighting the dead legs despite Dineen throwing in three fresh forwards. 

Florida was called for seven penalties (including Versteeg's slash after the game ended) and the Hurricanes' got their game-winner with Jerred Smithson in the box for a hook. The Panthers fell behind 1-0 when Staal fired a shot at Jose Theodore that clipped Stephen Weiss' skate and went through.

The Hurricanes made it a 2-0 game when Joni Pitkanen – who had been out since December – scored midway through the second.

The Panthers cut the deficit in half when Tomas Fleischmann backhanded a loose puck from the slot that struck Pitkanen and found its way past Cam Ward (30 saves). Florida couldn't get anything else past Ward, however, and heads south for a two home games against Edmonton and the Islanders. 

“We have to find ways to create more and score more goals. We're not scoring enough,'' Weiss said. “We have to take care of business at home down the stretch. Hopefully we start a new run.''

FRESH LEGS

Dineen made a number of changes to the lineup on Wednesday with Scottie Upshall returning to action for the first time since undergoing sports hernia surgery in February. Upshall had only played in 17 games this season because of the groin/hernia injury and had been working out in earnest for a return to action. 

Dineen also brought back Mike Santorelli after three games off and re-inserted Smithson after he missed Tuesday's game in Philadelphia. With 15 forwards, Dineen has to sit three. The unlucky trio on Wednesday were Shawn Matthias, Wojtek Wolski and Krys Barch. 

Wolski, who scored a goal last Thursday against Boston, has gone from playing on Florida's top line to being a healthy scratch in less than a week.

“It was a physical game in Philadelphia and I wasn't happy with his game,'' Dineen said of Wolski.













LIVE! Chat Tonight: Florida Panthers at Carolina Hurricanes, 7 p.m.

RALEIGH -- Good evening from the Barnett Bank Centre in Raleigh, N.C. It's time for some Florida Panthers hockey.

Since the game isn't on television in either market, I figured we'd do a little LIVE! chat. 

As always, you have to hit the 'play' button to see the chat unfold. I also have to approve you if you want to contribute, so please be patient. You'll see your comments pop up once I approve them.

Goldie's here and we're ready to roll.

 

March 20, 2012

Florida Panthers Finally Win in Philly, top Flyers 2-1 ... Scott Clemmensen Stands Strong as Cats Outshot 36-13 ... Florida Has Won Five Straight

Clemm3BY GEORGE RICHARDS grichards@MiamiHerald.com

Twitter: @OnFrozenPond

Facebook: On Frozen Pond

PHILADELPHIA – Although Kevin Dineen talked about how hard it was to “leave that hot stick” in goalie Jose Theodore before Tuesday's game, the Panthers coach went with backup Scott Clemmensen against the Flyers. 

Say this for Florida's first-year bench boss: The guy keeps punching all the right buttons.

Clemmensen made his case for more playing time in Florida's final 10 games as he stopped 35 shots to lift the Panthers to their fifth straight win, a 2-1 victory over the host Flyers. Clemmensen, who hadn't played since March 3, stopped the first 17 shots faced as the Panthers skated to a 2-0 lead.

And, Clemmensen came thisclose to pitching a shutout as Philadelphia's only goal was a fluke. Eric Wellwood's clearing shot from the back boards hit Ed Jovanovski in front of the net, the puck somehow finding its way past a thoroughly surprised Clemmensen.

Florida got some luck as well, however, as Sean Bergenheim's second period goal came from a nice hop off the glass and onto his stick.

“It was just a matter of getting some saves under my belt and going from there,'' said Clemmensen, who helped Florida avoid a four-game sweep at the hands of the Flyers this regular season.

“When [Jaromir] Jagr hit the post you think luck might be on your side. It wasn't on their goal, obviously. But I got into my comfort zone. After a couple of saves I was in it.''

The Panthers have won five straight for the first time since winning seven consecutive games late in the 2007-08 season. Florida's win extended its lead in the Southeast Division back to five points over idle Washington and the Panthers can probably stop worrying about a Winnipeg team that now stands nine points back. 

Florida goes for win No. 6 Wednesday in Raleigh against Carolina – a team the Panthers are 4-0 against this season. 

“It was not one of our best efforts, but it's a big two points,'' Dineen said. “We found away to get the win. I feel we need everyone contributing in this lineup. There are guys scratching and clawing to get in the lineup. And we're going to need them somewhere down the line. Theodore has played great lately, but I felt [Tuesday] was a good night to go with Clemmensen.''

The Flyers were all over the Panthers and Clemmensen early on and it looked like Tuesday could be a repeat of Philadelphia's 5-0 win here against the Panthers just 12 days ago. The Panthers were put on the penalty kill four times in the opening frame and forced to kill off 42 seconds of a 5-on-3 disadvantage. 

Stephen Weiss gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead just five seconds after Philadelphia's second power play ended in the first. 

“It wasn't the prettiest game and we didn't have the puck a lot,'' Weiss said. “At this time of the year it's all about the results. Our penalty kill kept us in the game and really gave us a boost. It was huge. But Clemmensen was our best player. To hold that team to one goal is pretty good stuff. They have some high-end talent.''

Florida didn't hide its defensive game plan for much of the night as the Panthers played a gritty 'road' game in which it sat back and collapsed around the puck. The Panthers took just three shots in the third period and a season-low 13 for the night; Philadelphia was credited for 36 shots on goal and took aim at Clemmensen 62 times. 

The Panthers have 30 combined shots on goal in their past two games – both wins. Florida has won just two of the 11 games in which it has surpassed the 40 shot plateau.

“Shots on goal don't get you points,'' general manager Dale Tallon barked on the postgame elevator after a reporter mentioned the 30 shots in two games. “We played a great game.''

Said Weiss: “You know what? We've taken 40 shots in games and lost them. We'd rather take the two points.

NO OFFENSE

Dineen made it clear that he means no disrespect by sitting Jerred Smithson as he has in two of the past six games. Florida has two extra forwards not counting Scottie Upshall so concessions have to be made.

On Tuesday, Smithson and Mike Santorelli – who has been benched three straight games – were the healthy scratches as Krys Barch returned to the lineup. 

“Jerred understands the situation,'' Dineen said. “I look at him as a very reliable, low-maintenance player that has some very specific strengths as a player. When he’s doing those things it’s hard to take him out of the lineup. .-.-. There have been some extremely tough decisions on a daily basis for us about whose going in come game time.''

WEDNESDAY: PANTHERS AT HURRICANES

When, Where: 7 p.m.; PNC Arena, Raleigh, N.C.

TV/Radio: No local TV/WQAM-560

The series: Carolina leads 47-39-11

The game: The Hurricanes have gotten themselves back in the postseason conversation after winning three straight and four of the past six. Carolina is coming off a road weekend in which it won in Minnesota and Winnipeg in successive nights. Florida is 4-0 against the Canes this weekend as Jose Theodore tries to become the first Panthers goalie to win five games against the Hartford/Carolina franchise in one season. 

 

March 19, 2012

Florida Panthers Monday Notebook: Jack Skille Has Shoulder Surgery ... Stephen Weiss, Sean Bergenheim Miss Practice, Should be OK for Flyers

Skille3BY GEORGE RICHARDS grichards@MiamiHerald.com

Twitter: @OnFrozenPond

Facebook: On Frozen Pond

Winger Jack Skille had shoulder surgery on Monday morning and will likely miss the rest of the season.

Skille, who had the procedure done at Doctors Hospital in Coral Gables, was originally hurt Dec. 16 and missed 20 of the next 22 games before returning Feb. 12.

Skille was knocked out a game March 9 at Pittsburgh when he collided with teammate Sean Bergenheim.

Weiss2-- Bergenheim and Stephen Weiss both missed Monday's practice but were expected to travel with the team to Philadelphia.

Coach Kevin Dineen said Bergenheim wasn't feeling well and Weiss “has a few bumps and bruises we'd like to heal up.''

Weiss was struck in the skate by a puck in Saturday's shootout win over Buffalo but remained in the game.

“It's nothing that will keep him out of the lineup,'' Dineen said.

() Scottie Upshall has been out since having sports hernia surgery on Feb. 2 but is close to returning to the lineup. Although he hasn't been cleared to play, Upshall has been practicing for the past week and traveled with the team for the upcoming two-game trip.

Dineen has been cautious with Upshall as he definitely played hurt before having surgery. 

Upshall2“He's getting close and he's excited and has been really enthusiastic at practice,'' Dineen said of Upshall, who scored just one goal with two assists in 17 games.

“We've already been down the line where his heart told him to come back and his body didn't respond. Next thing you know he is on the shelf for eight weeks. We want him 100 percent and he's not there yet.''

TUESDAY: PANTHERS AT FLYERS

When, Where: 7 p.m.; Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia

WawaTV/Radio: FS Florida/WQAM-560

The series: Flyers lead 43-26-7

The game: Philadelphia, which beat the Panthers 5-0 on March 8, has won the first three games of the season series. The Flyers, led by red-hot goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, has won eight of their past 10 games including a 3-2 overtime victory over Pittsburgh on Sunday. This is the second game of a five-game homestand for the Flyers. 

Tomas Fleischmann: Florida Panthers Nominee for the Bill Masterton Trophy for 'Overcoming Adversity' in 2010-11

FleischmannBY GEORGE RICHARDS grichards@MiamiHerald.com

Twitter: @OnFrozenPond

Facebook: On Frozen Pond

When Tomas Fleischmann skated off the ice in Colorado last year because he couldn't catch his breath, he sure didn't think that would be the end of his season. 

Blood clots were found in both of Fleischmann's lungs in January 2011, ending his season and putting his future plans in doubt.

Fleischmann had already been told he may never play the game again after he was diagnosed with another blood disorder – deep vein thrombosis – after he lost feeling in his legs after a long flight home to the Czech Republic. 

Fleischmann, in his first season with the Panthers, now has to wear compression pants under his suit on team flights and will likely have to take various blood thinners the rest of his life. But he's playing hockey again – and happy about it.

“A doctor told me I may not play hockey again, we Fleischmann3had to wait on some testing,'' said Fleischmann, who now wears special compression pants under his suit on team flights.

“[Hockey] is the only the thing I am good at, the only thing I know how to do. When they tell you can't do it, you wonder 'what am I going to do with my life'? But the decision was made two weeks after the test. I was excited.''

Fleischmann was cleared to resume his career in the summer and he has bounced back in Florida after signing a four-year deal with the Panthers on July 1. General manager Dale Tallon spoke to doctors and was assured Fleischmann will lead a normal – if not a little restricted and looked after – life after that last scare. 

On Monday, the Florida chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association nominated Fleischmann for the annual Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy which is awarded to the NHL player who “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication” to the sport.

“What an excellent choice,'' Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. “[The blood disorder] is part of his resume now. I spoke to him about it once at training camp and he was very matter-of-fact about it, comfortable in talking about it. He didn't foresee it being a problem moving forward. There was a little leap of faith by Dale to sign him like that, but it's worked out.''

Fleischmann has been a strong player for the Panthers this season after being paired with Stephen Weiss and Kris Versteeg on the top line for opening night against the Islanders. Fleischmann goes into Tuesday's game against the Flyers leading the team in Fleischmann2goals (22) and scoring (52 points) as he has played in all 71 games this season.

That's quite the contrast to last season when he played his final game on Jan. 18, 2011 for the Avalanche.

Fleischmann last topped the 70-game plateau with the Capitals in 2008-09. Fleischmann scored 21 points in 22 games with the Avs after falling out of favor with Washington coach Bruce Boudreau and being traded west. 

“I'm just happy I can play hockey again. I'm enjoying the moment,'' Fleischmann said. “I always hoped I could play again and the doctors were positive. That kept me going. The one thing was I didn't have a contract, but Florida trusted me. I'm happy to be here, playing here right now.''

The award is named for Bill Masterton, who died in 1968 after being injured in a game while playing for the Minnesota North Stars. Panthers goalie Jose Theodore won the award in 2010 while with the Capitals. 

 

Missing Out on Twitter? This is What We Do. Feel Free to Follow.