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Panthers Riding Jose Theodore Down the Stretch ... Kris Versteeg Feeling Better ... Struggling Bruins in Town on Thursday

TheocelebrateBY GEORGE RICHARDS Twitter: @OnFrozenPond

It would have been real easy for the Panthers to sit Jose Theodore last Friday night against the Penguins.

It was, after all, Florida's second game on consecutive nights with a third game coming the following Sunday.

Coach Kevin Dineen instead went back to Theodore, lifting any perceived blame of the 5-0 loss in Philadelphia off his starting goalie's shoulders in the process.

Theodore further entrenched his spot as the Panthers starting goalie, holding the high-scoring Penguins to just one goal in Florida's 2-1 shootout loss in Pittsburgh. It was the first time Theodore had started on consecutive nights this season.

“It's always fun to play in these kinds of games,'' he said Tuesday. “I felt good in Philadelphia, they just had some chances. Sometimes you feel great and you Theocapsgive up four or five. That doesn't mean it was a bad game. I was feeling good about my game and Kevin decided to bring me back out. It was a challenge. I felt really good and it was a stepping stone for this team, getting that point in the standings.''

Theodore followed the Pittsburgh game with a shutout against Carolina on Sunday and a 26-save performance in Tuesday's 5-2 win over the Maple Leafs. With 13 games left, expect Theodore to get most – if not all – of the remaining starts.

“He's battled all year for us and is a confident guy who has been in these kind of games throughout the years,'' goalie coach Robb Tallas said. “We show him confidence because he's given us that confidence. He has been solid for us and is a battle goalie.

"He's an older goalie and we've managed his time with this time of year in mind. We've given both guys equal time to put ourselves in this position, but now we're going with one guy for a while. He has the energy and the strength to carry it.''

Theodore came to the Panthers on July 1, signing a two-year deal with the team after a season of serving as the backup in Minnesota. Theodore went through the summer of 2010 without a job. Despite going 30- Theo17-7 with the Capitals in 2009-10, Theodore was a man without a team until the Wild desperately needed a backup after Josh Harding was hurt just before the season began.

“I'm not going to lie; I didn't have an offer until Minnesota called,'' Theodore said. “I'm real thankful to them. Who knows. If they don't call, maybe I'm still sitting out.''

In 32 games with the Wild, Theodore went 15-11-3 and played well enough for the Panthers to sign him as soon as they had the chance once Tomas Vokoun left. It's worked out well.

“He's such a great goalie, I really don't understand why it took him so long to sign somewhere last year,'' said John Madden, who played with Theodore in Minnesota last season. “The games he played in, he was by far the first star almost every night. The more he plays, the better he gets. He stayed sharp last year and it was great to have him. This year, he's our MVP.''

Theodore struggled in training camp, but Scott Clemmensen's knee injury ended the competition for the starting job early. Theodore won it by default, yet took the job early – pitching a shutout against the host Islanders on opening night.

Theodore held down the starting job until suffering a minor knee injury on Dec. 31. Theodore returned for good on Feb. 12 and has started 13 games since. He has surrendered two goals or fewer in 10 of those starts.

In the three games since losing in Philadelphia, Theodore has given up a total of three goals.

“I play the game to play in the high pressure situations,'' he said. “This is the most exciting time of the season. When you are a team in a battle for the playoffs, March is where it's at. One win can make a big difference in the standings.

"I think you can get lost in November and December, but March everyone is all in. You want to play in these tough games.''

() Kris Versteeg (hip), Dmitry Kulikov (knee) and Scottie Upshall (sports hernia) all practiced on Wednesday. Versteeg says his injured hip, which had been bothering him for some time, feels much better.

Kulikov says he probably needs a few more practice days before jumping back into the lineup.

“I'm feeling good, just taking it day-by-day,'' Versteeg said. “It's definitely a lot better now. You have to let things heal.''

Texashockey() The Panthers will play two preseason games in Texas, visiting Dallas (date TBA) and playing host to the Stars in San Antonio on Sept. 28. San Antonio is home to the Panthers' AHL affiliate and will mark the first NHL game played at the AT&T Center.

Florida is expected to play at least six preseason games as it did last summer, with three games being played in Sunrise. Two of those games will come as a day-night doubleheader against Nashville.

THURSDAY: BRUINS AT PANTHERS

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

TV/Radio: FSNF/WQAM-560

The series: Boston leads 33-31-6

The game: The Bruins have run upon hard times of late, losing three straight for the first time since October and five of the past seven. Florida is now just four points behind Boston for the second overall seed in the Eastern Conference. The Bruins, who lost 6-1 in Tampa on Tuesday, are without former Panthers forward Nathan Horton as he has been out since January with a concussion.

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