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40 posts from March 2012

March 18, 2012

#FlaPanthers: With 11 Games Left, Cats Keeping Things Simple ... Brian Campbell Having Career Year ... Alex Petrovic Heading to San Antonio

Celebrate2BY GEORGE RICHARDS grichards@MiamiHerald.com

Twitter: @OnFrozenPond

Facebook: On Frozen Pond

With 11 games left in their regular season, the Panthers promise they aren't looking too far ahead.

Although they pulled off their fourth straight win for the first time since 2008 on Saturday against Buffalo, veteran players know how quickly things can change.

(Top Photo: Joel Auerbach/Getty Images) 

Florida went 4-0 on its four-game homestand that ended with a 3-2 shootout win over the Sabres. Now, the focus is on what's next: A quick two-game trip to Philadelphia and Carolina. The Panthers' last regulation loss was a 5-0 whipping at the hands of the Flyers in Philly; Florida is 4-0 against the Hurricanes this season.

“We're not looking ahead but we know we want to bank as many points as we can right now,'' said defenseman Ed Jovanovski, who has played in 69 postseason games – including 27 with the Panthers in 1996 and '97. 

“We want to keep climbing the standings as much as we can. There are a handful of games left and they aren't getting easier. It's going to be tough getting points now.''

PanthersbuffaloAlthough the Panthers are riding a wave of momentum right now, it wasn't too long ago the team was reeling. The 5-0 loss in Philadelphia on March 8 was Florida's seventh loss in 11 games. It looked like Florida's hope to end the NHL record postseason drought at 10 seasons may not come true.

(Middle photo: Courtesy of Kelsey Hinds)

Today, however, the Panthers are rolling. Four straight wins came off Florida's 2-1 shootout loss in Pittsburgh. That game in Pittsburgh, a night after the loss in Philadelphia, may have just saved the season.

“That was huge,'' said alternate captain Stephen Weiss, now in his 10th season with the Panthers.

“Just the way we played that game, the way we bounced back. We had a real gritty effort against a great hockey club and it gave us a lot of confidence coming home. We were able to keep that kind of game going and it translated into some wins.''

Coach Kevin Dineen admits the Panthers struggled for points for a few weeks. “We crawled through the 70s,'' he said, meaning Florida got its 70th point of the season on Feb. 26 with a win against Montreal. The Panthers didn't cross the 80-point plateau until beating Boston last Thursday – nine games later. 

“It took us a while to go from 70 to 80 and it was no fun looking at the standings during that time,'' Dineen said. “We want to be up in the 80s and hopefully we can keep a strong trot as we head toward the 90s.''

According to sportsclubstats.com, the Panthers (who have 83 points with 22 still on the table) can go 5-5-1 down the stretch and still have a 99.9 percent chance of making the playoffs – with an 84 percent chance of doing so as the division champion. Florida holds the third overall seed in the east because it leads the Southeast, although the Panthers are within striking range of second. 

“A lot of guys in here are playing a little banged up, but they've battled through it,'' said John Madden, a three-time Stanley Cup champion. “It’s fun to be Panthersbuffalo2invested in this dressing room. We can see that we’ve got 11 left now and we’re gunning toward it and we’re trying to get our game to where it needs to be to play playoff hockey.”

(Bottom photo: Courtesy of David Ortiz)

() How good a season is Brian Campbell having? Campbell's three assist night on Thursday was his fifth game this season with three or more assists.

According to Elias Sports, Campbell had a total of four such games in his first 11 NHL seasons.

Campbell has already tied Robert Svehla for the Panthers' career record for most games with three or more assists by a defenseman. Svehla had three such games in the 1995-96 season.

“That's a guy who plays 25-plus minutes and can skate all night,'' said Lindy Ruff, who coached Campbell in Buffalo. “He's a great competitor, we all know that. And he laid out [Brad] Marchand in the Boston game. That put a smile on my face.''

() Elias also notes that Madden, 38, is the oldest player to score goals in consecutive games for Florida since 40-year-old Gary Roberts did it in 2006. 

() With the junior league Red Deer Rebels not making Canada's Western Hockey League playoffs, the Panthers could assign defensive prospect Alex Petrovic to their AHL club in San Antonio as early as Monday.

Petrovic, a second round pick in 2010, will be on an amateur try-out basis for contractual reasons and is eligible for the AHL postseason. 

Petrovic, who concluded his junior career with Red Deer on Saturday against the Edmonton Oil Kings, had 12 goals and 48 points in 68 games.

 

March 17, 2012

Florida Panthers Get Elusive Fourth Straight Win, Top Sabres 3-2 as SO goes Seven Rounds ... Kulikov has Two of Cats' Five SO Winners

I4BY GEORGE RICHARDS Twitter: @OnFrozenPond Facebook: On Frozen Pond

For more than 17 minutes of Saturday's game, Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller had nothing to do but check out the creative St. Patrick's Day costumes in the crowd surrounding him.

The Panthers had been pinned back in their own zone and had failed to get off a single shot during that time as they fell behind a goal.

The Panthers made up for their offensive fallacies in a hurry, scoring goals on the first two shots they took
Anchormanlate in the opening period. That was all Miller allowed before the shootout, one Florida won off Dmitry Kulikov's goal in the seventh round, as the Panthers escaped BankAtlantic Center with a 3-2 win to further keep their playoff hopes alive.

Florida didn't do much against Miller yet did enough to win a fourth straight game for the first time since Jacques Martin coached the team way back in 2008. The unlikely – and perhaps undeserved – victory gave the Panthers a five point lead on idle Washington atop the Southeast Division.

“This is the right time to do it. We're starting to hit our stride,'' said John Madden, whose goal on Florida's second shot of the game gave the Panthers a 2-1 lead with 2:07 left in the opening period. “We don't want to limp into the playoffs.''

Buffalo, a team that desperately needed that extra point in the standings, pulled to within two of the Capitals for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Wtvj4The Sabres played a desperate brand of hockey as they held the Panthers to just one shot in the entire third period and none in overtime. The Panthers improved to 5-8 in the shootout as Jose Theodore (who stopped 24 shots) gave up just one goal in the shootout. Kulikov scored Florida's second shootout goal after Wojtek Wolski and Theodore stopped Drew Stafford for the win.

“There's no pressure on me, I scored the goal and that's the advantage of going first,'' said Kulikov, who has two shootout game-winners on just three career attempts. “We have confidence that Theodore is going to make that save. .-.-. He's a good goalie.''

The Sabres grabbed an early lead when Tyler Ennis worked in front of Stephen Weiss and knocked in a nice feed from Stafford. The Panthers then watched the Sabres keep the puck in deep as Florida put no offensive pressure on Miller (15 saves). 

Late in the second, Florida picked up a power play chance with Mikael Samuelsson driving the Panthers' 4x4first shot past Miller with 2:45 left in the period. Madden, who scored his first goal with the Panthers in Thursday's win over Boston, followed suit with the second goal less than a minute later.

“They got a goal right away and after that I knew they would come hard. And they did,'' said Theodore, who has won four straight starts and is 4-0-1 in his past five. “It was a good sound game both ways. You could see both teams really wanted the points – and needed the points.''

The Sabres tied things up on a power play chance of their own as Shawn Matthias was given a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct after fighting Mike Weber after the Sabres' defenseman made what was a clean hit on Florida's Tomas Kopecky. With Matthias in the box, Derek Roy fielded the puck in the slot and Rocky4whipped a shot through. 

Florida knew Buffalo was going to come out with everything it had. The Panthers weren't disappointed.

“They had a good push back and really had us on our heels,'' defenseman Ed Jovanovski said. “Our goaltender came up huge and gave us a chance to win.''

BIG NAMES RETURN

As expected, the Panthers welcomed Kris Versteeg (hip) and Dmitry Kulikov back after stints on the injured list. Versteeg, playing with Kopecky and Matthias, missed nine games. Kulikov, who had knee surgery in January, missed 23.

With those those two back, the Panthers scratched Mike Santorelli, Krys Barch and Keaton Ellerby. Dineen said it's not easy making these moves, but, it's nice to have options. 

“A guy like Marco Sturm, who I felt played the best game I’ve seen him play in a Panthers uniform, is making those decisions extremely tough,'' Dineen said. “When you get a coveted spot in this lineup, your job is to make sure that the coaches have a tough decision every day in how they’re putting their lineup together every day.”

()Count Sabres coach Lindy Ruff as one impressed with the Panthers. An original assistant coach with the expansion Panthers, Ruff has been the Sabres' coach the past 15 seasons. 

“They brought in guys from winning teams, guys who have won the Cup,'' said Ruff, who has been coach of the Sabres ever since leaving the Panthers in 1997. “Their younger guys have been around a winning team all year and it's showing up in their play. I like the way they play, they play a hard game and a hard game to defend. The last few games they've played .''

March 16, 2012

Panthers Wojtek Wolski Warms Up in South Florida ... Sabres Try to Keep Cats from Elusive Fourth Straight Win

Wolski1BY GEORGE RICHARDS Twitter: @OnFrozenPond Facebook: On Frozen Pond

The numbers suggest Wojtek Wolski is a player whose game improves once his scenery changes. He vehemently disagrees with that assessment. For good reason. 

In the three times the talented Panthers winger has been traded, his scoring production has increased.
When Colorado traded him to Phoenix at the deadline in 2010, Wolski ended with 18 points on six goals in the final 18 games of the regular season. Last year, Wolski scored six goals with 19 points in 39 games after being shipped to the Rangers. 

On Thursday, Wolski picked up his third goal and eighth point in 11 games since joining the Panthers last month. Wolski came to the Panthers with no goals and three assists in nine games with the Rangers. 

“I've always been able to put up points. It has nothing to do with a 'change of scenery','' Wolski said, shaking his head.

Wolski2“People keep saying that and I've always put up points. I'm not going to agree with that because I don't think it's true.''

Wolski has had more than just a scenery change in being dealt to the Panthers for a third round pick in next year's draft. With the Rangers, Wolski was relegated to press box duty as he hadn't played in an NHL game in more than a month when the Panthers brought him south. 

Wolski underwent sports hernia surgery in November, and by the time he returned, Rangers coach John Tortorella only gave Wolski a sniff at the lineup. Three games from Jan. 12-15 – mostly playing on the fourth line – was all he got.

In Florida, the Panthers were desperate for some offensive punch and Wolski gave them that at little cost other than a financial hit.

Instead of being benched as he was in New York, Wolski finds himself on Florida's top line with Stephen Weiss and Tomas Fleischmann. Increased playing time, as well as a spot with two talented linemates, may explain Wolski's offensive rise more than just the move itself does. 

“We needed some offensive output and it was timely what with [Kris] Versteeg's injury,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. “He found himself as a healthy scratch for a lot of time in New York and now he's on the right side of Stephen Weiss. That's a pretty good change of fortunes. But he's aware that there's a lot of work that goes into keeping a coveted spot like that.''

Born in Zabrze, Poland, Wolski's family escaped the Communist country and fled to West Germany in 1989. The Wolski family eventually landed in Canada and, even though times were tough, Wojtek worked Wolski3hard at playing hockey and became an accomplished player. He eventually became a high draft pick of the Ontario Hockey League's Brampton Battalion where he earned league MVP honors and rewrote that team's record book.

Wolski, who didn't speak English when he moved to Canada, was taken with the 21st overall pick of the 2004 draft by the Avalanche and became a full-time player by the 2006-07 season. The Avs eventually traded him to Phoenix in 2010 and he initially played well for the Coyotes – and scored four goals in seven playoff games to earn a two-year deal worth $7.6 million.

The good times didn't last in the desert, however, as Wolski fell out of favor with coach Dave Tippett – who happens to be Dineen's old teammate from their days with the Whalers – and was shipped to the Rangers. Things ended up not working out there, either.  
Could Wolski have found a home with the Panthers? Time will tell.

“We're winning right now and it's always great to be going in the right direction. I think it's been going well,'' Wolski said. “I like Florida a lot, think the guys here are great. We have a lot of creative, talented players. Everyone has been pitching in and we're winning. That's the most important thing.''

() The Panthers, once again, go after an elusive fourth straight win Saturday when Buffalo completes Florida's four-game homestand. The Panthers haven't won four consecutive games since the end of the 2007-08 season when Jacques Martin's bunch won seven straight in what was a failed run to the playoffs. 

The Panthers have won three straight on five different occasions this season but have yet to pull off the Superfecta. In November, Florida won the first three games of a four-game homestand before losing the finale to Tampa Bay in overtime.

SabresSATURDAY: SABRES AT PANTHERS

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

TV/Radio: FS Florida/WQAM-560

The series: Buffalo leads 42-25-4

The game: The Panthers should have two of their regulars back in the lineup as Kris Versteeg (hip) and Dmitry Kulikov (knee) are expected to return. The Sabres, with Ryan Miller in net, are back in the playoff hunt and have won nine of their past 13. Buffalo has won two of three against the Panthers this season. 


March 15, 2012

Panthers Add to Bruins Woes, Roll 6-2 for Third Straight Win ... Cats Get Goals from Six Different Players, 3-0 on Four-game Homestand

BearBY GEORGE RICHARDS Twitter: @OnFrozenPond Facebook: On Frozen Pond

Whether he intended the pun or not, Panthers coach Kevin Dineen compared the slumping Bruins to a “wounded bear” before Thursday night's game in Sunrise. 

Boston may be the defending Stanley Cup champions and may lead the Northeast Division, but they sure don't have much bite these days. 

Florida added to the Bruins struggles by scoring three goals in the second period en route to an all important 6-2 win in front of a announced 19,004 at BankAtlantic Center. Florida has won the first three games of a homestand that concludes Saturday against the Sabres.

“There's satisfaction here. I'm a bit of a New England Dineenwhalersguy,'' said Panthers coach and former Hartford Whalers captain Kevin Dineen. “I always enjoy beating the gold-and-black. But most importantly is our team keeping a tempo and getting on a little roll.''

The Panthers, who lead the Southeast Division by three points over idle Washington, are just two points behind the Bruins for the second overall seed in the Eastern Conference. Both teams have 12 games left with the two splitting the four game season series. Boston has lost four straight and six of eight.

“We have to stop looking behind us,'' Stephen Weiss said, “and start looking at teams ahead of us.''

For the fourth straight game, the Panthers took a 1-0 lead after Mikael Samuelsson's wrist shot from 50 feet out beat Tim Thomas late in the opening period. 

The two teams didn't do much in that first period but made up for it in a festive second. Florida made it 2-0 when Marcel Goc redirected Brian Campbell's shot from the blue line.

Boston cut the deficit on Joe Corvo's fourth of the year, but Weiss made it a two-goal affair once again after pouncing on a puck Thomas failed in kicking out to safety. 

BarkerJohn Madden scored his first goal since joining the Panthers in January to make it 4-1 with 4:33 left in the second period, punching the glass in celebration. 

“This is huge, these games are just crucial,'' said Madden, a three-time Stanley Cup champion with New Jersey (twice) and Chicago.

“All the games are big and we have to start building. Now is the time to start playing playoff hockey. We believe in ourselves and we're moving forward.''

Boston put up a fight in the third period when Brian Rolston got a power play goal 1:44 in, but the threat was short lived after Tomas Kopecky picked off a loose puck and drove in on Thomas to make it 5-2 with 12:09 remaining.

Wojtek Wolski capped things off by burying a feed from Tomas Fleischmann on a 2-on-1 rush with 2:36 left.

Florida, which has scored at least five goals in each of its past two games, goes for its first four game winning streak since 2008 on Saturday against a Sabres team that is back in the playoff race and currently sits ninth in the conference. 

“This is awesome, a lot of fun. Those are the words that come to mind,'' Weiss said. “It's great to experience this with this group. We have guys who want to play for each other and guys are competing and wanting to be a part of this.''

HEALING UP

Dineen is expected to have a number of new options available for Saturday's lineup as Kris Versteeg, Dmitry Kulikov and Scottie Upshall could all be ready to play. All three took part in Thursday's morning skate and at least two should play against the Sabres. 

Once all three players return, Florida will have 24 players on the active roster – which is OK after the trade deadline. Teams can only carry 23 players before the deadline.

() Dineen all but confirmed Jack Skille's injured shoulder will all but end his season. Skille signed a two-year deal with the team last summer. “I don't think Jack is going to play again this season and I would be very surprised if he was,'' Dineen said. “Anything realistic is months away.''

Panthers Walking Wounded Close to Return: Versteeg, Kulikov, Upshall Back Saturday?

Versteeg3Kevin Dineen smiled when asked about his injured players working out on Thursday.

He's about to get a few more options when it comes to his lineup. 

Kris Versteeg (hip), Dmitry Kulikov (knee surgery) and Scottie Upshall (sports hernia surgery) won't play tonight against the Bruins. But they all could be options for Saturday's game against Kulikov2the Sabres.

All three were in a good mood today as they talked about potentially coming back this week with Upshall saying he feels great.

Dineen knows he hasn't seen what Upshall can do this season because he had been battling that sports hernia thing all year. Dineen, you can bet, will wait until he thinks Upshall Upshall2is 100 percent before he brings him back.

Having a few options on the forward lines allows him this.

Jose Theodore is back in net tonight against the Bruins; Mike Santorelli will be a healthy scratch.

-- As is usally the case with the Panthers, not all the news is positive on the injury front.

As expected, Dineen said he doesn't think Jack Skille Skille3(shoulder) will suit up again this season. Even if he doesn't need surgery, the rehab alone will take too long for him to come back. 

Skille is signed with the Panthers through next season.

-- With Kulikov on the verge of returning, Tyson Strachan was returned to the AHL San Antonio Rampage on Thursday.

It's Official: Florida Panthers 'JetBlue' Third Jerseys No More ... Cats Wearing Third Sweaters One More Time

JetbluesThe Florida Panthers will hold their annual 'Shirt off our Backs' promotion next Sunday when the team plays the Islanders instead of the traditional final day of the season.

Why?

Because they are trying to get rid of their Sunday JetBlue* third jerseys.

That Sunday will be the last time the team wears them as, after three seasons, the Tampa Bay Rays look will be retired.

Jetblue2Fans will be able to bid on their favorite player's jersey, with that player taking off that game-worn jersey and autographing it for the lucky winner on the ice after the game.

Jetblue3It's a great promotion, with the money raised benifiting the Florida Panthers Foundation and their mission to fight pediatric cancer.

And, those jerseys will definitely be collector items.

I've been told the Panthers will not have a third jersey next season but there is a likelyhood they could have one by the 2013-14 season. Expect a dark Jetblue4blue jersey with a different Cat-In-A-Circle logo. Or perhaps the Sunshine/Palm Tree/Hockey Stick logo.

Something.

(*) -- So why do we call these jerseys the 'JetBlues?'

Well, word is Michael Yormark was one of the few proponents of this color scheme and brought it in to help lure the discount airline to become a major sponsor.

If that was indeed the thought, it worked. JetBlue is a team partner to this day. I have never gotten Yormark to confirm this story, but I have heard it from a good number of people. So, whatever.

Anyway, 3rd_Jersey_LetterYormark liked the look so much the Panthers were on the verge of changing their official colors from the original red-blue-gold to the two shades of blue.

In the summer of 2010, the Panthers had changed everything to those colors and it looked like the team was going to go to those colors exclusively for the 2011-12 season.

Only Dale Tallon, Mike Santos and Bill Torrey hated the look and refused to wear anything with the Cat-In-A-Circle logo on it. They quickly made it known Stanleythat they hated the blue look and the Panthers quietly started phasing it out.

Then loudly splashed back with the 'We See Red' campaign when it was obvious the blue was out. 

So, if you dig the jersey, they are on sale at the Tarpsarena now for at least 50 percent off. Load up.

 

March 14, 2012

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.

March 13, 2012

Florida Panthers Jack Skille Could be Lost for Season ... Kris Versteeg, Dmitry Kulikov Close to Return


SkilleleafsBY GEORGE RICHARDS Twitter: @OnFrozenPond

Winger Jack Skille injured his shoulder after colliding with Bergenheim during Florida's shootout loss at Pittsburgh last week and could be lost for the rest of the season.

General manager Dale Tallon said he didn't know the extent of the injury because he hadn't spoken with head athletic trainer Dave Zenobi.

If Skille needs surgery on the shoulder, he would have to rehab through a good part of the season but should be OK by training camp. If Skille doesn't need surgery, the rehab alone would likely take long enough that he would miss the remainder of the season.

Assistant GM Mike Santos said Skille's newest injury is separate from his previous shoulder injury.

Skille missed 20 of 22 games from Dec. 17-Feb. 11 after getting hurt after missing a check against Calgary on Dec. 16. Skille missed that check and went elbow-first into the glass at full speed. He came back for two games in Colorado and Chicago before missing seven more.

“I know it's going to be a while, a pretty good chance it's long-term,'' Dineen said on Tuesday morning. “Him being out for the rest of the year hasn't been told to me. But I would not expect to see him for quite a while. .-.-. He has to get himself healthy and that may take a few months.''

() Kris Versteeg (hip) and Dmitry Kulikov (knee) skated again on Tuesday before Florida's morning skate and Dineen said both could return to the Panthers before this four-game homestand ends Saturday against the Sabres.

Who Owns the Leafs? The Florida Panthers Move to 4-0 v Toronto with 5-2 Win ... Cats Score Five Goals in Each of Four Wins

Slapshot1BY GEORGE RICHARDS Twitter: @OnFrozenPond

The Toronto Maple Leafs have a new coach since the Panthers last saw them, yet not much has changed.

Not only are the Leafs still losing at a remarkable clip, but the offensively-challenged Panthers continue to score a lot of goals on them.

And if the Panthers make the playoffs for the first time since Bill Clinton was in office, they probably Citrusshould send a nice gift – a selection of locally grown citrus perhaps? – to the Leafs.

The Panthers beat Toronto for the fourth time in as many tries on Tuesday, running away with a 5-2 win at BankAtlantic Center. Florida, which averages 2.4 goals per game, has scored five goals in each of the four wins against the now hapless Leafs.

“I can't explain what the difference is against the Leafs,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. “Sometimes during the course of a season you find out how to get a team's number. It's very fortunate for us this has been one of them. Of course, we beat the Rangers Slapshot2early and then they spanked us. The thing flip flops, but it's nice being on the good side for sure.''

Toronto, which replaced Ron Wilson with Randy Carlyle not long after Florida's 5-3 win in Toronto on Feb. 28, has lost 15 of its past 17 games and five straight. The Panthers, meanwhile, moved two points closer to ending their NHL-record 11 year – and 10 season – postseason drought.

Florida and Toronto are the only teams to miss the playoffs in the post-lockout era (the 2004-05 season was lost).

As was the case in Toronto, the Panthers struck first and did so quickly when Sean Bergenheim knocked a loose puck off a Mikael Samuelsson rebound past James Reimer just 59 seconds into the game. On Feb. 28, Marcel Goc scored on Reimer 13 seconds in.

After that, the Panthers were never in any real danger. Though the two teams slogged through an uneventful first and second periods, Florida made it 2-0 when Jason Garrison tied a franchise record for a defenseman by scoring his 16th goal of the season.

Garrison redirected a shot from Goc just a second after Carter Ashton came out of the penalty box.

Although Toronto scored to make it 2-1 late in the second, the Panthers got a pair of power play goals in the third from Tomas Kopecky (who had a Garrison shot deflect off his lower region) and Goc.

Toronto got a power play goal of its own from Mikhail Grabovski with 6:10 left, it wasn't even close to being enough.

“We knew they would come to play but we got a goal at the beginning and then sat back in the second,'' Kopecky said. “We have to keep outworking the other team. We had a chat after the second period, some things were said, and I think we responded.''

Bergenheim ended things with an empty net goal with 1:20 remaining for his career-high 16th marker of the year.

Jose Theodore's shutout streak ended in the second at 2 hours 1 minute 6 seconds, but made 26 saves for his second straight win.

“It's obviously a big win. We've struggled to score goals lately, but every time we play them, we seem to get a quick goal and grab momentum,'' Theodore said. “They're a good team, have good speed. But we seem to have had their number.''

 

March 10, 2012

Dale Tallon: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade Comments OK With Florida Panthers ... He Wants Manning With Dolphins as Well

LebronseatBY GEORGE RICHARDS Twitter: @OnFrozenPond

PITTSBURGH -- Both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have made their case in trying to get Peyton Manning to sign with the Dolphins, basically saying they want all the teams in South Florida to succeed. With one exception.

Guess who was left out?

Wade tweeted that he wants the Dolphins to go “all in” like the Heat and Marlins.

LebronbrownsJames told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that “I want Miami sports to be great: The U, the Dolphins, the Marlins, the Heat, of course.”

So where's the love for the Southeast Division leading Florida Panthers?

General manager Dale Tallon said he didn't feel slighted by the Heat stars and adds he hopes Manning comes south as well.

“I wish everyone in South Florida well because I'm a sports fan too. It will be a good thing when everyone down here is winning,'' Tallon said.

“We want to have success as well. When we do, we'll be in those conversations. It takes time.''

() The Panthers held an optional practice in Coral Springs on Saturday with injured players Dmitry Kulikov (knee), Scottie Upshall (sports hernia) and Kris Versteeg (hip) all skating in non-contact jerseys.

Versteeg is expected to be the first of the three to return with Kulikov not far behind.

 

Florida Panthers Look for Some 'Home Cookin' as Carolina Canes Come to Town to Kick off Homestand

Homecooking2BY GEORGE RICHARDS Twitter: @OnFrozenPond

PITTSBURGH – Every time Kevin Dineen mentions his team's previous four game homestand, the one in which his Panthers lost all four games, he uses the same descriptive word.

“It still stings,'' he says.

Dineen and the Panthers have a chance at redemption starting Sunday evening when Carolina comes to BankAtlantic Center to kick off Florida's second four-game home stint in a month. Florida will entertain the Hurricanes, Toronto, Boston and Buffalo as it tries to distance itself from the Southeast Division pack and further solidify its postseason standing.

“Every game is the biggest game of the season now,'' goalie Jose Theodore said. “There's no secret that there's 15 games left and we're right there.''

HomecookingThe Panthers haven't been great at home this season, save for a stretch around Thanksgiving when the Panthers won three of four against Pittsburgh, New Jersey and the Rangers with an overtime loss to Tampa Bay.

Florida's 16 wins on home ice is tied for 24th in the NHL coming into Saturday's games (the 40 points earned at home is tied for 16th). The Panthers have a chance to fix that. Of the 15 games remaining, eight come in Sunrise.

“Now we have to get some home cookin','' Dineen said. “You learn from your history and your mistakes. At the end of the day, we're trying to build something here and keep moving forward.''

Florida would like to get the homestand started well and the opponents are to the Panthers liking. The Panthers are unbeaten through four games against Carolina, a team that is last in the division and tied for 13th in the conference. Florida is also 3-0 against the Maple Leafs, a team whose playoff hopes dissipated thanks to a recent stretch of games in which they lost 10 of 11.

After that, however, things get dicey. Although Boston has cooled after a hot start to the season, the Bruins are still atop the Northeast Division and hold the second seed in the East. Boston has also gone 2-0-1 against Florida. Buffalo is getting great goaltending from Ryan Miller and is back in the playoff race after being left for dead last month.

“We've definitely thought about this stretch and it's going to be good to get home and play some games in front of our fans,'' center John Madden said. “Hopefully we can pull all four wins out of it.''

SUNDAY: HURRICANES AT PANTHERS

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

TV/Radio: FSNF/WQAM-560

The series: Carolina leads 48-39-11

The game: This is Carolina's third and final trip to Sunrise with the Panthers winning the first two games and all four games between the two this season. The Hurricanes had lost three of four going into Saturday's game at Tampa Bay. Florida went 0-1-1 on its recent road trip to Pennsylvania.

 

March 09, 2012

Florida Panthers Bounce Back, Get Point in 2-1 Shootout Loss at Penguins ... Jack Skille Leaves Game with Injury ... Kevin Dineen Shakes Things Up, Leaves Theodore In

BY GEORGE RICHARDS Twitter: @OnFrozenPond

PITTSBURGH – The Panthers had a lot going against them in the final minutes Friday, the biggest obstacle of all being their opponent.

The host Penguins threw everything they had at a Florida team that lost Jack Skille to injury in the third and were obviously playing on dead legs after Thursday's loss in Philadelphia. Still, thanks to some strong play by Jose Theodore down the stretch, the Panthers forced overtime and earned a valuable point in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Penguins at Consol Energy Center. 

Florida now heads home for a key stretch of games with the following four in Sunrise through next weekend.

The Penguins have now won eight straight and 11 of their past 13.

“The outcome is important at this time of the year, but it's a process,'' said Panthers coach Kevin Dineen, whose team went 0-1-1 on this Keystone State road trip and has lost eight of the past 12.

“At the end of the day, it's how you play. We walk out of here knowing we played a good team and played extremely hard. We gave ourselves a good chance to win.''

Skille, who has been a very productive player of late, was lost in the third period when he collided with teammate Sean Bergenheim near the Pittsburgh goal. Skille skated off favoring his shoulder in obvious pain. Skille missed a big chunk of the season with a shoulder injury, returning on Feb. 12 and playing in 13 straight games. 

“He looked pretty sore,'' Dineen said without giving further update. “He looked like he was hurting.''

Florida took a much-needed 1-0 lead in the second period when Tomas Fleischmann charged the net from the right side and followed up a big shot from Wojtek Wolski and beat Marc-Andre Fleury at 7:17 of the period. 

The Panthers took that lead into the third period with the Penguins tying things up 2:56 in when Steve Sullivan charged in on Theodore on a breakaway and tossed up a soft backhanded shot. Theodore (33 saves) made the initial stop, but the puck somehow crawled past and ended up behind him. This came not long after Florida survived its lone penalty kill – a four-minute job after Krys Barch was given a double-minor for a high stick.

Theodore didn't let the next big shot get that far when Pascal Dupuis chopped at a loose puck that was initially ruled a goal. Hockey Central in Toronto reviewed the play and overturned the call on the ice as replays couldn't confirm the puck fully crossed the line as Theodore had his arm on top of it midway through the period. 

“I saw the puck the whole way,'' said Theodore, making starts on consecutive nights for the first time this season. “You never like to see the referee point that it was a goal, but I felt confident it wasn't.'' 

The Penguins came strong at Theodore the rest of the night but the Panthers goalie stood up to the challenge and made a nice save with less than 10 seconds left. Theodore made three saves in the overtime but gave up both goals in the shootout as Pittsburgh moved to 9-3 in shootouts this season. Florida, now 5-13 in overtime contests, is 4-8 in shootouts. 

Still, Florida added a point in the standings to help keep it in first place in the Southeast Division for another few days at least.

“I thought we played a very solid game. It's real tough playing in Pittsburgh, especially up 1-0,'' Fleischmann said. “We fought hard on both sides and it took the shootout to decide it. It was a good bounce back. We played more as a team, five guys on the ice. We need to keep playing that way. This is a very tough stretch.''

() The Sidney Crosby saga continued Friday as the Penguins star worked out but did not play against the Panthers. Crosby, who has missed over 101 games over the past two seasons because of concussion-related injuries, may return to the lineup Sunday when Boston comes to town. 

Or not. Crosby was cleared for contact on Tuesday. He could return next week in New York against the Rangers.

“We haven't practiced a lot lately,'' Crosby told reporters on Friday morning. “Just a couple of morning skates. I haven't got a lot of contact really, the way the schedule has worked out. I haven't tested things as much as I'd like. But even the bumping I've done, it's been good. 

() With two extra forwards, Dineen has a little flexibility in what he can do with the lineup. After being shutout in Philadelphia on Thursday, Dineen decided to switch things up a bit as he brought back Marco Sturm and John Madden for Friday's game.

Mike Santorelli and newcomer Jerred Smithson sat. 
Dineen also sat defenseman Keaton Ellerby and went with Tyson Strachan instead.

“You have to rate where your players are and energy is a very important thing at this time of the year,'' Dineen said. 

March 08, 2012

Florida Panthers Matt Bradley Still Out, Not Returning in "Foreseeable Future"

BradleyhurtPanthers coach Kevin Dineen confirmed Thursday that concussed forward Matt Bradley has yet to skate and is only doing light – and supervised – workouts.

Dineen wouldn't say that Bradley was out for the season but he doesn't expect him back anytime soon.

Bradley was injured on Feb. 19 when he tried checking Anaheim's George Parros and ended up knocking himself out by ramming into the stanchion by the Panthers bench. 

“We're obviously very cautious with him because it was a pretty good blow he took and not from an opponent,'' Dineen said.

“Matt Bradley's competitive instinct is to go hard in every area. With his history, we need to give him plenty of time off until he's 100 percent. We don't expect to see him in the foreseeable future.''

--With seven defensemen and three games in the following four days, Dineen said he has discussed giving veteran Ed Jovanovski a “maintenance” day as he did last weekend when the Panthers played Nashville and Ottawa on successive nights. 

 

Panthers Bounced in Philly as Flyers Roll 5-0 ... Cats' Shutout for Fourth Time in a Month, Have lost Seven of 11

AlwayssunnyBY GEORGE RICHARDS Twitter: @OnFrozenPond

PHILADELPHIA – At this time of the NHL season, some teams get hot and make a mad sprint to the playoffs, running through opponents with the finish line being their singular focus. 

The Panthers, however, should not be confused as one of those teams. Florida appears to be on a leisurely jog, enjoying the view without worrying about – or even acknowledging – the traffic all around them. 

On Thursday, the Panthers got run over. Again. Philadelphia continued its march to the postseason by scoring three goals before the second intermission before winning 5-0 at Wells Fargo Center. 

The Flyers are moving toward the playoffs the way a team should, riding a full head of steam by winning six of their past eight. Florida? The Panthers have lost
711seven of 11. Florida has lost three of four and have been outscored 17-5 during that 'run.'

“We make too many mistakes and you can't do that on the road,'' said defenseman Brian Campbell, who part of the 2010 Cup champion Blackhawks.

“Some games we're fine and others we come out and the mistakes are there and they snowball. We're not going to win this way on the road. We need to get back to the simple game-plan and go from there.''

One thing going the Panthers way is their geographical assignment in a malnourished Southeast Division. As the Flyers' Atlantic Division is ultra competitive with four of the five teams likely making the playoffs, the Southeast will be lucky to advance a team other than its champion. Florida, with 74 points, may lead the Southeast but would rank fifth in the Atlantic.

With Washington winning in overtime Thursday, five points separates fourth-place Tampa Bay and the Panthers in the battle for the Southeast.

“It's in black-and-white, in the papers every day,'' Campbell said. “We look at that, we hope. You see what Winnipeg is doing, Buffalo. They're winning games. It's going to go away pretty quick if we don't start winning games.''

Florida came out with a good amount of jump and hoped to sneak up on a Philadelphia team coming off Tuesday's emotional win over Detroit. The Panthers had a number of good chances against starter Ilya Bryzgalov, yet, as was the case all night, couldn't get anything through and rarely challenged after the opening 20 minutes.

Bryzgalov recorded his fourth shutout of the season as the Panthers have failed to score in seven games this season – including four in the past month.

“We have to find a way to score goals,'' Dineen said. “We can sit there and diddle around and try and find words, but we have to have a concerted effort to go and score goals.''

Philadelphia took the only lead it needed midway through the first when Brayden Schenn scored the first of two Flyers power play goals. The Flyers made it 2-0 when Matt Read banged a loose puck past Jose Theodore, then Scott Hartnell scored on a breakaway with 7:11 left in the second. Jaromir Jagr ended any hopes of a Florida comeback 2:35 into the third with Philadelphia rolling on a 5-on-3 chance. 

The Flyers went 2-for-4 on the power play on Thursday with the Panthers scoreless in four tries.

Florida had two power play chances in close proximity during the first but looked punchless on both tries. 

-- Tyson Strachan was the healthy scratched defenseman on Thursday as Erik Gudbranson returned to the lineup.

Forwards Marco Sturm and John Madden were both scratched for the fourth consecutive game.

PensFRIDAY: PANTHERS AT PENGUINS

When, Where: 7 p.m.; Consol Energy Center, Pittsburgh

TV/Radio: FSNF/WQAM-560

The series: Pittsburgh leads 37-31-4

The game: The Penguins, who have won two of three against the Panthers this season, will once again be without star Sidney Crosby as he's not scheduled to return until Sunday. Pittsburgh has done without Crosby, however, with wins in seven straight and eight of its past nine games. Florida is making its first trip back to the Steel City since the second game of the season.

March 05, 2012

Mike Weaver Finds Home with Panthers ... News, Notes on Off Day

WeaverBY GEORGE RICHARDS Twitter: @OnFrozenPond

Mike Weaver has played for five National Hockey League teams but it looks like Florida may be his last stop. The 33-year-old defenseman is in his second season with the Panthers and signed a two-year extension with the team in December.

When asked what about the Panthers makes him feel most comfortable, Weaver looks around an empty locker room. Well, empty except for the young kids running around playing a makeshift hockey game. 

Weaver's young son joins in the game along with the sons of teammates Mikael Samuelsson and Marco Sturm. All three wear smaller versions of their dad's sweaters as they knock a foam puck around the room. Weaver watches and smiles.

Weaver1“I really like what Dale Tallon and Mike Santos have done with this organization and I'm really happy to be a part of it,'' said Weaver, who has played in 486 NHL games, including No. 147 with the Panthers on Sunday.

“These are guys who are on your side and they want what is best for all of us. It's a family and becoming one more so every day. These are guys you want to battle for every night.''

Weaver is one of the more under-rated defensemen in the league – and he knows it. “My agent used to tell me I was most valuable to the team I was with,'' Weaver said. “A general manager has to see me every day to know what I bring to the table.'' Former Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau once said he had to move Alex Ovechkin away from Weaver because the Capitals star forward couldn't get any separation when Weaver was on him.

The Panthers, who tried to trade for Weaver when he played for the Blues in 2010, obviously appreciate what Weaver brings to the Panthers.

In Sunday's 4-2 win over Ottawa, Weaver's long shot early in the second period turned into Marcel Goc's initial goal. Weaver added a second assist later in the game and now has 16. Weaver's career high had been the 11 he had last season.

“He had a really good bounce-back effort [Sunday] because I think he was a little stinky on the second goal [Saturday],'' Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said.

“That's not very Weaver-like. He had a great bounce back game and is a very valuable piece of what we're doing.''

() Defenseman Erik Gudbranson says being benched after a poorly-timed shift change during the third period of Saturday's loss to the Predators probably had something to do with him missing Sunday's game, although he is confident he'll have a chance to redeem himself soon.

Dineen said after Sunday's game that he felt Gudbranson needed to “take a breath” as the rigors of being a 19-year-old defenseman in the NHL can be stressful “when things are happening as fast as they are right now.''

With Tyson Strachan up from Florida's AHL team in San Antonio, Dineen had an extra option for Sunday's game and scratched Gudbranson for the first time since Dec. 22. “Tyson had a good game on Saturday,'' Dineen said.

Gudbranson is expected to be back in the lineup Thursday at Philadelphia.

“It's no fun to sit out and watch your team playing out there,'' Gudbranson said. “As a young guy, I can see the game and learn from this. Being on the ice is very different. The way to treat this is learn and make it a positive. I'm not going to question their decision, that's for sure. Whatever is best for the team to win a game is best by me.''

() To see Krys Barch and Gudbranson leading the Panthers in penalty minutes isn't much of a surprise. It is, however, interesting to see Stephen Weiss third on the team in amassing penalties.

Weiss' 50 penalty minutes don't include any fighting majors, but they do include 20 minutes when he was ejected for cursing at an official back in November.

Take those away and he's tied for sixth on the team.

Weiss hasn't been penalized in any of the three games this month, but had been called for six infractions in 14 February games.

“He's a very competitive guy who plays hard every single shift and he's going against very skilled players,'' Dineen said. “That may get hung on me a little bit because I rely on him so heavily.

"Sometimes I may put him out in some situations where his energy may not be where it needs to be and he gets in trouble with his stick. It's a little mix of all of that.''

March 04, 2012

Florida Panthers Could Get Kris Versteeg Back This Week ... Erik Gudbranson Sat to 'Take a Breath'

Versteeg2BY GEORGE RICHARDS Twitter: @OnFrozenPond

Panthers leading scorer Kris Versteeg says he's been feeling better after missing the past week with what's believed to be a hip injury.

Versteeg said he hopes to be back on the ice this week. The Panthers will practice Tuesday and Wednesday before playing in Philadelphia on Thursday.

“One-hundred percent, I'm playing down the stretch this season,'' Versteeg said. “It's just a matter of it feeling better and being cleared to go. But I'm coming back. That's for sure.''

Versteeg said the injury had been bothering him for more than a month, but hard hits on successive nights against Carolina and Montreal forced him to take some time off.

“That hit against Montreal made me realize it was time,'' he said. Versteeg left both of those games early.

--Erik Gudbranson was pulled from Saturday's loss after an ill-advised shift change during the third period led to Nashville's third goal in the Predators' 3-1 win.

“That was dumb,'' Gudbranson said.

He was then told to be at the arena early Sunday morning for a conditioning skate as he was scratched from Sunday's game as Ed Jovanovski returned to the lineup and Tyson Strachan came in. 

“That was a hard decision for me because I have a tremendous amount of respect for Gudbranson,'' Dineen said.

“He's going to be a cornerstone player for this franchise. But I know the learning curve at this level is very large. .-.-. Sometimes taking a breath isn't the worst thing.''

Panthers Finally Beat Senators, Win 4-2 on Sunday ... Cats had Lost Nine Straight to Ottawa

Theo1BY GEORGE RICHARDS Twitter: @OnFrozenPond

The Panthers finally solved the hex the Ottawa Senators held over them. It couldn't have come at a better time.

Florida's 4-2 victory over Ottawa at BankAtlantic Center on Sunday not only snapped a two-game losing streak and extended its lead in the Southeast Division back to four points, but it ended a nine-game losing streak to the Senators as well. 

Ottawa hadn't lost in Sunrise since March 31, 2009 – a run of five straight wins.

“We spoke [Saturday] about how we have to put a stop to these little losing streaks we get on,'' said Shawn Matthias, who after a 6-2 loss to Ottawa on Feb. 15 said the Panthers could ill-afford to let the Ottawa slide reach 10.

The Panthers heard a number of boos after they skated off to the locker room following a first period in which Ottawa took a 2-0 lead. Florida has fallen behind by that score in six of the past eight games.

“When you get as thoroughly outplayed as we did,'' coach Kevin Dineen said, “there has to be some kind of a response.'' 

When asked what was said at the intermission, Dineen had a sinister look on his face. It was obvious that style of play wasn't to be tolerated.

Matthias said the team was “disgusted” after the opening period.

“We had a little chat,'' Dineen said. “They understood that there wasn't going to be a change in our systems, how we played. I wasn't going to shake up the lines. It was going to come from within.''

Florida was a much different team in the second period with Marcel Goc making it a 2-1 game when he knocked in a Mike Weaver shot over the head of rookie goalie Robin Lehner, making just his 13th career start and fourth since Craig Anderson injured his hand while preparing a meal at his home.

The Panthers made it an even game just over two minutes later when Krys Barch broke loose after taking a feed from Jack Skille. Barch, with 11 goals through his first 296 NHL games, is best known for his fighting.

On Sunday, however, he made a slick move to pull Lehner out of position and fired a sharp shot for Florida's second goal. 

“I knew he had the shot, didn't know he had those hands,'' Matthias joked. “They are usually used for something else.''

Mikael Samuelsson gave Florida its first and final lead of the night midway through the second with Ottawa's Chris Neil in for a four-minute penalty after he slashed the mouth of Ed Jovanovski. Samuelsson charged the net and hammered in a pass from Stephen Weiss for his eighth goal since joining the Panthers in October. 

Florida played a tight game the rest of the way and struggled to put another one past Lehner before Skille drove in with the puck and backhanded one through with 1:26 left. 

“To come back after another home loss to Nashville [Saturday] was good,'' Skille said. “It was nice to get a win for our fans who are itching for the playoffs. You see the standings and know there's not much room for error. If we stick with our character and play the way we can, we'll be OK.''

 

March 03, 2012

A Plane? What is It?: Florida Panthers Gets Stranded at Winnipeg International, Makes Most of It

Airplane4The Panthers spent almost 10 hours stuck in the Winnipeg airport's international terminal on Friday as their charter jet was grounded.

A replacement couldn't be found locally – or closely – so the team had to wait it out as a replacement was Airplane1sent empty from South Florida.

The Panthers, who left their hotel around 8 a.m. CST, didn't arrive in Fort Lauderdale until after 11 p.m. EST.

Airplane3The team was allowed to wander the concourse or
hang out on the grounded plane during the lengthy delay but that was all they were allowed to do since they had already cleared U.S. customs.

The team's charter company tried borrowing the Heat's plane since it was fairly close by in Salt Lake City, but since the Heat was leaving for Los Angeles Airplane2after Friday's game against the Jazz, the timing wouldn't work. 

As an insult to injury, the televisions in the concourse were tuned to a headline news channel that showed replays of Thursday's 7-0 loss to the Jets every 15 minutes or so.

The news channel also used the Florida feed, making play-by-play voice Steve Goldstein cringe every 15 minutes or so as he called the Jets score time after time.

Airplane“There were a lot of cards, a lot of talking. Some guys fell asleep on the plane and passed their time that way,'' Erik Gudbranson said.

“I watched a few movies myself. The power was on the plane so the laptops Familyguypilotstayed charged up.''

Panthers Can't Catch the Predators, Lose 3-1 ... SouthLeast Race Heats up as Lightning Just Four Back of Cats

PredBY GEORGE RICHARDS Twitter: @OnFrozenPond

The Panthers were desperate to forget about Thursday's lopsided loss in Winnipeg and get back to playing winning hockey at home. 

Even though Florida definitely played better on Saturday night, they didn't play well enough as Nashville left BankAtlantic Center with a 3-1 win. The Panthers continue to lead a Southeast Division no one seems to want to take control of, holding a two-point advantage on a Jets team that beat them 7-0 on Thursday. 

Tampa Bay, which was so far out of things its general manager declared the team was a seller prior to the trade deadline, won again Saturday and is now just
Lightningfour points back of the Panthers. Florida and the Lightning don't play again this season. Florida has lost two straight and six of the past nine.

“At this time of year goals are tough to get but we need to start getting them,'' said Shawn Matthias, whose team has averaged just one goal in their past six losses.

“One goal isn't getting the job done. We have a push right now and need to get the puck in the net. We have to get hungry this time of year.'' 

Nashville, which holds the fifth spot in the Western Conference with 11 more points than the Panthers, didn't create many chances in the opening period but took a 1-0 lead on a goal from Andrei Kostitsyn – picked up from Montreal on Monday – on Nashville’s third shot of the night. 

The Predators made it 2-0 early in the second when Mike Fisher scored. Florida countered at 7:49 of the period when Wojtek Wolski got his second goal since joining the Panthers last weekend on a slick feed from Tomas Fleischmann. 

Yet that was all Florida's offense could muster as Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne remains red hot. Rinne, who made 39 saves, hasn't given up three goals in his previous eight starts.

Florida's Scott Clemmensen, who made 20 saves, surrendered a third goal midway through the final period when David Legwand picked up a loose puck at center ice and walked in on Clemmensen and beat him five-hole.

“We made [Rinne] work, but there's a reason why he's the one of the best in the league,'' said Jerred Smithson, traded to the Panthers from Nashville just a few days back. “Sometimes you have have to tip your hat. He's a great goalie and they played great in front of him.''

That was all Nashville needed as it has now won five of seven and is well on its way to its seventh postseason berth in the past eight seasons. Florida's postseason hopes are in decent enough shape – but it desperately needs to get back to winning some games. Ottawa, which has owned the Panthers the past few seasons, visits Sunday evening. 

“Certainly Pekka Rinne earns his keep every time he steps on the ice,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. “He had a heck of a game. Look at some of the chances we had and he came up big. He seems to do that each and every game.''

--The Panthers recalled defenseman Tyson Strachan on Friday to replace Ed Jovanovski in the lineup. Jovanovski said the Panthers talked to him days ago regarding having him sit out one of the two upcoming games for “maintenance.''

Jovanovski says he's playing Sunday.

Belak--A Panthers ice crew member wore a Wade Belak jersey on Saturday to honor the late enforcer who retired with the Predators after last season.

Belak, who spent parts of two seasons with the Panthers, committed suicide over the summer. 

SUNDAY: SENATORS AT PANTHERS

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

TV/Radio: FSNF/WQAM-560

The series: Ottawa leads 42-26-3

The game: The Panthers have struggled against Ottawa of late as the Senators have won five straight n Sunrise and nine straight overall against Florida. Ottawa, 3-0 against the Cats this season, are without goalie Craig Anderson because of a hand injury. The surging Sens, seventh in the east coming into Saturday, have won six of their past eight including a 6-2 pasting of the Panthers on Feb. 15. 

March 01, 2012

#nhlJets Get Touchdown, Close in on #FlaPanthers in 7-0 Rout

BY DAVID LARKINS
Special to On Frozen Pond/The Miami Herald

WINNIPEG, Man. — Not even sure that menace to the Winnipeg Jets, Kris Versteeg, could have helped the Florida Panthers on Thursday night.

The Jets struck for quick goals in the first period and added four more in the third to hammer the Panthers 7-0 Thursday night at a sold-out MTS Centre.

The Jets (31-27-8) scored twice in the first 6:03 of the first period and moved to within two points of the Southeast Division-leading Panthers (30-21-12), who had their three-game win streak snapped in front of a capacity crowd of 15,004.

Versteeg, who sat out his second straight game with what the team is calling a lower-body injury, has six goals and eight points in three games against the Jets this season and locals were quite content to hear he was scratched from the lineup Thursday.

Panthers head coach Kevin Dineen, however, was particularly displeased with his team’s play in its own zone.

“We had turnovers and they ended up in our net,” Dineen said. “You can’t play that kinda hockey in October and you certainly can’t do it in March. It’s a man’s game this time of year and we did not look prepared.”

With Versteeg out of the way, the Jets went to work early.

Evander Kane took advantage of a Keaton Ellerby turnover in the Panthers’ zone 4:01 into the first period. Ellerby’s clearing attempt went right to the stick of the Jets’ leading goal-scorer who took the puck on the edge of the faceoff circle, deked left on Florida goalie Jose Theodore and slipped the puck under his right arm to put Winnipeg up 1-0 with his 25th goal of the season.

A little more than two minutes later, Theodore surrendered a big rebound on a Mark Stuart point shot with the puck sliding right to Winnipeg’s Jim Slater who potted his ninth of the season into an open net from the right faceoff circle.

For all the good the Panthers accomplished on their three-game surge, none of it was evident in Winnipeg.

“There’s lots of different things,” Dineen said. “Our power play was more productive, our game had more force to it and tonight we did not (have that). I think we understood they were going to come hard. They’re a desperate hockey team, they’re not in the playoffs and were going to push hard and I don’t think we responded well to that pressure.”

The Panthers’ best chance came in the first period. Tomas Fleischmann created a turnover at the Winnipeg blueline and broke in on Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec. Aiming for Pavelec’s glove corner, Fleischmann’s shot was redirected by Pavelec’s shoulder up to the crossbar before ricocheting into the corner.

The Jets started the third period in the same manner they began the first, scoring two goals in the first five minutes of the frame and four in the first nine.

Stuart blasted a slap shot that was redirected by Kyle Wellwood in front of a screened Theodore to make it 3-0 1:49 into the period.

The Jets added to their lead on a massive Florida breakdown that allowed the Jets to break out 5-on-1 on Theodore. Brian Little converted a cross-ice pass from Blake Wheeler against a helpless Theodore to make it 4-0, eliciting a standing ovation from the MTS Centre crowd and putting an end to Theodore’s night.

Theodore stopped 20 shots before being pulled in favour of Scott Clemmensen less than four minutes into the third.

The move had little effect, however, as the Jets immediately gave Clemmensen the same treatment his predecessor got. With Ed Jovanovski off for slashing, Nik Antropov slapped aggressively at a loose puck in front of Clemmensen and muscled it through his legs at the 8:06 mark.

As the public address announcer was announcing that goal, the Jets struck again, creating a turnover near centre ice that allowed Wellwood and Kane to skate in on a 2-on-1. Wellwood slid the puck over to Kane, who made a move to his right and fooled Clemmensen to make it 6-0 and give Winnipeg its highest scoring output in a game since a 6-4 win over Florida on Nov. 19, 2011. It was the largest margin of victory for the Jets so far this season.

“We weren’t ready obviously,” defenceman Brian Campbell said. “We take a turnover and a penalty in the first shift pretty much sums up how the rest of the game’s gonna go. We thought we had some fight back when it was 2-0 and had some chances going into the third but getting down 2-0 early and making mistakes — you’re not going to come back and win too many games that way.”

Pavelec made 33 saves for his fourth shutout of the season.

The Jets outshot Florida 13-7 in that first period, but the Panthers responded in the second by putting up 17 shots to Winnipeg’s eight.

The Panthers return home for back-to-back games at BankAtlantic Center Saturday against the Nashville Predators and Sunday against the Ottawa Senators, who sit three points back of Boston for first place in the Northeast Division.

“They keep coming, the games,” Campbell said. “That’s a big part of playing in this league, you’ve gotta let them go and move on. We got beat pretty bad tonight. They wanted it more than us tonight. “

The Jets moved into eighth place, by a point, in the Eastern Conference, vaulting over idle Washington, which has three games in hand.

#nhlJets Get Touchdown, Close in on #FlaPanthers in 7-0 Rout