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75 posts from April 2012

April 12, 2012

Florida Panthers Postseason Experience ... NOW! With Panthers Playoff Records


Stanley Cup champion

John Madden (New Jersey 2, Chicago)

Tomas Kopecky (Detroit, Chicago)

Brian Campbell (Chicago)

Mikael Samuelsson (Detroit)

Kris Versteeg (Chicago)

Asst. coach Craig Ramsay (Tampa Bay)

Postseason games played (goals-asst; TEAM)

134 – John Madden (21-22; NJD, CHI)

92 – Mikael Samuelsson (22-31; DET, VAN)

90 – Brian Campbell (8-30; BUF, SJ, CHI)

69 – Ed Jovanovski (11-19; FLA, VAN, PHX)

61 – Marco Sturm (9-13; SJ, BOS, LAK)

51 – Jose Theodore (19-28, 2.82 GAA; MON, COL, WSH)

50 – Kris Versteeg (11-21; PHL, CHI)

43 – Marcel Goc (3-6; SJ, NSH)

31 – Jerred Smithson (2-1; NSH)

30 – Tomas Kopecky (4-3; DET, CHI)

27 – Wotjek Wolski (8-9; COL, PHX, NYR)

22 – Tomas Fleischmann (2-3; WSH)

19 – Scottie Upshall (3-4; PHL, NSH)

16 – Sean Bergenheim (9-2; TB)

4 – Mike Weaver (0-0; STL)

3 – Krys Barch (0-0; DAL)

1 – Scott Clemmensen (0-0, 0.00; NJD)

Coaching Staff

89 – Asst. coach Craig Ramsay (17-31; BUF)

59 – Head coach Kevin Dineen (23-18; HRT, PHL, CAR)

53 – Asst. coach Gord Murphy (3-16; PHL, FLA)

Postseason debut (games played, franchise)

Stephen Weiss (637, FLA)

Shawn Matthias (205, FLA)

Dmitry Kulikov (198, FLA)

Jason Garrison (190, FLA)

Mike Santorelli (174, NSH, FLA)

Keaton Ellerby (116, FLA)

Erik Gudbranson (72, FLA)


Appearances: 4 (1996, 97, 2000, 2012)

Series Won: 3 (BOS, PHL, PIT in 1996)

Last appearence: 2000 (swept by New Jersey)

Franchise playoff highs

--Games played: Scott Mellanby, Robert Svehla (31); Paul Laus (30).

--Goals: Dave Lowry, Ray Sheppard (10); Rob Niedermayer (8); Stu Barnes (6); Bill Lindsay (5).

--Assists: Svehla (11); Barnes (10); Mellanby, Gord Murphy (9); Sheppard, Ed Jovanovski (8).

--Games by goalies: John Vanbiesbrouck (27); Mike Vernon (4); Mark Fitzpatrick (2).


Florida Panthers, Believe it or Not, Have Plenty of Postseason Experience ... John Madden to Play in 135th Playoff Game

PanthersSClogoBY GEORGE RICHARDS grichards@MiamiHerald.com

TWITTER: @OnFrozenPond

By just looking at the team logo, it would appear the Florida Panthers are inexperienced newbies going into their first round playoff matchup against the Devils.

After all, goalie Martin Brodeur has helped lead New Jersey to three Stanley Cup championships since 1995. The Devils are definitely more experienced in Broduercupthe postseason than the Panthers – who haven't been to the playoffs since 2000 – right?

Actually, it's a lot closer than one may think.
Although the Panthers organization hasn't been around playoff hockey in over a decade, the players wearing their uniforms have more than a passing acquaintance with the process.

Of Florida's 20 regulars likely to suit up for Friday's opener, 15 have participated in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Eight have participated in more than 30 postseason games. 

Five players have won the Stanley Cup – two more than once. 

“We're trying to make new history here in Florida,'' said Brian Campbell, who helped Chicago win the Cup Campbellcupin 2010. “We have plenty of playoff experience here and we've been able to share those experiences and talk to guys if they have any questions. We're all going to be ready to go.''

Center John Madden is Florida's most experienced playoff veteran as Friday will be his 135th postseason game. Madden, who hoisted the Cup twice with the Devils, said he felt the nerves when he made his postseason debut on April 13, 2000 – 12 years ago Friday – in East Rutherford, N.J. 

“It feels a lot longer than that,'' Madden said. “But I remember it like it was yesterday. It was like my first game.''

Madden didn't seem overwhelmed in his second game as he picked up a pair of assists in the Devils' 2-1 victory over – ahem -- the Panthers.

New Jersey swept Florida in that opening round series and the Panthers haven't been back since. Until now.

“It's a good feeling walking around this room and knowing how much the guys in here have won over Maddencupthe years,'' Madden said. “We have guys who have won big games. But we also have some youth, guys chomping at the bit. Everyone here is going to play a role in our success. You believe in everyone you put on the ice, and you respect everyone they put on the ice. It's a hockey game.''

Coach Kevin Dineen, himself a veteran of 59 playoff games with Hartford, Philadelphia and Carolina, said he is glad to be able to lean on so many players who have “been there, done that,'' as playoff rookie Stephen Weiss said. 

“I've had them share those experiences,'' Dineen said. “It is a different style of hockey. Watch the games [Wednesday]; the play is just ramped up. It is like a whole different world out there. And there were some good lessons out there, Pittsburgh came out gangbusters and Philadelphia found a way to come back. Every game has meaning, every play has meaning. Veteran leaders who have been through this is meaningful for the whole group.''

Weiss will be making his long-awaited postseason debut on Friday after playing in 637 regular season games – all with the Panthers. 

Although Weiss hasn't been in the postseason since his junior days, Dineen said he “is the least of my worries. .-.-. He's old enough where this isn't overwhelming to him. This is something he's looking at as a fabulous opportunity.'' Dineen admits some younger players such as Shawn Matthias, Dmitry Kulikov and Erik Gudbranson could be overwhelmed a bit by the pace and style of play in their first playoff season. 

If they are, they will have plenty of support. 

“Look how long it took to get into the playoffs,'' Weiss said. “I'm not just happy to be here, I want to keep playing. Once you're in, you have a chance to win the Stanley Cup. With that in the back of your mind, you want to keep going. Every team pushes to make a run. We're no different.''

WeissSE“We have guys who have been there, done that. Guys have won the Cup. New Jersey has those guys as well. At the end of the day, it's a hockey game. I know how to play hockey. I'm just going out to do my thing. You know it's going to be a little tighter, you have to earn your ice. That's fun, what playoff hockey is all about.''


Florida Panthers Notebook: Jason Garrison Bloodied, OK ... Marco Sturm Returns, Matt Bradley Skates ... Can Cats Contain Devils Kovalchuk?

GarrisonnycBY GEORGE RICHARDS grichards@MiamiHerald.com

TWITTER: @OnFrozenPond

Jason Garrison left practice after working in front of the net and being struck on the nose by a deflected puck. There was a lot of blood left on the ice and Garrison received stitches on the fluke play. 

“He caught a puck,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. “He'll be fine.''

--Marco Sturm (lower body) was back on the ice for the first time since leaving Saturday's game against Carolina after two periods of play.

Sturm, whom Dineen calls questionable for Friday, was working with likely scratched forwards Mike Santorelli and Jerred Smithson.

Krys Barch is expected to take Sturm's spot on the fourth line. 

Bradleyhurt--Forward Matt Bradley worked out for the third time after suffering a concussion on Feb. 19. Bradley hasn't been medically cleared for practice.

“A strong right winger would be good for us to have with Jack Skille out for the season,'' Dineen said. “But there's been no [medical] indication he's close to returning.''

Kovalchukthrash--Dineen doesn't think the Panthers can isolate Devils' star Ilya Kovalchuk because he spends “he's on the ice too much, is too dynamic.''

(PS: What is Keith Ballard doing there in the photo? Is he swinging his stick like a baseball bat? Better watch out; there's a goalie there!)

Kovalchuk has teed off on the Panthers since his days with the Thrashers, scoring 35 goals with 68 points in 57 games.

Kovalchuk has four goals and nine points in eight games against Florida since joining the Devils. 

“I always use the term 'blowing smoke' when it sounds like I'm complimenting someone [too much],'' Dineen said, “but he deserves every penny he gets. Pete DeBoer has done a great job diversifying him as a player.

Patrick"I don't know if we can stop him, we just hope to contain him.''

Florida Panthers Top Line Gets off to Hot Start, Good Finish Heading into Playoffs ... Devils will Watch Weiss, Fleischmann, Versteeg Closely

ToplineBY GEORGE RICHARDS grichards@MiamiHerald.com

TWITTER: @OnFrozenPond

For one reason or another, the Panthers top line didn't play together all that much during the preseason.

Whether it was Stephen Weiss given time off for nagging injuries or coach Kevin Dineen mixing and matching, the trio of Weiss, Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg didn't get much work going into the season opener. 

Yet on Oct. 8 when the new-look Panthers opened up on Long Island, the chemistry between the three forwards was evident. Weiss scored Florida's first goal of the season off a secondary assist from Fleischmann. The run was on as the Panthers top line was the most productive in the league in the first quarter of the season. 

“It's fun when the puck is going in the net,'' Weiss said. “We were scoring, contributing, winning games. You can't ask for more than that. Then there were Weiss3times when it wasn't so much fun. It went the opposite ways. It's not easy all the time. The team kept our heads above water and we moved through it.''

Through the opening 20 games, Florida had 59 goals. Weiss, Fleischmann or Versteeg accounted for  28 of them. All three were ranked in the league's top 20 as Florida was one of just three teams with three players among the top 30 scorers. 

“It was a lot of fun all season,'' Versteeg said. “We had a bunch of great games. But it was a roller-coaster of a season for us.''

That kind of crazy production, as expected, didn't last.

“Well, it would have been nice if it did,'' Weiss said. “We wanted it to continue but when you have the injuries we have and the opposition keys in on our line, not to use an excuse, but we struggled with that. We had the checking lines and the D being constantly in our face, that's a reason we went into a standstill for a bit.''

As the season wore on, both Weiss and Versteeg battled injuries and both went through long stretches where points were hard to come by.

Fleischmann had a career year with 27 goals and 34 assists as he played in all 82 games for the first time. But he had a stretch of 10 games in which he failed to score.

Weiss went 15 games without a goal from Dec. 8-Jan. 16. 

By mid-January, Dineen sat Versteeg during the third Versteegperiod of a loss to the Penguins. Through their first 25 games together, the three averaged 1.32 goals and almost two assists per game. After that 4-1 loss to Pittsburgh, their production over a 17 game span had shrunk to less than a goal and an assist.

“It was a funny midseason for all three of us,'' Versteeg said. “I think we got back at it.''

Versteeg, who missed nine games with a hip injury, is still fighting things a bit as his goal on April 3 was his first in 16 games. Versteeg, who had a career-high 23 goals with a career-tying 31 assists, is creating offense.

After breaking the trio up for a bit, they're back together. Not surprisingly, they look comfortable together.

Although they aren't putting up the flashy numbers they did early on, they are definitely producing and will have the Devils' full attention come Friday. 

In the final four games of the regular season, Weiss has a goal and an assist; Fleischmann has two goals with an an assist and Versteeg had a goal with three assists. This would be the perfect time for the first Fleischmannline to revert back to their early season ways.

“When they put us back together, it was almost instant, us playing together again,'' Versteeg said.

“We meshed again, played great and created chances.

"I definitely feel strong about what we can do together. Confidence isn't an issue. And the time off helped everyone. It'll be nice to get things going again. We're antsy and excited to get things going.''


April 11, 2012

Florida Panthers Solid Defense Helps Lift Team into Playoffs ... Additions of Jovanovski and Campbell Beneficial to Cats Defense ... News, Notes

Campbell3BY GEORGE RICHARDS grichards@MiamiHerald.com

TWITTER: @OnFrozenPond

FACEBOOK: On Frozen Pond

Dale Tallon didn't have much of a roster when he left South Florida for the NHL Draft in June. The Panthers had just a handful of forwards under contract and only one goalie. 

What the Panthers did have, however, was a solid defensive core. 

Tallon traded for Brian Campbell at the draft and later signed Ed Jovanovski as a free agent. Those two joined incumbents Mike Weaver, Dmitry Kulikov, Jovo5Jason Garrison, Keaton Ellerby and rookie Erik Gudbranson.

It should be of little surprise the Panthers strength this season has come on the defensive end. 

“It's fun to watch,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. “We've been pretty solid and have had some stability on our blueline.''

Florida's two goalies – Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen – have garnered most of the credit for the Panthers allowing less than three goals per game (12th in the league). Florida's defense also deserves a Defenderlot of the kudos. 

“This is just a good mix of guys and from the first game on, they played well together,'' Theodore said. “We were quickly able to adjust and be on the same page.''

Health has been a big part of the Panthers success. Both Campbell and Weaver didn't miss a game this season; Jovanovski (broken hand) and Kulikov (knee surgery) are the only defensemen to miss substantial time. 

With everyone relatively healthy on the blue line, Dineen and assistant coach Gord Murphy didn't have to tinker with Florida's defensive pairings. Campbell and Garrison spent the season together – and both put up terrific numbers.

Campbell's 49 assists were second among NHL defensemen and Garrison's 16 goals were third.

Weaver1Weaver hooked up with Kulikov for much of the year as that duo was faced with holding down some of the league's top offensive lines. 

“We have seven defensemen who have all had excellent years,'' said Murphy, a defenseman with the Panthers from 1993-99.

“Bringing in Jovanovski and Campbell was more than just bringing in talented players. They have provided leadership off the ice, they are a calming influence and hold guys accountable. They lead by example and it's been great for our younger guys to see. They've been a great group to work with.''

Then there is the third pairing. Jovanovski, whose Gudbransonplayoff beard has a lot of gray in it, was put together with Florida's youngsters. For much of the year, it has been the 20-year-old Gudbranson. As was the case when Jovanovski was a rookie in 1995-96, the Panthers put one of their cagey veterans with one of their rising stars. 

It's a combination that has paid dividends.

Gudbranson, the third overall pick in 2010, has played well and doesn't much look like a rookie anymore. Jovanovski's play has been solid – Dineen said he looked “rejuvenated” – as he gears up for what he hopes is another deep run through the playoffs with the Panthers.

Jovanovski was a rookie when the Panthers advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals. He hopes Gudbranson gets the same sort of run in his inaugural postseason campaign.

“I think these last couple months have brought his best hockey. You can see him maturing,'' said Jovanovski, who was traded from the Panthers in 1999 yet has played in 27 of the franchise's 31 postseason games. 

“Early in the year he fought the puck a little bit, didn't know the time he had. Now he cradles the puck, makes that nice first play. That comes with confidence and playing games. But his play has picked up and he has a nasty streak when he gets going. The sky is the limit with him. I see him as a Shea Weber type player.''


Theodore said Dineen not announcing a starting Theo1goalie for Friday's postseason opener isn't a distraction. He's going about things the same way. 

“He's been like that all year and it worked for us, we won the division,'' Theodore said. “We're not doing anything different. You don't change what you do when you're winning.''

() Winger Marco Sturm missed the third period of Saturday's game against Carolina with an undisclosed 'lower body' injury and hasn't practiced this week.

Dineen called him questionable for this weekend's games. Krys Barch has replaced him on the fourth line with John Madden and Tomas Kopecky.

() The Devils, as coach Pete DeBoer said earlier in the week, will not be practicing in South Florida until Friday's morning skate. The Devils will practice at Prudential Center in Newark on Thursday morning before flying south. 


When, Where: Thursday, 10:30 a.m.; Saveology.com Iceplex; 3299 Sportsplex Drive, Coral Springs. (954) 341-9956. 

Admission: Free

OnFrozenPredictions: Your 2012 Stanley Cup Playoff First Round Outlook ... Panthers-Devils Pick Comes Tomorrow




The season series: Ottawa won three of four. 

TortsLast year: The Rangers lost to Washington in the opening round; Ottawa missed the playoffs last season.

Playoff history: First meeting

Thursday: Senators at Rangers, 7 p.m.; Madison Square Garden (NHL Network)

What to watch: The Rangers will go as far as star goalie Henrik Lundqvist takes them, and lately, that hasn't been far as New York hasn't escaped the first round since beating the Devils in 2008. The Senators have been a nice surprise this season and a lot is on the shoulders of Craig Anderson. The former Panthers backup did well in his postseason debut with Colorado a few years back getting the Avs to the second round. He'll need to be great to give the Sens a shot here.

The prediction: Rangers in 6


The season series: Washington won three of four.

Last year: Boston won the Stanley Cup over Vancouver; the Capitals were knocked out of the second round by the Lightning.

BruinbearPlayoff history: Washington won in 6 against the Bruins back in 1998.

Thursday: Capitals at Bruins, 7:30 p.m.; TD Garden, Boston (NBC Sports Net)

What to watch: The Capitals didn't exactly storm into the playoffs but won their final two games to leap Ottawa and take the seventh seed. With goalies Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth on the shelf with injuries, untested rookie Braden Holtby to get the starts for now. Boston isn't playing as well as they had been earlier in the season – and Nathan Horton is out with a concussion – but the Bs should take advantage.

The prediction: Boston in 6.


The season series: Philadelphia won four of six.

Last year: The Penguins were upset in the opening round by the Lightning as Philadelphia was dropped by Boston in the second round.

Playoff history: This is the third time since 2008 these two have met in the opening round; Penguins have won past two series (including 2008 EC finals).

IglooWednesday's Game 1: Flyers at Penguins, 7:30 p.m.; Consol Energy Center, Pittsburgh (NBC Net) 

What to watch: This is the most highly anticipated matchup of the opening round as one can just feel the hatred these two share for one another radiating off the screen. The chirping and bad-mouthing between the two should only fuel what is expected to be a hard-hitting, passionate struggle. These two have been here before and know exactly what to expect.

The prediction: Penguins in 7.



The season series: Split four games with Vancouver getting the extra point.

Last year: The Canucks lost to Boston in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals; Los Angeles was booted from the first round by San Jose.

RiotkissPlayoff history: Vancouver eliminated the Kings from the opening round in 2010.

Wednesday's Game 1: Kings at Canucks, 10:30; Rogers Arena, Vancouver (NBC Net) 

What to watch: The Kings are trying to escape the first round of the playoffs for the first time since beating Detroit in 2001. It's not going to be easy. The Canucks, with Daniel Sedin working his way back from a concussion, haven't been able to break things open offensively against the Kings (thanks mostly to G Jonathan Quick) this year. If Roberto Luongo struggles a bit, does Cory Schneider get the nod? 

The prediction: Kings in 7.


The season series: Blues won all four meetings.

Last year: The Sharks lost in the conference final to the Canucks while St. Louis is back for the first time since 2009.

CardsfootPlayoff history: The Sharks beat the Blues 4-1 in the opening round of 2004.

Thursday: Sharks at Blues, 7:30 p.m.; Scottrade Center, St. Louis (MSNBC)

What to watch: The Blues don't give up many goals – their two per game average led the league – and they are very hard to beat at home. If the Sharks give St. Louis an early lead, the Blues are tough to come back on. Coach Ken Hitchcock has done a great job in turning the Blues around. 

The prediction: Blues in 7


The season series: Phoenix won three of four.

Last year: Both teams were bumped in the opening round; Phoenix by Detroit and Chicago by Vancouver.

Playoff history: First postseason meeting.

Bluesbro2Thursday: Blackhawks at Coyotes, 10 p.m.; Jobing.com Arena, Glendale (NBC Sports Net)

What to watch: The Blackhawks are a most definite favorite in this series but the Pacific Division champs are a tough opponent with Tampa Bay castoff Mike Smith in net. The Coyotes haven't won a playoff series since 1987. The Coyotes will be hungry.

The prediction: Chicago in 7.


The season series: Each team won three of the six.

Last year: Both teams moved to the second round with Detroit losing to San Jose and Nashville losing out to eventual west champ Vancouver.

NashPlayoff history: The two haven't met in the postseason since 2008.

Wednesday's Game 1: Detroit at Nashville, 8; Bridgestone Arena, Nashville (CNBC) 

What to watch: The Preds don't take well to playing on the road, so having a potential Game 7 in NashVegas is huge. After finally breaking through and winning a playoff series last year, this Nashville team is a more confident bunch. Goalie Pekka Rinne helps with that confidence as he is outstanding. But don't overlook the aging yet wily Wings. Detroit is more Predatorthan ready to stomp on the Preds again.

The prediction: Nashville in 7.


Your Panthers Postseason Primer: Tickets, Parking and Everything Else

ScplayoffsgrabBY GEORGE RICHARDS grichards@MiamiHerald.com

The Panthers play their first postseason game in 12 years on Friday when the New Jersey Devils come to town for the opening of the Stanley Cup playoffs. 

Can't wait to go? Get in line.

Or don't. Tickets are plentiful for Friday's Game 1 – and you can buy them with just a few clicks of a mouse.

Here is some general information for Florida's opening two games of the best-of-7 series against the Devils. 

--Tickets: A quick glance of Ticketmaster.com show plenty of tickets available for both Friday and Sunday's game with tickets starting at $30.50 (that's without various 'convenience' charges) and going all the way up to $500 for a spot in the penalty box. Seriously. 

Stubhub.com listed close to 1,400 available tickets for Friday and over 1,800 for Sunday's game as of Wednesday afternoon. Prices on this secondary market start at $31. 

--Parking: The Panthers are advising people driving to the BankAtlantic Center get their early – and patrons should heed that warning. The arena is charging hockey fans for parking for the first time in years. 

And not everyone pays the same. Renewed season tickets for next year? Free for you. Only have a half season plan? That'll be $5. Mini-plan owners pay $10.

Everyone else will pay $20 for the right to park.

Getting into the lots should take longer than usual with all the change. The arena also charged $20 for parking at Tuesday's Van Halen concert.

--Start Time: The Panthers usually play at 7:30, but for television, Friday's game is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. Sunday's game will start around 7:30.

--Television: Florida's opener will be broadcast on both FS Florida with Steve Goldstein and Bill Lindsay on the call, with the NHL Network also showing it. Sunday's game will not be on Fox, but will be carried live on the NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus). 

--Gear: If you are walking into the arena and forgot your rubber rat, don't worry. The Panthers team shop sells them for $5. Just don't toss them onto the ice until the game is over.

The shop also has plenty of postseason clothing and all sorts of jerseys. If you like the Devils – or old school gear – the Panthers also have a store for that near the South Florida Hockey Den of Honor.

April 10, 2012

Florida Panthers Practice a Colorful Affair but Light Blue Ain't Cool ... Mike Santorelli, Keaton Ellerby Keep the Faith, Keep Working

Pantherspractice3BY GEORGE RICHARDS grichards@MiamiHerald.com

TWITTER: @OnFrozenPond

FACEBOOK: On Frozen Pond

The Panthers have some pretty colorful practice jerseys with all the cool kids wearing either a red, white, yellow or blue jersey during workouts. Even though it clashes with everything, the Kelly green one is OK as well.

No one, however, wants to wear the light blue jersey with the big cat on the front. 

For if you are saddled wearing the Carolina blue practice jersey, it means you aren't in the Panthers plans. At least not right now.

PantherspracticeMike Santorelli has been sporting the light blue day after day. A breakout season in which he scored 20 goals in 82 games for the Panthers last year has bled into a disappointing one this time around. 

Santorelli, who signed a two-year deal worth $3.2 million in July, has been a healthy scratch nine straight games and in 12 of the past 13. He hasn't played since March 21. 

With the playoffs opening Friday against the Devils, Santorelli – as well as the likes of Krys Barch, Keaton Ellerby and others – have to keep their spirits up and their workouts long. Barch was practicing on the fourth line (and thereby wearing green) on Monday as Marco Sturm was out.

“Being part of being a professional is going out and execute in practice and stay sharp,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. “Our job, as a coaching staff, is knowing there are going to be some days when it's not easy for those guys. Sometimes you cut them a little slack. Other times you put the hammer down and make sure they are keeping their skills sharp. Things happen so quick in the playoffs. We're expecting an extremely physical, hard-fought game every night. You need a whole army.''

Florida's scratched players all know the Panthers just have too many players as injuries during the season forced general manager Dale Tallon to bring in new players as others were on the mend. Now, the Panthers are in a pretty good spot. Having too many healthy players in the playoffs is a great place to be.
Well, not for everyone.

Santorelli1“I just have to keep working hard and stay in shape so I'm ready for my chance,'' said Santorelli, who roamed Florida's crazy locker room following Saturday's win wearing a division championship hat celebrating with his teammates. “No one likes not being in the lineup so you have to worry about yourself and make sure you are ready. And I'm ecstatic about how the team has done. We're very close. It was a great win and it felt nice.''

Although Santorelli has been joined at different times the past few weeks by Barch, Jerred Smithson, Shawn Matthias and Marco Sturm, the person who best knows how he is feeling is Ellerby. Florida's first round pick in 2007, Ellerby has played well the past two seasons but has lost the numbers game as the seventh defenseman. 

“You can go through the motions or you can stay sharp and ready,'' Dineen said. “You wait for the opportunity and when it knocks – whether its the team getting home ice – or a player getting into the lineup, you want to make a statement and make a good case for yourself to stay.''

EllerbyEllerby has played in 94 games over the past two seasons but was scratched for the final 12 of this regular season. Since he's the seventh defenseman on a team that uses six, he's one injury away from being back in the thick of things. He swears he wishes no ill will on any of his teammates. It's hard not to believe him. Ellerby, by all accounts, is a great teammate.

His time will come. 

“If I'm told to go in, I'm going to be ready. Until then, I'm here to support the team any way I can,'' Ellerby said. “I'm a supportive guy. But there are ups and downs. It sucks being out of the lineup. But I can't be all down and complaining, feeling sorry for myself. I'm staying in game shape. If they need me, I'm ready to jump into the lineup. They know that. I appreciate the support the coaches and management have given me. It's nice to know the support is there.''

() With almost a week between games, the Panthers aren't the only ones with plenty of rest. The Devils have the same schedule. Florida and New Jersey are the last teams to kick off the 2012 playoffs. Three series begin on Wednesday. 

"We haven't had four full practice days in a long time,'' coach Pete DeBoer told the (Newark) Star-Ledger, “so you take what you're given and we'll make the most of it. From my understanding it's all TV based. We've got some meetings. It gives us more opportunity to take our time and spread the information out a little bit. Get into some more detail on things.''


Pantherspractice2What: Panthers playoff practice; Wednesday, 10:30 a.m.

Where: Saveology.com Iceplex; 3299 Sportsplex Drive, Coral Springs. (954) 341-9956. 

Admission: Free

(*) Practice photos courtesy Kelsey Hinds; player photos from Miami Herald staff/AP

April 09, 2012

It Must Be True: Florida Panthers in the Playoffs

Playoffice2Looks like it's official.

Photo compliments of Jason Szpyra and the good folks at Facebook.

Florida Panthers Opening Video A 'Gotcha!' To Local Beat Writers ... Panthers Apparently Freak to their (Two) Geeks

FreaksgeeksOn Saturday night, the Panthers played a highlight video that showcased some of the not-so-nice things said about the team. 

The video features the song Bad Reputation by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts; it's also the theme to the one-year cult classic 'Freaks and Geeks.

You can watch the video here: 

There are a number of unattributed quotes; until I read this story, I didn't realize ALL of them came from either myself or Sun-Sentinel beat writer Harvey Fialkov.

Other quotes -- which were attributed -- were from hockey analysts Brian Jones, Mike Milbury and Jack 'Capt. Quebec' Edwards

I'm not upset -- by any means -- just figured everyone should know where the quotes came from and the context they were written in. 

These 'harsh words' were -- at the time they were written -- completely deserved.

The Panthers tweeted today that the video was "dedicated to the 'experts' who said the Panthers would finish last in the SE.''

Only neither I nor Harvey picked the Panthers to finish last in the Southeast. I did come close though. There were plenty of people who did, just not us.

The Hockey News, for one, had the Panthers finishing 14th in the East. ESPN's Barry Melrose had them one slot lower.

I had them fourth in the division (behind Washington, Tampa and Carolina) and 11th overall. Mr. Fialkov had the Panthers making the postseason.

Here's what I wrote (PanthersVision can take it for the next video): The Panthers, as a franchise, have gone an NHL record 10 seasons without making the playoffs. But most of these guys are new and had nothing to do with it. Still, the Panthers have questions in net and just aren't there yet. Close? Yes. Better? You bet. Worse? Impossible.

Anyway, here are the quotes from Saturday's video and the context in which they were written.

Needmorehelp-- "The Panthers need more offensive help if they want to stop their 11-year postseason drought.'' -- GR, The Miami Herald, Feb. 19. 

This came after a 2-0 loss to Anaheim. A few days later, Dale Tallon trades for forwards Jerred Smithson and Wotjek Wolski. You know, 'more offensive help.' 

Outhit-- "The Panthers have been badly outhit.'' -- HF, Sun-Sentinel, Nov. 26. 

This line was in Harvey's follow up to back-to-back losses to the rival Lightning: The Lightning outhit the Panthers 39-15 in Friday's 2-1 overtime victory and 32-19 in Saturday's 5-1 rout.

Shootblanks-- "Panthers continue to shoot blanks.'' -- HF, Sun-Sentinel, March 25. 

This came after the Panthers lost to the lowly Islanders in a shootout -- after losing to the Oilers in a shootout a few days prior. Florida would later lose to the Wild in overtime (before losing 4-1 to the Blue Jackets.)

Imposing-- The Bradley, Upshall quote -- HF, Sun-Sentinel, Nov. 27.

This is the case of a writer giving his opinion. Both missed a lot of time this season.

Toothless-- "Panthers remain atop a toothless Southeast Division.'' -- GR, Miami Herald, Feb. 20.

This is the second quote of mine from the loss to the Ducks. Not apologizing for this one.

Dontlooklike-- "Panthers don't much look like a first place, playoff-bound team.'' -- GR, Miami Herald, Feb. 20.

They loved that Ducks gamer, eh?

You might as well read the lede to it.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Jack-- So there you go. Again, the Panthers in-house group do a great job and the video is cool.

Lots of action, good tunes and yeah, some scathing quotes from those un-named doubters. 

MiljonesYet read in context, they do look a little different now, wouldn't you say?

Anyway, enjoy the playoffs.

Going to have plenty of coverage -- some of it may be negative depending on the situation -- here, at MiamiHerald.com and in your old-school editions of the Herald.

Hope you all are along for the ride.



Florida Panthers Playoff Notebook Day 1: Kevin Dineen Watches What He Says ... Dineen Surprised About Late Start

GuillenBY GEORGE RICHARDS grichards@MiamiHerald.com

TWITTER: @OnFrozenPond

FACEBOOK: On Frozen Pond

Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said it was “unfortunate” the buzz regarding the Marlins right now is mostly about manager Ozzie Guillen's recent comments about Fidel Castro.

Dineen is a pretty colorful quote and says while he doesn't want to turn into a cliché machine the character Crash Davis talks about in the baseball cult classic 'Bull Durham,' he knows he has to be careful in what he talks about.



“You try to be witty and you try to stay interesting,'' Dineen said. “But people ask me what my political affiliation is and I tell them 'Canadian.' I haven't lived in Canada for 20 years.

"As a public figure, you have to respect that you represent an organization. I hope it works out because this is an exciting time for the Marlins.''

() Dineen said he will wait until Friday to announce who his starting goalie will be. Scott Clemmensen has had good success against the Devils – and is 3-0-1 in his past four starts with five goals allowed. Jose

Theodore, meanwhile, is considered by a good number to be Florida's MVP this season and has played in 51 postseason games. 

() The odds are out. According to Bovada.lv, the Panthers are 35-to-1 to win the Stanley Cup and 20-1 to win the Eastern Conference. The favorite to win it all? Pittsburgh at 4-1 and Vancouver at 11-2. 

() Dineen says he was just as surprised as everyone else when it was announced the Panthers wouldn't open their series with the Devils until Friday night.

Dineen says he was given a “99 percent” assurance Florida would start Wednesday – on the opening night of the postseason. “I was up early [Sunday] doing preparation,'' he said. “But the rest is an advantage.'' 

With the extra few days, Dineen is giving his team Tuesday off from practice. The Panthers will practice at the Coral Springs Iceplex on Wednesday and Thursday at 10:30 a.m. Workouts are free and open to the public.

Florida Panthers Brian Campbell Doesn't Like Sitting Around ... Could This D-Man Make Run at Lady Byng?

Campbell2aBY GEORGE RICHARDS grichards@MiamiHerald.com

TWITTER: @OnFrozenPond

FACEBOOK: On Frozen Pond

Brian Campbell isn't one for all this sitting around stuff.

Two days off in the past three days? Six days between games? Yeah, it's no surprise the guy who led the National Hockey League in ice time this season would rather be playing than waiting.

“I just want to get going,'' said Campbell, whose Panthers don't open their first postseason in over a decade until Friday night. “We've played a lot of games lately so the time off can be good. But Friday's Campbell1aa long way away especially when you finish on Saturday. It's a long time. We need to be ready.''

Campbell, who averaged 26:53 per game this season, was one of just three (Mike Weaver, Tomas Fleischmann) to appear in all 82 games for the Panthers this season. “I get bored,'' he said, “if I would have played any less. You get to keep your focus when you are on the ice all the time.''

In over 36 hours of playing time, Campbell spent a grand total of six minutes in the penalty box. To consider how impressive that is, Campbell played on 2,354 shifts this season and was called for some sort of infraction on just three of them. Of the top 30 defensemen per time on ice, no one other than Campbell had fewer than 20 penalty minutes. 

Campbell hasn't committed a penalty in the past 25 games as his slashing call on Feb. 17 against Washington was his final infraction of the regular season. 

“I think I play the game the right way and don't want to be sitting in that penalty box,'' he said with a grin. “I've adapted to the rules and feel like skating is one of my strengths. I can put myself in pretty good position most of the time.''

For that, Campbell is thought to be a legitimate contender for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy which commemorates a player judged to “have exhibited Byngthe best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability"

The odds are against Campbell as defensemen usually don't get much consideration for the award – and no defenseman has won it since Detroit's Red Kelly took it in 1954. Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis has won the past two Lady Byng awards after Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk won it four straight years. 

Bill Quackenbush and Kelly are the only defensemen to ever win the award. 

Coach Kevin Dineen thinks his guy should have a shot at it. 

“Boy, what a great choice,'' Dineen said earlier in this season. “Look at his ice time, the defense he plays. He plays quality defense and has been one of our best players all year. I think that has to be taken into consideration.''

Campbell says he's not one for self promotion and, truth be told, the Lady Byng isn't exactly a trophy players aim for. But, to be considered for an official league award would shine a bright light on the great season Campbell has had. 

In his first year with the Panthers, Campbell set a franchise record for defensemen with 49 assists. Campbell's assists are ranked second in the league by defensemen and 11th overall. Campbell's 53 points rank him tied for second in the league among blueliners.

Campbell could garner Norris Trophy consideration – an award all defensemen aspire to – although that one's going to be a much tougher road. 

Boston's Zdeno Chara, Ottawa's Erik Karlsson, Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom and Nashville's Shea Weber are the likely top candidates for the league's top d-man honors. 

“Playing lot makes it a lot of fun,'' Campbell said. CampbellASG“I've enjoyed this season, it's been fun to be here. The pieces we've have here have come together and there are more coming. We're looking to have a great team here for years to come.''


April 08, 2012

The Party is Over for Florida Panthers: Time to Focus on Old Friends the Devils

SEcelebrate3BY GEORGE RICHARDS grichards@MiamiHerald.com

TWITTER: @OnFrozenPond

FACEBOOK: On Frozen Pond

At first glance, the Panthers are facing a well-known foe when the playoffs open up this week. 

The New Jersey Devils were the last team to face the Panthers in the postseason with Martin Brodeur picking up four wins as the Devils swept Florida in the 2000 opening round. Florida center John Madden was part of that Devils team and admits he is still friends with a number of former teammates on that team. Scott Clemmensen played for New Jersey as recently as 2009. 

Deboer2Devils coach Pete DeBoer, well, we all know that story. 

Aside from those connections, however, and the Panthers and Devils don't know much about each other. Both teams have two wins in the season series, one that ended way back on Feb. 11. When the Devils come south, it will be their first visit to Florida since December 13.

Florida plays host to the Devils in the opening game on Friday with Game 2 on Sunday. Florida visits New Jersey on April 17 and 19. Game 5, if necessary, will Devilbe in South Florida on April 21. All games will be televised locally on FS Florida. 

“We’ve got a lot of homework to do over the next couple of days,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. “We’ll be very busy as a staff to give our players the right amount of information on New Jersey. I have  tremendous amount of respect for that organization. Lou Lamoriello has a level of stability there and Pete’s done a wonderful job this year.

“They’ve got some really entertaining players, and I’m not blowing smoke. That’s a good team we’re going to play. So we’re going to need to be at the top of our game in the playoffs to have success in Round 1.”

Even though the Panthers are the third seed in the Eastern Conference, they are the definite underdog in the opening round. The Devils finished the regular season with a flourish, winning six straight with three of those wins coming against playoff-bound teams.

The Devils also earned eight more points (with 10 more wins) in the regular season than Florida did, finishing fourth in the Atlantic division behind the Rangers. 

Florida, meanwhile, snapped a five-game winless streak by beating visiting Carolina 4-1 on Saturday night. That win brought the team its first division championship in franchise history and the third seed in the east. 

MaddenMadden resumed his hockey career with the Panthers after signing as a free agent in January, making his season debut Jan. 6 against his former teammates in Newark. Madden, who scored his third goal of the season on Saturday, said the Devils are a different bunch than the one he left behind in 2009. 

“I still know a lot of the guys and take vacation over the summer with some of them,'' Madden said. “It's business as usual. This is playoff hockey, but you look back to see how you played them, see how you match up. I'm sure they feel they match up with well against us. It's going to be a good series.''

The key to the Devils – as has been the case since the mid-90s – is Brodeur. The three-time Stanley Cup champion turns 40 next month and hasn't taken the Devils out of the second round since 2003. Brodeur is 1-2 against the Panthers this season, but his 37 wins against the Panthers are most by a single goalie all-time. In 2000, Brodeur gave up just six goals in the four-game sweep of the Panthers.

Clemmensen spent parts of five seasons backing up Clemdevilsthe future first-ballot Hall of Famer and filled in admirably when Brodeur was injured and missed most of the 2008-09 season. Clemmensen's success as a fill-in starter led to a three-year deal from the Panthers the following summer. 

Clemmensen could be tabbed as Florida's starter at least for the time being. Clemmensen stopped 34 of 35 shots on Saturday and has given up just five goals in his past four starts. Clemmensen is also 4-0 against the Devils over the course of his career. 

“I feel good about my game right now,'' Clemmensen said. “Whether I start [Game 1] or not, I'm going to be ready to play. It could be Game 2 or whatever. I'll be ready. I don't know who is going to start. You do the best you can and you want to play every game.

"I've had four starts in four weeks and I played the hand I was dealt. You make the most of it, put the decision in their hands.''

There is still plenty of support for Jose Theodore in the locker room, especially since a good number of players give Theodore credit for helping the Panthers get where they are today. “Clemmensen made a real statement with his game [Saturday], as well as in the last month,'' Dineen said. 

Said Ed Jovanovski: “Theodore has played the majority of the games this season and has been our MVP. That's how I feel about it. We know we have two great goaltenders.''

--Not long after Dineen was hired by the Panthers as coach, DeBoer gave him a call not only to offer his congratulations but to talk about the position. DeBoer Dineenbenchcoached the Panthers for three seasons before being fired the day after Florida's win over Washington in the 2010-11 season finale.

DeBoer, who had a season left on his contract with the Panthers, was hired by the Devils in July. 

No one could have guessed the two coaches would be facing each other in the opening round of the playoffs. 

“We never know how those things play out,'' Dineen said. “It’s a tight circle, the hockey world. There’s always a level of respect. The coaching community is always tight. Pete has done a heck of job over there this year and he knows our players well, he’s got a little bit of an advantage on that front.”

--The Panthers will hold practices from Monday through Thursday at the Saveology.com Iceplex in Coral Springs. Practice, which is open to the public, is scheduled to begin at 10:30 each morning. 


April 07, 2012

Florida Panthers Celebrate First Division Title, Beat Carolina Canes 4-1 ... Cats Have a Full-Blown Goalie Controversy Going

JoseswagBY GEORGE RICHARDS grichards@MiamiHerald.com

TWITTER: @OnFrozenPond

FACEBOOK: On Frozen Pond

The Panthers held fan appreciation night Saturday and finally gave their patrons something to truly celebrate.

Instead of looking to the distant future and dreading another long offseason, the Panthers regular season finale marked not the final game of the year but a new start.

For the first time since 2000, Florida is going to the Stanley Cup playoffs. And, by virtue of Saturday's 4-1 win over Carolina, the Panthers celebrated with the first division championship in franchise history in front of an announced 19,087 at BankAtlantic Center.

Florida spent a total of 128 days atop the division including the past 43.

“It wasn't given, it was an earned title,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. “There have been some highs and lows SEcelebrateand we haven't had many Ws lately. To win this one is great satisfaction. I like to look at the short term and this is very enjoyable. It makes for a happy Easter and then we'll get going on Monday.''

The Southeast Division champion Panthers are the third seed in the opening round of the playoffs and will face former coach Pete DeBoer and the New Jersey Devils. Game 1 is expected to be held Thursday at the BankAtlantic Center. DeBoer was fired the day after last season's finale.

"When we played them the first time, I'm not going to lie, there was some emotion involved," DeBoer told reporters after New Jersey's win over Ottawa on Saturday. "But it's another team for me now. It doesn't matter. Other than having a few more friends in the stands, that's about it."

The Panthers head into the playoffs feeling a little better about themselves as the win snapped a five-game winless streak. It also added fuel to what now has to be a full-blown goalie controversy.

Backup Scott Clemmensen made yet another strong case for himself as he stopped 34 shots to continue his strong play. Considering how well Clemmensen has played against New Jersey – his former employers – Dineen definitely has a hard decision to make.
Theodore, who gave up nine goals in losses to Winnipeg and Washington, is just 8-14-3 against the Devils and 1-0-1 against them this season.

Clemmensen, who spent most of his career with the Devils before coming to the Panthers in 2009, is 4-0 against New Jersey and 1-0 this season.

Clemmensen got plenty of offensive help as the Panthers looked fresh and loose what with the pressure of making the playoffs off their backs. The Panthers jumped to a 2-0 lead within the opening seven minutes as Marcel Goc and John Madden scored within a span of 2:41.

“This was a big game for us and two goals right off the bat was huge,'' said Clemmensen, who is 3-0-1 in his past four games with just five goals surrendered. “It was a lot of fun to play here [Saturday].''

Goc totally faked out backup Brian Boucher and was SEcelebrate2able to walk in and pot the puck into an empty net 4:02 into the game. Madden then got his third of the season as he took a nice feed from Tomas Kopecky in front of the net and popped in a shot.

Florida didn't get too many more chances after that, although it did cash in on a power play midway through the second when Stephen Weiss banged in a juicy rebound off a Mikael Samuelsson shot.

Although the Panthers coughed up a 3-0 lead last Tuesday against Winnipeg, this one felt safe. And with Washington dominating the Rangers in New York, Florida didn't have worry about scoreboard watching. Had the Panthers lost in regulation, the Capitals would have taken the division.

“Honestly it's a great feeling,'' Weiss said. “The last game here against Winnipeg was tough to swallow. It was nice to win here in front of our fans. They deserve this. They've been great sticking with us. I'm happy for them.''


Weiss played in his 637th NHL game on Saturday, the final regular season game he will play without reaching the postseason. Former teammate Jay Bouwmeester left the organization in 2008 for pastures that haven't exactly been greener.

Bouwmeester, in his third season with Calgary, holds the active mark of 717 games without appearing in a playoff game. Former Panthers captain Olli Jokinen went a record 799 games before Calgary made it to the postseason in 2009.

The Panthers will make their fourth appearance in the postseason this week after a record 11-year (10 season) drought.

--Dineen said Saturday morning that he didn't realize the Panthers reached the playoffs until after everyone else did. With about three minutes left in Tuesday's game, the Capitals scoreboard showed that Philadelphia had beaten Buffalo – clinching a spot for the Panthers.

“I think you get wrapped up into [the game],'' Dineen said. “They had it on the screen, I guess, a couple of minutes before, but I missed that. So I didn’t know until after. There was still disappointment you lost the game, but there was a moment right then when I was told where I was like, 'whoa, a lot of work went into securing a playoff spot.' .-.-. I think there’s a level of satisfaction that a lot of work went into getting us in the postseason.”

--Carolina's Jeremy Welsh had quite a week in the Sunshine State. On Thursday, he played for Union College in the Frozen Four in Tampa then signed a deal with the Hurricanes after Ferris State beat the Dutchmen 3-1.

On Saturday, Welsh made his NHL debut against the Panthers.  

Florida Panthers: 2011-12 Southeast Division Champions

The Florida Panthers pulled off quite a feat Saturday as they went from worst-to-first by claiming the franchise's first Southeast Division title.

The Panthers finished the past two seasons at the bottom of the division for the first time in franchise history. Last year's last place finish in the Eastern Conference was also a first. 

ChiefsparadeFlorida ends Washington's four-year run atop the division as the Panthers spent 128 days atop the division -- including the past 43.

Add a few more months to that tally.

The Panthers become the first team aside from Washington to win the division since Atlanta won its one and only in 2007. 


Florida Panthers Franchise May Be Inexperienced in Postseason, Roster is Not


Stanley Cup champion

John Madden (New Jersey 2, Chicago)

Brian Campbell (Chicago)

Tomas Kopecky (Detroit, Chicago)

Mikael Samuelsson (Detroit)

Kris Versteeg (Chicago)

Postseason games played (goals-asst; TEAM)

Campbellcup134 – John Madden (21-22; NJD, CHI)

92 – Mikael Samuelsson (22-31; DET, VAN)

90 – Brian Campbell (8-30; BUF, SJ, CHI)

69 – Ed Jovanovski (11-19; FLA, VAN, PHX)

61 – Marco Sturm (9-13; SJ, BOS, LAK)

51 – Jose Theodore (19-28, 2.82 GAA; MON, COL, WSH)

Kopeckycup50 – Kris Versteeg (11-21; PHL, CHI)

43 – Marcel Goc (3-6; SJ, NSH)

31 – Jerred Smithson (2-1; NSH)

30 – Tomas Kopecky (4-3; DET, CHI)

27 – Wotjek Wolski (8-9; COL, PHX, NYR)

Samuelssoncup22 – Tomas Fleischmann (2-3; WSH)

19 – Scottie Upshall (3-4; PHL, NSH)

16 – Sean Bergenheim (9-2; TB)

4 – Mike Weaver (0-0; STL)

3 – Krys Barch (0-0; DAL)

1 – Scott Clemmensen (0-0, 0.00; NJD)

Postseason debut (games played, franchise)*

Versteegcup2Stephen Weiss (636, FLA)

Shawn Matthias (204, FLA)

Dmitry Kulikov (197, FLA)

Jason Garrison (189, FLA)

Mike Santorelli (174, NSH, FLA)

Keaton Ellerby (116, FLA)

Erik Gudbranson (71, FLA)

(*) – Not including Saturday's season finale v. Carolina


Florida Panthers, South Florida Ready for the Stanley Cup Playoffs

CupcrazyBY GEORGE RICHARDS grichards@MiamiHerald.com

TWITTER: @OnFrozenPond

FACEBOOK: On Frozen Pond

A small group gathered at the BankAtlantic Center on Saturday morning while countless others sat in front of computers at home to do something not seen in these parts for some time.

Stanley Cup playoff tickets officially went on sale Saturday morning. For the first time in over a decade, South Florida is invited to the party.

“This is, by far, the best time of the season,'' said Sean Bergenheim, a playoff hero for the Lightning last season with nine postseason goals. 

“This is when the fun begins. Not that the regular season isn't fun, but this has a little extra. We're hoping to do something here that hasn't been done in a long time. I'm really excited. We all are. You get one or two wins and everything snowballs. That's what happened for us in Tampa last year.''

By virtue of Philadelphia's 2-1 victory over Buffalo on Thursday, the Panthers clinched a spot in the postseason for the first time since 2000.

The Panthers run of 11 years and 10 seasons (2004-05 2000was wiped out because of a labor lockout) between appearances is an NHL record that may not be conquered. Toronto holds the current drought as the Maple Leafs are in their seventh straight postseason-free April. 

“I have no idea what it will be like to be honest with you,'' said Stephen Weiss, a Toronto native who will make his postseason debut with the Panthers after 637 NHL regular season games. 

“I hope it will be like other buildings that you see on TV: Pandemonium, 20,000 people standing and waving towels the whole game. I'm looking forward to it. I hope the fans do as well. I just want to get it going; stop talking about it.''

The Panthers may not be going into the playoffs playing their best hockey of the year. Florida had lost eight of nine and five straight coming into Saturday's regular season finale. But the playoffs are a new season. Everything a team has going for it needs to be forgotten as it doesn't matter what you did in the regular season. Same with a team on a negative run. 

Everything, in the playoffs, starts fresh. It's spring cleaning for hockey teams.

“I guess the word ‘amped up’ is something you would use,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. “The  level of intensity gets amped up, the level of importance at every faceoff, every finished check. Those are things you talk to your players about, but it’s not really needed because they recognize it and they know there’s a lot of other teams sitting at home that would  love to be a part of where you are right now. 

“You want to continue that feeling. It can last for a week or it can last for almost three months.''

The Panthers transformation from being the worst team in the Eastern Conference to one of its playoff teams started last February. Convinced the Panthers were not a playoff team, general manager Dale DineenTallon systematically began dumping veteran salaries via trades at the deadline. 

Tallon traded captain Bryan McCabe to the Rangers, Cory Stillman and Bryan Allen to the Hurricanes, Radek Dvorak to Atlanta and Dennis Wideman to the Capitals. Although the Panthers looked like a minor league team with some big names still around (Stephen Weiss, Tomas Vokoun, David Booth, etc.), the short-term pain was for long-term results. 

“That was one of the low points of my time here,'' Weiss said. 

Tallon had about $18 million committed to salaries when he went to the June draft and needed to get the payroll up to about $40 million to hit the salary cap floor. Tallon, with all that money in his pocket, remade the roster in a hurry. The first move was getting defensemen Brian Campbell from Chicago in a trade. 

Once Campbell waived his no-trade clause, other players around the league noticed. Finally, free agents were taking the Panthers seriously. One by one, players headed south. 

On opening day, the Panthers had 14 different players suited up than they did the previous year. PantherplayoffDineen, hired to replace the fired Pete DeBoer, did a nice job putting all the new pieces together.

“We had some pretty sketchy preseason games but we're all pros and coming together as quick as possible was one of our goals,'' said Ed Jovanovski, who started his career in Florida in 1994 and returned by signing a four-year deal on July 1. “We all played hard for each other and things just fell into place.''

Dineen now goes into the playoffs with plenty of experience at his call. Of Florida's 23 roster players all but Weiss and six others have previous playoff experience. Kris Versteeg, Mikael Samuelsson, Tomas Kopecky, Campbell and John Madden all have their name engraved on the Stanley Cup. 

“We're not green,'' Dineen said, “by any means.''

Jovanovski, for instance, is no stranger to the Versteeg2postseason and is a link to the Panthers playoff past.

Of Florida's 31 postseason games in franchise history, Jovanovski has played in 27 of them. Twenty-two of those games came in Florida's fabled run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1996 while Jovanovski was a fresh-faced rookie. 

Although 'JovoCop' has some more miles on the odometer, talk of making a deep run into the playoffs brings a childish grin to his face. 

“Everyone said we didn't have a chance early on and we were pretty motivated,'' he said. “This is the best Theocelebratetime of the year, what we all play for. This is the big stage. We have some guys who have never been here, but a lot who have. It's going to be fun. The building is going to rock.''


Florida Panthers By the Numbers: 2000-2012

11yearsWhat the Florida Panthers have done since last making the playoffs:

-- Seasons: 10. Years: 11. 

--Won 346 games, lost 499 (116 in overtime/shootout) and tied 51*.

--Have accumulated 861* points (average of 78.3 per season) 

FLAsleeve--Have had eight coaches (Terry Murray, Duane Sutter, Mike Keenan, Rick Dudley, John Torchetti, Jacques Martin, Pete DeBoer and Kevin Dineen).

--Have had eight general managers (Bryan Murray, Bill Torrey, Chuck Fletcher, Dudley, Keenan, Martin, Randy Sexton and Dale Tallon).

--Have had five captains (Scott Mellanby, Pavel Bure, Paul Laus, Olli Jokinen, Bryan McCabe).

--Have had three arena names (National Car Rental/Office Depot/BankAtlantic Center).

--Have had eight Top 10 draft picks (Stephen Weiss, CatlogoJay Bouwmeester, Nathan Horton, Rostislav Olesz, Michael Frolik, Keaton Ellerby, Erik Gudbranson, Jonathan Huberdeau). 

(*) Numbers do not include Saturday's season finale v. Carolina. 

Florida Panthers Long, Bumpy Road Back to the Playoffs ... It's Been an Interesting Decade in South Florida


Bure1999-2000: Led by Pavel Bure's league-leading 58 goals, the Panthers get 98 points to earn the franchise's third postseason berth. Florida promptly gets swept by eventual champ New Jersey.

2000-01: Panthers trade for Roberto Luongo and Olli Jokinen yet start slow and clean house by firing GM Bryan Murray Terrymurayand coach Terry Murray. Team ends with 66 points and misses the playoffs.

2001-02: Wayne Huizenga sells team to group led by Alan Cohen and Bernie Kosar. The fiery Mike Keenan is brought in to coach after slow start; Bure is traded. Team gets franchise-low 60 points. Franchise's place in South Florida market quickly fades.

Keenan2002-03: Another slow start to the season dooms the Panthers as Jokinen comes into his own by leading team with 36 goals. Team finishes fourth in division, misses playoffs.

2003-04: GM Rick Dudley wins power struggle with Keenan (this time), coaches team himself for a bit after firing Iron Mike. Team goes into lockout year by finishing 1-6-2.

2004-05: Season wiped out by lockout but plenty of drama beforehand. Dudley and coach John Torchetti are canned in favor of, yes, new GM Mike Keenan and Luongo1coach Jacques Martin. 

2005-06: New era of NHL doesn't help Panthers fortunes as team finishes fourth in division despite bringing in vets such as Joe Nieuwendyk, Gary Roberts, Martin Gelinas and Jozef Stumpel. 85 points is an improvement.

2006-07: Keenan trades Luongo to Vancouver in June in a most lopsided deal then is fired on Labor Day. Martin takes over as coach and GM. Ed Belfour comes to town and brings his special brand of fun. Martin trades Todd Bertuzzi (main piece of Luongo trade) after back injury limits him to 7 games.

Jm2007-08: Panthers make a nice run for the playoffs and win seven straight from March 2-16. But three straight divisional losses doom team to golf course again. Martin fired as coach, stays as GM. Jokinen is traded to Phoenix by Martin at the draft.

2008-09: New coach Pete DeBoer's bunch ties Montreal for eighth place but loses tiebreaker as Canadiens have a more shootout wins. Rule is changed, but too late for Panthers. Martin quits to Petejmcoach Canadiens. Jay Bouwmeester traded before he can walk away as free agent.

2009-10: Season starts in Finland and team gets off to slow start. New GM Randy Sexton compares team to 'Titanic,' leading new owners to write letter to fans saying 'enough is enough.' Sexton cleans house at deadline, team finishes last in division for first time in history.

Tallon2010-11: Sexton is replaced by Dale Tallon in May and Nathan Horton is traded by June. Tallon decides team isn't making playoffs, goes on salary dump at deadline; team looks like it should be in the AHL. DeBoer is fired a day after team finishes last in Eastern Conference for first time in history. 

Celebration2011-12: Tallon uses money dumped in previous season to go on a spending spree in the summer, bringing in 13 new players to re-tool the roster. Fueled by new players, coach Kevin Dineen and retro red uniforms, Panthers start strong and advance to the playoffs for the first time since 2000.


OnFrozenPhone: Panthers Playoff Tickets on Sale!

PhonecaseSUNRISE -- The Panthers put playoff tickets on sale Saturday morning. A few hearty souls braved the 88 degree weather -- and the easterly winds -- to get first crack at them.

Or, as one fan noted, it could have been for Van Halen.

Of course, tickets are also sold on this new thing called 'the internet.'