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27 posts from February 2013

February 28, 2013

PANTHERS RALLY FOR POINT: Buffalo Tops Florida 4-3 in SO after Leading 3-2 in Third ... Mike Weaver Out Perhaps for a While


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers goaltending situation hasn't exactly been a Carousel of Progress lately, although plenty of things have been spinning around.

Thursday, it was Jose Theodore making saves on all 15 shots seen in relief of starter Scott Clemmensen -- roles were reversed two nights before -- to help Florida pick up a point with a 4-3 shootout loss to Buffalo at BB&T Center.

Brian Campbell, who spend parts of eight seasons in Buffalo, zipped a 60-foot shot past Ryan Miller with 1:26 left in regulation to tie things and force overtime.

The Sabres won it in the shootout round by going 2-0 against Theodore; Jonathan Huberdeau and Peter Mueller both misfired for the Panthers as Florida is now 1-1 in the shootout and 1-5 in overtime this season.

"I've always had a long leash with my goalies,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. "They understand the game and when to step it up. But that's not happening right now.''

The Panthers, winless in nine of the past 11, were on the verge of losing in regulation despite playing well for most of the game.

Florida took aim at Miller and dominated play in the third and overtime -- yet got just the one goal. And the one point.

"Look at the game, the tempo, the pace,'' Dineen said, "and we're not dissatisfied with the way we played the game. Just that we didn't get the two points. If we play that way, keep going in that direction, it's the right one.''

Still, the Panthers -- despite all their problems -- are four points back of first place Carolina in the Southeast Division with home-and-home games against the Hurricanes this weekend.

The Panthers' next five games are against divisional opponents and could help create some separation in the muddled Southeast.

"It's frustrating not to get the two points,'' Campbell said. "We need the points and this could be the biggest weekend of the season. We need to come out with a couple of wins.''

Tuesday, Theodore came into the game before the first intermission after Clemmensen gave up three goals on 10 shots in 16:46. The Panthers, then down 3-2 after rallying from a 2-0 deficit, played a scoreless second before that strong third.

Theodore, arguably Florida's MVP last season, still can right what has been to this point a shaky season. Clemmensen started Thursday after his masterful relief appearance against Pittsburgh Tuesday; expect Theodore to get the call Saturday in Raleigh.

Nathan Gerbe got things started for Buffalo by throwing up a floater that found its way past Clemmensen. A few minutes later, Tyler Ennis scored on a power play.

Then it was Florida's turn. Drew Shore got a power play goal at 14:24 of the first by knocking a loose puck off the boards past Ryan Miller. Less than a minute later, Marcel Goc dove for a loose puck by the cage, corraled it and wraped it around Miller to tie the score.

Only a few moments later, Gerbe got hit second after losing his feet yet finding the top corner of the net. Theodore was quickly off his stool by the door to the bench and got ready to take over.

"We played well enough and deserved to win,'' Shore said. "We bring that effort, things are going to start to turn around.''


Center Stephen Weiss was back with the Panthers on Thursday after missing a few days to be with his family after the passing of his grandmother, Elizabeth Weiss.

Stephen said his grandmother passed away before Sunday's game -- one in which he was benched in the third period -- against the Bruins. He said he didn't know until afterward.

“She meant a lot to all our family,'' Weiss said. "She didn’t have a mean bone in her body. Very warm, always ready to give you advice. I just always remember going there Christmas Eve and spending time with them was always fun. We’ll miss her for sure.”

As far as his struggles go -- Weiss has one goal in 15 games -- he said if he plays better he doesn't have to worry about being demoted to the fourth line or benched as was the case Sunday.

“It’s never fun to be sat and the easy answer is to play better. That’s the bottom line,'' he said. "It’s not the first time I’ve been benched.''

-- Defenseman Filip Kuba returned to the lineup after missing the past two games with an undisclosed upper body injury.

Florida played a defenseman down for much of the game, however, as Mike Weaver left in the first period with a lower body injury that could see him miss substantial time.

"[Weaver] is going to be out an extended amount of time,'' Dineen said. "It's going to be quite a while by the looks of it.''

WEISS IS BACK: Panthers Forward Ready to Get Back on Ice ... Puts Family Tragedy, Benching Behind Him

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Stephen Weiss was back with the Panthers on Thursday after missing a few days to be with his family after the passing of his grandmother, Elizabeth Weiss.

Stephen spoke to the media at the Iceplex today and said his grandmother passed away before Sunday's game -- one in which he was benched in the third period -- against the Bruins. He said he didn't know until afterward.

“She meant a lot to all our family,'' Weiss said. "Like my dad said yesterday and the story he told, she didn’t have a mean bone in her body. Very warm, always ready to give you advice. I just always remember going there Christmas Eve and spending time with them was always fun. We’ll miss her for sure.”

Weiss also said he knew his grandmother wasn't doing too well but his parents kept the severity of it from him as well.

"I talked to my dad and he let me know that she passed that morning,'' Weiss said. "I knew she was not in the best shape over the last year, so quality of life was a little bit low. But certainly over the last couple of days before the Boston game, she wasn’t doing too well. But they didn’t tell me.”

Weiss also spoke about being benched by Dineen saying that he controls whether he plays or not -- meaning "if I play better, that's not going to happen.''

“It’s never fun to be sat and the easy answer is to play better. That’s the bottom line,'' he said. "That stuff doesn’t bother me. It’s not the first time I’ve been benched and it’s probably not the last time I’ll be benched. It’s just a matter of how you deal with it. You put it behind you and just keep pushing forward, try to play better.”

With the season he has had, Weiss sure would like to hit the reset button. Perhaps getting away from things for a few days will help.

“Yeah, it was definitely nice to go back home and see the family. Anytime something like that happens, it kind of refocuses you. I’m kind of looking forward to playing tonight.”

February 27, 2013

TOMAS KOPECKY MORE THAN A PEST: Kopecky Successful in Agitating and Scoring ... Weiss Returning from Funeral; Versteeg, Upshall Close

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Tuesday wasn't the first time a goalie went after Panthers' forward Tomas Kopecky. Last year in Los Angeles, goalie Jonathan Quick had to be pulled away from Kopecky after a showdown in front of the net.

At the time, it was assumed Quick and Kopecky had past run-ins as Kopecky had spent the entirety of his career in the Western Conference before coming to Florida.

"Nah,'' general manager Dale Tallon said after the game. "He just annoys a lot of teams. They all hate playing against him.''

Tallon, as GM of the Blackhawks, had seen Kopecky get under the skin of goaltenders before.

It was one reason why Tallon worked to get Kopecky in a Panthers sweater. The Panthers, Tallon reasoned, were too soft in front of the net. Florida needed someone not only willing to get down and dirty, but someone successful at it as well.

"I'm making the life of the goalie tougher,'' Kopecky said. "So if they don't like me, I'm doing something right. I can live with that.''

Kopecky has a nice shot and good speed. Yet he saw the success Tomas Holmstrom had in getting physical down by the goal during their days together in Detroit.

Holmstrom has made quite the career of moving people out of the way, creating shooting lanes for teammates and getting his stick on loose pucks and putting them into the net. Kopecky has done the same.

"It hasn't always been there, but I've learned over the past few years -- like I saw Homer doing it in Detroit -- you can find success there,'' Kopecky said. "There are so many skilled guys in the league, someone has to do the dirty work in front of the net. It's stuck with me. And I have the proportion for it, the big body.''

Kopecky, over the past two seasons, has become one of the Panthers most reliable players. Last season, Kopecky scored 10 goals and assisted on 22 others.

Tuesday, Kopecky recorded his first NHL hat trick by scoring Florida's first two goals of the night before putting the finishing touches on a 6-4 win over Pittsburgh with an empty net goal.

Kopecky, who has six goals in the past six games, has eight goals through 19 games -- just two off last year's total and seven away from tying the career-high 15 he scored in 81 games as a member of the Blackhawks before moving south to Florida.

"Sometimes it's good to have reminders of why a player has been good throughout his career,'' coach Kevin Dineen said.

"Tomas has been successful because he's a hard guy to play against and is a big body who isn't shy about going to the hard areas. You can talk all you want, but there's nothing like that reward.''

One of the highlights of Tuesday's game was Kopecky's scrum with Penguins goalie Tomas Vokoun.

Although the two are friends and South Florida neighbors -- "they are really good buddies, but that's the game,'' Tomas Fleischmann said -- Vokoun started throwing punches when Kopecky scored and was driven into Vokoun by Pittsburgh's Craig Adams.

The two continued pushing and punching each other until the altercation was broken up.

"I texted him after the game, told him 'no hard feelings','' Kopecky said. "He texted me back the same. We're still neighbors, still friends. Sometimes emotions run high. We're all good. The game's over. We spoke the truth and moved on. I wish him the best for the rest of the season and he does for me as well.''


Dineen said center Stephen Weiss was traveling back to South Florida Wednesday after attending his grandmother's funeral in Toronto on Tuesday. Weiss is expected to play Thursday against the Sabres.

"He'll be back in our mix,'' Dineen said.

With Weiss coming back, Scott Timmins was returned to Florida's AHL affiliate in San Antonio.

-- Florida may have to start making some roster moves as forwards Kris Vertseeg (upper body) and Scottie Upshall (ankle) both practiced on normal lines Wednesday and should be ready to play soon. Dineen said both were questionable for Thursday.

"You see all those bodies out there and a lot of our guys know how to count,'' Dineen said. "There are only so many jobs every night. That doesn't hurt our cause.''

Defenseman Filip Kuba, who has missed the past two games with an undisclosed upper body injury, also practiced.

-- For the second straight game, the Panthers will hold their morning skate at the Saveology.com Iceplex in Coral Springs instead of at BB&T Center. The workout starts at 10:30 a.m. and is free and open to the public.

When, Where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center
TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560
The series: Sabres lead 42-27-4
The game: The Panthers won 4-3 in Buffalo on Feb 3. Buffalo is 1-2 since firing longtime coach Lindy Ruff after beating Tampa Bay 2-1 on Tuesday.
Florida, which has won three straight against the Sabres, is expected to start Scott Clemmensen in net against Ryan Miller.



TOMAS KOPECKY MORE THAN A PEST: Kopecky Successful in Agitating and Scoring ... Weiss Returning from Funeral; Versteeg, Upshall Close

TOMAS KOPECKY MORE THAN A PEST: Kopecky Successful in Agitating and Scoring ... Weiss Returning from Funeral; Versteeg, Upshall Close

February 26, 2013

A KNOCKOUT NIGHT IN SUNRISE: Panthers End Home Losing Skid, Beat Penguins 6-4 in a Wild One

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Tuesday was just another boring night of hockey in Sunrise.

Take away the 10 combined goals, a hat trick, a big lead wiped away, two goalie changes -- including one who decided to throw punches like he was some heavyweight -- and yeah, nothing much to see here.

Starting goalies Jose Theodore and Tomas Vokoun -- who went Joe Palooka on Tomas Kopecky -- each watched the end of one of the craziest games at the BB&T Center from the bench as Florida scored twice in the third to beat Pittsburgh 6-4.

The Panthers got three goals -- including one into an empty net -- from Kopecky to help snap a five-game home losing streak. Scott Clemmensen, who started the third, made 15 saves in the final 20 minutes for his second win in a week.

"This was a big win and it was important to come here at home,'' Clemmensen said. "There were a lot of positives. Good to beat a team like that here. It's always difficult to come off the bench, but I felt good after last week."

Florida finally got its power play going and built a 4-1 lead fueled by four goals with the advantage. The lead didn't last, but Florida got it back with a strong third period.

Coming into Tuesday, the Panthers had six of 11 power play goals in home wins against Carolina and Winnipeg -- which, not coincidentally, were Florida's only home wins of the season before Tuesday.

Florida scored its first four goals off the power play with three coming within a six-minute span of the second for a 4-1 lead.

The final two, coming within 32 seconds of each other, chased Vokoun midway through the second. Soon after Kopecky scored his second goal, Vokoun took offense to his skating partner -- and west Broward neighbor -- from the lockout days in Pompano Beach making contact in front of the net.

With Kopecky on the ice, Vokoun threw a few punches. The scrum moved to the corner where Vokoun again tossed some jabs. Florida, up 2-1 at the time, had to go on the penalty kill as Kopecky was given two minor penalties to Vokoun's one.

"Brooks Orpik crashed into me from behind and I lost my balance. I bumped into him,'' Kopecky said. "Then all I see is his big blocker [glove] coming at me. Obviously I'll take punches and pay the price, but not cheap shots. I kept pushing him.

"He's my neighbor, I've gotten to know he his family pretty good. But he didn't hold back. I'm not going to either.''

Dineen was understandibly upset as the Penguins went on the power play, but felt better about things when Florida got quick goals from Brian Campbell and Marcel Goc to make it a 4-1 game.

Dineen's angst quickly returned as Pittsburgh bounced back and scored three unanswered goals to end the second.

The third goal, making it 4-4 with 41 seconds left, came when Chris Kunitz threw up a shot that Florida's Mike Weaver went down to block. The puck hit Weaver and found its way between Theodore's skates.

Like Vokoun -- the goalie he replaced in Florida on July 1, 2011 - Theodore found the bench. Clemmensen then shut Pittsburgh out.

Florida took its final lead of the night when Tomas Fleischmann, who took a tripping penalty 1:19 into the third, raced out of the box and took a slick feed from Jerred Smithson.

Fleischmann walked in on Marc Andre-Fleury -- who beat the Panthers last Friday night -- and scored top shelf. Fleischmann's 100th career goal was a big one as it gave the Panthers a 5-4 lead. Kopecky's third goal, which marked his first hat trick, sealed the deal.

"It took me two weeks to score and I'm glad to get that one,'' said Fleischmann, who said he thought of passing off to Drew Shore. "We sure needed it. It was an, well, interesting game.''


Center Stephen Weiss left the team Monday to attend funeral services for his grandmother in Toronto. Weiss informed Dineen of the death in his family after Sunday's game and was granted a leave.

"The hockey season is condensed this year, but it doesn't stop life,'' Dineen said. "These things are always hard to deal with, family loss. We always want a player to be with family if possible.''

Weiss had been benched by Dineen during the third period of Sunday's loss to the Bruins. Dineen said the two talked about that as well. "Being able to communicate is important,'' Dineen said.

-- With Weiss away, the Panthers recalled Scott Timmins from their AHL affiliate in San Antonio. Alex Kovalev, although healthy, was scratched for the second straight game and third in the past four. Defenseman Filip Kuba (upper body) also missed his second straight game with Colby Robak filling in.

February 25, 2013


The Panthers sent goalie Jacob Markstrom back to San Antonio on Monday.

It's safe to say it wasn't performance-based as he stopped 65 of 71 shots and gave up three goals in losses to both Pittsburgh and Boston.

Without him, things could have been a lot worse.

Regardless, the Panthers probably have a roster move - or two - to make as Kris Versteeg and Scottie Upshall are close to coming back and skated again today in Coral Springs.

And the Panthers sure could use some scoring. I think Jose Theodore is going to be fine once he's put back in there tomorrow against the Penguins.

-- The Panthers will have a rare morning skate at the Coral Springs Iceplex on Tuesday.

The free workout starts at 10:30. The Penguins are still scheduled to hold their skate in Sunrise on Tuesday. That is close d to the public.

POWER PLAYED: Panthers Score Power Play Goals and Win; Problem Is When They Don't

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers power play problems are starting to get ridiculous -- and the statistics are simply glaring.

Although there are plenty of reasons why the Panthers are losing, none is more telling than this: When the Panthers score power play goals, they win. When they don't, well, the standings tell that story.

Going into Tuesday, Florida has five wins.

The Panthers have nine of their 11 power play goals in those games. In victories, Florida is 9-for-20 (45 percent success rate) with the advantage.

Good, right?

Now it gets ugly: In the Panthers' 13 losses, they have gone a staggering 2-for-48 (four percent).

Sunday, Florida went 0-for-4 against the Bruins and had one power play that lasted four minutes and another in which Jacob Markstrom came out and Florida had a 6-on-4 skating advantage. Of course, no one was in the net and Boston scored. Whatever.

"When you are out there on the power play, you're out there for one reason and that's to score goals,'' Peter Mueller said.

"We've been practicing and doing things right. We should be licking our chops every time we get out there. It's a great opportunity to put a goal in the back of the net. Power plays win games. We haven't found that success yet.''

Here's some more fun with numbers:

The Panthers have lost seven of their past eight games with one power play goal in 24 chances during that streak. That goal snapped an 0-for-15 slide and helped Florida beat Philadelphia last Thursday.

Florida is 0-17 in this current five-game home winless streak.

"Our power play sucked the life out of us,'' coach Kevin Dineen said after last week's loss to Toronto. "We need our special teams to give us a boost and no go oh-fer on one side then giving up a big goal on the other.''

Last year, the Panthers power play ranked seventh in the league (18.5 percent success rate) as Florida's top line of Stephen Weiss, Kris Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann had 19 of their 70 combined goals while with the man advantage.

This year tells a much different tale.

Part of the reason for Florida's power play decline has been the loss of three key players -- and a fourth who hasn't played much.

Defenseman Jason Garrison scored a team-high nine power play goals last season but left as a free agent as did Mikael Samuelsson (six power play goals).

Sean Bergenheim, who had five such goals last season, has missed the entire season after being hurt during the lockout.

Versteeg led Florida's top line with eight power play goals last year, but he's been hurt for much of the year and has only played in seven games. His lone goal came on a power play in the win against Winnipeg.

Weiss has one goal this season -- and it came on the power play in one of the Philadelphia wins on Feb. 7. One of Fleischmann's four goals was on the power play.

Florida's power play success rate of 16.2 percent was tied for 21st in the league coming into Monday's games.

The Panthers have scored 11 power play goals all season -- with six coming in home wins (Florida's only home wins) against Carolina and Winnipeg.

In the Panthers' other seven home games, they have scored one power play goal in 26 tries.

No coincidence that the Panthers are 0-4-3 in home games not against Carolina or Winnipeg.

"It's do or die now. In such a short season, it's time to stop messing around,'' forward Shawn Matthias said. "We have to be better in all aspects of the game. Special teams is a big part of that. We have to take advantage of teams when they are down.''

-- Alex Kovalev became just the eighth active NHL player to have blown out 40 candles as he celebrated his birthday on Sunday.

The party was tempered a bit, however, as Kovalev was Florida's healthy forward scratch for the second time in three games.

Kovalev has been scratched four times since Feb. 7.

Other 40-year-old NHLers include: former Panthers winger Ray Whitney (Dallas), Teemu Selanne (Anaheim), Jaromir Jagr (Dallas) and Martin Brodeur (New Jersey).

-- Florida's 0.78 points earned per home game is ranked just above Winnipeg (.75), Buffalo (.70) and the Islanders (.44).

Pittsburgh, Tuesday's opponent at BB&T Center, has earned 1.6 points per road game -- third-best in the league.

When, Where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560
The series: Pittsburgh leads 39-31-4
The game: The Penguins have won five of the past six -- including a 3-1 win over the visiting Panthers last Friday. Pittsburgh won 5-3 in Tampa on Sunday. Pittsburgh has won at least once in Sunrise every season since 2005-06.

February 24, 2013

GETTING UGLY: Weiss Benched in Third Period of 4-1 Loss to Bruins ... Panthers Haven't Won at Home Since Jan. 31

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

If the Panthers want to salvage what's left of this season and make a return appearance in the postseason, they had better start winning at home.

That, and get a lot more production out of their top players.

The Panthers lost for the fifth straight time at BB&T Center on Sunday as the tan and rested Bruins finally left town after picking up a 4-1 victory in which Florida coach Kevin Dineen benched Stephen Weiss for much of the third period.

"This will turnaround somewhere along the line,'' said Dineen, whose team hasn't won at home since beating Winnipeg on Jan. 31.

"I think there's a clear understanding on how we have to play. We can preach it and ask it, but we've done a lot of talking. Now it's time for more direct action.''

Weiss' struggles this season have been well documented although Dineen had kept him on Florida's top line. Sunday, Dineen put Weiss with productive wingers Jonathan Huberdeau and Peter Mueller to start. It didn't last.

By the end of the game, Weiss -- Florida's all-time leader in games played with the franchise -- was on the bench. Weiss had been on Florida's fourth line for a time, but when the Panthers had a 6-on-4 chance, he wasn't around to help out.

Weiss played just two shifts in the third period. When he returned to the bench with 6:01 left, he never went back out. In 14 games, Weiss -- who is a free agent after this season and has a no-trade clause in his contract -- has just one goal and three assists. He is also a minus-11.

Afterward, Dineen said knowing he has used Weiss in every situation imaginable previously made it a little easier in putting him on the shelf.

"For the last year-and-a-half I've looked down -- if we are a man short or on the power play -- for that number,'' Dineen said. "That made it much easier to have him sitting there not part of the equation with the quality of hockey he's playing right now.''

Sunday's loss was just another one in a long line at home.

The Panthers have won just two of nine home games and their seven home points (2-4-3) are better than just three teams -- and two of those (Carolina and Winnipeg) are the only ones Florida has beaten at home.

Florida has 15 home games remaining with the three-game homestand continuing Tuesday against the Penguins -- who happen to have the second-best road record in the league behind only the uber-hot Blackhawks.

Aside from losing five straight at home, the Panthers have lost seven of eight.

"You want to be a good road team because you have to be a great home team,'' Shawn Matthias said.

The Bruins, who had enjoyed Fort Lauderdale beach since arriving here Thursday night, built two two-goal leads on the Panthers before getting a short-handed empty net goal with 1:37 left. Goalie Tuukka Rask made 34 saves.

Boston took a 2-0 lead midway through the first period with Florida's Tomas Kopecky cutting the deficit in half by jumping on a loose puck and poking it through.

Chris Kelly then scored on a power play early in the second and that was just about that.

Rookie Jacob Markstrom made his second consecutive start in goal and played well in a losing effort.

Boston, up 3-1 in the second, watched the 6-foot-6 rookie make a handful of big saves -- including a point blank shot from former Florida winger Nathan Horton as well as a breakaway from Rich Peverley.

"I really believe in our team but they got up 2-0 and we were working uphill from there,'' said Markstrom, who made 28 saves after making 37 in Friday's 3-1 loss in Pittsburgh.

Things got chippy in the second when Mike Weaver checked Lucic -- who scored Boston's first goal -- into the side boards. Lucic took offense and went after Weaver, first cross-checking him in the back before tackling him to the ice. Lucic was slapped with two minor penalties and a 10-minute misconduct.

Boston, actually, did more offensively on Florida's four-minute power play as Peverley broke through and took on Markstrom 1-on-1.The Panthers were outshot 3-0 on their own four-minute advantage.

"Those are momentum changers in the game,'' Dineen said.

-- To make room for defenseman Colby Robak on the roster, Florida put Kris Versteeg (upper body) on the injured reserve list retroactive to Feb. 12 when he was hurt against the Capitals.

Versteeg and Scottie Upshall -- out since the Winnipeg game with a sprained ankle -- are close to returning.

February 22, 2013

NOT HAPPY: Dineen Fumes after Penguins Drop Panthers 3-1 ... Malkin Down After Gudbranson Hit, Status Unknown

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

PITTSBURGH -- If Kevin Dineen feels his team has been wronged by the officials, they certainly hear about it.

On Friday, Dineen eventually threw up his hands in disgust after Florida's Tomas Kopecky was charged for slashing Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury in the third period of a tie game.

The ensuing power play led to Pittsburgh scoring the winning goal in a 3-1 victory over the Panthers at Consol Center.

Kopecky had charged out the box but the Penguins were still cycling the puck around the Florida zone when Matt Niskanen zipped a 65-foot shot that flew past Jacob Markstrom's glove with 12:11 left.

Despite having time to cool off, it was obvious Dineen was still fuming afterward.

Dineen was upset for Kopecky being flagged for what Pittsburgh's Chris Kunitz wasn't when he jabbed the puck past Jacob Markstrom in the second. Kopecky was trying to get a puck past Fleury -- just as Kunitz did to put the Pens on the board.

Dineen was also mad there was no call when James Neal jumped Erik Gudbranson after he checked Evgeni Malkin at the end of the ice. Malkin fell and slammed his head into the boards and stayed face-down on the ice for a few scary moments. Gudbranson wasn't penalized for what looked like a clean hit.

"It's frustrating, certainly when the game was decided on the tempo and that penalty was big at the end,'' Dineen said, "especially since there was a non-call for us when a guy attacks Gudbranson after a clean hit. And then they score a goal when they whack at our goalie three times.

"Our guy goes down and he doesn't blow the whistle. It's a tough one to take, but that's the nature of it. You have to understand where your place is and just go out and play the game.''

The Panthers felt they deserved a better fate than Friday's regulation loss as they played good defense and had decent offensive chances. Still, the loss was Florida's sixth in the past seven games as the Panthers come home for three games.

Markstrom, making his first NHL start this season, faced a barrage of shots from a rested and loaded Pittsburgh team ready to put Wednesday's wild loss to the Flyers behind them.

The Penguins came in looking to score a bushel of goals yet found the 6-foot-6 Markstrom hogging the net and denying them for much of the night.

Pittsburgh took aim at Markstrom 60 times on Friday night with 40 on goal. Florida blocked 10 shots and the Pens fired 10 off course.

"I've been looking forward to this all year,'' said Markstrom, recalled from the minors on Wednesday. "I was just excited to play a game and the fans were awesome here. I felt like I got into the game really quickly. They threw a lot of pucks from all different areas. It was a fun game to play in, too bad we didn't win.''

Pittsburgh's first goal came when Kunitz jabbed the puck away two minutes after defenseman Mike Weaver gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead with a long slap shot.

The Penguins made it 3-1 with 4:45 left when Dustin Jeffrey knocked in an odd-angle pass across the goal from Matt Cooke.

-- Malkin remained face down on the ice for a few moments after he banged his head into the boards after Gudbranson sent him sprawling. Malkin, whose condition was not disclosed by the Penguins, eventually got up and skated off on his own.

Gudbranson said he expected retaliation from the Penguins after he saw the reigning league MVP go into the boards and not get up.

"I just finished my check,'' Gudbranson said afterward. "You never want to see a guy go down and he is in a vulnerable position. But you can't pass up a hit like that. You never know, he could go around the net and he could get a backdoor pass.

"It's unfortunate he got hurt on the play, but it's one I would take every time.''

February 21, 2013

PHILADELPHIA FLYING: Panthers Get Big Games from Huberdeau, Mueller and Clemmensen in 5-2 Win over Flyers

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

PHILADELPHIA -- After a week of blown leads and shutout losses, the Panthers hope they rediscovered their mojo in the strangest of places Thursday night.

For the first time since the season opener back on Jan. 19, the Panthers pulled out all the offensive stops -- and made the big ones in net as well -- to snap a five-game winless streak with a 5-2 victory over the host Flyers.

The Panthers won twice at Wells Fargo Center in the same year for the first time since 2006-07 after winning here in a shootout Feb. 7. Thursday's win was fueled by a power play goal, a penalty shot goal and 32 saves from surprise starter Scott Clemmensen.

Rookie Jonathan Huberdeau's campaign for the league's top rookie award continues to gain traction as he ended with two goals and two assists for his first four-point game.

Huberdeau, 19, leads the Panthers in goals (eight) and points (13).

"It was a good snapshot of why Dale [Tallon] and our management staff speak so highly of him,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. "He's heading in the right direction; he's playing hard, playing well and playing the right way.''

Clemmensen's play was perhaps the bright spot of the night -- fitting since he was wearing a new feline-themed mask that looked like it was painted with a fluorescent yellow highlight marker.

Even though Huberdeau had the memorable SportsCenter-worthy goal, it was Clemmensen's performance that was most satisfying for the Panthers as both he and the team so desperately needed it.

Clemmensen lost his previous three starts this season and had given up 17 goals in five appearances which included relief of starter Jose Theodore. Last Tuesday, Clemmensen had a 5-3 lead on the Capitals in the third period that ended up a 6-5 overtime loss.

With rookie Jacob Markstrom recalled from the minors Wednesday, the heat was on Clemmensen to make this start count whether he would publicly admit so or not.

"If I'm in a situation where I'm feeling some pressure, it's how you respond,'' Dineen said. "You look for opportunity and to take care of things. It hasn't gone great this year but I like the push-back tonight.''

Clemmensen made a couple early saves to allow his team to build a 3-0 lead by the midway point of the first period. Clemmensen had to make a few other big saves although the Flyers didn't have much in the tank after Wednesday's thrilling 6-5 win in Pittsburgh.

"Hopefully this is harbinger of things to come for me moving forward,'' said Clemmensen, who gave up the first goal with 6:11 remaining and Florida up 4-0. "This was just a big win for everyone."

Clemmensen made 13 saves in an opening period in which the Panthers got goals from Peter Mueller and Tomas Kopecky within a span of 29 seconds to make it 2-0.

Midway through the first, Huberdeau got loose on a breakaway and was pulled on by Kimmo Timonen as he approached goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.

In Florida's previous trip here, Huberdeau scored on his first shootout attempt against Bryzgalov with a slick move. Thursday, Huberdeau actually improved on that by completely faking out Bryzgalov on his first career penalty shot attempt for a 3-0 lead.

"I love being in shootouts and taking the puck. I'm glad to score for the team,'' said Huberdeau, once again wearing the cheeky red velvet cavalier hat which players award to the game's hero after victories.

"For sure, my confidence is high after a game like this. But we're going right back at it [Friday] in Pittsburgh.''

Said Clemmensen: "I'm glad he's on my team. I go against him in practice and he's very tough when we do shootouts. Now I expect to see those dazzling moves from that guy. Needless to say, he has a bright future.''

The Panthers all but ended things in the second as Florida got three power play opportunities in succession to the chagrin of outraged Flyer fan.

The Panthers had been 0-for-15 with the advantage during the winless streak but finally cashed in with 8:14 left. Erik Gudbranson started things and broke his stick on a shot in the slot. The puck ended up bouncing around in front of Bryzgalov with Huberdeau putting a stick on it and scoring.

With that, Bryzgalov -- and the Flyers -- were done. Philadelphia got goals from Luke Schenn and Jakub Voracek in a span of 1:46 late in the third. But Mueller got his second in between those two goals to offset things.

"We wanted to jump on them quickly and we did. It's always nice to be up 3-0,'' Mueller said. "It's about consistency. Hopefully this game is a stepping stone for us.''

-- The Panthers hadn't scored on a penalty shot since David Booth beat Montreal's Carey Price on Oct. 10, 2010.

February 20, 2013

HELLO JACOB MARKSTROM: Promotion of Goalie Prospect Starts Florida Panthers Goalie Controversy

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The plan has been for Jacob Markstrom to be the Panthers' goalie into the future ever since the day he was drafted in 2008.

The timetable may have been sped up.

The struggling Panthers, looking for any sort of spark, recalled the 23-year-old Swedish netminder from their AHL affiliate in San Antonio on Wednesday.

Markstrom, 16-15-2 in 33 minor league games, will be given the chance to play right away said general manager Dale Tallon.

With the highly-touted Markstrom now with the team, the Panthers have a full-blown goalie controversy going. Of course, with zero wins in their past five games, that's probably the least of the Panthers worries right now. Tallon said Florida's biggest concern is "stemming the tide.''

"I’m not happy. It's a critical part of the season and every game’s important,'' Tallon said. "We need to cut our goals against down. It's time. He’s played great down there and it’s time to see what he can do. I’m not going to sit still and allow this to continue.

"We need him to come up and play like he’s capable of playing and I’m very confident that he can do that. .-.-. The competition will maybe force some guys to pick up their games a little bit. That’s what it’s all about here. What’s best for the team. I’m not concerned about the individuals here.''

Coach Kevin Dineen said Markstrom will likely start one of Florida's next two games -- either Thursday in Philadelphia or Friday in Pittsburgh. Expect starter Jose Theodore to get the other start.

Although Theodore has played well at times, he has been streaky and his goals-against average is up from last year.

Theodore, 36, is 60th with a 3.37 through 12 games. Scott Clemmensen, 35, is third-to-last out of 70 NHL goalies with a 4.32 GAA. The Panthers have yet to record a shutout. In Florida's five-game winless streak, it has been outscored 21-10.

"If you look at most of the games this year, it's a team thing," Theodore said. "Goaltending needs to better, that's no secret. But it's no matter if you lose 1-0 or 6-5, everyone needs to be better in that situation.''

Although Theodore is still looked at as Florida's starting goaltender, the promotion of Markstrom will likely cut into whatever playing time Clemmensen would have gotten.

In back-to-back situations -- as is the case this week in Pennsylvania -- Clemmensen usually would get one of the starts.

"It doesn't change how I'm going to approach things,'' Clemmensen said. "I'm going to come here, put on my gear and go to work. If they tell me I'm playing, I'll do everything I can to win the game. It's pretty simple.

"This isn't my decision. As a goalie, any player, wants to play all the time. Thaty doesn't change if there are three goalies here or 10. You only control what you can.''

Markstrom was at Florida's practice Wednesday morning in Coral Springs and was the second player to take the ice.

And although he is projected to be Florida's future in net, how long will Markstrom be here?

"I think Drew Shore came here with a suit and a pair of jeans,'' Dineen said. "He was a short-term fill and when he came to play it was to come in and get the NHL experience. .-.-. That’s changed. Drew’s worked himself into a situation where he’s a guy we rely on in a lot of different situations, and nothing is given. Everything is earned. Jacob will be handled the same way."

Although he doesn't currently have his own locker stall at the Iceplex -- he used a pair of plastic chairs set up steps from Theodore and Clemmensen -- Markstrom is getting his chance.

Markstrom filled in for Clemmensen at the start of the 2011-12 season and more than held his own, his highlight being a 40-save victory at Montreal that Tallon called "brilliant. He has that capability."

Markstrom was also called up later in the season when Theodore injured his knee and came up in the playoffs when Theodore had a setback.

In seven games last season with the Panthers, Markstrom went 2-4-1 with 17 goals against.

"Every time I come to Florida, I look at it as an opportunity,'' said Markstrom, who has stopped 92 percent of his shots and recorded three shutouts at San Antonio.

"I just love coming here, everything about it. We have a great team here. Hopefully I get to be a part of it.''

As far as future moves go, Tallon reiterated that Florida's young prospects aren't available to suitors with short-term fixes.

"There’s no quick or easy fix here. We’re taking our time,'' Tallon said. "It’s hard to be patient when you realize you’ve got to win some games, but you have to be because I’m not mortgaging the future just to get a Band-aid.''

-- Tallon said the Panthers didn't need to make a roster move to bring Markstrom up and said injured winger Kris Versteeg wouldn't be put on the injured list.

Versteeg skated before Wednesday's practice but wasn't on the team plane to Philadelphia. Tallon said he was better off working out in Coral Springs.

When, Where: 7 p.m.; Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia
TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560
The series: Philadelphia leads 44-28-7
The game: The Panthers have gone winless in their past five games (0-2-3) with their previous win coming in Philadelphia on Feb. 7. Florida rallied from a 2-1 deficit thanks to a third-period goal from Stephen Weiss and went 2-0 in the shootout to win 3-2. The Flyers, fresh off a rout of the Islanders on Monday, played in Pittsburgh on Wednesday.


HELLO JACOB MARKSTROM: Promotion of Goalie Prospect Starts Florida Panthers Goalie Controversy

HELLO JACOB MARKSTROM: Promotion of Goalie Prospect Starts Florida Panthers Goalie Controversy

OnFrozenPhone: Jacob Markstrom


February 18, 2013

FIVE STRAIGHT AIN'T GREAT: Panthers Continue Losing Ways, Lose 3-0 to Maple Leafs

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Kevin Dineen said there were "plenty of negatives you can keep pointing at" before Monday's game against the Maple Leafs.

The list of negatives just continues to grow -- as does the Panthers losing streak.

Florida went winless on a four-game homestand that concluded with a 3-0 loss to a Maple Leafs team that felt right at home inside the BB&T Center. The Panthers haven't won in five straight games and went 0-1-3 at home during that stretch.

The Panthers play the next two on the road: Thursday at Philadelphia (site of Florida's most recent victory on Feb. 7) and Friday in Pittsburgh.

"It's frustrating times and we have to find ways to be more consistent,'' defenseman Brian Campbell said. "It stings a lot. We wanted to come into [homestand] and make it to .500 and we're not there. We have a lot of work to do going on the road. To have a fairly good road trip, then come home for this, it hurts.''

The Panthers failed to pick up a point for the first time since a 5-0 pasting at Washington to start this slide on Feb. 9.

During the five-game winless streak the Panthers have:

-- Been outscored 21-10 and shutout three times. Florida's four shutouts this season lead the league;

-- Tied an NHL record for losing three straight games in overtime, becoming only the second (Nashville) to do it all on home ice;

-- Became the first NHL team this season to lose two games when scoring five goals. St. Louis is the only other team to have 'accomplished' that feat.

Florida is a broken bunch right now.

"We better figure it out and there's a confidence factor right now,'' said Dineen, whose team had won five straight against Toronto. "I played that record last game. There's lots of things we need to work on.''

The Panthers didn't do much to slow down a Toronto team that is on a hot streak good enough to pull back attention from the Miami Blue Jays.

The Leafs, who have won six of seven, got another strong outing from backup Ben Schrivens as he has shutouts in his past two starts and hasn't given up a goal in his past 142:21.

Florida's Jose Theodore once again found his goals-against average going up and his save percentage going down as his defense has been anything but stout.

Toronto scored its initial goal when Phil Kessel walked in by himself off a give-and-go from Mike Van Riemsdyk and scored short-side from the left circle with 2:56 left.

Although Theodore should have made that save, the Leafs were off to the races after Van Riemsdyk stole a Mike Weaver turnover in the Florida zone.

"Give him credit, he's standing on his head,'' said Peter Mueller of Theodore, who made 30 saves for the second straight game.

The Leafs got two more in the second to cement this win as Nazem Kadri camped out in front of the net during a power play and rifled a shot past Theodore at 12:13.

Just over a minute later, Clarke MacArthur got loose as Kadri pulled in three Florida defenders before slipping the puck across ice. MacArthur charged in on Theodore unopposed to make it 3-0.

The Panthers, who went the final 9:55 of the second without offering up a single shot on goal, took 12 shots in the third yet rarely threatened the Leafs' goalie.


General manager Dale Tallon said the Panthers had a few banged up players who were questionable for Monday's game so center Mike Santorelli was recalled as a precaution.

Santorelli, 27, has two goals and three assists for Florida's AHL affiliate in San Antonio since being demoted last month. Santorelli was not needed and although he warmed up, did not play.

"I think his attitude has been great and he's playing very well,'' Tallon said.

-- Winger Kris Versteeg didn't skate again Monday and missed his third straight game since suffering an undisclosed upper body injury last week against the Capitals. Tallon said Versteeg's injury wasn't concussion related and he's simply day-to-day.

-- Scottie Upshall skated before Monday's workout but Dineen said he was "still a ways away." Upshall injured an ankle after falling awkwardly during a fight Jan. 31 against Winnipeg.

February 17, 2013

FLORIDA PANTHERS NOT GOOD IN OT: Cats 1-4 in OT, Only Win a Shootout in Philly ...

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

No team benefited from the NHL's so-called 'loser's point' more than the Florida Panthers last season.

The Panthers won the Southeast Division and advanced to the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade despite losing 18 of the 25 games that went into overtime.

Florida went into the postseason with more overtime losses than any other team that made the playoffs -- and just one fewer than the last-place Canadiens.

The Panthers lamented the loss of those extra points that come with winning games in overtime then just as they are right now.

"It's tough to lose those points,'' Tomas Kopecky said.

Saturday's 6-5 loss to the Lightning was Florida's fourth overtime defeat this season as five of the Panthers' past six games have gone into extra time. Of those five overtime games, the Panthers have gotten the second point just once.

"You're not getting in the playoffs with 48 points. A point a game just isn't going to work,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. "We have to find a way to get a more complete effort and get the two points -- especially at home.''

The Panthers are finding themselves unable to finish lately as two of the past three games have featured 5-3 leads in the third period -- and ended with losses when the final horn sounded.

Florida is 1-4 in overtime this season with all five of those games coming in the past six games.

"Good teams know how to clamp down and win those games,'' Jerred Smithson said afterward. "I truly believe we are a good team and we need to get those two points. No excuse. We let it slip away.''

A good chunk of Florida's overtime losses last season (11 of 18) came in shootouts. The Panthers were really bad in shootouts last season, so much so, general manager Dale Tallon went out and got some shootout help. Alex Kovalev and Peter Mueller have been very strong in shootouts during their career.

So too has rookie Jonathan Huberdeau who was a master at the craft during his junior career.

Yet of Florida's five overtime games, the Panthers' defense has only been good enough to remain tied through overtime to get to a shootout.

"You get stung as many times as we have in a row,'' Dineen said, "and there is a little bit of a confidence factor. I believe we have the right guys who can get the job completed.''

In the Panthers only shootout opportunity this year, Huberdeau and Mueller scored and Jose Theodore stopped the two Philadelphia shots he faced.


The last time Smithson scored an NHL goal, he was wearing the blue-and-gold of the Nashville Predators.

A lot has changed since then as Smithson found himself in and out of the Nashville lineup as he was shipped south to help the Panthers playoff run on Feb. 24.

Smithson scored his first goal since Oct. 15, 2011, on Saturday. Smithson's goal came with 4.2 seconds left in the second period and tied the score against the Lightning.

"Any time you contribute on the scoreboard it's a bonus,'' said Smithson, who was a healthy scratch in Florida's loss to the Capitals just two games prior.

"I want to score more, I would like to do it more but they seem to have come few and far between. It felt good. The team kind of got a spark from tying it late. It sucks not being in the lineup. I didn't play a great game in Washington, but I want to be there every night. I try to make a point of showing what I can do every night.''

Florida scored two quick goals to open the third and take a 5-3 lead -- momentum all created from Smithson scoring late in the second.

"Every goal was scored within 10 feet of the net,'' said Dineen. "You have to go to those hard places and good things follow.''

-- Dineen continued to give his beleaguered goalies a vote of confidence as he said after Saturday's game that Jose Theodore -- who made 30 saves against the Lightning -- wasn't completely at fault on Saturday.

The Lightning, after all, scored its fourth goal while skating with a 4-on-3 advantage before winning in overtime after the puck flew off the back board and onto Benoit Pouliot's stick.

"He made some really quality saves,'' Dineen said. "That's what we needed. He gave us enough. He didn't have a real chance on the last two.''

-- The line combination of Shawn Matthias and Jack Skille with center Marcel Goc did some damage against the Lightning.

Matthias scored his second goal in the past three games and Skille had a number of chances and cashed in when he took a nice feed from Matthias to beat Anders Lindback.

"We're trying to find some balance in the lineup,'' Dineen said.

Said Skille: "It felt great. Goc and Shawn played really well, played a lot in the offensive zone. Our line got scored on though, right away. As a team we have to play smart and not on our heels.''

When, Where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560
The series: Toronto leads 29-24-7
The game: This is the first meeting of the season between the two teams with Florida winning all four games last year for the second time since 2008-09. The Panthers did plenty of scoring against Toronto last year, scoring five goals in each of the four wins en route to outscoring the Leafs 20-9. The Panthers are riding a four-game winless streak at 0-1-3 and have points in seven of eight (3-1-4). Toronto has won five of six including a 3-0 win over Ottawa on Saturday.

February 16, 2013

LIGHTNING STRIKES PANTHERS AGAIN: Tampa Bay Rallies from 5-3 Hole, Tops Panthers 6-5 in OT ... Bolts have won Six Straight v Panthers

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

For the second time in a week, the Panthers found themselves trying to defend a two-goal lead in the third period of a divisional game.

Just like Tuesday against the Capitals, Florida couldn't hold it.

Saturday afternoon it was the visiting Lightning who rebounded from the wrong end of a 5-3 score to beat the Panthers 6-5 in overtime.

The Lighting got a much-needed win by scoring with 10.4 seconds remaining to force an overtime that ended just over a minute after it started when Benoit Pouliot put a bouncing puck past Jose Theodore.

Tampa Bay had one win in February before Saturday and was riding a six-game winless streak yet has enjoyed recent success against its rival on the Atlantic side of the state. Saturday's win was Tampa Bay's sixth straight over the Panthers.

In the third, it looked like the Lightning's in-state winning streak was coming to a close. The Panthers led 5-3 with just over 16 minutes left in the game after Tomas Kopecky scored Florida's third goal within a span of 3:30.

"We're not finishing. We're not finishing the game, that's not finishing scoring and giving a complete game whether it's 60 or 65 minutes,'' coach Kevin Dineen said.

"We're not a complete team right now. That's a hard loss for us. We have to get ready for the next one.''

Florida, which lost by the identical 6-5 score to the Capitals here last Tuesday, has picked up at least a point in seven of the past eight yet have left the ice without a victory in four straight games.

Yes, the Panthers are gaining points in the standings. But the losing is getting old. Especially in games like this in which a victory was within reach.

Florida is 0-0-3 during this four-game homestand with Toronto ending this run of home dates on Monday. The Panthers are 3-1-4 since snapping a five-game losing streak on Jan. 31.

"When we get that lead we just have to keep coming at teams,'' said Jack Skille, who scored his second goal of the season to tie the score at 2 in the second period.

Tampa Bay limped into the BB&T Center after its high-flying offense had been slowed during the long losing run. Coming into Saturday's game, the Lightning hadn't scored four goals since pounding the Winnipeg Jets 8-3 on Feb. 1 -- one night after Florida beat them in Sunrise.

On Saturday, however, the Lightning got its offense back on track as it pulled to within a goal at 5-4 at 7:28 of the third when Steven Stamkos got his second of the night with the Lightning skating with a man advantage.

Florida played good defense late until Teddy Purcell was standing alone about 25 feet from goalie Jose Theodore and waited for a nice pass from Stamkos in the closing seconds. Purcell ripped a shot that beat Theodore and evened things up for the first time since early in the period.

For Florida, Purcell's goal was extremely painful since Peter Mueller's prime scoring chance was stopped at the one minute mark. Had Mueller scored off a rebound left from a long Jonathan Huberdeau shot, the Panthers would have ended it right then.

Instead, Purcell scored and the Panthers headed to overtime for the fifth time in the past six games. Pouliot pounced on a bouncing puck that flew off the end boards from a Tom Pyatt shot and that was that.

"I've never blamed a game on the bounces,'' Dineen said, "and I don't think I'll start now.''

The Panthers are now 1-4 in overtime with their only win coming in a Philadelphia shootout on Feb. 7. That game also marks Florida's previous victory.

Florida, which trailed 2-1 and 3-2, scored three goals in a quick span from the end of the second to the 3:24 mark of the third.

Jerred Smithson got his first goal of the season with 4.2 seconds left in the second before Jonathan Huberdeau gave Florida the lead at 1:53 of the third. Kopecky scored 90 seconds later to make it 5-3.

"You have to play really good defensively especially at the end when you have a lead,'' Kopecky said. "If things aren't going your way, you have to earn it. You have to work, have to compete. Obviously this is frustrating but take five minutes. There were a lot of good snapshots of things we did well. We can learn from this.''

February 15, 2013

PANTHERS NOTEBOOK: Jovanovski Out Next Two Weeks ... Versteeg Doubtful for Lightning

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said captain Ed Jovanovski is still slowed by a knee injury suffered in Florida's previous meeting against the Lightning and despite beginning skating on Friday, will likely miss the next two weeks.

The Panthers said last week that they had hoped Jovanovski would be able to play this coming week.

"There is no expectation for the next two weeks that he'll be available to us,'' Dineen said.

"It's disappointing for him and it's disappointing for us. He leaves a void on our team both on and off the ice. That's not a reflection on the other players but a statement that Eddie brings a lot of intangibles to a team.''

Jovanovski was injured when Tampa Bay's B.J. Crombeen took him out on a knee-on-knee hit. Defenseman Keaton Ellerby -- since traded to Los Angeles - jumped Crombeen in retaliation and was assessed 19 minutes of penalties.

-- Dineen said injured winger Kris Versteeg (upper body soreness) was doubtful for Saturday's game. Versteeg missed Thursday's game against Montreal after being run over from behind Tuesday.

Versteeg skated with Jovanovski before Florida's optional practice Friday morning.

SUNSHINE STATE OF MIND: Panthers, Lightning to Meet Again ... Both Teams Desperate for a Win

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Among professional sports teams in Florida, only two rivalries really carry much weight and have serious implications in the standings.

It's no coincidence the meaningful cross-state rivalries are the ones which involve teams competing within the same division, playing each other the maximum number of times allowed.

Saturday afternoon, the Tampa Bay Lightning play the Panthers for the 106th time since the rivalry got its start on Oct. 9, 1993.

Florida won that game 2-0 in front of 27,227 at what is now Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg to earn the franchise's first victory. The Panthers have won 54 meetings between the two since.

"That's our rivalry,'' Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "You get across the Everglades and we want to pound them every time we play them.''

Tampa Bay and Florida were naturally put in the same division -- like the NBA's Heat and Magic -- since Day 1. That gives those games some meaning as both teams battle for the same playoff spots.

Other professional teams in Florida don't have such a relationship because of conference and league boundaries.

Although the Rays (AL) and Marlins (NL) play each season, the teams are in different leagues and play in the middle of the season so there are no playoff implications.

The Dolphins (AFC East) don't play the Buccaneers (NFC South) or Jaguars (AFC South) each regular season -- although the Florida teams do meet frequently in the preseason.

When John Tortorella coached the Lightning, he said he didn't consider the Panthers much of a rival because such feelings had to be built in the playoffs. Although the Panthers and Lightning have never met in the postseason, there has been plenty of bad blood between the teams over the years.

Being located so close to one another and playing so many times as members of the Southeast Division, tensions are bound to spill over.

"Even when I wasn't playing for the Panthers you would take more interest when Tampa Bay was playing Florida,'' goalie Jose Theodore said. "We're both in Florida and they have an exciting team with good players. It's fun to play them. It's a rivalry that's always building.''

George Parros and Dineen understand what Tortorella's take about building rivalries through tough playoff battles. Parros notes the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings never played in the postseason yet remain bitter rivals.

Although the Panthers and Lightning don't share the same market as the Ducks and Kings do, Tampa and South Florida are close enough geographically -- it's roughly a four-hour drive from the Tampa Bay Times Forum to the Panthers' BB&T Center -- for fans from the visiting team to make a quick road trip and invade the other's arena.

"It was always a heated game because our fans were in their rink and their fans were in ours,'' Parros said. "It's always a good atmosphere to play in. It's always fun to play in these rivalry games. The geographic proximity lends itself to that. You look forward to playing in them.''

The NHL moved the start time of Saturday's game to 3 p.m. so it could be broadcast across North America on the NHL Network -- and it's the only game going during that time as part of Hockey Across America weekend.

Viewers will find the state of Florida hockey in to be in a bit of disarray as both teams are struggling and are in danger of missing the playoffs together for the fourth time in six seasons.

Although the Panthers have picked up points in six of their past seven games, Florida came into Friday tied for 11th in the Eastern Conference -- two points back of the No. 9 Lightning.

Tampa Bay, which beat the visiting Panthers 5-2 on Jan. 29, has gone winless in its past six (0-5-1) and hasn't scored more than three goals in any of those games. Both teams enter Saturday's matinee desperate for a win -- and some goals.

"They were rolling and things were coming very easy,'' Dineen said. "It's not just the games. When you are rolling, everything comes easy. They got off to such a hot start and have hit a bump in the road. [Saturday] has the makings of a very good game.''

When, Where: 3 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSNF/NHL Network; WQAM-560
The series: Florida leads 55-40-10
The game: The Lightning has owned the Panthers lately by winning the past five meetings by a combined 22-10 -- including 5-2 on Jan. 29. The Lightning have only won once since then, however, beating Winnipeg in its next game 8-3 before losing six straight.

BEE MINE: Canadiens Score First and Last, Drop Panthers 1-0 in OT ... Versteeg Misses Game


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers and Canadiens played a brand of hockey in the first two periods Thursday that had even the most ardent fan wishing they had spent Valentines Day evening somewhere, anywhere, else.

It was such a slow game, the thought of waiting in line for a table at an overpriced restaurant or fighting last-minute shoppers for a shiny box of chocolates at Publix sounded more appealing than falling asleep at the lifeless BB&T Center.

Luckily, the third period served as a pick-me-up bouquet of sorts to those who braved the boredom.

Goalie Jose Theodore needed to make a big save 25 seconds into the third but the Canadiens didn't win it until Rene Bourque poked a puck through in overtime to give Montreal a 1-0 victory.

"I thought they kept coming, put pressure on consistently,'' Theodore said. "I think when people see a 0-0 game they think it was a slow game, but from my side, they were coming pretty hard.''

The Panthers, winless in their past three games, have picked up at least one point in six of seven games by going 3-1-3. Florida, which was 4-0 against the Canadiens for the first time last season, is now 0-1-1 against Montreal in 2013.

"We've lost some games in overtime but we're trying to move forward,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. "This was a tough game for us. We got outworked for a stretch until we finally decided to play a simple game. Things followed from there. But it wasn't enough to bring it home.''

The two teams played a scoreless game until Bourque knocked in a loose puck 2:10 into the extra frame. Theodore ended with 31 saves as Carey Price stopped 26 for the shutout.

Florida played a tough defensive game -- and got two key face-off wins from Jarred Smithson in the final minute of regulation -- to at least salvage a point. The Panthers have last three games in the overtime session although they beat Philadelphia in a shootout last Thursday.

"We didn't have many chances in the first two but I thought we were pretty good in the third,'' said Tomas Fleischmann, whose stick snapped when he was fed a picture-perfect pass from Shawn Matthias midway through the third.

Price didn't have to do much work on the Panthers as he vacuumed up every shot he faced and left few rebounds for Florida to pounce on.

The Panthers had a few chances against Price in the opening 40 minutes -- although with just 13 shots in the first two periods they were few.

Florida almost took the initial lead in the first period when rookie Jonathan Huberdeau -- who grew up a huge Canadiens fan a few minutes away from Montreal -- tried to force a feed from Peter Mueller past Price from the prime seats in front of the net. Price gobbled the puck up.

"A goalie like him, you have to test him for 60 minutes and we probably did for five,'' center Drew Shore said. "It was a pretty easy night for him.''

Luckily for the Panthers, the Canadiens seemed to have their heads back on the beaches of Fort Lauderdale where they spent the better part of the past two days and not on playing hockey.

Theodore, rocked in giving up five goals during his previous start Saturday in Washington, brought his top game as expected against the Canadiens after having a few days to stew.

"It's always nice to bounce back,'' Theodore said. "I had three wins before the Washington game -- and that's not the way I want to play. I wanted to bounce back and we got a big point out of the game. It's a big point.''

Theodore, who won the Vezina Trophy for the NHL's top goalie as well as league MVP with the Canadiens in 2002, made 21 stops in the first 40 minutes and was sharp when Montreal challenged.

"Goaltending was the story,'' Dineen said. "It was excellent at both ends. When you're dealing with a professional like Jose, you know he was waiting for that next opportunity. I thought he was solid.''


Kris Versteeg was out of the lineup Thursday after being banged up in Tuesday's loss to the Capitals.

Dineen said Versteeg "took a pretty good shot in the back and it has affected his whole chest area.'' Versteeg is considered day to day with upper body soreness. "It's something that's pretty tender,'' Dineen continued.

Shawn Matthias replaced Versteeg on Florida's top forward line with Stephen Weiss and Tomas Fleischmann.

-- The Panthers will play a rare Saturday matinee as the Lightning come to town for a 3 p.m. start. The game was moved from Saturday night to accommodate NHL Network and its coverage of Hockey Weekend in America.

-- Dineen said its good to have large crowds in Sunrise, even if the fans are cheering for the other team.

Thursday's announced (but not actual) crowd of 17,021 was much lower than usual games against the Canadiens although it was the biggest crowd of the season aside from opening night and a Saturday game against the Flyers.

"It's good to have a heartbeat in the building,'' Dineen said. "We know [Thursday] will have some atmosphere to it.''

February 13, 2013

KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT: Panthers Youngins Overshadowed In Loss to Capitals

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

If things had ended up the Panthers way on Tuesday night, the talk would have been all about how their "Kid Line" had their biggest game of the season in a much-needed win over a division rival.

Instead, the Panthers coughed up a two-goal lead late in the third period and lost 6-5 to the Capitals in overtime.

The great storyline of the continued emergence of rookies Jonathan Huberdeau and Drew Shore as well as 24-year-old Peter Mueller was completely overshadowed by Washington's comeback win.

In Tuesday's game, Huberdeau scored twice off assists from Mueller and Shore scored Florida's final goal to make it 5-3 with 13:35 left.

"Things were clicking and the puck was bouncing our way,'' Mueller said. "It was a tough one to swallow but thank goodness for the shortened season because we have 48 hours to focus on our next opponent. It was nice the bounces were going our way [Tuesday] and we need to keep that going.''

The Panthers philosophy since general manager Dale Tallon and assistant general manager Mike Santos took over hockey operations in 2010 is to not rush the organization's young players.

In the past, the Panthers threw top prospects such as Stephen Weiss, Nathan Horton, Jay Bouwmeester, Rostislav Olesz and Dmitry Kulikov into the NHL fire soon after drafting them with mixed results.

"This is our natural progression,'' Santos said. "We are developing our players at the right time and the right pace. You see the patience we've had is paying off.''

Although Florida now has what some hockey experts consider the top prospect pool in the NHL, the Panthers have shown patience.

Erik Gudbranson, Tallon's first draft pick in Florida, was sent back to the juniors for another year of seasoning in 2010 before being brought up last year. Huberdeau also had to go back to junior for an extra year. Mueller said Huberdeau has "all the talent in the world'' and Florida fans are starting to see that first hand.

"He has a nose, a knack whatever you want to use. He can smell opportunity and create a chance,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. "He's only going to get better as his confidence grows and as he physically matures. He's off to a solid start as a young player.''

On Tuesday, Huberdeau scored his fourth and fifth goals of the season. The Panthers feel they have an emerging star in Huberdeau -- although they didn't think he would have benefited enough from playing with the team last year.

Shore left the University of Denver after a junior year in which he lead the Pioneers in scoring for the second straight season. Shore had seen players he had competed against move on the NHL and find success; he felt it was his turn to follow suit.

Shore made his pro debut last spring with the AHL San Antonio Rampage and started the season there as well. The Panthers had him up for an abbreviated training camp but he lost out in the numbers game. Shore was back less than a week later and made his NHL debut at the Bell Center in Montreal on Jan. 22.

The Panthers weren't sure how long Shore would remain with the Panthers but he has made sure he isn't going anywhere.

"He's been solid on both ends of the ice,'' Mueller said. "You like to see that out of young guys who have been called up.''

Shore has been fantastic since coming up from the minors as he has created chances and been strong in the faceoff circle. Shore came into Tuesday winning 58 percent of his faceoffs -- although he won six of 14 against the Capitals.

Tuesday he finally got his first NHL goal -- on his 24th NHL shot on goal -- when he batted down a bouncing puck in front of the net. It sure wasn't a pretty goal -- but it still counts. The Panthers equipment managers saved the puck and will present it to Shore in the coming days.

Shore had to sweat it out for a few minutes as the play was reviewed by Hockey Central in Toronto to see if Shore batted the puck down with a high stick. He didn't.

"I thought 'finally I get a little break' but I was pretty confident the stick wasn't high,'' Shore said. "I was watching the replay the entire time. I just wanted to get the first one because I had a lot of chances.''

-- Kris Versteeg had a rough game Tuesday as he was slammed hard into the glass by Alex Ovechkin then got into a fight with Ovechkin (one he lost) before being run over from behind early in the second.

Versteeg played 18 shifts and 13:38 on Tuesday but was given Wednesday off. Dineen said Versteeg was questionable for Thursday's game against the Canadiens.

Dineen replaced Versteeg for a few shifts Tuesday with Shawn Matthias -- who picked up his second goal of the season during the game. Matthias had a strong game against the Capitals as he not only scored but took four shots and blocked one.

"I thought he was very straightforward, north-south with some good puck protection,'' Dineen said. "He took the cute out of his game. When the puck got on his stick he's looking to shoot the thing.''

-- Although fans are clammoring for Florida to recall goalie Jacob Markstrom from San Antonio after Washington scored 11 goals in the past two games against Florida, Dineen is being patient.

"I'm not being coy but we have two goalies who are proven NHL guys who haven't performed up to their expectations the past couple of games,'' Dineen said. "They have to be better and we have to be better as a team.''

When, Where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSF; WQAM-560
The series: Florida leads 34-32-6
The game: The Panthers went unbeaten and untied against the Canadiens for the first time in franchise history last season, but the Canadiens are already 1-0 against Florida this year after a 4-1 win in Montreal on Jan. 22. The Panthers are 3-1-2 in their past six games; the Habs are coming off a 4-3 shootout win in Tampa Bay that snapped a three-game slide.

February 12, 2013

D.C. CRAB: Capitals Roar Back in Third, Beat Panthers 6-5 in Overtime


As bad as the Panthers felt after getting skunked by the Capitals on Saturday night, Tuesday most definitely felt worse.

The good news was the Panthers picked up a point in the standings.

One never would have known that afterward by looking at Dale Tallon's angry face or the long blank stares from Peter Mueller and Dmitry Kulikov as they sat fully dressed in their locker stalls moments after Washington's Troy Brouwer scored early in overtime to give the Capitals a 6-5 victory.

Florida held a two-goal lead with just over five minutes left in regulation before giving it away. Scott Clemmensen -- who filled in for starter Jose Theodore -- gave up six goals on 29 shots.

"I think our composure is something we need to continue to work on,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. "Feeling the pressure, we didn't respond well to it. Obviously you survive those sometimes. This is a tough loss.''

The Capitals have beaten the Panthers in consecutive games (winning 5-0 in Washington) and six of the past eight. In Washington's five-game winning streak against the Panthers, Florida has been outscored 21-8.

Florida grabbed just one of the available four points in the Washington home-and-home series -- as the last-place Capitals took all four.

Tuesday felt like it would be different. The Panthers fell behind 1-0 but never trailed again until Bouwer beat Clemmensen early in the extra frame.

Florida led 5-3 before Eric Fehr scored with 5:07 left; then it was Alex Ovechkin's turn as his goal tied the score with 2:49 remaining.

"We wanted to finish the job coming into the third and we were up two,'' said Jack Skille, who set up Florida's fifth goal. "We have to play smart, get pucks in. They did a good job creating some offense. We learned something valuable tonight. Hopefully next time we get a lead we come out strong and keep playing our hockey.''

Florida's 'Kid Line' of rookies Jonathan Huberdeau, Drew Shore and 24-year-old Peter Mueller looked strong throughout the game as Huberdeau had a career-best two goals (both with help from Mueller) in the second period.

Shore's first NHL marker -- coming in the third period of Game 10 -- would have been the game-winner had Ovechkin not tied things up four seconds into Huberdeau's slashing penalty late in the third.

"They scored late in the third, took a bad penalty,'' Huberdeau said. "I thought we would have a chance in the overtime. But they scored. We just have to get back at it. .-.-. We have to be better defensively. We let go in the third of all the good things we did in the second. It's hard to accept this.''

The Panthers fell behind early Monday as Washington -- now with one win outside the District -- took the initial lead 4:26 in when Mike Ribeiro zipped a shot Clemmensen -- the only Florida goalie to beat the Capitals last year.

The Panthers bounced back in the first as they finally solved Capitals goalie Braden Holtby (five goals off 32 shots).

Down 1-0, Florida rattled off the next 11 shots and picked up two goals and the lead in the process.

Florida tied it when former Capitals forward Tomas Fleischmann fired a shot toward the net area after Filip Kuba stole the puck from Ovechkin. Fleischmann's shot hit John Erskine's skate and made a beeline for the net.

Moments later, Shawn Matthias got his second of the year by teeing off on a nice Marcel Goc feed just out of the slot.

Washington tied it early in the second only to have Huberdeau break it.

Defenseman Erik Gudbranson fired a shot from deep with the puck clipping the stick of Mueller and somehow finding Huberdeau as he moved in on Holtby.

Huberdeau, Florida's 19-year-old rookie winger, has five goals in 12 NHL games. Huberdeau wasn't initially credited with his first goal of the night as he barely touched the puck -- yet it found a way past Holtby to give Florida a 3-2 lead.

Later, Huberdeau scored a no-doubter by driving in on the Washington goalie and putting a pass from Peter Mueller into the back of the net for a 4-3 advantage.

With Florida holding a 4-3 lead, Shore picked up his first NHL goal by batting in a loose puck sent toward the cage by Jack Skille past Holtby.

"This was a tough loss. A tough loss,'' Dineen said. "We're going to wake up tomorrow and keep hitting this thing straight on and move forward.''

-- The Panthers defensive depth obviously isn't as good as the team hoped when they traded Keaton Ellerby to Los Angeles for a fifth round pick.

Assistant general manager Mike Santos said after the deal Florida hoped Ed Jovanovski's injured knee -- he's been out since getting hurt Jan. 29 in Tampa -- would be good enough so he could play this week.

Jovanovski, the Panthers say, is out through this week at least.

"It's hard for me to get into the exact medical nature of where Ed is aside from the timeframe and that's another week,'' Dineen said. "He'll be evaluated then.''

Tallon said the team hoped Jovanovski would begin skating sometime this week -- although he wasn't sure that would indeed be the case.

February 09, 2013

CAPITAL LOSSES: Washington Continues to Dominate Panthers at Home, Roll 5-0


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

WASHINGTON -- The Capitals may be off to one of their worst starts in years, but they still remember how to beat the Panthers at home.

Washington, last in the NHL after winning just two of its first 11 games, continued its domination of the Panthers at Verizon Center with a 5-0 victory Saturday night.

The Capitals snapped a three-game losing streak by running out to a three-goal lead by the second period and not looking back. The biggest cheer of the night came when Mathieu Perreault scored with 10:32 left.

That fifth goal gave fans in attendance free chicken wings at a local sports bar. The chant of "we want wings!" started soon after Alex Ovechkin made it 4-0.

The way the Panthers played Saturday, there was little doubt the Capitals would deliver. Florida, ending a four-game road trip, simply couldn't match the intensity of a very desperate Capitals team.

"We have to play better than that, no doubt,'' defenseman Brian Campbell said.

"They were obviously a desperate team, but at least we could have made a game out of it. The frustrating part is we didn't give ourselves a chance and we've done that too many times this season. We knew they would come out and needed the points as bad as we did. We needed to match them. We didn't.''

Kevin Dineen, 0-4 at Verizon Center as coach of the Panthers, wouldn't use the road as an excuse although he said you could tell his team was at the end of a trip.

"It sure looked like that and sometimes your mind can tell you that,'' Dineen said. "We played a tired game. Whether we are or not is a moot point. We had a hockey game to play. Certainly we didn't have the energy to give ourselves a chance to win.''

Florida ended up going a respectable 2-1-1 on this four-game road trip -- although the finale will leave a bad taste as the Panthers have just been brutal in Washington lately.

The Panthers have not only lost six straight at Verizon Center, but have been outscored 24-6 in those losses. And, unbelievably, Florida has been shutout in three of the past four games in Washington.

Florida heads home after getting wins in Buffalo and Philadelphia as well as an overtime point in Winnipeg. The Panthers play their next four in Sunrise -- including Tuesday's rematch with the Capitals.

"You don't like to end it like this because it's a sour note,'' Dineen said. "We got outworked.''

Washington, a most fragile bunch after Thursday's meltdown against the Penguins, didn't come out flying but was able to get a 1-0 lead when John Carlson picked off a Jarred Smithson clearing pass and fired toward the net. Troy Brouwer was in front of Jose Theodore and put his stick on the shot, putting it into the back of the net with 2:15 left in the first.

The Capitals scoring first wasn't too big of a deal as the Panthers had come from behind in the past few games. Washington, after all, was 0-4 after scoring first. Well, make that 1-4.

Washington scored twice in the second period to take a 3-0 lead into the second break.

Brouwer got his second of the night on a power play chance when goalie Braden Holtby slid a long pass across ice. Bouwer got in front of Brian Campbell and Tomas Kopecky, sending a wrist shot top shelf on Theodore.

Later in the period, Florida again failed to clear a puck in its zone and Joel Ward snapped one from the slot on the Capitals' 13th shot of the night.

Florida has yet to come back from anything bigger than a one-goal hole this season and wouldn't overtake the Capitals on Saturday.

Ovechkin made it 4-0 early in the third period by scoring off a face-off win. The Panthers then helped give away quite a few wings as Perreault scored midway through the third.

"We needed to make this a great road trip and not just an average one,'' Campbell said. "It's frustrating.''

-- Dineen missed the morning skate Saturday as he took a puck off his right leg in Friday's practice and wasn't able to run the workout. Assistant coaches Craig Ramsay and Gord Murphy took control of the practice as Dineen stayed back at the team hotel.

Dineen worked Saturday's game although he had a pronounced limp and used the shaft of a hockey stick to help balance himself and take the weight off the leg while standing on the bench. Dineen refused to identify the player who nailed him with a shot.

Ramsay got hit in the head by a puck while on the bench during a game in Ottawa earlier this season.

-- Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov needed treatment after hurting an ankle just before the end of the second period. Kulikov returned to the game after limping off and played six shifts in the third period.