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3 posts from February 15, 2013

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.''

SATURDAY: LIGHTNING AT PANTHERS
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

CANADIENS 1, PANTHERS 0 (OT)

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.''

NEWS, NOTES

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.''