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BUST IN BOSTON: Panthers Stay with Bruins, Give up Two Late in 4-1 Loss ... Versteeg Latest Out for Season ... Jovo Back Soon?


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

BOSTON -- Dale Tallon walked into the TD Garden on Thursday with a spring in his step and a smile on his face. Only the Panthers' general manager figured he was in for a long night.

The undermanned Panthers held their own for much of the game against the top-end Bruins yet gave up a pair of goals in the final seven minutes to fall 4-1.

The Panthers, with eight regulars on the shelf, have lost five straight and eight of nine as they remain stuck in last place with 20 points. The Bruins, meanwhile, are a point out of first in the Eastern Conference.

"We have to find some puck luck and get that first goal,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. "Just keep on searching for the answers. Obviously there's a lot of try out there right now. I think these guys are pushing as hard as they can.''

On Wednesday, the Panthers found out star forward Kris Versteeg needs season-ending surgery on his right knee -- knocking two-thirds of Florida's top line from last season out for the rest of the year.

The Panthers' injury list is so deep and so long the Bruins massive scoreboard came close to running out of room listing it before the game.

Although Dineen has refused to make excuses regarding Florida's Santa-sized injury report, Tallon is realistic and knows it's hard for an NHL team to compete missing "our starting goalie, three of our top defensemen and four of our top nine forwards.''

Florida currently has $23 million of salary (according to last year's non-lockout figures) on the sidelines "Look at all the 20-goal scorers we're missing,'' Tallon said.

Thursday, the Panthers rag-tag bunch came out flying and put pressure on Tuukka Rask by taking the first five shots. Yet Boston took the 1-0 lead when Zdeno Chara scored off a 30-foot slap shot on Boston's second shot of the night.

About 11 minutes later, Patrice Bergeron scored his first of the game to make it 2-0. Clemmensen faced 16 shots in the opening period alone and ended with 28 saves.

The Panthers have surrendered the initial lead in nine of 11 games and have allowed the opening goal within the first three shots of a game in five straight.

Florida cut its deficit in half in the second when Shawn Matthias had another spectacular goal. This one came thanks to a combination of hustle and skill as he beat Dougie Hamilton to the puck as both dove to the ice.

Matthias was able to hop up, corral the puck and deke out Rask to make it 2-1 -- all while the Panthers were killing a penalty.

Unfortunately for the Panthers, that's all they could get past Rask as he stopped 29 shots.

"It was a lucky goal,'' Matthias said. "The important thing is we need more of them. We have to bear down, win some games.''

Florida gave Boston all it could handle from there on out but the Bruins put the finishing touches on things when Shawn Thornton pounced on a loose puck -- off his own shot -- when the Panthers' defense broke down in front of the net.

Clemmensen and three other Florida players chased the puck; only it bounced back to Thornton as he slammed it into the empty net.

With a minute left, the Panthers vacated the net on purpose and the Bruins' scored their final goal with Clemmensen on the bench.

"Give their goalie a little credit because we started the way we wanted to,'' said Drew Shore, who took three of Florida's 30 shots. "Then we put ourselves in a hole which is tough to do against a team like this. Give them two goals and it's tough to come back. It's pretty frustrating.''

Said Matthias: "The work ethic was there, we were right with them .-.-. but here we are again, another frustrating loss.''


Although Versteeg is done for the season after hurting his right knee in Tuesday's 3-2 loss to the Lightning, defenseman Ed Jovanovski hopes to be back in the lineup soon.

Jovanovski traveled to Boston and worked out Thursday morning. Jovanovski says if he feels good on Friday, he may play Saturday against the Islanders. Jovanovski has been out since Jan. 29 with a lower body ailment.

"I feel all right, feeling better,'' Jovanovski said. "It's nice to be back in a team setting, get on the road and get a skate in. We'll see what happens for Saturday. I'm cautious. It's one of those things where I see where I'm at in the morning after a skate. There's been a lot of down days.''

-- Tallon and Jovanovski said they both felt for Versteeg for his latest setback.

Versteeg spent the summer rehabbing after having offseason hip surgery. Once the lockout ended, Vertseeg was sidelined by a groin injury. Seven games into his season. Vertseeg was run over by Alex Ovechkin and missed 12 more games with a chest injury.

Sunday, after being back for three games, he suffered the knee injury. Vertseeg signed a new four-year deal with the Panthers last summer.

"I feel bad for him, our players and our fans,'' Tallon said. "He's an exciting player to watch.''