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SHAWN MATTHIAS: Opening Some Eyes in Return at Center

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Shawn Matthias may only be 25 but it seems like he's been around the Panthers forever.

Matthias made his debut with the Panthers in 2008 and on Friday, was the only Florida player on the ice to have played alongside Winnipeg's Olli Jokinen during his time as Panthers' captain.

"I'm really trying to show my stuff this year, run with the ball,'' said Matthias, who was an emergency call-up from his junior team in 2008 and scored his first NHL goal after Jokinen redirected Matthias' shot toward the goal with his backside.

With Stephen Weiss out for the season with a wrist injury which will require surgery on Tuesday, coach Kevin Dineen said he's asked more of Matthias.

No longer playing wing on Florida's third or fourth line, Matthias is back to his natural position of center. On Friday, he scored his second goal since Weiss went on the injured list and third in the past five games.

Dineen says it has been good seeing Matthias playing with the speed and strength he sometimes hasn't during his time with the Panthers.

"He looks better in the middle,'' Dineen said. "He's had a couple strong games at center. He's getting confidence in the amount of ice time he's getting. It's increased. The loss of Stephen Weiss has increased his responsibility. He's playing quality minutes and he's proving that he's deserving to be relied upon.''

Said Matthias: "There's obviously a door open for someone to come in. I'm trying to make the most of it. I worked extremely hard during the summer and lockout to have a great season. I've worked too hard not to play well.''

In Tuesday's 4-1 win over the Jets, Matthias had about as pretty a goal as one will find as he powered his way up the ice and went right around defenseman Mark Stuart before firing a wrister past Ondrej Pavelec.

“I’ve seen that play out of Shawn before,'' Dineen said. "I know he has that in his bag of tricks.''

Matthias said afterward "I hope my buddies see that on SportsCenter." They did. Matthias joked Saturday that his phone exploded with text messages after ESPN made it a top 10 highlight. And although he said he's not thinking about the future, Matthias knows he is in the final year of a two-year contract. Matthias is a restricted free agent come July 1.

"I have to make the most of this, not look back and say 'I wish I did this or that','' said Matthias, who is four goals shy of tying last year's career-high of 10. "I'm playing as hard as I can. I'm trying to open some eyes.''

SUNDAY: CANADIENS AT PANTHERS
When, Where: 6 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560
The series: Florida leads 34-33-6
The game: The Canadiens have won both meetings against the Panthers as the two play for the final time this season. The Panthers have beaten the Canadiens at least once each season. Florida has lost two straight; Montreal played in Tampa Bay on Saturday.

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