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35 posts from April 2013

April 16, 2013

ISLAND LOSS: Islanders Keep on Winning, Roll Panthers 5-2 ... Cats Meet Dr. J, Mr. Hockey In the House ... Mueller Leaves, Strachan Misses Third

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Ever since the Panthers last came here on March 24, the Islanders have been on quite a tear -- one that's helped put them in good position to end a five-year postseason drought.

Tuesday night, the Islanders kept rolling toward the playoffs as they scored three times in the first and ended up beating up the Panthers 5-2 at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

New York remained seventh in the Eastern Conference with the victory -- it's ninth in 12 games since beating the Panthers in March. The Islanders are an impressive 9-1-2 during that span. Florida has lost three straight.

"There was a playoff-feel about it, at least on their side,'' Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "If you aren't believing it, what's going to happen is what happened. Every game we play right now is going to be against a team incredibly hungry for something moving forward.''

The Islanders celebrated fan appreciation night a touch early as Tuesday was their final home game of the regular season. New York will play five road games to end the year and with a few wins, the Isles won't say good bye to the Colisieum for the summer just yet.

Fresh off an exciting 1-0 overtime loss to the Rangers in which the old barn was rocking like 1982 on Saturday, the Isles jumped all over the Panthers. New York had a 3-0 lead after Michael Grabner scored with 3:13 left in the first.

The Panthers made it a 3-1 game with 1:48 left in the first when Dmitry Kulikov's heavy wrister on a power play beat Evgeni Nabokov.

Florida got no closer. The Islanders scored on consecutive shots from Radek Martinek and Grabner 14 seconds apart in the second to make it 5-1 and send an angry Jacob Markstrom to the bench.

The Florida rookie gave up five goals on 18 shots then slammed his mask to the ground in anger once he made it to the bench.

"It's not fun right now, I'm struggling right now,'' Markstrom said. "It's not been good enough. .-.-. It's never fun to lose. It's embarrassing to be pulled.''

The Panthers cut the deficit back to three with four minutes later lwhen Marcel Goc took a feed from Tomas Kopecky and dumped the puck into a net emptied when Nabokov came out and couldn't get back in time.

Nabokov went down for a bit after banging his head into the cage after getting tangled up with Scottie Upshall and Lubomir Visnovsky. Nabokov finally got up, shook things off and resumed play. Nabokov ended with 26 saves.


The Panthers and Islanders got a surprise visitor to Tuesday's morning skate as Julius 'Dr. J' Erving was at the Coliseum to film part of his upcoming documentary to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the 76ers 1983 NBA title.

Erving played for the New York Nets of the ABA during the early days of the Coliseum before the team moved to New Jersey.

Defenseman Brian Campbell was one of a few Panthers who got in a few words with the legendary hoopster. Campbell called it "a thrill.''

"As special as he was before Michael, Magic and Bird; Dr. J was the man,'' Dineen said. "He is just a great ambassador for sports. It was a special deal.''

'The Doctor' will air on NBA TV on June 10 during the NBA Finals.

-- A hockey legend was also in the building as Gordie Howe, known affectionately as 'Mr. Hockey,' watched the game from the press box. Howe, 85, was with his son Mark - the director of pro scouting for the Red Wings who lives nearby.

-- Panthers winger Peter Mueller travelled with the Panthers to Long Island and took part in the morning skate. Yet he wasn't there Tuesday night as he flew back to South Florida to be with his wife Taylar [cq] as she was expected to give birth to their first child at any time.

Defenseman Filip Kuba (lower body) also missed the game but is on the trip. Tyson Strachan (upper body) left Tuesday's game in the second and didn't return.

April 13, 2013

PENS KEEP PARTY GOING: Despite No Malkin or Crosby, Penguins Win Again and Beat Panthers 3-1 ... Kulikov, Kuba Leave Game in Third

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Penguins tried to assure their local writers reigning league MVP Evgeni Malkin missed Saturday's game against the Panthers because of an 'upper body injury' suspected to be his shoulder and not a case of good old fashioned Fort Lauderdale sun poisoning.

As always seems to be the case for the Penguins, someone else stepped in.

Despite missing a seriously sunburnt Malkin and former MVP Sidney Crosby, the Penguins are a team that keeps winning no matter where the party is. Saturday, the Penguins got win No. 32 in Game 42 by holding off the Panthers 3-1 in front of an announced 18,891 at BB&T Center.

Since 2008, the Penguins are 24-13-5 without both Malkin and Crosby; Saturday was the first time this season the duo were out together. Crosby is working his way back from a broken jaw.

Pittsburgh has won four straight since its 15-game winning streak was snapped in Buffalo on April 2. The Panthers have lost two straight with seven games left.

"It's aways a disappointment for the 18,000 people there; you always want to see the premier players,'' Florida coach Kevin Dineen said.

"It's kind of like spending lots of bucks on a Heat game and not getting to see LeBron. That has a little sting to it. But they've been down this road before, missing quality players and always having a response.''

The Penguins had a couple of solid chances against starter Jacob Markstrom in the opening period but didn't put one on the board until there was 5:11 left and Kris Letang let one fly from inside the blue line.

As has been the case in the past few games, there was plenty of traffic in front and the puck skipped past Markstrom despite its long trip from 60 feet out.

A few minutes later and the Pens made it 2-0 as Brenden Morrow, acquired from the Stars last month, found a loose puck by the cage and threw it off Markstrom and into the net as Brian Campbell vainly tried to clear it. The Pens scored on two of their final three shots of the period.

"They still have a really good team even though they are missing some big games," Markstrom said. "We started great, pushed them back. Then they got a couple goals. We tried until the last second. We just came up a bit short.''

The Panthers cut their deficit in half in the second when Scottie Upshall -- pulled aside by Dineen for a long chat during the morning skate -- picked up his third goal of the season and fifth since signing a four-year deal worth $14 million in 2011.

"It has been a work in progress,'' said Upshall, who has scored 14 or more goals in the four seasons before signing with the Panthers as a free agent. "I think as a group we have a long way to go to where we need to be. At glimpses, we were good; great. Then other times were caught watching.''

The Panthers got a few more shots at Marc-Andre Fleury but couldn't get another past as he stopped 25 shots. In the third, Florida had a few good chances from Dmitry Kulikov snuffed out on power play chances.

Markstrom ended up stopping 19 shots -- and stopped the final 15 faced. Florida ends the season 1-2 against the Pens with all three games being tightly contested.

"This is good for us to learn from as they win no matter who is in the lineup,'' said Campbell, whose team was outscored 10-8 by the Pens in the three-game series.

Florida was forced to kill a late penalty when Erik Gudbranson boarded Matt Cooke with 1:48 left. That meant Florida didn't have the extra attacker even when pulling Markstrom.

The Penguins finished things when got his second of the night eight seconds after Markstrom headed to the bench.

"[Gudbranson] had a chance to hit me when he was looking me in the eye,'' Cooke said. "He chose not to. Then he sees my number and drives me into the boards.''


Forward Peter Mueller stayed behind when the Panthers went north to Winnipeg last week because his wife Taylar [CQ] was close to giving birth to their first child.

As of postgame Saturday, however, the child due April 10 still hadn't made an appearance. Mueller said before the game that if he got word from his wife that it was time, he was gone -- game or not.

"I would go, plain and simple,'' Mueller said. "Whenever the time is, that's the time.''

The Panthers, it should be noted, leave for New York on Monday afternoon.

-- Defensemen Dmitry Kulikov and Filip Kuba each left Saturday's game with what Dineen said were lower body injuries. Kuba left early in the third; Kulikov midway through.

-- Defenseman Mike Weaver was back in the lineup for the first time since injuring a knee Feb. 28 against the Sabres. With Weaver and Mueller playing, George Parros and Tyson Strachan were Saturday's healthy scratches.

April 10, 2013

PENALTY KILLED: Panthers Finding Power Play Success, Not so Much on the Kill ... Homecoming in Winnipeg

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Special teams have been a hit or miss proposition for the Panthers this season.

Even though its power play is ranked sixth in the league coming into Wednesday, the Panthers went long stretches without having much success with the advantage.

Lately, however, the Panthers have been doing better and have six power play goals in their past four games and are scoring at a 22-percent clip throughout the course of the season.

"We've had some consistency in our personnel and haven't tweaked it too much,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. "We have had different guys playing with each other. But when you have a guy like Brian Campbell out on the power play, I believe good things follow.''

Killing off penalties hasn't seen much success this season, however.

The Panthers are ranked last in the league in penalty kill proficiency, allowing goals almost 26 percent of the time.

Things have looked up lately, however, as Florida has shut down its opponents in two of the past three games. In the game the Panthers did give up goals, Washington got three of them -- two to NHL power play leader Alex Ovechkin.

"We're not into making excuses around here,'' said assistant coach Gord Murphy, the former Panthers' defenseman who is in charge of the penalty kill.

"We're not happy with where it is at. We had high expectations for it, it has been good for us in the past and is such a critical component of the game these days. Special teams, that's something everyone talks about. It's a concern. We've been frustrated with it at times.''

With all the injuries the Panthers have suffered this season, all phases of their game have been affected. The penalty kill is no different. Losing Mike Weaver, whom Dineen called Florida's best penalty killer, for the past month has been especially problematic.

Murphy, forever an optimist, says the upside is Florida is getting to look at a number of young players in those roles killing penalties. It's a job that's not for everyone although its success rate usually mirrors that of the standings.

Of the bottom seven penalty kill teams in the league, only Washington - ranked just above the Panthers - held a playoff spot as of Wednesday.


Center Drew Shore has missed the past three games with a wrist injury although he practiced Wednesday morning and is expected to play Thursday against the Jets.

Weaver practiced again Wednesday but did not make the trip. He could be back Saturday against the Penguins.

-- Dineen said the Panthers are well rested after playing just four games over an 11-day span. Florida's game Thursday will be its first since beating Ottawa on Sunday.

"It's been nice to have a few days off,'' Dineen said, "but this wouldn't have chosen to pack all your days off in a row like this.''

-- Thursday will be a nice homecoming for rookie forward Quinton Howden as he plays his first game against the Jets. Howden, playing in his 11th NHL game, is from the Winnipeg area.

"Winnipeg bound!!'' Howden sent out on his Twitter account Wednesday.

The Panthers will also face center Mike Santorelli for the first time since Winnipeg claimed him off waivers last week. Santorelli has an assist in three games with the Jets so far.

When, Where: 8 p.m.; MTS Center, Winnipeg, Manitoba
TV/Radio: FSN; WQAM-560
The series: Winnipeg leads 41-32-5
The game: This will be the final game between the two as divisional rivals with the Jets - formerly the Atlanta Thrashers - moving to the Western Conference next season. Florida is 5-1-4 against the Jets since the franchise moved north. The Panthers are 2-0 against the Jets at home this year and lost in overtime in both Winnipeg meetings thus far.

April 08, 2013

THEODORE RETURNS: Jose Theodore Practices, Wants to Play for Florida Panthers Before End of Season

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Jose Theodore slipped into his Panthers jersey Monday afternoon to join his teammates on the ice for the first time since tearing two groin muscles in Carolina on March 2.

Theodore was in full uniform for the team's annual picture on the BB&T Center ice. He hopes that wasn't the last time.

Not only did Theodore start skating Monday for the first time since being hurt, but he plans on joining the Panthers in regular practice during the final two weeks of the season.

Theodore also said he hopes to get back into game shape so he can start one of Florida's final 10 games.

"It was good to be back in the gym, but it felt really good to be back on the ice in the equipment,'' Theodore said while sitting in a stall between current Florida goalies Jacob Markstrom and Scott Clemmensen.

"My goal is to be healthy and start practicing, get a game or two in. When the summer comes and you're training, you want that piece of mind. I want to be able to focus on training and not overthink this summer. If I can practice and play, that will get my confidence up.''

Florida coach Kevin Dineen has often spoken of his fondness for Theodore and said the team took a hit when he had to be helped off the Carolina ice with the torn groin muscles.

Because Theodore didn't need surgery, a potential return is possible.

"I felt it right away, knew something really wrong had happened,'' Theodore said of his injury. "It was a sharp pain and I knew it was bad. The MRI showed two big tears and they knew it was six-to-eight weeks. As a goalie it can take longer. I'm going to be smart with it.''

Dineen said he welcomes the effort and would welcome Theodore back.

"We have had a unique year on the injury front so to be able to get a quality guy like that would be great,'' Dineen said. "We won't go there on him playing in a game until a more realistic point because we are a ways away from that. I've always been a fan of his and it's been a tough year for him. It's good to see him working so hard to get back.''

General manager Dale Tallon is in a bit of a sticky position these days after telling a group of potential season ticket holders that he wasn't opposed to re-signing Theodore to a new contract.

Florida, if it brings back Theodore, would have three goalies under contract next season as the 23-year-old Markstrom is a restricted free agent and Clemmensen is signed for one more season.

If Theodore is brought back, Clemmensen would likely be the odd man out in the Florida rotation.

"Time will tell what happens,'' Tallon said Sunday during Clemmensen's masterful 40 save performance in a 2-1 win over Ottawa. "I was very happy with him. He works hard, is a pro and I like him. It's just a matter of getting Markstrom signed, we have Clem signed. We'll see what happens. We really have no commitment to anything right now.''

Theodore said Monday that he is working himself back for next season - with the hope that it's with the Panthers. He said he doesn't think there will any awkwardness with Clemmensen.

Theodore, 36, would be playing in his 16th NHL season next year.

"I want to turn the page and forget about [the injury] and just get ready for the season,'' said Theodore, who was 4-6-3 with the Panthers this season. "We've built something here and I want to be part of the solution here. We hadn't made the playoffs in 12 years yet won the division last year. We have a good team. I want to be part of it.''


The Panthers were once again without Drew Shore (wrist) in practice Monday although Dineen said he skated before the team's practice. With Tuesday off, Shore could practice Wednesday and play Thursday in Winnipeg.

Defenseman Mike Weaver (knee) practiced again Monday but Dineen said his status for Thursday was still questionable.

-- With the expected return of Shore, Scott Timmins -- who played in Florida's back-to-back set this past weekend -- was returned to AHL San Antonio.

-- The Panthers had a number of their injured players back in uniform for the photo shoot including Theodore, Kris Vertseeg (knee) and Stephen Weiss (wrist).

"We had the gang back together,'' Dineen quipped.

THEODORE RETURNS: Jose Theodore Practices, Wants to Play for Florida Panthers Before End of Season

April 07, 2013

DINEEN OFFICIALLY UPSET: Panthers Coach Upset with 'Lack of Respect'

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Panthers coach Kevin Dineen has been more than a little unhappy with his team's perceived treatment from officials this season - and it does seem the Panthers have, as general manager Dale Tallon said Sunday, get "no respect."

On Sunday, Dineen was livid after officials missed, or just didn't call, a obvious trip from Ottawa's Erik Condra on T.J. Brennan during a third period power play.

Florida would have had an extended 5-on-3 chance had the trip been called. Kulikov scored during that power play anyway. Florida was 1-for-1 on the power play Sunday; the Sens were 0-5.

"We worked so hard to get some respectability last year,'' Dineen said. "These guys are human; they look at the standings before the game and go 'this thing should play out a certain way.' We get no respect and it's our fault. Our situation is what it is.''

Goc, who scored Florida's first goal, was bloodied after a stick to the mouth that not only didn't draw a four-minute penalty but wasn't called a penalty at all.

Last month, officials didn't penalize New York's Rick Nash after he left his feet to deliver an elbow to Tomas Kopecky's head - yet ejected Colby Robak for a soft tap the next game.

Florida has been on the penalty kill 125 times this season and has had the advantage 120 times.

CLEMMENSEN STRONG ON SUNDAY: Panthers Beat Anderson and Sens 2-1 Thanks to Great Start by Clemmensen

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

It has been a while since Scott Clemmensen started a game for the Panthers and stole a victory.

Clemmensen got a chance to shine Sunday and did just that, turning back 40 shots to earn top player honors in Florida's 2-1 victory over Ottawa at BB&T Center.

The Panthers have won four of the past five games with Jacob Markstrom and Clemmensen giving up a total of nine goals in the wins.

"Clemmensen stood on his head for us,'' said defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, whose wrister on a power play served as the game-winning goal. "We needed that.''

It has been no secret Clemmensen has struggled this season as Sunday's win -- one in which Florida was outshot 41-17 -- was just his third of the season and first since Feb. 26.

"It has been a long time since my last win, unfortunately,'' Clemmensen said.

The Senators, who may be slipping out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, enjoyed a nice South Florida Saturday off and came out flying.

Ottawa, which had won 11 of the past 12 against the Panthers, made it a 1-0 game when former Tampa Bay forward Cory Conacher -- traded to Ottawa a day after playing the Panthers last Tuesday -- tapped in a shot after being allowed to camp out in front of Clemmensen's cage with 7:34 left in the first.

Few would have figured that would be it for the Sens. In the final 40 minutes, Ottawa peppered Clemmensen with 30 shots -- including a few in a hectic final minute with two extra attackers. Clemmensen seemed unfazed.

"It's nice to win no matter who you are playing or the situation,'' said Clemmensen, now 3-6-2 this season. "This team has been working hard. They get paid too, and sometimes they get the best of you. Regardless, we got the win. That's the name of the game no matter the fashion in which it comes.''

Said coach Kevin Dineen: "We were all happy with Clem's performance tonight including his teammates. It was one of those where he was the difference maker. They put a lot of pressure on us and we were able to withstand it.''

Clemmensen's biggest save came with 4:11 left in the second when Kyle Turris ripped a shot that Clemmensen leapt at and got a piece of with his leg pad. The puck was close to going across the line, so much so, it was officially looked at via video in Toronto. Replays showed the puck didn't fully cross the line.

"I shouldn't have had to make that save in that fashion,'' he said. "Sometimes you have to be lucky to be good.''

Florida - 0-5 in the second game of a back-to-back set coming in - tied the score early in the second when Marcel Goc knocked in a nice shot from Tomas Fleischmann 1:08 into the second. Florida had seven shots at that point and would take just one more over the next 15 minutes.

Kulikov potted his second game-winner in a week by rifling a shot past Craig Anderson -- whom Clemmensen replaced as Tomas Vokoun's backup here in 2009 -- midway through the third. Florida was being outshot 34-14 at that point and ended up taking just three more shots at Anderson.

Anderson, who played three seasons with the Panthers, lives in South Florida during the offseason and trained with Roberto Luongo at the Panthers' facility in Coral Springs during the lockout.

Sunday, he lost to the Panthers in regulation for the first time in 11 decisions. Anderson had won eight straight against his former team since leaving for Colorado as a free agent on July 1, 2009.

"Don't discount that he has a home here, works out here,'' Dineen said. "He has a quality fanbase and friendbase here. So good for him, but good for us in finally busting that bubble.''

April 06, 2013

CAPPED AGAIN: Panthers Rally Falls Short as Capitals Beat Florida Again, This Time 4-3 ... Nick Bjugstad Makes Debut as Scott Timmins Returns to Florida

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

INSTAGRAM: OnFrozenPond93

The way the Washington Capitals have played against the Panthers the past few years, they don't really need extra power play time. But when they got it on Saturday night, they used it.

Washington, sporting the best power play unit in the league, snapped Florida's three-game winning streak by going 3-for-5 on the advantage in a 4-3 win at BB&T Center.

Alex Ovechkin led the offensive assault on the Panthers as he recorded the 12th hat trick of his career -- and added to his league-leading power play goal tally by scoring twice. Ovechkin has 23 goals this season with 14 on the power play.

The Capitals, whose run of four consecutive Southeast Division titles was busted by the Panthers last year, continue to lead Winnipeg by two points after winning three straight and nine of 13.

Florida scored three times -- twice via Tomas Kopecky, the previous player to record a hat trick here -- in the third but couldn't tie things up.

"It wasn't as much what they did, but what we did wrong,'' said Kopecky, whose team lost all four meetings to the Capitals this season and were outscored 22-9 in the process.

Ovechkin scored his first of the night not long after Erik Gudbranson was slapped with a five-minute major and subsequently ejected for boarding Washington's newly-acquired Martin Erat.

Erat slammed his head into the side boards and stayed down on the ice until he was gingerly helped off the ice and into the locker room.

Washington remained on the power play after Ovechkin's initial goal and coach Kevin Dineen didn't send a representative to the penalty box to serve the five minute infraction.

Dineen took the blame for waiting for a stoppage in play to send a player to the bin. Problem was play never stopped and Florida ended up being shorthanded 18 seconds longer than the initial five minutes.

"I made a huge mistake. That one gets hung on me,'' Dineen said. "The game gets hung on me. I didn't put a guy in the penalty box and the penalty expired so we were still short, we take a penalty and they score again. Bad coaching error by me.''

Washington went into the second on its third power play chance and made it 2-0 on Mike Ribiero's 12th of the year. Ovechkin then scored Washington's following two goals, a few dozen hats hitting the visiting ice after his third came with 5:38 left in the middle period.

Ovechkin has 30 goals and 31 assists in 47 games against the Panthers as Saturday marked the final time -- for the foreseeable future -- Florida and Washington met as division rivals as the league realigns next season.

The two have competed in the same division since 1998; Washington won 46 of the 83 meetings in divisional play with four ties.

"For some reason they play us very well,'' Brian Campbell said, "or we just don't play well against them. You have to find a way against a team like that. .-.-. I don't know what the record is against them, but I think it's time for them to move on.''

Dineen pulled starter Jacob Markstrom after Washington's fourth goal for a quick breather, reinserting him a minute later. Markstrom had been 5-2 in his previous seven starts with 14 goals allowed.

Florida finally got something going offensively in the third as Kopecky got the first goal with 13:15 left. Two minutes later, Peter Mueller got a power play goal to cut the deficit in half.

With Markstrom out, Florida sent six skaters at Braden Holtby and scored with 33 seconds left -- only that's as close as it got.

"Their power play is good and they score when they get the chance,'' Markstrom said.

-- With Drew Shore still out with a wrist injury, the Panthers called up forward Scott Timmins on Friday and put him on a fourth line with George Parros and Scottie Upshall.

It was Timmins' first NHL promotion since he was arrested last month after allegedly being found in a home he didn't own after a night of drinking in San Antonio. Timmins played in his 21st NHL game -- all with Florida -- on Saturday.

-- Center Nick Bjugstad, 20, made his NHL debut on Saturday as friends and family from Minnesota and elsewhere traveled to South Florida to watch. Bjugstad played 19 shifts in 13:04 and had one shot on goal.

"It was a tough one to start with but it was a good learning experience,'' he said. "The adrenaline was going but I felt a little nervous. After a few shifts I started to feel comfortable. Hopefully I can build off this and get a win on Sunday.''

When, Where: 6 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSN; WQAM-560
The series: Ottawa leads 44-27-3
The game: Ottawa, which lost Friday in Buffalo, has won 11 of the past 12 against the Panthers. To compound things, former Florida goalie Craig Anderson is expected to return from his ankle injury Sunday. Anderson, who played for Florida from 2006-09, has won his past eight starts against the Panthers.

April 05, 2013

CROSSING PATHS: Nick Bjugstad Follows Stephen Weiss with Florida Panthers

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

INSTAGRAM: OnFrozenPond93

It seemed just and fitting that Stephen Weiss paid the Panthers a visit on Friday morning.

Not long after Weiss left the locker room after catching up with buddies on the team, Nick Bjugstad walked through soaked in sweat after his first NHL practice.

Weiss is done for the season after having wrist surgery last month and as a pending free agent, his future with the team is in doubt.

For Bjugstad, his career with the Panthers is just taking off. Where it will end up, well, no one knows that just yet.

"I just packed up and came down here. It's been a quick process,'' said Bjugstad, a 20-year-old center who recently signed with the Panthers after three seasons at the University of Minnesota.

"It will be a fun first game and it will be surreal for me. I've always wanted to play in the NHL since I was little. It's finally happening for me.''

Like Weiss, Bjugstad was a high draft pick by the Panthers. And like Weiss, will make his NHL debut at the tail end of a what will likely be a season that ends outside of the playoffs.

There was a lot of hoopla surrounding Weiss' debut when he joined the Panthers after a successful career in the Canadian junior league. Weiss' NHL career came on March 3, 2002 -- his 19th birthday -- and he scored in Florida's 3-2 win over visiting Pittsburgh.

On Saturday, three days after Weiss' 30th birthday, Bjugstad will play in his first NHL game. Weiss said he, like everyone else around the Panthers, is excited to see what the 6-foot-6 center -- who was the 19th overall pick in 2010 -- can do at this level.

"It's fun to see guys we have drafted over the years, guys you keep an eye on, come up and play for us is neat,'' said Weiss, the fourth overall pick of the 2001 NHL Draft by the Panthers. "It's pretty cool. Hopefully we have more guys coming up through the system who can contribute.''

Weiss suited up for the Panthers less than a year after being drafted by Florida and his promotion to the big leagues wasn't without controversy as then-coach Mike Keenan didn't think he was all that ready for prime time.

Even though Weiss scored in his first game, he found goals hard to come by. Weiss didn't score in the following six games to close 2002 and didn't score until the 22nd game of the following season.

Weiss has said that looking back, hindsight being what it is, he wasn't ready for the NHL back in 2002. On Friday, Weiss said Bjugstad may be.

"These are different circumstances,'' Weiss said. "I wasn't 6-5 and 200 pounds. I was coming off three years of playing deep into the playoffs and was 170 pounds. There were different rules back then. You could clutch and grab.

"I felt great the first game. It felt easy. The next six were the hardest games I've played in this league. I knew I had a lot of work to do. My advice to him is to enjoy in, soak up all you can in these games. Then go back in the summer and train like an animal.''

Bjugstad arrived in South Florida on Thursday and practiced for the first time Friday. Coach Kevin Dineen has Bjugstad on the third line, centering fellow 2010 first rounder Quinton Howden (25th overall) and Jack Skille.

With a few days between signing his contract and Washington coming to town, Bjugstad has been able to get a good number of friends and family into town for the big debut.

"It's good to be a little nervous, it keeps you on your toes,'' Bjugstad said. "I'll be ready to go. I'm sure the adrenaline will be going.''


Weiss says his surgically repaired right wrist feels good and he will be out of his cast in three weeks. Weiss had surgery on the wrist last month in Cleveland and says he can't wait to get back onto the ice and begin training for next season.

"I'm glad to get it out of the way, get the problem solved,'' Weiss said. "Now it's just getting the proper rehab, get ready for the summer and the start of next season. The process has actually gone pretty fast.''

An unrestricted free agent come July 1, Weiss' agent spoke with general manager Dale Tallon last week. Tallon said the talks went good; Weiss said he was hopeful things work out in Florida.

"It's nice to be in conversation with them for sure,'' said Weiss, who is Florida's all-time leader with 654 games played for the franchise.

"It's no secret I've loved played here. I would like to end my career here. Whether it works out that way remains to be seen. We'll be talking and communicating and see if we can work something out.''

-- Defenseman Mike Weaver continues to work his way back from a knee injury suffered Feb. 28. He skated before Friday's workout and is expected to be back before the season ends. Forward Eric Selleck (concussion) also worked out.

"He's had four days of skating,'' Dineen said. "He won't be there this weekend. But that was a good day for him."

When, Where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSN; WQAM-560
The series: Washington leads 52-46-9
The game: Washington has enjoyed playing the Panthers this season as the Caps have outscored Florida 18-6 in three wins. This is not only the final meeting of the season between the two, but final meeting as members of the Southeast Division because of realignment.

CROSSING PATHS: Nick Bjugstad Follows Stephen Weiss with Florida Panthers

OnFrozenPhone: Nick Bjugstad

Florida Panthers rookie center Nick Bjugstad talks after his first NHL practice on Friday.

The former University of Minnesota center talks about what is expected of him with the Panthers, his thoughts on leaving the Gophers and more.

To see the video, cut and paste the link below into your browser:


OnFrozenPhone: Stephen Weiss

Florida Panthers center Stephen Weiss talks to the local media for the first time since having wrist surgery last month.

Weiss, the Panthers' all-time leader in games played, also spoke about his contract negotiations with the team as well as the arrival of rookie center Nick Bjugstad.

To watch the video, just cut and paste the link below into your browser:


OnFrozenPhone: Kevin Dineen

Panthers coach Kevin Dineen speaks after practice on Friday, April 5, following Nick Bjugstad's first practice with the team.

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April 04, 2013

PANTHERS ON WINNING STREAK: Jacob Markstrom Coming Up Huge ... Jack Skille, Drew Shore Set to Return ... Nick Bjugstad in Town, Ready for Debut

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers go into Friday with the fewest points in the Eastern Conference, a spot they've held for some time now.

If this recent trend continues, however, the Panthers may not be headed to the penthouse although they could be leaving the basement.

Thanks in part to exceptional play in net from 23-year-old Jacob Markstrom, the Panthers have won three straight games for the first time this season and have picked up 10 of the past available 14 points.

Markstrom has allowed 14 goals in seven starts -- with Florida winning five of those games. Expect Markstrom back between the pipes Saturday when the suddenly-hot Capitals come to town.

"I didn't start off the way I wanted to,'' Markstrom said. "You can't hide under a pillow and you sure can't hide on the ice. You just have to grab the bull by the horns and work hard, make it work. Hard work does pay off. And we're playing very well. I'm happy for the opportunity.''

The Panthers were forced into bringing Markstrom up earlier than they had hoped after Jose Theodore tore a groin muscle that ended his season.

Some within the Panthers organization had the "told you so" look when Markstrom struggled at times, although since sitting for two straight games in March, he has been terrific and looks like he could be Florida's starting goalie for the foreseeable future.

Markstrom is 6-7-1 with a goals-against average of 2.57; he has made saves on 92 percent of shots faced.

"This has been perfect for him because this season, for him, is about building for next year,'' goalie coach Robb Tallas said after Markstrom made 39 saves in Florida's 3-2 shootout win in Tampa on Tuesday.

"I want him to make mistakes and see the corrections he should make. He's showing that right now. He's coming into understanding how good this league is. Now he's here. Before, he was being called up in small snapshots and we expected a lot out of him. Now you see what he's capable of doing.''


Jack Skille is expected to return to the lineup Saturday for the first time since leaving Florida's game on March 23 with a mysterious 'upper body' injury. Although Tallon inferred Skille suffered a concussion, Skille refuses to say what his injury was.

"You get a little stir crazy sitting out but with this compressed schedule, I only missed four or five days,'' Skille said after practice Wednesday. "I'm ready to go, play some hockey again.''

-- Greg Rallo was returned to the Panthers' AHL affiliate Wednesday after scoring his first NHL goal Tuesday.

Officials originally awarded the goal to T.J. Brennan after his long slap shot on the power play beat Mathieu Garon.

During the second intermission, apparently after review, the goal was taken from Brennan and awarded to Rallo. During the first intermission, Brennan had his goal taken and given to Tomas Kopecky.

"The verdict is still out. I don't really think it hit me,'' Rallo said after Tuesday's game. "In the heat of the game, you never know. I'm just glad we got the goal one way or another. They come hard. It was good.''

Said coach Kevin Dineen: "I couldn't tell. I'm not sure. Greg didn't think he touched the puck. It was a unique day to say the least.''

-- Florida lost three spots in the lineup after trading Jerred Smithson (Edmonton), waiving Mike Santorelli (Winnipeg) and demoting Rallo. Those three will be replaced by Skille, Drew Shore (wrist) and Nick Bjugstad.

Bjugstad will make his NHL debut Saturday against the Capitals. The rookie from the University of Minnesota arrived in South Florida on Thursday and will wear No. 27. The Panthers tweeted out a picture of his new red jersey.

"I want to get a feel for what the NHL is like,'' Bjugstad said Wednesday. "Thankfully the NHL is the opportunity I'm getting. It's pretty crazy it starts on Saturday.''

-- Bjugstad will be the center of attention Friday when the Panthers hold an open practice at the Saveology.com Iceplex in Coral Springs. The free practice starts at 10:30 a.m.


PANTHERS ON WINNING STREAK: Jacob Markstrom Coming Up Huge ... Jack Skille, Drew Shore Set to Return ... Nick Bjugstad in Town, Ready for Debut

April 03, 2013

GOPHER HEADS SOUTH: Nick Bjugstad to Join Florida Panthers, Make NHL Debut on Saturday

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

It took Nick Bjugstad a little while to get back to the Panthers' director of media relations on Wednesday afternoon. He was too busy packing.

"I'm very excited,'' Bjugstad said when finally reached. "It's been pretty hectic today, but I'm very excited."

The Panthers signed Bjugstad to a three-year entry level contract on Wednesday. Bjugstad is flying south on Thursday and will be at Friday's practice at the Coral Springs Iceplex.

On Saturday, the 20-year-old center who was the 19th overall pick in 2010 will make his NHL debut.

"It was just kind of waiting it out to see what would happen, what the deal was,'' Bjugstad said. "Then I got the call. I'm pretty excited and thankful for what I've got going as well. It should be fun. It's a whirlwind. I'm packing up all my stuff, getting ready to get to Florida.

"It's pretty surreal. I just got done playing my final college game which was a tough one. But it makes it easier knowing I'm jumping into the NHL. It's very exciting. I'm sure the nerves will be going a little bit.''

Bjugstad said he wasn't thinking about joining the Panthers, not until the University of Minnesota's season surprisingly ended last week. The top-ranked Gophers were upset in the NCAA regionals in overtime by Yale.

Last summer, Bjugstad contemplated joining the Panthers but the lure of school, getting his degree and winning another national title for the Gophers was too much to turn back. Bjugstad said Wednesday he was 12 credits away from a degree in Business Marketing Education and could finish those up this summer.

"I didn't really think about what the next step was. I was focused on my season,'' he said. "It didn't end the way I wanted it to. I came back to win a national championship and things happen. We lost in overtime and that's a tough deal. But I thought this was right for my future, my development, to move onto the next level.

"I think I'm ready to go. I'm close to my degree and we'll see what happens there. I just think I'm ready to go.

"I want to get a feel for what the NHL is like. Thankfully the NHL is the opportunity I'm getting. It's pretty crazy it starts on Saturday.''

BIG ADDITION ON TRADE DAY: Panthers Ink Nick Bjugstad; Former Gopher to Make NHL Debut Saturday ... Smithson Dealt, Santorelli Picked Up

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Wednesday was one of the slowest trade deadline days the Florida Panthers have endured as general manager Dale Tallon made just one minor deal.

The big news, however, came with what Tallon added away from the parameters of the deadline.

Nick Bjugstad, the 19th overall pick of the 2010 NHL draft, signed a three-year deal with the Panthers on Wednesday and will make his NHL debut Saturday against the Capitals.

Bjugstad, who scored 54 goals over the past three seasons at the University of Minnesota, is scheduled to fly to South Florida on Thursday.

"Nick is going to be here,'' Tallon said. "We have 11 games left. This will be a good learning experience for him. If he does well, it will make it that much easier for him at training camp next year. It's a good chance to evaluate him.''

Bjugstad, a 20-year-old center, recently finished his junior season at Minnesota and won't wait long to start his NHL career as he is expected to be on the ice for Florida's practice Friday in Coral Springs.

With fourth-line center Jerred Smithson sent to Edmonton for a fourth round pick on Wednesday, well, the Panthers have an open slot.

Tallon said he is excited to see his first-round Class of 2010 on the ice Saturday.

Defenseman Erik Gudbranson, the third overall pick in 2010, made his NHL debut last season; Quinton Howden (25th overall) joined the Panthers on Jan. 26.

"Time flies when you're having fun,'' Tallon said. "This is an exciting time for our franchise."

The Panthers have been reluctant to rush their top young players although they are making an exception for Bjugstad.

Although they privately wished he would have started his professional career in the minor leagues this year, they didn't want to risk Bjugstad returning to Minnesota for his senior year and becoming a free agent in 2014 by not signing with Florida.

The Panthers will burn a year of his entry level contract by bringing him up to the NHL level. It's a tradeoff they were willing to make.

"We understand what the consequences are,'' Tallon said. "He is an asset we wanted to get signed. We wanted to get him in the fold, get him some games. We want him indoctrinated with our team now.''

Smithson, whom Florida acquired for a sixth-round pick from Nashville last season, was told of the news after Wednesday's practice. Smithson isn't expected to join the Oilers until after the weekend as he and his wife are expecting their first child this week.

"I feel bad about that, he is a solid pro and a classy guy,'' Tallon said. "I have to think about the long-term future of the franchise. That's the business part of it that happens. Sometimes it sucks. You're dealing with family and friends. We told him we would do everything we can to help.''

Florida also lost forward Mike Santorelli as Winnipeg picked him up on waivers. Santorelli played 13:05 in Florida's 3-2 shootout win in Tampa on Tuesday after being waived earlier that day.

Santorelli was slated to be third in the shootout but never took the ice as Jacob Markstrom stopped all three Tampa Bay shots.

Santorelli said he is excited about the opportunity to join a Winnipeg team that currently leads the Southeast Division and is trying to win the franchise's second division title and first since the Atlanta Thrashers took the banner in 2007.

"I'm grateful for the opportunity Winnipeg is giving me and I look forward to helping them out,'' Santorelli said. "It's an exciting time there. It's a great place to play. I hope I can help as much as I can.''

With all of Florida's injuries, there weren't many chips for Tallon to deal on Wednesday. Tallon and coach Kevin Dineen said they don't feel like the Panthers -- who won the division for the first time last season -- are in rebuilding mode.

"This is a business. A big business,'' Dineen said. "You have to manage your team appropriately not just immediate but for your long-term future. .-.-. There is a sense we have some real quality guys who are stepping into more prominent role. We don't want to go back to being a long-term rebuilding project. There's still some excitement left this season.''

Tallon expects to have a healthy team come training camp when the Panthers embark on a new challenge of playing in an eight-team division with Tampa Bay, Montreal, Boston, Toronto, Ottawa, Detroit and Buffalo.

"When you're at the bottom,'' Tallon said, "teams just expect you to panic and give up players. That's not going to happen here.''

April 02, 2013

CATS GET ANOTHER ONE: Panthers On First Three-game Winning Streak After 3-2 Shootout Win in Tampa


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

TAMPA -- Panthers general manager Dale Tallon wasn't at Tuesday's game. Instead, he stayed behind in South Florida as the NHL's trade deadline fast approaches.

Tallon recently said he doesn't expect to make too many moves as the deadline hits at 3 p.m. on Wednesday for a number of reasons. One of which is there are players here he likes, players who have made the Panthers respectable again these past few weeks.

On Tuesday, the Panthers kept their modest winning ways going as they earned their first three-game winning streak of the 2013 season by beating the host Lightning 3-2 in a shootout at Tampa Bay Times Forum.

Florida's past three wins have all come in overtime as the Panthers have improved to 4-6 in the extra sessions. Two of the three wins have come in shootouts.

"We will take it. It's all baby steps,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. "You build on little things and it had nothing to do with the coaches. You can see the players have enjoyed this little bit of success we've had. It makes things better. It's enjoyable coming to the rink every day.''

The Lightning lead the league in third-period goals as it has scored 51 of its 111 goals in the final 20 as Tampa Bay bounced back from a 2-0 deficit by scoring twice in the third.

Rookie goalie Jacob Markstrom turned in another spectacular effort as he away 27 shots before the high-scoring Lightning got on the board.

The Lightning ended up taking 41 shots on Markstrom -- not including the three he stopped in the shootout.

"We knew they were going to come hard. Down 2-0, they didn't have much of a choice,'' said Markstrom, who made four stops in overtime and who has given up just 14 goals in his past seven starts.

Florida, not surprisingly, is 5-2-0 during that stretch.

"I'm just trying to work hard and I'm getting a lot of help from my defense. They are blocking a lot of shots. We are winning and that is nice. But there are things we can improve on.''

The Panthers held a 2-0 lead going into the third thanks to a pair of power play goals from Tomas Kopecky and Greg Rallo -- scores facilitated by long shots from defenseman T.J. Brennan.

Tampa Bay scored two goals on three shots during the third with Tom Pyatt charging in on Markstrom and deflecting a Teddy Purcell shot through 5:38 into the period. Later, Adam Killorn worked a rebound past Markstrom.

In the shootout, Peter Mueller scored on Florida's first attempt. Markstrom did the rest.

"Markstrom was the difference maker to me,'' Dineen said. "He was the player of the game in my mind. They had some real quality opportunities. Shots can be deceptive sometimes. This wasn't one of them. Markstrom made some great saves.''


Brennan celebrated both of Florida's goals as he was credited with both when they happened -- only to have them taken away.

Game officials atop the arena reviewed the play during the respective intermission and ruled Kopecky and Rallo got a piece of the puck before it went in. Brennan was awarded the first assist on both -- as he should have been.

Rallo's goal goes down as his first in NHL play.

"It's all right. We'll take the goals because it doesn't matter who is getting them,'' said Brennan, who scored in his first game with the Panthers on March 16 after being acquired in a deal with Buffalo. "I'm just trying to get pucks to the net, create some offense. We're just keeping it simple.''

-- Drew Shore missed Tuesday's game with a undisclosed injury, although Dineen said it wasn't very serious and he expected Shore back in the lineup Saturday.

Greg Rallo was brought up from AHL San Antonio and played on Florida's fourth line Tuesday.

-- For the first time in over a month, the Panthers have time off for rest and practice. Florida, which played 16 games in March, play just twice this week with the next game Saturday against Washington.

The Panthers plan to practice Wednesday in Coral Springs before taking Thursday off.

"This might be our first three day break all year,'' Dineen said. "Where was this in February?"

-- Center Mike Santorelli was placed on waivers but played Tuesday.