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2 posts from October 19, 2013

October 19, 2013

HAPPY HOMECOMING FOR BJUGSTAD: Wild Win for Mr. Minnesota ... Dineen Doesn't like Gophers ...

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Saturday was a big night for 21-year-old center Nick Bjugstad as he squared off against his hometown Minnesota Wild for the first time.

Bjugstad was Minnesota's Mr. Hockey in his final season in high school and he also spent three seasons at the University of Minnesota.

A first round pick in 2010, Bjugstad made his debut with the Panthers last April after leaving Minnesota after his junior year. Bjugstad played in 11 games with the Panthers to end last season, but missed all of training camp after suffering a concussion on Sept. 8.

"I'm excited to play my hometown team because I know I have a lot of family and friends back home watching,'' said Bjugstad, who had an assist Thursday against the Bruins in his second game back from the concussion.

"I can't worry about who we're playing though. I have to worry about our gameplan and our style. I will have it the back of my head. I grew up watching these guys.''

Coach Kevin Dineen pulled Bjugstad aside for a long, private conversation after Friday's workout with some wondering if Bjugstad may be headed to the minors.

Dineen said that was not the case. Bjugstad started the night on a line with Shawn Matthias and Jesse Winchester.

"The gist of the conversation was for him to not be happy just being here,'' Dineen said. "I have no problems with his last couple games.''

Bjugstad was expected to start the season in the minors but made his return from a concussion last Tuesday in Nashville. Bjugstad only had one family member in town for Saturday's game but knows the Wild has sold quite a few tickets to Team Bjugstad in anticipation of Florida's visit to St. Paul next month.

"Everyone's watching this one on the tube,'' Bjugstad said, "but if I'm there next month, there are a lot of tickets sold just in case I am playing. That will be the big ticket for the home folks, if I make it there.''

-- Dineen joked that as a former player at the Denver University, he wasn't a big fan of Bjugstad's while he played at Minnesota.

"I'm a DU guy. I'm not big on the Gophers so that doesn't go far with me,'' Dineen said with a grin. "The stinkin' gophers, like on Caddyshack.''


Minnesota's Dan Heatley has had many memorable moments at the Panthers' Sunrise arena although he wasn't able to get out of his scoring slump Saturday.

The 32-year-old winger came into Saturday with 17 goals in his career against the Panthers but none in four games against them as a member of the Wild.

Heatley, who has yet to score a goal this season, was MVP of the 2003 All-Star Game held in Sunrise when the then-Atlanta Thrasher scored four goals in a losing effort. Heatley's 17 goals against Florida is most of any current Minnesota player.

-- Bjugstad isn't the only Florida player with ties to Minnesota as defenseman Tom Gilbert is a Minneapolis native who spent parts of the past two seasons playing for the Wild.

Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher spent a few seasons with the Panthers and was at one point the team's interim GM. Fletcher was featured in one of Florida's 20th anniversary 'good luck' videos shown during opening night.

-- Minnesota defenseman Keith Ballard was scratched Saturday for the third straight game after taking a puck to the face last Monday in Buffalo.

Ballard signed a six-year deal with the Panthers not long after coming over in from Phoenix in the Olli Jokinen trade on draft day in 2008. Ballard only spent two seasons with Florida, however, going to Vancouver in a deal that netted the Panthers a first-round pick (Quinton Howden).


PANTHERS WIN A WILD ONE: Thomas Stands Strong, Huberdeau and Boyes Shootout Minnesota 2-1

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers have played so many overtime games the past few years, the team's Zamboni has flipped its odometer and is no longer under factory warranty.

Saturday, they went into overtime with Tim Thomas in goal for the first time. Not surprisingly, everything felt different.

Thomas earned his 31st career shootout win as he stopped both Minnesota shooters leading the Panthers to a much-needed 2-1 win. The victory halted Florida's three-game losing streak as Thomas rose to the occasion time after time.

The lone goal Thomas surrendered Saturday was a fluke. It came off the stick of one of his own teammates.

"When you win in a shootout, it's a true win for your team,'' said Thomas, who stopped 32 of 33 shots including the one-on-one shootout offerings from Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu.

"When you lose in a shootout, it's not really a true loss. Seriously, that's the way it is. We needed a win and we'll take it anyway we can. We won in a shootout, but we earned it through hard work. We need that output every night.''

Thomas moved into a tie with former Florida goalie Roberto Luongo for seventh on the active list with 31 shootout wins. Brad Boyes, who scored the second shootout goal to end it, is tied with Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk for tops among active shootout scorers with 33 goals.

As coach Kevin Dineen said, Thomas can be hit-or-miss in the shootout session although his winning percentage (53 percent) is much better than that of his new franchise (38 percent).

"Timmie stood tall when we needed him to,'' Dineen said, referring to a big save at the end of overtime. "You could see a little confidence when he's out there. That's why I elected to shoot second. He makes the save then [Jonathan] Huberdeau would work his magic.''

Said Thomas: "I haven't been in a shootout in a long time. I didn't think about that until right now. We had a lot of tight games in Boston, so it's something I'm relatively familiar with.''

The shootout is generally regarded as little more than a game-deciding exhibition, like deciding a tied major golf tournament at the local putt-putt joint.

For a Panthers team that had won just two of their first eight, whatever.

"I think we've been gripping hard and working hard,'' said Dineen, wearing a tie featuring tiny shamrocks he said was given to him by GM Dale Tallon.

"It hasn't been fun for us. We've been through the ringer here. Winning is a great cure for a lot of things.''

Dineen, as were most in the sparsely-filled arena, were a little perturbed at the way the Panthers were outplayed for big chunks of the game.

Florida changed up its pace in the third as Dineen played with a short bench. Boyes (four shifts) and Scott Gomez (three) didn't see much playing time in the final 25 minutes of the game although Boyes was a most obvious choice to come out for the shootout.

"It's a tale of two cities with our team,'' Dineen said. "I talked before the season about accountability before the season and guys who weren't playing well didn't see much ice in the third. I think that is starting to take affect, knowing this is a performance-based business. Do your job, you'll be OK.''

Minnesota and Florida played a pedestrian scoreless first before the Wild took a 1-0 lead in the second as a shot from Josh Brodin hit the stick of Florida's Jesse Winchester at 4:05 of the second.

The Panthers didn't tie the score until Tomas Fleischmann's fired a shot that rookie Aleksander Barkov clipped and put past Josh Harding (21 saves).

Florida and Thomas then had to do some heavy lifting by killing off a pair of penalties after Gomez and Brian Campbell both went to the penalty box 41 seconds apart.

Minnesota got a few good looks at Thomas but never got the puck past him despite having the two-man advantage as the game remained tied heading down the stretch.

Thomas made seven saves off Minnesota shots in the third period and overtime before Florida went 2-for-2 in the shootout with Huberdeau and Boyes both scoring.

Florida will take Sunday off and return to practice on Monday. The defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks visit Sunrise on Tuesday.

"We just needed the two points, get our third win and start winning at home,'' said Jonathan Huberdeau, who hit the game-winner in the shootout.