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42 posts from November 2013

November 28, 2013


Here's hoping you and yours have a great Thanksgiving and a terrific holiday weekend.

I'll be taking off and will miss Saturday's home game against the Penguins but will staying on top of things as best I can and will be updating things here and on Twitter (you can always follow me @GeorgeRichards).

Thanks for checking in and interacting with me through this blog and through Twitter. You can say one thing about the Panthers that I'm thankful for: They're never boring.

Have a terrific Thursday everyone. -- George


THANKFUL FOR FRESH START: Scottie Upshall Going Strong Under Horachek

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

On the day Peter Horachek took over as coach of the Panthers, he said everyone on the team was getting a clean slate.

No one has benefited from the fresh start more than Scottie Upshall.

A player who spent most of the past 2 1/2 seasons in Kevin Dineen's doghouse, Upshall seems not only energized but happy to be playing under Horachek.

"Things didn't go great for me and I didn't enjoy playing the first few seasons,'' said Upshall, who got the Panthers going in Wednesday's night's eventual 5-2 loss to the Rangers by scoring with 7:32 left.

"For some reasons, injuries were used against me. I felt like my passion was questioned, my effort was questioned. If anyone in the room was asked, the way I approached the game wasn't questioned. I wanted to play and be good. Sometimes things just don't work out. This game is tough both mentally and physically.''

In his first two injury plagued seasons in Florida, Upshall scored six goals in 53 games; in the 10 games under Horachek, Upshall has three goals and eight points.

Dineen often said he wanted to see what the healthy Upshall would do, what with Upshall missing so many games to injured during his first two seasons.

Now everyone is.

Early on in Wednesday's game, Upshall had a scoring chance snuffed out by Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist then drew a penalty on Justin Falk. When Upshall scored Wednesday, Florida trailed 3-1.

"It was tough to get out of that hole, but right now, I'm in a good place,'' said Upshall, who signed a four-year deal worth $14 million in 2011.

"I think my teammates look up to me and I've been acknowledged by the coaches as a leader. I think there's a great opportunity for a lot of players. We have some great young players. It's just a better atmosphere here.''

Upshall came into training camp healthy and looked good yet had just one assist through his first six games. In Game 7, at Nashville, Upshall was benched. Dineen would make Upshall a healthy scratch two more times.

Coincidentally, Upshall got his first goals of the season in Florida's shootout loss to Edmonton. The decision to fire Dineen and his coaching staff was made following that game.

Horachek is a coach Upshall knows well, the two hitting it off when Upshall was first breaking in with Nashville a decade ago. Horachek was an assistant for the Predators when Upshall played there from 2003-07.

In Wednesday's game, as has been the case the past few games, Upshall came out wearing an 'A' on his jersey to signify his new leadership role on the team as an alternate captain.

Suffice to say, Upshall was unlikely to ever wear a letter on his jersey under the old regime.

"I don't know what the situation was with Scott and Kevin so I can't speak to that,'' Horachek said.

"Since I've been here, Scott's shown a work ethic, has been a leader. He's been outspoken in the room, he's in our leadership group. I take from what he's doing. He's deserved the playing time.''


Forward Jesse Winchester is trying to come back after suffering an undisclosed lower body injury - believed to be a bruised hip - during Florida's previous road trip.

Winchester says he was hurt when he made a hit on Edmonton's Corey Potter in the first period of that 4-1 loss on Nov. 21. Winchester tried to come back in the second period but the pain was too much.

"I gave it a try but it was pretty painful,'' said Winchester, who has tied a career-high with four goals.

"The good thing is it's not too serious. I'm just trying to play soon. It's not a very serious injury right now. I feel pretty good right now and don't think I'll be out too much longer. I'm working hard with our training staff.''

-- Horachek was a little upset with some of the sloppy defensive play that led to goals in Wednesday's loss.

Florida went down 2-0 when Tom Gilbert coughed up the puck deep in the Panthers zone allowing Rick Nash to swoop in and tee off on Tim Thomas.

With the Panthers down 3-2, Mats Zuccarello slid into the slot on a power play unopposed to score with 1:32 left.

"They scored two power play goals which were preventable and had a turnover goal in the third which was really ridiculous,'' Horachek said. "Those things can't happen against a team like that, with Nash on the ice.''

-- The Panthers will hold an open practice Friday at the Coral Springs Iceplex starting at 10:30 a.m.

PHOTO BY JOE RIMKUS/Miami Herald Staff


November 27, 2013

RANGERS ESCAPE: New York Gets Two Late, Tops Panthers 5-2

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers have been good at coming back from two-goal deficits in the third period of games lately. Wednesday's hole was just too deep to climb out of.

Florida scored twice in the third period yet it wasn't enough to overcome Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers as New York escaped Sunrise with a 5-2 win.

The Panthers didn't get their first goal until Scottie Upshall put a backhanded shot past Henrik Lundqvist with 7:32 left.

Then Nick Bjugstad charged in on Lundqvist and scored to make it a 3-2 affair with 3:43 remaining. The Rangers all but ended it when Mats Zuccarello scored with 1:28 left; Carl Haglin officially did with an empty net goal in the final minute.

The Panthers had won two straight at home for the first time this season.

"We have to find ways to score against goaltenders like that,'' coach Peter Horachek said. "We need second chances, more traffic. We didn't capitalize when we had to.''

Lundqvist, who has won five of his past eight starts against Florida, made 20 saves within the first 31 minutes of the game as the Panthers brought the pressure but couldn't find the scoreboard until Upshall's goal.

The Rangers took a 1-0 lead at the 12:13 mark of the first when Derick Brassard slid into the slot and redirected a long shot from Zuccarello. Tim Thomas made a move at the puck but it skipped through on New York's fourth shot of the night.

New York got its second period goal when Brad Richards threw up a seeing-eye shot from 35 feet out that skipped through the legs of Tom Gilbert, Brian Campbell and Thomas before hitting the back of the net.

Gilbert then made a costly turnover deep in the Florida zone in the third with Rick Nash picking it off and firing a shot past Thomas for a 3-0 lead. Nash's shot was New York's first of the third period -- 5:32 in.

Florida, meanwhile, couldn't pull the trigger on numerous opportunities -- including twice when Lundqvist was out of position by being out of the net. The Panthers also squandered a great chance early in the third when Aleksander Barkov misfired on a shot with Lundqvist already sprawling.

"He didn't give us much second opportunities,'' Upshall said. "Pucks were there but it was hard to get them up over his pads. He's a quick goalie. Nights like this when you don't put them by him, it's a momentum changer.''

Thomas made his 10th straight start in goal and wasn't challenged a whole lot. The Rangers, who lost 5-0 in Tampa on Monday and are in the middle of playing nine games in 15 days, played a simplified game and didn't waste much energy on offense.

New York took all of six shots on goal in the first and went almost eight minutes before taking its first of the second. Nash's goal came on New York's 14th shot of the evening.


Ed Jovanovski and Tomas Kopecky spent a good part of their Tuesday night helping serve a group of approximately 250 children from the Boys & Girls Club of Lauderhill.

Panthers president Michael Yormark treated the youngsters to a pre-Thanksgiving dinner and gave them tickets to the boxing matches at the arena.

Jovanovski's biggest responsibility was serving up mashed potatoes although a number of the kids asked for photos and autographs from the Panthers' captain as well.

"I think the kids were all excited to have some pizza, some turkey and all the fixings,'' said Jovanovski, who has been out since having hip surgery last spring. "It was good to see. I know Thanksgiving is right up there as far as holidays go. It's nice to give back.''

-- Defenseman Mike Mottau and forward Jesse Winchester were scratched Wednesday. Winchester has missed the past three games with a lower body injury.

-- Wednesday marked the second of three meetings between the Panthers and Rangers this season. New York returns to Sunrise to finish the series on New Year's Eve.


November 26, 2013

CHANUKAH CELEBRATION IN SUNRISE: Panthers to Host Opening Night Party on Wednesday

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers will celebrate the beginning of Chanukah at Wednesday's game with the team's annual 'Chanukah on Ice Celebration.'

The highlight of the night will be the lighting of a giant menorah on the ice during the first intermission.

Cantor Yossi Lebovics is scheduled to sing the national anthem and the Maccabeats will perform during the first intermission and during a postgame concert.

The celebration of the first night of Chanukah will also include Glatt Kosher Food available for purchase as well as chocolate gelt handed out to all children attending the game.


IN PROGRESS: Ed Jovanovski Continues Working Way Back

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers would like to continue improving their blueline with the addition of captain Ed Jovanovski although that probably isn't forthcoming. Jovanovski continues to workout with the team, but his return from major hip surgery at 37 is a slow process.

Neither the Panthers nor Jovanovski are pushing things.

"I'm still in the frame of mind that I'm getting stronger, more comfortable in making that next step,'' Jovanovski said Tuesday. "There's still no date. I think at this point, a lot of it comes down to you being your own doctor of sorts. I'm taking the information from doctors and I know I don't feel quite ready.''


GETTING DEFENSIVE: Tim Thomas Getting Some Help

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers defensive play has most definitely picked up over the past couple of weeks with most of the credit going to goalie Tim Thomas being back between the pipes.

Although Thomas is carrying most of the load, he is getting some help on the defensive side.

In Monday's 3-1 win over Philadelphia, Florida was credited with 17 blocked shots -- including a game-high three from Mike Weaver.

The addition of Weaver, who missed four games with a serious case of the flu, and newcomer Dylan Olsen helped frustrate the Flyers.

"They were solid defensively,'' coach Peter Horachek said. "Having Olsen and Weaver in the lineup allowed us to play a better team game down low in our zone.''

Philadelphia came strong at Thomas and the Panthers in the third period on Monday, scoring its lone goal off a season-high 20 shots in the period. Thomas made 38 saves to stop Philadelphia's five-game winning streak at Sunrise.

"They're not a slouch team,'' Horachek said. "They were pushing hard. They have some top-end players. It wasn't about the number of shots, it was about the quality and the mistakes we made. Twenty shots is a lot, but overall, the second effort was there. We did a good things. It's the end result.''

Olsen, who came to the Panthers in the Kris Versteeg deal earlier this month, was recalled from the minors on Sunday and played in his first game with Florida. Olsen made quite an impression, using his big frame in the corners. Olsen was officially credited with three hits and two blocked shots.

“Playing rough, that’s what they want,'' Olsen said before the game. "They want guys to shut down other teams’ top lines, be physical with them. I’m just going to go out there and do what I can to help the team win. .-.-. Coming here is a great opportunity for me to get my foot in the door and start establishing myself in the NHL and making a career out of it.”

-- Tomas Kopecky, placed on the injured reserve list on Monday, was spotted walking around the training complex on Tuesday without a cast on what is thought to be an injured wrist or hand.

Kopecky is eligible to come off the IR for Saturday's game against the Penguins. He said he hopes to be able to play.

-- The Rangers are the first team that Horachek and his new coaching staff will see for the second time. The Panthers lost in New York 4-3 in Horachek's second game on Nov. 10.

"It helps to have a little familiarity, you know what to expect from certain lines,'' he said. "When you played those teams early on, I had no idea what kind of match-ups, what we were capable of in different situations. You start getting a better feel for your players as well as theirs. It's good to be getting to that place.''



When, Where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise

TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560

The series: New York leads 43-32-6

Scouting report: The Rangers are 2-1 on their five-game road trip but got beat 5-0 by the Lightning on Monday. The Rangers have won at least once in Sunrise in each of the past five seasons. New York returns on New Year's Eve.


PHOTO: JOE RIMKUS JR./Miami Herald Staff

November 25, 2013

REMEMBERING ROGER: Panthers Honor First Coach, Name Press Box After Neilson

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers honored their first coach Monday by naming the press box at BB&T Center after Roger Neilson in an afternoon ceremony.

Owner Vinnie Viola said he wanted to be at the event to "make it very clear that the Panthers organization takes care of its own and remembers the sacrifice and dedication it takes.''

Neilson was hired by Bill Torrey, the Panthers' team president at the time. On Monday, Torrey opened his remarks by commenting on Neilson's colorful -- and often very inexpensive -- neckties. "We thought they were bandanas from Woodstock,'' Brian Skrudland joked.

Neilson died in 2003 after battling cancer.

"Roger is being honored in a lovely way and a way he would appreciate,'' Torrey said. "I told Roger, 'you gave your life to hockey.' What more can you say to someone who truly, every single day of life, had his happiest moments when he was at the rink hassling the players or hassling the general manager. I miss him.''

Fans honored Neilson's memory with a standing ovation during a first period timeout. Neilson also coached the Flyers for a few seasons.


BIG DIFFERENCE: Thomas, Bergenheim Say Hello to Flyers in Florida's 3-1 Win

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Tim Thomas stuck around for the whole game and Sean Bergenheim was in the lineup this time around. That was bad news for the Flyers.

Thomas made 38 saves and Bergenheim scored twice within a 10-minute span as the Panthers opened a five-game homestand with a 3-1 win over Philadelphia on Monday night.

Bergenheim missed Florida's 2-1 loss at Philadelphia on Oct. 8 as he was working his way back into the lineup after being out all of last season. Thomas gave up two goals in less than eight minutes as he left that game early with a groin pull.

"I wasn't thinking payback,'' Thomas said. "I was just thinking we had a pretty good road trip and I wanted to start the homestand the right way.''

Monday, both made their mark against the Flyers in a positive manner.

Thomas was sharp throughout as he helped lead the Panthers to their fourth win in nine games -- of which Thomas has started all of them -- under new coach Peter Horachek.

"I think that gives a lot of guys confidence,'' Horachek said. "They know Timmy is there and he's going to make the save when he needs to. Guys need to feel comfortable in these one-goal games.''

Bergenheim, playing with the flu, showed incredible focus and determination to give Thomas a 1-0 lead early in the second.

Bergenheim got his first crack at goalie Steve Mason but was rejected on a wraparound on the right side of the cage. Bergenheim then followed his own rebound with an odd-angled shot before getting the puck back and finally pushing it past Mason's leg on the left side.

"It feels good [to score] but the win feels the best,'' Bergenheim said. "We're headed in the right direction.''

Bergenheim's goal -- his first since the 2012 playoffs -- came moments after the Panthers completed a tough penalty kill. Florida was forced to play down two skaters for 1:23 after Erik Gudbranson was flagged for delay of game with Scott Gomez already in the box.

Thomas held things down during the extended penalty kill, stopping seven shots during the 2:37 the Flyers held an advantage.

"Killing off a 5-on-3 like that was a turning point for us,'' Gudbranson said. "Obviously I should have made a better play on the second penalty, but the team stepped up. There was a lot of firepower out there.''

The Panthers made it 2-0 on a power play of their own when Bergenehim got a piece of Marcel Goc's heavy shot from the left circle with 6:01 left in the period.

Philadelphia, which has won six of its past eight, cut its deficit to one when Wayne Simmonds knocked in a rebound left after Thomas stopped Scott Hartnall on a power play shot early in the third.

Gudbranson all but ended it with 4:08 left when his shot from 55 feet out hit Mason then bounced over his head and trickled into the net.

-- Mike Weaver was taken off injured reserve on Monday; Tomas Kopecky (upper body) and Matt Gilroy (lower body) were placed on it.

Kopecky was hurt Thursday in Edmonton and could return Saturday; Gilroy will miss at least the next three games.


November 24, 2013

HOMEWARD BOUND: Panthers Thankful for Long Holiday Homestand

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

When Peter Horachek was named the Panthers interim coach earlier this month, he didn't have to go house hunting.

He and his wife already owned a condo in downtown Fort Lauderdale.

Not that he's seen much of it.

Since taking over for Kevin Dineen on Nov. 8, Horachek has only been 'home' in South Florida for a few days. Of the eight games Horachek has been behind the bench, seven have been away from Sunrise.

The Panthers kick off their annual Thanksgiving homestand Monday with Philadelphia being the first of five opponents to come to town through Dec. 5.

"It will obviously be good to get back. I haven't been able to spend much time there,'' said Horachek, who is 3-4-1 with the Panthers so far.

"No games are easy and that's how it is in this league. We have some tough home games. But we have to worry about ourselves, get the mistakes out of our game.''

General manager Dale Tallon says he is very happy with the work Horachek has done noting the difficult circumstances.

Horachek replaced Dineen in the midst of a road trip, meeting the team in Ottawa for a short workout before a pair of back-to-back games against the Senators and Rangers. The Panthers lost both before breaking a nine-game losing streak Nov. 12 at home against Anaheim.

Dineen's assistant coaches, Gord Murphy and Craig Ramsay, were also let go meaning Horachek and his new staff had to go to work immediately.

Former Panthers Brian Skrudland and John Madden were brought in from other roles within the organization to join Horachek behind the bench.

"I'm happy with what Peter has done,'' Tallon said. "Everyone is playing hard, playing the same system. Everyone has reacted positively to a tough situation. I didn't expect this to happen nor did I want it to happen. But here we are. We have to make the best of it.''

As for the Panthers, Horachek hopes they've turned a corner. On the recent five-game road trip, Florida played well in four of them. The Panthers went 2-2-1 on their longest geographical trip of the year with stops in Minnesota, Denver, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary.

Florida picked up wins against Colorado and the Canucks with a shootout loss in Calgary.

"It's progress, a work in progress,'' Horachek said after Sunday's practice in Coral Springs.

"We're working on things. We had some really good games. We had some wins in some tough buildings. We had good moments in Minnesota. .-.-. Edmonton was really the one I didn't like. We can get better.''

-- The Panthers recalled defenseman Dylan Olsen from San Antonio and put Mike Weaver on the injured list. Weaver said he had been hit with the flu before Florida's win in Colorado and missed the final four games of the trip.

Olsen was one of two players - Jimmy Hayes is the other - Florida got from Chicago in the Kris Versteeg deal.

-- Center Nick Bjugstad found himself in a strange spot Friday as he was put in as Florida's fourth shooter for the shootout. Bjugstad was stopped on his first NHL shootout try.

"The goalies are so good in this league, I probably have to sell it more,'' Bjugstad said of his shootout move. "Maybe next time.''

-- The Panthers will officially honor former coach Roger Neilson by naming the press box at BB&T Center after the first coach in franchise history on Monday.

Neilson, who died of cancer in 2003, coached Florida for its first two seasons of existence.

-- Rostislav Olesz, the seventh overall pick of the Panthers in 2004, has left the NHL to play in Switzerland. The Devils released Olesz on Wednesday as he was already en route to Europe.

Olesz started with the Panthers as a 19-year-old in 2005 and spent six mostly inconsistent seasons with Florida.

Olesz signed a six-year deal worth $18.75 million with the Panthers in 2008. Chicago was on the hook for the final three years of the deal but bought Olesz out over the summer after acquiring him in exchange for Brian Campbell in 2011.

Former Panthers coach Pete DeBoer was reunited with Olesz in New Jersey this season although Olesz only played in 10 games with the Devils and just 16 NHL games since leaving the Panthers.


When, Where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise

TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560

The series: Philadelphia leads 45-29-7

Scouting report: The Flyers won their first game of the season on Oct. 8 when they scored two early goals and held on to beat the Panthers 2-1. Tim Thomas was hurt just before the second goal went in then missed the following week. The Flyers have won three straight and have won 10 of 22 this season.


November 22, 2013

LONG ROAD TRIP ENDS IN LONG SHOOTOUT: Flames Top Panthers 4-3 after Six Rounds of Shootout

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

CALGARY -- Peter Horachek wasn't happy with Florida's performance in Edmonton on Thursday and wasn't smiling much during Friday's game against the Flames at the Saddledome.

The Panthers bounced back from a two-goal deficit in the third period yet still lost 4-3 in a shootout to a Calgary team that had lost eight of its first 10 games this month.

Florida ends its five game road trip with consecutive losses to the two worst teams in the Western Conference as Florida was outscored in Alberta 7-4. The Panthers went 2-2-1 on the trip, winning in Colorado and Vancouver before losing Thursday.

"We played in all tough buildings,'' Horachek said. "We came out [Friday] and had good opportunity 5-on-5, had some puck possession.''

Friday's game was a contrast of experience in net as Calgary's Reto Berra was playing in only his ninth NHL game in his first professional season in North America.

Florida's Tim Thomas, however, was playing in his 442nd NHL game and making his eighth straight start.

The Panthers gave Horachek the opening he hoped for, saying before the game that someone "needs to respond" after Thursday's poor effort in Edmonton.

Florida, playing a boring game on the end of this five-game road trip, took a 1-0 lead as defenseman Tom Gilbert scored his first of the season after winding up after Nick Bjugstad won a face off deep in the Calgary zone.

Gilbert's goal came on Florida's fourth shot on goal of the game -- at 15:14 of the period. The Panthers ended up outshooting the Flames 6-3 in an opening period that wasn't one for the ages.

"I thought our first period was awesome, we were simple and didn't give them much,'' Gilbert said. "To get the first goal is comforting. We've been behind a lot this year.''

The Flames, playing in front of a mostly disinterested crowd, woke up in the second by putting a pair of shots past Thomas within a three minute span to take a 2-1 lead into the second break.

Calgary then made it 3-1 5:40 into the third when Blair Jones scored off a nice feed from Lance Bouma.

Florida bounced right back with newly acquired Jimmy Hayes making Berra pay for coming 40 feet out of his cage to play a puck as Shawn Matthias was chasing it down.

Hayes picked up the puck and blew past Berra, working around two defenders and scoring into an empty net to make it 3-2.

"I tried to read off the goalie and he put it right on my tape,'' said Hayes, who came to Florida last week in the Kris Versteeg deal. "Matthias showed some good speed getting down there.''

The Panthers kept working at Berra with Marcel Goc putting one past the 26-year-old Swiss goalie with 5:59 to set things even again.

The shootout went six rounds, with Thomas losing his first shootout of the season when Sean Monahan scored Calgary's third goal of the session. Florida countered with Hayes but he was stopped. The Panthers got shootout goals from Brad Boyes and Tomas Fleischmann.

Thomas, 39, has started eight straight games as he has been the only goalie Horachek has used since replacing Kevin Dineen. Thomas' run started in Horachek's first game behind the Florida bench Nov. 9 in Ottawa.

Three of those eight games have come on the second night of a back-to-back set. Thomas made 31 saves in Thursday's loss at Edmonton; he had 21 through 65 minutes on Friday.

"We're managing his energy, his focus,'' Horachek said. "Things may change if you're 4-0 on the road trip and you're going on back-to-back days. But his job is to be our best option to win and he's doing that.''

-- Florida lost forwards Tomas Kopecky and Jesse Winchester to what Horachek called minor injuries during Thursday's game. Both were out Friday.

Defenseman Mike Weaver remained out with what he had described as the flu. Weaver has missed four straight games.

"He's not 100 percent,'' Horachek said.

Sean Bergenheim and Scott Gomez returned to the lineup in place of Kopecky and Winchester.

-- The Panthers stayed in Calgary following Friday's game and planned to charter back to Fort Lauderdale on Saturday morning.


November 21, 2013

OILERS START FAST, FINISH: Panthers Lose to Edmonton Again, This Time 4-1

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

EDMONTON -- The Panthers may have had a new coach, a different goalie and a touch more confidence yet it didn't matter a whole lot Thursday night.

For the second time in just over two weeks, the Panthers lost to the Edmonton Oilers, this time 4-1 at Rexall Place in the frigid capital of Alberta.

"The key to this game was energy. We didn't have any,'' coach Peter Horachek said.

"If our energy is better, if we came out with a workmanlike effort, everything improves. I thought right from the beginning the effort was there, the compete wasn't there. It made it a struggle. We thought we could get it back. We didn't.''

Florida lost in a shootout to the Oilers at home on Nov. 5 with the decision to fire coach Kevin Dineen and replace him with Horachek - then coaching Florida's minor league team - made soon afterward.

Both teams are playing better than they were then, with Edmonton getting a win over provincial rival Calgary on Saturday with a four-goal third period before rolling visiting Columbus 7-0 on Tuesday.

Edmonton jumped all over the Panthers, taking advantage of Tom Gilbert's penalty 25 seconds into the game by getting a power play goal from Jordan Eberle before the first minute had expired. Eberle would later dump in an empty net goal with 1:11 left.

Florida trailed 2-0 as Sam Gagner -- who originally took up the game in Coral Springs as his dad Dave played for the Panthers -- got his first of the year in the second.

The Panthers would be down by three for the first time under Horachek midway through the second before Scottie Upshall made it 3-1.

Upshall, from the oil town of Fort McMurray about a 4 1/2 hour drive north of Edmonton, has four goals this season with three of them coming against the Oilers.

"We pushed hard at the end which I think was good,'' Upshall said. "There were some positives. .-.-. It was just a grind, a real uphill climb being down 3-0.''

Florida had a number of opportunities to get back in the game during a third period in which it had three power play chances. The Panthers went 0-for-5 with the advantage; Edmonton was 2-for-5.

"There were chances, but we didn't get off to a good start,'' Brian Campbell said. "We felt we were in the game. .-.-. We have to find a way, have to get it done. We didn't have our best game by any means, but we have to find a way to get through that and get the points. This is disappointing.''

Devan Dubnyk turned the Panthers back, making six saves in the third as he helped the Oilers win three straight for the first time this season. Dubnyk got the win in Florida earlier this month as well.

The Panthers were looking for their first three-game streak as well as they had won three of four coming in. The Panthers five-game road trip concludes Friday night a few hours south in Calgary.

-- The Panthers lost Tomas Kopecky to what looks to be a hand or wrist injury after he was jammed up in a corner by Boyd Gordon in the first period. Kopecky left the game and didn't return. Horachek said Kopecky will likely miss Friday's game.

Jesse Winchester, who plays on a line with Kopecky and Marcel Goc, also left the game with a lower body injury. Winchester returned to the game and played a few shifts in the second but didn't play at all in the third.

Florida scratched Mike Weaver, Sean Bergenheim and Scott Gomez on Thursday. All three are eligible to play Friday against the Flames.



November 19, 2013

LATE NIGHT WITH THE PANTHERS: Tim Thomas Comes Up Huge in 3-2 Shootout Win, Florida's First in Vancouver Since 1994

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

VANCOUVER -- Tim Thomas reminded his teammates that, yes, he had won a game at Vancouver's Rogers Arena before Tuesday's game.

During the game, Thomas made sure everyone wearing the Panthers sweater had as well.

By making 30 total saves, Thomas led Florida to its first win in Vancouver in three decades with a 3-2 shootout victory over the Canucks.

The win was just Florida's second in Vancouver and first since the Canucks moved to what is now known as Rogers Arena in 1995.

Florida last beat the Canucks here during its expansion season of 1993-94.

"After the game, we said 'now we've all won here','' Thomas said with a grin.

"Winning here wasn't a factor. We won two of three coming in to this, we've been putting quality efforts together against good teams. To be able to keep it going .-.-. this was the result we needed no matter who it was against.''

On Tuesday, it was Thomas who was a difference-maker again for the Panthers as they have won three of the past four games and two straight for the first time.

Thomas is 3-3 since coming back from injury as he started the first game with new coach Peter Horachek behind the bench on Nov. 9 and hasn't stopped since. Thomas made 27 saves during the first 65 minutes before stopped all three Vancouver offerings in the shootout.

The Canucks have lost five straight.

"They are a desperate team like ourselves,'' said Thomas, 2-0 in shootouts this season with five saves on five shots. "They've struggled and wanted desperately to break that. We were desperate to keep what we've started going.''

Thomas came out strong in a building he obviously has great memories of. The last time he was here, he led the Bruins to their first Stanley Cup win in four decades in Game 7 of the 2011 Cup Finals.

There wasn't as much on the line this time although the Panthers seem to be finding their way.

Former Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo, who still lives in South Florida during the offseason, was stellar as well.

Luongo, who played for the Panthers from 2000-06, made 34 saves -- including a number in the final minute of regulation that kept the game moving. Florida came hard at Luongo in the opening period as he made 13 saves off 14 shots.

"I thought they had a great first period. They came out hard and had a lot of chances,'' Luongo said. "Once we tied the game, they kept firing pucks at the net. Give them credit. Obviously a shootout can go either way.''

The Panthers trailed 2-1 in the third after Vancouver's Jannik Hansen whipped a shot off a Tomas Fleischmann turnover past Thomas early on. But Florida tied it up with 11:26 left when Shawn Matthias fired a mid-range shot past Luongo.

On Vancouver's first goal, both Dmitry Kulikov and Erik Gudbranson failed to clear the puck from behind the Florida net as Chris Higgins tied the score at 1 in the second.

The Panthers, who had only scored the initial goal four times before Saturday, made it 1-0 after Brad Boyes followed up Barkov's power play shot and put it past Roberto Luongo.

Barkov's shot clipped the goal cage and the puck bounded back toward Boyes -- who collected his eight goal in 21 games. He had 10 for the Islanders last year.

Jonathan Huberdeau led off the shootout with a goal -- and that's all Thomas needed. Luongo stopped Barkov with Florida's second shot although the Panthers wouldn't need a third.

"It's the end result,'' Horachek said. "We bent in the second period but didn't break. In the third, we reacted after they scored with a goal. That was huge. The guys are reacting the right way.''


As expected, Vancouver's David Booth wasn't in the lineup for what would have been his first game against his former team.

Booth was traded from the Panthers to the Canucks early in the 2011-12 season but was hurt and didn't play when the two teams met up that year.

On Tuesday, Booth was simply a healthy scratch. The 28-year-old has just two goals over the course of the past two seasons and one in 13 games in this one.

Florida didn't have Scott Gomez, Sean Bergenheim or Mike Weaver in its lineup.


ROGER'S ARENA: Panthers to Honor Legendary Roger Neilson

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

VANCOUVER -- Roger Neilson was Florida's first coach, leading the Panthers through their first two seasons of existance before being fired and replaced by Doug MacLean.

On Tuesday, the Panthers announced they would name the press box at BB&T Center in Neilson's honor. The unveiling of the 'Roger Neilson Memorial Press Box' will take place Monday.

Neilson died after a battle with cancer on June 21, 2003.

"Roger brought me in and probably had the most impact on me as a coach,'' said television analyst Billy Lindsay, who played for Neilson during those first two seasons in Florida.

"He was someone I truly loved. He was a great coach and a great man. I think it's awesome that the team is honoring him this way. This is a great way to always remember him. I think he would have appreciated it.''


TIMMY'S BACK IN VANCOUVER: Panthers Trying to Break Losing Streak

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

VANCOUVER -- Panthers coach Peter Horachek opened Tuesday's morning skate by reminding his team that the Florida Panthers had never won a game in this building.

"I have,'' goalie Tim Thomas responded, drawing laughs from Horachek and his teammates.

Thomas, obviously, knows how it feels to win at Rogers Arena as he beat the Canucks in Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals here. Before Monday's workout, Thomas hadn't been back.

Florida came into Tuesday's game with no wins in 11 games (five ties) at Vancouver's GM Place/Rogers Arena. The Panthers lone Vancouver win came in their first visit during their expansion year of 1993-94 and came at the Canucks' former home, the Pacific Coliseum.

-- Mike Weaver was declared out of Tuesday's game after missing the morning skate because of his illness. Weaver also missed Saturday's game at Colorado. Scott Gomez (groin) and Sean Bergenheim were also out of the lineup.

BOOTH OUT AGAINST PANTHERS: Goals, Playing Time Harder to Find in Vancouver

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

VANCOUVER -- David Booth didn't want to leave the Panthers, didn't ask to be traded as some others have.

When word came down from Dale Tallon on Oct. 22, 2011 that Booth was headed to Vancouver, Booth tearfully scrawled wrote a message to his teammates on the white board and reluctantly trudged out of the arena.

The Panthers would play the Islanders later that night without No. 10 in the lineup.

"It was tough to say goodbye,'' Booth said then.

One of the more popular players in Florida during his six-plus seasons with the Panthers, Booth has struggled lately. Booth scored 16 goals in his 56 games in the season following the trade but only two in 25 games since.

Now in his third year with the Canucks, Booth has been plagued by various injuries (knee, ankle, groin). Booth has scored one goal in 13 games this season and spent time in the minors.

That's a far cry from Booth's time in Florida when he scored 31 goals in 2008-09 and a total of 87 in 309 games with the Panthers.

"He's gone through a number of injuries,'' Vancouver coach John Tortorella said. "You have to fight through it mentally and let yourself go. I don't think he's done that. He's a really good player. It's still there. We have to help him find it to help us be a better team.''

When the Panthers visit Booth's Canucks late Tuesday night, Booth won't be on the ice after being deemed a healthy scratch by Tortorella.

"I obviously would have liked to play, this is a game that was circled,'' said Booth, who was hurt when Vancouver visited Sunrise in 2012.

On Tuesday morning, Booth was basically if he was worth his high price tag. The Panthers gave Booth a six-year deal worth $25.5 million -- with the Canucks paying the brunt of it. Booth will make $4.5 million this season and $4.75 next season.

Vancouver sent Mikael Samuelsson and Marco Sturm to Florida in exchange for Booth, Steven Reinprecht and a third-round draft pick.

"No one me to a higher expectation than myself,'' he said, barely looking up. "You know, 'to whom much is given, much is required.' That's an old Biblical principal that has always stuck with me. I know I've been given much and much is expected from me. I'm going to work as hard as I can.''

The Canucks are a team loaded with former Panthers. While Roberto Luongo still lives in South Florida and would have liked to return to the Panthers, Jason Garrison grew up in the Vancouver area and cashed in during free agency by leaving the Panthers for the Canucks.

Booth, while saying he is happy in Vancouver, admits he misses the low-pressure lifestyle playing hockey in South Florida afforded him. Booth was happy to see the Panthers make it to the playoffs after he left, saying their long-suffering fans deserved to enjoy that.

If the opportunity came around for Booth to return to the Panthers, the thought is he would take it.

"Trust me, I look back with nothing but positives about Florida,'' Booth said. "There are things I miss, especially the ability to just go out and play. Here, it's hockey and that's all it is. In Florida you play and that suited my style. Maybe it doesn't for others. There are things I love about here, there's no place I'd rather be. But things work out. It's fine here. I enjoy it. But it's part of the job.''



November 18, 2013

BACK IN VANCOUVER: Panthers Hope Tim Thomas' Success Follows Him

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Goalie Tim Thomas earned his 200th career victory Saturday at Colorado and is expected to start Tuesday in his first return to Vancouver since the Bruins won the Stanley Cup from the Canucks in 2011.

Thomas, the playoff MVP that summer, got into a little spat with Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo before Game 6 of that series in which Luongo said "I haven't heard one nice thing he had to say about me, so that's the way it is."

Thomas responded with "I guess I didn't realize it was my job to pump his tires." The Bruins won the final two games of that series.

On Monday, Luongo -- who played with the Panthers from 2000-06 and was traded to Vancouver when this city hosted the NHL draft in 2006 -- posted a picture of a bicycle pump on Twitter page that he's been linked to.

RT @strombone1: Just at Canadian Tire picking up a few essentials for tomorrow's big tilt....... http://t.co/G5tPwuTDCp”

Thomas earned the loss in Vancouver's 4-3 win at Boston on Jan. 7, 2012 although Luongo didn't play that night. Two days later, the Panthers beat Luongo and the Canucks in Sunrise 2-1.

-- Although Thomas won the last time he was on Vancouver ice, the Panthers haven't had much of any success in Vancouver -- and have yet to win a single game in the Canucks' GM Place/Rogers Arena.

Florida has won just one of 12 games played here, winning in its first visit during the expansion season of 1993-94.

Florida is 0-6 (with five ties) since beating the host Canucks on March 7, 1994 -- the only game the two teams played at Pacific Coliseum. Vancouver opened its current arena in 1995.


When, Where: 10 p.m.; Rogers Arena, Vancouver

TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560

The series: Vancouver leads 11-6-6

Scouting report: The 'Florida Canucks' are expected to have five former Panthers players -- including goalie Roberto Luongo and winger David Booth -- in Tuesday's lineup. Vancouver has lost four straight.


FUN WITH HOCKEY: Panthers Loosening Up

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

VANCOUVER -- The Panthers opened practice Monday with a pratfall from defenseman Dmitry Kulikov that had his entire team laughing and ended it with a loud cheer as Jonathan Huberdeau scored during a shootout rally.

Funny what a few wins can do to a miserable disposition.

"Hockey is a fun sport,'' Erik Gudbranson said. "You have to go out there and be able to enjoy it, not look at it as a job. This is what we love to do. We've challenged ourself but we've had fun doing it.''

The Panthers have won two of their past three after snapping a nine-game losing streak last Tuesday against Anaheim. Peter Horachek replaced Kevin Dineen on Nov. 8 with Brian Skrudland and John Madden coming along as assistants.

Horachek has brought a new attacking style of play that has worked at times although the Panthers haven't played a bad game since the new regime took over.

For Horachek, there's time for fun if and when the team does its work.

"Sometimes when there are losing streaks or negative things happening, you have to loosen things up a little,'' he said. "The players have to understand, though, that you can smile and enjoy things but you have to put the work in. Work can be enjoyable.''

On Monday, the team worked on all variations of its game before ending things with a spirited shootout rally in which the team was split in two. Each side had five pucks; when one went past the goalie, it stayed there. The team with no more pucks remaining won.

"The wins have definitely helped things,'' Marcel Goc said. "When we finally won, people were relieved and started feeling better about themselves. We just have to keep climbing up the ladder.''

-- Defenseman Mike Weaver said he was still feeling some effects of the illness that knocked him out of Saturday's game. Weaver practiced Monday and is expected to play Tuesday.

Center Scott Gomez (groin) also worked out Monday after missing five straight games.


November 16, 2013

HAT'S OFF TO GILBERT: Panthers D Gets New Prize for his Three Assists

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

DENVER -- The Panthers apparently picked up a new goofy trinket on the road to reward their player of the night.

Tom Gilbert, who tied a career-high with three assists, received the red Randy 'Macho Man' Savage cowboy hat following Florida's 4-1 win over the host Avalanche.

"It's new and now I think we're going to start winning a lot of games,'' said Jonathan Huberdeau, who scored Florida's final goal this night. "We just needed to get this one.''

Where the hat was purchased -- and who found it -- is being held as a secret for now. But Gilbert seemed happy rocking it even if it did leave some red glitter on his face.

"We did the right things,'' Gilbert said. "We got pucks deep, chased pucks down. Hats off to our forwards, they were great down low."

When told Florida's PR director had taken the hat to be packed away, Gilbert grinned and admitted it was nice to be the first to wear it.

"Hopefully a lot of guys get to wear it throughout the year,'' Gilbert said. "These things are good. It was great to put in the effort and get the outcome. This is a long season. We can build off this.''

The Panthers have previously given their game 'heroes' such things as wrestling belts, fire helmets and, last year, a red velvet Cavalier hat complete with a feather.

PHOTO VIA @FlaPanthers


PANTHERS FLYING MILE HIGH: Florida Gets Rare Lead, Rare Victory in Denver

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

DENVER -- Falling behind early has been a problem that has plagued the Panthers all season regardless of who was coaching the team.

It wasn't Saturday as the Panthers never trailed in a 4-1 victory over the Avalanche at Pepsi Center.

The win was Florida's first in Denver since 2003 and oddly came almost a year to the day in which the Heat snapped its 10-year drought in the Mile High City against the Nuggets last season.

The Heat finally beat the Nuggets here on Nov. 15, 2012. Florida's win came on Nov. 16.

"That was the game we were looking for,'' said goalie Tim Thomas, who made 32 saves as Florida has won two of three after snapping a nine-game losing streak Thursday.

"We've been putting together good 40, 50 minute games but we're always behind. We played for 60 minutes and had the lead. When we had it, we played well. I think if we had the lead on a more consistent basis we'd do well with it.''

Saturday's game was notable in a number of ways.

The Panthers scored the first goal of a game for the first time since Peter Horachek took over for Kevin Dineen on Nov. 9.

Usually it goes the other way for the Panthers as Florida trailed 1-0 in each of Horachek's first four games going into Saturday and were down 2-0 in three of the four.

On Saturday, Brian Campbell's power play goal in the second gave the Panthers their first 2-0 lead in a game this season.

"I just play hockey and don't worry about all that stuff,'' Campbell said. "The big thing is we got off to a better start. .-.-. A good start and good things happen hopefully. We're working hard for each other. It's nice playing with the lead.''

Playing with a lead isn't something the Panthers have been used to as Florida has played from behind for much of the season. On Saturday, they seemed to revel in it as the Panthers built a three-goal lead when Jonathan Huberdeau scored with 7:44 left.

Instead of fading at this high altitude, the Panthers kept their shifts short and made them count.

"We played with a lot of confidence,'' said Huberdeau, nursing a nice cut on his bottom lip that earned the four-minute power play Campbell scored on. "We played a full 60 minutes and we know that's what we need to do.''

In the first quarter of the 2013-14 season, Florida's opponent has taken a 1-0 lead in 16 of the 21 games. Those teams made it 2-0 on 11 occasions.

The Panthers trailed going into the second period 11 times and were behind going into the third in all but seven games -- Saturday included -- this year.

On Saturday, Brad Boyes' seventh goal of the year gave Florida a 1-0 lead shortly after its second power play ended by lifting a shot over goalie Semyon Varlamov's head.

After Ryan O'Reilly slipped a loose puck past Thomas -- making his fifth straight start -- to make it 2-1, Tomas Kopecky got his second in as many nights to give Florida a 3-1 lead going into the third.

Huberdeau scored his second in as many nights after knocking in a rebound off a Nick Bjugstad shot.

"You have to put the losses behind you no matter how hard they are,'' Thomas said. "We played very composed with the lead. That's a good sign. It's been a tough go at times this year and the last thing we need to to have problems in that area too.''

-- Jimmy Hayes, one of two players Florida got for Kris Versteeg in Thursday's trade with Chicago, was in the lineup for the first time Saturday.

-- Winger Sean Bergenheim was scratched for the third time and for the second time in which the Panthers were playing games on consecutive nights.

Bergenheim missed all of last season and the beginning of this one after numerous surgeries related to his hip, abdominal and groin.

Defenseman Mike Weaver was sick and was out of the lineup for the first time this season.

-- The Panthers were scheduled to fly to Vancouver following Saturday's game and will take Sunday off. The team will hold a closed practice Monday afternoon at Rogers Arena.

-- The Avs had been 14-4-4 against the Panthers since leaving Quebec City for Denver in 1995.

Colorado, which swept the Panthers in the 1996 Stanley Cup Final, hadn't lost to the Panthers in Denver since Jan. 2, 2003 when Florida's Viktor Kozlov scored twice in a 4-1 win.


November 15, 2013

PANTHERS FIGHT BACK, LOSE AGAIN: Wild Get Goal with 8:22 Remaining, Beat Panthers 3-2

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Panthers fell behind by two first period goals on Friday, putting themselves in a familiar position.

Despite fighting back in the third, Florida found itself with a familiar fate: Another loss.

Minnesota's Charlie Coyle scored with 8:22 left to give Minnesota its lead back and a 3-2 win at Xcel Energy Center. The win was Minnesota's ninth in 12 games at Xcel and its third straight overall.

The Panthers have lost 10 of the past 11 games.

"It seems like it's the same picture over and over,'' coach Peter Horachek said. "We fight our way back into the game. .-.-. We're trying to get it out of our system.''

The Panthers trailed 2-0 going into the third but got goals from Tomas Kopecky -- his first of the season -- and Jonathan Huberdeau to tie things up.

Both players had been in a prolonged slump. Kopecky hadn't scored a game all season; Huberdeau shut out in his past 12.

"We're both happy to score, it's been a while,'' Huberdeau said. "We need to stop giving up the early lead. Everyone can see that we can play against the best teams. We need to play a full 60 minutes.''

Tim Thomas, making his fourth consecutive start, gave up two goals on eight shots in the opening period before the Panthers got on the board 3:31 into the third.

-- Center Nick Bjugstad had dozens of friends and family members attend his first pro game near his hometown.

Bjugstad was Minnesota's Mr. Hockey as a prep star in 2010 and spent three years at the University of Minnesota before leaving to sign with the Panthers. He got a loud ovation when announced for his assist on Hubderdau's goal.

After showering and getting dressed, Bjugstad waded back into the stands to greet his cheering section as seen in the above picture.