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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.