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43 posts from December 2013

December 31, 2013

MERRY NEW YEAR: Panthers End Winning Month with 2-1 Shootout Loss to Rangers

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Not all of 2013 was bad for the Florida Panthers. In fact, Florida wouldn't mind if December kept on going.

The Panthers tied a franchise record with their 17th point of the month by picking up one in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Rangers at BB&T Center.

Had Florida won - and it came dangerously close to doing so - the team really would have had a month for the record books.

"We're picking up some momentum, doing some good things,'' said goalie Tim Thomas, who made his first start in three weeks and made 30 saves. "We're a much better team than we were in October. If we keep making strides, that's the direction we want to go.''

New owner Vinnie Viola pulled the team out of the locker room following the game for a little pep talk and to wish them all a happy New Year.

For the Panthers, turning the page on 2013 is welcomed. Not only did Florida finish last season with the worst record in the entire league for the first time, but a 3-9-4 start cost Kevin Dineen his job behind the bench.

The Panthers went 8-5-1 in the final month of '13 after going 4-8-3 in November.

"The guys battled hard,'' said interim coach Peter Horachek. "We need to take something positive out of it. We need to be comfortable in a one-goal game.''

The Panthers, swept by the Rangers this season, had been waiting on Thomas for a few weeks after he tweaked his groin in practice on Dec. 12. Thomas was taken off the injured list on Christmas Eve, yet backup Scott Clemmensen got the next two starts just to be safe.

"I think it was a wise choice to sit him,'' Horachek said. "We didn't want him in and out. He does it again, you're missing weeks.''

With Thomas tossing back shots, the Panthers took the game to the Rangers yet only led 1-0 after Brad Boyes' goal in the second.

Boyes, who becomes Florida's first 10-goal scorer of the season, backhanded a slick feed from Aleksander Barkov through Lundqvist's skates.

"We need to keep the wins going, get some points,'' said Boyes, who leads Florida in goals yet has two in his past 18 games.

The Rangers had new life when Florida failed to do much on a four-minute power play in the third after Nick Bjugstad left the ice after taking a stick to the face.

New York tied it with 2:10 left on a Brad Richards shot.

Florida still had chances and came thisclose to winning it in the waning seconds of overtime but Tomas Fleischmann's shot went wide.

The Panthers went 0-3 in the shootout as Richards' won it on New York's third shot.

"We played well but sat back in the third period,'' Boyes said. "We didn't generate chances much less a goal and that hurt us. They kept pushing. It was somewhat surprising for us. We usually don't sit back.''


The roster for the U.S. Olympic team will be announced Wednesday afternoon and Thomas has made a strong case to be included.

Although the Detroit Free Press reported that Jimmy Howard would be the third goalie, Thomas is convinced a decision will not be made until just before the announcement.

Thomas missed the past three weeks with a groin injury, but he isn't alone. Howard came back from a knee injury Monday and looked very rusty in a loss to Nashville. Thomas, on the other hand, has looked sharp and has won three of his past four starts and is giving up fewer than two goals in each of those games.

-- Center Aleksander Barkov, 18, continues to impress and his nice pass led to Florida's first goal. Barkov moved into a tie for sixth on the NHL's rookie scoring list with his 19th point Tuesday.


December 30, 2013

MIFFED: Canadiens Not Happy With Goal Reversals

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers were the beneficiary of goals being waved off by the officials Sunday as Montreal scored twice but had them reversed.

The first goal came when Brian Gionta was said to have hit the puck with a high stick. Gionta said he never touched it.

The second disallowed goal came after Alex Galchenyuk plowed into Clemmensen. It looked like Galchenyuk was shoved into Scott Clemmensen, drawing the ire of Montreal coach Michel Therrien, but Clemmensen clearly had no shot of making a play after being hit.

"I think it's a good call,'' Clemmensen said. "I was in the crease and the guy came up behind me and pushed me out. He didn't mean to.''


OUTDOOR HOCKEY: McCabe Among Former Panthers at the Big House on Tuesday

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Former Panthers captain Bryan McCabe will participate in the Winter Classic alumni game Tuesday pitting former members of the Maple Leafs against Red Wings alums.

McCabe is currently working in the Panthers' front office.

"I haven't skated at all,'' McCabe said at Florida's game in Toronto earlier this month. "This should be interesting.''

A total of six former Panthers are expected to play in the game at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor.

Former Panthers Dino Ciccarelli, Igor Larionov, Jason Woolley and Mike Vernon will be back with the Red Wings; McCabe and Gary Roberts again represent the Leafs.


SEAN BERGENHEIM: Healthy and On a Tear

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Coaches aren't supposed to pick favorites but Peter Horachek admitted he may have one.

"I really like the way Sean Bergenheim is playing,'' he said after the Panthers 4-1 win over Montreal on Sunday. "He's become one of my favorite players. The way he plays is kind of like a bull in a china shop. He just barrels in there and makes things happen all the time.''

The Panthers sure did miss having Bergenheim around not only during last year's lockout-shortened season, but early on this year as well.

Bergenheim was subjected to a series of surgeries related to his abdomen, groin and hip area discovered after a short stint playing in his native Finland during the lockout.

Bergenheim missed all of last season yet was paid after winning a medical grievance against the Panthers as he successfully showed his injuries were sustained while playing in Florida.

Bergenheim missed the first three weeks of the season as he continued to recover from his surgeries although as some points some wondered when, exactly, he would return.

Former coach Kevin Dineen publicly questioned Bergenheim's resolve as he grew frustrated with the delay in returning to the lineup. Bergenheim at one point left the team to work with a physical therapist in Toronto to help speed up his return.

"I'm worried about the guy first as his coach and I worry about him as a player,'' Dineen said then. "It's been an extremely long time off.''

For Bergenheim, it was definitely a dark time. When he returned, he admitted he wasn't always 100 percent.

"In the beginning of the season, the first 10 games, you can basically forget,'' he said Monday. "My skating wasn't there but it got a little bit better. I still have a ways to go, still feel my first few steps could be stronger. But I've come a long way. The training staff has been great. It's only going to get better.''

In the past 16 games, however, Bergenheim has looked like his old self as he has quietly scored eight goals during that time. On Sunday, his empty net goal sealed Florida's win. He has four goals in the past three games as he looks extremely comfortable playing alongside rookie Aleksander Barkov and veteran Brad Boyes.

That trio has created numerous scoring chances for the Panthers over the past few weeks. Since Dec. 10, Florida has won six of nine with those three combining for 10 goals and nine assists.

"Once I get healthy, I'm going to be a better player than I was before,'' Bergenheim said. "That's what I'm working at. When you don't play for a year and come back ... you missed out on the fun. There's a new hunger, a new joy for playing again.''


When, Where: 5 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise

TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560

The series: New York leads 44-32-6

Scouting report: This is the final meeting between the two this season with the Rangers winning the first two games by a combined 9-5. New York has won three of its past four including Sunday in Tampa Bay.


December 29, 2013

TIM THOMAS OUT AT SOCHI?: Detroit's Jimmy Howard Could Take Third Goaltending Slot for Team USA

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

According to a report by the Detroit Free Press, Florida Panthers goalie Tim Thomas will not be among the three goalies representing the United States at the upcoming Olympics.

The Free Press, quoting an anonymous source, said "it looks good" that Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard would be the third goalie for Team USA with Buffalo's Ryan Miller and Los Angeles' Jonathan Quick getting the bulk of the work.

A source told The Miami Herald last week that Thomas' chances to reprise his role as Team USA's third goalie didn't look good. Thomas went to the Vancouver games in 2010.

The Team USA roster is expected to be announced Wednesday at the Winter Classic at the University of Michigan.

"Even if they've made their decisions, I don't think they would release it to the guys until Jan. 1,'' Thomas said Sunday. "I haven't heard a thing.''

Thomas has been out since Dec. 12 with a groin injury so he wasn't able to fully showcase his game.

"There's not much I can do about that,'' said Thomas, a native of Flint, Mich. "There are other guys who are hurt too. I don't know if it will impact their decision or not.''


FRENCH CONNECTED: Panthers Continue Winning Ways v Canadiens with 4-1 Victory in Sunrise

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers are one of just three NHL franchises with a winning record against the storied Montreal Canadiens.

On Sunday, Florida kept up its winning ways against the visitors from Quebec by scoring three unanswered goals to take a 4-1 victory in front of a capacity crowd at BB&T Center.

Florida is 36-34-6 all-time against the Canadiens and 2-0 against them this season. Buffalo and Columbus are the only other teams with winning records against the 26-time Stanley Cup champs.

"We match up well with them but we always seem to be desperate when we play them,'' said Brian Campbell, whose second period goal gave Florida its final lead of the night at 2-1.

"It was a fun night of hockey.''

Sunday's win, which felt like a road game with all the snowbird fans in the building, snapped Florida's three-game winning streak. Both teams played Saturday, with the Canadiens winning in Tampa Bay and Florida losing to the visiting Red Wings.

"We had plenty of chances in the last game ... you can't dwell on that,'' said Tom Gilbert of Florida's 4-3 loss to Detroit. "We just had to move forward, give ourselves a good chance to win.''

The Panthers didn't waste much time taking the initial lead with Dmitry Kulikov depositing a slick feed from Tomas Fleischmann past Peter Budaj just 6:10 in.

Montreal tied it in the second but Scott Clemmensen, making his third straight start, didn't give up anything else.

"The decision was made after Tim went out a little bit and I talked to the trainers,'' coach Peter Horachek said of Clemmensen starting over Tim Thomas (groin injury). "We wanted to give him more time. I think it was the right decision.''

With the score tied at 1, Campbell scored at 4:51 of the second with Aleksander Barkov redirecting Gilbert's shot past Budaj later in the period.

Florida's 3-1 lead held up throughout the third despite some heavy pressure from the Canadiens as Clemmensen made 10 saves in the period and 21 overall.

Sean Bergenheim ended it with 17 seconds left with his empty net goal -- his eighth marker of the season.

"I think they are a team we match up well against for whatever reason,'' said Clemmensen, now 8-1 lifetime against the Canadiens. Clemmensen has both of Florida's wins over Montreal this season.

"I've been fortunate to play in these games and get a lot of help. We limited their shots and their scoring chances. It's no surprise we've given up as few goals to them as we have.''

-- The Panthers announced attendance of The announced attendance of 19,891 surpassed Florida's previous home high of 18,932 set Saturday night against Detroit.

The BB&T Center's previous published capacity is 19,250.


December 28, 2013

THIRD TIME, NO CHARM: Detroit Opportunistic in 4-3 Win over Panthers ... Clemmensen Starts over Thomas

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers have been down two goals and come back before. Saturday that was a deficit too much to overcome.

The visiting Red Wings scored twice early in the third and held off the hard-charging Panthers for a 4-3 win at a raucous BB&T Center. Florida came within a few centimeters of tying the game late but couldn't find that elusive fourth goal.

"We've shown we can do it, we've done it many times,'' said Sean Bergenheim, who twice scored to cut Florida's deficit to one. "But it's too much to put ourselves in this position so many times. It's kind of getting old to be honest. We have to learn. We played good in some areas of the game, had chances.''

The Red Wings didn't waste much time in getting their goals as they scored twice in the first and opened the third with a pair of goals within the opening 80 seconds.

Florida countered with second period goals from Bergenheim and Nick Bjugstad before Bergenheim made it 4-3 with 15:33 left.

The Panthers had numerous opportunities in the final minute. With goalie Scott Clemmensen on the bench, Florida went with an extra skater and poured on the pressure. Yet Jonas Gustavsson held Florida off -- and kicked away the game-tying goal in the final seconds from a Tomas Kopecky offering -- to get Detroit's first win against Florida this season.

The Panthers, who have lost three straight now, had won the first two meetings between the two new division rivals.

"We kind of calmed things down which is what we wanted to do,'' said Bjugstad, who tied the score with a beautiful breakaway goal that fooled Gustavsson (30 saves).

"We had a chance in the last minutes, had chances. We just had to bury it. We get down two and have come back a lot. When Bergenheim scored, we figured we were right back in it.''

The Panthers were the aggressors early, only former Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson made it 1-0 on Detroit's first shot 3:47 in. Florida gave up its second power play goal of the night four shots later when Henrik Zetterberg scored to make it 2-0.

"I've seen Detroit do that a lot,'' said coach Peter Horachek, who spent the past decade in Detroit's division as an assistant with Nashville.

"We were outshooting them 7-1, 9-1, but they scored. In the third they had chances that were hurtful to us. They take advantage of their opportunities. .-.- We had some that I don't know how they stayed out. Their goalie kept them in it.''

The Panthers gave their fans something to cheer about at 12:52 of the second when Bergenheim took a sweet feed from Brian Campbell and backhanded it through. Bjugstad scored unassisted two minutes later.

Detroit, which had lost seven of nine coming in, opened things up with a pair of goals moments into the third. Goals from Brendan Smith and Gustav Nyquist came 38 seconds apart as Florida quickly found itself down two again.

"They got two easy goals in the third and we can't have that'' said Bergenheim, who scored his second by drilling a shot from the point off a Marcel Goc deflection.

"We did a good job down, but it's a bad situation to be in. We fight. That's a good quality to have.''

-- Despite Tim Thomas being pulled off the injured list, Horachek went with Clemmensen on Saturday.

Horachek said before the game that the decision was made to give Thomas an extra day of rest with the expectation that he goes Sunday evening against the visiting Canadiens.

Thomas was the winning goalie in Florida's previous two encounters with the visitors from Michigan. On Saturday, Clemmensen never played with the lead.

"It's an extra day, extra time to make sure,'' Horachek said. "You have to look long-term and not short, make sure you're doing what you think is right.''

-- Saturday's announced attendance of 18,932 was the largest of the season, surpassing the 18,584 announced for the home opener against Pittsburgh.

Florida's largest crowd of the season is expected Sunday when Montreal comes to town.


When, Where: 5 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise

TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560

The series: Panthers lead 35-34-6

Scouting report: The Panthers won the first meeting in Montreal 2-1 just a few weeks back. Tim Thomas is expected to make his first start since Dec. 10.


December 26, 2013

IT'S SIMPLE: Good Goaltending, Team Defense Lead to Florida Panthers Wins

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

In the past few weeks, the Panthers have won seven of its past 10 games. When Florida has won, it has gotten strong defense and good goaltending.

That hasn't been the case during the three losses.

When the Panthers reconvene after a holiday break, they hope to find that winning formula again.

Tim Thomas, out since injuring his groin on Dec. 12, is expected to be back in net when Florida plays host to the Red Wings on Saturday night in Sunrise.

Florida has already returned Jacob Markstrom to its AHL team in San Antonio. Scott Clemmensen won four of his five starts filling in for Thomas.

"Clemmensen had the opportunity to step in and was really solid,'' coach Peter Horachek said. "His confidence has gone up. When goalies sit for a while, it's difficult to step back in. Clemm has been doing it for a long time, is the consummate pro. He's definitely stepped up and that has been important.''

During Florida run of seven wins in eight games from Dec. 5-19, the Panthers scored close to three goals a night while allowing fewer than two.

The Panthers played stout defense during that time, a good example coming when Scott Clemmensen didn't face an official shot on goal in the final 5:27 of Florida's 2-1 win at Montreal on Dec. 15.

Although Montreal was shooting toward the net so much it looked like a Wild West shooting gallery, the pucks weren't getting past the Florida defense.

"Our play in general changed and I think there was a real bond between them, more trust than was there before,'' goalie coach Robb Tallas said.

"Our team has been supporting itself all over the ice.''

In the three losses, Florida scored two goals twice and are gave up an average of 5.7.

Florida has been outscored 17-5 in the losses to Chicago (Dec. 8), Winnipeg (Dec. 20) and Tampa Bay (Monday).

The defense hasn't been there for support and Florida's goalies let in softer-than-usual goals. Although it's hard to blame Clemmensen for all six of Tampa Bay's goals, he definitely had a hand in a few of them.

During the winning run, Clemmensen and Thomas weren't giving up the cheap ones.

"We don't want to give up more than two goals,'' Horachek said. "In the games in which we were successful, they were two or less. We were playing a good defensive game. .-.-. When you have players who can offense out of nothing, you have to be there as a group, five guys in every zone.''


Horachek said he spoke a little longer to the team following Monday's loss expressing disappointment in the way the team got beat but also expressing enthusiasm for what's ahead.

Horachek didn't want his team to be too down after consecutive blowout losses at Winnipeg and at home to Tampa Bay, yet didn't want them coming back from Christmas break with their heads hanging.

Florida has four more games on this homestand and can turn things back in the positive way in a hurry.

Detroit is here Saturday night, with Montreal, the Rangers and Nashville closing things out.

"I told them to go have a good break; told them how I felt about the game,'' Horachek said, adding that his players held their own short meeting after he left the room.

"These guys tried hard, we had a great road trip. I just hoped we finished before the break on a positive note so they could go and be with their families. That's important. We have four more games on this homestand. That can spur you.''

Said Clemmensen: "To be successful you’ve got to have a bad memory. Hopefully we just use these next few days to kind of recharge a little bit and hopefully that will do us well coming back for four more home games after Christmas.''

-- The Panthers will hold their first post-Christmas break practice Friday at noon. The workout at the Coral Springs Iceplex is free and open to the public.


STILL HIGH ON PETRO: Panthers Have High Hopes for Young Defenseman

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Alex Petrovic was excited to get word he was being called back to the Panthers on Sunday night. His stay may have been short lived.

The 21-year-old defenseman filled in for Erik Gudbranson in Monday night's 6-1 loss to the visiting Lightning. On Tuesday he was sent back to San Antonio -- it may be just for Christmas or could be longer.

Although Petrovic wasn't singled out by coach Peter Horachek following Monday's loss, it appears he didn't do much to stand out from the crowd.

"I think all of our defensemen were bad,'' said Horachek, who coached Petrovic for the first month of this season at AHL San Antonio. "There was no one in a positive situation.''

A second round selection in a 2010 draft that also brought Gudbranson to the Panthers, Petrovic had a very successful final junior year with the Red Deer Rebels in 2011-12. Petrovic joined San Antonio for its playoff series at the end of that year then spent the majority of last season with the Rampage.

Petrovic played six games for the Panthers last year and the 21-year-old was thought to be a contender for a roster spot during training camp. Yet Petrovic didn't have a strong camp and was among the first sent to San Antonio.

"I didn't have a good camp at the start and that's what happens when you don't show up,'' he said. "I put that on myself. Hopefully I can prove myself different. I have to have good year here or in San Antonio .-.-. come back next year with a better effort.''

On Sunday night, after getting word Gudbranson was hurt, Petrovic was told to come back.

"I was ecstatic to get the call. It was a great Christmas present,'' Petrovic said.

Gudbranson underwent orbital bone surgery in Boca Raton on Monday and could be out for a month. With one of their top d-men missing, the Panthers need to find other options.

Petrovic very well could be it although the Panthers although they have depth at the position.

Florida could play Mike Mottau, who has been a healthy scratch for 13 of the past 14 games.

The Panthers could also recall veterans Matt Gilroy or Ryan Whitney. Colby Robak is also an option.

Petrovic, assistant general manager Mike Santos said, was called up based on his recent run of strong play.

"He's a work in progress and has played well lately,'' said Santos, who serves as GM of the Rampage. "He's still a young guy, only in his second year. He needs to get physically stronger to play the type of game he likes to play. He's a big kid but needs to fill in. I think once he does that, everything else will fall in for him.''

Said Horachek: "This was the right time for him to come up, although it was a bad situation to fall into.''

Making the full-time jump to the Panthers is the ultimate goal for Petrovic. It just may not come right now. The Panthers remain high on Petrovic and he figures in the future of the franchise.

Whether that continues through the weekend or not remains to be seen.

"They scored six goals and that's not something you ever want to see,'' Petrovic said of the Lightning. "There's no excuse whether you were just called up or not.''


The Panthers had a mixed bag of special teams play on Monday. Florida's lone goal came on the power play yet Tampa Bay broke things open in the second on a power play of its own.

It's tough to blame the penalty kill for the goal allowed Monday as the Panthers were playing two skaters down for an extended time. Florida's sloppy play during one shift led to a hooking penalty on Tom Gilbert while there were also too many skaters on the ice.

Tampa Bay's Val Filppula scored 8:01 into the second to give the Lightning a 3-1 lead.

“Too many men on the ice plus a hooking call; We’ve got to be better at that on the bench,'' defenseman Mike Weaver said. "It shouldn’t happen. Being down two men for that length of time, it’s never good. If you kill it, you get that momentum, but we didn’t kill it and they scored on us and it was a little bit of a downer."

Florida's lone goal of the night came near the end of a first period power play when Aleksander Barkov picked off a soft clearing attempt from Matthew Carle and deftly slipped the puck to Sean Bergenheim who rifled a shot past Ben Bishop.

-- The Panthers return to the ice Friday at noon. The workout at the Coral Springs Iceplex is free and open to the public.


December 24, 2013

BRIAN CAMPBELL: Leading Florida Panthers by Example

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Unlike many of his teammates, Brian Campbell didn't spend Christmas Eve running around various airports just to spend a few days up north.

Instead, the Panthers defenseman decided to spend some quiet time with his wife Lauren and enjoy daughter Harper's first Christmas -- it will be a green one -- in South Florida.

If anyone deserves a few days of relaxation, Campbell is the guy.

"You have to find times to back off,'' coach Peter Horachek said.

Since coming to the Panthers in the summer of 2011, few players have logged more minutes than Campbell.

Campbell led all skaters in ice time during his first season with the Panthers in 2011-12, then was third in averaging over 26 minutes in 48 games last year.

This season, Campbell is back to his ice-hogging ways with his 27-plus minutes per game ranking third in the NHL.

In Monday's blowout loss to the Lightning, Campbell was on the ice for 27:32.

Of Florida's 38 games this year, Campbell has exceeded the 26 minute mark in 23 -- with 18 of those games coming since Horachek took over on Nov. 9.

"You do what you have to do I think,'' said Campbell, who has played in all 168 regular season games since coming to the Panthers. "You don't control [the minutes] so you try to get a lot of rest, a lot of pills -- the legal ones. I try to take care of myself and you learn over the years.''

With Ed Jovanovski out an extended period of time after having major surgery to help correct his degenerative hip condition last year, Campbell has become much more of a searched out leader inside the locker room.

Campbell, Jovanovski said, leads by his example as well as through his words.

"He's definitely a guy who has been around and is well respected not only on our team but around the league,'' Jovanovski said. "When he has something to say, guys listen. He leads by example on the ice. He cares so much about the team, it shows. It's infectious.''

General manager Dale Tallon sought to bring Campbell to the Panthers in 2011 knowing Chicago was willing to deal him at the draft. Tallon originally signed Campbell to the eight-year, $57-plus million contract when Tallon was running the Blackhawks with Campbell helping Chicago win the Stanley Cup in 2010.

At the time when Tallon swung the deal for Campbell in 2011 in exchange for Rostislav Olesz's contract, the Panthers didn't have very many players signed for the following season. Campbell served as a so-called 'pied piper' as available free agents began flocking to the Panthers that summer.

"He's become a leader and obviously plays 28 minutes a game,'' Tallon said. "It's tough to find guys like Brian Campbell, guys who do the things he does. He gave us some credibility with free agents back then, helped us bring in some other guys. What he's really brought is stability on the back end. He's a top-notch pro.''

Of the 11 players who came to the Panthers during that stretch in 2011 when Tallon remade the Florida roster, Campbell's acquisition remains the high point. Although there have been successes as well as failures, Campbell -- who is signed through the next two seasons -- has come as advertised.

"He’s been really good for us and me,'' Horachek said. "He’s out there playing all the time, half the game. He’s certainly pushing the envelope. He wants the guys to win, he wants to do the right things. When I give a message he reaffirms the message. He’s been really good.''


THOMAS ACTIVATED: Tim Thomas is Back, Jacob Markstrom and Alex Petrovic Returned

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers should have Tim Thomas back in net Saturday against visiting Detroit after he was activated off the injured list Tuesday.

Thomas has been out since injuring his groin during practice soon after beating the Red Wings 3-2 on Dec. 10. If Thomas starts, that would mean he will have started three straight games against the Red Wings (Dec. 7, 10 and 27th).

Jacob Markstrom, who had been backing up Scott Clemmensen, was sent back to AHL San Antonio. Defenseman Alex Petrovic was also returned to the Rampage after making his season debut Monday against the Lightning.

Thomas has been on the IR three times this season.

-- Forward Jesse Winchester has a cast on his hand after getting hurt blocking a shot in Montreal on Dec. 15. He's expected to be out another few games at the least.

December 23, 2013

THUNDER STRUCK: Lightning Rolls to 6-1 Win over host Panthers ... Bolts Win Fifth Straight, Take 'Governor's Cup'

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Those hoping to see the new-and-improved Panthers on Monday were a bit disappointed. Tampa Bay got what looked like the old version of the Panthers.

No one wants that, of course, save for the Lightning.

Florida's strong play of the past few weeks disappeared for much of Monday's 6-1 rout by the visiting Lightning at BB&T Center.

Energized by three second period goals, Tampa Bay took the season series for the second straight year.

Tampa Bay, which has won five straight, won the first three meetings between the two. Florida had won seven of eight before dropping consecutive games to Winnipeg and Tampa Bay by a combined 11-3.

"Things got worse as the game wore on,'' said Peter Horachek, who was facing the Lightning for the first time as interim coach of the Panthers.

"They didn't play with a lot of energy, conviction or resolve. .-.-. It was probably the worst game since I've been here.''

The Lightning has been doing more than just surviving without the services of injured star Steven Stamkos as it currently sits third in the conference.

Stamkos is working back from a broken right tibia and hopes to return before the Olympic break. Tampa Bay is 11-6-3 without him in the lineup.

Although Stamkos has hurt the Panthers in the past, he sure wasn't needed Monday.

Florida took the initial lead when Sean Bergenheim - who helped the Lightning to the east finals in 2011 - scored on a power play goal with 1:04 left in the first.

It only took Tampa Bay 19 seconds to answer with Alex Killorn scoring a soft backhand shot past Scott Clemmensen.

The Lightning didn't waste any time in the second, either, pounding the Panthers with three goals within the first 12:07 to break things way open.

"This was a tough one for all of us,'' Nick Bjugstad said. "We were all puck-watching; myself included. We didn't do a good job playing defensively. This team can put the puck in the net.''

Clemmensen, who had looked so solid during Florida's season-best five-game winning streak, ended up surrendering six goals off 36 shots. "We left him out to dry,'' Horachek said.

Tampa Bay made it 2-1 at 3:22 of the second when Tyler Johnson punched in a shot in front of the net.

Less than five minutes later, Val Filppula put the puck between Clemmensen's legs with Martin St. Louis throwing a flutterball from 20 feet away not long after.

"Like all good players, if you give them room they're going to make plays and beat you,'' Clemmensen said. "You have to be aware when they're on the ice and take care of the puck.''

The third wasn't real pretty, either, with Tampa Bay scoring twice.

The two conclude the regular season series March 13 in Tampa.

-- The Panthers broke for the Christmas break following Monday's game. The team will next practice on Friday at noon at the Coral Springs Iceplex. Admission is free.


HELLO, GOODBYE: Panthers Recall Petrovic after Gudbranson Hurt; Upshall Also Injured

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers lost defenseman Erik Gudbranson for at least a few weeks after he needed surgery to repair a fractured orbital bone. Gudbranson was struck hard in the face by a puck during last Friday's loss in Winnipeg.

Gudbranson could be out a month with the injury. He had surgery Monday afternoon in Boca Raton.

"We were just on a roll and you don't like to lose players at all,'' GM Dale Tallon said. "It's just the nature of the beast. It's a bad break.''

The Panthers replaced Gudbranson with rookie Alex Petrovic. The 21-year-old was a second round pick the same year Gudbranson was the third overall pick at the Los Angeles draft in 2010.

-- Winger Scottie Upshall left Monday's game with an undisclosed upper body injury. Tallon said he likely wouldn't know the extent of the injury until Tuesday.

"He's going to get some tests [Tuesday] morning,'' Horachek said. "We'll see where he is.''

December 19, 2013

ROLLING THROUGH CANADA: Panthers Win Fifth Straight, Top Senators 4-2

The Panthers faced a little adversity on Thursday night but carried on and continued their hot streak in Ottawa.

Florida won its fifth straight after getting a pair of late goals from Tom Gilbert and Tomas Kopecky to knock out the host Senators 4-2.

The Panthers, who have won seven of their past eight, had lost seven straight in Ottawa including a 3-2 decision in coach Peter Horachek's first game behind the bench last month.

The Panthers conclude their four game Canadian road trip Friday in Winnipeg as they try to go for the Great White Sweep. Florida started this trip with a win in Montreal before beating the host Maple Leafs and Senators.

"There's no perfect formula for winning,'' Horachek told reporters afterward. "We got into the game and they got the lead. We had to stick with it. It works out to be a pretty good road game.''

Goalie Scott Clemmensen was terrific in winning his fourth straight start although he had plenty of defensive help - especially late when the Panthers were forced to kill a penalty up 3-2. Not only did Florida kill the penalty, but Tomas Kopecky broke out and scored the clincher while short handed.

"It was a good effort, a good road game by everyone,'' Clemmensen said. "It's never easy playing in someone else's building especially here. We went down early but stuck to it, played with confidence. I think that's the biggest difference now to back to the begining of the season. We believe we can win.''

Said Horachek: ''[Clemmensen] has been good, he's been rock solid. He's made the saves we've needed him to make. He keeps us in the games, stays in control. Now that he's been playing, he looks comfortable. Timing is important.''

Former Florida goalie Craig Anderson came into the night 10-1-1 against the Panthers.

Florida led 1-0 under six minutes in when Krys Barch blocked a Joe Corvo shot to get things moving. Shawn Matthias fed Jimmy Hayes who beat Anderson.

The Panthers lead wouldn't stand for long when Chris Neil knocked in a loose puck with his skate. The goal stood after review. Ottawa then made it 2-1 going into the second.

"It looked like he opened up to me,'' Horachek said. "The puck came out, he saw it, turned and it went in. The refs were there, they looked at it upstairs. I saw it on the jumbotron and that's how I initially saw it.''

Florida tied it on a goal from Aleksander Barkov late in the period, a score that stood until late in the third when Gilbert took a nice feed from Tomas Fleischmann and beat Anderson.

"That was a great play by [Fleischmann],'' Gilbert said. "Guys are believing in our system, doing the right things. Obviously your best player is your goaltender and we've been getting a lot of good play there lately.''

With 2:15 left, Mike Weaver was called for tripping Jason Spezza, but the Sens couldn't convert on the power play although Florida did with Kopecky scoring.

-- Horachek didn't say whether Tim Thomas would come off the injured list Friday and play in Winnipeg, adding that they would meet about it.

"We'll see what the trainers say,'' Horachek said. "He's close. We may give him the extra time. We need to talk about it.''

December 17, 2013

TEAM DINEEN: Kevin Dineen is Canadian Women's Team Coach for Olympics

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

TORONTO - Former Panthers coach Kevin Dineen surfaced Monday as the new coach of the Canadian national women's hockey team.

Dineen, fired on Nov. 8 after three years with Florida, is still under contract by the Panthers and will be paid by the team.

"It's fantastic. It's too bad it didn't work out here for him, but this wasn't the end of his coaching days for sure,'' Florida's Erik Gudbranson said.

"I think he'll fit that program well.''

Dineen replaces Dan Church who abruptly left the team last week with the Olympics a few weeks away.

"This has been a whirlwind few days but when this opportunity presented itself I immediately jumped at it,” Dineen told reporters before running his first Team Canada practice in Calgary.


CATS DO IT AGAIN: Panthers Win Fourth Straight with 3-1 Win over Leafs ... Cats Six Points Out of Playoff Spot

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

TORONTO -- It was just a few weeks ago when the Panthers were laughed at for claiming they goal was still to make the playoffs.

Well, they're still a long shot to make the postseason but at least the Panthers are in the conversation.

Florida has crawled out of the NHL's basement by winning four straight and six of seven, the latest, a 3-1 win over the Maple Leafs on Tuesday at Air Canada Center.

The victory pulled Florida within six points of the Leafs for the final playoff slot in the east. With 47 games remaining, there are plenty of points out there.

If they keep playing like this, they should make things interesting.

"We're looking for progress, for our team to get better and for consistency in our play,'' said interim coach Peter Horachek, whose team is on its longest winning streak since winning five straight from March 11-20, 2012.

"Our guys are starting to believe if they play the way we need to, we'll have success. I have not brought up standings, haven't brought up where we are or aren't. I brought up where we are today and how we want to play today. Our guys are doing a good job.''

For the third time during this run, the Panthers took advantage of a team coming off a game the night before.

Florida has claimed wins in Detroit (after the Wings won at New Jersey the previous night), Montreal (win against Islanders) and Toronto (loss in Pittsburgh).

The Panthers, a team used to being the team playing on back-to-back nights against rested opponents, has cashed in by playing an aggressive style while getting good goaltending.

Scott Clemmensen made 28 saves as he won his third straight start. The Panthers took a 3-0 lead into the third period to help Clemmensen out although he held his own in defending the net.

"I think we're learning how to win, how to play with a lead,'' Clemmensen said. "The more you do it, the more confidence you build. You become more comfortable in these situations. We're expecting to win.''

The Panthers led 3:29 in when Tomas Fleischmann picked off a loose puck at center ice and charged James Reimer (20 saves).

Florida padded its lead in the second with Sean Bergenheim sweeping in the puck off a heavy shot from rookie Aleksander Barkov.

With 3:10 left in the second, Brad Boyes made it 3-0 after taking a gift from Dion Phaneuf deep in the Toronto zone and driving in on Reimer. The Toronto goalie made the initial save on Boyes and even stopped Bergenheim's chop at it. But Boyes buried it on the third try and the Panthers held on despite Toronto coming fast in the third. Clemmensen made 12 of 13 saves over the final 20 minutes.

"Our focus is one game and we've had a good opportunity to jump on a bad schedule for the opponent,'' Scottie Upshall said. "We're playing a pretty simple game, we're starting to have an identity.''

-- The Panthers were without Jonathan Huberdeau (foot) and Jesse Winchester (hand) on Tuesday.

Huberdeau has missed two straight games after blocking a shot with his right foot. Winchester was sent back to South Florida to have his hand looked at after hurting it blocking a shot in Montreal.

"We didn't have to put him back him, he probably could have,'' Horachek said of Huberdeau. "This gives him another couple of days.''

Erik Gudbranson returned after missing most of Sunday's game after being sliced on the leg by an errant skate. Gudbranson said he didn't ask how many stitches he took "but it was a lot.''


December 16, 2013

HOLDING PATTERN: Clemmensen's Odd Season Continues, Looking Up

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

MONTREAL -- Scott Clemmensen tweaked his right knee just before the start of training camp, a minor injury that would need surgery. He had no idea at the time the strange season that would soon unfold.

Clemmensen not only lost his backup job, but ended up being sent down to the minors twice. He went almost a month without a start after a coaching change.

As usual, Clemmensen has bounced back from adversity.

"It's never easy. My experience helps, but this isn't an easy job,'' said Clemmensen, who has made 86 starts for the Panthers over the past five seasons.

"This is my job, this is what I've been doing. When given the opportunity, I can step in and play regardless if I've been sitting for a while or someone gets hurt and I have to play a few in a row. Whatever it is, that's my job.''

On Sunday night, Clemmensen won in Montreal for the third time in four tries as he helped the Panthers to their first three game winning streak of the season.

Clemmensen stepped in when Tim Thomas got hurt last week and has won his past two starts.

When the Panthers play at Toronto on Tuesday, expect Clemmensen to be back in net. It would be the first time he's started three straight games since the tail end of last season.

"You want to play all the time,'' Clemmensen said after Florida's 2-1 win over the Canadiens. "When you're called, you have to be ready. The more you play, the more comfortable you get.''

Clemmensen's injury in September was only expected to keep him out for a few weeks. Yet it led general manager Dale Tallon to pursue -- and eventually sign -- Stanley Cup champion Tim Thomas.

Florida, all of a sudden, had three goalies.

With Thomas in as the starter and Jacob Markstrom backing him up, Clemmensen was sent to the minors to get some playing time.

Clemmensen came back after one start in San Antonio when Thomas got hurt in the third game of the season. But he would be sent back when Thomas returned.

When Thomas got hurt again, Clemmensen was recalled. This time a solid start in Washington led to him staying with the Panthers.

"It's never easy,'' Clemmensen said.

Clemmensen made one final start for coach Kevin Dineen on Nov. 7 in Boston. Dineen was fired the next day and Thomas was back off the injured list.

New coach Peter Horachek started Thomas in the next 14 games. By the time Clemmensen returned Dec. 8 in Chicago, he hadn't started in a month. Florida lost 6-2.

"It was almost like coming back from an injury when you haven't played in that long,'' Brian Campbell said. "Then we go into Chicago and don't play well in front of him. It's tough there. Against Washington I still don't think he felt all that comfortable. [Sunday] he looked good. If you don't play, it's not fun. You need to get into a groove.''

With Thomas on the injured list for the third time, Clemmensen was given the start Friday against Washington. Florida won 3-2, one in which Clemmensen made the final six saves in the shootout.

That game led Clemmensen to a start Sunday in Montreal where he improved his record against the Canadiens to 7-1.

Thomas could be back from his most recent injury by the weekend. If so, he returns as the starter. Yet Clemmensen has regained the trust of his teammates, and almost as importantly, his coach.

"He's doing what he's supposed to be doing,'' Horachek said. "He's a quality pro who is stepping into tough situations and tough opportunities. .-.-. He's done a really good job, has prepared himself and has kept us in games.''

-- If Erik Gudrbranson doesn't play Tuesday after suffering a lower body laceration during Sunday's game, Mike Mottau would likely step in. Mottau, 35, has been scratched for the past six games and in nine of the past 10.

"Being in the position I'm in, this is more mental than physical,'' said Mottau, who has played in 320 NHL games. "I'm getting my work in during practice. Not being in the game makes you simplify things when you do.''



When, Where: 7 p.m.; Air Canada Center, Toronto

TV/Radio: FSNF/WQAM-560

The series: Toronto leads 32-24-7

Scouting report: Goalie Scott Clemmensen is expected to start for the third straight game. Clemmensen, who played briefly with the Leafs in 2007-08, is 2-1-2 all-time against Toronto. As was the case with Montreal, Florida went winless against the Leafs last season after sweeping the series in 2011-12.


December 15, 2013

LIMPING CATS: Panthers Without Huberdeau, Gudbranson in Win over Canadiens

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

MONTREAL - Winger Jonathan Huberdeau said he took a shot off a skate during the third period of Friday's shootout win against the Capitals.

Although Huberdeau finished the game - and scored in the shootout - his right foot swelled as soon as he took off his skate.

He tried to skate during Sunday's morning skate in Montreal but left after a few minutes.

Sunday's game was the first Huberdeau missed since the Panthers made him the third overall pick in 2011.

Huberdeau spent the day in a walking boot.

"It's best I stay away from the ice for now,'' said Huberdeau, who is from nearby Saint-Jerome, Quebec. "This is day-to-day and I want to be ready for Tuesday's game."

-- Defenseman Erik Gudbranson left late in the first period after getting tangled up in the corner and getting slashed in the leg by an errant skate blade.

Gudbranson didn't return and was seen limping badly although both Horachek and GM Dale Tallon said he wouldn't be put on the injured list.


SOMETHING FROZE OVER: Yes, Panthers Win Third Straight; Top Canadiens 2-1

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

MONTREAL - The Panthers had more than just Scott Clemmensen trying to keep the puck out of the net in the final five-plus minutes on Sunday.

Thanks to players like Mike Weaver, Dmitry Kulikov, Brian Campbell and Jesse Winchester getting in the way, the host Canadiens didn't register a shot in the final 5:27 as Florida held on for a 2-1 win at Bell Center.

Florida has won three straight and five of six for the first time this season.

"Our guys were diving in front of shots, putting sticks out there to deflect passes,'' said Clemmensen, who got the win in his second straight start with just 17 saves as the Panthers got credit for 22 blocked shots.

"I tip my hat to the guys in front of me. When you don't have to make a save, it makes things a lot easier.''

Florida played without winger Jonathan Huberdeau (foot) for the first time since he made his NHL debut last season. Huberdeau hopes to return to the lineup Tuesday in Toronto. The Panthers also made do without Erik Gudbranson for the final 40-plus minutes as he left at the end of the first with what appears to be a lower-body laceration from a skate.

Both coach Peter Horachek and GM Dale Tallon say they don't expect Gudbranson to go on the injured list.

On Sunday, Montreal trailed 2-0 coming into the third after Florida scored twice in the second. The Canadiens, who played in New York on Saturday, cut Florida's lead in half on Alex Galchenyuk's power play goal 2:28 in.

The Canadiens had been badly outplayed in the first 40 minutes yet came to play in the third. Florida hurt itself late in the third when Weaver went to the box for charging and Scottie Upshall was called for a cross-check.

That put the Panthers down two skaters for 35 seconds and on a penalty kill for 3:25.

Thanks to some strong play from Kulikov - who saved a goal during the kill - Florida survived.

"If we didn't kill that off, who knows what would have happened,'' Kulikov said. "They really would have had some momentum going. It was a big kill.''

In the final minute, Montreal pulled goalie Peter Budaj to add an attacker. P.K. Subban's long shot flew wide with 34 seconds left before Weaver and Winchester - who gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead - jumped in front of Andrei Markov shots to keep Clemmensen out of any further danger.

"When you're blocking shots like that, you know you're doing a lot of the right things,'' said Horachek, who is now 9-8-1 since taking over for the fired Kevin Dineen on Nov. 8.

"You saw a lot of commitment there. .-.-. I think that shows the determination they have.''

All of that would have been moot had Florida put the game away with 1:09 left. Hockey Central in Toronto reviewed video of a goal from Brad Boyes (which would have made it 3-1) and determined it was kicked in. One angle showed the puck appear to clip a Montreal stick after Boyes tapped it soccer-style -- which should have made it a good goal.

After a scoreless first, Florida took a 1-0 lead when Tomas Kopecky saw Winchester sitting alone out front and put a pass from behind the cage on the tape of his stick. Winchester, who was playing in place of Jonathan Huberdeau (foot), scored his career-high fifth goal by blasting said feed past Budaj.

Late in the second, Nick Bjugstad and Tomas Fleischmann charged in on the Montreal goalie with Bjugstad taking a Fleischmann delivery and scoring at the 7:11 mark.

"That goal counted [as the game-winner] but a lot more went into winning that game,'' said Bjugstad, who scored his sixth of the year. "A lot of guys were involved in this.''


December 13, 2013

SUNRISE SHOOTOUT REDUX: Panthers Top Capitals in Round 10, Win 3-2 ... Gudbranson Ejected, Suspension Looming?

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

With goalie Tim Thomas out with injury, the Panthers needed a big-time performance from Scott Clemmensen to beat the high-flying Capitals.

They got it.

Clemmensen stopped the final six shots faced in a marathon shootout round to lift Florida to a 3-2 win over Washington at BB&T Center.

Washington, which beat Florida by the identical score last month, scored on three of its first four shootout attempts but didn't score after that.

Tomas Kopecky's goal off third-string goalie Phillip Grubauer in the tenth round gave the Panthers a rare win over the Capitals. Washington had won 10 of 11 against Florida. The Panthers, with back-to-back shootout wins, have won four of the past five.

Friday's game was tied for the second-longest shootout in franchise history.

"It's a gimmicky thing but I'm a hypocrite because when I'm at home, I love watching it,'' said Clemmensen, who gave up goals on all three of Washington's shots in Florida's shootout loss on Nov. 2.

"I'm not a fan of it. Hey, we won. I don't just say that after we lose.''

The Panthers could have Thomas back Sunday, but may be without defenseman Erik Gudbranson if he's suspended after receiving a match penalty for his high elbow on Eric Fehr in the second. Fehr hit the deck after Gudbranson launched into him; Gudbranson got five minutes for his subsequent fight with Troy Brouwer and ejected for aiming for Fehr's head.

General manager Dale Tallon and coach Peter Horachek said they didn't think Gudbranson lead with his elbow. Tallon says he will speak with the NHL's Brendan Shanahan about getting the match penalty rescinded.

Since Gudbranson was slapped with a match penalty on April 11 for a hit on Bryan Little, he could be suspended for Friday's hit. If Shanahan pulls back the match designation, Gudbranson may be able to play.

"There's no elbow, it's to his side and [Fehr] got hit in the chest first,'' Horachek said. "We'll leave it to [the NHL] to look at it. .-.-. Right now all our guys are playing well. You don't want to change anything, don't want to lose anyone especially under those circumstances.''

With Gudbranson out, Florida not only played without one of its top defenseman but had an extended penalty kill.

Both Washington and Florida scored on a four-on-four chance but the Capitals picked up their second goal during the three minute power play left on Gudbranson's fighting major.

It looked like it could be a long night for the Panthers after the Capitals put a puck past Clemmensen 41 seconds into the game.

Only Washington's Martin Erat came through the crease and made contact with Clemmensen; the goal was dismissed.

Florida scored first with Dylan Olsen continuing his hot streak by picking up his third goal and sixth point in the past five games.

The two teams scored alternating goals in the second and were tied at 2 going into the third.

Aleksander Barkov gave Florida the lead back after picking off a clear attempt in the Florida zone and whipping a shot past Grubauer with 20 seconds left in the 4-on-4.

Washington was awarded its second goal after the fact as Hockey Central in Toronto gave Joel Ward a late second period marker following video review.

With 30 seconds left in the period, Clemmensen lost sight of a loose puck hanging dangerously behind him. Defenseman Mike Weaver tried to clear it, but the puck drifted over the line before being knocked away.

At the next stop in play - with 6.6 seconds left - officials waited for word from Toronto. The right call was made and Ward was given his goal. The game went back in time as 29 seconds were put back on the clock.


With Thomas out, Florida brought up Jacob Markstrom on an emergency goalie call-up. That allowed the Panthers a little flexibility and didn't require putting Thomas on the injured list for a week.

Horachek said Thomas' probable groin injury shouldn't keep him out of the lineup for much longer. Thomas could practice Saturday morning and Horachek said he'll be on the charter flight to Canada.

"It's not long-term,'' Horachek said. "With him and in needing him, we're just being overly cautious.''