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43 posts from December 2013

December 12, 2013


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

It doesn't appear that center Nick Bjugstad is going anywhere yet coach Peter Horachek hasn't told him to find a permanent living arraignment. Bjugstad is still living at the 'vacation village' where the Panthers often house players temporarily.

"It's like an apartment,'' Bjugstad said. "I'm fine with it.''

Bjugstad was thought to start the season in the minors but after missing all of training camp and the first six games with a concussion, started the season with the Panthers on Oct. 15.

Bjugstad, 21, has five goals and 12 points in 26 games this season. His goal off of Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk and Jimmy Howard on Tuesday was one of the Panthers' nicest goals of the year.

"I would say he's pretty secure right now, but no one is totally ever secure,'' Horachek said. "Even if you tell a guy to get a place, that doesn't guarantee anything. But he's doing a pretty good job.''



THOMAS LEAVES PRACTICE: Status for Friday v Capitals is Questionable

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers will host John Vanbiesbrouck and hand out thousands of bobbleheads (somewhat) in his likeness on Friday night.

The Beezer may just need to suit up.

Tim Thomas, Florida's current starting goalie, left practice early Thursday and didn't return.

Coach Peter Horachek said he didn't immediately know what Thomas' status was for Friday's game against the Capitals.

If Thomas is unavailable, Jacob Markstrom would be recalled from AHL San Antonio - the team is in Charlotte, N.C. - and possibly play against Washington.

Backup Scott Clemmensen played well in Florida's 3-2 shootout loss to the host Capitals on Nov. 2 but said Thursday he had not been told anything.

"I don't know what the issue was, whether it was equipment or it was him,'' Horachek said of Thomas. "He just said he had to go. .-.-. That's where we are.''

Thomas has missed time on two separate occasions this season with what is thought to be groin injuries. Thomas missed four games when he first got hurt in Florida's third game of the season in Philadelphia on Oct. 8, then missed six games when he got hurt on Oct. 22.

Thomas has started 14 of the past 15 games since his return on Nov. 9 at Ottawa and has nine of Florida's 10 wins this season.

Markstrom got the other win in Florida's home opener against Pittsburgh.

-- Vanbiesbrouck will be the first former player honored with a bobblehead as the team celebrates its 20th anniversary season.

"It's hard to believe time goes by so fast,'' said Vanbiesbrouck, who played for Florida from 1993-98.

Florida will have six such giveaways this season, with Pavel Bure (Jan. 24), Thomas (March 9), GM Dale Tallon (March 14) and Scott Mellanby (March 16) also honored.

Brian Skrudland, the team's first captain who is currently an assistant coach, said he's looking forward to his first bobblehead. That will be the final such giveaway of the season on April 4.

"If they wanted to make it like me, they would make the mouth move and not just the head,'' Skrudland said. "Anytime you get recognized like this is an honor. I don't care if it's a bobblehead or a beer label.''



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

TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560

The series: Washington leads 56-44-9

Scouting report: The Capitals have won three straight games and got four goals from Alex Ovechkin in Tuesday's 6-5 overtime win against the visiting Lightning. Washington has won 10 of the past 11 against the Panthers. The two were division rivals until this season.



This video comes courtesy of Dillon Hearns. It looks like he put a lot of time and effort in finding some of this old video and putting it all together. Nice job. Enjoy.



December 11, 2013

SHOOTOUT THE LIGHTS: Panthers Newcomers Fuel Shootout Improvement

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers seem to be much more confident when it comes to games going to shootouts than in years past. Credit some new additions for that.

In Tuesday's 3-2 shootout win over visiting Detroit, the Panthers got goals from rookie Aleksander Barkov and newcomer Brad Boyes. Goalie Tim Thomas, who signed with Florida during training camp, made saves on two of Detroit's three shots.

Florida, one of the worst teams in shootouts since it was introduced in 2005, is 3-4 in the bonus round this season with nine goals on 21 shots.

Thomas is 3-1 in shootouts this year and 33-28 overall.

"Look at our personnel, look at Timmie,'' coach Peter Horachek said when asked what Florida's difference has been this year. "When you have the goaltending, you can win with that if you get just one. Our shooters have been pretty good. When you have guys who can finish and have the goaltending, you can go into those with confidence.''

Barkov's shot was a thing of beauty, as he walked in on Detroit's Jimmy Howard and moved left. Howard bit and Barkov slid the puck to his right and tucked it into the net.

"That's a really good move,'' Thomas said after the game. "He's done it to me a few times in practice. .-.-. I got him the first time. He didn't sell it as well as he should have. The second time he sold it and there's nothing you can do.''

Barkov said he used that move a few times in Finland last year and obviously worked on it against Thomas.

"I like this move, I think it's easy to do because I have a long reach. It's good for me,'' Barkov said. "It's nice to score a goal.''

Boyes retook the NHL lead for active players with his 35th goal Tuesday - one better than Minnesota's Zach Parise. Tuesday's shot was his 11th career game-decider as he is 4-for-5 in shootouts this year.

On Tuesday, Boyes shot third and got to see what Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau did against Howard. Boyes went in hard and fired a shot through Howard's skates.

"A long time ago I decided to pick something as I was going in and stick with it,'' Boyes said. "After that, it's been pretty good. I've had some success with it.''

-- The Panthers were scheduled to have an afternoon practice Wednesday at the arena but Horachek cancelled it at the last minute following off-ice workouts.

"They worked hard last night,'' Horachek said, adding the team did a lot in the weight room as well.

The practice was scheduled for the arena because the team was holding its annual holiday party at the arena that night.

Since the equipment is already set up at the arena, Thursday's practice will be held there as well. It is not open to the general public.


SANTA'S NOT ONLY THING COMING TO TOWN: Tim Hortons to Open at Sunrise Arena

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

It's time to rejoice South Florida: Tim Hortons is back.

The famous Canadian doughnut shop will open an express location around section 114 at the BB&T Center on Friday. As of now, only coffee and hot chocolate will be available but TimBits - the small doughnut hole pieces of deliciousness - could be coming soon.

"That's the best news I've heard all week,'' Panthers assistant coach John Madden said Wednesday.

The Tampa Bay Times Forum has had a similar coffee cart the past few seasons with cups of coffee and hot chocolate going for $2 -- which isn't much more than what is charged at Timmies throughout the northeast, midwest and in Canada.

Prices for the Panthers aren't known yet.

Tim Hortons once operated a few locations in Pompano Beach but don't have any permanent spots in the Sunshine State. Word is, the Panthers' Iceplex in Coral Springs will be getting a Tim Hortons of their own and there have been rumors that stores will begin cropping up here soon.


GLASNOST: Panthers Work to Make Sure Tuesday's PlexiGate Doesn't Happen Again

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers' plexiglas problem took on a life of its own Tuesday night as it was featured on sites throughout the internet and made an appearance on ESPN's SportsCenter.

Midway through the third period Tuesday, a shot cracked a pane of glass behind the Detroit goal. Florida's ice crew took down the busted piece and was ready to replace it with another but that piece of glass slipped off its cart and cracked.

The arena only keeps one piece of glass without its protective backing to keep it from being scratched or broken. So when the backup piece of glass broke, all they had left was glass with the double-sided adhesive backing.

Because it would have taken an approximate 20 minutes to get the stubborn adhesive off, the decision was to put the glass up with the backing still on.

What it looked like was cardboard or plywood instead of glass. "Hurricane season is over,'' Panthers television voice Steve Goldstein quipped on the broadcast.

Game officials told both benches that the odd-looking glass was indeed glass and safe for play. As the third period went on, the backing was taken off another piece of glass and the one with backing on was replaced during the break before overtime.

According to one member of the ice crew, all remaining pieces of glass at the arena were cleared of the protective backing on Wednesday. Large pieces of cardboard are being used to keep the glass sheets from scratches.

"I'm from Toronto so it was pretty big news there,'' said Brad Boyes, who scored the game-winner in the shootout.

"My friends were sending me all kinds of pictures. It was quite the conversation piece. We were told on the bench that it was glass but it would take time to get the cover-up off. It would have been a 20 minute delay. They wanted to get the game going. But we knew it was glass. If it would have been plywood, we would have been in trouble.''


December 10, 2013

WEISS HONORED: Panthers Offer Tribute to Former Center

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Stephen Weiss, playing in Sunrise for the first time since leaving town as a free agent in July, didn't factor into Detroit's scoring for the second straight game against the Panthers.

During the first commercial break, the Panthers had a tribute video to Weiss with a number of his highlights with the organization. It started with video from Weiss being the fourth-overall pick of the 2001 draft -- held here in Sunrise.

Weiss was able to watch the team's tribute video from his spot on the ice as he came on for Detroit's power play.

A number of his new teammates stood by as a number of Weiss' highlights - including his first NHL goal in 2002 on his 19th birthday in his NHL debut - were shown on the new scoreboard.

Before the game, Weiss said he didn't really know where to go once inside the building as he dressed in the visiting locker room for the first time.

"It felt strange for sure,” Weiss said. “It certainly feels a little bit strange being on the other side.”

Todd Bertuzzi, who didn't get a tribute video from the Panthers, scored just over a minute later on that power play. Bertuzzi played seven games with Florida after being the key piece in the Panthers' ill-fated Roberto Luongo trade with Vancouver.

Bertuzzi scored a goal with three assists in Florida's opening night win in 2006, yet he injured his back a few weeks later and never played with the team again. Bertuzzi was dealt by then-coach/GM Jacques Martin (Mike Keenan was fired a few months after the Luongo deal) to Detroit for Shawn Matthias.


BOARDED UP: Broken Glass Leads to Jokes

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers put up what looked like a piece of plywood after a piece of plexiglass broke behind the Red Wings net in the third period.

The 'plywood' was actually a piece of plexiglass with its protective backing still affixed.

According to a Panthers spokesman, the original piece of replacement glass broke on its way to the ice and the 'third string' piece wasn't fully ready to go.

Another piece - minus the paper backing - was put up before the overtime.


DETROIT 3-2-1: Panthers Rally and Beat Red Wings for Second Time in Four Days ... Boyes Nets SO Winner

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Red Wings aren't used to losing games to the Panthers, not in Detroit nor in South Florida.

These past couple of days must feel more than a little strange then.

On Tuesday, the Panthers rallied from a two-goal deficit to stun the visiting Red Wings 3-2 in a shootout at BB&T Center.

It was Florida's second win over Detroit in four days after leaving the Motor City victorious Saturday for just the third time in franchise history. Florida had only beaten the Wings once since moving into its Sunrise arena in 1998 prior to Tuesday.

"I bet you they're pretty surprised too,'' goalie Tim Thomas, who hails from Flint, Mich., said with a smirk.

"I think we played better Saturday than we did overall [Tuesday]. But once we got going and put the pressure on them in the third, it was pretty fun to see them come back like them in front of you.''

Detroit took a 2-0 lead into the third period yet despite their record, the Panthers have found points against others after trailing by that same deficit in the past.

On Tuesday, Dmitry Kulikov got things going for Florida when his 55-foot shot from inside the blue line clipped teammate Sean Bergenheim and slipped past goalie Jimmy Howard five minutes into the period.

Florida kept coming at Howard - who didn't play Saturday - and got its equalizer with 5:22 remaining when Nick Bjugstad charged in and roofed a shot.

Bjugstad went around All-World forward Pavel Datsyuk on his way to the net.

"That's a world-class goal,'' Florida coach Peter Horachek said. "That's a big-time play for Bjugstad. He should get that framed.''

The Panthers had a few scoring chances against Howard at the end of regulation and in overtime, yet Detroit could have ended it when Nik Cronwall rang one off the cage with three minutes left.

In the shootout, Aleksander Barkov gave Florida a lead with a sweet move on Howard with Brad Boyes -- one of the best shootout specialists in the game -- ending it in Round 3. Boyes was benched Sunday in Chicago.

"It's nice when the shooters in front of you hit two of three,'' said Thomas, who made 24 saves. "It's makes my job a lot easier.''

Bertuzzi, who spent seven games with the Panthers in 2006, got Detroit going with a power play goal midway through the first just moments after the Panthers feted Stephen Weiss - the franchise leader in games played - with a highlight package on the scoreboard.

Weiss, playing in Sunrise for the first time since leaving town as a free agent in July, didn't factor into Detroit's scoring for the second straight game against the Panthers. Florida upended the Wings 2-1 on Saturday.

The Red Wings, playing in front of many of their transplanted or vacationing fans, made it 2-0 in the second when Datsyuk - called the "best player in the league" by Horachek among others - scored off a when Jonathan Ericsson froze goalie Tim Thomas then tossed the puck to his wide-open teammate.

Ericsson had an earlier goal erased when it was ruled Thomas was interfered with.

Datsyuk missed the past seven games with a concussion.


December 09, 2013

WEISS IS BACK: Stephen Weiss Plays Homecoming Game Tuesday v Panthers

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

DETROIT -- Unlike most former Panthers who keep a home in South Florida, Stephen Weiss didn't stay at his condo when he returned to town with the Detroit Red Wings on Monday.

"My place is empty,'' Weiss said. "I'll be at the team hotel like everyone else.''

Weiss will play his first game at BB&T Center on Tuesday since leaving the Panthers as a free agent last summer. For the first time, he will be escaping the cold and dressing in the visiting locker room.

"It's going to be strange, yeah,'' he said.

Weiss may have been born near Toronto and played junior hockey in Michigan, but almost a decade in South Florida had all but turned him into a local.

An avid golfer, Weiss would often leave practice in shorts and sandals and make the quick drive to his local course for a quick 18 holes.

He's not doing that any more.

"The first time I came out and saw ice on my windshield, I couldn't believe it,'' Weiss said near the Red Wings locker room on Saturday. Outside, it was 22 degrees.

"I had to go out and buy a scraper. Gloves, too."

The weather isn't the only thing Weiss had to get used to in moving from near obscurity after a decade with the Panthers to life in Hockeytown.

There is pressure here to not only make the playoffs, but do something once there. Weiss' Panthers famously have made the postseason just once since 2000. The Red Wings haven't [itals] missed [itals] the playoffs since 1990. The Panthers' first season was in 1993.

"Confidence has been a struggle for him,'' Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "I think when you go to a new place, just not being comfortable makes it hard on you. The reality is; hockey is hockey. He's been a good player his whole career. I don't imagine it's going to take him too much longer.''

If Weiss is feeling the pressure of playing under serious expectations, he won't admit it. It does seems like something he needs to get adjusted to as he has only two goals and two assists in 25 games with Detroit. Weiss didn't find the scorecard in Florida's 2-1 win at Joe Louis Arena on Saturday.

"Trying too hard sometimes can backfire on you,'' Weiss said. "I think that was the case early on. I came here to be a part of something, to win hockey games. We've been doing that. It's fun seeing your team at the top of the standings. That's been a lot of fun. Personally, I'll get that going soon.''

Said Henrik Zetterberg: "We play a little different system than they do down there and it takes time to adjust. But he's playing well, doing a lot of little things on the ice that he doesn't get credited for. He's going to be here for a long, long time. We're happy to have him.''

Weiss had become the face of the Panthers over his time here as his NHL career literally started in Sunrise when Florida made him the fourth overall pick of the 2001 draft held at what is now called the BB&T Center.

Over the next nine seasons, Weiss became the franchise's all-time leader in games played and one of its all-time leaders in various categories.

Yet when it came time for a new contract, the Panthers didn't have any money. The team was for sale and Weiss had missed most of the previous season after opting for major wrist surgery. Florida let him walk away to Detroit without putting up any sort of fight to keep him.

On July 5, Weiss signed a five-year deal with the Red Wings worth an average of $4.9 million. Weiss averaged $3.1 million over his past six years in Florida.

Weiss would have been the big news on the first day of free agency had the Red Wings not also lifted Daniel Alfredsson from Ottawa.

"It's been fun, but it's been an adjustment; the weather, getting settled, all those things,'' Weiss said. "It's something I'm not used to. But I played junior hockey in this area so I have friends here. I really enjoyed my time here so far. Being a part of this organization is something special.''

Weiss has most definitely been missed by the Panthers although some within the organization look at his current stats and figure not offering him a contract was the right decision.

When Florida made the playoffs two seasons ago, the line of Weiss, Kris Versteeg and Tomas Flesichmann led the NHL in scoring.

The band was broken up soon after. Versteeg, who signed a four-year deal with the Panthers in 2012, was traded back to Chicago last month.

"I already miss him here,'' Fleischmann said. "He was a great player in Florida for a long time. I think it will be special for him.''



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

TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560

The series: Detroit leads 14-5-5

Scouting report: The Panthers won in Detroit for just the third time in franchise history on Saturday night. Tim Thomas will be back and battle Jimmy Howard between the pipes. Pavel Datsyuk is expected to return after missing seven games with a concussion.



December 08, 2013

SNOWED UNDER: Panthers Battle but Get Crushed 6-2 by Blackhawks

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

CHICAGO -- In a bit of role reversal, the Panthers came into United Center winners of two straight all while the defending Stanley Cup champs had dropped its previous three games.

Order has been restored.

The Blackhawks scored twice in the opening 10 minutes and rolled to a 6-2 win over the Panthers. Florida hasn't won three straight games all season.

"We put a lot of energy into coming back, but you can't give up goals so early,'' Brian Campbell said. "They have skilled players, but if you're going to give them shots up the middle, they're going to score.''

Chicago grabbed a 3-0 lead just 37 seconds into the second period when Marian Hossa scored, but the Panthers showed life and a bit of fight in battling back.

Defenseman Dylan Olsen, who came to the Panthers in the Kris Versteeg deal with the Hawks, scored Florida's first goal 4:05 into the second period by sending a puck into the right corner past backup goalie Antti Raanta.

Raanta was pressed into service when two-time Cup champ Cory Crawford went down with injury in the first. Folks aren't going to forget about Crawford anytime soon.

Florida picked up its second goal and made the score 3-2 when Marcel Goc picked off Raanta's weak clearing pass, charged in and whipped a shot home.

The Panthers couldn't find the equalizer, however, and didn't do much with a power play chance not long after Goc pulled Florida within a goal.

Chicago, however, would cash in late in the second when Michal Handzus knocked a lost puck into the net. Scott Clemmensen, finally filling in for Tim Thomas, dropped the puck onto the ice and both he and Olsen couldn't locate it. Handzus did, depositing it into the back of the net.

Andrew Shaw made it 5-2 with Chicago's third power play goal of the night after Drew Sharp's shot clipped him on the way past Clemmensen. Brandon Saad scored Chicago's final goal late in the period, one the Panthers outshot their hosts 18-10 yet were outscored 2-0.

"I don't think we very good to start the game,'' coach Peter Horachek said. "To come back in this building against that team is difficult. Playing back-to-back isn't an excuse.''

Thomas had been the only goalie to play for Horachek who took over for the fired Kevin Dineen on Nov. 8. Thomas had made 14 straight starts in net for the Panthers although Clemmensen stepped in Sunday and made his first start since Nov. 7 in Boston -- Dineen's final game behind the bench.

Clemmensen is 0-2-1 in five games and made 26 saves.

"We had to give him a break along the way,'' Horachek said of Thomas. "He deserves that. Tim has done a good job for us, won a big game for us [Saturday]. He needed a breather.''


As was the case Saturday in Stephen Weiss' first game against Florida since leaving the Panthers, Versteeg wasn't much of a factor against his former mates.

Versteeg did find the scoresheet, however, assisting on Chicago's final goals. Versteeg spent parts of three seasons with the Panthers and was traded back to the Hawks a week after Horachek took over.

"It was weird,'' Versteeg said afterward. "I have a lot of friends there on and off the ice. It was tough for me to leave. Obviously I came back to a great situation, but in the end, it's a business. I had a great run.''

-- Florida, which won at Detroit for just the third time in franchise history on Saturday, has lost three straight in Chicago and has been outscored 13-3 in those losses.

-- Saturday's win was Florida's first within the revamped Atlantic Division. The Panthers competed in the Atlantic from 1993-98, with their previous Atlantic win coming near the end of their final season at Miami Arena.

Florida was the last team in the NHL to claim a divisional victory.


December 07, 2013

TALLON: Kulikov Wasn't Traded

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

DETROIT -- Florida GM Dale Tallon denied Saturday's Hockey Night in Canada report that a trade between the Panthers and Colorado fell apart. The report said the supposed trade was the reason why defenseman Dmitry Kulikov was scratched from the lineup last Tuesday against Ottawa.

"No, we sat him because of his play,'' Tallon said. "[Kulikov] needed a little refresher. I've liked the way he's played since.''

Kulikov, 23, is a restricted free agent and Florida -- as long as it keeps him -- holds his NHL rights for the next two seasons.


MOTOR CITY STOPPERS: Tim Thomas Slows Red Wings, Panthers Win 2-1 in Michigan

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

DETROIT -- Two of the most decorated goalies in Panthers history hail from the Detroit area. On Saturday night, they met up in Florida's postgame locker room.

Tim Thomas and John Vanbiesbrouck seemed to really enjoy their chat.

Thomas, who wears the No. 34 made popular in South Florida by 'The Beezer,' led the Panthers to a 2-1 win at Joe Louis Arena.

The Panthers have won here just three times; Vanbiesbrouck and Thomas have picked up the victories in two of them.

"Any time you win it's a good thing but saying that, I'm happy with the way things turned out,'' said Thomas, who is from nearby Flint and is now 2-2 at the Joe.

Thomas has said he followed Vanbiesbrouck closely growing up and is wearing Vanbiesbrouck's old number -- and patterned his mask to look like the one Vanbiesbrouck wore when he led the Panthers to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1996 -- in tribute.

"I didn't know [Thomas] was going to do that, but I think it's awesome,'' said Vanbiesbrouck, who will have his own bobblehead night at BB&T Center Friday.

"I was in shock when I saw him there for the first time. It plays on your heartstrings. It's nice people remember, but seeing top guys do that .-.-. makes you want to hug him.''

Thomas and the Panthers overshadowed Stephen Weiss' first game against his old teammates since leaving Florida as a free agent in July. Weiss had a scoring chance early but didn't contribute much as Florida outworked a Detroit team playing for the second straight night.

Detroit, which beat the host Devils 3-1 in Newark on Friday night, took a 1-0 lead 4:06 in when Dan Cleary pounced on one of Thomas' rare miscues and popped a juicy rebound into the net.

After that, Florida pretty much dictated play.

The Panthers got a goal from Jimmy Hayes -- his second in as many games -- in a second period that Florida dominated. The Panthers outshot the Wings 17-4 in the second, momentum that carried into the third.

"This is one of the hardest buildings in the league to win in,'' coach Peter Horachek said. "You have to play here with energy. [Detroit] played last night and we didn't. That was an advantage. We just wanted to work both ends of the ice. We know how dangerous they are. They guys worked hard, capitalized on the chances we got.

"The guys deserved what they got.''

Jonathan Huberdeau gave Florida its first and last lead 3:29 into the third off a pass from Tom Gilbert. The Wings, who had mustered just 15 shots to that point, seemed to wake up and brought the fight to Florida's end of the ice.

Thomas made seven of his 22 saves in the final 10 minutes as Florida successfully killed off two penalties.

"This was my first time here but it's always good to get the two points,'' said Huberdeau, the reigning rookie of the year who has seven goals this year.

Both Tomas Kopecky and Mike Weaver helped keep the puck out of the net Saturday. In the first, Kopecky swept a loose puck out of harms way as Thomas was sprawled on the ice. With 4:45 left, Weaver got rid of an errant puck that worked its way to the goal cage.

-- Defenseman Matt Gilroy cleared waivers on Saturday and was assigned to Florida's AHL affiliate in San Antonio.

-- Florida's Reunion Week continues Sunday as the Panthers meet up with Kris Versteeg after trading the winger to Chicago on Nov. 14. Hayes (three goals) and defenseman Dylan Olsen (played past six games) came over in the Versteeg deal.



When, Where: 7 p.m.; United Center, Chicago

TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560

The series: Chicago leads 16-9-3

Scouting report: Chicago won the first meeting between the two in Sunrise 3-2 in a shootout on Oct 22. The Panthers haven't won in the 'Madhouse on Madison' since Oct. 2, 2009. Florida is a surprising 2-1-2 in the second game of a back-to-back set this year.


December 05, 2013

REUNITED: Old Panthers are New Foes

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Thursday was another in Florida's string of so-called 'Reunion Games' with former captain Olli Jokinen and Keaton Ellerby coming back to Sunrise.

Michael Frolik, Florida's first-round pick in 2006, was ill and out of the Jets' lineup.

Florida visit Stephen Weiss in Detroit on Saturday and Versteeg in Chicago on Sunday.

Weiss, who spent a decade with the Panthers, returns for the first time since leaving as a free agent on Tuesday.

The Panthers opened the week with a game Tuesday against former goalie Craig Anderson.

-- Thursday's game was the first matchup between the Panthers and Winnipeg franchise that wasn't a divisional game.

The Atlanta Thrashers were placed in the Southeast Division when it entered the league in 1999 and remained there when the team moved to Winnipeg in 2011.

The Jets were relocated to the Western Conference this season.

"It's strange not having them in the division,'' Scott Clemmensen said, "but it was really strange having Winnipeg in the Southeast Division the past few years.''


BARKOV OUT: Panthers Lose Rookie to Lower Body Injury in Third ... Status Unknown

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Florida coach Peter Horachek said he didn't have an update on Aleksander Barkov's apparent injury following Thursday's 5-2 win over visiting Winnipeg.

Barkov, the second overall pick of the 2013 draft, left the game with a lower-body injury with 12:15 left.

Will try and have more updates from Friday's workout in Coral Springs.

Follow @DavidJNeal at Twitter for up-to-date, well, updates. He's covering for me tomorrow. I'm headed to the chilly midwest.

PANTHERS - AND GUDBRANSON - GROUND JETS: Florida Halts Slide with 5-2 Win over Winnipeg

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

A big hit can go a long way.

Thursday, Florida's Erik Gudbranson crushed Winnipeg's Tobias Enstrom to get the Panthers going in a rousing 5-2 win over the Jets at BB&T Center.

Gudbranson's hit led to a rush up the ice with Dylan Olsen scoring and giving the Panthers their first lead -- one that stood as the Panthers snapped a three-game slide by scoring four-plus goals for just the fourth time all season.

"It was a good goal but we had to refocus to get that win,'' said Olsen, who got his first NHL goal moments after Gudbranson got fans on their feet with his heavy shoulder drop of Enstrom.

"We knew we had to win every battle, everyone had to contribute.''

The Panthers, who lost rookie Aleksander Barkov to an undisclosed lower body injury in the third, needed a shot of momentum after being outscored 14-5 in their three losses and fell behind 1-0 on Thursday.

Winnipeg took the initial lead off Andrew Ladd's goal six minutes in, but the Panthers tied it when Gudbranson let one fly from 45 feet away with 5:58 left in the first.

Early in the second, Gudbranson hit Enstrom behind the net. Olsen picked up a loose puck and started the rush up the ice by tossing it to Scottie Upshall. Upshall returned the favor as Olsen slid into the slot and fired the puck past Ondrej Pavelec.

"I didn't see the hit, but I heard it,'' Upshall said. "Everyone in the building heard it.''

Said Gudbranson: "I just saw an opportunity to finish my check. We were lucky there was a 12-car pileup behind the net and [Olsen] took off.''

The Panthers led 3-1 going into the third as Tomas Fleischmann got his first goal in 15 games off a rebound from Mike Weaver. Nick Bjugstad made it 4-1 in the third on a strong wraparound following Florida's first power play of the night.

The Jets cut their deficit in half when former Panthers captain Olli Jokinen, who still lives in Broward, beat Tim Thomas with 7:15 left.

Yet the Panthers kept scoring, with Jimmy Hayes - who came to town with Olsen in the Kris Versteeg deal - scored on a breakaway with 2:44 left.

"It showed [Thursday] that if you're not ready to battle and ready to play you're not going to win,'' said Jokinen, who turned 35 on Thursday. "It was pretty evident. We turned the puck over, they got goals off turnovers.''

-- Tomas Kopecky (elbow) and Dmitry Kulikov (benched) were back in the lineup. Kopecky had been out the previous five games.


December 04, 2013

BARKOV STAYING: Dale Tallon Not Loaning Barkov to Finland

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Center Aleksander Barkov won't play in the world junior tournament which starts later this month.

Florida general manager Dale Tallon said he has never considered loaning the 18-year-old, who he selected with the second overall pick last June, to Finland for the games.

"There's no way he's going anywhere but here,'' Tallon said. "We have to let him grow. He's a big part of our future and our present.''

Barkov has played at the junior tournament the past two years, scoring four goals.


ALONE AGAIN: Mike Weaver Says Fans Will Come

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers had their smallest announced attendance in six seasons on Tuesday against Ottawa.

An estimated 500 fans were in the building for warmups. Approximately 8,000 watched the game in an arena that holds close to 20,000.

Florida's official announced attendance of 10,074 was just a handful more than reported for a Halloween game in 2008 against Carolina.

"In Florida, if you have a good team, people will come,'' defenseman Mike Weaver said.

"We're not winning at home right now. Now is the time to move forward.''


PLAYOFFS? Panthers Say Postseason is Still A Goal

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Call them delusional if you want, but members of the Panthers say their playoff hopes aren't over yet.

Mathematically, they are obviously right. Florida still has 54 games left in the season so there are plenty of points available over the next four-plus months.

Reality, however, is a different story.

The Panthers entered Wednesday 12 points back of the final postseason slot in the Eastern Conference. That's a whole lot of points to make up for a team that has yet to put together a single three-game winning streak this season.

Florida is, however, in a three-game slide.

"You have to look at the now, live in the now,'' interim coach Peter Horachek said. "We try to live today and keep them understanding that [Thursday's] game against Winnipeg is the most important one. If you keep them in the short-term thought process, the long-term will take care of itself.

"Do the right thing and win [Thursday]. Then you win a couple more games and you really are paying attention to where you're at.''

According to research by The Hockey News, only a handful of teams out of a playoff position by Thanksgiving has made it to the postseason since 2001-02. San Jose was nine points out of a playoff spot on Thanksgiving in 2005 and had a huge push to make it. That nine point Turkey Day deficit is the largest to be made up since 2001-02.

Florida was 11 points back last Thursday.

"It's going to be tough to do, but that's what we're aiming for,'' general manager Dale Tallon said. "We have to come to work every day with our lunch pails and climb that ladder. We have to try and get better every day, get the most out of what we have here. It's not easy. I'm frustrated as hell but we're going to fix it.''

Defenseman Mike Weaver and winger Brad Boyes were part of a St. Louis team that won 19 of its final 28 games in 2008-09 to slip into the playoffs.

"We were in last place in January and made it,'' Weaver said. "Nothing is out of reach.''

Weaver and his teammates see the standings board every day. They see the gap widening. Weaver, who has missed the playoffs in three of his first four seasons with the Panthers, doesn't want another long offseason.

"This is frustrating, but we have to concentrate on the little things because it adds up to the big picture to get us where we want to be,'' Weaver said. "Everyone knows their job and that's to get on the ice and win games. Nothing has changed.''

Talking playoffs and the Panthers sounds odd considering Florida has the second-fewest points in the entire league -- after finishing dead last in 2013.

Tallon said he's not in tank mode although any moves to improve the current team will not be made with Florida's young core.

"I'm not happy, obviously, but I'm not going to panic,'' Tallon said. "I'm disappointed. The effort is better but we're not getting the results. Guys are fighting it, don't have a lot of confidence. We need something to go our way.''

-- Forward Tomas Kopecky (elbow) is close to returning to the lineup after going through Wednesday's full practice.

-- Benched defenseman Dmitry Kulikov is expected to return to the lineup Thursday against Winnipeg.


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

TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560

The series: Winnipeg leads 43-31-5

The game: Winnipeg has been enjoying the Fort Lauderdale beach life since arriving in town early Tuesday morning following its 5-2 win over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Florida is 5-2-4 against the Jets since they relocated from Atlanta.


December 03, 2013

SENS AGAIN: Panthers Squander 2-0 Lead, Lose 4-2 to Ottawa

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The Panthers got the start they were hoping for Tuesday night although their two early power play goals didn't hold up for long.

Ottawa, which has struggled almost as badly as Florida this year, scored four unanswered goals to beat the Panthers 4-2 in front of a friends-and-family gathering at BB&T Center.

Florida has lost three straight and five of the past six.

"This is frustrating. It's not fun,'' said defenseman Brian Campbell, whose team led 2-0 less than nine minutes into the game.

"I feel like we're close but we keep making major mistakes that cost us. They don't seem to leave our game.''

Florida's power play got things going early with Jonathan Huberdeau scoring the opening goal on a 5-on-3 chance by following up Tomas Fleischmann rebound. Fleischmann's assist marked his first point in 10 games.

Campbell made it 2-0 on the extended power play chance by roofing a shot past former Florida goalie Craig Anderson.

Ottawa, which took 21 shots in the opening period, closed the first with goals from Joe Corvo and Erik Condra. Corvo's goal was a 55-foot wrister from just inside the blue line, the puck zipping over Tim Thomas' right shoulder.

Ottawa spent much of the second on the power play, cashing in late in the period when another long shot from Corvo hit teammate Colin Greening and bounced over Thomas' head.

Greening's goal served as the game-winner as Bobby Ryan tacked on the fourth goal with 8:08 left to put the Panthers away.

"We had a great start then got into penalty trouble,'' said Scottie Upshall, who was flagged for three of Florida's eight infractions. "I thought our penalty kill did a great job but you can't build momentum when you are killing and not creating offense. My two penalties in the offensive zone were unacceptable. I can't be doing that.''

-- Tuesday's announced attendance of 10,074 was the lowest in six seasons. The Panthers announced a crowd of 10,063 on Halloween night in 2008 against the Hurricanes.

-- Florida is 0-2 against the Sens this year and just 3-13-1 against Ottawa since the start of the 2009-10 season.