January 26, 2016

BLOWN AWAY: Panthers get big second, roll past Leafs and into the All-Star break ... Sasha Barkov's big day continues in the second; Jussi Jokinen, Reilly Smith, Vincent Trocheck and Alex Petrovic also score

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers signed Sasha Barkov to a six year contract extension Tuesday afternoon and it paid immediate dividends.
About eight hours after Barkov put ink to paper, he put puck to the back of the net in helping lead the Panthers to a 5-1 win over Toronto in Sunrise.
"Nick Bjugstad told me every time someone signs a contract they score in their next game,'' said Barkov, who tied the score at 1 in the second period.
"So that was mine. It was because of that.''
Florida heads into the All-Star break riding a three-game winning streak and currently has a five-point lead on either Detroit atop the Atlantic Division.
Since losing four consecutive games, the Panthers' have outscored Chicago, Tampa Bay and Toronto 14-3 during their most recent winning streak.
The Panthers' first game back after the break is at Eastern Conference leading Washington on Tuesday.
"I think we're playing some good hockey,'' said Roberto Luongo, who extended his franchise-record home winning streak to eight with 22 saves and tied Tony Esposito for seventh all-time with 423 wins.
"We're getting some goals which is really nice. It's not going to happen all year round. When it happens, we'll take them.''
The Panthers got off to a quick start against the Leafs and were outshooting Toronto 7-0 before things got stale quickly.
Florida was held without a shot for the final 11 minutes of the first period and went into the break down 1-0 after Nazem Kadri took advantage of a downed Erik Gudbranson and waltzed in on Roberto Luongo.
The Panthers awoke with a flurry of goals in the second, scoring three times to give Luongo a little bit of breathing room.
Barkov tied it 3:49 into the period after weaving through center ice after taking a Brian Campbell pass.
Barkov walked in on James Reimer and beat him with a slick backhanded roof shot.
"This was a big day for a kid like that," coach Gerard Gallant said. "I'm sure he didn't sleep all night. I know I wouldn't have."
The Panthers took the lead for good minutes late when Vincent Trocheck and Jussi Jokinen played a little give-and-go with Jokinen sliding the puck to a hard-braking Trocheck in front of the net.
Jokinen got a goal of his own to make it 3-1 with 5:47 remaining in the period as his snap shot off a Reilly Smith pass zipped past Reimer.
"This is great. We had a great weekend and didn't want a let down,'' Gallant said.
The Panthers kept the onslaught going as they scored two more times in the third.
Smith got his goal to make it 4-1 as he took advantage of Reimer being stuck on the ice and Toronto defenseman Martin Marincin trying to fill the void.
Minutes later, Alex Petrovic fired off a shot from 50 feet away that somehow found its way home with 12:17 remaining.
That puck will remain with Petrovic for some time as it was his first NHL goal.
"It's a good feeling, nice to have that going into the break,'' Petrovic said. "We have something special here. We just need to keep that going."
-- Barkov was the center of attention at BB&T Center Tuesday afternoon as his six-year extension which will pay him around $6 million annually became official.
The second-overall pick of the 2013 NHL draft played in his 164th game with the Panthers over the course of the past three years and recorded his 91st point with his second period goal.
Barkov's contract runs through 2022 as the Panthers say they're committed to locking up their young stars.
"In the past, this organization has drafted players, developed them and off they've gone," general manager Dale Tallon said.
"It was a cycle that wasn't very effective. The commitment [from owners Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu] is to build a winning team and win the Stanley Cup. You can't do that unless you lock up your core guys for a long time and be committed to them."
-- Petrovic was the proud recipient of the team's 'Spacey In Space' sweatshirt -- which goes to the most deserving player following a victory -- after scoring his first NHL goal.
Now, fans can get their own -- well, once the team orders more.
The team sold all 150 replicas after intially putting them up for sale before Tuesday's game.
The sweatshirts were $40 with the team saying proceeds go to the Florida Panther Foundation as well as the Kevin Spacey Foundation.
"Yeah, but the original one is ours and it's in our locker room,'' Barkov said.

 

#SpaceyInSpace For Sale: Florida Panthers now selling the popular if mysterious hoodies at arena

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Last month, a strange looking sweatshirt was spotted hanging in the equipment room inside the Florida Panthers arena in Sunrise.
The royal blue hoodie, for some odd reason, had a picture of actor Kevin Spacey's face -- apparently floating in space -- ironed onto the front.
A day later, center Sasha Barkov was wearing the sweatshirt in the locker room after scoring twice in a win over Montreal.
A Miami Herald reporter took a picture of Barkov in the strange looking garb, came up with the Twitter hashtag 'SpaceyInSpace' and a legend was born.
Spacey in Space went viral across the social landscape with the actor even chiming in by writing "only I know what #SpaceyInSpace means."
The team is tight-lipped about what the sweatshirt means and a different player gets possession of it only following wins.
Now, anyone can wear one.


Tuesday night, before the red-hot Panthers played host to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the team put replicas of the sweatshirts on sale to the public.
For $40, fans can now wear the same silly looking sweatshirt Florida winger Shawn Thornton apparently brought into his team's locker room after finding it during a road trip to New York.
The team says all proceeds from the sales of the sweatshirt -- and they were brisk as the team's Pantherland store at BB&T Center opened -- benefit their team foundation as well as the Kevin Spacey Foundation.
"The mystery is killing me. I have no idea what it means, but it looks cool,'' said Jim Ball as he purchased two of the sweatshirts, a well-worn 1996 Florida Panthers baseball cap with rats embroidered on it atop his head.
Barkov, it should be noted, thanked Spacey in the twitter post in which he broke the news he would be signing a six-year contract extension with the team on Monday night.
At his press conference Tuesday, Barkov admitted he knew the meaning of the sweatshirt but wasn't about to inform the media of it.
"When we got the Spacey jersey we won 12 in a row right away," Barkov said. "I can't tell you why we got that jersey, but it's a pretty funny thing."


 

January 25, 2016

PANTHERS LOCK UP BARKOV: Sasha Barkov gets six years, average of $5.9 million per season

Barkovspace
TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Sasha Barkov broke the news of his six-year contract extension on Twitter Monday night and thanked actor Kevin Spacey “for the good luck,” refering to the blue sweatshirt he was awarded after a big game last month.

The Panthers expect many more big games from the 20-year-old center as he will a cornerstone piece for the franchise for some time.

Barkov, the second overall pick of the 2013 NHL draft, signed what appears to be a team-friendly deal which the Miami Herald has learned will pay him an average of $5.9 million per season.

Barkov will get $4.25 million when the contract kicks in next season and will peak at $7.75 million during the final year of it in 2021-22.

The contract is expected to officially be announced Tuesday at a press conference before the Panthers play host to Toronto at BB&T Center.

Centering Florida’s top line alongside Jaromir Jagr and Jonathan Huberdeau, Barkov has 12 goals with 18 assists despite missing 10 games with a broken bone in his hand. Florida suffered through its season-long five-game losing streak without Barkov in the lineup.

“Not many guys play like he does,” Jagr said not long after Barkov returned on Nov. 16 in a victory over Tampa Bay. “He has no limits.”

Florida has also locked up center Nick Bjugstad to a six-year contract which began this season and will now look to sign defenseman Aaron Ekblad to a long-term pact as well.

Barkov

Ekblad, 19, is in his second season with the Panthers and isn’t eligible for an extension until this season concludes.

Florida reportedly had tried to get Barkov to sign for the NHL maximum of eight years but was rebuffed, as expected, by his agent.

For the Panthers, six years of not having to deal with Barkov’s contract is a win in itself. Barkov would have been a restricted free agent this summer and the six-year deal buys Barkov’s first two years of being eligible for unrestricted free agency.

“He's a horse and just gets better every game,” coach Gerard Gallant said after Barkov returned from his injury.

“He brings a lot of offense, brings great defense and is the exact kind of player a coach wants. You can trust him in all situations.'”

HERE COME THE LEAFS: Panthers hope to avoid pitfall -- and goalie injuries -- like last year ... Roberto Luongo gets start in rematch with Leafs ... Willie Mitchell is out

Luongo2
TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Last spring, the Panthers were trying to make a push for a playoff spot when the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs came to town.

Florida ended up getting both of its goalies hurt in a crazy game in which goalie coach Robb Tallas as well as center Derek MacKenzie were both ready to jump in and play the position.

A win on March 3 would have pulled Florida into a tie with Boston for the final playoff spot.

Instead, the Panthers lost 3-2 and never seemed to recover, missing the playoffs for the 13th time in 14 seasons.

Florida never got that close to the Bruins again.

“We had the goalie incident the last time we played them and that was a tough deal,” Nick Bjugstad said. “That was a game we thought we had, should have had, and it was weird. Toronto is better this year. Every team in this league is good.”

Tallas

Tuesday, the Leafs return to the scene of the crime in not much of a different spot than they were last year.

Toronto remains way out of the playoff race, but under new coach Mike Babcock — who left Detroit for an eight-year, $50 million deal in May — the Leafs have played better despite losing seven of their past eight.

“We don’t overlook anyone. We’re the Florida Panthers,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “We’re in first place because we play well most nights. But any team in the league can beat you. Toronto is a good team.”

Yes, the Panthers are clear favorites to win Tuesday night and head into the All-Star break riding a three-game winning streak.

Yet after beating Chicago and Tampa Bay on consecutive nights this weekend, the Panthers insist they aren’t taking the Maple Leafs lightly.

“We had a great weekend, but hey, that’s over with,” Gallant said. “It’s going to be a battle and we have to be ready to take that game. Don’t pack your bags for vacation just yet.”

Said Jonathan Huberdeau: “We want to go into the break with a win. The last stretch of the season is going to be very important but we’re not looking ahead. We lost a crazy game to them last year. We would like to start another long winning streak.’’

Tuesday marks the first of four meetings between the Panthers and Leafs, with Florida needing to get the lion’s share of the available points.

The Panthers came into Monday holding a five-point lead on Tampa Bay and Detroit with one final game remaining against the Lightning and two against the Red Wings, including one in Detroit soon after the break ends.

Florida has done a good job beating teams below it in the standings this season and, as one of the top two teams in the Eastern Conference, that has new meaning for the Panthers.

Now everyone aside for Washington is looking up at them in the standings.

The Panthers are enjoying the view.

“Here we go; we have 34 games left and every game is big starting Tuesday night,” MacKenzie said. “Simply put, we want to keep this going into the break and then roll with it coming out of it.

“We’re not looking ahead to Washington because we know Toronto is tough. We were ready for Chicago and Tuesday can be no different.”

NOTES

-- Defenseman Willie Mitchell didn’t practice Monday and will miss his third consecutive game Tuesday. Mitchell, 38, has been dealing with lingering injuries and the Panthers hope the extended rest and time off will benefit their captain.

-- Roberto Luongo, who started last year’s game before being injured and then had to come back and replace Al Montoya, gets another shot at the Leafs on Tuesday. Luongo’s seven consecutive home wins is a franchise record as he hasn’t lost at BB&T Center since Dec. 8.

-- Defenseman Aaron Ekblad was injured during Florida’s four-game losing streak and has a personal 14-game winning streak going. Ekblad hasn’t been on the ice for a Florida loss since Dec. 12 in Boston. “In the end, I’m part of this team and when we lose, even if I’m not out there, it stings just as much,” he said.

Tuesday: Maple Leafs at Panthers

When/where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center.

TV/radio: FSFL; 560 WQAM, 640 WMEN, WNMA 1210.

Series: Toronto leads 34-30-7.

Scouting report: Florida has won six of the past eight meetings with Toronto and have posted a winning record against the Leafs in six of the previous nine seasons.

January 24, 2016

FUN IN FLORIDA: Panthers back to winning ways after sweep of Chicago and Tampa Bay

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers bandwagon was filling up quite nicely earlier this month as they set a franchise record with 12 consecutive wins.
Some fell off during the four-game losing streak which followed, of course, but after this weekend, the Panthers may have picked up a few more believers.
That will happen when you become the first team in over 25 years to beat the Stanley Cup finalists in consecutive nights.
The Panthers did so in impressive fashion, too, beating Chicago and Tampa Bay by a combined 9-2 score.
"We know we cane beat any team in the league,'' said Jonathan Huberdeau, who opened the scoring and assisted on Florida's second goal in Saturday's 5-2 thrashing of visiting Tampa Bay.
"We’re a really good team and we can show we’ve had a struggle lately and we came out this weekend and showed the league that we’re a good team against a really good team, too.”
Said Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos: "I don't know how they can be underrated; they're leading the division. They had a 12 game winning streak so whoever is underrating them hasn't been watching them play. They’re in first place for a reason."
The Panthers are not only the first team to beat the previous year's finalists in consecutive games since the 2013 Islanders but are the first to win such a matchup on back-to-back nights since Calgary dropped Boston and Edmonton during a two-day span in 1990.
"We had to play great hockey to beat those two teams,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "It was a good challenge because we hadn't played very good in the games prior even though we won a few of them. ... They played their tails off."
Regardless of what happens Tuesday night against visiting Toronto, the Panthers will head into the All-Star break atop the Atlantic Division.
On Sunday, Florida held a five-point lead on both Tampa Bay and Detroit, but things are tightening up as New Jersey -- which holds the final playoff spot -- is just six points back.
According to sportsclubstats.com, the Panthers have a 97.8 percent chance of making the playoffs which is ranked fifth in the league.
This season, the Panthers have backed up Huberdeau's words by beating just about every top team in the league.
The Panthers have won three of four from Tampa Bay, beat the defending Cup champion Blackhawks 4-0 and also have wins against every team holding a playoff spot in the east save for nemesis Boston.
"I like their team," Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said Saturday night.
"They've got a mix of veterans and young guys. Their young guys have come into their own ... They have a big strong defense, and they have a goaltender back there that can keep them in every single game. They're big, strong they can skate, and [Gallant] did a hell of a job coaching those guys. They play hard and they're a good team."
The Panthers will get some time off this week as the team takes off for the All-Star break following Tuesday's game against the Maple Leafs.
Due to their success, some won't be getting a beachside vacation as three players (Jaromir Jagr, Roberto Luongo and Aaron Ekblad) as well as Gallant are headed to Nashville for the All-Star Game.
This year marks the most representatives at an All-Star Game the team has ever had as Gallant becomes Florida's first All-Star coach since Doug MacLean -- Gallant's old high school teacher and coach in Canada -- did it twice in 1996-97.
Florida's three players are the most of any team matching the host Predators and conference-leading Washington.
Since Thanksgiving, when the Panthers had lost nine of 12, Florida has gone 20-6-1.
"I don’t know if we are still the making statements-type team,'' Luongo said after winning his franchise-record seventh consecutive home start Saturday.
"People are aware we’re a pretty good club. More than anything, we had lost four in a row before that, so we wanted to get back on the right track, get back in the winning column, get some points and keep climbing."
-- Brandon Pirri sat out his second consecutive game Saturday.
Pirri said he heard from friends regarding various trade rumors floating around on Friday but said he wants to remain with the Panthers.
"The team played great so there's a silver lining in that,'' Pirri said. "We're trying to put wins together and we needed a change. My number got called.''
-- The Panthers will hold an open practice Monday at the IceDen in Coral Springs at 11 a.m.

AP Photo/Wifredo Lee

 

January 23, 2016

OFF TO NASHVEGAS: Jaromir Jagr says he'll head to All-Star Weekend

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Jaromir Jagr politely asked fans not to use their All-Star Game votes on him through his Twitter account.
Jagr wound up getting the most votes in the Atlantic Division and was named a captain for the revamped All-Star Game this coming weekend in Nashville.
Jagr was serious about not wanting to go but said Saturday night he will not skip the event.
Earlier in the day, Jagr reiterated his distain for the time commitment to the event explaining he doesn't want his daily workout and skating routine to be interrupted - "When am I going to skate?" he asked -- as he needs to prepare himself mentally and physically for Florida's final 33 games after the break.
"We have 30 games left," Jagr said, "and I need to be ready for them."
If Jagr were to skip the All-Star weekend, he would have to sit out a game -- something he doesn't sound too keen on doing.
The Panthers have three players -- Jagr, Roberto Luongo and Aaron Ekblad -- as well as coach Gerard Gallant selected for the event.
The All-Star Game will be held Sunday with the skills competition on Saturday.

 

PANTHERS BRING THE THUNDER: Panthers complete terrific back-to-back set with 5-2 win over Lightning ... Panthers beat Chicago, Tampa Bay by combined 9-2 score ... Florida scores four in second to roll

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
No team had beaten the reigning Stanley Cup finalists in consecutive games in three years until Saturday night.
The Panthers made it look a little too easy.
A night after thumping the defending champion Blackhawks, the Panthers ended Tampa Bay's winning streak with a resounding 5-1 victory in front of 19,626 at BB&T Center.
Florida came into Friday's game riding a four-game losing streak yet outscored the Blackhawks and Lightning -- the two hottest teams in the league -- 9-1.
The Lightning had won seven consecutive games, including a 3-1 victory over the Panthers last week in Tampa, before Florida scored four in the second period and rolled to its third victory over its cross-state rivals this season.
"It's not too often you can say the two Florida teams are first and second in the division,'' coach Gerard Gallant said Saturday morning, "We're both good teams and I think that makes it a lot of fun.''
Gallant stuck with his plan to roll out goalie Roberto Luongo for a second consecutive night and that worked out just fine.
Luongo, who recorded his 72nd career shutout Friday, made 38 saves Saturday as Tampa didn't connect on him until the third and the game result was all but decided.
After a scoreless first period slowed by five penalties, the Panthers came out jumping in the second.
Florida peppered goalie Ben Bishop with Logan Shaw, Jonathan Huberdeau and Sasha Barkov getting great chances before Huberdeau finally broke through midway through to make it 1-0.
Florida's power play drought ended minutes later as Nick Bjugstad scored off a Huberdeau feed with one second left on Florida's third try with the advantage.
The Panthers hadn't scored a power play goal since Jan. 2 -- a run of 28 chances without a score.
"It was a good period for everyone,'' Bjugstad said.
Florida broke things open with 4:04 left in the second after Reilly Smith's shot ricocheted off Tampa's Victor Hedman and slid past Bishop.
With 2:27 left, Vincent Trocheck chopped at a loose puck and his sand wedge shot floated over Bishop's head and into the back of the net for a 4-0 lead.
Brian Campbell's empty net goal with 4:08 remaining closed things out.
The Panthers' victory gives them a little more breathing room atop the Atlantic Division. Tampa Bay closed to within a point of the Panthers after beating Chicago on Thursday, but wins on consecutive nights now gives Florida a five-point lead on the Lightning.
The Panthers play host to Toronto on Tuesday before going into the weeklong All-Star break.

 

January 22, 2016

TAKING IT TO CHICAGO: Florida Panthers snap four-game slide in style, top Blackhawks 4-0 ... Roberto Luongo gets shutout, looks ahead to Tampa Bay on Saturday ... Brandon Pirri subject of trade rumors, scratched

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Gerard Gallant hoped the challenge of playing the defending Stanley Cup champions would be magic elixir in helping his team out of a four-game funk.
The Panthers certainly responded.
Thanks in part to a three-goal opening period, Florida's losing streak is history as the Panthers beat the Western Conference leading Blackhawks 4-0 in front of 19,343 at BB&T Center.
"They brought the best out of us," said Gallant, who was coaching Jonathan Huberdeau in the Canadian junior leagues when Florida last beat Chicago back in 2011.
The shutout of the Blackhawks was the first by a Florida goalie since John Vanbiesbrouck did so near the end of his South Florida run in 1998.
Roberto Luongo made 27 saves for his 72nd career shutout which puts him 10th all time.
"We knew if we had a good start, we could set the tempo and the pace,'' said Luongo, who is scheduled to get a rare start on consecutive nights Saturday against visiting Tampa Bay.
"Our start [Friday] was more important than in any other game this season I thought. ... Once we took the lead, we didn't try and sit on it."
The Panthers and Blackhawks both hold the distinction of the having the longest winning streaks in the NHL this season at 12. Chicago's run was snapped Thursday in Tampa as the Lightning pulled within a point of the Panthers in the Atlantic Division.
So, with Tampa Bay in Sunrise for a big game Saturday night, the challenge for the Panthers isn't close to being over.
"Tampa beat us pretty good up there so we have to get back,'' said Brian Campbell, who beat the Blackhawks for the first time since being traded from Chicgao in 2011.
"We know how the standings look, where everyone is. There are no excuses. We have to keep going."
Florida took its first lead since its 12-game winning ended in Vancouver on Jan. 11 when Reilly Smith took a Jussi Jokinen feed and beat Chicago backup Scott Darling midway through the first.
The Panthers continued coming hard at Darling and the Hawks, making it 2-0 when former Chicago defenseman Brian Campbell drove in a scored from the left circle.
With 2.2 seconds left in the period, Quinton Howden made it 3-0 as he scored his second goal in as many games.
"We played a full 60 minutes which is what we were doing our win streak,'' Campbell said.
Darling stayed in and Ekblad -- who hasn't played in a losing game since Dec. 12 -- picked off the puck and scored less than three minutes into the frame.
"The whole team should be happy, we were firing on all cylinders for sure,'' said Aaron Ekblad, who gave Florida a 4-0 lead early in the second after missing the past four games with a concussion.
The Blackhawks pulled Darling and decided to play with an empty net with 8:30 left in a desperate attempt to get something going, but as was the case for the Panthers in Calgary after their long streak was snapped, nothing happened.
Florida lost 6-0 to the Flames on the night after its 12-game streak came to a close.
"We talked about how our streak ended and they played a pretty strong game,'' Gallant said. "But we came out and got a pretty big lead and that helped us.''
-- The Panthers sat the slumping Brandon Pirri on Friday amid rumors the team was looking to trade the winger to another team.
A source told the Miami Herald on Friday that Pirri wasn't being shopped and the team was not inclined to trade him although a different source said the Panthers received numerous offers.
Pirri, who hasn't scored in the past six games, has nine goals this season after scoring a career-high 22 last year in three more games than he's currently played.
Pirri could be back in the lineup Saturday.
-- The Panthers not only had Ekblad back in the lineup for the first time since the Vancouver game, but Erik Gudbranson returned after leaving Monday's game with a minor injury.
Gudbranson made his presence felt in the second period when he drilled Teuvo Teravainen along the boards.
-- Willie Mitchell was put on the injured list Friday with what is called a lingering lower body issue. "He's been limping around the past two weeks," Gallant said.
Mitchell would be eligible to return Tuesday against Toronto.
-- The only active member of the Panthers who was on the team when they last defeated the Blackhawks is Dmitry Kulikov.
Kulikov's first NHL regular season experience came in Florida's two-game set against the Blackhawks in Helsinki, Finland, to kick off the 2009-10 season.
-- The past three head coaches of the Panthers were in Sunrise Friday as Kevin Dineen (2011-13) is an assistant coach for the Blackhawks.
Peter Horachek (2013-14) lives in Fort Lauderdale and watched the game from the press box with Gallant (2014-present) behind the bench.
Saturday: Lightning at Panthers
When, where: 7 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; 560 WQAM, 640 WMEN, WNMA 1210
Series: Florida leads 60-50-10
Scouting report: The Lightning, which snapped Chicago's franchise-record 12-game winning streak on Thursday, has a won seven in a row. Included in that is a 3-1 victory over the Panthers in Tampa on Sunday. Florida is 2-1 against the Lightning this season.

 

January 21, 2016

DAVE BOLLAND: Panthers allowing former Chicago Cup hero time to work back from lingering injuries ... Bolland hasn't played nor skated in a month ... Erik Gudbranson back at practice, Willie Mitchell out ... Dylan Olsen returns

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
It hasn't been three full years since Dave Bolland's last-minute goal in Game 6 won the Stanley Cup for the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013.
Yet, when the Blackhawks visit the Panthers on Friday, Bolland won't be anywhere near the ice.
No one has any idea when he will be back on it, either.
Bolland -- Florida's highest-paid forward at $5.5 million per season -- hasn't played nor practiced in over a month since a short stay in the minors.
Bolland, 29, is apparently afflicted by numerous lingering injuries including an ankle problem which stems from a severed tendon suffered while with Toronto in 2013.
General manager Dale Tallon said the team is giving Bolland time to heal up and be 100 percent to help the team make a playoff push.
After all, Bolland has plenty of postseason experience -- he won the Stanley Cup with Chicago in 2010 and '13 -- and could be an asset for the Panthers down the line.
"He can't skate right now, so we're just trying to get him healthy so he can help us in a playoff run,'' Tallon said.
"We just want to get him healthy, get him right. He has missed a lot of hockey so it's going to take some time. But the goal is to get him where he was. He's won championships before, that's why we brought him here. We want to get him back to that level."
According to his agent Anton Thun, Bolland is frustrated the injuries have kept him from being the kind of player he has been in the past.
"He hates this,'' Thun said.
Bolland hasn't spoken to the media since returning from the minors before the Christmas break but Thun said Bolland is in a good mental state and is committed to taking all the time necessary to getting healthy and helping the Panthers.
"The goal is for him to be able to help the Panthers not only make the playoffs, but be successful in them,'' Thun said.
"He wants to be the player he was for the Chicago Blackhawks before these injuries took place. He's a very competitive athlete. He's disappointed he can't help right now."
Although his equipment still hangs in his locker and he remained on the active roster as of Thursday, the Panthers have been forced to move on without Bolland.
Coincidental or not, once Bolland was taken out of the lineup and replaced by younger players, the Panthers began their franchise-record 12-game winning streak.
Bolland, in the second year of a five-year deal worth $27.5 million, started this season good enough but his play slipped in November leading coach Gerard Gallant to bench him for three games and demote him to wing on Florida's fourth line.
In December, after his ice time slipped to under nine minutes per game, Bolland was sent to Florida's minor league team in Portland, Maine, for what was called a conditioning assignment.
After playing in two games, Bolland was brought back to Florida before the Christmas break and he hasn't skated since.
"He's a competitive guy who works hard, but I don't think things have gone real well for him the past few years,'' Gallant said.
"Hey, he's won the Stanley Cup and is a battler. Sometimes you get a mindset when you look at things and say things have to be better. He's had to do that a few times this season. He's a professional."
Brian Campbell, Bolland's teammate in Chicago before coming to Florida in 2011, says he sees Bolland in the mornings at the team facility and says he's working toward a return.
"We all believe he can help us,'' Campbell said. "I'm sure it's not easy for him right now.''
The Panthers signed Bolland to a much-criticized contract in 2014 for money usually spent on top-line scorers not defensive pests like Bolland.
Bolland spent one season in Toronto after his run with the Blackhawks and his current rash of injuries all go back to when a tendon in his left ankle was severed by a skate blade in 2013.
After missing four months, Bolland returned to the Maple Leafs and played eight games to close the season.
Bolland didn't get the eight-year deal he sought to stay in Toronto and became a free agent.
Florida and the Leafs engaged in a slight bidding war for his services, with the Panthers getting the deal done by offering an reported $500,000 more per year as well as a fifth-year on the contract.
Tallon defended the signing by saying the Panthers needed Bolland's defensive toughness -- he was nicknamed 'The Rat' for his tenacity and ability to get under the skin of his opponents.
Bolland, it was said, would solidify Florida's penalty kill, match up against the other team's top line and be on the ice to protect late leads.
Yes, the Panthers admitted to paying a third-line defensive-minded forward as if he was a top-six scorer but felt the overpayment was necessary to get a piece they felt they couldn't develop internally. With the Panthers last year, Bolland filled the role he was expected to when healthy.
After missing two months with a groin injury thought to be linked to his ankle, Bolland played well at times centering the Panthers' third line.
This year, however, was a different story. Although Bolland came into camp in terrific shape, after a good first month, he began to look a step slow and, at times, uninterested.
Questions began whether Bolland could keep up anymore.
Now, the Panthers have to look longterm.
When this season is over, the Panthers will consider buying out Bolland's remaining three years and pay him $1.8 million over the next six seasons in order to save almost $6 million.
If Bolland doesn't return from his injuries, he could look to pick up the entirety of the $16.5 million owed to him.
"He has a couple of injuries limiting his ability to play," Thun said. "He's receiving medical advice from the team and they are trying to take steps to allow him to get back to NHL conditioning so he can play at the level he knows he can play at. He can be better than he has been.
"At the end of the day, the injuries he has sustained aren't career ending. But until you go though the process of rehabilitation, you don't know how they will respond."
Bolland's career highlight, of course, was helping the Blackhawks win their second Stanley Cup title in three years in 2012.
Chicago trailed Boston 2-1 late in Game 6 before Bryan Bickell tied the score with 1:16 remaining.
A mere 17 seconds later, Bolland followed up a rebound of a deflection from former Panthers' winger Michael Frolik and beat Bruins' goalie Tuukka Rask to give the Blackhawks a 3-2 lead with 59 seconds remaining and a Stanley Cup victory.

"We all dream about scoring that Stanley Cup winner to hoist the Cup,'' Bolland said then. "So, check that one off the bucket list."

-- Defenseman Willie Mitchell didn't practice again Thursday and will likely miss the next two games.
Erik Gudbranson returned Thursday after leaving Monday's game in the second period.
With the Panthers playing Chicago and Tampa Bay on consecutive nights, Dylan Olsen was recalled from Portland.
Friday: Blackhawks at Panthers
When, where:
7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640, WMNA 1210
Series: Chicago leads 20-9-3
Scouting report: Chicago put its 12-game winning streak on the line Thursday in Tampa. Florida, which has lost its past four, is looking for its first win against the Blackhawks since 2011 and hasn't won in Chicago since 2008 after losing there 3-2 in October.

 

 

 

January 20, 2016

AARON EKBLAD READY TO RETURN: Florida Panthers appear to have star defenseman back for Friday against Chicago ... Gerard Gallant gets vocal in power play work ... Jaromir Jagr knows Blackhawks bring stiff challenge

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
When the Panthers' franchise-record 12-game winning streak came to an end last week, Aaron Ekblad shaved the thick beard he had been cultivating since last summer.
"I thought I should change things up,'' he said.
If Florida ends its recent four-game slide Friday, Ekblad will likely have a say in it as he was medically cleared to return from a concussion suffered Jan. 10 on Wednesday.
When the Panthers play host to the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks on Friday, Ekblad is expected to be back on the ice.
Coincidentally or not, the Panthers haven't won since Ekblad played as their victory in Edmonton was the final win in Florida's 12-game run.
The Panthers are 0-3-1 with Ekblad out of the lineup.
"I didn't think we were going to miss him that much but we did,'' Jaromir Jagr said.
"Not only is he great defensively, but he helps offensively. That's what you need when you're losing a game, everyone needs to help offensively. And he's one of those guys can do it.''
Ekblad, who turns 20 next month, was cleared Wednesday morning and took part in the full practice including taking over as point man on Florida's top power play unit.
The Panthers have obviously missed all facets of Ekblad's game in the week he missed from his strong defensive play to his offensive push.
"We've missed everything,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "He's a 19-year-old kid but means a lot to our team obviously."
Florida was without defensemen Willie Mitchell and Erik Gudbranson on Wednesday so having Ekblad ready to play comes at a good time.
Gudbranson, who suffered what is being called a minor lower back/rib injury Monday, is expected to practice Thursday and be in the lineup against Chicago.
Mitchell, however, is apparently suffering from some lingering issues and may not play against the Blackhawks.
"It's possible, but I'll know more after practice and meetings,'' Gallant said. "That's part of hockey; you have guys banged up and other guys step in who are fresh."
Ekblad, the reigning rookie of the year, was boarded by Edmonton's Matt Hendricks early in the third period as he was driven face-first into the glass.
It was a a cheap hit apparently aimed at retribution for the open-ice hit Gudbranson put on Edmonton star Taylor Hall late in the second period.
Hendricks was suspended three games for the hit and fought Gudbranson in the early stages of Monday's 4-2 victory over the Panthers in Sunrise.
"The department of player safety takes care of what they take care of,'' Ekblad said of Hendricks' suspension. "My job is to play hockey; if they felt that was necessary, that's their job not mine.''
Ekblad said after leaving the ice in Edmonton, he passed all concussion tests and was allowed to come back and finish the game. Ekblad surprisingly played three shifts after heading into the locker room.
It was on the bus ride to the Edmonton airport after the game where Ekblad started feeling the effects of the hit.
"That's very typical," he said.
Ekblad started working out later in the week and began skating last Saturday.
"I feel good right now, a lot of people have been helping me,'' Ekblad said. "I feel prepared to play at any time. The biggest thing to focus on is I'm better and I'm ready to play.''
-- Gallant hasn't been happy with Florida's slumping power play and demonstrated that verbally during Wednesday's practice as he yelled at both units when they did things he didn't like.

 

"He always looks like he's ticked off,'' Jagr said. "Look at him on the bench. He's an emotional guy."
The Panthers haven't scored a power play goal since Brandon Pirri did so against the Rangers on Jan. 2 and have gone 0-23 since.
"We're trying out some new things and I wanted to get through to them,'' Gallant said. "You give them the message. Details are a big part of it."
Said Jonathan Huberdeau: "We have to come back to our game. It's his job to push us, it's our job to respond.''
-- Gallant said having Stanley Cup finalists Chicago and Tampa Bay on consecutive nights "should be fun" and "should be awesome" as he hopes the challenge really gets his team's attention as they aim to break their losing streak.
"I think I would rather play someone else than the Stanley Cup champions,'' Jagr said with a grin to a large media gathering which included a pair of ESPN reporters.
"But if coach said that, I guess he knows more than I do. They're a very good team. Of course, it's going to be a big challenge. But I don't think we overlook anyone.''
-- Gallant said his team isn't getting down on itself because of the recent losing streak.
The team remains atop the Atlantic Division and although Detroit and Tampa Bay are rapidly gaining ground, Florida is still in front.
"We're in a great spot today even if we're disappointed with the past four games,'' he said.
"I was a little ticked with the way we played the last number of games, but in hindsight, we're in a pretty good spot. No one predicted we would be in first in the division, no one predicted us to be sixth in the entire league. We just need to press the reset button and get back at it."

 

January 18, 2016

COVERED IN OIL: Panthers fall behind by three, come back comes up short in 3-2 loss ... Florida hasn't beaten Oilers at home since 2002 ... Erik Gudbranson fights Matt Hendricks, leaves after check in second period

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
After skipping through life for a month without much of a care, it's now time for the Panthers to start worrying.
Although flaws in their game were buried under a 12-game winning streak, Florida wasn't able to hide its weaknesses in Monday's 4-2 loss to the visiting Oilers -- its fourth consecutive defeat.
"When we had the streak we felt like we were scoring on every chance,'' said Sasha Barkov, whose team scored two quick goals to open the third period to give itself hope.
"We weren't playing great, but we were scoring when we needed. Now, we're not. You have confidence when you're winning. Everything works. It's not going that way right now. We'll work harder and start playing 60 minute games.''
Last season, Florida lost six consecutive games after its long road trip to western Canada and won't get a chance to end this slide until Friday -- when the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks come to town.
Oh yeah, Chicago has an 11-game winning streak of its own right now. The Blackhawks will be followed up Saturday by Tampa Bay.
"They were the Stanley Cup finalists last year,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "Hopefully they will get us back and we'll play well and get some points. It's a big challenge.''
The simple act of scoring goals, especially on the power play with an additional skater, has been problematic lately and was again Monday against Cam Talbot for the first two periods.
Florida, which beat the Oilers in Edmonton 2-1 just last week, had been outscored 14-1 since grabbing a 2-0 first-period lead in Vancouver before scoring twice in the third period Monday after trailing 3-0.
In Florida's three consecutive regulation losses, it has just three goals.
"We have to find ways to get going earlier,'' Nick Bjugstad said. "I don't know if it's energy issues or mental lapses. Maybe it's both. We have to figure this out.''
Matt Hendricks was back in the Edmonton lineup for the first time since being suspended for boarding -- and concussing -- Florida's rising star Aaron Ekblad.
As expected, Hendricks had to answer for his hit on Ekblad and was taken down by Erik Gudbranson's fists 4:16 in.
The loud cheers from the home crowd turned to groans moments later as Teddy Purcell grabbed a Vincent Trocheck turnover along the boards, and sprung Taylor Hall who walked in on Al Montoya and buried his shot to make it 1-0.
Later in the period, Shawn Thornton coughed up the puck as he tried to clear it out of the Florida zone and watched Jordan Eberle score to make it 2-0 with 1:18 left before intermission.
"We gave them a couple of goals, four or five breakaways,'' Gallant said. "It wasn't a fun game to coach. They were complete giveaways, and those happen sometimes, but they're happening more lately.''
The Panthers' power play -- which hasn't scored since Jan. 2 -- was again without tangible result as Florida (0-4) failed to take advantage of its advantage on 23 consecutive occasions.
After stopping Florida's fourth power play early in the second period, Edmonton made it 3-0 when Hall snapped a shot from the high slot just 4:19 in.
The Panthers made things interesting in the third with Reilly Smith scoring 2:45 in with Quinton Howden tapping in a beautiful feed from Thornton three minutes later.
Florida came no closer, with Purcell finishing things with an empty-netter with 1:28 left.
"We didn't come out in the first two periods and knew we needed a good start in the third,'' Howden said.
"We have to find a way to capitalize on our chances. We have to get back on track. The streak was fun, but we have to regroup. We haven't done that."
-- Gudbranson left Monday's game with 11:58 left in the second period after being run into the boards by Darnell Nurse.
Gudbranson didn't return with what is said to be a minor back strain.
The Panthers are off Tuesday and return to practice in Coral Springs Wednesday.
-- Florida hasn't scored a power play goal since Brandon Pirri scored in the Panthers' 3-0 win over the Rangers on Jan. 2.
"I didn't know it was that long ago,'' Bjugstad said, "but it does feel that long.''
-- Montoya had his personal five-game winning streak snapped as he hadn't been on the losing end of a game since giving up four goals in a 5-2 loss at San Jose on Nov. 5.
Montoya had also given up just a single goal in his previous six starts although he did surrender two in relief of Roberto Luongo in last week's 6-0 loss at Calgary.

 

TIME TO COME HOME: Panthers' slide at three after 3-1 loss to Tampa Bay Lightning ... Edmonton comes to town Monday, kicks off four-game homestand

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
TAMPA -- Nick Bjugstad has been in possession of the Panthers' famed 'Spacey In Space' sweatshirt the past three games.
That means the sweatshirt -- which goes to a team MVP after a victory -- hangs in his locker stall and travels with him in his equipment bag.
Bjugstad can't wait to get rid of the darned thing.
Because the Panthers lost their third straight Sunday evening -- this one 3-1 to the host Lightning -- the royal blue hoodie made its way back to South Florida in Bjugstad's bag.
When the Panthers win again, Bjugstad is in charge of awarding it to the next guy.
"I've had it for three games now,'' Bjugstad said after scoring Florida's lone goal on Sunday. "It's been in my stall too much. I have to get rid of it Monday night.''
The Panthers aim to end their losing streak Monday when the Edmonton Oilers come to the BB&T Center in Sunrise.
Coincidentally, Edmonton is the last team Florida has defeated and it's where Bjugstad was given the sweatshirt in the first place.
If the Panthers play Monday the way they did in the third period of Sunday's game, they could get back to their winning ways.
If Florida repeats the style it played in the first and second, however, Bjugstad may be stuck with the Kevin Spacey sweatshirt a little longer.
The Panthers end their six-game road trip 3-2-1.
"The third period was a real good period for us, we got within a goal,'' said coach Gerard Gallant, whose team went 0-5 on the power play in the loss.
"I thought we played well in the third, but the first two, there wasn't much offense from either team. Tampa took it to us a little in the second and we didn't get much from out power play.''
Florida's power play has struggled lately as the Panthers haven't scored with the man-advantage since Jan. 2.
After striking out on all five of their power play chances Sunday, the Panthers have gone scoreless on their past 19.
"We need to compete harder, put pucks at the net,'' Gallant said. "We had some great looks, changed things up in the third. When it's not going good, it gives the other team momentum.''
The Lightning survived two Florida power play chances in a scoreless first period which bled into the second.
After Tampa Bay killed off its second penalty, it took a 1-0 lead when Nikita Kucherov teed off from the right circle and beat Roberto Luongo top shelf.
Later in the second, the Lightning made it 2-0 leading the Panthers to go into the third down two goals.
Florida played a much better third and cut Tampa Bay's lead when Bjugstad followed up his own rebound and scored his first goal since Nov. 21.
Bjugstad missed a month dealing with painful migraines and his goal Sunday was his first point in his seven games since returning.
"We have to keep going, keep trying,'' Bjugstad said. "We knew their game plan, we just didn't execute the way we wanted to. They're a fast team.''
Florida and Tampa Bay -- which both hold playoff positions -- battled through the final half of the third period with no one giving up an inch.
With 1:32 left, Luongo skated off the ice to give Florida and extra attacker and the Lightning made the Panthers pay.
Just eight seconds left, Kucherov slid the puck into an empty net for his second of the night.
"We have to stop this as soon as possible,'' Jaromir Jagr said. "When you're on a winning streak, everything looks easy. When you're losing, it's the other way around. You have to stop it. Hopefully [the third period play] carries over on Monday. If it doesn't, it doesn't matter.''
-- The Panthers scratched Shawn Thornton Sunday although it's expected he'll be back Monday against Edmonton.
Defenseman Aaron Ekblad missed his third consecutive game after being boarded by Edmonton's Matt Hendricks last week. Hendricks wasn't penalized for the hit but was suspended three games. Hendricks' suspension ended and he's eligible to return against the Panthers.
-- Count Lightning coach Jon Cooper as one who thinks having both the Panthers and Tampa Bay being relevant is good for the rivalry.
"I think it's good for hockey, for everything in the state of Florida,'' Cooper said, adding the rivalry would get very heated if the two were paired up in the postseason.
"It's good for us to both do well."
Said Gallant: "It's good when both teams in the state are good and battle each other."
Monday: Oilers at Panthers
When, where:
7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640, WMNA 1210
Series: Edmonton leads 14-10-3
Scouting report: The Panthers beat the Oilers 2-1 last Sunday night before going on a three-game slide. Al Montoya will start in net for the Panthers, who haven't beaten Edmonton in Sunrise since 2002.


 

 

January 16, 2016

PANTHERS HEAD TO TAMPA: Rare meeting between in-state rivals when both hold playoff position ... Aaron Ekblad out against Lightning and Oilers, could return against Chicago

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Rare is the matchup in which both of Florida's NHL teams hold playoff positioning at the same time.
Yet when the Lightning play host to the Panthers on Sunday evening, that's exactly the scenario.
For the Panthers, Sunday's game marks the end of a long road trip -- which was interrupted by a few days back home in South Florida -- which started in Buffalo on Jan. 5.
"It was nice to get a couple days off and recharge the batteries a little bit,'' goalie Roberto Luongo said following Saturday's practice in Coral Springs.
"We have a big game in Tampa and are looking at it as one game. We have to get back on the winning track as soon as possible. We have some distance in our division and don't want that gap to close. We need to get back to getting some points."
Atop the Atlantic Division since late December, the Panthers have lost their past two games but their 18-3-1 run since Thanksgiving have put them in good position in their division as well as the Eastern Conference.
Tampa Bay, meanwhile, has bounced back from a slow start and has won five of its past six including its past four.
"They went to the [Stanley Cup] Finals last year, so they know what it takes to win,'' Luongo said. "There are a lot of good teams in our division and we can't take anything for granted. It's going to be a battle, a dogfight until the end of the year."
The Lightning came home from a similar western Canadian road trip on Friday and beat Pittsburgh 5-4 in overtime to put it in third place in the division -- seven points back of the Panthers -- coming into Saturday's games.
"Tampa has been playing better, have crawled back and have a playoff spot right now,'' Brian Campbell said.
"It's important for us to get some distance, keep this going with five games left before the All-Star break. We have to get back on track most importantly, get back to playing our style. We've been off the past four, five games. It'll be interesting to see how we react."
Said coach Gerard Gallant: "They are playing like they did last year. They're a good, solid group. It'll be a good test for us."
The Panthers and Lightning have never met in the playoffs, a prerequisite for taking this cross-state rivalry to the next level.
Neither team has been very good when the other one has been save, perhaps, for the 2011-12 season when the Panthers won the Southeast Division as the Lightning finished third and out of the playoffs.
Florida won the previous two meetings against Tampa Bay back in November with second-year defenseman Aaron Ekblad tying the first in the dying moments before winning the second with a goal in the final seconds.
The Panthers won't have Ekblad to do the damage Sunday as he remains out because of a suspected concussion suffered last Sunday in Edmonton but the Panthers plan on winning their third consecutive game against the Lightning without him.
"Teams are trying to catch us now,'' Campbell said. "Now we're the team being chased and we have to establish some distance and win some big games. This is the place we want to be and where we're capable of being.''
-- Gallant was back on the ice Saturday after missing Wednesday's 6-0 loss in Calgary to attend the funeral of his mother Rosie in the Canadian province of Prince Edward Island.
Gallant said he wasn't too upset with the loss to the Flames, joking his absence was the reason.
"That game was coming,'' Gallant said. "You could see it coming for the past week or so. We have a good group and sometime a good kicking is good for your team.''
-- Ekblad skated before Saturday's practice and took part in the early session before leaving.
After missing the past two games since being boarded by Edmonton's Matt Hendricks last week, Ekblad will also be out for Florida's upcoming two games on Sunday and Monday against the visiting Oilers.
The Panthers hope to have Ekblad back for Friday's game against the visiting Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks.
-- Steven Kampfer has filled in for Ekblad the past two games after missing a month with a knee injury suffered against the Capitals.
Kampfer said the timing worked out because he probably wouldn't have been ready earlier than he was.
"Edmonton may have been the first game so everything just worked out,'' he said. "I had a lot of treatment, lot of rehab. Everything's good now. I got my legs under me.''
Sunday: Panthers at Lightning
When, where: 5 p.m.; Amalie Arena, Tampa
TV/Radio: FSFL; 560 WQAM, 640 WMEN
Series: Florida leads 60-49-10
Scouting report: Florida won its first game in Tampa since the final game of the 2013 lockout-shortened season 5-4 in a shootout on Nov. 14. That snapped a four-game losing streak in Tampa.

 

January 14, 2016

SWEET HOME, FLORIDA: Panthers lick wounds, return home after 6-0 thrashing in Calgary ... Panthers get a few days off, visit Tampa on Sunday ... Sam Bennett lights up Luongo, Montoya with four goals

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Just two days after their franchise-record winning streak was snapped in Vancouver, the Panthers crashed back to earth late Wednesday night in Calgary.
The good news after the Flames' 6-0 victory? Calgary's airport was only a short bus ride away from the Saddledome.
"There’s no reason to hit the panic button,'' Erik Gudbranson told reporters.
"It’s just two games. We got a point in the last game we played. Sometimes, you just get it handed to you."
The Panthers, after 10 days in western New York and Canada, will be back home at least for a few days.
Florida, which is now riding a two-game losing streak after winning 12 consecutive, visits Tampa Bay on Sunday afternoon.
The team took Thursday off after an early morning arrival and won't practice until Saturday.
After this past trip, one in which the Panthers won in Buffalo, Ottawa and Edmonton before losing in overtime at Vancouver, they look like they could use the rest.
Florida goes into Tampa 3-1-1 on this current road trip and will follow its game with the Lightning with a four-game homestand before the All-Star break.
"We have a couple days off now we have to regroup and be positive,'' Jonathan Huberdeau said.
"We’re still a good team; it's just one game. We have to erase it out of our memories and just move onto Tampa next. It’s a division game so it’s going to be important. The game, our identity, that’s not how we play. We’ve gotta forget about it and regroup as a team and worry about the next game."
Wednesday's game was a nightmare from the start.
Florida fell behind 1-0 just 56 seconds in as Calgary's Sam Bennett beat Roberto Luongo on the first shot of the night.
The Panthers trailed 3-0 with 7:59 left in the first period after Bennett scored his second. Florida was being outshot 10-3 at the time.
With 2:59 left in the period, Bennett got his third of the night to bring a barrage of baseball caps onto the Saddledome ice.
Luongo (11 saves on 15 shots) stayed in net through the end of the first period but was on the bench to start the second as Al Montoya came on in relief.
Bennett scored his fourth goal of the game with 25 seconds remaining to put the end to a miserable night for the Panthers who were outshot 36-15 and really challenged goalie Jonas Hiller only once or twice.
"I don’t think we we were ready. That’s about it,'' Huberdeau said. "I think we let Luongo alone in the net tonight. Fortunately, Montoya came in the net for us. But we can’t let our goalie be in the net by themselves. We’re a good team. We just have to show it."
As for the loss, the Panthers aren't worried about people calling their 12-game winning streak a fluke -- and nor they should.
Although the Panthers were outshot in many of their games over the past month, they came into Wednesday's game either tied or holding a lead for of 88 percent of their previous 22 games (18-3-1).
And before Wednesday, the Panthers had not trailed at an intermission in 13 games.
"It’s always easier when you play with a lead and teams are pushing,'' Willie Mitchell said. "We really haven’t had games, to be honest, where we’ve gotten down early, where it’s been that hard-fought game.
"I think, the whole streak for us was good because you get on a roll like that and you want to keep it going.”
Florida, which came into Thursday continuing to hold a six-point lead on Detroit (the Red Wings played at Arizona late Thursday) atop the Atlantic Division, beat five teams which currently hold or are tied for a playoff spot during its winning streak.
Speaking of playoff positioning, Florida not only holds an automatic spot by being in the top three of its division, it came into Thursday 10 points ahead of Boston which held the final postseason slot.
The Panthers, who lost 8-2 at Winnipeg a year ago Wednesday in a similar position at the end of a long yet successful road trip, hope to get back on track against a Lightning team they beat twice in consecutive games in November.
Last year, the Winnipeg loss was the start of what ended up being a five-game losing streak.
The Panthers figure they're a much different team this year.
"It’s not back to the drawing board,'' Gudbranson said. "We’re a good hockey team, we just have to figure out a way to get back to our game. It just wasn’t good enough. ... At the end of the day, it’s a good thing; We needed a good spanking like that."
-- Assistant coach Mike Kelly coached the team Wednesday in place of Gerard Gallant who was back home in the Canadian province of Prince Edward Island for the funeral of his mother Rosie.
With Gallant away, goalie coach Robb Tallas wasn't in his usual spot in the coaches' booth above the ice but behind the bench helping run Florida's forward lines.
"Everyone goes through something like that," Kelly said of the thorough defeat Wednesday.
"You just have to suck it up, go home and we'll get a couple days of rest and get ready for the next one."
Gallant is expected to be back in time for Florida's 11 a.m. practice Saturday at the Coral Springs IceDen.
That practice is open to the public. The Panthers will then fly to Tampa for Sunday's 5 p.m. game against the Lightning.
Miami Herald corespondent Kristen Odland contributed to this report.

 

January 12, 2016

LATE NIGHT FIGHTS WITH THE PANTHERS: Florida's 12-game winning streak ends in overtime to Canucks but not before some shenanigans ... Aaron Ekblad misses game, day-to-day after Edmonton hit ... Gerard Gallant heads home for mother's funeral in PEI

 

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers' franchise-record 12-game winning streak came to an end late Monday night in Vancouver -- but it didn't come without a fight.
Moments after Daniel Sedin snapped Florida's run with an overtime goal in Vancouver's 3-2 win, a scrum broke out along the Florida bench.
According to reports from the Vancouver locker room, Florida's Shawn Thornton -- who helped Boston beat Roberto Luongo and the Canucks in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals -- had some choice words for Sedin and twin brother Henrik before overtime started.
Video shows Thornton on the ice before overtime saying something in the direction of the Sedins with a smile on his face.
The Sedins were not smiling.
"We have a lot of respect for their team,'' Daniel Sedin said after the game, refusing to identify the Florida player or the comment in question.
"It was just one guy and he knows who he is. He acted very inappropriate. It's something we hear every day but that was crossing the line."
After Daniel Sedin scored, captain Henrik Sedin skated toward the Panthers' bench waging his finger.
According to Vancouver's Derek Dorsett, defenseman Alex Petrovic squirted Henrik Sedin with water from the bench leading Dorsett to come over to confront Petrovic.
Instead, backup goalie Al Montoya gave Dorsett a shove with his glove hand, leading Dorsett to punch Montoya back.
"[The Sedins] were pretty mad,” Dorsett told reporters. "I saw Montoya and Petrovic jawing with them and trying to squirt them with water so I skated over to intervene. Montoya took a cut at me so I took a cut at him."
The Dorsett-Montoya incident started a series of events in which a number of Florida players piled out of the tunnel and back toward the ice.
Luongo was among them, jabbing his stick toward Dorsett from behind the bench.
Montoya was also seen hopping the wall and onto the ice to confront Vancouver backup goalie Ryan Miller. Brandon Prust had a hold of Steven Kampfer before Thornton grabbed him. Skirmishes broke out all over the ice.

"One of their guys came over to our bench and tried to punch one of our guys,'' Luongo said afterward. "He had 60 minutes to fight anyone on our team who was willing and able but he wants to do it after the game.''
Coach Gerard Gallant was in the middle of the mix and was seen being held back by officials and staff as he yelled at Vancouver assistant coach Glen Gulutzan as well as game officials and Dorsett.
Florida lost in great part to a late penalty on Jaromir Jagr which led to the Canucks having a 4-on-3 power play advantage in overtime.
No disciplinary actions are expected from the league since the game was over and no real damage was done.
The scrum did make for fun television, however, and was a big conversation piece on Canadian sports talk radio on Tuesday.
"It was much ado about nothing,'' general manager Dale Tallon said on Tuesday. "It was like a baseball fight. These don't happen anymore so people go crazy when they do.''
As for the game, even though the Panthers held a 2-0 lead at the first intermission, they didn't look to be in control as the Canucks had numerous prime scoring chances against Luongo.
Florida took the initial lead 1:20 in on Jussi Jokinen's eight goal, with Jonathan Huberdeau making it 2-0 by scoring with 33 seconds left in the period.
Vancouver cut its deficit to 2-1 in the second, with rookie Jake Virtanen tying it and forcing overtime by scoring with 2:38 remaining.
That came moments after Florida had a 3-on-1 breakaway with former Panthers' goalie Jacob Markstrom -- who came to Vancouver in the 2013 deal which brought Luongo back to Florida -- stopping Kampfer's slap shot.
In overtime, the Panthers had a number of chances but when Jagr was called for hooking with 2:53 left, Florida's fate was just about sealed. It only took 14 seconds for Sedin to find the back of the net.
The Panthers still have a franchise-record 13-game point streak going (12-0-1) and lead Detroit by six points in the Atlantic Division race after going 18-3-1 since Thanksgiving.
Florida will try to extend things Wednesday in Calgary.
"We played a better game Monday night than we did in the two previous games, but that's the way it goes,'' Tallon said.
"Sometimes a streak becomes a burden, but the guys weren't happy how it ended. That's a good thing. We're going to try and start a new one."
-- Gallant's mother Rosie passed away after a long illness last week.
Gallant left the Vancouver arena immediately without speaking to reporters to catch a red-eye flight home to the eastern Canadian province of Prince Edward Island for Tuesday's wake and Wednesday's funeral.
Assistant coach Mike Kelly will coach the team Wednesday.
Gallant -- named as a favorite for the NHL's coach of the year award by NHL.com on Tuesday -- is expected to be back for Saturday's practice in South Florida before the team travels for Sunday's game in Tampa.
Gallant travelled to Canada for a few days when the team was in Boston last month to visit his mother one final time.
-- Tallon said defenseman Aaron Ekblad is day-to-day after being boarded by Edmonton's Matt Hendricks in Sunday's win.
Ekblad sat out Monday's game with what is thought to be concussion-like symptoms. Tallon said Tuesday afternoon it was too soon to tell whether Ekblad could play Wednesday. The Panthers had Tuesday off.
Late Monday night, Hendricks was suspended three games by the NHL for the hit on Ekblad even though no penalty was called on the ice.
Hendricks is eligible to return for Edmonton's game in Sunrise on Monday.
Wednesday: Panthers at Flames
When, where: 9:30 p.m.; Scotiabank Saddledome, Calgary, Alberta
TV/Radio: FSFL; 560 WQAM, 640 WMEN
Series: Calgary leads 13-10-3
Scouting report: Florida is 3-0-1 in its past four visits to Calgary including last year's wild 6-5 win as the lead changed hands six times. The Flames have lost their past two after opening the homestand by beating Tampa Bay last week.

 

January 11, 2016

ROLLING ALONG: Panthers win 12th consecutive game, head to Vancouver on Monday

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers scored on their first and third shots of the night Sunday and it was just enough for yet another victory.
Florida's 2-1 victory over host Edmonton extended its franchise-record winning streak to 12 games as the Panthers have won 18 of 21 since Thanksgiving going into Monday's late game at Vancouver.
The Pittsburgh Penguins hold the NHL record for consecutive victories with 17 in 1993. The Panthers' current streak is 10th longest all-time.
"We weren't very good,'' coach Gerard Gallant said, "but we were good enough to win.''
After the Edmonton win, the Panthers were 3-0 on their six-game road trip. Following Monday's late game in Vancouver -- with Roberto Luongo scheduled to start in net -- the Panthers visit Calgary on Wednesday.
"We have to play better as a team,'' Jonathan Huberdeau said. "But good teams find ways to win."
The Panthers didn't play a great game by any stretch as they seemed to shut things down after dominating play in the first eight minutes by grabbing a 2-0 lead.
Edmonton outshot Florida 25-14 in a very physical game which saw Nick Bjugstad get into his first NHL fight in defense of a teammate as well as star defenseman Aaron Ekblad run head-first into the glass during a chippy third period.
Edmonton's Matt Hendricks was scheduled to have a disciplinary hearing with the NHL's player safety department for the hit on Ekblad -- even though on-ice officials didn't call anything on Hendricks.
After the hit, Ekblad stumbled when trying to get to his skates but eventually made it to the bench before skating into the locker room.
After a few minutes of being checked out by the Panthers' medical staff, Ekblad returned to the ice and played three shifts to close out the game.
Logan Shaw got his first NHL fight as well for taking on Hendricks after the questionable hit.
"It's all about team,'' said Gallant, who was seen screaming at officials after the hit.
"Players in the NHL defend their teammates. But that's why we're winning games. We have a good group of guys. I wasn't too happy with some of the hits, but we'll move on.''
Jaromir Jagr started the scoring 3:22 in by picking the pocket of defenseman Darnell Nurse in the Florida zone and breaking out.
Jagr, who has five goals in his past six games and leads the Panthers with 15, raced up ice and beat Cam Talbot with a soft shot as the puck rolled off his stick.
The Oilers appeared to tie the score a few minutes later when Taylor Hall scored, only Gerard Gallant challenged the call. Video showed the Oilers were way offside, and the goal was taken off.
The Panthers quickly made it 2-0 when Sasha Barkov dug the puck off the backboards and saw Huberdeau charging toward the net. Barkov hit him on the tape and Huberdeau picked up his second goal in the past three games.
"We were in the zone for a little bit,'' said Huberdeau, who has 13 points during this winning streak. "I was wide open in front and Barkov did a great job getting me the puck."
Edmonton eventually got a goal that stuck, making the score 2-1 with 7:28 left in the first when Mark Letestu scored his sixth of the season.
Surprisingly, there would be no more scoring yet not because of a lack of effort by the Oilers.
Although shots on goal and scoring chances were close in the first, Edmonton dominated the offensive play in the second and outshot Florida 14-2.
"We didn't do ourselves any favors,'' Erik Gudbranson said. "We turned the puck over too many times against a team that transitions very well. We created the trouble we got into."
Al Montoya gave the Panthers another terrific performance as he won his fifth consecutive game by giving up a single goal in each of them.
Montoya, who was almost replaced by Talbot had general manager Dale Tallon completed a deal with the New York Rangers at the June draft, ended with 24 saves including 21 in the final 40 minutes.
"I feel like my game keeps going forward,'' said Montoya, who is 7-1-1 this season with saves on 94 percent of shots faced.
"I know I have more to give, I know I have more to learn. I learn every night from [Roberto] Luongo in the pipes and he's been phenomenal. I consider myself a winner and whatever I can do to help this team win I'm going to do.''
-- Bjugstad didn't find the scoresheet Sunday but was the recipient of the 'Spacey In Space' sweatshirt awarded to the team MVP.
Bjugstad jumped Edmonton's Eric Gryba for his first NHL fight after Gryba ran Corban Knight into the boards near the Florida bench.
Not only did Bjugstad get numerous stitches for large cuts on his forehead thanks to a busted visor, but he also took a two-minute instigator penalty as well as a 10-minute misconduct for taking Gryba on.
"The boys were psyched because I finally got that first one under my belt,'' Bjugstad said. "The visor broke on me so I got cut up pretty good. But it was a good adrenaline rush and a good team win.''
-- The Panthers' win Sunday was their final one at Rexall Place in Edmonton as the Oilers will move into a new downtown arena next season and leave behind the building they won five Stanley Cups in.
Florida won its final two games at Rexall and went 5-7-1 since winning its first game there 5-3 on March 9, 1994.
The Panthers also won their final game at the Nassau Coliseum against the Islanders last season.

Monday: Panthers at Canucks
When, where:
10 p.m.; Rogers Arena, Vancouver
TV/Radio: FSFL; 560 WQAM, 640 WMEN
Series: Vancouver leads 13-9-6

Scouting report: Roberto Luongo is 2-1-1 in four starts against the Canucks since coming back to the Panthers in 2013. Florida won the previous meeting 5-4 in a shootout on Dec. 20. Luongo won in his return to Vancouver last year 3-1.

NHL WINNING STREAKS
17: Pittsburgh 1993; 15: N.Y. Islanders 1982; Buffalo 2006; Penguins 2013; 14: Boston 1929-30; Washington 2010; 13: Boston 1971; Philadelphia 1985; New Jersey 2011; 12: Florida 2015-16 (six others tied)

January 06, 2016

ALL-STAR PANTHERS: Florida Panthers get three players into All-Star Game as well as coach Gerard Gallant ... Panthers put 10-game winning streak on line in Ottawa

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
For the first time in franchise history, the Panthers will have four representatives at the NHL All-Star Game.
On Wednesday, goalie Roberto Luongo and defenseman Aaron Ekblad were added to the Atlantic Division team which will take part in a reformatted All-Star tournament.
Jaromir Jagr had previously been voted onto the team as captain of the Atlantic team. Florida's 5-1 victory in Buffalo on Tuesday clinched a spot for coach Gerard Gallant as well.
The Panthers are the hottest team in hockey with the 10-game winning streak longest in the NHL this season. Florida has also won 16 of its past 19 games.
"It should be a lot of fun and it's an honor showing how well we've been playing,'' Gallant said. "I think it's great. The team is playing really well. We have 52 points and we're not to the halfway point. We just want to keep it going."
All-Star Weekend will be held in Nashville from Jan. 28-31 with the centerpiece being the new All-Star tournament.
There will be four teams split up by the four NHL divisions.
The teams will play one 3-on-3 period (Atlantic v. Metropolitan; Pacific v. Central) with the winners facing off in a third championship period.
The winning players will split a $1 million prize pool.
With the new 3-on-3 format and four teams at the All-Star game, rosters are limited to six forwards, three defenseman and two goalies per team.
"It's always an honor to be named to something like that,'' Luongo, 36, said. "You have to take it for what it is. You don't go expecting to play a defensive system. You go to enjoy the weekend.
"You know you're going to get lit up but you have to have fun, hang out, talk to the guys and do stuff with your family. It's a whole event you have to take in. I think I enjoy it more now that I'm older and don't know how many years I have left. Now I have little kids of my own to enjoy it with me.''

Jagr, 43, has expressed some reservations about going to his 13th All-Star Game -- and first since 2004 -- saying on Sunday he would rather spend the time in Florida or the Bahamas.
Yet it appears Jagr will go to the game along with his teammates.
Jagr's biggest concern seems to be the format and the extended playing time each player will have on wide-open ice.
"I need to get into shape,'' Jagr said. "Everyone else gets to rest, I have to play 3-on-3. Great. Thanks a lot. I appreciate it.''
For Luongo, this will be his sixth All-Star appearance and third as a member of the Panthers tying him with John Vanbiesbrouck (1994, 1996-97) for most in franchise history.
This is Ekblad's second consecutive All-Star appearance, tying him for third with Pavel Bure, Viktor Kozlov and Jay Bouwmeester.
Ekblad is in his second year after being the top pick of the 2014 NHL draft and winning the Calder Memorial Trophy for rookie of the year.
Last year, Ekblad went to be part of the skills competition and ended up taking part in the game as an injury replacement.
"I'm a young guy and don't think I have anything crazy to offer but they saw something and put me there,'' Ekblad said before Florida's practice in Ottawa on Wednesday afternoon.
"It's a great opportunity and it's pretty awesome to see us get some recognition for the way we're playing. Last year I was a rookie and wasn't supposed to be playing in the game. I'm going with a little different outlook this time.''
Gallant downplayed his coaching selection and instead praised his team which went into Wednesday leading the Atlantic Division by five points over Montreal.
The Panthers were five points out of a playoff position on Thanksgiving and 16 points behind the Canadiens for first yet have rattled off 16 wins in 19 games and are riding a franchise-record 10-game winning streak into Thursday's game at Ottawa.
"We can't worry about what we've done in the past,'' Gallant said. "We're going to have to play real well in Ottawa. We just have to keep going, moving forward. We want some more points.''
When the All-Star teams were announced, former Florida coach Doug MacLean was on his daily radio/television show on Canada's Sportsnet and joked about his old friend Gallant.
MacLean, the only other Florida coach to be behind the bench of an All-Star Game, has known Gallant since he was 10 and was Gallant's high school teacher and coach in Prince Edward Island, Canada.
"That's great, but if he can do it two years in a row that would be something,'' MacLean, a two-time All-Star Game coach, said on the air. "Maybe he'll get me a t-shirt.''
The two worked together when MacLean ran the Columbus Blue Jackets -- Gallant's first head coaching job -- and MacLean said he was extremely proud of the job Gallant has done with his former team.
"I told people when he went to Florida he's not only a great coach, but you will have to go a long way to meet a better man than Gerard Gallant,'' MacLean said off the air.
"This is great for him and the Panthers.''
-- Ekblad said the Panthers aren't looking too closely at the standings but realize they are starting to get a little separation from the pack in their division.
Florida, five points out of a playoff spot just a few weeks ago, is now eight points ahead of Boston which holds the final wild card spot in the conference.
"You would hope you would pull away at some point, but you don't focus on it too much,'' Ekblad said. "Obviously what we're doing is important right now. I don't think there's a guy on our team upset where we are right now. We're in a good spot.''
Thursday: Panthers at Senators at Panthers
When, where: 7:30 p.m.; Canadian Tire Center, Ottawa, Canada
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640
Series: Ottawa leads 47-31-3
Scouting report: The is the third of five meetings between Florida and Ottawa with the Sens taking the opener 4-2 and Florida winning 2-1 in a shootout prior to Christmas. Former Florida goalie Craig Anderson was terrific in that loss, stopping 39 shots before Brandon Pirri and Sasha Barkov beat him in the shootout.

 

January 04, 2016

A ROAD MOST TRAVELED: Florida Panthers put winning streak on the line Tuesday in Buffalo ... Florida kicks off six-game road trip ... Panthers have won 7 of past 9 on road ... Steven Kampfer close to return, Dave Bolland is not ... Connor Brickley back to

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The hottest team in the National Hockey League is taking its show on the road.
The Panthers, yes the Florida Panthers, have won a franchise-record nine consecutive games and 15 of their past 18 and came into Monday holding a three point lead atop the Atlantic Division.
"We won't be at home, but we want to keep playing the same game,'' center Sasha Barkov said. "We have to keep playing the same way, keep trusting in each other. We're not only winning at home, but we win on the road. That's the sign of a good team. We're pretty confident in our team. We know when we play like this, we can beat any team in the league.''
Monday morning, equipment managers Chris Scoppetto and Chris Moody were busy at BB&T Center loading gear into a panel van for the ride to Fort Lauderdale International airport.
Florida kicks off its six-game road stretch Tuesday in Buffalo with trips to Ottawa, Edmonton, Vancouver and Calgary. The team will come home for a few days then finish the road trip Jan. 17 at Tampa Bay.
Daunting? Perhaps for some.
The Panthers are currently 10-6-2 on the road (ranked ninth in the NHL) with wins in seven of their past nine.
Florida's recent run of success was fueled in part by a successful road trip at the start of December when Florida won in Detroit before picking up wins in St. Louis, Nashville and Columbus.
"That was a big part of our season,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "It was huge. The road has been good to us. We keep our game simple and the guys have been focused on the game."
It was on the road when this team started believing in itself and completely bought into the style of game it needs to play to be successful.
Since the win at Detroit on Nov. 29, victories have come in bunches as the Panthers now are one of six teams with 50 points coming into Monday.
The Panthers vow they won't rest on their laurels.
Despite their recent success, they only have three more points than they did through the same amount of games last year.
Florida is on pace for 105 points after ending with 91 last season.
"You at the schedule and we know we have six games coming up on the road,'' Gallant said.
"But it's one game at a time. For me, it's playing that game. And we have 10 left until the [All-Star] break. We're in a good position right now. Lets just make sure we play to win the game every night. We're going to play our game.''
-- Defenseman Steven Kampfer is basically back after suffering a knee injury Dec. 10 against Washington.
The Panthers haven't had to rush him back based on the success of their defense of late, but if needed, Kampfer could return.
"He's really close,'' Gallant said. "Could he play in the next game? Probably. I would sooner see him get some good practices in. We'll see what happens."
-- Center Dave Bolland, Florida's highest-paid forward at $5.5 million per season, will not travel with the team and Gallant said he doesn't expect him back on the ice until after the All-Star break.
General manager Dale Tallon and Gallant have been vague about Bolland's injuries, with Tallon saying Bolland has a few lingering issues which have bothered him throughout the season.
Tallon says the team wants him to get completely healthy.
"We want him to help us in the playoff run,'' Tallon said Friday. "It's lingering, minor stuff. It's been enough to take him off his game. We're going to make sure he's 100 percent. We won't bring him back at 80. When he's right, he's one hell of a hockey player.''
-- Winger Connor Brickley was sent to Florida's AHL team in Portland, Maine, on Monday. Brickley had been scratched in three of the past five games.
"Connor is a second-year pro and wasn't getting enough ice time,'' Gallant said. "We don't want young guys sitting in the stands or sitting on the bench getting five, six minutes. He's definitely a big prospect for us, but he needs to play.''
Tuesday: Panthers at Sabres
When, where: 7 p.m.; First Niagara Center, Buffalo
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640
Series: Buffalo leads 46-36-4
Scouting report: Buffalo finally beat Roberto Luongo on Nov. 12, winning 3-2 in Sunrise. The Panthers have won 17 of 23 since; Buffalo has lost 16 of 23 during the same span including its past four. Luongo had won seven consecutive games over Buffalo and has shutout the Sabres in his past three starts at First Niagara Center.

 

January 03, 2016

JAGR, MONTOYA LEAD PANTHERS TO ANOTHER WIN: Jaromir Jagr scores twice, Al Montoya stops 38 shots in 2-1 win over Wild ... Jagr says he'll probably go to All-Star Game, doesn't sound happy about it ... Nick Bjugstad returns

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers didn't have much going Sunday evening, yet they had Jaromir Jagr and Al Montoya.

That was enough.

With Jagr scoring twice and Montoya offering up another terrific start, the Panthers kept their winning ways going with a 2-1 win over Minnesota at BB&T Center.

Florida pulled off Sunday's win despite being outshot 39-28 and losing 62 percent of its faceoffs. Florida also went 0-for-5 on the power play.

"We didn't have our legs and didn't feel good about our game, but we had a good goaltender and that always helps,'' Jagr said.

The Panthers, who went 6-0 on this now-completed homestand, extended their franchise-record winning streak to nine as they've won 15 of 18 since Thanksgiving.

Florida kicks off a six-game road trip Tuesday in Buffalo.

"We looked like a tired bunch for whatever reason,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "We found a way to win, and that was huge."

Jagr wasn't happy with his performance in Saturday's win over the Rangers, sullenly tromping through the postgame locker room refusing comment to the media.

Sunday was much different as Jagr gave the Panthers a 1-0 just 27 seconds into the game by taking a Dmitry Kulikov pass, thundering through the Wild defense and blasting a shot past Devan Dubnyk.

"He was all alone in front, so, you better give it to him,'' said Kulikov, who ended the night with two assists.

The Wild and Panthers didn't do much else for much of the game, the two teams both playing the night before.

Minnesota tied it early in the second but the Panthers retook the lead for good when Jagr drove toward the net and whipped a shot from 30 feet out with 11:08 remaining.

Montoya, 5-0 all-time against the Wild, stood tall as he won his fourth consecutive start in place of Roberto Luongo. Montoya has given up just one goal in each of his past four wins.

"I feel good and I want to give this team a chance to win every night no matter the score,'' Montoya said. "You don't win as many games as we have without getting some bounces here and there, having guys step up every night.''

-- Last month, Jagr sent out a tweet imploring fans not to vote for him for the All-Star Game, saying the new 3-on-3 format would be too much for him at his age.

On Saturday, Jagr was voted as captain of the Atlantic Division team and he said Sunday he will likely travel to Nashville for it.

"I asked the fans not to vote for me and they didn't listen,'' Jagr said with a grin. "I think they didn't like me much; they want to see me dead. I'll probably have to go, I don't know what the rules are.

"I need to get into shape. Everyone else gets to rest, I have to play 3-on-3. Great. I'd rather be in Florida.''

-- Center Nick Bjugstad returned to the lineup for the first time since leaving practice on Nov. 30 in St. Louis because of migraines.

Bjugstad, a native of Minneapolis who was a standout at the University of Minnesota, said the pace of the game took him by surprise after being out so long.

"I had to apologize to a few guys because I was trying to get used to the pace,'' Bjugstad said. "I wanted to get my legs under me, play simple.''

-- Florida captain Willie Mitchell played in his 900th NHL game on Sunday -- 288 coming with the Wild and 105 with the Panthers.

-- Jagr's goal was the quickest Florida had scored this season, besting his goal 51 seconds into Florida's win over Washington on Dec. 10.



 

January 02, 2016

PANTHERS WIN (again): Florida Panthers set franchise record with eighth consecutive victory ... Florida's 3-0 victory over Rangers is 14th in past 17 games ... Roberto Luongo makes 40 saves, meets #SpaceyInSpace

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
During the second period Saturday night, a rubber rat was flung from the far reaches of a jam-packed arena, bouncing on the ice before being scooped up by an official.
Don't look now, but the Florida Panthers may just be back.
The Panthers, who captivated South Florida during a rat-tossing run to the Stanley Cup Finals 20 years ago, set a franchise record with their eight consecutive victory -- this one 3-0 over the Rangers in front of their third-biggest home crowd ever.
Florida retook first place in the Atlantic Division with the victory, its 14th in 17 games as it beat the Rangers for the first time in eight tries.
For a franchise which has only been to the playoffs four times in its history and hasn't won a postsason series since its magical run in 1996, things are very good.
"We're a long way from that, but it's a lot of fun,'' said coach Gerard Gallant, whose team goes for its ninth consecutive win Sunday against visiting Minnesota.
"The crowds are into the game, the team is playing very well. ... It's awesome, couldn't go any better for us right now. We just have to keep playing. We have to do it every night.''
Florida didn't play its best game of its current run Saturday but played pretty darn well and were opportunistic against a goalie who has owned them of late.
The Panthers took a 3-0 lead off just 10 shots against Henrik Lundqvist by the midway point of the second period when Brandon Pirri one-timed a Reilly Smith pass from the right circle.
With Roberto Luongo deflecting or catching every puck aimed his way, the Panthers didn't need to do much more.


"Right now it's really fun coming to the rink, having 20 guys contributing every night and playing the right way, finding a way to win,'' said Luongo, who stopped 40 shots for his seventh consecutive victory which is also a franchise record.
"There's been a buzz for a little while now and there were some Rangers fans in the building which meant there was some atmosphere. The last few games have felt like playoff games and those are the game you want to play in.''
Florida broke a scoreless tie with 24.8 seconds left in the first when Logan Shaw slid in front of defender Oscar Lindberg and popped a Corban Knight pass past Lundqvist.
Vincent Trocheck opened the second by deflecting a Alex Petrovic shot through, with one fan bringing back memories of 1996 by tossing a rat onto the ice.
Pirri added the finishing touches on things with 8:42 left in the period.
"It's pretty simple that we're a family here and we're playing hard for each other,'' Pirri said. "It's a fun time right now. Everyone cares for each other.''
-- Jaromir Jagr was voted to his 13th All-Star Game on Saturday as he was selected captain of the Atlantic Division team.
Jagr had previous reservations about the new 3-on-3 tournament format, but it sounds like he'll be a part of All-Star Weekend in Nashville from Jan. 28-31.
The 43-year-old didn't speak to reporters following the game.
Luongo -- who joked he would go as Jagr's personal assistant -- Sasha Barkov and Aaron Ekblad are also potential All-Star selections.
The complete teams will be announced Wednesday.
"Those are always great honors,'' Luongo said. "It's always fun to go to an All-Star Game."
-- Gallant officially signed his two-year contract extension Saturday, a day after Florida formally locked up general manager Dale Tallon and associate GM Tom Rowe through 2019 as well.
Like Jagr, Gallant could be headed to Nashville as well if the Panthers continue winning. Gallant could be only the second Florida coach to work the bench at an All-Star Game. The other is Doug MacLean, Gallant's former high school teacher and coach from Prince Edward Island, Canada.
"I'd like to be there because if I'm there that means we're in first place in our division at that time,'' Gallant said.
-- Saturday's sellout crowd of 20,289 was Florida's fourth consecutive home game in which it drew over 16,500 and is the largest home crowd of the season.
The Panthers, who have declared four sellouts this season, are averaging 17,002 in the first five games of their six-game homestand which concludes Sunday against the Wild.
Sunday: Wild at Panthers
When, where: 6 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640, WMNA 1210
Series: Minnesota leads 12-4-1
Scouting report: Minnesota, which won both games against the Panthers last season, played Saturday night in Tampa. Al Montoya, who has wins in his past three starts and has given up one goal in each of them, will play against the Wild.