March 13, 2016

WELCOME BACK: Florida Panthers celebrate 1996 with 20th reunion in Sunrise

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
At first glance, Saturday night looked like hockey's version of a 20th high school reunion.
Folks mingled around the bar, munching on hors d'oeuvres while a DJ spun some tunes.
Only this was the 20th anniversary reunion of the Florida Panthers team which surprised hockey -- and South Florida -- by beating Boston, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in the playoffs en route to the Stanley Cup Finals in just the team's third year of existence.
"The buzz was real," Ed Jovanovski said of the experience. "We put hockey on the map down here. We were rock stars."
The story of the 1996 Panthers may not have the happiest of endings -- Florida was swept out of the Finals by Colorado -- yet that has never tempered the fondness fans have for this team.
Nor has losing to the Patrick Roy-led Avalanche challenged the closeness of this group.
"We built a real identity with the fans, a bunch of guys who laid it out on the ice every night,'' said goalie John Vanbiesbrouck, who stopped 93 percent of shots faced in 22 playoff games that year.
"We didn't win the Stanley Cup but we won the hearts of the fans and that's what matters most."
Said Doug MacLean, coach of the Panthers from 1996-98: "You think back and it's nothing but great memories. There isn't a bad one. It's hard to believe. To see all these guys back here is really special. What a team that was. You talk about character and team, that's what they were all about.''
Most of the players from Florida's 1996 Eastern Conference championship team made it to South Florida from general manager Bryan Murray to equipment manager Scott Tinkler.
Not only was captain Brian Skrudland back after being surprisingly let go by the team as its director of player personnel this past summer -- "I wouldn't miss this, but I miss this," Skrudland said -- so, too, was Scott Mellanby now assistant GM of the Montreal Canadiens.
It was Vanbiesbrouck's quick thinking when talking to reporters after Florida's 4-3 win over Calgary in the home opener that eventually sparked a rubber rat tossing craze which was the talk of the playoffs and still done 20 years later.
"It was a 'Rat Trick','' Vanbiesbrouck said in 1995 after Mellanby killed a lost rat in Florida's pregame locker room at Miami Arena then scored twice on the ice against the Flames.

"I had no idea that night it would turn into what it did," Mellanby said Saturday night. "John really got it out there with his quote in the paper. It's amazing and cool that people still embrace it. It's great to be part of this history and is something I'll never forget.''
The 1996 Panthers did more than just win three playoff rounds -- the organization hasn't won a postseason series since -- but may have saved hockey in South Florida.
Before going on their run, the Panthers were rumored to be in relocation talks with Nashville.
As the Panthers picked up momentum and rabid followers -- you could buy cakes in the shape of a giant rat at Publix -- Broward County agreed to build an arena for the team with the Sunrise location settled on during the Cup Finals.
The BB&T Center will celebrate its 20th anniversary during Florida's 2018-19 season.
The Panthers, now with an infusion of tourist tax money and a solid young core of players, expect to be here way past that season.
"A lot of people have criticized this fan base, but look around, it's alive and well,'' Vanbiesbrouck said.
"We're getting to the promisedland here. They're strong in goal, strong on defense, great coaching staff. It's fun and makes us watch more closely. I think this team can go deep in the playoffs.''
-- Jaromir Jagr, 44, lost to the Panthers in the 1996 Eastern Conference finals as a member of the Penguins.
Friday, he joked that the Panthers had an edge when all the rats would hit the ice because "they were out of shape so when the fans threw the rats, they got five minutes off to rest. The rats saved them.''
Skrudland said Jagr was just jealous the practice doesn't continue today. The NHL outlawed the practice starting in the 1996-97 season because of the delay caused to clean the ice after goals. Fans now toss 'victory rats' after wins.
"He would know about needing that [break] today,'' Skrudland said with a smile.
-- Based on the reaction when his name was announced during a pregame video, Philadelphia rookie defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere had quite a following Saturday night.
The first South Florida born-and-bred NHL player, Gostisbehere was playing in his first game against his hometown Panthers.
Ray Sheppard, part of the Panthers' 1996 reunion, coached Gostisbehere during his formative years in Coral Springs and was beaming Saturday when the topic was brought up.
Gostisbehere, despite not being called up from the minors until a month into the season, is now considered a leading candidate for the NHL's rookie of the year honors.
"I was fortunate to coach him at a young ages and I said then that this kid had something special,'' Sheppard said. "I thought he might get a crack at it, even then. I'm so proud of him. He's a great kid who worked hard and deserves everything he gets. It's fantastic and I'm so happy to be here to see him.''
-- The Flyers selected Gostisbehere in the third round with the 78th overall pick of the 2012 draft held in Pittsburgh with a selection it had acquired from the Panthers in 2011 for winger Kris Versteeg.
Even if Florida wanted to take Gostisbehere in the second round, it didn't have a pick that year as it had also gone to Philadelphia (and later to Tampa Bay) in the Versteeg deal.
"We knew all about him," Bill Torrey said with a grin.
-- Rookie Kyle Rau was back in the lineup Saturday after being scratched Thursday against Ottawa. Florida sat Shawn Thornton Saturday and Quinton Howden for the second consecutive game. Rau was sent back to AHL Portland on Sunday.


March 02, 2016

JAGR CLOSE TO ANOTHER MILESTONE: Florida Panthers winger Jaromir Jagr now a point away from tying Gordie Howe for points ... Al Montoya returns to practice in Denver ... Jiri Hudler, Teddy Purcell questionable v Avs on Thursday

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Jaromir Jagr was awarded a secondary assist on Vincent Trocheck's second period goal in Columbus on Saturday pulling him within one point of tying Gordie Howe for third all-time.
Jagr could tie, and obviously surpass, Howe on Thursday against the Avs.
"Seriously, every game they seem to announce another milestone for him,'' Trocheck said. "It's awesome, hopefully he gets it [Thursday].
Said Sasha Barkov: "It's a big thing for me to be on his team and play on the same line. It's like living a dream.''
Garrett Wilson originally was given credit for the second assist but apparently knew it would be taken away eventually.
"He said he never touched it, Jagr passed it right to the point,'' Trocheck said. "[Wilson] wanted to make sure Jagr got credit because every one of those at this point is pretty special."
-- Newly acquired forwards Jiri Hudler and Teddy Purcell didn't travel with the team to Colorado from Winnipeg after Tuesday's game and they are questionable to play Thursday.
Both need to get U.S. visas to come into the country as employees of an American team.
Coach Gerard Gallant said he didn't have an update on either player but both would play against the Avs if everything gets worked out and they can make it to Denver in time for the game.
Quinton Howden worked with Jagr and Barkov in Hudler's place at Wednesday's practice; defenseman Steven Kampfer filled in for Purcell on Florida's third line.
-- Al Montoya took part in Wednesday's practice after being knocked out of Sunday's game in Minnesota after being hit in the head by Marco Scandella.
Mike McKenna, called up from the AHL on an emergency basis, backed up Roberto Luongo on Tuesday.
All three goalies took part in Wednesday's workout.
Thursday: Panthers at Avalanche
When, where:
9 p.m.; Pepsi Center, Denver
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640
Series: Colorado leads 20-11-3
Scouting report: This is the 20th anniversary season of the Panthers advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals and being swept by the Avs. Florida won the first meeting 4-1 in October as Roberto Luongo made 31 saves and was in line for a shutout before the Avs scored in the final minute.


WORLD CUP FOR PANTHERS: Four Florida Panthers named to World Cup of Hockey teams ... Jaromir Jagr still debating whether to play ... Roberto Luongo not one of three Team Canada goalie selections

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
When the NHL's World Cup of Hockey kicks off in Toronto later this year, the Florida Panthers will be well represented.
Four players -- not counting Jaromir Jagr, who hasn't committed to playing for the Czech Republic -- were named to some of the eight teams who will battle it out in September.
The various teams announced their first round of roster players on Wednesday with more to come before the tournament begins.
A total of six countries -- as well as a 'young star' team made up of the best under-23 players from Canada and the United States and a European team -- will participate in a tournament the NHL has committed to putting on every four years.
Florida players who were initially named to teams are: Aaron Ekblad (North America under-23), Jussi Jokinen (Finland), Dmitry Kulikov (Russia) and Sasha Barkov (Finland).
Coach Gerard Gallant will also serve as an assistant coach on the North American under-23 squad.
"It's a big thing for me, I always want to represent my country and it's a big deal," said Barkov, who got hurt at the 2014 Olympics as a rookie with the Panthers.
"I'm going to try and win the cup. It's a pretty big tournament, a pretty big honor.''
Aside from Jagr and goalie Roberto Luongo, Jokinen is Florida's most experienced international player winning two Olympic medals (Silver in 2006 and Bronze in 2014) as well as participating in numerous World Championships.
"It's really exciting, playing for a national team is always big,'' Jokinen said after Florida's practice in Denver before Thursday's game against the host Avalanche.
"All of the best players in the world will be in Toronto. It's going to be a great tournament.''
Kulikov has represented Russia a number of times, including in world juniors and three times at the World Championships. The World Cup will be Kulikov's biggest international stage.
"I couldn't have dreamed as a little kid of playing in the World Cup or any sort of big tournament,'' Kulikov said. "Now it's reality and I'm very happy, very pleased."
Aside from Jagr, a few Florida players who were in contention for a spot in the tournament weren't named Wednesday but could be later on.
Vincent Trocheck, 22, has a career-high 19 goals and could find himself on the North American team eventually.
"I would love to play for them, it would be an extreme honor," Trocheck said. "Being mentioned at all would be pretty special."
Luongo was also left off Team Canada's initial roster after being part of Canada's Olympic team the past three times. Canada went with Braden Holtby, Corey Crawford and Carey Price.
"I called him today and told him the direction we're going and he wished us well," St. Louis and Team Canada general manager Doug Armstrong said.
"He's been very important to Team Canada. I said 'The way you're playing, we would like to keep you on the reserve list'.''
Tweeted Luongo: "Is there a team Canada over 35 I can sign up for anywhere?"
As for Jagr, well, the Czech team is holding his spot. Jagr didn't speak to the media Wednesday but is said to be mulling over whether he'll play in the tournament or not.
Jagr said he was retiring from international play after last summer's World Championships in Prague in which he was named tournament MVP.
Jagr has played in five Olympics -- winning Gold in 1998 medals -- and participated in the previous World Cup of Hockey in 2004.
Kulikov, for one, figures Jagr will make it to Toronto even if it's really late.
"Just bring him up for the championship game," Kulikov said. "Against Russia.''


Sasha Barkov:

Jussi Jokinen:

Dmitry Kulikov

February 29, 2016

BRANDON PIRRI HEADING WEST: Florida Panthers deal Pirri to Anaheim Ducks for low draft pick on an otherwise quiet NHL deadline day ... Mike McKenna recalled in case Al Montoya can't backup Roberto Luongo in Winnipeg ... Three new Panthers to make debut ag

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The NHL's trade deadline came and went Monday afternoon without the Florida Panthers playing much of a role in the festivities.
Dale Tallon's heavy lifting was done Saturday when he acquired three new players in separate deals.
The Panthers, still clinging to first place in the Atlantic Division, are ready to make their continued run to the postseason. Florida has made the playoffs just twice since 2000.
"I like our team once we're healthy, like what our young guys have brought to the table,'' Tallon said. "We have a lot of depth now with the acquisitions. We had a good week, we improved our club with a defenseman and two forwards."
The Florida general manager did make one move before the deadline, shipping injured winger Brandon Pirri to Anaheim for a sixth round draft pick.
Pirri, believed to be shopped by the Panthers since January, is recovering from an ankle injury suffered against Nashville two weeks ago.
Florida didn't get much of a return back for the 24-year-old, with Tallon saying Pirri's injury and the fact he is arbitration-eligible after the season -- and could command a big raise -- scared some possible suitors away.
The Panthers are believed to have had a deal in place with Edmonton before the injury; Pirri would have gone west for Teddy Purcell.
Florida eventually got Purcell for a pair of draft picks on Saturday.
"Obviously we tried to get as much as we could, we wanted to get more,'' said Tallon, who also acquired winger Juri Hudler and defenseman Jakob Kindl on Saturday.
"A couple of things came into play. First, he's injured a little bit and second, teams were are concerned about arbitration moving forward and not knowing what his salary numbers would be."
Pirri had a breakout season last year for the Panthers after Florida gave up a third and fifth-round pick to Chicago before the 2014 deadline.
Pirri scored a career-high 22 goals in 49 games during the 2014-15 season but his production dipped this year (11 goals in 52 games) and he was a healthy scratch by coach Gerard Gallant in four games from Jan. 22-Feb. 2.
With Hudler and Purcell coming aboard this weekend, Pirri's role on the team was further diminished and, although it was denied last month, the Panthers were shopping him.
It was rumored Florida had a few teams willing to send a second round pick back.
By Monday afternoon, however, all Florida had was a low-round selection. Pirri goes from a contender in the Eastern Conference to one in the west.
"We wanted to make sure Brandon went somewhere he could have some success,'' Tallon said. "We liked him, he's a good player. With the players we added and the young guys we have coming, we felt he needed a chance to show his wares somewhere else. He scored some big goals for us, was great in the shootout and has a lot of upside.''
Hudler and Purcell worked on their visa issues on Monday and both are expected to make their Florida debut Tuesday in Winnipeg.
Tallon said Purcell should be able to travel with the Panthers for Thursday's game in Colorado although Hudler still has some work to do but could meet the team in Denver.
Kindl was also activated Monday and is eligible to be in the lineup against the Jets.
"They will all play Tuesday,'' Tallon said.
-- With goalie Al Montoya knocked out of Sunday's loss in Minnesota after a shot to the head, Mike McKenna was recalled from Florida's AHL team on an emergency basis.
Tallon said although Montoya appears to be OK, bringing McKenna up was necessary.
"Al is day-to-day, I don't think it's that bad,'' Tallon said. "It's hard to get from Portland [Maine] to midwestern Canada so we wanted to make sure [McKenna] was there to backup in case Al cannot.''
-- Florida made a number of other moves Monday, sending Logan Shaw, Kyle Rau, Mike Matheson and Greg McKegg back to its AHL team.
Shaw and Rau were simply paper moves to make them eligible for the AHL postseason; those two will return to the Panthers for Tuesday's game while Matheson and McKegg will remain in the minors.
-- Center Derek MacKenzie was placed on the injured reserve Sunday with what is thought to be the result of concussion-like symptoms.
MacKenzie played the entire game Saturday in Columbus but apparently felt the affects afterward.
"He's doing better, it shouldn't be long-term,'' Tallon said. "It's one of those things, a lot of bad luck. We've had a lot of guys get whacked. We have to protect our players. It's unfortunate but we have to get through it and prevent it from happening."
With McKegg and MacKenzie out, Florida has only three regular centers in their lineup Tuesday.
Tallon said Shaw or Rau could be Florida's fourth center against the Jets.
-- Jonathan Huberdeau, out after hitting his head in Florida's win over Winnipeg on Feb. 20, could join the team during this road trip.
Tuesday: Panthers at Jets
When, where:
9 p.m.; MTS Center, Winnipeg, Manitoba
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640
Series: Winnipeg leads 45-34-5
Scouting report: Florida beat the Jets 3-1 during its previous homestand as Jaromir Jagr netted two goals to move into third on the NHL's all-time list. The Panthers haven't won in Winnipeg since 2012 -- the Jets' first season in their new home after relocating from Atlanta.

Photo: Lynne Sladky/AP



February 27, 2016

DALE TALLON'S NHL TRADE DAY: Panthers busy on Saturday, acquire Jiri Hudler, Teddy Purcell and Jakub Kindl for draft picks

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers' trade day party came a few days early.
With the NHL's trade deadline coming Monday at 3 p.m., Florida got things going during Saturday's 3 o'clock hour by making a couple of trades during the first period of its game against the host Columbus Blue Jackets.
The first trade to break was Florida picking up veteran winger Jiri Hudler, 32, from Calgary for a second round draft pick in 2016 and a fourth round selection in 2018.
Moments later, news broke that the Panthers also lifted forward Teddy Purcell away from the Los Angeles Kings as Edmonton sent the 29-year-old to Florida for a third round pick.
By the time the second period started at Nationwide Arena, it was learned Florida also acquired Detroit defenseman Jakub Kindl for a sixth round draft pick in 2017.
Kindl, who played in 25 games with Detroit this season, is currently playing with the Red Wings' AHL team in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Lost in the mix was a report saying the Panthers also agreed to a contract with highly-regarded Canadian junior free agent forward Dryden Hunt.
It was quite a day -- or 90 minutes -- for the Panthers who improved their bottom-six forward depth as a new third line of Nick Bjugstad, Purcell and Hudler could be quite a tough matchup for opponents.
Kindl also gives the Panthers a little more defensive grit and depth as they move their way to the postseason.
Both Purcell and Hudler could meet their new teammates either late Sunday or Monday in Winnipeg, Manitoba; the Panthers play the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday.
It's not known whether either player would be able to jump into the lineup right away because of visa concerns.

Kindl could meet the Panthers in Minnesota and be eligible to play immediately since he is employed by a U.S. team.
If Kindl reports, rookie defenseman Mike Matheson -- a healthy scratch the past two games -- could be returned to Florida's AHL team in Portland, Maine.
Hudler is a Czech citizen who has spent the past four seasons in Canada with the Flames; although Purcell -- a native of Newfoundland -- spent parts of five seasons with Tampa Bay, he's been with the Oilers since being traded there in 2014.
The Panthers added less than $3 million of pro-rated salary (there are 21 games remaining before the playoffs); Detroit will keep 15 percent of Kindl's $2.5 million salary this season and $3 million next year.
Although Kindl is signed through next year, both Purcell and Hudler are unrestricted free agents following this season.


February 24, 2016

HURT BUT HEALING: Florida Panthers get Barkov, Gudbranson back but still missing Huberdeau, Pirri, Howden and Mitchell as Coyotes come calling

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
With Sasha Barkov and Erik Gudbranson set to return to the lineup Thursday, things are getting back to normal for the Panthers.
Yet as is the case with most NHL teams at this time of year, no one is 100 percent. That certainly applies to the Panthers.
When Florida plays host to Arizona to close out its six-game homestand, it will have Barkov and Gudbranson back after those two missed a few weeks with concussion-like symptoms although it will be without first-line winger Jonathan Huberdeau.
Forward Brandon Pirri and Quinton Howden as well as defenseman Willie Mitchell remain out as well.
"Every team goes through this during a season but I think us being able to continue earning points really shows the depth we have,'' goalie Roberto Luongo said. "Today, you need the depth because injuries happen. You need to be able to survive it, keep getting points or you're in trouble.''
With Huberdeau out but Barkov returning, coach Gerard Gallant continues to mix-and-match his forward lines.
"It's always good to get some of your healthy players back,'' Gallant said. "That's big for our club. It's coming. There are still a lot of guys out. ... It's good when you see guys come through the door to help us out. And they're important guys.''
Vincent Trocheck had been centering Jaromir Jagr and Huberdeau but Jussi Jokinen slid in after Huberdeau went hard into the boards Saturday and hit his head on the ice.
Barkov is back with Jagr and also reunited with Jokinen whom he played with at the World Championships last spring for their native Finland.
"It's always nice to be back, I hate missing games,'' Barkov said. "I want to play all 82 games then go to the playoffs and play more. Sometimes things happen. The guys did pretty well, won some games played the same way. We're still in first.''
Although Jagr will be reunited with the center he's played with most of the time since joining the Panthers almost a year ago, that doesn't mean he didn't enjoy his time with Trocheck.
Jagr, who turned 44 last week, has three goals in his past two games. Trocheck was his center for all of them -- with Jokinen getting assists on the two that Jagr tied and passed Brett Hull for third on the NHL's all-time list.
"We have to see what kind of shape he's in because I'm not skating for him, I'm telling you that right now,'' Jagr said with a smile, raising his voice so Barkov could hear him from across the room.
"He has big shoes to fill. I got three goals in two games with Trocheck, that's all I have to say."
Thursday: Coyotes at Panthers
When, where:
7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640, WNMA 1210
The series: Arizona leads 15-10-3
Scouting report: This is the first of two meetings between the two in the next 10 days as Florida visits Glendale March 5. The Coyotes are in the middle of a five-game trip and have dropped their past three.


THE FLORIDA GOPHERS: Kyle Rau, Nick Bjugstad reunited on Florida Panthers' line with honorary Minnesotan Logan Shaw

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

One of Florida's forward combinations going into Thursday's game which may have some pretty good chemistry is the so-called 'Gopher Line' with former University of Minnesota standouts Nick Bjugstad and Kyle Rau.
The two were not only teammates at Minnesota, but roommates as well.
Bjugstad said last week that one year, he and Rau were two of five sharing a cramped apartment.
"We played two years together at the university and that was fun and Logan [Shaw] and I played together at Portland a bit,'' Rau said. "It's nice to be with guys you know.''

Although Shaw -- the third member of the trio -- is from Nova Scotia and not Minnesota, he was drafted by the Panthers in the third round at the Wild's Xcel Center in St. Paul in 2011.

"We can fit him in there,'' Rau said. "We'll make it work."


TODAY, ON NBC: Spacey In Space goes national as Kevin Spacey visits Today Show set in New York

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Florida's 'Spacey In Space' sweatshirt went national on Wednesday as it made an appearance on NBC's Today Show.
The Panthers have been giving out a blue, hooded sweatshirt with an image of actor Kevin Spacey's face on it (while suspended in space) to team MVPs after each victory since December.
On Wednesday, Spacey stopped by the Today Show set in Manhattan as he is doing his press tour for the upcoming fourth season of his Netflix hit 'House of Cards.'
Today Show host Willie Geist pulled out a replica of the sweatshirt and handed it to Spacey.
"You're nobody," Geist said, "until you have a good-luck hoodie. ... The Florida Panthers are in first place in their division, and they owe it all to you."
While explaining the concept of the sweatshirt to the viewing audience, photos of players wearing it in the locker room -- including Jagr, whom Spacey referred to as "one of the players there" -- were shown on the screen.
"I've become their sort-of good luck charm and I'm pleased they've been doing incredibly well,'' Spacey said. "I am a Spacey in space and I'm very excited for them, I'm glad they're doing very well.''
Word got around to the Panthers as some happened to be watching NBC at the time of saw clips shared through social media.
"I thought it was pretty cool," said defenseman Alex Petrovic, who has won the sweatshirt twice.
Jagr currently holds the sweatshirt after scoring twice in Saturday's 3-1 win over Winnipeg to pull into third on the NHL's all-time goals list.
He didn't seem too impressed with his unlikely national television appearance.
"The Today Show?," Jagr asked. "What is that?"


February 19, 2016

CALLED UP: Florida Panthers add more youth to lineup, bring up top prospects Mike Matheson and Kyle Rau ... Jaromir Jagr a goal away from third all-time ... Roberto Luongo's long workweek ends with start Saturday v Winnipeg Jets

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The injury-riddled Panthers shook things up Friday by calling up two of their top prospects.
Mike Matheson and Kyle Rau -- both in their first year of professional hockey after stellar collegiate careers -- will make their NHL debut Saturday night against the visiting Winnipeg Jets.
Matheson, a highly-touted offensive-minded defenseman, was Florida's first-round pick in 2012 (23rd overall) and signed with the team last spring after concluding his junior season at Boston College.
Rau was a third-round pick in 2011 but, like former University of Minnesota roommate Nick Bjugstad, was Minnesota's 'Mr. Hockey' after his senior year of high school.
Rau, 23, was also captain of the Gophers before leaving after his junior season last year.
On Saturday, Rau and Bjugstad will become just the fourth pair of Minnesota Mr. Hockey winners to be teammates in an NHL game.
"He was very excited to get the call, I know he's been playing very well there,'' said Bjugstad, who won the Minnesota hockey award a year before Rau in 2010.
"It will be good to see him. He's proved himself at every level, I've been watching him since we were little kids. I'm sure he will do good here."
To make room on the roster, Florida sent forward John McFarland and defenseman Brent Regner back to its AHL team in Portland, Maine.
Rau is expected to join Derek MacKenzie on Florida's fourth line Saturday; Matheson will play with Steven Kampfer.

The duo will also be the fifth and sixth players to make their NHL debut with the Panthers this season.
"Michael is an incredible skater, is a big-strong kid and can move the puck,'' said Tom Rowe, Florida's associate general manager who coached both in Portland earlier this season.
"Kyle is a little pit bull, has incredible courage. In every league he's been in, people have said he's not good enough. He keeps proving them all wrong.''
The Panthers had resisted the urge to promote either player this season despite their play (Rau is tied for the team lead with 17 goals; Matheson leads Portland's defensemen with five) to help condition them to the rigors of professional hockey and help season their game.
Both Rau and Matheson -- who turns 22 later this month -- were definite candidates to make the Panthers out of training camp next year, but with so many injuries, their development path has been sped up a bit.
The Panthers are expected to get center Sasha Barkov and defenseman Erik Gudbranson back from suspected concussions Thursday against visiting Arizona.
"We've been switching guys in and out, giving them opportunity,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "This is definitely fun, I'm sure they will be excited to play their game. ... We think they'll give us a boost because they've both been playing really well.''
Said Jaromir Jagr: "We're missing a lot of good players. I don't think we're in top form right now, so we just need to find those points. That's what the good teams do; although they may not feel perfect, they find ways to get the points, find ways to win."
-- Jagr pulled within a goal of Brett Hull for third place on the NHL's all-time list with his third period goal in Florida's 2-1 shootout loss to San Jose on Thursday.
Jagr, only the second forward to score a goal after his 44th birthday behind Gordie Howe, said he isn't one to reflect on his accomplishments while in the moment.
"I'm just trying to make sure we play good hockey, I play good hockey,'' Jagr said. "If I play good, it's just a matter of time before I score it.''
Goalie Roberto Luongo often jokes about himself and Jagr reaching a "milestone a night," but says Jagr's next goal is going to be a big one.
"It is fun to be part of it, the guys are excited,'' Luongo said. "But we're not too focused on it while on the ice. When it happens, it happens and we'll be happy for him.''
-- Luongo spent this week working hard in practice as backup Al Montoya made both starts against Pittsburgh and San Jose -- earning three of the possible four points in the standings.
"He has given us a chance every time he's played," Luongo said.
On Friday, Luongo was the only goalie on the ice for Florida's optional skate and worked as if it was a training camp session.
Luongo will be back in net Saturday against the Jets and said the week of work did him nothing but good.
"It's been good, I haven't had a lot of time to work on my game since the start of the season,'' he said.
"I had four or five good practices this week, went out early with [goalie coach] Robb Tallas and feel really good out there. I'm ready for Saturday.''
Saturday: Jets at Panthers
When, where: 7 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640, WNMA 1210
Series: Winnipeg leads 45-33-5
Scouting report: The Jets rallied from a 4-1 deficit before losing 6-5 in a shootout Thursday in Tampa. Winnipeg has lost its past two and five of eight this month.



February 17, 2016

FLORIDA'S IRON (DEFENSE)MAN: Once ready to leave Panthers, Brian Campbell is now happy with direction of team, may stay a little longer ... Campbell will play in 352nd consecutive game with Panthers on Thursday, close to eclipsing Olli Jokinen's franchise

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Brian Campbell had seen enough.
Before the 2013-14 season started, the financially-strapped Panthers were sold to New York businessmen Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu. A few weeks later, in the midst of a long losing streak, they fired coach Kevin Dineen.
After finishing in last place during the lockout-shortened 2013 season, the Panthers were at the bottom of the standings once again and things didn't appear to be getting any better.
Campbell, Florida's highest-paid player at $7.1 million per season, went to general manager Dale Tallon and told him if he could swing a deal -- one that got Campbell out of hockey purgatory and, in turn, helped the Panthers get better -- he was willing to move on.
"You never know how many years you have left and I didn't want to be sitting there on a team like that -- and I don't think any player would want to be in that situation,'' Campbell said.
"I wasn't happy where we were. We had coaching changes, interim coaches. We weren't just maintaining; we were declining, not moving forward. It wasn't a glorious time to be a Panther. I just wanted to win.''
Tallon didn't trade Campbell.
Today both are happy a deal never got made.
"He was ticked off. We weren't winning and things definitely didn't look too good,'' Tallon said. "I don't blame him. I didn't want to deal him and didn't shop him. I only would have done it if it was an excellent deal. I can understand his frustration. I wasn't upset with him. A deal didn't come to fruition and I'm glad it didn't."
When the Panthers play host to San Jose on Thursday, it will mark the 352nd game Campbell has played with the Panthers -- not counting seven postseason games in 2012.
Since waiving his no-trade clause to come to Florida in 2011 from Chicago, Campbell hasn't missed a single game.
Campbell's run tops the 344 played by Jay Bouwmeester before he left (he was similarly fed up with the direction of the team) in 2009 and is second to Olli Jokinen's franchise record (2002-08) of 373 consecutive games.
Overall, Florida's 'Iron Defenseman' will play in his 362nd consecutive game Thursday. Campbell hasn't missed a start since March 20, 2011, as a member of the Blackhawks.
Campbell, who leads Florida in average ice time of almost 22 minutes per game, started his streak against the Panthers at Chicago's United Center on March 23, 2011 and could eclipse Jokinen to set the franchise mark April 5 in Montreal.
"It has been a pleasure watching him play and be able to sit next to him in the locker room, to talk about the game,'' fellow defenseman Steven Kampfer said. "He's a quiet leader, a guy who does things the right way and is always prepared. He shows up every night and competes. You know what you're getting from him every game. He has this streak for a reason. He's here early, stays late.''
Campbell, 36, has seen a lot of bad hockey during his tenure in Florida but things haven't always been bleak.
Campbell was the first to join Tallon in 2011, kicking off a signing frenzy and roster overhaul which lead to the Panthers winning their lone Southeast Division title in 2012 and a spot in the playoffs.
Florida then had two rough years but turned things around last season, staying in the playoff hunt until the final weeks.
This year, the Panthers are atop the Atlantic Division and heading toward only their second postseason appearance since 2000.
It has been a dramatic change from the doldrums of 2013 and 2014.
"We had some pretty tough years,'' Campbell said. "We had a lot of success my first year, had a lot of fun. Then a lot of guys got hurt and there was a lot of movement. It was rough, a real change from Year 1.''
In 2008, after eight seasons in Buffalo, Campbell was traded to San Jose at the trade deadline.
After 20 regular season games (and two playoff rounds) with the Sharks, he left as a free agent to sign an eight-year deal worth just north of $57 million with Tallon and the Blackhawks.
That monster contract is almost up, making Campbell -- who turns 37 in May and is in his 15th NHL season -- a free agent for the first time since his short stint with San Jose.
"It does feel like a while ago now," Campbell said with a smile. "I don't get booed [in San Jose] anymore really, so that's a little boring now. It's funny to think of. I sometimes forget I even played there."
Instead of wanting to escape South Florida and the Panthers, Campbell says he would welcome a return and help finish what he started here back in 2011.
"I'm enjoying what we're doing, I'm having fun playing hockey right now,'' Campbell said.
"We're thriving and I'm enjoying coming to the rink every day. I feel great and having fun climbing the standings with this team. I want to see what we can do.''
Although the two sides haven't started serious talks on a new contract, that may be forthcoming.
Matt Oates, Campbell's agent, is scheduled to be in town next week and Tallon expects conversation to center around Campbell coming back.
"He's played well, his performance has been great," Tallon said. "We obviously have a great relationship. He just loves hockey, is a real pro."
-- Sasha Barkov and Erik Gudbranson, both thought to be dealing with the effects of a concussion, skated Wednesday before the team's practice but will miss Thursday's game against the Sharks.
Both players could also miss Saturday's game against Winnipeg allowing another week of rest before Florida plays host to Arizona on Feb. 25.
-- Backup goalie Al Montoya (9-4-1) is expected to get his second consecutive start after beating the Penguins 2-1 in a shootout Monday.
Montoya has given up two goals or fewer in 11 of his 14 starts this season.
Thursday: Sharks at Panthers
When, where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640, WNMA 1210
The series: Tied 11-11-7
Scouting report: Former Florida coach Pete DeBoer (2008-11) has won 10 of 16 games -- counting the 2012 playoffs -- against the Panthers as coach of the Devils and Sharks since being fired in 2011. The Sharks, who beat the Panthers 5-2 in San Jose on Nov. 5, have won three of four including a 4-2 win in Tampa on Tuesday.


February 09, 2016

FIGHT NIGHT IN BUFFALO: Evander Kane and Alex Petrovic square off three times in wild 7-4 win by the Panthers ... Reilly Smith scores twice, six others put puck in the net for Florida Panthers ... No discipline for Justin Abdelkader ... 'He should be susp

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
By the third period, the only reason most folks stuck around First Niagara Center was to see if there would be a Round 3.
The Panthers had a commanding lead on the Sabres in an eventual 7-4 win, yet the hometown team did win something: The Sabres won the Tuesday Night Fights.
Evander Kane and Alex Petrovic squared off three times Tuesday, with the Buffalo defenseman getting the better of his Florida counterpart in each bout.
After winning the second meet in the second, Kane put up two fingers on one hand, a zero on the other. He didn't put up a 3-0 after the third period bout -- one in which both players were ejected -- but didn't need to.
While Kane went off the ice to a sea of high-fives, Petrovic earned the Panthers' prized 'Spacey In Space' sweatshirt.
Along with the victory and two more points for the division leading Panthers, Petrovic was all smiles.
"I didn't think I was coming in here to have three fights but that's how it goes,'' Petrovic said. "I got a goal, got an assist, got the Gordie Howe hat trick. So, I'm pretty happy with my effort.''
Said coach Gerard Gallant: "He had a great game; the goal, assist and not just the one fight but three. He was plus-4. Look at that stat sheet. What a great night."
The Panthers were obviously frustrated after Monday's 3-0 shutout in Detroit and came out flying, knocking out starting goalie Robin Lehner when Petrovic scored 22 seconds into the second period to make it 4-0.
"We were frustrated and played an OK game [Monday] but didn't have the hunger in the offensive zone," Jussi Jokinen said. "We wanted a bounce-back game and I think we got it."
Florida took a 3-0 lead into the first break as Reilly Smith, Brian Campbell and Jokinen all scored.
Buffalo closed to 4-2 but got no closer as Brandon Pirri, moved to center with Sasha Barkov out with what is thought to be a slight concussion, scored moments after a big Roberto Luongo save to open things up again.
"Nothing is safe in this league and they came back with a push,'' Smith said. "Luckily enough, Luongo made some big saves and blocked the puck.''
Florida later got a goal from Jaromir Jagr -- he's two back of Brett Hull for third all-time -- and an empty-netter from Smith to end it.
"Everyone was skating, it didn't look like we played [Monday],'' Jagr said. "We took the lead and were skating very well. It kind of surprised me. We should have been tired and we weren't. It's a good sign.''
-- Barkov was sent back to South Florida after being knocked out of Monday's game by Detroit's Justin Abdelkader.
As part of the NHL's concussion protocol, Barkov was automatically out of Tuesday's game and is expected to miss Friday against St. Louis as well.
One member of the Panthers' front office said Barkov was sent back only because he wasn't playing Tuesday and isn't scheduled for any more neurological tests. The Panthers hope to have Barkov back Saturday against Nashville.
As for Abdelkader, not only did he not get a penalty for the hit on Barkov but he won't face any supplemental discipline from the league either.
With no hearing scheduled, Abdelkader is expected to be in the Wings' lineup Wednesday against Ottawa.
"That's our best player and my good friend so maybe I'm looking at the situation differently,'' said Jussi Jokinen, who has had a beef with Abdelkader since last week.
"But in talking to others around the league, it was a dangerous hit. He needs to be suspended. ... After seeing the replays, the league needs to do a better job."
Said Shawn Thornton: "My understanding of the rule is, if a player is vulnerable, it's the player's obligation to not throw that hit. He did."
-- Kane and Petrovic became the first players to fight three times in the same game since Bob Probert and Jody Shelley went at it during a Chicago-Columbus game in 2002.
-- Florida's seven goals matches a season high set in the opening night 7-1 win over the visiting Flyers.
-- With Barkov out, the Panthers recalled Garrett Wilson from their AHL team in Portland, Maine.
Wilson was in the lineup Tuesday on the fourth line with Derek MacKenzie and Thornton.
Rookie Corban Knight was scratched.
To make room for Wilson, Erik Gudbranson was placed on injured reserve. Gudbranson is eligible to return Friday against St. Louis.


February 08, 2016

Juliette Agnes Tallon: 1929-2016

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
DETROIT -- General manager Dale Tallon left South Florida last week to be with his mother Julie in Canada in what would be her final days.
On Sunday, Juliette Agnes Tallon died at 87.
Dale Tallon, who lost his father Stan in 2008, is expected to remain away with the team at least into the weekend. The funeral for his mother is Thursday in Oshawa, Ontario.
Dale Tallon has requested donations to the Alzheimers foundation instead of flowers.
"She had been ill for a long period of time,'' said team executive Peter Luukko, on this trip with associate general manager Tom Rowe in Tallon's absence.
"We know how tough this situation is for Dale. He was an only child and has now lost both his mom and dad. It has to be tough on him right now.''

Here is the link to Mrs. Tallon's obituary. My deepest condolenses are with Dale and his family in this tough time.


DOWN AND OUT: Panthers lose 3-0 to Red Wings, Sasha Barkov hurt on hit from Justin Abdelkader ... Barkov out Tuesday in Buffalo

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers lost both a game and one of their best players Monday night.
During Florida's 3-0 loss to the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena, top-line center Sasha Barkov was hurt after being leveled by Detroit's Justin Abdelkader midway through the second period.
The team officially said Barkov left with an 'upper body' injury although he got hit directly in the head by Abdelkader in a brutal open ice check in which Abdelkader sized Barkov up and drove him to the ice.
"I don't know if it was an elbow or a shoulder, but he got him in the head and it's a head shot,'' Nick Bjugstad said.
No penalty was called on Abdelkader -- although Florida's Alex Petrovic was charged with cross-checking -- which incensed the Panthers.
"It was a cheap hit, I don't know how the ref didn't call it,'' Bjugstad said. "It was frustrating, the whole bench felt that way. We're not happy with it. It turned the game around. Barkov has tough shoes to fill. It looked pretty serious. We'll see how the league handles it and I think they will. I just don't know how it wasn't handled on the ice."
Said Jaromir Jagr: "They are going to do what ever the referees allow them to. It's up to the referees for it to stop."
Barkov is believed to have been removed from the game due to the league's concussion protocol.
When Barkov will return to the lineup is unknown but he will miss Tuesday's game in Buffalo.
The Panthers lost six of 10 when Barkov was out with a broken bone in his hand earlier this season.
"You hate to lose your top player, but that's part of the game,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "We're disappointed to lose him. I thought it was a cheap shot but the referees didn't see it that way and explained to me it was a clean check. It's tough. It happens quick and we get to see the replay. I think it'll be looked at. [Abdelkader] left his feet a little and got him in the jaw."
During the game, the Panthers -- who had won five consecutive games at the aging and soon to be replaced Joe Louis Arena -- and Wings were scoreless through the first two periods.
Backup goalie Al Montoya held down the fort as long as he could Monday as Detroit, which lost 6-3 in Sunrise last Thursday, came hard at the Panthers and were outshooting Florida throughout.
Detroit finally broke the scoreless tie 4:19 into the third when Tomas Tatar got in front of the net and deflected a Jakub Kindl shot and got it past Montoya.
Midway through the period, Detroit made it 2-0 when Pavel Datsyuk took advantage of the Red Wings' fourth power play chance and whipped a shot from 45 feet out that got through.
Minutes later, Datsyuk ended things with 7:26 left when he walked in on Montoya off a slick Henrik Zetterberg feed and beat Montoya.
The Panthers' six-game point streak ended with Monday's loss as they head to Buffalo with two consecutive losses and their first shutout since a 6-0 beatdown in Calgary last month.
Florida will be without shutdown defensemen Willie Mitchell and Erik Gudbranson as well as Barkov.
A roster move is expected.
"Barkov is a big piece of our team, the engine who makes everything go,'' Brian Campbell said.
"We'll see if guys step up. Just because we lose Barkov doesn't mean we have to start making mistakes."

--Center Vincent Trocheck was honored by the NHL as its third star of the past week after scoring three goals with three assists as the Panthers went 2-0-1 against Washington, Detroit and Pittsburgh.
"I'll take it," said Trocheck, who came into Monday leading the Panthers with 17 goals and fifth on the team in scoring with 33 points.
-- Gallant said Erik Gudbranson did not travel with the team to Detroit so Tuesday's game in Buffalo will be Florida's third without perhaps their best shutdown defenseman.
Willie Mitchell also isn't with the team and will have missed eight games by the time the Panthers return home.
Tuesday: Panthers at Sabres
When, where: 7 p.m.; First Niagara Center, Buffalo
TV/Radio: FSFL; 560 WQAM, 640 WMEN
Series: Buffalo leads 46-37-4
Scouting report: Roberto Luongo finally gave up a goal in Buffalo during Florida's 5-1 win there on Jan. 5 snapping his three-game shutout streak at First Niagara Center. With a win, Florida would win the season series over the Sabres for the sixth consecutive year.




February 07, 2016

LONG ROAD LEADS TO SUNRISE: Brent Regner finally gets chance to make NHL debut with Florida Panthers ... Cats look to continue Motor City success

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Brent Regner's road to the NHL has been long, strange and difficult.
So, it should have come as no surprise to him that when the Florida Panthers finally called him up to the show, they did so in the middle of a monster snowstorm.
Regner's various flights south were delayed and instead of arriving in Fort Lauderdale on Friday night to enjoy his first NHL morning skate on Saturday, he was stuck spending Friday in Philadelphia before landing Saturday afternoon.
"It was awesome, very special,'' Regner said after making his NHL debut with the Panthers on Saturday night at the age of 26.
"It has been a long road for me to make an appearance in the NHL. It was great, a special moment. Mentally I had to stay prepared to do my best."
A fifth-round pick by Columbus in 2008, the odds of Regner realizing his NHL dream were long. Few low draft picks are given the benefit of the doubt and truly have to earn their way up.
For Regner, fighting his way to the NHL meant plenty of minor league stops -- including a pair of games in the double-A ECHL.
Over the past seven years since a successful junior career with the Vancouver Giants, Regner has played for five different AHL teams including Syracuse, Peoria, Springfield, Chicago and Portland.
Regner's promotion Friday was met with plenty of heartfelt messages from friends and teammates.
"So happy for my friend, teammate and captain,'' Panthers' minor league goalie Mike McKenna wrote on Twitter. "After 6.5 seasons grinding in the Iron League he gets 1st NHL game.''
"Go get them Regner," the Portland Pirates wrote. "Portland is proud of you."
Even teams he formerly played for directed congratulatory tweets his way.
"Great news that Brent Regner,'' wrote the AHL Chicago Wolves official site, "last year's Wolves captain, gets to make his NHL debut tonight."
Tom Rowe coached Regner in Portland before getting his own call-up to become the Panthers' associate general manager.
Rowe said when it became apparent Erik Gudbranson wouldn't be able to play Saturday, he and general manager Dale Tallon discussed "bringing the best guy up."
They decided on Regner.
"He was an easy choice because he has been the most consistent guy down there,'' Rowe said.
"We talked about his style and we know he's a very intelligent player who will fit in with our guys here. Sometimes all you need is a chance. If the coaches trust and believe in him, who knows what can happen after that."
As for Regner's future in the NHL, well, the opportunity is here at least immediately.
Although Gudbranson was expected to travel to Detroit, it's not known whether he will return Monday against the Wings.
Regner traveled with the team to Detroit and could get in his second game Monday.
"I have to make the most of my opportunity,'' he said. "It's tough we lost [Saturday], that's never good. Hopefully we bounce back against Detroit. I'm here, I'm excited to be here.''
Paired with Steven Kampfer, last year's successful AHL callup, Regner didn't look out of place although his time was limited.
"He looked solid to me,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "He looked pretty good.''
-- The Panthers are back in Detroit, facing a Red Wings team they are getting very familiar with.
Monday's game at Joe Louis Arena is the second meeting between the teams in a span of three games. Florida won the past meeting 6-3 in Sunrise on Friday and are 2-0 against the Wings this season.
"You go to Detroit and know they have a good team, a skilled team,'' Gallant said. "If you're not ready to play there, it can get pretty ugly in a hurry."
Added Sasha Barkov: "Every game is important but when you play a team twice in three games, it's like playoff hockey. They know how we're playing and we know how they are playing. It's going to be a tough game."
Monday: Panthers at Red Wings
When, where:
7:30 p.m.; Joe Louis Arena, Detroit
TV/Radio: FSFL; 560 WQAM, 640 WMEN
Series: Detroit leads 16-9-5
Scouting report: The Panthers have won five of the past six against the Red Wings under coach, and former Wings' forward, Gerard Gallant. Florida has won five straight at Joe Louis Arena including 2-1 in overtime here in December.

Photo courtesy @FlaPanthers


February 05, 2016

FLORIDA PANTHERS ARE POWERED UP: Special teams fueling Florida's five-game winning streak ... Panthers tough on penalty kill, great on power play

TWITTER: @AricDiLalla

Forget all the noise about punt returns and missed extra points as Super Bowl Sunday approaches. The Florida Panthers are putting on a special teams display of their own at the BB&T Center.

And on Thursday, the Panthers continued to excel during hockey’s two biggest opportunities for success or failure: the penalty kill and power play.

Since a Jan. 2 win over the Rangers, Florida has shut down 90.7 percent of its opponents’ power plays. In those previous 54 chances, they’ve allowed just five goals. The defensive performance wasn’t quite as sharp on Thursday, as the Panthers allowed two goals on seven power play chances, but coach Gerard Gallant seemed pleased with the effort.

“The penalty kill has been strong for us for the last number (of games),” Gallant said. “They got two against us tonight, but (we) still did a real good job against a power play that was really dangerous every time they touched the puck.”

Florida’s ability to fight off the opposition’s power play has been a constant theme during this five game win streak. The league-leading Washington Capitals score on the power play at a 25 percent clip, but the Panthers killed off all eight of Washington’s power play chances at the Verizon Center on Tuesday.

The showing only served to bolster the Panthers’ seventh-ranked penalty kill unit that has staved off opposing power plays at an 83.4 percent rate this season. There’s also still plenty of room for improvement, as the Panthers have racked up 14 penalties in their last two games.

“Our penalty kill’s been phenomenal all year,” center Vincent Trocheck said. “(Derek) MacKenzie, (Reilly) Smith, Jussi (Jokinen) and (Sasha) Barkov, and then all our defensemen have been great on the kill. Power play, we’ve been working on it. We were struggling there pretty badly for a stretch and special teams is going to be big going late into the season, into the playoffs.”

That 0-for-28 stretch lasted most of January but has ended in a big way. Since Nick Bjugstad ended the drought against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Jan. 23, the Panthers have poured in goals on six of their last 15 chances.

Florida jumped from 25th to 22nd in the NHL after Thursday's game and hold a 17.7 percent power play conversion rate. Their most recent success would put them above even the Capitals. The Panthers scored on two of their four power play opportunities on Thursday, and they’ve now tallied a power play goal in four consecutive games.

Gallant said he couldn’t explain the recent surge, but he said his team has been skating hard and pointed to the chemistry on various lines.

“We work a lot on it,” Brandon Pirri said, “and there’s a lot of homework that goes into it. I think our coaches do a great job setting us up on tendencies, what they do, and at the same time, we’re executing. That’s what it comes down to.”

ANOTHER YOUNG GUN: Vincent Trocheck stepping out of the shadows, into prominent role with Florida Panthers ... Roberto Luongo takes day off, Panthers pull replacement from ticket office ... Attendance keeps growing, another sellout with Pens in town

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
When the national hockey media talks about the Florida Panthers core group of young players, one usually gets overlooked.
While it's easy to fixate on the likes of rising stars Aaron Ekblad, Sasha Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad, Vincent Trocheck sometimes slips through the cracks.
Those who sleep on Trocheck, however, do so at their own risk.
"He's a big part of our team and it's not just the four or five people everyone talks about,'' Florida coach Gerard Gallant said on Friday, a day after the 22-year-old Trocheck scored twice against Detroit.
"There are five or six other guys who are also very important. If we're going to win, it's not about three or four guys, you need a team. And [Trocheck] is a big part of that. He's a good player and we know he's going to put up points. I see a guy working hard on both ends, playing a complete game.''
Trocheck has most definitely come into his own in his second full NHL season since being drafted in the third round by the Panthers in 2011.
Last year, Trocheck scored seven goals in 50 games; Thursday in his 51st game of this season, he took the team lead with 17.
With five goals in his past four games, Trocheck -- not Barkov or Jaromir Jagr -- currently leads the Panthers in goals.
"I think experience has a lot to do with it, I've worked at a lot of different aspects to my game,'' said Trocheck, a Pittsburgh native who faces his hometown Penguins Saturday.
"I'm focusing on the defensive side of the puck more and realize if you work hard on the defensive side, it will create more offense. You always want to improve and I've worked on everything throughout the summer and year. I feel good about things. You don't want to get to high or too low on yourself.''
Trocheck is a restricted free agent after this season with the team working on a long-term contract extension with their second-line center.
Although Trocheck gives the standard "I'm only playing hockey" line when it comes to his contract, he makes it clear he wants to keep this thing going with the Panthers.
"I love it here in Florida, love the staff, love everyone in this locker room,'' he said. "We have something special going on here, a lot of young guys. This could be a team that does well for a long time."
Trocheck's speed plays well on a line with two other fast players in Jussi Jokinen and Reilly Smith. Those two are also having stellar seasons.
"We have a lot of chemistry, I've played with Jokinen a lot over the years,'' Trocheck said.
"Smith is someone who can play with anyone. He works hard, has a lot of skill. He can put the puck in the net whenever he pleased. We've clicked."
Those three are playing so well, Gallant won't designate either as his first line.
As far as he's concerned, the Trocheck line as well as the more publicized trio of Barkov, Huberdeau and Jagr are on equal footing.
"There are two lines which are the top lines to me,'' Gallant said. "I like them both. We have some really good players. It's a good problem to have.''
-- Roberto Luongo took Friday off to rest a bit but will start Saturday against the Penguins.
"He's 100 percent,'' Gallant said.
With Luongo absent, the Panthers pulled Bobby Segin out of their ticket office and put him between the pipes for practice.
A former goalie at UConn, Segin has been working on the Panthers' sales team this season and plays in the organization's morning hockey games at the arena.
Segin is a longtime family friend of Florida executive Peter Luukko and was noticed during those morning games by assistant coach John Madden who got his information in case they needed him.
Friday, they did.

"This was a dream come true,'' Segin said after a long workout. "I love playing hockey ... I wasn't nervous today, I knew it was going to be light. All the guys were great.''
Said Brandon Pirri: "You feel a little bad for the new guy sometimes, because you're shooting a little higher and harder than you usually would without Luongo yelling at you. He held his own, did a good job.''
-- The Panthers, who have won five consecutive games, are expecting their seventh sellout of the season on Saturday.
Last year, Florida sold out five of 41 home games.
The Panthers' average attendance of 14,620 is up almost 30 percent from last season as they have moved from last in the league to 25th.
The Panthers' announced crowd of 20,289 on Jan. 4 against the Rangers is their biggest of the season and third-largest all-time.
-- With Erik Gudbranson questionable for Saturday's game, Florida called up 26-year-old Brent Regner from its AHL team in Portland, Maine.
Regner, the Pirates' captain, was a fifth round draft pick by Columbus in 2008 and has played in over 400 AHL games.
If Regner plays Saturday, it will be his NHL debut in what is his first NHL recall.
Gudbranson has apparently been bothered by something since getting hit last week against Toronto.
Saturday: Penguins at Panthers
When, where: 7 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; 560 WQAM, 640 WMEN, WNMA 1210
Series: Pittsburgh leads 44-35-4
Scouting report: After a slow start which cost coach Mike Johnston his job, the Penguins are within striking distance of a playoff spot and had won four consecutive games heading into Friday's game in Tampa. Going into Friday, star Sidney Crosby had 11 goals and 18 points in his previous 12 games.




February 04, 2016

SPACEY IN SUNRISE?: Actor Kevin Spacey films short clip for team ... Florida Panthers hope 'SpaceyInSpace' comes for a game or two

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers' relationship with Kevin Spacey continues to grow.

Thursday, the Panthers released a video the actor filmed for them and played it on the video review boards during the third period. Spacey, the focal point of the team's 'Spacey In Space' sweatshirt awarded to top players after victories, was shown leafing through various team jerseys before coming upon his own with the number 1738 on the back.

Spacey pulled the jersey off the rack, smiled and put a thumbs up.

"That was pretty cool," said Brandon Pirri, who scored a goal with an assist.

"You don't really want to be looking at the Jumbotron during a game but we were all nudging each other."

The reference to '1738' apparently goes back to the team's victory song -- which is 'Trap Queen' by rapper Fetty Wap -- in which Remy Martin 1738 cognac is referred to.

The team is apparently working on getting the Oscar-winning actor to a game or to somehow interact with the team.

"If we keep going the way we are,'' Pirri said, "I'm sure he will be."

It's believed some players ran into and met Spacey while the team was in New York back in December, leading to the sweatshirt and the subsequent craze.

The team sold out of the first 150 replica sweatshirts it ordered last week but restocked and had them for sale again Thursday before Florida's 6-3 win over Detroit for the team's fifth consecutive victory.

Sales of the sweatshirt benefit the Florida Panthers Foundation as well as Spacey's foundation.

Photo courtesy of Jameson Olive/@JamesonCoop


FLORIDA'S CRAZY TRAIN KEEPS ROLLING: Panthers keep scoring and keep winning as they trounce Detroit 6-3 ... Brandon Pirri makes big return, Vincent Trocheck gets two goals, assist ... Jaromir Jagr gets in on action as well

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Florida Panthers have never scored this many goals and it feels like they've never beaten so many good teams.
Yes, they keep setting them up and knocking them down these days.
Detroit is the latest Eastern Conference challenger to get run over by the Panthers' as Florida jumped to a three-goal lead and rolled to a 6-3 win over the Red Wings at BB&T Center.
"Hopefully we can keep playing like this,'' Jaromir Jagr said.
Florida extended its lead on Tampa Bay to seven points atop the Atlantic Division and are now nine points up on the Red Wings.
The Panthers have now won five consecutive games in runaway fashion, outscoring the likes of Chicago, Tampa Bay, Washington and the Wings by an impressive 25-8 tally.
The Panthers' five-plus goals in their past four games is a franchise record.
"We're clicking, playing great hockey,'' said Vincent Trocheck, who scored twice and had an assist on Jagr's goal to make it 5-2.
"There's just something about the boys in this room. It's been a ton of fun. We have a great team here.''
Detroit, which lost in Tampa Bay on Wednesday night, came out flying and put goalie Roberto Luongo to the test early.
Yet as was the case Tuesday in Washington, the Panthers quickly turned the tables and started scoring in bunches.
"Well we didn't play our best and Louie kept us in the game,'' Jagr said.
"We gave them too many scoring chances in the first two periods. It looked like they were all over us, but we had the lead."
Brandon Pirri, benched the past four games, got back in action quickly as he got a stick on Alex Petrovic's 45-foot shot and got the puck past Jimmy Howard 8:30 in to make it 1-0.
"Getting the early goal really helps," Pirri said. "When I wasn't playing, I saw the stat of how good we are when we score first [26-3-3]. It's insane. We know that's important. We get the first one and we're in good shape."
The goals started pouring in after that, with Sasha Barkov cashing in on Florida's first power play with a soft top-shelf wrister at 10:41.
Just 25 seconds later, Trocheck broke loose off a Jagr pass, charged in on Howard and beat him to make it 3-0.
Detroit got back into the game late in the first period when Jagr got sent to the box for slashing.
As all four Florida defensemen converged on the puck in the corner, Dylan Larkin -- Detroit's 19-year-old All-Star -- was all alone in the slot across from Luongo.
Larkin got a pass and beat Luongo to make it 3-1 with 5.5 seconds left in the period. Early in the second, Larkin made it 3-2 by breaking loose when Aaron Ekblad was interfered with and walked in on Luongo again.
The Panthers gave themselves some breathing room with 3:47 left in the period.
Pirri was back at it, firing an odd-angle shot from the side boards that caught a piece of Derek MacKenzie and went into the back of the net.
After a pair of reviews -- one to make sure MacKenzie didn't kick the puck in, another on an interference challenge by Detroit -- MacKenzie's goal stood and Florida took a 4-2 lead into the second break.
"It wasn't pretty but it worked out,'' Pirri said.
The Panthers continued their assault on Howard, who hasn't won a game for the Wings since Dec. 3, with Jagr getting his first goal since Jan. 10.
Later in the proceedings, after the Red Wings pulled Howard and got their third goal, Trocheck all but ended things with five minutes left by scoring into the empty net.
The Panthers go for their sixth consecutive win Saturday against Pittsburgh before visiting the Red Wings in Detroit on Monday.
Florida now has its third five-game winning streak of the season, all since Thanksgiving.
"We played a pretty good game overall and you’ve got to give Detroit credit,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "That’s a good hockey team with a lot of talent and they looked really good tonight.”


READY TO RETURN: Brandon Pirri is back from benching, will play on third line Thursday against Detroit

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Brandon Pirri will return to the Panthers lineup Thursday after being a healthy scratch the past four games.
Coach Gerard Gallant has been vague with why Pirri has been on the bench so long, saying Tuesday he didn't want to mess with a winning lineup -- although Gallant did switch up goalies Tuesday and Pirri is in tonight after four consecutive wins.
"It was frustrating at first but you have to put that aside,'' Pirri said. "I'm part of this team. There isn't added pressure, but it's an opportunity.
"You know what, I've done this before, I have confidence in myself. It's just a matter of going out, playing my game, and not trying to do too much. I also can't do too little. I'll compete, be consistent and we'll see what happens."
Pirri hasn't scored in his past six games and was a minus-5 during that span.
Gallant made the change when Florida was in the midst of a four-game losing streak and the Panthers bounced back, winning their past four.
"The team has been going good and that's a silver lining,'' Pirri said. "Now it's my time to contribute and I know I have a lot to offer. But I know, when we weren't doing well, it's competitive here. Other guys should have been playing. I've been on that side of it, on the outside looking in then when you get a chance, you make the most of it.
"We've been playing pretty well, but now I get the opportunity and need to make the most of it.''
That said, Pirri can score goals in bunches -- and while the Panthers have been great in that department, bringing him back can't hurt.
Florida has 19 goals in the four games Pirri has missed.
Pirri will be on the third line with Nick Bjugstad and Logan Shaw, players Pirri knows well.
He's ready to go.
"There's chemistry there, we're friends and it's important to play alongside people you like," Pirri said. "That should make it easier to gel a little quicker."

Alan Diaz/AP


February 03, 2016

GETTING IT DONE: Florida Panthers can't go wrong with either Roberto Luongo or Al Montoya in net

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards


Robb Tallas is charged with coordinating the Panthers' goalie rotation.
With Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya as his options, Tallas admits it isn't the toughest gig in the world.
"Both guys have been terrific all year and that gives you so much confidence whichever way we go,'' Tallas said after Montoya improved to 8-2-1 by beating the Capitals 5-2 on Tuesday.
"The players have confidence in both that they will step up and make the saves they need to make.''
With the Panthers in first place and riding another winning streak, Tallas tries to strike the right balance between working Luongo too much and not giving enough work to Montoya.
On most nights, either choice has been the right one as Luongo and Montoya may be the best 1-2 option in the NHL.
Luongo is ranked in the NHL's top 10 in save percentage (93) and goals-against average (2.08) as well as wins (22) and shutouts (four).
Montoya would be ranked as well, although he hasn't played enough games (13) to be considered.
Montoya has stopped 93 percent of shots faced, with an average goals-against at 1.93.
Florida's 109 goals allowed are second-fewest only to Washington's 108.
"They both give us a chance to win every night,'' Brian Campbell said. "Both make huge saves for us at times. You need consistent saves every night and they both bring it. Montoya gets put into a tough spot a lot of times and nothing seems to change."
A former NHL goalie himself, Tallas has been credited by both Luongo and Montoya as a hands-on coach who doesn't make them do too much.
During the summer, Luongo seeks out Tallas' help in working on drills while Montoya says Tallas hits the right balance on making sure his goalies are rested yet ready.
"He doesn't overwork us,'' Montoya said after he became the first goalie this season to beat the Washington Capitals twice.
"We do what we need. We work on specifics but it's not about facing 100 extra shots after practice. It's about feeling good, keeping that game mentality in practice."
Montoya has done a good job this season of being ready when called upon.
Although Luongo -- who is having, statistically, perhaps the best season of his long career -- gets most of the work, Montoya has turned in some top performances.
Even though he has only started four games since the New Year, Montoya earned the 'Spacey In Space' sweatshirt for the second time on Tuesday.
Against the Capitals, Montoya was stellar especially early when the Panthers needed him most.
Florida looked like it enjoyed its All-Star break a bit too much and the Capitals, perhaps overcompensating without Alex Ovechkin in the lineup, came out guns blazing.
Montoya stopped eight shots in the first half of the opening period, many of which were tough, point blank saves.
Then, the Panthers got a goal from Jonathan Huberdeau to take an unlikely 1-0 lead. By the start of the second, Montoya had made 16 saves only the Panthers had a 3-0 lead and were rolling.
"I'll take what games I can get and contribute when I can,'' said Montoya, whose 36 saves Tuesday were second only to the 39 he made in a win over the Wild last month.
"I prepare to play every game and when I get called, I know I can give this team a chance to win and that's all I focus on. I try not to do more than that. I make the saves I can.''
On Thursday, Detroit comes to Sunrise and Luongo will be back manning the nets. Luongo will likely start Saturday as well, with Montoya's next opportunity to play next week when Florida visits Detroit and Buffalo on consecutive nights.
Montoya will keep working, waiting until called again.
"Montoya knows his role and there's no deflecting things,'' Tallas said. "They are a tandem, a team out there. Luongo has been a rock and Montoya has been as well."
-- The Panthers are the only team to beat the Capitals twice this season and it was their first win in Washington since 2010.
Montoya went 2-0-1 against the Capitals this season, handing Florida its first season win over Washington since 2010-11.
Dmitry Kulikov was there for most of Florida's 10 consecutive losses at Verizon Center and is enjoying his team's success in buildings they've struggled in over his tenure.
"My memories here aren't good. We've been destroyed here,'' Kulikov said. "For this team, though, this was just another win in our season. We keep collecting points. It's awesome being a part of this team. We have a great group of guys. We're all having fun. It's much better than being miserable.''
-- Jaromir Jagr left Tuesday's game midway through the third with what is said to be lower body tightness. The Panthers do not believe the injury is anything serious.
-- By killing off all eight penalties incurred on Tuesday, Florida's penalty kill jumped from eighth to fifth in the league.
Washington's first goal, however, was directly linked to Florida's final kill as it was scored seconds after Derek MacKenzie raced out of the box. He was slapped with an extra two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct after being called for hooking -- Florida's third such penalty.
"Our penalty kill was just terrific,'' Tallas said.
Thursday: Red Wings at Panthers
When, where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; 560 WQAM, 640 WMEN, WNMA 1210
Series: Detroit leads 16-8-5
Scouting report: The Panthers have won four of five against the Red Wings under coach -- and former Detroit winger -- Gerard Gallant in the past two seasons.

Photo: Terry Renna/AP