April 09, 2014

NEW JERSEY: Panthers 'Shirts Off Our Back' Starts Thursday

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers annual 'Shirts Off Our Back' auction will start a game earlier this season.

Instead of starting during the season finale on Saturday against Columbus, the bidding will be begin on Thursday against the Maple Leafs.

The team will hold a silent auction at the arena in which fans will bid for their favorite player's jersey.

The auction starts at 6:30 p.m. and will go though the end of the second intermission. The auction will then resume Saturday night at 6:30 with the auction closing at the start of the third period.

Fans who win said jersey will be brought out onto the ice after Saturday's game and given their jersey from their favorite player. I think they even autograph it for ya.

Good luck and happy bidding!

 

LUONGO BETTER: Goalie Says He'll Try and Go Against Leafs ... Adds Mike Gillis 'Put in Tough Spot'

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Roberto Luongo said he felt better on Wednesday after missing Tuesday's 5-2 loss to the Flyers after feeling sore following warm-ups.

"We'll take morning skate [Thursday] and see where it goes,'' Luongo told reporters. "Hopefully I'll be back in.''

Backup Dan Ellis said Luongo indicated during the day that he might not be able to go so Ellis had some warning that he may have to fill in.

Ellis is still searching for his first win since coming to the Panthers in the Tim Thomas deal on March 5. Ellis is 0-5 with Florida with a 4.81 goals-against average and has made just 84 percent of his saves.

-- Luongo said he and former Vancouver general manager Mike Gillis had a good relationship. Gillis was fired on Tuesday just over a month after trading Luongo to the Panthers on March 4. The Luongo trade came after Gillis sent Cory Schneider to New Jersey last June.

Gillis' failed trades -- some which came with the Panthers -- is said to have hastened his departure from the Canucks. Vancouver will miss the playoffs for the first time in six years.

"It's tough, Mike was put in a tough spot there,'' Luongo said. "When the team doesn't have success and misses the playoffs, someone usually tends to pay the price. Unfortunately it was Mike.''

 

TIME'S UP: Original Panthers Off Ice Official Ron Young Retiring After 20 Seasons

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

It all started in 1993. Then working as a referee doing men's league games at a skating rink in Lighthouse Point, Ron Young was approached to be an off ice official and work NHL games for the newly-created Florida Panthers at Miami Arena.

Young hopped at the chance to work in the NHL and today is one of three original hires still doing the games in Sunrise.

On Saturday, Young's 20-year run with the NHL and the Panthers comes to a close. Young has decided to move back to Toronto full-time.

Since retiring from his job in the transportation sector, Young shuttled between South Florida and Canada to see his three grandsons, but those long commutes are about to come to a close.

As is Young's up-close view of the NHL. He doesn't expect to find this kind of work in hockey-mad Toronto although he's hopeful. Before the NHL came calling in 1993, he never thought he would have been doing this either.

"These have been some great times and it has been fun to be part of it,'' said Young, who as crew supervisor and game timekeeper, works at center ice directly between the two penalty boxes at BB&T Center.

"For 41 nights a year, I've just loved coming to work. To be able to watch the game at this level has been terrific. But there's not much turnover for these jobs in Canada. They are gold. You are in it until they carry you out basically. But you never know. Someone may retire. It would be a dream come true if I could continue on.''

When the Panthers are in town, so is Young. He spends his game mornings at the arena in a spot down near the Zamboni tunnel drinking his home brewed Tim Hortons' coffee and catching up on the latest hockey news on his iPad.

Players and coaches from the Panthers as well as the visiting teams always skate by to say hello, Young's faded Toronto Blue Jays cap as recognizable as his goatee.

When Young started this part of his career, he was working in the transportation business and was living in Cooper City. His job offered the perks of many frequent flier miles, although Young says they went fast.

In his time with the Panthers, Young has seen some bad hockey but also worked every playoff game in franchise history. He also had the honor of working Game 7 of the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals when the Lightning brought the Cup to the Sunshine State to stay for the first time.

Now he has two games left. With his three grandsons all playing youth hockey, however, he'll remain close to the game he loves.

"It's a little bittersweet because I've been here 20 years,'' he said while watching the Flyers skate on Tuesday morning. "Hockey, to me, is a passion. I'm going to miss it, miss the people I interact with on a nightly basis. But I'm looking forward to revisiting a time when my son played, the 6 a.m. practices sitting in the stands with a cup of Tim Hortons watching them play.

"And I'll have the Center Ice package so I'll be watching the Panthers every night anyway.''

 

Thursday: Maple Leafs at Panthers

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

TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM 560

The series: Toronto leads 33-26-7

Scouting report: The Leafs were officially eliminated from the playoffs with Tuesday's listless 3-0 loss at Tampa Bay. The Leafs have lost 10 of 12 and haven't made the postseason since 2004. Florida has won two of the three meetings this year.

 

April 08, 2014

PLAYOFFS IN PHILLY: Flyers Clinch Spot in Postseason as Ellis Takes Blame for Panthers' 5-2 Loss ... Roberto Luongo 'Sore'

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers hoped to put Philadelphia's playoff party on hold just another day bolstered by the addition of three forwards to the lineup.

Alas, Roberto Luongo came out of warmups complaining of what coach Peter Horachek described as being sore and the Flyers took full advantage. Philadelphia scored three goals off its first four shots in the second and clinched a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs with a 5-2 win at BB&T Center.

The Panthers, meanwhile, will miss the postseason for the 12th time in 13 seasons. In the franchise's 19 seasons, it has missed the playoffs 15 times.

"It was a terrible second period and you can't expect to win when you play like that,'' said Erik Gudbranson, whose long shot put the Panthers on the board early in the third to make it 4-1.

If the Flyers thought they had an easy one on their hands, the Panthers looked like they wanted to prove them wrong.

Florida played one of its best periods of the month in the first, dictating play and surviving what could have been a disastrous penalty kill late.

First, Drew Shore -- brought up from the minors on Monday -- drew four minutes in the penalty box for drawing blood with a high stick on Wayne Simmonds.

With 1:40 left in that penalty, Scottie Upshall was called for slashing, giving the Flyers a two-man advantage for 100 seconds.

Although the Flyers challenged backup goalie Dan Ellis, they didn't get anything through and the two went into the first break still scoreless.

Florida's tough play didn't last, however, as the Flyers scored two quick goals to kick off the second and all but stamp their ticket to the playoffs.

"It was a good start and then in the second I gave up four crap goals,'' said Ellis, who faced 12 shots in the second. "It's unacceptable. It's frustrating as hell when you're the primary reason for the loss. I take responsibility for the loss.''

The Flyers got its first when Vincent Lecavalier -- who long owned the Panthers from his days in Tampa -- jammed one through Ellis' skates 2:02 in.

Lecavalier became the seventh player in the Flyers' lineup to hit the 20 goal plateau; Florida has one.

Four minutes later and Claude Giroux made it 2-0 by scoring his first of two, this one off a nice slap shot from 20 feet out. The Flyers scored their third at 8:50 of the second from Giroux and led 4-0 with five minutes remaining in the period.

Jonathan Huberdeau, who missed 11 games with a concussion, made it 4-2 with 14:22 left to play. It was Huberdeau's first goal since Jan. 20 and second in a span of 37 games.

-- Aleksander Barkov practiced Tuesday but it's doubtful the rookie center will play again this season.

Barkov has been out since re-injuring a knee representing Finland at the Olympics in February.

"I could've played better but then I had the injury,'' Barkov said. "I will go back to Finland, practice a lot and I'll be a better player next year. Now I know I can play on this level and I want to be better.''

-- Former UM track standout Lauryn Williams (won Silver in bobsled) dropped the first puck.

 

NEW ENVIRONMENT: Panthers to Close Off End Zone, New Capacity Like Miami Arena

 
TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers plan to drop capacity at the county-owned BB&T Center even more next season by blocking off entire sections in the upper deck.

Former team president Michael Yormark put tarps on some upper rows of the arena in 2010.

At Tuesday's morning skate, a large theatre curtain hung from the rafters blocking off six end zone sections. New team president Rory Babich said Tuesday the team will either tarp those seats off or keep the curtain.

Florida isn't offering season ticket packages in those sections. The arena holds almost 19,000 now for hockey and is among the largest in the league.

Babich says the new capacity -- if all upper deck tarps are utilized -- will be around 15,700.

The Panthers left Miami Arena (cap. 14,703) in 1998 for the larger arena in Sunrise. The team had a 5,000-person waiting list for tickets when they went north.

Florida had an announced attendance of 12,487 for Tuesday's game.

"This is one of the biggest arenas in the NHL so we're trying to make it a little smaller for most games,'' Babich said. "We'll have people in a smaller area, make it a more intimate experience.

"I think people recognize what we're doing. It's not minor league at all. There are other arenas and stadiums who have done it. We're not selling out at 19,000-plus, so instead of having empty seats in the less desirable sections, we've decided to block them off.''

 

CURTAINS!: Panthers to Seriously Cut Back on Sunrise Capacity in 2014-15?

 

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers had a huge curtain cutting off part of the end zone at Tuesday's morning skate and it looks like that may be a sign of things to come.

According to the team website, seats in those sections aren't being offered as part of any season ticket plan. As you can see from the chart below, season ticket sales end at Section 306 and resume in 313*. It also appears the tarps are staying as 'Goal Zone' seats will only be sold up to row 10.

(*) The team is renaming the 400 level the 300 level as well.

The Panthers have already cut chunks out of the upper deck with tarps the past few seasons, opening up seats as the need arises. I would think the curtain would be gone for single game tickets if needed (when Montreal comes to town, the Holiday Series) but will ask about this when I'm at the game tonight.

Your thoughts on the matter? Leave 'em below in the comment section.

 

FLYERS NOTEBOOK: Boyes, Huberdeau, Shore Back in Lineup ... End of the Line for Gomez? ... Barkov Works Out with Team

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Busy day for the Panthers at Tuesday's morning skate as three players jump back into the lineup.

Brad Boyes is back after missing the past few games on a revamped 'B-Line' as Nick Bjugstad rejoins Sean Bergenheim after playing down on the third line.

Jonathan Huberdeau is also back in the lineup after being out since last month with a concussion.

Drew Shore, recalled yesterday, is also in the lineup.

That means two players need to be scratched tonight and it's going to be Scott Gomez and Quinton Howden. That last decision led to a lot of head scratching among the gathered media as many wouldn't mind seeing Tomas Fleischmann take a day off. Personally, I'm looking for a big bounce-back year from Fleischmann in 2014-15.

"I'm really excited. It's been a while,'' Huberdeau said. "When you've been out for a while, you want to get back out there and do everything you can to help the team. I'm going to keep it simple out there and try and finish the last three games the right way.''

-- With the influx of forwards, Gomez goes from playing on Florida's top line to being scratched. It's possible Gomez has not only played in his final game with the Panthers but perhaps his final NHL game.

Coach Peter Horachek admitted that scratching Gomez -- he's been a pretty good citizen with the Panthers -- was a difficult decision.

"That's the hardest thing that's happened because he's part of the driving force,'' Horachek said "He's saying the things he needs to say, been a total pro and works hard.

"When things are happening in the game, he's trying to make a difference. He's speaking on the bench, in the locker room. He's doing all the things a good pro does. At this time, sometimes you're looking at next year more than the final three games. You want to see what chemistry the younger players have. I can't say enough good things about Scottie.''

-- Aleksander Barkov was out practicing on Florida's fifth line with Gomez and Howden but it's still very doubtful we'll see the rookie center again this season.

Barkov has been out with a knee injury since the Olympics.

"I'm a hockey player and I want to be on the ice with the team,'' Barkov said.

 

April 07, 2014

GOALS NEEDED: Florida Panthers Near Bottom of League in Scoring Again; Scottie Upshall Having Good Year, Leads Team in Scoring

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

When the Dallas Stars took a 2-0 lead on the Panthers early in Sunday's game, they did so with a pair of players -- Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin -- who have combined for 69 goals this season.

The Panthers don't have anything close to that kind of firepower.

Florida turned things around and scored three unanswered goals to put a dent in Dallas' playoff hopes with a surprising 3-2 win.

The Panthers' first goal came from Scottie Upshall, who took the dubious honor of being the the team's leading scorer.

Upshall leads the Panthers with 15 goals and 36 points -- which has him tied for 171st in individual scoring as of Monday morning.

With three games to go, the Panthers are flirting with history.

In 2001, Minnesota's Scott Pellerin became the player with the fewest points to lead an NHL team in scoring over the course of an 82 game season.

Pellerin did so on an expansion team (one he didn't even end the season with) by scoring 39 points -- currently three more than Upshall currently has.

Florida's previous low for leading scorer in a full season was 49 by Stephen Weiss in 2010-11. Pavel Bure also led the team with 49 points in 2001-02 despite being traded to New York that March.

Tomas Fleischmann had 35 to lead the team in last year's 48-game season but has 27 points in 77 games this year.

"It's kind of embarrassing that we don't even have a guy with 40 points,'' Upshall said Sunday night. "There's no leading scorers on this team. We all have to realize we need to be better. You chip away, learn to bury your chances.''

Upshall's 36 points are most in his NHL career eclipsing his previous high of 34.

"Scottie shouldn't be our leading scorer. But he is,'' coach Peter Horachek said. "It's a tribute to him for working hard and doing what he's had to do, but we know where we need to improve. When your first-year players are creating a lot of your offense, there's a problem there too.''

Florida's scoring problems aren't something new as the team has struggled to put pucks in the net for years.

This year, the Panthers are second only to Buffalo for fewest goals scored with 180 (2.3 per game).

The Panthers have ranked in the bottom five of the league in goals scored for five straight seasons. Florida ranked 17th with 231 goals scored in 2008-09.

Horachek knows scoring is a constant challenge.

"I've told our guys we can't give up more than two goals,'' he said Sunday. "That's the max.''

Getting some scoring help over the summer is definitely Florida's biggest priority.

This offseason, general manager Dale Tallon says he has the money to try and help rectify Florida's scoring deficiencies. But will he completely be able to?

There aren't that many top-end scorers expected to be on the free agency market, although one could be procured in a trade as how Dallas scored Seguin last summer.

Florida seemingly has a pretty good core of young players who can help create offense with big physical centers like Aleksander Barkov (who was among team leaders in scoring before being hurt in the Olympics) and Nick Bjugstad (second on the team with 35 points).

The Panthers also have a few players who have shown they can score at lower levels such as Jonathan Huberdeau, Brandon Pirri and Vincent Trocheck.

Adding a few veteran scorers around the young players they have -- and hope for bounce-back years from the likes of Fleischmann and Tomas Kopecky -- could get the Panthers at least closer to the middle of the pack in league scoring.

With the goaltending Florida has, that could be enough to have this team in playoff contention come this time next year.

"If we get a guy who can score 60, 70 points, we'e going to be a much better team,'' Upshall said. "It could be a guy in this room or it could be a guy we go out and get. We need someone to really step up and score the big goals and carry the team offensively. It's an area we need. Some of the young guys have been doing it.''

SHORE RETURNS

The Panthers brought back center Drew Shore, sending Bobby Butler to AHL San Antonio after two games played.

Shore has played in 64 games for the Panthers over the past two seasons.

Since his 43 games played over last year's shortened season were prorated, Shore only has four games left before he becomes waiver-eligible. That means if the Panthers want to send him back to the minors after he crosses that threshold, they could lose him to another team for nothing.

With three games left in this season, Shore would not have to clear waivers if Florida wanted to send him back to San Antonio after training camp next October.

 

Tuesday: Flyers at Panthers

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

TV/Radio: No local TV (NHL Game Center); WQAM 560

The series: Philadelphia leads 45-30-7

Scouting report: The two have split the season series with Florida winning the past meeting back in November. The Flyers, who hold down the third spot in the Metropolitan Division, had lost four straight before dropping the Sabres on Sunday night.

 

April 06, 2014

SPOILER ALERT: Panthers Help Coyotes by Stunning Stars 3-2

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

For weeks, the Panthers talked about wanting to spoil another team's run to the playoffs.

Sunday they may have just done so.

The Dallas Stars still hold the final wild card spot in the Western Conference although Sunday's 3-2 loss to the Panthers at BB&T Center is one they may really regret -- especially if they are sitting outside the Stanley Cup playoffs this time next week.

"We knew it wasn't going to be easy,'' said Dallas' Jamie Benn, who made it 1-0 just 45 seconds into the game.

"We have to put this one behind us. It was a terrible outcome. We don't want to remember this one.''

On Sunday, Florida's biggest fans were the Phoenix Coyotes who remain a point back of the Stars.

Florida definitely helped that cause as the Panthers won both meetings with the Stars this season. Of four points Dallas could have against Florida, it took home none. Phoenix, meanwhile, got all four of its points against the Panthers.

"This time of year is fun if you're in the race,'' said Scottie Upshall, who scored Florida's first goal and became the team's leading scorer in the process.

"The games are hyped up, everyone is watching because there is a lot on the line. There's nothing better than playoff hockey. Right now is as good of a taste of it that will get. This is a learning curve for our younger players. Dallas was fighting for their lives.''

Everything was going Dallas' way after winning in Tampa on Saturday night.

The Stars had a 2-0 lead early in the second period and the Panthers -- who had lost five straight -- didn't seem all that interested in playing.

Coach Peter Horachek wasn't very happy as Dallas scored in the opening minute of the first and second periods and let his team know it during a timeout after an Upshall penalty 3:48 into the second.

"They were playing with a purpose and a resolve,'' Horachek said, "and I don't think we were. We were just playing and there wasn't enough emotion. I wanted them to care more about the end result.''

The Panthers most definitely responded as the plane shifted.

Florida began dictating play and finally gave its fans something to cheer about.

Upshall cut Dallas' lead in half by getting a piece of a big shot from Erik Gudbranson at the 8:20 mark of the second. In the final minute of the period, Brandon Pirri slid into the slot and one-timed a slick feed from Jimmy Hayes and put it past Kari Lehtonen to tie the score.

"We showed a lot of resiliency, battled back and dominated the second half of the game,'' said Pirri, who has six goals since joining the Panthers just before the March 5 trade deadline.

"We're trying to build off that the last three games.''

The two teams played even hockey in the third with the Stars understandably not wanting to make a mistake and give up the go-ahead goal.

Florida, with nothing to lose, seemed to play the same way.

"I wanted us to be smart and keep doing the right things,'' Horachek said. "This was a huge win for us emotionally. We responded after a lethargic first period.''

The Panthers did get that go-ahead goal, however, with 4:31 remaining as Sean Bergenheim scored off a pass from Colby Robak.

Bergenheim admitted he didn't know who the Panthers were helping in the playoff race initially, but asked and found out the answer.

"This is probably a big blow for Dallas,'' Bergenheim said. "For me personally, I don't care who is fighting for what. You have to play the best you can every game. Whetever happens to the other teams in the standings, I don't really care.''

THOMAS SITS

The Stars, as has been the case for the past nine games, went with Lehtonen in goal over Tim Thomas.

Thomas was Florida's goalie when the Panthers won their season-opener at Dallas in October, although much more than that has changed since.

The Panthers were missing 13 of the 20 players who were part of Florida's 4-2 win in Dallas. Florida also replaced most of its coaching staff since then.

Of Florida's four goals scored in Dallas, only one -- the initial goal by Scott Gomez -- came from a player still on the roster.

Roberto Luongo, who replaced Thomas as Florida's starting goalie, made 35 saves in the win.

 

April 04, 2014

FIGHTING BACK: Ed Jovanovski named Masterton Nominee; Plans to Continue Playing After Long Road to Recovery

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

When it came time to nominate a player from the Florida Panthers for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, there was only one player who it could have been.

On Friday morning, Ed Jovanovski was officially announced as the Panthers' candidate for the annual award by the Florida chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.

Jovanovski, 37, spent countless hours rehabilitating his surgically-repaired hip to return to the ice. The Panthers' captain, Jovanovski had radical hip resurfacing surgery -- one step away from hip replacement -- last spring. He worked his way back by training camp, although he didn't play in his first game until Jan. 3.

Jovanovski is believed to be the first professional athlete to return from the procedure.

"I take every day as a win,'' Jovanovski said after he scored his lone goal of the season in Buffalo on Jan. 9. "I'm very fortunate.''

On Friday, Jovanovski spoke about his comeback and what it means to continue playing a game he truly loves -- and "this game has been really good to me and has given me everything I've ever needed in my life and my family's life.''

Jovanovski, who has played in 32 games this season, has one year left on the contract he signed when he returned to the Panthers in 2011 and says he plans on honoring it. When asked if it was up to him, he said he would he be at training camp come September.

Here's what he had to say this morning after Florida's morning skate:

On the nomination:

"I appreciate that, it's definitely an honor. For me, anytime you are nominated for something, it's a great honor. This has been a tough road, no question. When I came back and went through the rehab, there was that doubt of the chances of never playing again. Having the passion to come back and get in there and do my work, 35 games or so into it and not missing many practices, it's definitely a treat to be here.''

Were there times during rehab in which you doubted the process?:

"For the most part I tried to remain as upbeat as I could. There were days in which I said 'what am I doing. It's an uphill battle.' There was no data on this, no one had done this before. When you look at the whole procedure, it's pretty wild what I have in my body to be doing what I'm doing. It's great being able to play the game I love.''

Were there family members who said 'what are you doing?'

"Not so much by my wife. A lot of that came from my mom and dad. There were 18. 19 years of grinding. When I got back from my surgery and they saw what I went through that first week ... It wasn't fun. It was miserable. As the days move on, your attitude is, well the sun comes up kind of thing. Everything is moving forward. With the rehab regimen these days, you're right back at it and you start feeling better. That's kind of what happened to me. You have to start somewhere.''

Where do you rank coming back on your list of accomplishments?

"It's got to be up there. We all enjoy the great seasons, the teams. But this one really hits home.''

You're not done yet, right?

"I think working out off the ice, then on the ice and getting into game action for me, it's going to be a really important summer to concentrate on an 82 game schedule. Really work at playing and having success. There is no other way to put it. I have to work hard. When you put your mind to it, anything is a possibility.''

Have you talked to Dale about your future?

"No. I have a year on my contract and I plan on fulfilling it.''

So if it's up to you, you'll be here for training camp?

"Yeah.''

Feel how you've shown the kids how it's done?

"It's not so much showing it. You don't wish anyone to go through what I went to. There are a lot of prevention things today like what [Huberdeau] went through like scoping. This was kind of a last resort kind of thing to first and foremost improve my quality of life, be able to play with my kids, bend over and put my socks on and tie my shoes. I was lost at one point. It was a daily struggle to do a lot of things. But if they can see anything, it's anything is possible. This game has been really good to me and has given me everything I've ever needed in my life and my family's life. The opportunity is through the roof for these guys financially and being able to do what they want to do.''

How much did you miss the game, being around the team?

"It killed me. And it's one of those things I worry about when I am done. The dressing room is a great spot, having the opportunity to come in and shoot the breeze with the guys, hearing the young guys stories, going on the road and having the opportunity to be as a team. At the end of the day, do what you love to do. We play a game. It's hard, a lot of the things that go unnoticed. The travel; yes we do fly on charters, but it's a grind getting in at 2, 3 in the morning and have to get ready in the morning. It tests you that much more. But it killed me not being around the guys and that's something that bothers me when it's all going to be over.''

What to stick around the game?

"Yeah, that's something that is definitely a possibility. I love the game that much. I will do whatever takes off the ice to help a team win. It's something I love to do. I've been in this community so long, I'd love to see this franchise do well. I think the chips are falling in with the new owners. It's going to be an interesting summer. We'll see where that unfolds.''

ERIK GUDBRANSON

"It was a serious injury to come back from as a hockey player and at his age as well, the passion he's shown and character he's shown to come back, it was for the love of the game. That's really impressive.

"Having him in the dressing room is a huge piece. It's noticeable when he's not here. That battle he's shown, the determination, is something we all need to learn from. Hockey isn't forever and to show that passion is an amazing thing to see. His return has been seamless. He basically took a year off and it's a tough thing to do and come back and play. It's quite the invasive surgery. It's a big deal. For him to come back is amazing to see. I don't think a lot of guys could have done what he's overcome. That's a true testament to what he's all about.

"He's here for the love of the game. That's a passionate man right there. That's something we should all learn from and everyone in this locker room should take note of it.''

PETER HORACHEK

"The perseverance of that is incredible. Where you are in your career and going through a surgery, as we've talked before, no one has ever returned from. I think it's the same surgery Bo Jackson had.

"Playing later in your career is tough, the day-to-day and the travel and the recovery. To come back and work hard enough and have the doctors clear him, give him credit for that.

"They are big kids at heart. He may be late 30s, but they love the game. That's what they love, they are their happiest on the ice. The young guys see that, see that fight through and injury and spend months and months of recovery time. He went through training camp and had the disappointment of the doctor saying it's not healed. He continued to push until he got back in. It's a great story.

 

 

 

April 03, 2014

ON THE MEND: Luongo, Huberdeau Practice; Both Could Play by end of the Weekend

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers currently have three players on the shelf due to concussion issues. Two of them could be back in the lineup by the end of the weekend.

Goalie Roberto Luongo and winger Jonathan Huberdeau joined their teammates for practice Thursday with Luongo potentially starting Friday's game against the visiting Flames. Huberdeau could return Sunday against Dallas.

Tomas Kopecky, who suffered his concussion playing in the Olympics, was expected to practice Thursday but did not. His status for the rest of the season is unclear. Florida has five games before the 2013-14 campaign concludes.

"I feel good,'' said Luongo, who was diagnosed with a mild concussion after being run into by former Panthers forward Radek Dvorak last week.

"I've been skating on my own the past three days, ramping things up each day. This was a good progression.''

Luongo went down when Dvorak came racing toward the net with his head down, apparently not realizing how quickly he had come up on Luongo. The two collided with Luongo getting hit in the head by Dvorak as well as banging his head against the goal cage.

"I wasn't sure what was going on, just felt a little weird,'' Luongo said. "They didn't want to take any chances. I could have kept playing if I really wanted to and the stakes were a little bit higher. In a situation like this we thought it would be better to err on the side of caution.''

Dvorak was ejected from the game, one in which Luongo finished the first period but didn't return for the second. Luongo said Dvorak came by the Panthers locker room to apologize for the hit. Dvorak still has a home in South Florida and trains with Luongo in Coral Springs occasionally during the offseason.

"Obviously he didn't slow down but it was an accident,'' said Luongo, who has missed the past three games -- all losses. "He's not the type of player to do that. He was going to the net and once he put his head up, he was in the crease already. There was no intention.''

Huberdeau was hurt March 16 against Vancouver when he was ran up into the boards. He began skating for the first time last week and had been working out with the Panthers away on a two-game road trip.

Thursday's practice was Huberdeau's first with the team since the Vancouver game and he says all his concussion-like symptoms are gone and he hopes to play Friday. Coach Peter Horachek isn't ruling that out completely, but said Sunday is probably a more realistic option.

"It was good to see him out there,'' Horachek said. "There was no contact today, so I'll discuss it with the trainers and go from there. My best guess is Sunday, but I won't know that until talking to the trainers. I would like to see him out there, but you don't want to put him in before he's ready.''

Huberdeau has had a rough season, one in which the reigning rookie of the year has just eight goals -- and only one in his past 36 games.

"It's been a while, but it was nice. It was a good skate and I feel great,'' Huberdeau said. "This hasn't been a good season for me so to finish positively going into the summer is important. It would be good to get some wins, feel like a winner going into the summer.''

As far as Kopecky goes, not practicing Thursday could be viewed as a setback and may indicate that he may not play this season.

Kopecky hasn't practiced with the team since before the Olympic break and hasn't been in a game situation since Slovenia forward Sabahudin Kovacevic hit him in the head with an elbow.

Kovacevic was suspended one game for his hit on Kopecky.

"There are little setbacks with what he's been through,'' Horachek said. "There are steps forward and steps back. We don't need to rush him.''

BOYES OUT

Brad Boyes, Florida's leading goal scorer, missed Thursday's practice with a sore back and isn't expected to play Friday. Boyes has been getting treatment for some time and was a game-time decision Tuesday.

Boyes played, but only lasted five shifts before leaving the game in the first period. Bobby Butler, called up from the minors on Tuesday, replaced Boyes on a line with Scott Gomez and Sean Bergenheim.

-- Three of Florida's final five home games will not be broadcast on local television starting with Friday's game against Calgary.

For those local viewers who have the NHL's Center Ice package, the three games will not be blacked out and will use the visiting team's feed.

 

Friday: Flames at Panthers

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

TV/Radio: No local TV (NHL Center Ice); WQAM 560

The series: Calgary leads 12-9-3

Scouting report: This is the first game between the two since host Calgary won 4-3 in a shootout in November. The first 7,500 fans get a Brian Skrudland bobblehead. Skrudland, Florida's first captain, is currently an assistant coach for the Panthers.

 

 

 

 

 

PANTHERS TALK WITH COUNTY: Vote for Tourism Money May Not Come for a Bit

The Panthers were part of a workshop in Fort Lauderdale as the debate continues whether the county will give the team more tourism money. Here's the link to the story:

http://miamiherald.typepad.com/nakedpolitics/2014/04/broward-debates-bed-tax-dollars-for-panthers-vs-beaches.html

April 01, 2014

SCOTT CLEMMENSEN: Playing in the NHL and for the Panthers was a 'Privilege'

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Scott Clemmensen likely made his final appearance with the Panthers in Tuesday's 4-2 loss to the Islanders.

Clemmensen played well at times and didn't get much help.

Florida was being outshot 28-13 by the end of the second period and ended up at a 40-22 disadvantage.

"Playing in the NHL is a privilege and playing for the Panthers was just that,'' said Clemmensen, who could return to Florida's minor league team in San Antonio in the coming days.

"I played with a tremendous amount of guys over my five years and I don't know what's going to happen in the future. I'm taking it one day at a time and appreciating everything. I'm taking it all in. Regardless of what happens, I'll look back and know I laid it all on the line. I'll have no regrets.''

 

END OF THE ROAD: Panthers Lose Final Road Game of 2013-14 to Islanders ... Upshall Leaves and Returns

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Peter Horachek was thinking he may have to start Tuesday's game down a forward. Turns out he was without Brad Boyes for much of Florida's 4-2 loss to the host Islanders.

Scottie Upshall and Brad Boyes were both game time decisions because of various injuries. Both played in Florida's final road game of the season, although both left in the first period -- with Upshall returning in the second.

Boyes' sore back tightened up forcing him to leave the game for good with 7:55 left in the first period after five shifts.

Upshall was knocked out by a big hit from Matt Carkner late in the period. Upshall got hit in the face while skating up the ice and hit the deck hard. Upshall remained flat on the ice for a few minutes as he was attended to by head athletic trainer Dave Zenobi and would later slowly be helped off the ice by Zenobi.

According to coach Peter Horachek, the initial fear was Upshall broke his jaw. He returned midway through the second period and finished the game.

"Losing guys right off the bat puts you behind from the start because you're mixing and matching,'' Horachek said. "That put us a little bit behind the 8-ball but other guys went out and had opportunities. It's not an easy situation.''

Upshall didn't comment on the incident as he headed to the training room.

"Sorry guys, have to go put ice on my jaw,'' he said.

The nasty hit led Erik Gudbranson to fight Carkner as Zenobi was tending to Upshall a few feet away.

Carkner was given two minutes for high-sticking Upshall, but because it was determined Gudbranson initiated the fight, he was penalized as well and there was no power play chance. Carkner would later fight Krys Barch as well.

Florida got off to a rare good start Tuesday. Defenseman Jonathan Racine made quite an impression in his first NHL start, hammering Cal Clutterbuck with a big hit that was called interference 42 seconds in.

The Panthers, for only the fourth time in their history, got a shorthanded goal for the second straight game as Quinton Howden picked the pocket of Frans Nielsen and raced down the ice, beating Evgeni Nabokov with a wrister.

That was about the it for Florida highlights as the Islanders scored the next four goals before Brandon Pirri scored with 3.9 seconds left.

New York tied it with a Travis Hamonic shot from 50 feet out with seven seconds left on the power play 45 seconds after Howden scored.

After being deadlocked at 1 for some time, the Islanders added a pair of goals in the second and never looked back.

-- The Panthers made two roster moves but only used one. Although Racine made his NHL debut by filling in for Ed Jovanovski, Bobby Butler was scratched.

Racine apparently heard he was joining the Panthers on Sunday so he was able to get some friends and family to the New York area.

"I tried to play hard, play my game and do my best on the ice,'' Racine, 20, said. "I was so happy to get the call. I think I did a very good job for my first game.''

Florida expected either Upshall [lower body] or Boyes [back] to miss Tuesday's game but both decided to play after warmups so Butler watched. He could play Friday if Boyes is out.

-- The Panthers will take Wednesday off as it appears the team will have been stuck in New York on Tuesday night. The team was planning on staying on Long Island because of a problem with its charter plane.

-- Florida ends the 2013-14 season 13-25-3 away from Sunrise.

 

March 31, 2014

BE-DEVILED: New Jersey Keeps Hope Alive in 6-3 Win Over Panthers ... Clemmensen Likely For Tuesday

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

NEWARK, N.J. -- The Devils were desperate for a win Monday night to keep their fading playoff hopes alive.
Man, were they ever happy to see the Panthers come to town.

New Jersey got its precious two points in the standings by scoring three goals in the first before holding off the Panthers 6-3 at Prudential Center.

The game was a little closer than the Devils would have liked as Florida was within a goal in the third but New Jersey was happy to escape with the win as Travis Zajac celebrated his first career hat trick.

"It's the same thing. We get down, we're not ready, we constantly battle back,'' said Brad Boyes, who scored his team-high 20th early in the second.

"It just doesn't change and that's the frustrating part. Talk is cheap unless you do something about it.''

When the Devils lost to the Panthers 5-3 in Sunrise two weeks ago, they were just two points out of the final spot. They started Monday five out.

New Jersey had to deal with goalie Roberto Luongo the last time out, but with Luongo back in South Florida, he wasn't a concern of the Devils this time around.

Backup Dan Ellis continues to search for his first win since coming over from Dallas in a March 5 trade as he made 26 saves.

New Jersey took a 3-0 lead after outshooting Florida 17-3 to start things before Dmitry Kulikov got the Panthers' first goal with Ed Jovanovski serving double penalties for jumping Jersey fourth liner Ryan Carter.

Florida went into the first break down 3-1 after being outshot 18-4 but battled back. The Panthers scored 50 seconds into the second when Boyes backhanded a shot past Martin Brodeur.

New Jersey's Ryan Clowe made it 4-2 at 3:05 of the second, but Pete DeBoer yanked Brodeur after Dylan Olsen's long shot skipped off Brandon Pirri's stick and hit the back of the net to make it 4-3 with 13:25 left in the period.

"The starts we've had are frustrating. We haven't figured them out yet,'' Pirri said. "We have a lot of resiliency in this room, but we can't have those starts and hope to win games in this league.''

The Devils were hearing it from their fans coming into the third, but Jacob Josefson gave them some breathing room by scoring on a 35-foot wrister while his team was killing off a penalty.

Zajac finally got to see the caps rain down on the ice midway through the third as he made it 6-3 by working his own soft rebound past Ellis.

Two of the Devils' first three goals came from Zajac as he opened the scoring 12 seconds in after poking a rebound past Ellis.

Almost ten minutes later, Jaromir Jagr -- "he looks like he's getting better,'' coach Peter Horachek said -- fired a shot over Ellis' shoulder for a 2-0 lead. Zajac made it 3-0 on a power play chance at 11:33 of the first.

WHY ELLIS?

If Scott Clemmensen was disappointed to not get the start Monday against his former team, he didn't show it.

"I'm living the dream,'' he said, soaked in sweat after the morning skate.

Clemmensen should get what likely will be his final start with the Panthers Tuesday against the Islanders.

Horachek said before Monday's game that he wanted Ellis -- who has lost his first four starts since joining the Panthers -- to get into a rhythm. Ellis didn't get to play much in Dallas and the same has been true with the Panthers.

"I don't know much about [a player's history] and it means very little to me,'' Horachek said. "Ellis is here and Clemmensen had been down [in the minors]. I think Ellis deserves to play some back-to-back games, get some timing down. He's been a capable goalie, but the past two seasons, he hasn't had many games and there has been a lot of time between them.''

Clemmensen originally signed with the Panthers in 2009 and is in his fifth season with the team. In the final year of a two-year deal, Clemmensen will very likely not return next season.

-- With two assists on Monday, center Nick Bjugstad became the fourth rookie in franchise history to have 20-plus assists in a season.

 

Tuesday: Panthers at Islanders

When, Where: 7 p.m.; Nassau Veterans Coliseum, Uniondale, N.Y.

TV/Radio: Sun Sports; WQAM 560

The series: Florida leads 41-34-8

Scouting report: The Panthers have won both games between the two this season after being swept in three last year. Florida has won the season series in four of the past five seasons. Tuesday marks Florida's final road game of the season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 30, 2014

CLEMMENSEN IS BACK: Luongo's Injury Means Recall for Panthers Goalie ... Ellis Gets Start Monday in Jersey

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

NEWARK, N.J. -- After being sent down to the minors earlier this month, it didn't look like goalie Scott Clemmensen would ever wear the Panthers jersey again.

But with Roberto Luongo being hurt in a loss to Carolina last week, Clemmensen was summoned from San Antonio.

Coach Peter Horachek said Sunday night that Dan Ellis would get the start Monday against the Devils at Prudential Center.

Clemmensen could start Tuesday against the Islanders.

"I'm still fighting the good fight,'' Clemmensen said after watching Saturday's 4-1 loss to Montreal from the bench as Ellis' backup.

"I was obviously disappointed in going down to the minors but at the same time, I'm going to put myself in the best position to further my career with no regrets. The biggest thing for me, once this is all over, is to have no regrets about anything I did. We'll see where it takes me. One door shuts, another opens. You just have to keep moving forward.''

For Clemmensen, a visit to New Jersey is often a mini homecoming.

Clemmensen spent seven seasons in the Devils organization and has played well against them when given the chance. Clemmensen is 4-1 against New Jersey during the regular season and was 1-2 against the Devils in the 2012 playoffs.

"I've always enjoyed playing in New Jersey, seeing their fans,'' Clemmensen said. "I have good memories of playing there. I'm taking things one day at a time here right now. I would just be happy with some playing time.''

With Luongo out the next two games, Clemmensen and Ellis will likely split the starts in Newark and on Long Island on Tuesday.

Horachek says he has no problem putting Clemmensen out there. After all, Clemmensen filled in for Tim Thomas during the team's most successful run of the season in December when he won four straight starts.

But, as it is now, Ellis is Luongo's backup. So when Luongo's out, Ellis gets the start.

"Every time he's gotten the opportunity, he's played well for us,'' Horachek said of Clemmensen. "When he got into a rhythm played well.''

Clemmensen admits the past few weeks were tough. On March 4, Florida put Clemmensen on waivers in order to be able to move him later. The Panthers completed the trade with Vancouver for Luongo later in the day.

On March 5, the Panthers sent Thomas to Dallas and got Ellis back. Clemmensen was the odd goalie out and was sent to the minors.

"I had no idea what was going on at the time,'' Clemmensen said. "The 24 hours leading into the trade deadline were very hectic for everyone around here. Obviously I got caught up in it. That's the business. They have decisions they make and it's out of my control. My future was in their hands. You just roll with it the best you can, make the most of it.''

With the Rampage, Clemmensen has won three of his eight starts.

"One thing about him is he is even keel,'' Horachek said. "He has shown real professionalism and the way he approached everything has been really good. He went down, handled it right. He's been a total pro. I really appreciate that shows the young guys how to handle himself. its not easy. he has a family and all. he sends a good message.''

-- Horachek said Sunday that Luongo skated earlier in the morning but wasn't on the trip to the New York area.

"He's fine,'' Horachek said, "and will play the final five games of the season.''

-- Monday's game against the host Devils will be broadcast nationally on NBC Sports Network with no other local coverage aside from radio.

Tuesday's game against the Islanders will move from Fox Sports Florida to Sun Sports because of a conflict with the Marlins.

 

Monday: Panthers at Devils

When, Where: 7:30 p.m.; Prudential Center, Newark, N.J.

TV/Radio: NBC Sports Network; WQAM 560

The series: New Jersey leads 48-27-7

Scouting report: The Devils are sticking around the playoff race although their failure in shootouts have slowed them down. New Jersey is 0-10 -- and has lost two straight -- in the shootout session. Florida won the previous meeting 5-3 in Sunrise earlier this month.

 

March 29, 2014

LUONGO DOUBTFUL FOR ROADTRIP: Huberdeau, Kopecky Getting Close?

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Although Roberto Luongo said he wouldn't know whether he would be traveling on Florida's final road trip of the season, Horachek said it was doubtful Luongo would be going.

Luongo, hurt during the first period of Thursday's loss to the Hurricanes, was at the arena early Saturday for treatment before leaving.

Florida travels to New Jersey on Sunday afternoon for Monday's game against the Devils; Florida visits the Islanders Tuesday in the final road game of the year.

"At this point, I don’t expect it,'' Horachek said of Luongo. "He’s progressing. In our situation, I think you want to make sure he’s 100 percent. They haven’t given me a final word. .-.-. That would leave us the home stretch here for him to be totally healthy.''

-- Scott Clemmensen returned to the Panthers on Saturday after backing up Michael Houser at AHL San Antonio on Friday night.

-- Jonathan Huberdeau (concussion) said he started skating Saturday for the first time with Horachek saying both he and Tomas Kopecky (concussion) could join the team for practice later this week.

 

FLORIDA WEEK STARTS WITH WIN: Vacationing Habs Top Panthers 4-1

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Montreal Canadiens will have plenty of time for playing on the beach during their nearly weeklong working vacation in Florida. Saturday, however, the Habs had business to attend to.

Montreal won its fifth straight game as it continued its playoff push with a 4-1 win over the Panthers at BB&T Center.

The Canadiens, in Fort Lauderdale through Monday before spending a few more days in Tampa, have won eight of the past nine and held tight to their second place spot on Tampa Bay in the Atlantic Division.

"We dominated the chances but they had the lead and maybe they sat back a little,'' Panthers coach Peter Horachek said.

The Panthers stayed in the game despite being behind for much of it, peppering goalie Carey Price with 37 shots -- only Brad Boyes' wrister finding the back of the net. Montreal led 3-0 just before that goal and added an empty-netter in the final seconds.

"We generated a lot of shots, lot of chances but they sat back in the third and let us come at them,'' Boyes said.

"We tried to generate things but the lack of scoring really hurt us.''

Florida went up against the streaking Canadiens without goalie Roberto Luongo who is out for precautionary reasons.

The Canadiens jumped all over backup Dan Ellis, nearly scoring in the opening seconds.

Montreal's first goal would wait until Thomas Vanek -- a longtime Florida nemesis from his days in Buffalo -- scored midway through the period after P.K. Subban chased down a puck Brian Campbell whiffed on.

With 2:57 left in the first, Max Pacioretty got his first of the night by cleaning up a loose puck around the cage a second after Erik Gudbranson's slashing penalty ended.

"We made some mistakes and they capitalized on them,'' Horachek said. "They obviously only need a few chances. We need more. The effort was there. We just made mistakes at the wrong time.''

Montreal made it 3-0 when Pacioretty scored in similar fashion to his first with Florida getting Boyes' goal -- his first in eight games -- with 3:51 left in the second.

"There's no quit in this team, no quit in this locker room,'' Ellis said. "Guys gave it their all to the final buzzer.''

 

March 28, 2014

LAST BATTLE?: Dvorak and Jovanovski Meet on Thursday

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Radek Dvorak and Florida captain Ed Jovanovski are the last remaining active players from the Panthers' 1996 Stanley Cup Finals team.

On Thursday, the two may have shared NHL ice for the final time.

Although both say they want to return next year, there is questions whether both -- or either -- will.

Dvorak earned a spot on the Hurricanes with a good training camp; Jovanovski is coming off serious hip surgery and will be 38 at training camp next fall.

Both were rookies when the Panthers made their run to the Eastern Conference championship in 1995-96. The two were teammates in Florida until Jovanovski was traded to Vancouver in the Pavel Bure deal in 1999.

"I'm taking things game by game, day by day and we'll see what happens in the summer,'' Dvorak said.

"Jovo and I started together here in 1995 and it's always good to see him and play against him. We started together and went through a lot. You become good friends. It was nice to be on the ice with him although it was too bad I got kicked out so soon.''

 

LUONGO OUT V CANADIENS: Dan Ellis Starts Saturday, Scott Clemmensen Heads Here Saturday

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers will be without goalie Roberto Luongo for Saturday night's game against the visiting Canadiens coach Peter Horachek said on Friday morning.

Luongo suffered from a sore neck after colliding with veteran forward Radek Dvorak during the first period of Florida's 3-0 loss to Carolina on Thursday night. Dvorak was ejected from the game with Luongo leaving following the first period.

Horachek said Luongo was looked at by team medical personnel during Thursday's game and came in for treatment on Friday morning. Luongo did not participate in Friday's optional workout.

"It's not long-term at this point,'' Horachek said. "He's just out for [Saturday] and we're going to leave it at day-by-day.''

With Luongo out, Horachek said backup Dan Ellis would start against Montreal at BB&T Center with Scott Clemmensen coming up from AHL San Antonio to serve as Ellis' backup.

Ellis made 18 saves on 20 shots in relief of Luongo and has yet to record a win in two starts since coming over from Dallas on March 5.

Saturday's game will be part of CBC's 'Hockey Night in Canada' broadcasts.

"It's always exciting to be playing against Montreal,'' Ellis said. "They have so much history and tradition. Everywhere they go, they bring a large fan base. It's a good challenge for us.''

Ellis said he didn't think there would be an awkwardness in having Clemmensen back with the Panthers.

Clemmensen had been Florida's backup goalie since signing here in 2009. On March 4, hours before the Luongo deal was completed, Clemmensen was placed on waivers. The next day, Florida traded Tim Thomas to Dallas for Ellis and sent Clemmensen to the minors.

Despite his recent success against Montreal, Clemmensen won't start Saturday. Clemmensen was scheduled to be the backup goaltender in San Antonio on Friday night and fly to Fort Lauderdale on Saturday morning.

If Luongo isn't cleared for Florida's upcoming road trip, Clemmensen would likely at least get one more start for the Panthers as they play back-to-back games in New Jersey and on Long Island.

"We've both been in this position before and we're both professionals,'' Ellis said. "We're teammates; you're supportive of each other. You do your best when you're out there and you support the other guy so he can do his best.''

Photo: J Pat Carter/Associated Press

 

Saturday: Canadiens at Panthers

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

TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560

The series: Panthers lead 36-35-6

Scouting report: Florida won the first two games against the Canadiens before losing 2-1 in Montreal in January. Florida took 16 shots in the third of that game but failed to score the tying goal. Montreal has won four straight and seven of eight.