January 02, 2016

AN ALL-STAR, AGAIN: Florida Panthers' Jaromir Jagr elected one of four captains for 2016 All-Star Game in Nashville ... Will Jagr go, and who goes with him? ... Gerard Gallant contract extension now official

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Jaromir Jagr was selected to his 13th All-Star Game/tournament on Saturday.
The question now is: Will Jagr go to Nashville?
The thought here is yes.
Jagr, 43, was elected by fans as one of four captains for the All-Star Game held in the Music City on Jan. 31.
All four NHL divisions will be represented in the new format which is going to a 3-on-3 tournament.
Each division will play a period with the winners meeting for a championship game and players on the winning team splitting the $1 million prize pool.
Before the Panthers played the Predators last month, Jagr created quite a stir by asking fans via his Twitter account not to vote for him.
At the time, Jagr was fourth in voting for the Atlantic Division.
"I appreciate your votes for All-Star game," Jagr wrote, "but 3 on 3 would kill me, and I don't want to die yet. Thank you for understanding. Too old."
Jagr backed up that statement in Nashville saying he would have loved to play such a format years ago but not now.
Jagr is part of Florida's 3-on-3 overtime unit.
"It's too much for me,'' said Jagr, who turns 44 on Feb. 15.


"Fifteen years ago, OK. Not at 44. [3-on-3] is good for the NHL, there's a lot of scoring chances and that's what NHL fans have wanted to see."
Another question is which Panthers, if any, go with Jagr to Nashville.
Roberto Luongo and Aaron Ekblad went last year in Columbus and would seem to be favorites to go again. Sasha Barkov would also seem to be a candidate.
The rest of the roster will be announced by the NHL on Wednesday.
Coach Gerard Gallant could match fellow Prince Edward Island native Doug MacLean as the only Panther coaches to be behind the bench in an All-Star game.
MacLean's Panthers led the Eastern Conference at the time of the 1997 ASG; Gallant has four more games to get there. The coaches will be determined based on percentage of available points come next Saturday.
-- Speaking of Gallant, his contract extension is now official. The Panthers are holding a press conference Saturday at 4:45 before their game with the Rangers.
Gallant didn't comment on the extension specifically after the morning skate, but when asked, said he and his family were very happy in South Florida.
"It's a great spot,'' Gallant said. "When the opportunity came up to get a job here, it was great. Your family loves it here, your wife loves it here. The winters are pretty good. We've really enjoyed our time here.''
-- Nick Bjugstad will not play Saturday against the Rangers but could be back in the lineup against his hometown Minnesota Wild on Sunday.
Gallant said Bjugstad was probable for Sunday.
-- Shawn Thornton is back in the lineup against the Rangers with Luongo in net. Al Montoya goes Sunday against the Wild. Connor Brickley is scratched Saturday.

 

January 01, 2016

FLORIDA SIGNING DAY: Panthers sign Dale Tallon and Gerard Gallant to contract extensions ... Tom Rowe promoted from Portland to be associate GM ... Nick Bjugstad likely out as Rangers come to town

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
It appears Dale Tallon will be allowed to finish the job he started.
So, too, will coach Gerard Gallant.
On Friday, the Panthers officially announced Tallon signed a multi-year contract extension to remain general manager through 2019.
A team source also said Gallant agreed to a two-year extension through 2019.
Gallant's signing should be announced by Tallon before Saturday's game against the Rangers.
"It's good, things are positive and in the past month, a lot of good things have happened for our team,'' Gallant said Friday before news of his contract leaked.
"We're winning a lot of games and made the deal with Broward County. Things are moving forward."
The Panthers also promoted Tom Rowe to associate general manager.
Rowe had served as Florida's AHL coach in San Antonio and Portland, Maine, for parts of the past three seasons.
"I'm excited about the direction of this organization. We have a great young team,'' Tallon said after thanking owners Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu for showing faith in him.
"We're going to continue building through the draft, keep developing. The blueprint, the pieces are finally coming together. I'm looking forward to the next three years. ... The goal is to make this an elite franchise and win multiple championships. We're headed in the right direction."
Tallon, in his sixth season, is the second-longest serving general manager in franchise history behind current Ottawa GM Bryan Murray (1994-2000) and should surpass him by this time next season.
While Murray oversaw Florida's most successful seasons from 1995-97 as well as a playoff berth in 1999-2000, Tallon's Panthers are just now coming into their own.
Although Tallon's second team won the Southeast Division in 2011-12, only a handful of players remain as he has retooled the roster through the draft and various trades and free agent additions.
"You see some of the fruits of Dale's labor coming to fruition and I'm happy for him,'' said defenseman Brian Campbell, the first high-profile player Tallon brought to the Panthers in 2011.
"He's been here for a while now and it's exciting to see the plan keep coming into place. We want to do great things this year.''
Florida goes into Saturday's game riding a seven-game winning streak with wins in 13 of the past 16. With a victory Saturday, the Panthers would set a franchise record for consecutive victories.
The Panthers' success this year can be credited to young players Tallon drafted (Sasha Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck, Erik Gudbranson, Aaron Ekblad) as well as those he brought in (Brandon Pirri, Roberto Luongo, Jaromir Jagr) at bargain prices.
Florida's depth has proved strong with a number of recent draft picks working to make the jump either from its AHL team.
The Panthers' pool of prospects currently in college or Canadian junior ranks is also deep.
"You go through a lot of pain in suffering when you're building a team,'' said Tallon, whose team lost its spot atop the Atlantic Division when Montreal won Friday's Winter Classic over Boston.
"It's fun and I'm happiest for the players, seeing their development curve and them buying in to what we're doing. I'm proud of our players, coaches, staff and organization. We're all on the same page, pulling for and believing in each other.''
Gallant is 59-41-10 in his parts of two seasons with the team and is well regarded among his players for an easy-going style while still demanding results.
A former head coach with the Blue Jackets and in the Canadian juniors, Gallant spent two seasons as an assistant with Montreal before getting the Florida job in 2014.
Gallant has one more season remaining on his original contract.
-- Rowe will remain in South Florida for Florida's next two games before heading back to Portland to pack up and move south.
Rowe was originally hired by the Panthers in 2013 when coach Kevin Dineen was fired and San Antonio coach Peter Horachek was brought up to replace him.
A former forward with Hartford, Washington and Detroit, Rowe has mostly been an assistant coach but has head coaching experience in the AHL and in Russia. Rowe is also said to be signed through 2019.
"This is an opportunity of a lifetime," Rowe said on Thursday before his promotion was made public. "When it presented itself, I thought it would be a great thing.''
-- Gallant said center Nick Bjugstad likely wouldn't return from the injured list (migraines) on Saturday but hasn't ruled him out for Sunday against his hometown Minnesota Wild.
Saturday: Rangers at Panthers
When, where: 7 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640, WMNA 1210
Series: New York leads 49-32-6
Scouting report: New York, which lost nine of 13 last month, beat the Panthers 5-4 in overtime on Nov. 21. The Rangers have won the past seven against Florida and the past four in Sunrise. Goalie Henrik Lundqvist has won nine of his past 12 at BB&T Center.

 

ROWE PROMOTED: Panthers bring up Portland coach Tom Rowe to be assistant general manager

 

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Dale Tallon agreed in principal to a three-year contract extension on New Year's Eve.
The Florida Panthers' general manager will also be getting some help.
Tom Rowe, the coach of Florida's AHL team the past two seasons, has been promoted to the Florida front office and will serve as the Panthers' assistant general manager.
Rowe, 59, was at the Panthers' practice in Coral Springs on Thursday and will be returning to Portland, Maine, on Monday to start packing up. Rowe will be based in South Florida.
"I'm ecstatic to be able to work with Dale and work under his guidance and direction," Rowe told the Miami Herald on Thursday morning.
"He's done one heck of a job here. To be able to come here for this position, see how it works in the NHL is a great thing."
Rowe has been a valued and trusted member of the organization since coming on and taking over the San Antonio Rampage after Florida fired Kevin Dineen in 2013 and replaced him with Rampage coach Peter Horachek.
"The positive about this is I have a real handle on how things are going in Portland, what the guys are doing there and how they're doing it," Rowe said.
"When Dale has questions about someone, I should be able to give him more information."
A former NHL player who played in 357 games with Washington, Hartford and Detroit, Rowe turned to coaching in 2001 and started in the AHL.
Rowe coached in the KHL for Yaroslavl Lokomotiv during 2012-13 before joining San Antonio and the Panthers.
"This is an opportunity of a lifetime," Rowe said. "When it presented itself, I thought it would be a great things to be involved with."
Scott Allen will be the new coach of the Pirates.

 

December 31, 2015

STICKING AROUND: Dale Tallon gets three more years from Florida Panthers

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

General manager Dale Tallon is in the final year of his current contract with the Panthers, but it appears that will soon change.
According to a source within the organization, Tallon and the team agreed in principal to a three-year contract extension on Thursday evening.
Tallon, 65, came to the Panthers in 2010 after he build the Chicago Blackhawks into an eventual Stanley Cup champion.
Since joining the Panthers, Tallon has completely remade the roster with only defenseman Dmitry Kulikov being part of the organization when Tallon came on board.

 

BJUGSTAD READY FOR RETURN: Panthers forward Nick Bjugstad still battling migraines, says pain much better

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Nick Bjugstad said the migraines he had been suffering from had become so intense he just couldn't handle it anymore.
So, on Nov. 30 during a Panthers practice in St. Louis, Bjugstad came off the ice and went straight to the team's medical trainers.
After almost a month of tests and time off the ice, Bjugstad says he's about ready to rejoin his team.
"These guys being able to win so many games really relieved the stress on me trying to come back,'' Bjugstad said after participating in another full practice Thursday morning.
"It's tough not playing, it's what I love to do. I want to get back out there and excited to get back. I don't know a timetable of when I'm coming back but I'm close. Things have gotten a lot better over the past month."
And the Panthers, despite winning 13 of the past 16 mostly without him, can't wait to have him back.
Bjugstad was Florida's leading goal scorer last season with 24 points and despite missing the past month, is tied for sixth on the team with seven goals.
"He's a great player and with the style we're playing, you love to add an asset,'' Jonathan Huberdeau said.
"He's a guy who can score 25-30 goals. We need him on the offensive side of the play.''
Said coach Gerard Gallant: "Obviously, when Nick is available, he's going to be in our lineup. He had another great day, no restrictions. That's a good sign. We're not going to rush him. When he's ready, he's ready."
Bjugstad is still be suffering from the migraines although he and his medical team appear to have the problem under better control.
Although many speculated Bjugstad was out because of a concussion, he and the team deny that and Bjugstad said the migraines came on without some sort of hit to his head.
That, he said, made the reasons why he was and is suffering so mysterious.
"The unknown of the injury was it wasn't one specific hit, it wasn't one thing I can point out,'' Bjugstad said. "That makes it bizarre and frustrating. Usually with an injury you have a timetable and can look at the hit or whatever it was. We have no idea where they came from."
The Panthers expect Bjugstad to practice again Friday morning and it will be up to him when he rejoins the lineup.
Florida plays host to the Rangers on Saturday before Bjugstad's hometown Minnesota Wild close out Florida's six-game homestand on Sunday.
"We're not going to rush it,'' Bjugstad said. "If I play against Minnesota, it's just how it lines up. We will see. I still have to talk to the trainers and the doctors. They're happy with the improvement.''


-- After years of traveling to South Florida from his native Montreal with his family to see the Canadiens play the Panthers, Huberdeau played in his third holiday game between the two on Tuesday.
For the first time, Huberdeau was able to razz some of his family members after the Panthers beat the Canadiens 3-1.
"It's always fun playing Montreal at home with so many friends and family up in the stands,'' said Huberdeau, whose younger sister Josiane sang the Canadian national anthem prior to face off.
"It's a cool moment but more fun when we win because I still have friends rooting for the Canadiens. I got to chirp them a little bit.''
-- The Panthers will hold an open practice Friday morning at the IceDen in Coral Springs at 11 a.m.

 

December 30, 2015

SPACEY IN SPACE; A PANTHER ODDITY: Panthers' top player wearing Kevin Spacey-themed sweatshirt after wins ... Actor seems to dig it

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Hockey teams have been known to celebrate victories in odd ways, some going to great lengths with the likes of a good-luck hat or a stuffed animal hanging from a player's locker.
In recent years, the Panthers have celebrated wins with a goofy Musketeer hat and a West Point jacket.
This week, a new article of clothing arrived in the Florida locker room: A royal blue hooded sweatshirt with the image of actor Kevin Spacey on it. Spacey's head appears to be floating in space.
What does it mean? What is its significance? Heck if I know.


No one will say, although everyone I ask laughs when it's brought up.
Barkov, who wore it after Tuesday's 3-1 win over the Canadiens, said he "had no idea" what it meant.
I asked Roberto Luongo and a few others, with them all steering me to Erik Gudbranson. "No way man," he said. When I told him I would figure it out, he said "no you won't."
My picture of the sweatshirt -- and Barkov wearing it -- bounced all over social media late Tuesday night and into Wednesday.
On Wednesday, Spacey responded to a series of tweets and seems to be OK with the whole thing.
Spacey, who has recently starred in the critically acclaimed 'House of Cards' series on Netflix, wished the team continued success and wrote "only I know what #SpaceyInSpace means."
So, we have some mysteries left to solve in 2016 after all.

 

PANTHERS KNEW IT ALL ALONG: Winning streak comes as a surprise to some, not to the Panthers (wink, wink) ... Florida heads into New Year on a roll and atop the Atlantic Division ... Attendance is up, business better ... Panthers looking to lock up free ag

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Gerard Gallant was asked whether he saw this coming, if he believed that last month his Florida Panthers could win seven consecutive games much less 13 of 16 to take over first place in their division.
"Of course,'' Gallant said, with an exaggerated wink.
"We were 3-6-3 and it was looking bad, we were headed on a tough road trip. But the guys battled. But they believe in themselves, know they are a good team. If we battle and play the right way, we can beat anyone on any given night."
Gallant, in his second season as coach of the Panthers, is starting to gain serious buzz around the league as not only a candidate for the league's coach of the year honor, but perhaps the favorite to win it.
Last year, Gallant's Panthers made the biggest improvement in the league, going from 66 points to 91, keeping their playoff hopes alive into the final weeks of the season.
"That was a big step,'' Gallant said. "The guys knew we were close."
Florida didn't make the postseason but were closer than it had been in a few years and the seeds for this year's success had been sown.
Like Gallant, Jaromir Jagr was asked if he could foresee what the Panthers have done lately.
"After what I saw last year in those last 20 games, yes I did,'' said Jagr, who came to the Panthers for a few draft picks in February.
"I think we are very confident right now and that's helping us lately. Great goaltending is key but we don't make risky plays because we're confident our offense is going to make plenty of plays.''
The Panthers, with Jagr leading the charge, are loose yet very focused.
Florida has tied a franchise record for consecutive wins, and have had two of the longest winning streaks in the past few seasons just his month as it won five in the early part of December.
The winning streak has definitely caught the attention of the national hockey media, but perhaps more importantly, the local media as well.
On Tuesday, a number of local outlets did live feeds from BB&T Center and Florida's postgame locker room was packed with reporters.
"I know there are questions and I don't know if many people believe in us,'' Jagr said, "but what's important is these 20 guys believe in each other. That's what is important."
During this 16-game run, which started with a 3-2 shootout win over the Islanders on the day after Thanksgiving, the Panthers have won six of seven at home and seven of nine on the road.
Florida went into the Islanders game in sixth place in the division, 16 points back of the Canadiens and five out of a playoff spot.
Fast forward and the Panthers will ring in the New Year atop the division. Florida went into Wednesday holding the second overall spot in the entire conference behind Washington.
Not a bad month.
"A lot of people didn't expect us to be in first place in the New Year,'' Gallant said.
"It's all about trying to make the playoffs so first place doesn't matter. It's about getting as many points in the bank as we can and we're on a good roll now. We just have to keep it going. There's more than half the season left to go and things change in a hurry.''
-- The Panthers' sellout Tuesday was their second of the season as attendance has been on the upswing all year.
The team winning 13 of its past 16 games sure isn't hurting business.
Florida was last in attendance last year with an average of 11,265. This year, the Panthers are 27th by averaging 13,630.
"It's been a pretty exciting time right now obviously," team executive Peter Luukko said.
"Right now, we don't have a game that will be below 12,000 and that's our worst, without selling another ticket. And then we're trending to some of the other bigger games: 15, 16 to 17,000. To see the passion is the exciting piece."
The Panthers are 4-0 on this current homestand with the Rangers and Wild finishing it off this weekend.
-- Luukko was asked whether the Panthers were talking to Jagr about another one-year extension and Luukko laughed.
"We would love to have him back next year, and in fact, we would like to have him for the next seven years,'' he said of Jagr, who turns 44 in February.
The Panthers are in talks with a few upcoming restricted free agents including Sasha Barkov and Vincent Trocheck.
Florida is interested in signing Barkov to a long-term deal, and he could be the first player the Panthers sign to the league maximum eight years.
Barkov, 20, has four goals in his past two games and played for Finland at the 2014 Olympics as an NHL rookie.

 

December 29, 2015

BACK IN FIRST: Panthers take over first in Atlantic after topping Canadiens 3-1 in Sunrise ... Sasha Barkov gets two more goals, Jaromir Jagr gets one too ... Homecoming game at home for Huberdeau clan

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers stay at the top of the Atlantic Division lasted just one day as Montreal took it back by beating Tampa Bay on Monday night.
Florida returned the favor Tuesday.
By beating the Canadiens 3-1 in front of a sellout crowd of 19,822 at BB&T Center, the Panthers not only reclaimed the top spot but will holding onto it into the New Year.
The Panthers don't play again until Saturday allowing either the Canadiens (second place with 45 points) or Boston (third, 44) to take over first on New Year's Day after those two meet in this year's Winter Classic at the Patriots' stadium in Massachusetts.
"It's a lot of fun to come here, we're pretty confidence and enjoy playing together,'' said Sasha Barkov, who helped his team tie a franchise record with its seventh consecutive victory by scoring twice.
"We know how to play the game, know how to win. It's a lot of fun. Of course we want to win every game and that's what we're doing right now.''
Barkov continued his hot stretch as he scored his fourth goal in Florida's past two victories.
The Canadiens, playing in front of many of their vacationing fans, took the initial lead on a power play chance midway through the first.
Yet, for much of the game, Florida dominated as it has during his run of 13 victories in its past 16.
"I thought the boys played a really strong game, perhaps our best of the year,'' said Roberto Luongo, a Montreal native whose team lost four of five to the Canadiens last year.
"It was a great game for our team, especially with what was at stake.''
The Panthers tied the score on Barkov's first, as he took a Dmitry Kulikov delivery and beat Ben Scrivens as Jaromir Jagr played blocker in front of the net.
Just over a minute into the second, Jagr gave Florida the lead it needed by driving in on Scrivens on a breakout and burying Jonathan Huberdeau's leader.
"We're playing to our strength,'' Jagr said.
The Panthers kept up the pressure but Scrivens -- acquired early Monday morning from Edmonton and playing his first for the Habs on Tuesday -- stood tall until Barkov beat him again with 11:07 left.
Florida then clamped things down and didn't give Montreal much opportunity.
With just over a minute left, Florida's faithful began serenading those in Montreal bleu, blanc and rouge goodbye.
"We played a great game, played hard and competed,'' coach Gerard Gallant said.
"I thought both teams skated well and we had a lot of chances. ... The guys believe in themselves. They know they're a good hockey team and if they play the right way, can beat anyone in the league.''
-- Huberdeau and his family has long traveled to South Florida from Montreal to see their beloved Canadiens play the Panthers arounf the holidays.
On Tuesday, Huberdeau played in his third such game.
For the second consecutive year, Huberdeau's younger sister Josiane sang the Canadian national anthem before the puck dropped.
"It's going to be a fun night, no pressure,'' the Panthers' top line winger said. "I'm going to go out there, have fun like I always do. I can't wait to hear my sister sing."
-- The Panthers' seven game winning streak ties the record for longest in team history with Florida previously doing it in 2008.
The team has won seven consecutive games four times.
Florida has also won a franchise-tying five consecutive home games.
-- Florida ended December with 22 points -- the most it had ever accrued in a single month in franchise history. The previous high was 21 points previously hit in March 2006.


 

 

December 28, 2015

RENEWING A RIVALRY: Panthers not overlooking Canadiens despite their struggles ... Nick Bjugstad moves closer to rejoining the lineup

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Montreal Canadiens came into their game Monday in Tampa with losses in nine of their past 10 games including their previous six.
Pardon the Panthers if they don't feel sorry for them.
That doesn't mean the Panthers will overlook the Canadiens because of their recent woes.
Florida, after all, lost four of five to the Canadiens last season and nine of the past 12.
"We know they're a great team and they are right there in the standings with us,'' Vincent Trocheck said. "This is a huge divisional game, a four-point swing. We're going into this game as if they have won 10 in a row. We obviously noticed we caught them and that shows how well we've been playing.''
The Panthers have been the biggest beneficiary of Montreal's fall from atop the Atlantic Division standings as the Panthers made up 16 points over the past month.
Florida, which came into Monday in first place in the division, goes into Tuesday's meeting with Montreal riding a six-game winning streak with wins in 12 of its past 15 games.
"They're dangerous, we know they're a great team,'' said coach Gerard Gallant, who came to the Panthers in 2014 after spending two seasons as an assistant with the Canadiens.
"They're having their struggles, but every team goes through it during the year, it has just been longer than Montreal figured it would. But they're a good team and they will turn it around sooner than later.''
The Panthers have been watching Montreal's struggles closely as they quickly closed the gap in the standings before overtaking the Canadiens after Sunday's 3-2 win over the visiting Blue Jackets.
With Montreal, which started the season 9-0, coming back to the pack, the division is now tightly bunched.
Coming into Monday's games, just two points separated first-place Florida from fifth place Ottawa. Montreal went into Tampa a point back of the Panthers.
"We don't worry about the team we're playing, we just concentrate on our own game,'' said Jonathan Huberdeau, a Montreal native who grew up rooting for the Canadiens.
"We just need to keep playing the way we have been. Being from Montreal, I know they're struggling. My dad watches every game. But this is a huge game for us. We want to win, stay on top.''
Montreal has been struggling every since MVP goalie Carey Price and Brendan Gallagher have been out with injury.
On Monday, the Canadiens made a move to help their goaltending situation by acquiring Ben Scrivens from Edmonton.
Scrivens, who went 2-7-1 for Edmonton's AHL team in California, was expected to be in uniform Monday and could make his Montreal debut against the Panthers.
"They started off hot and had some injuries but that is still a very skilled team,'' Shawn Thornton said. "We know they are tough to deal with. We've been hot, but we're not on top of the world. Montreal is very dangerous.''
-- Center Nick Bjugstad took part in Florida's full practice Monday for the first time since leaving the ice in St. Louis on Nov. 30 because of migraines.
Bjugstad has been skating for the past week and is now in conditioning mode for a possible return as early as this weekend.
Gallant said Bjugstad will not play Tuesday but is looking forward to having his big center back.
"We'll see how he feels but he's had three good days,'' Gallant said. "We just want to see how he's doing. Believe me, I'll be happy to have him back. He's one of our star players. He'll be fresh and ready to go.''
-- Forwards Brandon Pirri and Jussi Jokinen didn't practice Monday but Gallant said both would play Tuesday.
-- Roberto Luongo will start again Tuesday with Al Montoya getting his next opportunity to play during Florida's upcoming back-to-back set against the Rangers or Wild.
Tuesday: Canadiens at Panthers
When, where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640, WMNA 1210
Series: Montreal leads 40-37-6
Scouting report: The Panthers are 3-0 so far in this six-game homestand with three one-goal victories over Vancouver, Ottawa and Columbus. Montreal won four of five against the Panthers last year with four games being decided by a goal -- three going to shootout.

 

 

 

December 27, 2015

LOOK WHO IS ATOP THE STANDINGS: Panthers claim first place in Atlantic Division after 3-2 win over Blue Jackets ... Sasha Barkov scores two off Jonathan Huberdeau passes, Aaron Ekblad once

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
On Thanksgiving morning, the Panthers were 16 points behind Montreal for first place in the Atlantic Division and things didn't look good.
After losing nine of 12 games, few figured the Panthers had the team to make up that sort of real estate.
Well, on Sunday evening, the Panthers took sole possession of first place in their division by beating Columbus 3-2 in front of 16,902 at BB&T Center.
"We have been playing great for a while,'' said Sasha Barkov, who scored twice Sunday. "We have really good players on this team. We have high confidence. Last year, we weren't even close to this spot. We just need to keep playing this way, winning games.''
Since Thanksgiving, the Panthers have been one of hockey's hottest teams, with a pair of five-game winning streaks during a run of victories in 12 of their past 15 games.
Florida's current six-game winning streak is its longest since 2008.
Racking up points by the dozens helped the Panthers leap not only the slumping Canadiens -- who have lost 10 of 11 and their past six coming into Tuesday's date with the Panthers -- but others in the division as well.
On Thanksgiving morning, the Panthers were five points out of a playoff spot but have since jumped Ottawa (nine back) as well as Detroit, Tampa Bay and Boston (five points).
Florida was also just two points up on Columbus for last place in the Eastern Conference. By Sunday night, that lead had grown to 15.
Obviously there is plenty of hockey to be played, but today, Florida holds home ice in at least the first round of the playoffs.
For a young team playing on a team with little tradition, it's a start.
"We've been on a pretty good run lately, but this is just game 36,'' said Shawn Thornton, who won the Stanley Cup with Boston and Anaheim and is a veteran of 101 postseason games -- which is more than the Panthers have appeared in.
"I'm happy with where we're at, but we have a long way to go. We just have to stay the course, keep playing smart.''


Sunday, the Panthers came out flying against a slumping Columbus team fresh off Saturday's loss in Tampa Bay.
Fiery coach John Tortorella had plenty to say about his team in the pregame media scrum and it didn't seem to help any.
Florida jumped all over the Blue Jackets, outshooting them 19-1 in the opening period all while taking a 2-0 lead into the first break.
"Obviously we wanted to win as many games as we could early on,'' said Aaron Ekblad, who opened the scoring by tracking down a Reilly Smith rebound and sending a soft wrist shot past goalie Curtis McElhinney.
"We got off to a slow, average start but the past month, it's no fluke that we're winning. We haven't been good for a week. We're really learning to carry the momentum. We want to stay on top, but teams will be gunning for you.''
Columbus battled back in the second, taking aim at Roberto Luongo early in the period before cutting into its deficit on a Brandon Saad goal 7:59 in.
The score remained 2-1 until Barkov teed off on a nice feed from Jonathan Huberdeau 7:23 into the third.
Columbus made things interesting when it made it 3-2 with 8:34 left, but Luongo and the Panthers shut things down to open this six-game homestand 3-0.
"It's exciting,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "It's almost a new year and being in first place means a lot. Again, we're probably five or six points and we're out of the playoffs. But if you keep winning, keep getting points, it's a lot of fun.''
-- Luongo took a puck off his shoulder area during the pregame skate from teammate Vincent Trocheck and headed into the training room early.
Gallant said he spoke to goalie coach Robb Tallas and was assured Luongo was good to go and he started the game.
Luongo didn't see many pucks in the opening period, but ended up making a number of key saves to help secure the win.
-- For the second consecutive game, Florida seriously outshot its opponent, this time 32-17. Last Tuesday, the Panthers outshot Ottawa 40-16 in a 2-1 shootout victory.
-- Sunday's win put the Panthers atop their division for the first time since the final game of the 2011-12 season when Florida claimed its lone Southeast Division title.
Of the current roster, only Erik Gudbranson, Dmitry Kulikov and Brian Campbell remain from that team.
"We're on top right now, we just need to keep going,'' said Huberdeau, who joined the Panthers the following season.

 

December 26, 2015

GETTING BACK TO WORK: Florida Panthers back on the ice, ready to keep winning streak alive ... Nick Bjugstad returns to practice ... Brandon Pirri makes art out of glass ... Jaromir Jagr gets new choppers ... Steven Kampfer still out

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

After three days off for the NHL's Christmas break, the Panthers got back to work on Saturday.
They hope to pick up where they left off on Sunday evening.
The Panthers, who have won five consecutive games and 11 of their past 14, are back in action Sunday when the Columbus Blue Jackets visit BB&T Center.
"We always enjoy days off, but you pay for them when you get back out here,'' Brian Campbell said.
"We have a lot of important games coming up. But it's not like we've only been playing well for a week or two. It's been going on for a good month at least and we learned a lot over the first few months about ourselves and how we want to play. We know what works for our team. We're not going to change much.''
Unlike the Panthers, Columbus was pressed into action early with a game Saturday night at Tampa Bay.
Florida hopes to find its first six-game winning streak since 2008 and keep pace in a very competitive Atlantic Division.
The Panthers went into the break tied with Boston in points for second place and a point back of Montreal for first overall.
"It's obviously nice seeing yourself a point out of first,'' Campbell said. "It's not nice seeing yourself three points out of ninth. It's so close right now. The only team in the Eastern Conference with breathing room is Washington. We know there's a lot of work to be done, but we've put ourselves in a nice position.''
Florida will continue its six-game homestand Sunday with wins in its first two against Vancouver and Ottawa.
Brandon Pirri said the Panthers are coming back with the same mindset they've been playing for much of the past month.
"These are treated as playoff games, the points will get us where we want to be,'' winger Brandon Pirri said.
"We're playing really well right now, we're where we want to be in the standings. But things are so close, if you take a few games off, you're on the outside looking in. We have to bring the same intensity and work ethic in which we play a full 60 minutes. These points count the same as the ones in April.''
The Panthers have been getting contributions from all over the ice with their forwards dictating the pace of the game in the offensive zone with their defensemen and goalies controlling things in their own part of the ice.
"The timing was good, we have a good run going but you need the time off to recharge the batteries a bit,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "Hopefully we'll get back on the same run. I thought we've played good hockey roughly for the past 20 games.''
In Tuesday's shootout win over the Senators, Florida got its lone goal from fourth-line call-up Corban Knight.
In five games since being recalled from the AHL, Knight has played good minutes as Florida's fourth-line center and has won 67 percent of his faceoffs.
It looks like Knight will remain with the Panthers for the foreseeable future although they haven't told him that just yet.
"I think everyone is feeling good in here right now after the way we have been playing,'' Knight said Saturday after a long Christmas trip home to Alberta.
"It's a good atmosphere. This has been a blast, I'm glad to be a part of it.''
-- Nick Bjugstad took part in a team practice for the first time since leaving the ice during a workout in St. Louis on Nov. 30.
Bjugstad has been complaining of migraines with Gallant saying he has been cleared medically to get back on the ice with his teammates.
"He felt good, everything went real good,'' Gallant said. "Today was a start and we'll see what tomorrow brings."
-- Jaromir Jagr was back at practice after getting four new front teeth on Wednesday. Jagr had his former teeth removed midway through the first period of Tuesday's game thanks to an errant stick from Ottawa's Alex Chiasson.


-- Pirri sent some fans scrambling at the team's IceDen practice facility Saturday when his wrist shot shattered the safety glass behind the net.
When asked if he had been pumping iron during the break, Pirri smiled. "No, just ate too much,'' he said.
-- Defenseman Steven Kampfer hasn't skated since being hurt in a pile-up against Washington on Dec. 10.
Kampfer appeared to hurt his knee when T.J. Oshie collided with Dmitry Kulikov and threw him into Kampfer as he skated through. Both Kulikov and Kampfer hit the ice with Kampfer appearing to land directly on his knee.
"It's getting better, but still bothering him,'' Gallant said.
Sunday: Blue Jackets at Panthers
When, where: 6 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640, WMNA 1210
Series: Columbus leads 13-6-0
Scouting report: The is the second meeting between the two this month with Florida winning at Columbus 2-1 in a shootout on Dec. 4. That was the final win in Florida's first five-game winning streak of the month as the Panthers lost their following game in New Jersey.

 

December 23, 2015

TIME FOR CELEBRATION: Panthers go into holiday break holding rare playoff spot ... Jaromir Jagr has fun with dentistry

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Some packed up and headed for a holiday up north while many more are staying home to enjoy their Christmas on the beach.
Regardless of where the Panthers are spending the next few days, they do so holding a rare holiday playoff spot.
"We just have to make sure, when we come back from Christmas, we continue to play the same way,'' Jaromir Jagr said.
"We're playing a good team game, five guys up and five guys back checking. We need to play as a team.''
The Panthers, who have been to the postseason just twice since 2000 and only four times in franchise history, went into the NHL's Christmas break tied in points with Boston for second place in the Atlantic Division.
And after winning 11 of its past 14 games including its previous five, Florida is only a point back of Montreal for first place in a division the now-struggling Canadiens were running away with just a few weeks ago.
The Panthers resume their season Sunday against visiting Columbus.
Florida has four games left on this holiday homestand with the Rangers and Canadiens among those coming to Sunrise.
"This is a good Christmas present for all of us,'' said Sasha Barkov, who iced Florida's 2-1 shootout win over Ottawa on Tuesday with yet another shootout goal.
"We have won five in a row so after Christmas, we'll be back getting back to work.''
The Panthers, who last held a Christmas playoff spot in 2011 when they eventually won the Southeast Division, have climbed through the standings and were ranked third in The Hockey News' latest NHL Power Rankings.
Coach Gerard Gallant, one of those staying in town for the holiday, said he would have liked to have gotten two points and left the Senators with none on Tuesday but is real pleased with what he has been seeing lately.
Of the teams in the Atlantic in which the Panthers are competing with, only the Senators picked up a point Tuesday. Montreal, Boston, Detroit and Tampa Bay all lost. Just six points separate the sixth-place Lightning and first-place Montreal.
"We're finishing real strong here and the guys will have three good days off,'' Gallant said. "We'll get back to work and know how important these points are especially early in the season like this. We have 42 points now. We're real close to the top of the division, which is a good sign, but everyone else is real close too.''
The Panthers have been terrific on both sides of the ice, dominating play in the offensive zone while limiting chances for goalies Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya.
"We've been carrying the play most nights,'' Luongo said. "That's the type of hockey we want to be playing."
On Tuesday, the Panthers were all over Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson, outshooting the Senators 40-16.
In Florida's past 14 games, it has outshot its opponents in 10 of them.
"We've been real patient and soon the goals are going to go in,'' Jagr said. "We know how we can play. It's pretty good. When we need to, we need to start scoring.''
-- Jagr had plenty of jokes after a scary moment in the first period Tuesday in which he hit the ice in a pool of blood after being smashed in the mouth by the errant stick of Ottawa's Alex Chiasson.
"It'll be a dentist Christmas,'' he quipped.

 

Jagr supposedly also told Gallant he planned to sell the four teeth left on the ice on eBay. After the game, he told reporters the loss of his teeth actually "increased my speed" and helped him on his coast-to-coast breakaway in the final seconds of overtime.
On Twitter, Jagr wrote to Santa asking for "new teeth for Christmas," because it would "be tough to eat good" and indulge over the holiday.
"At least I don't get fat,'' he wrote.
-- The 2016 World Junior Championship starts Saturday in Helsinki with the Panthers having four of their prospects playing.
Lawson Crouse, Florida's top pick in the June draft, and goalie Samuel Montembeault (third round pick in 2015) will play for Team Canada.
Juho Lammikkko, who was a third round pick in 2014, will represent Finland while Denis Malgin (fourth round, 2015) will represent Switzerland.
-- The Panthers reconvene after their time off with an open practice Saturday at 11 a.m. at the IceDen in Coral Springs.

 

December 22, 2015

WRAP IT UP: Panthers dominate, settle for 2-1 shootout win over Craig Anderson and the Sens ... Anderson makes 39 saves but can't stop Brandon Pirri and Sasha Barkov in shootout

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
With just one point separating them in the standings, Tuesday's game between the Panthers and visiting Senators was expected to be close.
If not for Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson and some questionable officiating, it may not have been.
Although the Senators stole a point by surviving until overtime, the Panthers kept their winning streak going with a 2-1 shootout victory at BB&T Center.
Florida goes into its Christmas break winners of five consecutive games and 11 of its past 14 and pulled into a virtual tie with Boston for second place in the Atlantic Division and are a point away from first place.
"We definitely played a good game, but it's a scary game there at 1-0 and then it's 1-1,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "We held our composure and the guys found a way to get the two points.''
Ottawa was one of the teams to beat Florida during this recent hot streak and, as was the case in New Jersey last week, the Panthers got some measure of revenge on Tuesday.
Anderson, the former Panthers goalie who continues to make his home in South Florida, has been terrific in the past against the Panthers and had to be again Tuesday.
The Panthers were all over Anderson and the Senators through the first two periods yet only held a 1-0 lead going into the third.
Anderson stopped 13 shots in the first period then faced 17 in the second. Anderson made 39 saves overall but gave up a pair in the shootout to automatics Brandon Pirri and Sasha Barkov for Florida to earn the extra point.
"We had 40 shots and I think I had six of them,'' Barkov said. "Overall, it's good to win. This is a team we wanted to beat, we're in the playoff race with them. It's good to win. [Anderson] was really good, excellent. I don't have the words to say he was so good."
Corban Knight, who has been strong since being recalled from the minors last week, gave Florida a 1-0 lead midway through the second when he sliced through the Ottawa defense and beat Anderson with a slick wrister from the left circle.
The Panthers had more to deal with than just Anderson, however, as the officiating crew of Jean Hebert and Kyle Rehman missed a pair of high-sticks that would have given Florida two four-minute power plays.
The crew also blew a whistle early on a scrum in front of the net where Aaron Ekblad scored. Ekblad went up to the glass to celebrate a goal that never was, drawing the ire of Ottawa tough Chris Neil.
"It's tough. Sometimes you get upset, but they missed them. They came up and said 'we didn't see it, so we can't call it','' Gallant said. "They are good guys and do the best they can. They said they missed it, you move on."

 

On the first missed call, Reilly Smith appeared to be snared by Patrick Wiercioch. The second was much more serious as Jaromir Jagr caught the blade from Alex Chiasson's stick right in the mouth.
Jagr hit the ground, blood pouring from his mouth with team trainer Dave Zenobi offering assistance.
Jagr eventually got up and went to the bench, returning to the ice for his next shift minus a few front teeth and an even bigger smile than usual.
As he skated back, Jagr tapped Chiasson on the helmet then told Gallant his mouth was fine.
Jagr had a chance to win it late in overtime when he went coast-to-coast on a breakaway, the puck floating off his stick at the last moment for Anderson's final save of the evening.
"I lost some teeth but I gained some speed as you saw on that breakaway,'' said Jagr, who said he lost four teeth. "I don't want to hear I'm slow anymore. I had the breakaway. I don't think I'll have another one for 10 years."
Despite being outplayed and badly outshot, Ottawa tied the score early in the third on its second power play of the night after Erik Karlsson's long shot was deflected in by Mark Stone.
Ottawa took just two shots on goal in the third period.
"I thought we played a really good game, could have had three or four goals easily,'' said Roberto Luongo, who made 15 saves. "They got a lucky bounce but we found a way. Guys are confident in themselves and the way we're playing. We believe we can win every game.''
-- Dave Bolland returned to the Panthers on Monday and his gear is back in the team locker room but he may not play right away.
Bolland suffered some sort of injury while on assignment to Florida's AHL team in Portland, Maine.
General manager Dale Tallon would only say that Bolland is being evaluated for a 'lower body' injury.
-- With the Christmas holiday coming up, the Panthers will be off until a scheduled practice Saturday morning at 11 a.m. at the IceDen in Coral Springs.
Florida resumes its homestand Sunday against Columbus.

 

December 21, 2015

PANTHERS HAVE GOALS TO GO: Increased scoring helping the Panthers find victory ... Florida has won 10 of 13 and four consecutive going into Tuesday's game with Ottawa ... Dave Bolland recalled; Alex Petrovic activated

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
At this time last year, the Panthers were one of the lowest scoring teams in the NHL.
Florida was averaging two goals per game and most nights needed a terrific performance from its goaltender to win.
These days, the Panthers are still getting great goaltending yet are scoring goals as well.
Florida is 12-0-1 this year when scoring three goals or more.
"I think it makes my job a little easier,'' Roberto Luongo said Monday, a day after the Panthers scored four regulation goals in a 5-4 shootout win over Vancouver.
"This is a low-scoring league and when you get three, four or five goals, we need to make sure we win those. It doesn't happen very often. It's nice to see guys getting it done. It starts with defense, but we're scoring with a balanced lineup. That makes it harder on the opposition. We like our group in here. We have four lines contributing.''
The Panthers came into Monday holding the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference while being two points back of Boston for second place in the Atlantic Division and three behind Montreal for first.
"You don't want to, but you look at the standings every day,'' coach Gerard Gallant said.
In Florida's recent winning surge in which it has won 10 of 13 and its past four, scoring has been up.
Over its past 13 games, the Panthers are averaging 2.7 goals per game, a huge improvement over last season.
During its four-game winning streak, Florida is averaging four goals.
Overall, the Panthers are 13th in the league by averaging 2.6 goals per game.
At this point last year, the Panthers' power play was ranked 27th. On Monday, it was 12th in the league, clicking at close to a 20 percent success rate.
New additions Jaromir Jagr (he came to the team last February) and Reilly Smith have definitely helped things out.
Those two lead the team with a combined 21 goals.
"We don't play a real risky game, up-and-down trying to outgun the other team,'' said Jaromir Jagr, who is a goal behind Smith for the team lead with 10.
"We play with structure and our game is cycling the puck, create scoring chances in the offensive zone. Teams change strategy on you and you have to find a way.''
A big reason for Florida's increased offensive production is its improved defensive play. The Panthers are generating turnovers by using their speed to pick off the puck. Once Florida has possession, it doesn't give it up very easily.
"Our young kids are getting better,'' Gallant said. "We have some kids sprinkled through the lineup and we have more scoring through it. It's really important. You can't leave it to one line. The team has to do it and guys are getting better.''
Possession in the offensive zone is up this year, and scoring is much more spread out.
Last year at this time, the Panthers had one 10-goal scorer in Nick Bjugstad with only Jimmy Hayes (seven) close by.
This season, the Panthers have three players with 10 goals (Smith, Jagr and Vincent Trocheck) and five others -- Aaron Ekblad, Sasha Barkov, Jussi Jokinen, Brandon Pirri and Bjugstad -- with seven or more.
"Our goal is to be able to win games, even if it's like Carolina and it's 2-0,'' Jonathan Huberdeau said. "Scoring power play goals has been huge for us. We added some scoring and that has helped. We have a few guys over 10 goals and that's good for us. Guys are working hard.''
-- Bjugstad has been out the past month with migraines but has started skating again and worked out Monday before practice.
General manager Dale Tallon told SiriusXM radio Monday that Bjugstad could return in the next week.
-- Center Dave Bolland's trip to the minors is over after the Panthers brought him back from the AHL Monday. Gallant said Bolland will not play Tuesday.
Florida also activated defenseman Alex Petrovic off the injured list and returned Dylan Olsen and center Rocco Grimaldi to its AHL team in Portland, Maine.
Derek MacKenzie and Petrovic return to the lineup Tuesday.
"Everything has come along well, have been skating on it the past week,'' said Petrovic, who missed three weeks with an injured foot.
Tuesday: Senators at Panthers
When, where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640, WMNA 1210
Series: Ottawa leads 47-30-3
Scouting report: The is the second of five meetings between Florida and Ottawa with the Sens taking the opener 4-2 two weeks ago. Ottawa has lost four of six since and are a point back of the Panthers in the standings.

 

 

 

December 20, 2015

BARKOV DOES IT AGAIN: Panthers win fourth consecutive game 5-4 over Vancouver in a shootout ... Sasha Barkov pots game-winner ... Jaromir Jagr now alone for fourth all-time ... Cats getting healthier

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Jaromir Jagr achieved another milestone then smiled as he watched linemate Sasha Barkov burn yet another goalie with a spectacular shootout goal.
Yeah, it was just another Sunday for the Panthers.
Jagr's goal, which put him alone in fourth place on the NHL's all-time list, and Barkov's highlight-stealer helped lead the Panthers to a 5-4 victory over visiting Vancouver.
"Great win,'' said coach Gerard Gallant, whose team has won 10 of its past 13.
"It was a great game where we created a lot but gave up way too much. ... We got the two points, played a better second half in the third and it was a great win for the fans. Those kind of games sell tickets for sure."
Florida's fourth consecutive victory puts it just three points back of Montreal for first place in the Atlantic Division and kept the Panthers in playoff position for another day.
Although it's only December, the Panthers' solid play is building plenty of confidence.
The Panthers play host to Ottawa on Tuesday in their final game before the Christmas break. Florida plays its next five in Sunrise, not leaving again until January.
"We found a way to win and we'll take it,'' said Shawn Thornton, whose first goal of the season tied the game at 1 in the opening period. "We have to keep being consistent here. It's a long season, a long time between now and April. But we know we have a good team.''
Florida didn't play the strong defense it had shown on its recent 3-1 road trip as Vancouver had numerous chances and held the lead twice early.
Down 1-0, Florida got a rare goal from Thornton after he buried the puck after Vancouver's Ben Hutton put it on his stick with goalie Ryan Miller out of position.
"It has been a while,'' Thornton joked.
Trailing 2-1 late in the period, Jagr camped out in front of Miller and drilled a great pass from Barkov to tie the score with 11.5 seconds left before the first break.
The goal put Jagr ahead of Marcel Dionne for fourth all-time and puts him nine back of Brett Hull for third.
"The goal is sweet but the win is even sweeter,'' Jagr said. "We didn't give up, waited for the perfect opportunity to win the game.''
Florida grabbed the lead twice in the second on goals from Vincent Trocheck and Aaron Ekblad only to see the Canucks tie it up in pretty quick fashion.
The Panthers played a much better defensive game in the third and had chances to take the lead again only Miller was strong with 38 saves.
Florida was all over Miller in overtime, taking eight shots in the 3-on-3 session but even a brief 4-on-3 chance late couldn't get the Panthers a coveted overtime win.
In the shootout, Brandon Pirri was automatic again and knocked Miller out of the game with what the team is calling simple cramps.
Former Panthers goalie Jacob Markstrom -- who went to Vancouver in the Roberto Luongo trade in 2014 -- came in and stopped Huberdeau before Barkov came on.
Barkov, as creative a shootout specialist Florida has ever had, charged in on Markstrom then bounced the puck off his skate, tapped his stick on the ice to get Markstrom moving left before backhanding a shot top shelf.
"Barkov made a great move, a special move,'' Jagr said with a grin.
"I told him I'm done with him. I teach him everything I can and he hasn't taught me anything.''
Luongo (30 saves) made one last stop on Sven Baertschi and the rubber rats began to hit the ice.
The win was Luongo's first in Sunrise against his former teammates since coming back in 2014.
"It's always great to win, get two points but it was a tough game,'' Barkov said. "When you score in the shootout, you have confidence to try new moves. Now I have to learn something else. I don't have anything more.''
-- Jagr on his goal: "It is special and it tells me I played with a lot of great players. That makes it a lot easier for me. I started in Pittsburgh with great players and I'm going to end here with great players."
-- Gallant said Nick Bjugstad has been skating the past few days but will not return until after the break.
Bjugstad has been out since Nov. 30 due to migraines and just returned to the ice.
-- Derek MacKenzie and Alex Petrovic have been medically cleared to play and one -- if not both -- will be back Tuesday.

 

December 19, 2015

STRONG IN NET: Panthers win with Roberto Luongo or Al Montoya ... Big homestand kicks off Sunday v Vancouver

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
RALEIGH, N.C.
When it comes to which goaltender he's going to play each night, Florida coach Gerard Gallant is in an enviable position.
It's nice to be able to choose between Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya, especially lately.
"Montoya has been great all year, it has been great to see him go in there and battle and play hard,'' said Gallant, whose team is ranked third in the league by allowing 2.3 goals per game.
"He has stepped up every time he has played for us."
Over the past few weeks, the Panthers have won nine of their past 12 games.
Florida's goalies -- Luongo has made nine of the starts -- have surrendered just two goals or fewer in its wins.
In eight of the wins, the Panthers have given up a goal or less.
Of Florida's past three wins, Luongo and Montoya have given up two goals -- one each to the Islanders and Devils. Luongo notched his second shutout of the season Friday against the Carolina Hurricanes.
"The guys are playing well in front of us and that makes our jobs easier,'' said Luongo, who has given up 12 goals in seven games this month.
"Montoya has done an unreal job for us this year which makes my job easier. I know I can take a few more breaks and know he'll play big for us. Things are going well right now but we have a long road ahead of us. It's fun playing hockey now.''
Sunday, Luongo faces Vancouver -- the team Florida traded Luongo to in 2006 before getting him back from the Canucks in 2014 -- at BB&T Center.
"We just have find a way to be ready to play,'' Luongo said. "It's always special, I played with a lot of those guys for many years. It's always a fun game. At the end of the day, it's a game we want to win.''
Montoya had an inconsistent season last year with the Panthers but has been strong in his second season.
In his past four starts, Montoya has given up one goal in each.


"I like my game, I've worked for this and I've had a lot of help surrounding me,'' Montoya said. "I feed off of Luongo, feed off this team. I try to give us a chance to win every time I'm in net.''
-- The Panthers are going to try and continue their strong road play when the return home Sunday.
Florida will play its next six games at home, not returning to the road until visiting Buffalo on Jan. 5.
In their previous long stay at home last month, the Panthers won three of seven. With wins in nine of their past 12 -- including eight of 10 on the road -- the Panthers feel they are in a much better place now.
"We're playing much better hockey,'' captain Willie Mitchell said. "If you look at our body of work, the games we lost, we could have won. I think we're playing well and our group knows that and knows what it takes. We have a better idea of what our identity is.''
Sunday: Canucks at Panthers
When, where: 4 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; 560 WQAM, 640 WMEN, WMNA 1210.
Series: Vancouver leads 13-8-6
Scouting report: Roberto Luongo is 1-1-1 in three starts against the Canucks since rejoining the Panthers in 2014. His only win in that stretch came in Vancouver last January.

 

December 18, 2015

ROAD WINS: Panthers end another successful road trip with 2-0 win over host Hurricanes ... Florida has won eight of past 10 on road; nine of past 12 overall

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
RALEIGH, N.C.
Erik Gudbranson called Florida's game Friday night "boring" and he wasn't wrong.
Despite it being the hockey equivalent of a large shot of NyQuil, coach Gerard Gallant seemed to love every minute of it as his Panthers continued their hot tear with a 2-0 win over the host Hurricanes.
Florida's third consecutive victory gave them wins in eight of its past 10 road games. Overall, the Panthers have won nine of 12 to stay in the playoff conversation.
"We played three games in four nights and play again Sunday so we had to play smart,'' Jaromir Jagr said.
"We knew we wouldn't have the legs, so we had to stick together. You have to find a way to win. I told the kids it was like a playoff game. All you need is one chance but take advantage. They shut you down all game, but take advantage."
The first two periods were a non-prescription cure for insomnia as both teams skated around and fumbled the puck on bad ice blamed on N.C. State's winter graduation ceremony held a few hours prior to the puck dropping.
The third didn't offer up much early, but the Panthers -- playing their ninth road game in the past few weeks -- were happy to keep things simple, or as Roberto Luongo echoed Gudbranson, boring was good.
"We see how the standings are, there are a lot of good points, so we're just trying to accumulate points,'' said Luongo, who recorded his 70th career shutout and second this season by stopping 24 shots.
"The shutout is nice, but we're all about the win. We're really starting to play well as a five-man unit, not giving up odd-man rushes. That's where it begins, the biggest difference for our team right now.''
Florida took the lead for good 4:09 into the third when Jonathan Huberdeau made a great play holding the puck off the boards and looked toward the net.
Huberdeau had a future Hall of Famer in Jagr around the cage as well as defenseman Willie Mitchell -- who came into the game with no goals.
Huberdeau didn't pass to Jagr.
"And he chose Willie Mitchell,'' Jagr said with a laugh.
"It's time to retire. Bye. I'm done after this one.''
Mitchell flashed to the right side of the net and one-timed the perfect pass from Huberdeau, beating Cam Ward.
"He made a great pass like he always does,'' said Mitchell, who hadn't scored since doing it against the Hurricanes last spring.
"I don't think the puck hit the ice again, it was right on my stick. It was nice to score again, I don't score a ton. ... I knew it was big when I scored it and that felt good. If you don't score a lot of them, you want them to be big ones.''
Florida continued to play lock down hockey as Luongo pushed back whatever the Hurricanes had to offer.
In the final seconds, Reilly Smith blocked a shot then fired the puck into an empty net for the final goal of the night.
Smith extended his team lead in goals as the empty netter was his 11th.
Smith, who came to the Panthers in a July trade with Boston, scored on each game of the four-game (3-1-0) road trip which started with a loss to the Bruins last Saturday.
"There wasn't much offense so both goalies had to make some key saves,'' said Gallant, whose team has won five consecutive over the Hurricanes dating to last season.
"Louie was a real plus for us. Big Willie got his first of the year and it was a great play. Good for him. It's good to see. It was a real nice goal, a timely goal for us.''
-- Huberdeau continues to be one of the Panthers' team leaders in dishing out the puck as his pass to Mitchell was his 15th assist of the season.
Former Carolina winger Jussi Jokinen leads the Panthers with 16 assists.
-- The Panthers won both of their meetings with the Hurricanes in Raleigh this season and have won their past three at PNC Arena.
The season series between the two concludes in the final game of the regular season in Sunrise on April 9.

 

December 17, 2015

NEWARK NIGHTMARE ENDS FOR PANTHERS: Florida wins first in Newark since 2012 playoffs with 5-1 rout of Devils ... Al Montoya takes it easy, earns third consecutive win

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
NEWARK, N.J.
The Panthers exorcized some Prudential Center demons Thursday as they dominated play from start to finish in a 5-1 rout of the Devils.
Florida had lost eight consecutive games here dating to its Game 3 victory in the 2012 Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
The Panthers have won their past two by identical scores heading into Friday's game at Carolina and seven of their past nine road games.
Thursday's win also pulled Florida into a virtual tie with New Jersey for the final playoff spot in the east.
"It's good to come in here and play real well,'' said coach Gerard Gallant, whose team has won eight of 11 yet lost here 4-2 less than two weeks ago.
"The last game here we played a strong second and third but the first one cost us. I thought [Thursday] we played the full 60. ... We talked about always being close with these guys and now we're tied. We're in the race and we're battling, just trying to get points.''
Thursday, the Panthers brought a strong game to Newark and battered goalie Cory Schneider all while backup Al Montoya continued to shine when given the chance.
Montoya's 15 saves earned him his third consecutive win although his bid for his first shutout since New Year's Eve in 2013 was busted when Sergey Kalinin scored with 6:22 remaining.
"I wasn't sucking wind tonight, [aside] from a couple of chances, it was a solid, predictable game on our part,'' said Montoya, who came within a minute of shutting out Washington in his previous start last week.
"We kept the puck in their end, made them work. ... We knew what kind of game this was. They're right there with us and we needed to push. It was a huge statement for ourselves.''
Montoya didn't have much for much of the night Florida continued the dominant style it showed here 10 days prior.
In the final two periods of an eventual 4-2 loss to the Devils, the Panthers dictated the pace and dominated puck possession.
Thursday, the Panthers played the same style from the onset -- and took the only lead they needed midway through the first when Jussi Jokinen charged in on Schneider and buried his chance.
"We're having fun, and when you're winning, you enjoy coming to the rink,'' said Brandon Pirri, who scored early in the second.

 

"We're just enjoying the ride. We know how we have to play if we're going to be good. Guys are buying in. That's what it boils down to."
The Panthers, who had lost 10 of 14 to Devils, took a 2-0 lead into the first break when Dmitry Kulikov scored his first goal of the season by firing a wrister from the right circle past Schneider.
"We talked before the game that we're playing good, consistent hockey and we needed a good start,'' said Kulikov, who played perhaps his best game of the year as he was effective on both sides of the ice.
"We have been waking up in the middle of the first or second but we needed to start with a lot of pressure. Everyone is playing good right now and you can see it on the bench. Everyone is playing hard for the next guy.''
In the second, Florida took complete control when Pirri fed Logan Shaw, then jumped all over the rebound from Shaw's shot 2:44 into the period.
The Panthers made it 4-0 in the third when winger Reilly Smith continued his scoring tear by backhanding a loose puck through with 12:32 remaining.
Smith has scored goals in his past three games and four of his past five and became the first Florida to hit double digits in goals with his tenth.
"You try to keep those waves going,'' Smith said.
-- Roberto Luongo, who made 33 saves in Tuesday's win over the Islanders in Brooklyn, will be back in net Friday against the Hurricanes.
"Montoya's going to rest,'' Gallant quipped.
-- Jaromir Jagr returned to the lineup after missing Tuesday's game with the flu. Jagr assisted on Kulikov's goal and played 15 shifts.
Friday: Panthers at Hurricanes
When, where:
7 p.m.; PNC Arena, Raleigh, North Carolina
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640
Series: Carolina leads 54-42-11
Scouting report: Florida swept the season series for the first time in franchise history last year and won the opener at Raleigh 4-1 on Oct. 13 after Connor Brickley scored his first NHL goal in the third period. The Hurricanes are 4-2-1 this month.


 

 

December 16, 2015

BACK IN JERSEY: Panthers hope to keep up winning ways although Newark is rarely kind ... Jaromir Jagr returns to the ice ... Reilly Smith keeps on scoring

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
NEWARK, New Jersey -- After the Panthers lost their third consecutive game on Nov. 23, coach Gerard Gallant made some wholesale changes.
When the team came back to practice a few days later, Gallant had shuffled all four of his forward lines as well as his three defensive pairings.
The changes quickly paid dividends as Florida ended its losing streak with a shootout win against the Islanders.
Things have been going pretty good ever since.
The Panthers visit New Jersey Thursday night with wins in six of their past eight roads games -- one of the losses was to the Devils here on Dec. 6.
Since changing things up, Florida won five consecutive games and seven of the past 10. The Panthers came into Wednesday two points back of a playoff spot.
"We had a tough stretch there but we battled back from that and have been playing well,'' Gallant said after Wednesday's workout at Prudential Center.
"Definitely there was some concern when we went 3-6-3. We're back in and need to keep winning. I didn't think we were playing all that bad but we weren't getting points and it was getting frustrating. Sometimes you beat yourselves up.''
The Panthers are definitely playing with more confidence and have found success with a simplified game.
On Tuesday, the Panthers faced an Islanders team which hadn't lost in regulation in three weeks and despite all their injuries and illnesses, won 5-1.
Roberto Luongo was a big reason for Tuesday's success although so too was strong play from all four forward lines and a solid outing from Florida's six defensemen.
"I think we're confident in the way we're playing and feel we could have won the games we've lost,'' Willie Mitchell said. "I think we've become real connected as a group, a lot more predictable on the ice. There's a lot less running around out there. Everyone becomes faster.''
The Panthers are battling with New Jersey for playoff positioning in the Eastern Conference and felt they played well enough to win here a few weeks back.
Florida fell behind 2-0 before playing a strong 40 minutes only to come up short against goalie Cory Schneider and lose 4-2.
Since Gallant's restructuring, Florida has really only played poorly in one game but still had a chance to pull out a win Saturday in Boston.
"Either at home or on the road, I think we've been playing some good hockey,'' Erik Gudbranson said.
"We didn't feel like we played our game in Boston, but aside from that one, we've been coming out with the same mentality consistently. That's been positive for us. We had a couple games where we did things the right way. It cemented the fact that if we play that way, we'll be successful. We know how we have to play night in and night out.''
-- Jaromir Jagr missed Tuesday's game with the flu but was back at practice Wednesday.
Jagr said he was stuck in his hotel room for three days with the illness and appeared happy to be back on the ice working up a sweat. He said he'll be back in the lineup against the Devils.
"It was tough, three days of not doing anything,'' Jagr said. "I'm a little tired today. ... I'll play, I just needed to work out. My whole body is sore. I just need to be careful.''
-- Reilly Smith, who came to the Panthers in a deal with Boston for Jimmy Hayes in July, took over the team lead from Jagr with his ninth goal on Tuesday.
Smith has goals in three of his past four games and is on track to score 24 this season. Smith's career high is 20 goals scored with Boston two seasons ago.
"I knew what type of player he was but didn't know he was this good,'' Gallant said. "He has fit in good, is playing well with his teammates. He's a little better than I thought he was to be honest. He has skill and can score.''
Thursday: Panthers at Devils
When, Where: 7 p.m.; Prudential Center, Newark, New Jersey
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640
Series: New Jersey leads 52-28-7
Scouting report: The Devils thwarted Florida's hope for a franchise-record sixth consecutive road win with their 4-2 win here on Dec. 6. New Jersey, which beat Buffalo on Tuesday, hasn't won consecutive games in over a month.

 

December 15, 2015

HELLO BROOKLYN: Panthers make Barclays debut memorable with 5-1 win over Islanders ... Roberto Luongo keeps Panthers in it early, five goals in second and third to blow things open ... Dave Bolland demoted

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
BROOKLYN, New York -- The Panthers came into Tuesday's game underdogs against an Islanders team which hadn't lost in regulation in almost a month.
Factor in that the Panthers were missing perhaps their top offensive weapon and three of their opening night centers and the smart money was on the Islanders.
Florida still had Roberto Luongo and at times, that was enough.
With Luongo stopping 33 shots and Florida getting goals from all over its roster, the Panthers won their debut at Barclays Center 5-1 over the Islanders.
New York came into the night an NHL-best 8-0-2 in its previous 10 games. The Panthers have now beaten the Islanders twice in the past three weeks.
"It seems like no matter who we play, if they don't give us a chance to win, we're right there with them,'' said Vincent Trocheck, who gave the Panthers a commanding 4-1 lead early in the third.
"When we go out and play our game, we're a good team. This team, our culture here, is us coming together and not playing as individuals.''
The Panthers, missing Jaromir Jagr to the flu and three other centers to various maladies and assignments, looked rough from the start. For the first 18 minutes of the first, it was all Islanders as the Panthers didn't get their first shot off against Jaroslav Halak until midway through the period.
Luongo, however, was quite busy as he stopped 19 shots in the opening period helping the Panthers go in at the first break still scoreless.
"We were down a few boys and we weathered the storm in the first,'' said Luongo, who was awarded top star honors. "We came out in the second, got some goals, and it really gave us some confidence.''
Florida struck first early in the second with Reilly Smith -- who missed Monday's practice with the flu -- scoring on his team's fourth shot 1:51 into the period. Sasha Barkov, also on the sick list Monday, made it 2-0 with a pretty backhanded shot six minutes later.


"We got some momentum in the second and played a lot better after that,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "We played everyone, no one sat on the bench and we went four lines.''
The Islanders finally solved Luongo at 12:37 of the second, but the Panthers answered quickly after Aaron Ekblad made it 3-1 a mere 30 seconds later.
A number of fans started heading toward the subway station when Trocheck made it a three-goal game. Jonathan Huberdeau was awarded an empty net goal with 3:43 left for the final tally of the night.
"We found a way to get it done,'' Luongo said. "It's my job to make the saves, keep the boys in it. Then we found our legs in the second. That's part of being a team. Different guys have to step up at different times. Maybe they leaned on me in the first, but they got rewarded later with a strong performance.''
-- The Panthers sent struggling center Dave Bolland to their AHL team in Portland, Maine, in hopes he gets his game back on track.
Bolland, who is Florida's highest-paid forward at $5.5 million per season, has just one goal and five points in 25 games so far.
In the past few weeks, Bolland has been benched as well as being played on the wing on Florida's fourth line. In his past 11 games, Bolland has just two shots on goal.
"We want him to get back to what he was in 2010 and we both agree,'' said general manager Dale Tallon, who brought Bolland to Chicago when he was with the Blackhawks.
"We want him to get some confidence in the offensive side of the game. I think he hasn't played much hockey and the contract has become a burden. He's being extra cautious and he's lost a little bit of his mojo.''
Bolland wasn't placed on waivers and can stay with Portland for two weeks under his conditioning assignment. Bolland is being paid his full NHL salary and his cap hit continues to count against the Panthers.
"You want him to play better, work harder, compete harder and score some points,'' Gallant said. "This is just something to try and jump-start him I guess.''
-- Center Nick Bjugstad hasn't skated since leaving the Panthers practice in St. Louis on Nov. 30 after complaining of migraines Tallon said Tuesday.
Tallon said the mystery is what is causing them.
"We're testing for everything,'' Tallon said. "He was good today and I think he's day-to-day. We want to make sure he's 100 percent.. We're not going to mess with this.''