March 31, 2015

PAINFUL, COSTLY LOSS: Panthers give up late goal, watch Bruins gain playoff ground with 3-2 win ... Jaromir Jagr injures hand, played in third

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

BOSTON -- As the lights flashed, the bass pumped and the home team celebrated, Roberto Luongo stayed down on his knees with his head hung low.
A shot from Milan Lucic had just zipped through Luongo's legs and into the back of the net, a dagger of a goal which realistically ended the Panthers' season.
Sure, Florida has five games left. But in order to make the playoffs, the Panthers needed to beat these Bruins on Tuesday night and Lucic's goal with 69 seconds left gave Boston a 3-2 victory.
Florida needed a win to come a bit closer to the Bruins yet Lucic landed Boston's knockout punch.
"We needed a win. That was it,'' Willie Mitchell said in soft, reserved tones.
"On to the next one, you know? We'll be playing our tails off doing everything we can to put points on the board. That's all we can control. On to the next one.''
A win in regulation would have pulled Florida within two points of the Bruins with five home games left -- including a date with Boston next week.
Instead, losing in regulation gave Florida no points and Boston a pair of them as it opened its lead on the Panthers to six points.
Since Florida loses the first tie-breaker, it's really seven points out with only 10 points available. Ottawa remains three points back of the Bruins and returned to three up on the Panthers.
"We still have a mathematical chance,'' coach Gerard Gallant said.
"It's probably going to take five wins. Can we do it? We just played five outstanding games on the road, went 2-2-1 and could have won all five. We're going to work hard, battle and see what happens.''
Luongo kept the Panthers in the game with one key stop after another.
Yet up 2-1 in the third, Luongo lost sight of a long shot from Ryan Spooner that David Pastrnak appeared to get a piece of and tie the score with 10:13 left.
Later, with the game seemingly headed to overtime, Lucic pulled the puck back into the Florida zone and sent a wrist shot from 25 feet out that was the biggest goal the Panthers allowed this season.
"I'm disappointed in myself, felt like I let my teammates down there tonight,'' said Luongo, who ended with 25 saves including an unbelievable blocker stop on a point blank shot from Carl Soderberg early in the third to keep it 2-1.
"I made some pretty big saves at the start of the third but there are no excuses for the last two. My job is to make saves. When I don't make them, I feel responsible. Those are goals that shouldn't go in.''
Florida had a final run at Tuukka Rask and the Bruins in the final minute when David Krejci took a penalty.
With Luongo on the bench, Florida had six skaters to four but couldn't connect.
Boston has now won eight straight against the Panthers at TD Garden and hasn't lost to Florida here since 2011.
"We came out in the third and sat back which is not what we wanted to do,'' Gallant said. "They were in their building and they really came hard in the third period.''
Boston led 1-0 after the first period but as has been the case throughout this five-game road trip, Florida was terrific in the second.
Brandon Pirri tied the score less than a minute into the period on a power play bomb from the right circle.
Later in the period, Brad Boyes picked off a mishandled puck by Matt Bartkowski and was off thee races, driving in on Rask and beating him to give Florida its first lead. It wouldn't last as long as it hoped.
"There were two things we couldn't do,'' Boyes said, "and that's sit back or take penalties and give them opportunities. We did both.''
Although the Panthers played decent in the third, they didn't do enough to get this one done.
It will be another long summer for South Florida's hockey team.
"We're not ones to feel sorry for ourselves,'' Pirri said. "We're going to play these final five games and if we play hard, maybe we'll get some luck.''
Jaromir Jagr got slashed in the hand during the second and spent the rest of the period in the training room.
Jagr had two mangled fingers taped together and returned for the third. Gallant said the fingers aren't broken and Jagr should be well enough to play Thursday against visiting Carolina.
-- Pirri scored his 21st goal of the season in his 100th NHL game.
Pirri has played in 65 games with the Panthers since making his Florida debut in Boston last March after being acquired in a deal with the Blackhawks.
-- Dave Bolland's empty net goal with 55.5 seconds remaining Sunday not only sealed Florida's win over the Senators but finally gave the Panthers a shorthanded goal.
The Panthers were the only team in the league not to score at least one goal while killing off a penalty.
Bolland's goal came with goalie Craig Anderson on the bench as Ottawa sent six skaters against Dan Ellis.




March 30, 2015

A TERRIFIC TRIO: Panthers head to Boston with Jaromir Jagr, Jonathan Huberdeau and Sasha Barkov leading the way ... Showdown with Bruins huge if Florida is to make up ground ... Luongo probable for Tuesday

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
OTTAWA -- The Panthers enter their final road game of the season Tuesday knowing a victory over the Bruins is essential to staying in the hunt for a spot in the playoffs.
Florida does so with one of the hottest forward lines in the entire league.
The trio of Jaromir Jagr, Jonathan Huberdeau and Sasha Barkov have given the Panthers an offensive spark necessary in keeping them in the postseason conversation.
"From the first day [Jagr] got here they've played really well with those two kids,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "They aren't just a good line for this team, but a real good line anywhere in the NHL. That's what we've needed every night.''
Since this final five-game trip started last week in Tampa, the trio has six goals and 10 assists.
In Sunday's win over Ottawa, Jagr had a pair of pretty goals off primary assists from Huberdeau.
On Monday, the NHLPA gave its player of the week award to Huberdeau after he recorded a pair of goals with four assists in Florida's four games last week.
"We're all playing well right now and we just have to keep it going,'' Huberdeau said Sunday evening.
"I don't why things are going the way they are other than we just keep working for each other every game. When we're scoring, we seem to win.''
Jagr hasn't been secretive in his admiration for his new linemates.
Although he's older (43) than both Huberdeau (21) and Barkov (19) combined, the three have been inseparable on the ice since general manager Dale Tallon snagged Jagr in a deal with the Devils last month.
Not only have the three played together exclusively during games, but they spend a lot of time during -- and following -- practice working on different parts of their game.
In the postgame locker room, Barkov and Huberdeau are often seen huddling with Jagr talking about ways to improve upon what they did just moments before.
“I've said it before. Nobody really gives these kids credit,'' Jagr said.
"They’re so talented and they’re going to surprise the league in two years. They might just win the Cup the way they play. You know they’re going to get better and better. They don’t even have to do anything and they’re going to get better.''
Said Huberdeau: "He doesn't have to care about us, what we do, but he does. He's been trying to help us. Every day he helps us. This has been great.
The Jagr affect has been a positive one for the Panthers. Florida has won nine of the 14 games he's been in the lineup.
Since Jagr's arrival, Huberdeau and Barkov have nine goals and 26 points between them; Jagr has four goals and eight assists.
"I've really enjoyed the games I've played here,'' Jagr said. "I think I can help the young kids and by the way they play, they can help me. They've surprised me in how talented they are. Even though they're very young, they make plays like they've been in the league 10 years. I had no idea.''
The Panthers are 2-1-1 on this road trip as they head into Boston for the second of three showdowns with the Bruins before the end of the regular season.
Florida beat Boston 2-1 in a shootout on March 21 to snap a nine-game losing streak to the Bruins.
The Panthers likely need to win both of these final games against Boston to have any chance at making the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
Boston holds a four-point lead over the Panthers for the final playoff spot. Since Florida loses the first tie-breaker (regulation and overtime win total) against the Bruins, the Panthers are realistically five points out of eighth.
"We're four points back but still don't control our own destiny because we need to make up five,'' defenseman Brian Campbell said.
"We play them twice and it's an absolute must to win these games. But this is fun. This is a great time to be playing meaningful hockey.''
-- Gallant said Sunday that he expected goalie Roberto Luongo to return to the lineup Tuesday.
Luongo didn't play in Ottawa because his injured shoulder tightened up after Saturday's overtime loss in Montreal.
"It was a back-to-back and those are tough on any goalie,'' said Ellis, who made 25 saves in Sunday's win.
"This gave him a chance to get a little rest and hopefully come back even stronger. We were able too get the win and he was able to rest and recover -- enjoy a spa day, maybe.''
When, where: 7 p.m.; TD Garden, Boston
TV/Radio: FSFL; WSBR 740
Series: Boston leads 42-33-6
Noteworthy: Florida hasn't won at the Garden since 2011. Boston, after going on a six-game losing streak, has won two straight. The final meeting between the two is April 9 in Sunrise -- the second-to-last game of the regular season.


March 29, 2015

TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS: Panthers top Senators, still four points back of Bruins

Panthers 4 Senators 2
By Darren Desaulniers

The Florida Panthers took care of their own business Sunday with a 4-2 win over the Ottawa Senators in what was essentially a must win.

“It was a big game for us obviously. It’s a tight race and we want to stay in that race so we had to win, so we’re staying around,” head coach Gerrard Gallant said.

The Panthers kept their playoff hopes alive and moved to within a single point of the Senators, who occupy ninth place in the Eastern Conference.

The Boston Bruins, who will host the Panthers Tuesday and currently hold down the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, remain four points up on the Panthers following a 2-1 over the Carolina Hurricanes Sunday.

“We can’t worry about that we can only worry about our game. We’re right there, we’ve got six games left and we want to stay in the race and obviously the next game in Boston is a huge game,” Gallant said.

Sunday was also huge for the Panthers as they played the fourth game in a five-game trip, their last road trip of the season.

Jaromir Jagr had a pair of goals, including the winner 14 minutes into the third period. After drawing Senators netminder Craig Anderson out of the net with a fake shot, Jagr scored his second goal of the game on a wraparound to give the Panthers a 3-1 lead.

“It’s our line’s job to score goals and luckily we did it. This was a Game 7 for us and now we have to get ready for the Next Game 7 against Boston,” said Jagr, who offered up a lot of praise for the young talent on the team.

“It said it before that nobody really gives these kids credit. They’re so talented and they’re going to surprise the league in two years and they might win the cup the way they play. You know they’re going to get better and better. They don’t even have to do anything and they’re going to get better,” Jagr said

Jussi Jokinen and Dave Bolland, into an empty net, also scored for the Panthers, who also got two assists from Bolland and Jonathan Huberdeau. They also got 25 saves from Dan Ellis.

“You don’t want to get too stressed out. We knew it was a big game but we just tried to have fun with it. Now it’s on to Boston and we have to try to get two points and not let them get one. It’s going to be crazy in Boston so we have to keep going,” Huberdeau said.

The Panthers came storming out of the gate and in the first 10 minutes held an 11-2 edge in shots although the game was scoreless through the first period.

“I thought we came out of the gate real good in the first 10 minutes and that was real important for our club. Dan made some great saves and I thought he was outstanding. He didn’t know he was going to play until about 12 o’clock today,” Gallant said.

Jagr opened the scoring at 7:36 of the second period when he cut to the front of the net and beat Anderson through the legs with a shot from the hash marks.

That goal came with Senators defenceman Eric Gryba in the penalty box for interference. Gryba was again in the box, this time for roughing, when Jokinen scored at 15:49 to give the Panthers a 2-0 lead.

Jokinen was in the slot when he took a pass from Dave Bolland and fired a shot past the glove hand of Anderson.

Erik Karlsson and Jean Gabriel Pageau were able to beat Ellis in the third, but Bolland’s empty net goal sealed the deal.

PICKING UP SOME POINTS: Panthers get another strong start from Dan Ellis, old-school goals from Jaromir Jagr and beat Senators 4-2

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

OTTAWA -- Say what you will about the Panthers but they're never boring.
Sunday's 4-2 victory over the host Senators pulled Florida one point closer to ninth place. A win by Boston kept the Panthers four points back of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with a big meeting with the Bruins coming up Tuesday.
"It was a big win obviously and we had to win to keep hanging around,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "We’re staying around. .-.-. We’ve got six games left and we want to stay in the race. Obviously the next game in Boston is huge.''
Florida snapped a nine-game losing streak to the Bruins on March 21 but haven't won in Boston since 2011.
"This was a Game 7 for us and now we have to get ready for the next Game 7 in Boston,'' said Jaromir Jagr, whose scored a pair of highlight goals.
Although Jagr will get much of the glory for Sunday's win, Florida wouldn't have pulled to within a point of the Senators in the standings if not for a standup performance from backup goalie Dan Ellis.
Gallant said after Saturday's overtime loss in Montreal that Roberto Luongo would play Sunday but his injured shoulder tightened up after the game.
Plans had to be changed.
Ellis was told he could start in the morning; a few hours before the puck dropped, it was made official.
"I try not to worry about the pressure, I've been up here for a while and I'm enjoying it,'' said Ellis, who is 4-2-1 since being recalled when Luongo was initially hurt March 3.
"This was a big atmosphere with a full building and a lot on the line. It was fun. We played great.''
Sunday, Ellis held down the fort as Florida gave him a few two-goal lead thanks to power play goals from Jagr and Jussi Jokinen in the second period.
Jagr made it 3-1 in the third with a goal reminiscent of the ones he scored 20 years ago. Dave Bolland ended things with an empty net goal in the final minute.
"I went to church before the game. I didn't think I still had it,'' said Jagr, 43, who pulled Craig Anderson out of the crease, whipped around the cage and tucked the puck into an empty net.
"I was surprised myself.''
Florida has played Boston and Ottawa -- teams directly in front -- in the past week or so and won both.
That gives this team confidence it can win its final two against the Bruins (Tuesday and at home on April 9) as it continues a desperate climb into the postseason.
"We knew we needed the two points with another big one coming up,'' said Jonathan Huberdeau, who was instrumental in both of Jagr's goals.
"We're just trying to have fun with it. It's fun being in the playoff push.''
Defenseman Steven Kampfer got back into the lineup Sunday but not in the position he figured. Kampfer was informed in the morning that he would be jumping up to the Panthers' fourth forward line.
Gallant benched veteran Brad Boyes -- he hasn't scored in eight games -- and moved Scottie Upshall up to the third line.
"I just tried to use my speed to get pucks in and get them out,'' Kampfer said. "I played one game at forward with [Shawn] Thornton in Boston and it was funny because I was sitting with him when I was told."
Said Gallant: "I thought he was great. He kept things simple. I really liked him.''
-- Bolland's goal with 55.5 seconds remaining not only sealed Florida's win but finally gave the Panthers their first shorthanded goal of the season -- the final team to get one.
-- Anderson, who spent three seasons with the Panthers from 2006-09, lost two of three starts against Florida this year.
Anderson came into the season 10-2-0 against the Panthers.
-- Ottawa fans had to be warned not to throw garbage onto the ice on two separate occasions. No delay of game penalties were called.
-- University of Minnesota senior Kyle Rau signed with the Panthers and will report to the team's AHL affiliate in San Antonio. Rau was a third round pick of Florida in 2011.


March 28, 2015

TALK LATER: Panthers, Jaromir Jagr to talk contract extension once season concludes ... Nick Bjugstad 'couldn't tie skates' before back surgery

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
MONTREAL -- Florida general manager Dale Tallon said he met with Peter Svoboda, the agent for Jaromir Jagr and expressed the team's desire to sign the pending free agent for next season.
Tallon said he and Svoboda spoke about a number of things and that a contract for Jagr isn't forthcoming with the team focusing on its playoff push.
"This is too important a time; we'll get to it when time is right,'' Tallon said.
"We'll talk after the season. .-.-. He has interest [in staying] but is a free agent on July 1. He'll make up his mind when he makes up his mind. From what I've seen and what has gone on, it would be tremendous to have him back here.''
-- Tallon said center Nick Bjugstad got the opinion of three specialists before deciding to have back surgery on Friday in Minneapolis.
Bjugstad and his family decided to have the procedure for what Tallon called a herniated disk in Minnesota so he would be at home for recovery.
The injury initially happened in Florida's previous visit to Montreal last month and Bjugstad continued to play through the pain until he couldn't do it any longer and left last Saturday's game against the Bruins in the third period.
"He showed a lot of heart, wouldn't take himself out of the lineup,'' Tallon said, "even though he had a hard time tying his skates.''


A TOUGH POINT FOR FLORIDA: Canadiens cash in on OT power play, top Panthers 3-2 ... Senators lose to Toronto in OT setting up Sunday's date in Ottawa

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

MONTREAL -- Moments after Toronto did the Panthers a gigantic favor by beating Ottawa in overtime Saturday night, Montreal got a little gift of its own.

A questionable high sticking call on Vincent Trocheck in overtime led to a Montreal goal and a 3-2 win over Florida at Bell Centre.
The Panthers stayed three points back of the Senators in the playoff race as both got a point in their overtime losses. Boston picked up two points on both after beating the Rangers.
Florida sure would have liked to get that extra one point especially since it visits the Senators on Sunday evening.
As big as Saturday's game was, Sunday may be even more important.
Goalie Roberto Luongo will get the start.
"We just have to forget about this one. Ottawa is going to be huge,'' Jonathan Huberdeau said.
Florida didn't get much love from the officials, getting one power play as the home team scored twice on its four chances with the man advantage.
After Max Pacioretti scored the game-winner seven seconds after Trocheck hit the penalty box, Florida coach Gerard Gallant followed the officials off the ice and into the Zamboni tunnel.
One official was seen gestering to Gallant to head back toward his exit but instead he kept going with the referees. General manager Dale Tallon came down from the press gondola with plenty of colorful yet unprintable quotes.
"I didn't say much, it was just tough for us to get a power play,'' Gallant said.
"I thought we battled hard, played hard and to get just one power play is disappointing. The call [on Trocheck] was probably the [right] call, but when you don't call it all night that's disappointing.''
Montreal, which locked up a playoff spot with the win, took a 1-0 lead in the first before Sasha Barkov brought Florida back with a pair of pretty goals.
The first, coming 6:09 into the second, came off a rush between himself, Jaromir Jagr and Huberdeau. Barkov corralled the puck from Huberdeau, deked left before backhanding a shot over Carey Price's shoulder.
Eight minutes later, Barkov took a feed from Huberdeau in the slot and sent a softer offering that found its way home.
"We deserved the two points,'' Barkov said. "We have a big one [Sunday] and we need to win these games. We're playing pretty great. I think we have good chance to make the playoffs.''
Montreal tied it just over a minute later and the two played a scoreless third with both Luongo (looking for his 400th NHL win in his hometown) and Price making one good save after another.
-- Defenseman Erik Gudbranson was back in the lineup -- he bodyslammed Brendan Gallagher to the ice in the first period -- after being benched for a poor game in Tampa on Tuesday.
Shawn Thornton missed the game with a lower body injury.
When, where: 5 p.m.; Canadian Tire Centre, Ottawa
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560
Series: Senators lead 48-31-3
Noteworthy: With rookie goalie Andrew Hammond ailing after being hit last week, former Florida goalie Craig Anderson returned to action Saturday in Toronto. Anderson could start again Sunday -- he's 11-3-0 lifetime against the Panthers.



March 27, 2015

NICK BJUGSTAD OUT: Panthers leading scorer out for season after having lower back surgery Friday

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers run to the playoffs will come without their leading scorer after Nick Bjugstad had season-ending lower back surgery on Friday.
“After consulting with Nick and thoroughly evaluating the extent of his injury, we mutually felt it was important to have this procedure done as soon as possible,” Florida GM Dale Tallon said in a release put out by the team Friday night.
Bjugstad had 24 goals and 19 assists in 72 games this season for the Panthers, but had been hampered by a mysterious 'lower body' injury over the past few weeks.
In last Saturday's win over Boston, Bjugstad's shifts were limited before he determined he couldn't go any more.
Coach Gerard Gallant pulled Bjugstad from the game in the third period and he hasn't been on the ice since.
Bjugstad had his surgery at the Mayo Sports Clinic in his hometown of Minneapolis.
"It has been an issue for a while and got to a point where he couldn’t do it anymore,'' Gallant said on Monday.
Added Tallon: "Nick showed a tremendous amount of character over the past month, playing through an injury, while helping our club compete down the final stretch for a playoff spot. He will be closely monitored by our medical staff during his rehabilitation process and will be ready for the start of training camp in September.''
Bjugstad, who centers Florida's second line, has been replaced in the lineup by Vincent Trocheck.
Although Bjugstad's size and skill has been missed the past two games, Trocheck and former San Antonio teammate Brandon Pirri definitely show some chemistry. Of Pirri’s three goals in the past two games, Trocheck recorded the primary assist.
"We’re all buddies off the ice so I think that really helps with the chemistry on the ice,'' Trocheck said Tuesday. "Our line just happens to work. I’m a passer, [Pirri] is a shooter and Jimmy [Hayes] gets to the net. We all bring something different to the table but it works out. This is an exciting run we’re on right now. We want to help this push to the playoffs.''


FLYING HIGH AGAIN: Florida Panthers feeling good after win in Toronto helps playoff positioning but next three games loom large ... Roberto Luongo starts v Habs ... Erik Gudbranson returns as well

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers held a full workout Friday morning in Montreal with coach Gerard Gallant calling it "the best practice of the year."
After Thursday night's results, why not?
Florida is back within three points of both Boston and Ottawa. As the Panthers were beating the Maple Leafs 4-1, Boston lost in overtime and Ottawa got blown out by the visiting Rangers.
"We finally got some help for the first time in a while,'' Gallant said. "We're in the battle right now. We're in the fight."
Florida embarks on a tough four-day stretch in which it plays three playoff contenders -- including both the Senators and Bruins.
The Panthers visit Montreal on Saturday with a quick turnaround in Ottawa on Sunday evening.
Florida plays its final road game of the regular season Tuesday in Boston.
Wins in all three and the Panthers could be in a playoff spot by the time their charter plane touches down in Fort Lauderdale.
"The issue isn't playing three games in four nights because these games are so much fun right now,'' Gallant said.
"We are playing very well right now and just want to see where we end up when it's all said and done. We're just trying to get to that goal.''
Thursday's results helped the Panthers get over Tuesday's 4-3 loss at Tampa Bay as the Lightning scored twice in the third to get the win.
If they came into Toronto moping, the Panthers have a much different mindset in Montreal after everything went about as good as it could have for them on the ice -- and on the scoreboard -- Thursday.
"It was tough, we deserved the game in Tampa too,''said Jonathan Huberdeau, who scored Florida's opening goal Thursday.
"But to come back and get the two points in here was huge, now Montreal is going to be huge too.
"It was good to get some help, but we’re just focusing on this team right now, trying to get two points every night.''
Roberto Luongo will try for his 400th NHL victory Saturday as he will start in his hometown against the Canadiens.
Who starts Sunday in Ottawa is up for debate although it sounds as if Gallant is leaning toward riding Luongo down the stretch.
Backup Dan Ellis is the only goalie to play on consecutive days this season for the Panthers.
"Louie will play Saturday for sure,'' Gallant said, "then we will see after that. He's been good, very solid. We'll make a decision after the game Saturday.''
-- Defenseman Erik Gudbranson was benched after a rough game Tuesday in Tampa in which he turned over the puck a number of times and was on the ice for three of the Lightning's four goals.
Gallant said the two had a talk Friday and an extra film session adding Gudbranson would be back in the lineup Saturday.
"He knows we have tough decisions to make,'' Gallant said, "and the goal is for this team to make playoffs not worry about individuals. Sure he was upset, everyone wants to play, but he understands. He had a rough game but he's back in Saturday. And he'll have a great game for us, watch.''
-- Center Nick Bjugstad (lower body) remains in South Florida and has been ruled out for the entire road trip. His status for next week's homestand is not known.
"He won't be coming on the trip,'' Gallant said, "and it's too far away to think about anything else.''
When, where: 7 p.m.; Bell Centre, Montreal
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560
Series: Canadiens lead 38-37-6
Noteworthy: This is the fourth of fifth meetings between the two with the Canadiens winning both games in Sunrise and Florida winning the lone game in Montreal.


March 25, 2015

SUNSHINE STATE HATE: Panthers and Lightning rivalry continues but probably needs a playoff date to really get going

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers and Lightning have been on-ice rivals since the first time they played back in 1993.
Yet there's always been something missing from the rivalry.
A few years back, then-Lightning coach John Tortorella said he didn't think about the Panthers alll that much. Truth is, he said, this so-called rivalry would never amount to much unless there was a lot of bad blood shared between the two.
For that to happen, Tortorella explained, the two desperately needed to face off in a winner-take-all playoff series.
"I can't imagine if both of us had to play in a playoff series,'' Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.
"That'll be the next step in the state of Florida really jumping on board.''
Tampa Bay put a damper on Florida's playoff hopes this year with its 4-3 win Tuesday.
The Panthers were trying to pull to within three points of Ottawa for the final playoff spot yet Ryan Callahan's goal with 2:28 kept Tampa's long home divisional winning streak going and prevented the Panthers from picking up any ground.
Florida coach Gerard Gallant knows a little about the rivalry between the two teams as he was in on it from thee start.
Gallant came to the Lightning for its second NHL season.
Tampa Bay left the tiny Expo Center on the Florida Fair Grounds after its first season and moved across the bay to play in the spacious St. Petersburg Sundome -- now the current home of baseball's Tampa Bay Rays.
The Panthers, meanwhile, were an expansion team playing in a new but cramped arena near downtown Miami.
On Oct. 9, 1993, the two met for the first time in St. Pete with an announced 27,227 on hand.
A few days later, the Lightning returned to Miami Arena -- where it had played a home game just before H. Wayne Huizenga was granted an expansion team -- and drew just 13,059.
The two teams have no played each other 116 times -- not counting countless exhibitions -- more than any other team in their histories.
Florida's first game in its new home in Sunrise came against the Lightning in 1998.
A playoff meeting, however, has yet to happen as both teams are rarely good at the same time. This year, however, is not one of those times.
If Florida was somehow able to make it into the playoffs -- the odds are pretty small now -- it's possible Tampa Bay could be the first-round opponent.
The Lightning, after all, is one point back of Montreal for most points in the league with 99.
A few more wins down the stretch and Tampa Bay could bring the NHL's President's Trophy to the Sunshine State for the first time.
"I think it's good when teams come down here and know they're going to have a battle with Tampa Bay and Florida. That's good for both of us,'' Gallant said.
Tampa Bay is obviously ahead of the Panthers these days not only in the standings but in its standing in the community.
Tuesday's game drew over 17,000 to Amalie Arena with the Lightning averaging 18,793 per game -- good for 10th in the league. The Panthers, meanwhile, are averaging 11,190 which is the league low.
"Winning solves a lot of problems, at the gate, on TV, on the radio, in the newspapers,'' Cooper said. "When you are winning you seem to be pushed to the top story.
"The turnaround of both of these franchises, us last year and continuing this year, and Florida's clearly this year has turned around their team. It's a lot of fun.''
Said Gallant: "They’ve really turned it around down here. They have big crowds every night, they have a good, young hockey team and we trying to do the same thing. This year we’ve taken a big step. We’ve gotten better and have some great, young hockey players and we want to turn it around too. The first thing is winning and playing hard and I think we are doing that so far.''
-- The Panthers left Tampa following Tuesday's game and flew straight to Toronto where they will play the sinking Maple Leafs on Thursday.
Toronto has lost nine of 10 since beating the Panthers in the Luongo/Al Montoya injury game on March 3 and has lost six straight in regulation since beating Buffalo in a shootout.
When, where: 7:30; Air Canada Center, Toronto.
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560
Series: Maple Leafs lead 34-29-7
Noteworthy: The Panthers are trying to take the season series for the second straight year as they have won two of the first three. Since 2011, Florida has won nine of 14 against Toronto.


March 24, 2015

LAST CALL IN TAMPA? Lightning rally from third period deficit, put damper on Florida's playoff hopes with 4-3 win ... Jaromir Jagr not looking ahead ... Nick Bjugstad stays behind

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

TAMPA -- In his first year as coach of the Panthers, Gerard Gallant has not let his emotions rise too high nor sink very low based on the outcome of a game.
Tuesday night, however, Gallant couldn't hide his disappointment nor frustration in what could be an extremely costly defeat.
The Panthers' playoff hopes took a major hit when Tampa Bay scored twice in the third period to come back to beat the visitors from South Florida 4-3.
Florida scored three goals in a span of 1:58 in the second period to take a lead into the third, but the hard-nosed Lightning never stopped coming.
"We battled back, we took the lead. The last goal cost us the hockey game,'' Gallant said.
"We played well, it's a disappointing loss. We gave up three weak goals -- not by the goaltending but by defensive zone coverage and not battling, not working. We played hard, but you can't give up three goals like that.''
Florida, which had been 18-2-3 when leading after two periods, watched Nikita Kucherov tie the score 90 seconds into the third. With the clock ticking down toward overtime -- and at least a point in the standings -- Ryan Callahan popped out from behind the cage and got a shot off under Roberto Luongo's glove from 10 feet out.
Tampa Bay gets the win and the two points; Florida got nothing. The Lightning is now 3-18-2 when down heading into the third.
"Bottom line is I have to be better,'' a depressed Luongo said. "You want to make a save when it's important. This is a tough one to digest.''
Callahan's goal with 2:28 left could be a final dagger into Florida's playoff hopes.
The Panthers now have nine games remaining yet trail Ottawa by five points for the final playoff spot in the East.
Florida can't afford any more losses down the stretch -- especially Sunday in Ottawa.
"This was a tough game to lose,'' Gallant said. "This would have been a great win for us. There is no room for mistakes now.''
Tampa Bay jumped to a 2-0 lead after Florida's defense broke down in the first with the Lightning scoring twice in a span of two minutes.
"We gave them two goals,'' Gallant spat, "by sleeping. It shouldn't have been a 2-0 game. We weren't thinking, weren't working. We made mistakes and they ended up in the back of our net."
In the second, Jussi Jokinen got Florida's scoring barrage going by whipping a shot from the right circle. Just 18 seconds later, Brandon Pirri scored on a similar shot and angle to tie the score.
With 11:46 left in the second, Florida took its first lead when Huberdeau dove at a loose puck and pushed it past backup Andrei Vasilevskiy.
That was all Florida would get, however.
Tampa Bay, which moved two points closer to the league's President Trophy, has now won an impressive 12 straight at home in regulation against divisional opponents -- something no team has done in 30 years.
Florida, meanwhile, heads to Canada hoping to stay in the playoff conversation.
The way Gallant walked to the bus and general manager Dale Tallon held his head in his hands, it sure felt like the end.
"It looked like it could have gone to overtime or we could have won it,'' Dmitry Kulikov said. "In sports, whoever wants it more usually wins it. That's the way it went [Tuesday].''
Although the Panthers have expressed an interest in resigning him, Jaromir Jagr said Tuesday he is only focused on the rest of this season and won't worry about next year.
Florida acquired Jagr -- a free agent on July 1 -- in a deal with New Jersey on Feb. 26. Coming into Tuesday, the Panthers had won seven of 10 with Jagr in their lineup.
"My goal is just to help this team make the playoffs,'' Jagr said. "I never think about the future; you don't know what's going to happen tomorrow. I don't worry about it.''
-- Center Nick Bjugstad was missing from the Panthers' lineup for the first time this season as he has been suffering from a lingering "lower body" injury the past few weeks.
Bjugstad didn't travel with the team to Tampa and Gallant said he would be evaluated throughout the week.


March 23, 2015

ROAD TRIP: Panthers hope this five-game trip isn't their last time on the road this season ... Nick Bjugstad expected to miss Lightning game at least

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers left for their final road trip of the regular season Monday, a five-game jaunt which will help decide whether it truly does become their last road trip of the year.
Florida opens the trip in Tampa where the high-scoring Lightning await ready to avenge its loss in Sunrise earlier this month.
Of the Panthers' five games on this trip, four teams are in the playoff hunt.
Florida came into Monday trailing Boston by four points but by Tuesday it could be a five-point deficit to Ottawa.
Tough buildings and tough games await.
"We're going to go into these games with a sense of urgency and battle for every point we can get,'' defenseman Dmitry Kulikov said.
"There's a lot of pressure at this time of year, a lot of emotions. Some people perform better under these conditions, some people break. These are the type of games where you realize if you have character or not. You can't let the pressure get to you but use it to be better than the other team.''
The Panthers head to Tampa after winning their past two and playing strong hockey this month.
Florida dominated play in losses to the Rangers and Canadiens before finally getting rewarded with wins over Detroit and Boston.
Coach Gerard Gallant likes the way his team is playing and expects them to remain in the playoff race until the end.
"We're battling and there are two teams in front of us. It comes down to this,'' Gallant said. "We have a game coming up in Tampa; lets go play. We've done our job over the last number of games. The only games we didn't get points in were ones in which we probably played our best hockey. It's funny how things work sometimes.''
After this road trip ends next Tuesday in Boston, Florida closes with a five-game homestand with some of the same tough teams (Boston, Tampa Bay, Montreal) heading south.
"This is real exciting,'' Gallant said. "Our guys are ready to compete and battle on this trip and hopefully we're still in the race when we get back. We want to be right in the thick of the race and have a chance.''
Added Kulikov: "I know everyone realizes that every game counts for us. We have that awareness that every game is basically a playoff game. It's going to be pretty tight until the end. This trip is a huge test for us.''
A lower body injury suffered against the Canadiens last week will likely keep center Nick Bjugstad out Tuesday.
Gallant said he hoped Bjugstad would be able to return on the second game of the road trip in Toronto.
On Saturday, Bjugstad's minutes were limited and he didn't finish the game.
"He has lower body soreness and continues to get evaluated,'' Gallant said. "It's been an issue for a while, the soreness, and it's got to a point where the guy works hard every night but we had to sit him the last seven or eight minutes the other night.''
Bjugstad, who signed a six-year contract extension in December, is tied for the team lead in points (43 with Jonathan Huberdeau) and leads the team with 24 goals.
When, where: 7:30 p.m.; Amalie Arena, Tampa
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560
Series: Panthers lead 58-47-10
Noteworthy: The Panthers haven't won in Tampa since 2013 but snapped a long home losing streak (2011) with their 4-3 win in Sunrise on March 1.



March 22, 2015

FLORIDA REUNION: Dale Tallon ends up with Brandon Pirri for a second time, results have been great ... Colin Stevens signs with Panthers out of Union College

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Locked out of a Chicago lineup littered with offensive talent, Brandon Pirri joined the Panthers last March hoping for an opportunity to show he could play.
The Panthers were struggling, finishing out a season in which they fired their head coach in November and would finish next to last in the entire league.
Things are different this March as the Panthers battle for a playoff berth -- and Pirri has been a huge reason they have stayed in the postseason hunt.
On Saturday, Pirri was the only scorer to lift Florida to a 2-1 shootout win.
Although the shootout goal doesn't count as an actual goal, lately Pirri has been racking the real ones up as well.
Pirri's goal Thursday against the Red Wings was his 17th of the season and 14th in a run of 19 games.
Not only has Pirri been given the opportunity to play in Florida, he's been able to thrive.
General manager Dale Tallon drafted Pirri in the second round of the 2009 draft while he was running the Blackhawks and kept an eye on him over the years.
"This is awesome. I'm so thankful Dale believed in me and brought me here,'' Pirri said Saturday night. "I'm just happy to be a part of this and have a role here. I'm building up trust with [coach Gerard Gallant] every game and he's giving me an opportunity. I believe in myself and I think the coaches and organization believe in me as well.''
In parts of four seasons with Chicago, Pirri only appeared in 35 games with the Blackhawks all while showing off his scoring prowess at the AHL level.
In 2012-13, Pirri's 75 points in 76 games led the entire league.
"I didn't know much about him, but I know he's always been a scorer,'' Gallant said.
On March 2, 2014 -- two days before Tallon would swing a blockbuster deal and reacquire goalie Roberto Luongo -- Tallon sent a third and a fifth-round draft pick to Chicago for Pirri.
"That was genius,'' Shawn Thornton said when told the price it took to get Pirri.
In 60 games with the Panthers since making his debut in Boston on the day of the Luongo deal, Pirri has 24 goals.
"It's hard to find scorers but we drafted him and knew his background, knew he was blocked in Chicago,'' Tallon said.
"It was a good deal for both teams. But we knew he could score and that's not easy to find. He's been terrific.''
Pirri is signed through next season and will remain a restricted free agent when his contract expires in 2016 so there's no rush to get another deal done although that is coming.
There's little doubt Pirri has become a core player the Panthers are building around.
"We have a deep team here and playing time isn't a given,'' Pirri said. "We have guys who have won Stanley Cups who are sitting out. But we're all working together. I was just looking for an opportunity here and it has turned out great. I can't say how thankful I am enough.''
The Panthers signed collegiate free agent goalie Colin Stevens on Friday and assigned him to their AHL team in San Antonio.
Stevens, 21, participated in Florida's development camp last summer after helping Union College to the national title. Stevens was a second-team All-American in 2014 after he tied for the NCAA lead with 28 wins and was second with six shutouts.
"The kid won a championship and has played well,'' Tallon said. "We need depth in goal and we think he's going to be good for us.''
The Rampage currently have three goalies with Sam Brittain likely to return to his starting post at ECHL Cincinnati.
Stevens signed a three-year entry-level deal with the Panthers that kicks in next season.
-- The Panthers will hold an open practice at the Coral Springs IcePlex on Monday at 11 a.m. before flying to Tampa for their game Tuesday night.

Photo courtesy of Bruce Bennett, Getty Images


March 21, 2015

RATISFACTION: Panthers hold off Bruins, snap nine-game skid against Boston with 2-1 shootout win ... Panthers four points back from final playoff spot

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Just before the horn sounded to announce Roberto Luongo's final save of the night, a rubber rat came flying out of the stands and bounced on the ice.

In the minutes following, dozens more crashed down to signify one of the biggest wins by the Panthers in the past few years.
Florida finally beat Boston 2-1 in a shootout on Saturday to snap a nine-game losing streak against the Bruins and keep its playoff hopes going.
"It's a good feeling in here, the guys had a sense of urgency from the start,'' said Shawn Thornton, the former Bruins' tough who was draped in the Panthers' West Point hero jacket.
"There were no passengers, everyone played their hardest. We'll take the two points. We would rather have taken it in regulation, but we'll take this.''
The victory kept the Panthers in the postseason conversation as they trail Boston by four points. Ottawa, which topped Toronto, is a point back of the Bruins.
A loss, especially one in regulation, would have likely been the end of Florida's playoff hopes. Now with 10 games left -- with two remaining against Boston and one in Ottawa -- the Panthers feel they can pull this thing off.
As Brian Campbell espoused before the season, "why not us?"
"These are practically playoff games for us,'' Luongo said. "We have to dig deep and we know it's not going to be easy. We saw it [Saturday]. It's going to be physical, not a lot of room. One mistake can cost you. This was a good playoff-type game for us. We'll take the two points and focus on the next one.''
Said Erik Gudbranson: "You see a see a lot of desperation coming from us. We believe we can make the playoffs. If we continue to play they way we are, we're going to be in good shape.''
Florida drew first blood when Dave Bolland fired a no-look pass from behind the net, finding Jimmy Hayes in front.
Hayes, benched Thursday, bounced back as coach Gerard Gallant hoped and ended up scoring Florida's only goal of the night.
"Jimmy played hard, went to the net,'' Gallant said. "No one wants to be a healthy scratch.''
The Bruins tied the score less than three minutes into the second when Patrice Bergeron got a shot past Luongo.
The two teams played back-and-forth hockey with both having prime scoring chances snuffed out. Boston's Tuukka Rask made a clutch save on Bolland 6:55 left in front of the cage; Luongo made a number of key stops as well, ending with 26 saves.
"Lou was great,'' Gallant said. "He looks rejuvinated like the two weeks off really did him good. He has great jump in his legs.''
After a frantic overtime -- Florida took two shots on Rask in the five minute period -- the game went to a shotoout.
Boston, which hadn't lost to the Panthers since 2012, hasn't been very good in shootouts this season so much so, one of its television announcers predicted if the game went to a shootout, Florida would win.
Rask stopped the first Florida offering from Jonathan Huberdeau in the shootout but couldn't stop Brandon Pirri in Round 2.
Luongo stopped all three shots from the Bruins as the Panthers won it with just Pirri's slick goal.
"I think beating them, right now, instills a lot of confidence in our locker room,'' Pirri said. "We're riding pretty high. Lou is playing great and giving us a chance every night. If we get a couple [goals], he's going to win it for us.''
With just over 17,000 in the BB&T Center, Saturday's game definitely had that postseason feel.
Fans, split about down the middle, shouted each other down and cheered loudly throughout.
For the Panthers, it was an atmosphere they had been waiting on.
After making the playoffs in 2012, the Panthers finished either last or 29th in the NHL the following two seasons.
Being in games that matter, now, is welcomed.
"We have 10 games left,'' Gallant said. "We just have to stay in the race.''
Thornton returned to the Florida lineup and played in his 600th NHL game.
Thornton, who spent seven seasons with Boston, became the third player to hit the 600 game plateau in both the NHL and AHL.
"Everything was about beating them,'' Thornton said of the Bruins. "We have to catch them.''
-- With Thornton and Hayes back in the lineup, Vincent Trocheck and Tomas Kopecky were Florida's healthy forward scratches.
Defenseman Steven Kampfer also sat out.



March 20, 2015

GAME ON: Panthers finally get shot at Bruins as they try and turn around recent misfortune against Boston

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers haven't beaten Boston since March 15, 2012 -- a run of nine straight losses.
With the Bruins coming to town Saturday night for the first of three meetings over the next few weeks, Florida needs to turn things around against Boston in a hurry.
"We don't have a choice, do we?'' asked defenseman Erik Gudbranson, one of 10 Florida players who have yet to beat the Bruins.
"We know what's at stake. The past doesn't matter. We have to play our game and we'll be fine.''
Boston headed to South Florida on Friday after Thursday's 6-4 loss to the Senators in Ottawa.
Although Ottawa is three points ahead in the standings, its win did the Panthers a favor as Florida picked up two points on Boston after beating Detroit on Thursday.
The Panthers are five points back of Boston for the final playoff spot with 11 games left; Ottawa is two points behind the Bruins.
"It's another game where we need to find two points and stay in the race,'' coach Gerard Gallant said.
"We have 11 left and are five back. It doesn't matter who we're playing you have to play your best games. I like how we've played our last three and if we keep that up we'll be fine.''
Florida would have to not only catch both, but surpass them to make the playoffs. The Panthers own no tiebreakers against either team.
Although Jaromir Jagr called Saturday's game a "Game 7," former Boston forward Shawn Thornton compared the Panthers to being down 3-1 in a series and Saturday being Game 5.
For Florida to catch the Bruins, it may take winning all three upcoming games -- which won't come easy.
The Panthers have lost 15 of the past 17 to Boston and hasn't won at the Garden since 2011.
"We have three big ones against these guys,'' said Thornton, who spent seven seasons with the Bruins and was a key part of their 2011 Stanley Cup championship.
"This is what you play for, it's an exciting time of year. I've been on the other side where the games don't matter. I'd rather be here. We have to win our games. No one is going to do us any favors.''
The Panthers have been talking about their games being looked at as their postseason for weeks, but with the Bruins and Senators coming up in the next 10 days, these may as well be playoff games.
After Saturday, the Panthers final road trip starts Tuesday in Tampa with stops in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and, yes, Boston.
For Florida's final five-game homestand to matter, it needs a mess of wins.
"If we want to make the playoffs we have to beat Boston all three games,'' Jagr said. "It’s a Game 7 for us [Saturday]; Everybody has to realize it.''
Said Roberto Luongo: "We don’t want to look at the big picture. We just want to look ahead. .-.-. We know that our next one, our season is pretty much on the line.''
When, Where: 7 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560
Series: Boston leads 42-32-6
Noteworthy: The Bruins won the first meeting on Nov. 4 when Brad Marchand scored 3:27 into overtime for a 2-1 win. Jussi Jokinen gave Florida a 1-0 lead on a second period goal.


THE 600 CLUB: Shawn Thornton about to become one of three to play 600 games in NHL and AHL

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Shawn Thornton was a healthy scratch Thursday but should be back against his old Boston teammates Saturday.

Thornton's next game will be his 600th in the NHL making him one of only three to play that many games at both the NHL and AHL level.

Thornton, now 37, left the minors behind for good in 2006 after being called up by Anaheim and winning his first Stanley Cup with the Ducks in 2007.

"It's pretty cool although I would obviously rather have 1,200 up here,'' said Thornton, who played in 605 AHL games over 10 seasons with St. John's, Norfolk and Portland.

"I never would have thought I would get 600 games in the NHL after spending nine years down there.''

The other two to have accomplished the feat are

Jim Morrison and Dave Creighton -- both established NHL players who ended their careers in the AHL.

Thornton has played in 568 NHL games since 2006 not including 101 postseason games with Anaheim and Boston.

The Panthers have played one seven-game series in that span.






March 19, 2015

OLD GUYS BRING IT HOME: Panthers get much-needed win, top Red Wings 3-1 as Roberto Luongo returns

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers have an extremely bright future ahead with the likes of Sasha Barkov, Aaron Ekblad, Brandon Pirri, Nick Bjugstad and Jonathan Huberdeau creating a solid core.
Thursday night, it was Florida's elder statesmen who fueled a 3-1 victory over the Red Wings at BB&T Center.
Jaromir Jagr, 43, got the Panthers going with their first goal of the night midway through the second period and nearly had another minutes later but Pirri swept in at the last second and knocked Jagr's shot into the net to make it 2-0.
"I would say we were luckier,'' Jagr said. "They hit some posts. Luongo was playing fantastic, but we have to learn to win those games when we have a lead. .-.-.
"But it was playoff hockey. We know we have to play playoff hockey the last 11 games. It’s the only we can try to make the playoffs."
Florida led the Red Wings 3-0 by the third, more than enough offensive support for goalie Roberto Luongo in his return from a shoulder injury that cost him two weeks.
"It's frustrating to be sitting out at this time of the year when games are so important,'' Luongo, 35, said after making 25 saves.
"You don't want to be watching on TV, you want to be helping the boys out.''
With Ottawa beating the visiting Bruins on Thursday, the Panthers' made some ground in the playoff race.
Florida, which plays host to the Bruins on Saturday, trail Boston by five points for the final playoff spot but remain three back of ninth-place Ottawa.
The Panthers have 11 games left with three coming against the Bruins and one left against the Senators.
"We know our season is on the line,'' Luongo said.
As was the case in Florida's previous two losses to the Rangers and Canadiens, the Panthers kept the offensive pressure on -- only this time it paid off.
Jagr's goal came on a snapshot from the left circle 10:55 into the second. Minutes later, an Aaron Ekblad shot bounced off goalie Petr Mrazek with Jagr putting a stick on the puck and nudging it toward the cage.
Pirri flew in, however, and gave it the final touch just before the puck went through giving him his 17th goal of the season.
"When you keep working hard, the breaks will come your way,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "We got more breaks than they did and Luongo had a great game for us.''
In the third, Scottie Upshall picked off a puck in the Florida zone and drove in on Mrazek and went top shelf to make it 3-0. The Red Wings scored on an Erik Cole goal midway through the third, but Luongo didn't let anything else come through.
Jagr's goal was his 718th giving him sole possession for fifth place on the NHL's all-time list.
Jagr had been tied with Hall of Famer Phil Esposito since scoring his first goal with the Panthers -- in his second game in Florida -- on March 1.
"He's been great since he's been here, brings a different dynamic to our group of forwards,'' Luongo said. "Their line creates a ton of chances and that makes them hard to defend.''
-- Luongo returned to action after missing the past two-plus weeks after getting hurt in that crazy game against the Maple Leafs on March 3.
"I wasn't sure what to expect since I only really had one practice,'' Luongo said. "We had a three goal lead; it was nice.''
-- Gallant said he doesn't watch very much college basketball -- he could only recall seeing one game this season -- but he knows who the favorite is to win it all.
"I don't even know who is in it,'' Gallant said when asked his selection to win the NCAA tournament, "but I would pick Kentucky.''
-- Three players with Boston ties were scratched Thursday as former Bruins Shawn Thornton and Steven Kampfer sat as did Boston native Jimmy Hayes.
All three are expected to be in the lineup Saturday when Florida plays host to the Bruins.


March 17, 2015

SHOOTOUT TIE: Panthers will have two 'backup goalies' at Wednesday's practice ... AHL team switching to Portland

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers held the finals of their 'goalie for a day' contest with Dustin Smith and Bill Ruggiero squaring off against former Florida forwards Radek Dvorak and Marco Sturm in a shootout.
Although the NHL continues shootout rounds so there is no tie, the Panthers stopped Tuesday's competition after four rounds with both goalies giving up a goal each.
On Wednesday, both will join the Panthers for practice at BB&T Center and take the nets at the end of the workout.
"I think we were both a little [upset it was a tie] at the start but it's probably the best thing that could happen,'' said Ruggiero, 34, a former minor league goalie who lives a few hours north of Sunrise in Melbourne.
"We'll help each other out on [Wednesday].''

-- After four seasons, the Panthers will have a new primary minor league affiliate as they move their AHL operations east from San Antonio to Portland, Maine.
Although the Panthers and San Antonio (the Rampage is owned by the Spurs) have enjoyed a solid relationship over the past few years, there is a push for eastern NHL teams to place their affiliate on the east coast and vice versa.


RUNNING ON FUMES: Panthers again play well enough to win -- yet don't -- as Montreal wins 3-2 in Sunrise

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers slim playoff hopes took a shot to the jaw Tuesday as Florida again brought everything it had against a premier opponent got nothing for it.
As was the case Sunday in New York, the Panthers went hard at Montreal yet it was the Canadiens leaving BB&T Center with a 3-2 victory.
Florida lost to both the Rangers and Canadiens in regulation meaning no points were earned in the standings.
"We played a pretty good game again, but, no points,'' coach Gerard Gallant lamented. "We know we have a long way to go.''
Florida has 12 games remaining and probably needs to win 10 to have a chance to make the playoffs.
Boston, occupying the East's final playoff spot, holds a commanding seven point lead on the Panthers.
Ottawa, which won for the 12th time in the past 14 games Tuesday, is four points back of Boston and three points ahead of Florida.
No, it's not over.
It is pretty close.
"We know how badly we need these points and it hurts to give them away,'' Jonathan Huberdeau said.
"We want to make the playoffs so badly. We just have to believe. We have games left. Why not win them all? We're close every night. We just need to keep working at it.''
Said goalie Dan Ellis: "We had a chance to pick up one more point [on Boston] and instead fell one more point back. We can't worry about it, just worry about the next one. Things can change in a matter of weeks. Teams can go on [winning] streaks or slumps. You just have to hope we hit the streak and get some help.''
The Panthers took a 1-0 lead 4:20 into the second on a beautiful backhander from Sasha Barkov.
Montreal answered back quickly, tying it 1:24 later.
Down 2-1, Florida tied the score on Brandon Pirri's 16th goal with 6:25 left in the period yet Montreal matched again and took the lead for good on P.K. Subban's 40-foot wrister.
The Panthers attempted 98 shots (on goal, missed or blocked) against the Rangers on Sunday and only scored once.
Tuesday, Florida took aim at Montreal backup Dustin Tokarski 67 times with 43 on goal. Only two found a way past -- simply not enough.
"We had a lot of opportunities and just didn't bury them,'' Nick Bjugstad said. "We need to find a way to put ourselves ahead. Our guys are getting chances .-.-. but we're not scoring the way we want to and it's costing us.''
Ellis (22 saves) made his sixth straight start as Roberto Luongo works his way back from a shoulder injury.
Luongo took part in Tuesday's full practice and could be ready to play Thursday against Detroit.
"We have to realize we still have a chance whether it's a small one or not,'' Ellis said. "We have to play until you don't have a chance.''


March 15, 2015

EVERYTHING BUT SCORE: Panthers come hard after Talbot and the Rangers but come home without a point as New York holds on 2-1 ... Dan Ellis back in net for Roberto Luongo

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

NEW YORK -- Willie Mitchell summed up the Panthers' 2-1 loss to the Rangers on Sunday in a few simple words.

"We busted our tails but you only get rewarded for wins,'' Florida's captain said moments after a crushing defeat at Madison Square Garden.
The Panthers did just about everything right in the final 40 minutes of the game as they attacked the Rangers time after time.
Florida took 98 attempted shots (shots on goal, misses and blocked shots) compared to 52 for a Rangers team who seemed surprised the playoff-hungry Panthers came with so much charge.
In the second period alone, Florida attempted 42 shots to New York's 19.
The Rangers blocked a season-high 36 shots as pucks were flying all over the famous arena.
"I thought we played a hell of a game,'' coach Gerard Gallant said.
"We worked, really competed and had a lot of scoring chances. We're disappointed we didn't get any points out of it but I can't ask for much more out of our team.''
Yet another stellar outing by backup goalie Cam Talbot kept the Panthers at bay. Florida was down 2-0 in the third before Brandon Pirri scored and continued their offensive puck assault.
Talbot stood strong, however, and ended with 38 saves.
"If we play like that, we played the best team in the league, and I don't think anyone has played them like that,'' said Jaromir Jagr, whose linemates Sasha Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau were all over Talbot and the Rangers yet didn't find the scoresheet.
"The kids need the confidence. We know we can play with them, were dominating them. This takes time. We have to learn and this was a great test for us. This is positive stuff. .-.-. At least we're playing for something all the time. This is exciting for me, I'm sure it's even more exciting for the kids.''
Jagr, Barkov and Huberdeau combined for 26 of Florida's shot attempts with Jagr and Pirri getting off a combined 10 shots on goal.
The Panthers did everything they could to get a win -- yet couldn't find enough goals to do so.
"We were desperate obviously,'' Gallant said.
Down 1-0 after the first period, the Panthers came out flying in the second. Mitchell came close to tying the game but couldn't jam the puck past Talbot.
With 2:05 left in the second, after the Panthers' top line wore out the Rangers with a marathon shift in the New York zone, Aaron Ekblad wristed one off the cross bar.
Although the Panthers thoroughly dominated the second, they put nothing on the scoreboard and went into the third down 1-0.
"There were shots coming from everywhere,'' said Talbot, who is 14-2-3 since Henrik Lundqvist went down with an injury the previous time Florida visited here on Feb. 2.
"They seemed to be all over us in the second period and we couldn't really break their cycle too much. .-.-. Luckily we were able to weather the storm.''
Florida kept coming in the third and made it a 2-1 game on Pirri's goal with 9:49 left.
The Panthers pulled goalie Dan Ellis (32 saves) during a power play chance with just over two minutes remaining but despite having two extra skaters on the ice, couldn't completely solve Talbot.
"There were a lot of rebounds, a lot of shots,'' Jagr said. "What can I say? We didn't score. Sometimes you need a lucky bounce and we didn't get it. It's frustrating not to score with all the chances.''
Roberto Luongo (shoulder) skated Sunday but didn't play as Ellis became the first Florida goalie to start games on consecutive days this season.
Ellis shutout Carolina on Saturday night and had a strong game against the Rangers.
"[Luongo's] getting closer,'' Gallant said.
-- The Panthers' backup practice goalie contest, which has drawn national media attention as well as 1,500 online applicants, will be held at the BB&T Center on Monday at noon.
Fans are invited to attend the event and admission is free.
-- The Rangers held a pregame ceremony honoring defenseman Dan Boyle for playing in his 1,000th NHL game on March 4.
Boyle signed with the Panthers as an undrafted free agent out of Miami (Ohio) and played parts of four seasons with Florida from 1998-2002 until he was traded to the Lightning for a fifth round draft pick.
Boyle, 38, won the Stanley Cup with the Lightning in 2004.
-- The Panthers have lost six straight to the Rangers (0-3 this year) and have been outscored 24-12 in the process.


March 14, 2015

AT HOME IN RALEIGH: Dan Ellis pitches shutout as he helps Panthers get rare win at Hurricanes ... Ellis could go again Sunday v Rangers ... Steven Kampfer gets 2-year deal

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Panthers haven't enjoyed much success at the building currently called PNC Arena, beating the host Hurricanes just 11 times since it opened in 1999.
Saturday night, however, the Panthers had a secret weapon. For the first time, Florida had a former Carolina goalie defending its net.
Dan Ellis looked right at home in recording his first shutout in over a year in Florida's 2-0 victory.
"I like the building,'' said Ellis, who spent the lockout-shortened 2013 season with the Canes.
"I like the lighting, like the angles of the seats and everything. They have a good fan base. The ice was a little soft but having played here and practiced here a number of times, I'm comfortable here.''
Ellis has done a standup job in filling in for Roberto Luongo and is 3-0-1 in four starts since being called up from the minors.
In his previous three starts, Ellis was strong.
Saturday, he was simply outstanding.
"Danny was on his head tonight,'' Brian Campbell said.
Ellis, who lost all five of starts with Florida late last season, made 27 saves in helping the Panthers to just their second three-game winning streak.
Carolina 'dropped' to 30-8-4 against the Panthers at this arena.
"That's hard to believe,'' Nick Bjugstad said. "We need to keep putting wins together. It's hard to believe this is our first winning streak in a while. We're better than that.''
The victory was much needed after Boston won for the seventh time in eight games Saturday afternoon and Ottawa had jumped the Panthers and taken over ninth place in the East on Friday night.
Florida remains six points out of the playoffs but is now also chasing Washington as the slumping Capitals have come into view.
The Capitals, unlike the Bruins, haven't been playing well lately, losing three of four. Washington also holds a six point lead on Florida.
"You can do all the different calculations but we know we have to do well against Boston, win the games in front of us,'' Bjugstad said.
"We can't control how the other teams do, but we can control our game.''
Saturday's game was a battle between two fellows who once shared the Carolina net in Ellis and Cam Ward.
Like Ellis, Ward (20 saves) was strong in holding off the Florida charge and made one big save after another.
For much of the game, Ellis kept it scoreless or defended a 1-0 lead after Brandon Pirri's power play goal with 3:40 left in the second.
Ellis didn't get much room to breathe until Dave Bolland popped in an empty net goal with 40 seconds remaining.
With Luongo still out with a shoulder injury, Ellis may be pressed into double duty Sunday afternoon at New York.
If Florida feels Luongo can go, he'll start against the Rangers. If not, Ellis is back.
"He's been real good and the guys have been working hard for him,'' coach Gerard Gallant said.
When asked what the chances were Ellis would play Sunday, Gallant said, "I would say they are really good. I'm not saying Luongo is out for sure, but my guess is Ellis goes Sunday.''
The Panthers gave defenseman Steven Kampfer a two-year contract extension on Saturday. Kampfer came to the Panthers in a preseason deal with the Rangers of AHL players.
Kampfer stood out in San Antonio, however, and has been solid since being recalled by the Panthers last month.
With seven healthy defensemen on the roster, it has been Kampfer playing instead of Alex Petrovic.
"I'm really happy because I get to be a Florida Panther for another two years and that's exciting,'' Kampfer said after Saturday's morning skate.
"It's humbling when a team wants you. I'm excited for the years to come.''
-- Bjugstad was called for a very questionable embellishment call, one he and general manager Dale Tallon strongly disagreed with.
Bjugstad was hooked by Eric Staal and pulled his arm off his stick. One ref apparently thought Bjugstad hit the ice which he did not.
"I kept going through the play, was driving the net,'' Bjugstad said. "They're trying to bear down on guys embellishing, but I didn't embellish. We'll see what happens.''
When/Where: 5 p.m.; Madison Square Garden, New York
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560
Series: New York leads 47-32-6
Noteworthy: The Panthers are 0-2 against New York and lost here 6-3 in February after the Rangers scored three in the third.