December 04, 2014

SHOOTOUT AND SHOT DOWN: Panthers dominate play for two-plus periods yet Blue Jackets prevail 4-3 in shootout ... Robak traded to Anaheim

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Former Panthers coach Pete DeBoer used to say his team "deserved a better fate" when it lost a game despite outplaying the opponent.
Gerard Gallant could have borrowed that quote Thursday.
Despite dominating play for two-plus periods, the Panthers never fully overcame a three-goal deficit in a 4-3 shootout loss to the visiting Blue Jackets.
Sure, Florida got a point in the standings. Yet .-.-.
"It's a disappointment,'' said Gallant, whose team has lost 10 straight to Columbus and hasn't beaten the Jackets at home since he was their coach back in 2004.
"It's great to get a point down 3-0 and you'd take that anytime. But we really wanted that two points and thought we should have gotten it. You can't get down 3-0 to any team in the league.''
Florida, which lost 2-1 in Columbus on Monday, trailed 3-0 after Boone Jenner scored for the second time this week just 51 seconds into the second period.
It was all Panthers -- pretty much -- after that.
Florida quickly responded and took aim at goalie Sergei Bobrovsky like it rarely has before.
The Panthers scored three goals on eight shots on goal in a span of 4:40 to pull even midway through the period.
In the second period, Florida had 19 shots on goal to Columbus' three yet the three goal barrage was all it could muster.
"It's a shootout kind of game once you get down 3-0 and you don't know what's going to happen,'' said Nick Bjugstad, who bagged two of Florida's goals by scoring twice in a span of 2:27.
"We came back, did a job. Everyone kind of bought in the final two periods. But we can't get down three goals.''
The Panthers' offensive charge was fast and furious although Bobrovsky was able to cool the Panthers off with a number of top saves.
In the second, Florida opened its scoring when the struggling Tomas Fleischmann buried a pass from Jonathan Huberdeau.
Just a few minutes later, Bjugstad potted his first of the night by working toward the net and floating a soft shot between Bobrovsky's skates.
Bjugstad's second goal came on the power play as he knocked a puck through to tie the score with 12:29 left in the second.
Where did that come from?
"We got ticked off,'' goalie Roberto Luongo said. The Panthers continued to assault the Columbus defense but Bobrovsky stood tall -- as he usually does against Florida.
Bobrovsky made 52 saves -- not including all four in the shootout. "He,'' Gallant said, "was the first star of the game.''
The Blue Jackets won it in the fourth round when Ryan Johansen scored.
How much did Florida control the offense on Thursday? In combining shots on goal as well as missed and blocked shots, the Panthers had 99 attempted shots. Columbus only had 35.
With Dave Bolland (groin) and Scottie Upshall (ankle) coming off the injured list soon, the Panthers had to clear a roster spot.
Unwilling to send Vincent Trocheck back to the minors, general manager Dale Tallon instead traded seventh-defenseman Colby Robak to Anaheim on Thursday morning.
Robak played in seven games for the Panthers this season -- including twice as an emergency fill-in on Florida's fourth forward line -- and 42 over the past four seasons.
The Panthers got back minor league defenseman Jesse Blacker as well as a conditional draft pick in return. Blacker was sent to Florida's AHL affiliate in San Antonio.
-- Thursday's announced crowd of 7,788 was second lowest in franchise history just better than the 7,311 for Ottawa on Oct. 13.
-- Florida has lost its past two games in which it rallied from a 3-0 deficit.
-- The Panthers dropped to 2-7 in overtime games this season and are 1-4 in shootouts.




December 03, 2014

TIME TO GET SERIOUS: If Panthers want to be a playoff team, they need to act like it ... Columbus/Buffalo homestand starts Thursday

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
DETROIT -- With road victories over teams such as Anaheim, San Jose and Detroit, people around the league have taken notice of the Panthers this season.

Florida came into Wednesday three points back of Boston and Toronto for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. The Panthers were ranked eighth overall in the conference with 26 points in a league-low 23 games.

If the Panthers want to continue their ascent up the standings, they need to take care of the teams below them.

Yes, a team that finished at or near the bottom of the NHL standings the past two seasons now feels as if it definitely better get all four points when its two-game homestand against Columbus and Buffalo opens Thursday.

It won't come easy.

Florida, which beat Detroit 4-3 on Tuesday night, are already 0-1 against the Blue Jackets after losing to the last place team in a forgettable affair on Monday.

"We felt like we let two points slip away [Monday],'' goalie Roberto Luongo said after making 38 saves on Tuesday.

"We didn't want to go home empty handed because that's not acceptable for this team. .-.-. You don't want to let things creep into the team. It was important to have a bounce back.''

Columbus was struggling mightily when it survived a slow start of its own and beat Florida 2-1 thanks in part to Boone Jenner's third period goal and more strong goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky.

The Jackets, who haven't played since, have now won just one in their previous seven and have lost lost 15 of 18.

"We have to come back and be ready for a good Columbus team we know is going to battle,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "They just beat us the other night so we have to be ready to play and get those two points.''

Buffalo, meanwhile, looked destined for the one of the top picks in the draft lottery before getting hot.

The Sabres were a horrid 3-13-2 before winning six of their past seven going into Thursday's game at Tampa Bay.

After Monday's loss, goalie Al Montoya talked of it being a learning lesson for a Panthers team whose maturity may leave them struggling with even a moderate amount of success.

Florida needs to handle the expectations of a playoff-caliber team while also realizing there is no gimme game in the NHL.

With some of the upsets they've pulled over the past two seasons, the Panthers should know that better than most.

"Sometimes you're flat and don't know why,'' Willie Mitchell said. "We were definitely flat in Columbus but skated well [in Detroit] from the drop of the puck.''


Thursday: Blue Jackets at Panthers
When, Where:
7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560
The series: Columbus leads 13-4-0
Of note: The Blue Jackets continued their dominance of the Panthers with Monday's 2-1 win in Columbus. The Jackets have now won nine straight against Florida as the Panthers haven't won a game in this series since 2007.




BANNER NIGHT: Ekblad faces boyhood idols, nets game-winner in Panthers 4-3 win over Red Wings

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

DETROIT -- Aaron Ekblad stood at center ice during the national anthem Tuesday night soaking in the sights of an arena he grew up in yet was on its ice for the first time.

Ekblad, 18, saw the many banners, the retired numbers of Hall of Famers he already knew by heart. Across the ice from him were some of his heroes from his childhood days wearing that iconic red kit.

If Ekblad was overwhelmed by it all, he didn't let on.

"It was pretty cool looking up at all the banners. This is a pretty storied building,'' said Ekblad, who grew up across the Detroit River in Windsor, Ontario.

"Then you look across the ice and see Datsyuk, Zetterburg and Franzen and I'm playing against them. That's pretty cool. I thought we handled it well.''

Ekblad, the first pick of the 2014 draft, rewarded the dozens of friends and family at Joe Louis Arena by scoring his second goal in as many games to give Florida a 4-1 lead in the third period.

Detroit scored twice in the final 10 minutes Tuesday cutting Florida's lead to one. Ekblad's insurance goal turned into the game-winner as the Panthers left town with a 4-3 win.

After the game, he handed over the stick he scored with to his parents for safekeeping.

During a timeout, Ekblad even saw one of his buddies up on the scoreboard dancing. That brought one of many smiles to his face this night.

"That was hilarious. I had a good chuckle sitting there on the bench,'' said Ekblad, who will have plenty of time to visit friends next week when the Panthers spend four days in the Motor City.





December 02, 2014

FLORIDA POWER BRINGS LIGHT: Panthers rebound from disappointing loss, hold off Red Wings for 4-3 victory ... Hayes, Bergenheim, Trocheck and Ekblad all score

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

DETROIT -- The massive power outage here put some doubt whether Tuesday night's game between the Panthers and Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena would be played.
Florida is sure glad it was.
The Panthers came out charged up after Monday's stinker in Columbus and headed home after holding off the Red Wings for a 4-3 win.
Although the Panthers sleepwalked their way to a 2-1 loss against the last-place Blue Jackets, they looked energized against a red hot Detroit squad which had won four straight and six of seven.
Florida led 4-1 midway through the final period before the Red Wings battled back.
Roberto Luongo, back from a minor arm injury, kept Detroit at bay by making 38 saves.
"We played well .-.-. played 55 minutes against a good team in a tough building,'' said captain Willie Mitchell, who had plenty of pointed comments after Monday's loss.
Added coach Gerard Gallant: "We had some great chances and set the tone. That was important after [Monday]. That game was disappointing. I'm happy at how we came out.''
Florida got another great game from the combo of Vincent Trocheck, Jimmy Hayes and Brandon Pirri as they accounted for two goals.
Down 1-0 after Tomas Tatar scored with Mitchell in the box on a double-minor, Hayes tied the game by pouncing on a juicy rebound off a Trocheck shot.
Trocheck made it 3-1 just 29 seconds into the third when Hayes picked off a pass deep into the Detroit zone and tossed it over.
The Panthers took their initial lead in the second when Sean Bergenheim scored on a nice pass from Jussi Jokinen that had goalie Jimmy Howard completely out of position.
Florida got its fourth of the night when Aaron Ekblad -- from nearby Windsor, Ontario -- scored his fourth of the season.
The goal ended up being the game-winner after the Red Wings scored twice in the final 10 minutes as Pavel Datsyuk and Gustav Nyquist both beat Luongo.
"I thought we handled them well and it's nice to get this win,'' Ekblad said. "They came back there and I remember growing up how good Detroit was at coming back late in games.''
Tuesday started off strangely for the Panthers who came to the arena for a morning skate only to watch the place darken as the power was cut to large swaths of downtown.
Although electricity was restored to portions of the city by lunchtime, the arena and its immediate area along the Detroit River was dark until around 3.
"There was a concern there,'' Gallant said before the game. "We came here to play and I'm glad we are. It didn't affect us a whole lot.''
Center Aleksander Barkov was hit in the hand while blocking a shot in Monday's loss at Columbus and didn't play Tuesday.
Both Barkov and Gallant said the injury wasn't serious with only swelling in the hand. Barkov, who missed two games earlier this season with a knee injury, isn't expected to miss many games.
"It's a minor injury,'' Gallant said. "It just swelled up, everything came up negative. It looked bad but this is just precaution.''
Shawn Thornton, who missed Monday's game after, returned to the lineup Tuesday but played limited minutes.
-- Although Luongo went onto the darkened ice Tuesday morning to work with goalie coach Robb Tallas, most of his teammates left the arena and returned to their hotel when the power went out.
Luongo said practicing in the dark may have helped him Tuesday night.
"I could see the puck when it left the stick and when it was about a foot in front of me,'' he said. "[Tuesday night] it felt a little too bright. I should have worn shades.''



DETROIT D-MAN: Aaron Ekblad returns home as Panthers face Red Wings

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

DETROIT -- Although he's never played a game at Joe Louis Arena before Tuesday night, Aaron Ekblad knows the building quite well.

Growing up across the river in Windsor, Ontario, Ekblad was raised on Red Wings hockey and will have plenty of friends and family in the building for Florida's game there Tuesday night.

How many will be there to see Ekblad's debut at the Joe? He's lost count.

"I have quite a few people I've already given tickets to and a lot of people who are buying them on their own,'' Ekblad said.

"There are like 10 families coming to the game to support me. I've never been able to play at the Joe, but I've been there as a fan about 100 times. It's exciting. It's going to be a ton of fun. I grew up with that team.''

Ekblad, the top pick of the 2014 draft, is having a terrific rookie season with the Panthers.

On Monday, he scored the lone goal in Florida's 2-1 loss at Columbus giving him three goals and pulled him into a tie with Jussi Jokinen and Nick Bjugstad for the team lead with 12 points.

Ekblad is tied for fourth in the league among rookie scorers and is third in ice time.

And why did Ekblad chose the No. 5? Nicklas Lidstrom, of course.


POWERED UP: Panthers game versus Red Wings still on despite major power outage

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards


DETROIT -- Drove up from Columbus this morning as tthe city of Detroit was going through a major power outage that affected much of downtown.

It appears that power is coming back on throughout the city although as I drove by Joe Louis Arena, it appeared they were still down. As of right now, tonight's game (7:30 p.m.; Fox Sports Florida) is still on as scheduled.

The two teams cancelled morning skate at the Joe although Roberto Luongo -- the expected starter -- got in some work with goalie coach Robb Tallas.

I'll be updating the situation throughout the day on Twitter and you can also follow what's going on here by visiting the Detroit Free Press site at


Luongo photo courtesy of TWITTER: @Bill_Roose


RAMPAGE INSIDER: Bittersweet watching players move on

TWITTER: @tonyuminski

The "career" of a minor league hockey fan (MLHF) can be challenging.

Your loyalty is split, much like any major league fan, between the team and players. Your devotion to the team is rewarded when the club wins and it’s tested when they lose.

But here's the crucial difference between MLHF and major league hockey fan (MaLHF) -- MLHF's buy the jerseys of their favorite players, only to see them leave in the middle of the night, or in the case of Rocco Grimaldi, in the middle of a game, to seek fame and fortune at the next level.

MLHF's wince and rejoice at the same time when their favorites leave, even though the absence may make their team number nine in an eight-team playoff race.

There is something to be said for the MLHF’s pride in seeing a major league hockey player (MaLHP) you saw one night, wearing number 82 in Miami, playing 2:22 the next night, or in Grimaldi’s case, THAT night, on TV.

Friday night, San Antonio MLHF’s devotion was rewarded by their MaLHP’s playing in the Panthers win over Ottawa.

Last season’s Rampage unofficial rookie of the year, Vinnie Trocheck, picked up two assists – he’s now at seven as most Panther and Rampage fans will point out with pride, and was given the game’s top star.

Trocheck had to have been majorly disappointed when "The Turk" knocked on his training camp door and handed him a ticket to the Alamo City in September. The creative centerman emerged as the offensive catalyst for a moribund franchise that has found success in two-game winning streaks.

But hats off to the Pittsburgh kid, who accepted his assignment like a pro, worked hard, and, well, as Rampage fans now say, "Vinnie, it was nice watching you here and it will be cool watching you on Fox Sports Florida, never to skate on AT&T Center ice again," especially after his one-armed assist on the gamer Friday.

Goaltender Al Montoya is a whole different story.

The former Rangers top pick wasn’t about to dislodge Henrik the Great in Gotham City, and the thought of being a career-AHL masked man just didn’t sit well with Montoya. He knew, more than anyone, that he was an NHL goaltender. His AHL performance, however, tried the patience and devotion, of Rampage fans.

If you walk along the concourse before a Rampage game, you’ll see fans with Trocheck, or Drew Shore, or Colby Robak jerseys. But you won’t see any Montoya jerseys.

The perpetually pleasant goaltender was a "tough love, work in progress" down on the farm. Rampage fans watched Montoya make a spectacular save negated by two flubs one too many times in his parts of four seasons with the club.

Post-game interviews about the miscues were met with casual shoulder shrugs, affable comments, and amazing, honest reflection on how the puck evaded his glove at an agonizingly slow speed.

The former University of Michigan standout – he had 13 shutouts in three season with the Wolverines, ONE in 79 games with San Antonio—made Rampage fans and reporters cringe on each odd-man rush.

He was 30-48-3 with two seasons of plus 3 GAA and sub 90 percent save percentage. But then, when called up to Phoenix (SA’s NHL mentor after and before the Panthers), Montoya was a wall.

The Chicago native blanked the Colorado Avalanche in his first NHL game. The Coyotes had Bryzgalov, who did his own AHL Montoya imitation at the NHL level, and Al was 3-1 in his five game stint in 08-09. But the Yotes went with Bryz and Jason Labarbera and Montoya was dealt to NHL purgatory – the New York Islanders.

Considering Montoya would sit on the bench awaiting Rick DiPietro’s next injury, the former overall sixth pick in the 2004 draft, would enjoy a lump of playing time in lieu of the former top pick of the 2000 draft who was an IR entry waiting to happen.

Montoya responded in his NHL glory. Overall, the former Rampage netminder has performed well at the major league level, and San Antonio fans can revel in knowing he was one of those guys that found the NHL more to his liking.

Montoya, two games away from his 100th NHL game, is 39-27-14 in his major league career. His non-Islander record is 21-11-4 with stellar 2.16 GAA.

Friday night’s number 2 star, and Wednesday's top star when he relieved injured starter Roberto Luongo, has been lights out in his reserve role.

From a MLHF’s perspective, they can boast, "Hey, he wore #35 here, (albeit shakily – always wanted to use albeit in a story)."

And that's the reward of being minor league hockey fan.

In addition, the Alamo City connection continued in Friday’s game, when Dylan Olsen scored off a Trocheck feed. If Rampage fans sneezed they missed the former Blackhawks recruit in his four-game stint here last year. And Kyle Turris, arguably the best former Rampage player, looked good in a Senators uni as well.

Now MLHF’s continue to buy those jerseys, and revel at the antics of the players on the ice and brace themselves for the next departure…Shore, Grimaldi, Bobby Butler or whomever Dale Tallon summons, and then smile at their favorite’s success on the big screen.

P.S. Coaches Trivia!

The last two Panthers opposing head coaches have an Alamo City connection.

Senators coach Paul MacLean almost coached here. MacLean was the coach of the Peoria Rivermen when the team moved here to become the IHL’s Dragons in 1996. (Same league as the Orlando Solar Bears). MacLean stayed two weeks before getting the call to be an assistant coach with the Coyotes.

Carolina coach, Bill Peters, once ran the hockey program at the Crystal Ice Palace, THE small ice rink in NW San Antonio. Peters played one pro game, with the San Antonio Iguanas, and scored a goal and two assists as a replacement player. He drove the Zamboni and kept the palace running while his wife went to med school here. He later went on to coaching the Spokane Chiefs to the Memorial Cup before moving on to the pros in Rockford and the Red Wings.

About the writer: Tony Uminski was born in Boston and settled in San Antonio after a 22-year Air Force career, where he served as a broadcasting and journalism specialist. He broadcast San Antonio Iguanas (CHL) and San Antonio Dragons (IHL) games, along with a year with the Indianapolis Ice. Following his return to San Antonio, Uminski has been covering the San Antonio Rampage since the team's inception in 2002 for the San Antonio Express-News, and is widely hailed as Mr. Hockey in the Alamo City. Currently, a high school teacher full-time, Uminski teaches speech and world geography at Incarnate Word High School.

Read more here:


December 01, 2014

CRUMMY IN COLUMBUS: Panthers get nothing going, lose 2-1 to Blue Jackets ... Bolland close to return, Luongo expected to start in Detroit

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Willie Mitchell blamed Florida's lethargic play and 2-1 loss to the last place Blue Jackets on Monday on the Panthers' apparent lack of respect for their opponent.

Yes, the Panthers -- a franchise that has been to the playoffs once since 2000 -- were looking down on someone else.

It was a costly mistake.

"Where we're coming from, we have to play every game the same,'' said Gerard Gallant, making his first appearance at Nationwide Arena as a head coach since Columbus fired him in 2006.

"A team like us, we can't take anyone for granted. We're a long way from that.''

Florida definitely looked like it had been reading up on Columbus' miserable season and were looking ahead to Tuesday's date with the Red Wings in Detroit.

Instead of taking care of business against a team that had lost six straight and 15 of 17, Florida didn't create much of anything and let the Blue Jackets -- who didn't exactly play a game worthy of remembrance -- stick around and eventually get the win.

Columbus looked just as sluggish as the Panthers did, not getting a shot on goal for the first 12 minutes of the game. The Jackets took a 1-0 lead on their second with 4:53 left.

It was that kind of night for the Panthers.

"That team over there hasn't had things go their way this year and they played with more desperation than we did,'' Mitchell said.

"I don't know. We had an emotional game the last time out, beat a team we needed to in order to get to our goal of the playoffs. Then we turn around and didn't play with enough compassion, enough fire.''

The Jackets, who had lost eight of nine at home and are well on their way to the draft lottery, took the initial lead when Matt Calvert scored in the first.

Florida tied the score early in the second when Aaron Ekblad teed off on a pass from Brad Boyes on a power play chance.

The two teams traded a few chances here and there until Columbus retook the lead on Boone Jenner's goal midway through the third.

The Jackets' secret weapon Monday -- aside from Florida's apathy -- was goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. On Monday, Bobrovsky improved to 7-1 against the Panthers.

Columbus has won nine straight against Florida including all three meetings last year. The Panthers haven't beaten the Jackets since 2007.

"The guys battled last time and this was a completely different game,'' said goalie Al Montoya, who stopped 21 of 23 shots in the hard-luck loss.

"We expected better of ourselves. It's 1-1 going into the third and these are the games we need to have. We need to learn from it now. This was a learning lesson.''


Center Dave Bolland said Monday afternoon that he's real close to returning to the lineup after missing the past six weeks.

Bolland pulled a groin muscle in the closing minutes of Florida's win at Buffalo on Oct. 17 and hasn't played since. Bolland was apparently on the road to recovery last month but had a setback and is making sure he's as close to 100 percent as he can.

"Things are better with the groin and are progressing,'' said Bolland, who signed a five-year deal with the Panthers on July 1.

"Trust me, it's been more of a strain on my mind than my groin. Coming off last year with my ankle, then missing all this time isn't fun.''

-- Goalie Roberto Luongo is expected to start Tuesday's game in Detroit after sitting out the past two games after getting hurt in last week's 1-0 win over Carolina.

Luongo had a long workout Monday and said afterward he was good to go. Florida returned Dan Ellis, who backed up Montoya for one game, to the minors on Sunday.

"I feel 100 percent,'' Luongo said. "I don’t think about it when I’m on the ice, so that’s always the key. If it’s in the back of your mind or you’re guarding it, it takes away from your game.''

-- Shawn Thornton (groin) missed Monday's game and is questionable for Tuesday since he hasn't skated since Friday.

Tuesday: Panthers at Red Wings

When, Where: 7:30 p.m.; Joe Louis Arena, Detroit

TV, radio: FSFL; WQAM 560

The series: Detroit leads 16-7-3

Of note: Former Panthers center Stephen Weiss is back from sports hernia surgery and has three goals and two assists in five games this year. He had no points in two losses to the Panthers last December -- the final games he played in the 2013-14 season.



November 30, 2014

LUONGO'S BACK: Roberto Luongo skates, on way to Columbus ... Dan Ellis returned to San Antonio ... Thornton doesn't skate, Jokinen does

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Roberto Luongo skated on Sunday and was all but cleared to play as the Panthers sent Dan Ellis back to AHL San Antonio.

Luongo suffered an apparent arm strain in the second period of Wednesday's win over Carolina and missed Friday's win against Ottawa.

Although coach Gerard Gallant was non-committal in whether Luongo would play in Florida's back-to-back set against Columbus and Detroit, it looks like he definitely will.

"He skated good today, everything looked good,'' Gallant said.

-- Shawn Thornton, who was struck in the face with a puck Friday, didn't skate on Sunday. Jussi Jokinen missed Friday's game with an illness but was back Sunday and traveled to Ohio.

-- San Antonio, Florida's AHL affiliate, had its franchise-best seven game winning streak ended with a 4-3 loss to visiting Oklahoma City on Saturday night.

Monday: Panthers at Blue Jackets

When, Where: 7 p.m.; Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio.

TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560

The series: Columbus leads 11-4-0

Of note: The Blue Jackets have owned the Panthers with Columbus winning the past seven between the two including all three last year. Florida hasn't beaten Columbus since 2007. The Jackets have struggled this year with just six wins.





OHIO HOMECOMING: Gerard Gallant, Derek MacKenzie back in Columbus ... Nathan Horton, unfortunately, won't face former team on Monday

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Gerard Gallant's final home game as head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets came on Nov. 10, 2006.

The Blue Jackets lost 4-1 to the visiting Oilers and then went on the road. Not long after Columbus lost in Chicago, Gallant was fired by longtime friend and Blue Jackets general manager Doug MacLean.

It took Gallant a while to get another chance at being a head coach in the NHL, but Monday, he returns to Nationwide Arena as bench boss of the Panthers.

Gallant said Sunday that coming back to work a game in Columbus holds no real special meaning even though his NHL coaching career started here as an assistant with the expansion Blue Jackets.

"I enjoy going back there and have been back [as an assistant] with Montreal and the Islanders,'' Gallant said.

"I have a lot of good friends there. I had seven great years there. It's a great city and I really enjoyed it. The organization treated us well. I like everything about Columbus. But aside from that, it's just coaching in another building. There's nothing special about it.''

Derek MacKenzie, however, said he's looking forward to playing his old team on Monday after leaving Columbus for Florida as a free agent in July.

MacKenzie spent seven seasons in the Blue Jackets organization after leaving the Atlanta Thrashers.

"I spent a long time there and it wasn't so long ago I was out there on that ice battling with those guys,'' MacKenzie said.

"I'm sure there will be a lot of emotions that day and in some ways it will tough. Lets not forget we have back-to-back games so these are crucial. It will be nice to see some friends, catch up with some of the guys, but we need to get some wins.''

One of MacKenzie's former teammates won't be n the ice Monday as Nathan Horton -- who spent six seasons with the Panthers -- has been sidelined with what may be a career-threatening back condition.

Horton, whom Florida picked third overall in the 2003 NHL draft, told the Columbus Dispatch that he is living in constant pain. If he decides to have surgery on his back, his career is likely over before the age of 30.

"I can’t stand up like a normal person; I can’t bend over," Horton, 29, told the Dispatch last month.

"I can’t run. I can’t play with my kids. To get in and out of the car, I’m like a 75-year-old man … so slow and stiff. I can’t sleep at night. I try to lay down and my back seizes up and I can’t move, so sleeping is out. I’m like a zombie in the daytime."

MacKenzie only played with Horton for one season and that was an abbreviated one at that. Horton was sidelined with various injuries and played in just 35 games after signing a seven-year deal worth $37 million.

"He's a Stanley Cup winner and I know how excited the team was when we signed him two summers ago,'' MacKenzie said. "We'll keep our fingers crossed and hope for a bit of a miracle for him.''

Horton was traded to the Bruins on the eve of the 2010 draft after scoring 142 goals with 153 assists in 422 games. He and his family still reside in South Florida during the offseason.


Monday: Panthers at Blue Jackets

When, Where: 7 p.m.; Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio.

TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560

The series: Columbus leads 11-4-0

Of note: The Blue Jackets have owned the Panthers with Columbus winning the past seven between the two including all three last year. Florida hasn't beaten Columbus since 2007. The Jackets have struggled this year with just six wins.







November 29, 2014

FIGHT STOPPER: Thornton, Neil surprised refs spoiled their showdown

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Shawn Thornton had a swollen, stitched up lip and some loose teeth following the Panthers' 3-2 win over Ottawa on Friday night.

Thornton's facial injuries, however, had nothing to do with his 'fight' against fellow heavyweight Chris Neil.

The two -- who have almost a combined 300 NHL fights between them -- circled before putting their hands on one another midway through the second period.

Thornton got in three warm-up punches; Neil's one shot glanced off.

And that was it.

The officials broke up the fight before it even really started bringing boos from the stands and incredulous -- and unprintable -- comments from both Thornton and Neil toward the refs.

"We're both pretty experienced guys,'' said Thornton, who was hit in the face by a puck not long after coming out of the penalty box. He returned in the third.

"We were both surprised by it.''

The reason the fight was stopped so quickly was because Thornton's helmet came off during the fracas.

Although it was common to pull off your helmet soon after the gloves were dropped, with safety in mind, the league instituted a rule last year that an additional two minutes would be added to the five minute penalty if a player removed his own helmet before fighting.

Players quickly figured out a loophole -- they would simply pull off the helmet of their opponent in the opening moments. Players apparently don't like the feel of plastic helmet against bare knuckle.

On Friday, Neil pushed off Thornton's helmet -- as was accepted practice -- only that's when when the fight was stopped.

"They said they were told to get in there,'' Thornton said. "I've been in a lot of fights and that's never happened before. If it's a new rule, it's a new rule, but no one told us about it. You could tell I wasn't happy but a lot of that was being in the moment. Your adrenaline kicks in.''

Florida coach Gerard Gallant was in his fair share of fights during his 11 seasons in the league.

On Friday, he said he understood what the league was trying to do as far as limiting the number of fights and seemed to agree with it.

"I know they are trying to protect the player and when the helmet comes off, they're going to stop it,'' said Gallant, who is credited with 106 fights during his career according to

"It's a shame because everyone wanted to see it and the players wanted to do it. But the officials are there to protect the players. There are some serious injuries when guys hit their heads.''

Thornton hasn't fought much since signing with the Panthers as Friday's was his second of the year and first since taking on Bryce Salvadore during the home opener.

He and Neil have tangled a few times over the years and Thornton said there is mutual respect between them.

Fans were hoping the two would tangle the first time the two teams met last month but it never went down. On Friday, both were willing, but the law got in the way.

"I don't know how many people were there [Friday] but I think I saw them all stand up when we squared up,'' Thornton said. "Then I heard them all booing when we were going off. I understand the safety concerns and get both sides of it. But if it's a rule, let us know and I can tighten my helmet a little more.''

-- The Panthers will practice at BB&T Center before flying to Columbus on Sunday afternoon.



November 28, 2014

TAKING BACK HOME ICE: Panthers throw plenty of rubber at Anderson, top Senators 3-2 ... Olsen, Bergenheim and Hayes lead charge against former Florida goalie

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers played one of their most complete games of the year on Friday night, keeping the puck in the Ottawa zone and making goalie Craig Anderson earn everything he got.

Florida got a little something for the effort.

With two goals in the third, the Panthers topped the Senators 3-2 at BB&T Center to move up a spot in the Eastern Conference standings.

Ottawa, which was outshot 46-24 Friday, came into the night two points up on the Panthers.

"We had four breakaways in one period,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "[Anderson] was outstanding. We worked hard and persevered at the end. We kept pushing and pushing and a couple of pucks went by him. We played perhaps our best offensive game and competed hard.''

Anderson, the former Panthers goalie who has been terrific in Sunrise when not wearing in a Florida sweater, kept the Senators close by stoning the Panthers throughout the first and second period.

Florida tied the score at 2 just 34 seconds into the third when Sean Bergenheim hammered a shot from the right circle.

The puck clipped Anderson (4-5-4 in Sunrise while with the Panthers and 7-2-0 here as a visitor) and trickled behind him and into the net.

The Panthers got their first and final lead seven minutes later when Vincent Trocheck charged hard at the net and threaded a pass to Jimmy Hayes who buried it.

"We had a good complete all-around game,'' said Hayes, benched on Wednesday but who is now second on the team with five goals.

"It's nice to have that confidence heading out on the road.''

While Anderson was getting bombarded, Al Montoya was solid with 22 saves for his second win of the season and first on home ice.

Ottawa opened the scoring in the first when bruiser Chris Neal took a nice pass in front of the Florida defense and tapped it past Montoya.

Just 47 seconds later, defenseman Dylan Olsen whipped a 60 foot shot through traffic off a Vincent Trocheck rebound past Anderson. The Sens took a 2-1 advantage 2:41 into the second.

"It's easy to be frustrated when you see your guys dominating and [Anderson] is standing on his head,'' Montoya said. "I'm thinking it was going to be just a matter of time.''

-- Florida was without winger Jussi Jokinen -- who came into Saturday tied with Nick Bjugstad for the team lead with 12 points -- because of illness.

-- Forward Shawn Thornton left Friday's game in the second period after taking a puck off his face but returned after being stitched up. Thornton said he would likely be visiting a dentist on Saturday.



ON THE MEND: Luongo hopes to be back on the ice in the coming days

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Goalie Roberto Luongo called his apparent arm strain a "weird, freak injury" but says he's feeling much improved and hopes to be back on the ice next week.

It's not known yet whether Luongo will accompany the team on its next road trip as the team leaves Sunday and will only have one morning skate during its three day trip. Florida plays consecutive games in Columbus and Detroit on Monday and Tuesday.

"It's really progressed over the past 24 hours,'' said Luongo, who was hurt during the second period of Wednesday's 1-0 win over Carolina.

"I'm just hoping to be back on the ice in the next few days.''

Luongo said he was injured when he went to play a puck dumped in a few minutes before his spectacular sprawling save when he robbed Victor Rask.

"It was a nothing play, just a dump-in,'' Luongo said. "I pulled something. It was a weird play. I tried to play through it and there were some plays where I had to lunge out and it flared up.''




November 27, 2014

THE DAY AFTER: Luongo will miss Friday ... Montoya starts v. Sens, Ellis coming back up ... Bolland close, Upshall on IR

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Although the Panthers picked up a much needed victory Wednesday night, it cost them their starting goalie at least for the near future.

Roberto Luongo suffered what appears to be a minor arm injury during Wednesday's 1-0 victory over the visiting Hurricanes at BB&T Center.

Luongo was at the team training facility early Thursday for treatment but was unavailable for comment.

Coach Gerard Gallant said backup Al Montoya would start Friday against Ottawa with general manager Dale Tallon calling up Dan Ellis from the minors to back him up.

Winger Scottie Upshall was placed on injured reserve to make room for Ellis on the roster.

"He's day to day. It's not real serious,'' Gallant said of Luongo's injury. "I think he's better, he felt good [Friday]. It's not a big concern.''

The good news for Florida is it is deep in goal.

On Wednesday, Montoya came in after Luongo was forced to leave midway through the second and stopped 22 shots to pick up the save.

"He came in cold and came out hot,'' said Nick Bjugstad, who scored Florida's lone goal Wednesday 21 seconds into the game. "We have two really good goaltenders here.''

Well, three, now that Ellis is on his way back.

Acquired for Tim Thomas at last year's trade deadline, Ellis struggled with the Panthers to close the season but played well in the preseason and has been strong in San Antonio.

Florida is paying Ellis' NHL salary even though he's playing in the minors after signing Montoya to back up Luongo in July.

Ellis has helped the Rampage win a franchise-tying seven straight games (he's started six of them) and stopped 32 shots in a 3-0 shutout of the Texas Stars in his past start.

"We have options in San Antonio in which we won't miss a beat. That hasn't happened for us in a while,'' Tallon said. "We have depth in our organization and that's what it takes. It takes an army. [Ellis] is a good guy, a classy guy. He understands everyone needs to be ready.''

On Wednesday, Bjugstad gave Florida the only lead it would need 21 seconds into the game when he followed up a Brandon Pirri shot and slammed the puck past Cam Ward.

The Hurricanes, badly outplayed in the opening period, woke up in the second and Luongo was hurt making a poke save -- one of five in his 10:22 of work in the period.

Moments later, Luongo sprawled out and made perhaps his prettiest save of the season by robbing Victor Rask.

While on his back, Luongo stretched out and made a terrific glove save on a Rask shot.

Luongo played three-plus minutes after that but came out at the next timeout.

"That was an unbelievable save,'' Gallant said. "It was a highlight reel one for sure.''

The Hurricanes outshot Florida 17-5 in the final period and Montoya was named the game's top star.

Friday's game will be Montoya's fourth start -- first since Nov. 16 -- and seventh appearance of the season.

"Louie has been so good for us, it's hard to see him go down with an injury,'' said Montoya, who is 1-1-1 with a 1.99 GAA and a 93 percent save rate.

"For me, it was just believing in my game. I've been working hard, working with the goalie coach and it's knowing what I can do and contributing when I get the chance.''

Said Gallant: "He made a lot of great saves and I'm sure that's good for his confidence in the next game. You hate to lose your starting goaltender, but when your backup comes in and plays like that, you know he'll be ready to go the next time out. You're happy about that.''


Dave Bolland, Florida's highest-paid forward, was back on the ice Thursday with Tallon saying he should be back in the lineup next week.

Bolland, who signed a five-year deal with the Panthers worth $27.5 million on July 1, has missed the past 16 games with a groin injury. He came off the ice at the end of Florida's win at Buffalo on Oct. 17 and hasn't played since.

-- Upshall was placed on the injured list retroactive to Monday meaning he is eligible to return Tuesday in Detroit although that's not expected.

Gallant said that Upshall would not travel with the team on its upcoming trip and would likely miss two weeks. Upshall injured an ankle Monday against Minnesota.

Friday: Senators at Panthers

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

TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM-560

The series: Ottawa leads 47-30-3

Of note: The Sens have taken the season series six of the past eight years. Ottawa beat Florida 1-0 in the third game of the season after Clarke MacArthur scored midway through the second and former Panthers goalie Craig Anderson held on for the shutout.






PIERRE'S BACK: Panthers hire Groulx to work with young goalies at San Antonio and Cincinnati

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Pierre Groulx, Florida's goalie coach under Jacques Martin and Pete DeBoer, has rejoined the organization and will work with the Panthers' goalies at San Antonio (AHL) and Cincinnati (ECHL).

Groulx has also worked with the Senators and was goalie coach of the Canadiens for four seasons.

"It's a great opportunity for him to get back into the game he loves and it's a great opportunity for our goalies as well,'' San Antonio general manager Eric Joyce said.

"They get to learn from an experienced guy and you can already see a difference. His qualifications are outstanding and he's a true professional. He's excited to be with us and we're very excited to have him.''


November 26, 2014

MAKING A HOME IN SOUTH FLORIDA: Hayes and Olsen fitting in with Panthers nicely a year after big trade ... Thornton gets first goal, wants more

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
At this time last year, both Dylan Olsen and Jimmy Hayes were getting used to their new surroundings.
Living in a team-provided hotel in Coral Springs, the newest members of the Florida Panthers were playing in their first home games after coming over in a trade with Chicago.
"There's been a lot of change,'' Hayes said. "I'm a full-time NHL player now and not a guy walking on egg shells. I'm not complacent, but it's nice to have a role.''
Both players were shocked by the news that they were coming to the Panthers in exchange for winger Kris Versteeg. Both Olsen and Hayes were playing for Chicago's minor league team in Rockford, Illinois, and coming to the Panthers meant an opportunity to play hockey at the highest level.
The deal has worked out pretty well for both the Panthers and the players they acquired.
"I can't believe it has been a whole year already,'' said Olsen, who has played in 19 of 20 games for the Panthers this season.
"It's really helped this year being around and going through training camp and being part of the West Point trip. Last year, we had to come in and learn new systems, new coaches, new teammates in a short period of time. I obviously love being here in Florida, love being part of this team.''
Although both players have permanent residence in South Florida these days, they don't necessarily have safe haven in the lineup.
Olsen's missed game was on Monday when he was benched in favor of Colby Robak.
On Wednesday, Hayes -- who has four goals in 13 games this year -- was benched so Tomas Fleischmann could get back in the lineup.
"He has played hard and he has played well for us,'' coach Gerard Gallant said before Florida's home game against Carolina on Wednesday.
"We just have to keep on Jimmy. He's effective when he skates hard, moves his feet. That makes him an important guy for us.''
Hayes, although not playing Wednesday, has made a name for himself with the Panthers.
Last year, Hayes found plenty of playing time on Florida's third and fourth lines and used his big frame to camp out in front of the net and score a career-high 11 goals in 53 games.
Hayes has played in 13 of 20 games this season although Wednesday's benching was his first since last month as he had played in 11 straight.
"We both have a great opportunity here and need to capitalize,'' Hayes said. "We have to figure out a way to stay in the lineup every night. I just have to work hard, show up at the rink every day with a good attitude and develop my game.''
Shawn Thornton's first goal with the Panthers on Monday was originally called off as referee Ghislain Hebert waved off the goal thinking Thornton's stick came above the cross bar.
Thornton wasn't all too pleased.
"I don't think you want to know my thoughts,'' Thornton said not long after getting that puck on Tuesday morning. "I think the whole arena could read my lips.''
The four officials conferred and correctly ruled Thornton's stick was low enough as video review from Toronto confirmed the call.
Now that the goal counts, Thornton hopes to score a few more. In 576 NHL games coming into Wednesday, Thornton has scored 39 times.
"They come in bunches, they say,'' he said. "It's nice to score, especially when they come as spaced out as they do for me. The goal was nice, but I would rather win.''
-- Gallant said winger Scottie Upshall will miss at least a week after getting hurt on Monday. Upshall was seen in a walking boot as he apparently injured an ankle when run up against the back boards.
-- Because the Ottawa Senators previously reserved the ice at BB&T Center on Thursday, the Panthers will hold an open practice at the IceDen in Coral Springs starting at 11 a.m. The workout is free and open to the public.


QUICK GOAL, STRONG GOALTENDING: Panthers lose Luongo in second but Bjugstad's quick goal holds up as Panthers top Hurricanes 1-0 ... Montoya stands strong with 22 saves ... Luongo injury not considered serious

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Nick Bjugstad gave the Panthers a lead by scoring 21 seconds into Wednesday's game.

Thanks to some terrific goaltending from Roberto Luongo and backup Al Montoya, that goal stood up as Florida beat visiting Carolina 1-0 at BB&T Center.

Montoya was forced into service midway through the second period when Luongo left with what the team is calling an 'upper body' injury.

Montoya made 22 saves in picking up the save. Neither goalie gets credit for the shutout but Luongo gets the win.

"He came in cold and came out hot,'' Bjugstad said of Montoya's play. "We have two really good goaltenders here.''

According to general manager Dale Tallon and coach Gerard Gallant, Luongo's injury isn't considered serious although more will be known Thursday.

Tallon said he hadn't thought of calling up Dale Ellis from Florida's minor league affiliate in San Antonio.

"Louie's fine,'' Gallant said. "Everything the trainers told me is that it isn't serious.''

Florida took its quick lead on its first push up the ice when Bjugstad (six goals, three assists and a shootout winner in past six games) jumped on a loose puck and beat Cam Ward (27 saves).

The Panthers dominated play in the opening period but couldn't match Bjugstad's marker and went into the break up just one.

"We let up off the pedal,'' Bjugstad said. "We found a way to win and our goaltenders helped us. We have to find a way to gut games out. We found a way to win. That's the biggest thing.''

Carolina seemed to wake up in the second and Luongo was hurt making a poke save -- one of his five in the first 10:22 of work in the period.

Moments later, Luongo sprawled out and made perhaps his prettiest save of the season by robbing Victor Rask.

While on his back, Luongo stretched out and made a terrific glove save on a Rask shot. Luongo tried to continue and played three-plus minutes but came out at the next timeout.

"That was an unbelievable save,'' Gallant said. "It was a highlight reel one for sure.''

Carolina came hard at Montoya but couldn't put a puck through.

"It's a game of momentum,'' Bjugstad said. "When the backup comes in, you want to pepper him, want to see what he's got. Luckily I was able to answer the bell.''

The Hurricanes outshot Florida 17-5 in the final period and Montoya was named the game's top star. Bjugstad came in second and Ward finished third in the balloting.

"Louie has been so good for us, it's hard to see him go down with an injury,'' Montoya said.

"For me, it was just believing in my game. I've been working hard, working with the goalie coach and it's knowing what I can do and contributing when I get the chance.''

Said Gallant: "He made a lot of great saves and I'm sure that's good for his confidence in the next game. You hate to lose your starting goaltender, but when your backup comes in and plays like that, you know he'll be ready to go the next time out. You're happy about that.''




November 25, 2014

MAKING DO: Panthers missing Upshall, MacKenzie and Luongo on Tuesday ... Trocheck ready to get back in lineup

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers had a few players missing from Tuesday's practice at BB&T Center.
Winger Scottie Upshall was seen walking around the arena in a walking boot after apparently injuring an ankle after being driven into the boards during Monday's game.
Upshall was playing in his first game since missing two with an unrelated injury suffered at Los Angeles last Tuesday night.
"He felt OK after the game but [Tuesday] morning was pretty sore,'' coach Gerard Gallant said.
Also missing from Tuesday's practice was center Derek MacKenzie who was feeling ill. If MacKenzie is well enough to play, Gallant could scratch Tomas Fleischmann or Vincent Trocheck as he did Monday.
Trocheck, who centered Jokinen and Hayes on Tuesday, said he wasn't surprised to be on the bench after being told Gallant wasn't happy with his play Saturday in Nashville.
"I didn't think I played well in Nashville and Gerard told me the same,'' Trocheck said.
"It's understandable. But it's not fun. I want to be in the lineup. If I'm back there [Wednesday], I'm going to work twice as hard. You have to take advantage and not take anything for granted here.''
Roberto Luongo took a maintenance day Tuesday and didn't practice.

WINGING IT: Brandon Pirri back in the lineup although in unfamiliar position

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Brandon Pirri admits he was in a hurry to come back after his first concussion a few years ago and returned way too soon.
So when he was concussed after taking an elbow to the head on Oct. 30, Pirri listened to what team doctors had to say and made sure he was 100 percent ready upon his return.
"You don't want to rush things especially when you hear about other guys when they get their second one,'' Pirri said before Monday's game.
"You can just delay the whole process. I tried to stay in shape so I'm not hesitant. When I rushed it before, I was pretty bad when I came back. That's not going to help me or the team. Plus the team was winning, so there was no rush.''
Pirri ended up missing 10 games after being struck by Arizona's Keith Yandle.
On Tuesday, he says he felt good after returning to the lineup.
"I had to get my legs involved. It was kind of like playing the first game of the year again,'' said Pirri, who had three goals in the three games before getting knocked out.
"It's tough to prepare for. You can ride the bike for 10 miles and it's not going to do anything. I got the first one out of the way. I have to respond better, be a step faster and be an opportunistic player.''
Pirri started Monday's game centering Jussi Jokinen and Jimmy Hayes but things changed as Florida fell behind to the visiting Wild.
In the third period, coach Gerard Gallant moved Pirri onto the right side of center Nick Bjugstad.
On Tuesday, Pirri remained at right wing with Jonathan Huberdeau on the left.
Although Gallant wouldn't commit to it, expect that trio to be Florida's top line when the Panthers play host to Carolina on Tuesday night.
"We're all offensive guys so as long as we take care of the defense, everything will take care of itself,'' said Pirri, who said he doesn't mind moving over to wing although he's a natural center.
"We have to gel but we all think the same. We just have to find the consistency in all three zones and we have enough talent where that can happen.''
Pirri was a healthy scratch for Florida's first four games, initially jumping into the lineup when Dave Bolland injured his groin Oct. 17 at Buffalo.
Although Bolland has yet to return, moving Pirri over to wing -- even if it is temporary -- gives Gallant some flexibility with the lineup.
"Pirri is a good player and has scored some goals. We're just throwing different things out there,'' Gallant said. "He'll probably see some time there and we'll see how it goes. He can score, can shoot and was playing real well. He has confidence in his game and knows he can play.''
Said Pirri: "When you're playing, you don't think about it. There's not that much of an adjustment.''
Wednesday: Hurricanes at Panthers
When, Where:
7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560/ESPN 1210 (Spanish)
The series: Carolina leads 54-41-11
Of note: After winning five of six in 2011-12 and splitting the season series in 2013, the Panthers were handled by Carolina last year. The Hurricanes won all three meetings by a combined 11-3.


November 24, 2014

LOST IN THE WILD: Panthers slog through a 4-1 loss to visiting Minnesota ... Cats bring back Upshall, Pirri, Bergenheim and Robak; bench Fleischmann, Trocheck and Olsen

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers wanted to take advantage of their recent road success only fell flat at home Monday night.

Minnesota jumped all over the sluggish Panthers in the opening period and left BB&T Center with a 4-1 victory.

"They came out ready to play and we were lifeless in those first couple of periods,'' said Minneapolis native Nick Bjugstad, whose four-game scoring streak (five goals, three assist) was snapped.

"We showed a little but not enough. Those guys are too good for us not to bear down on them. We didn't play the way we wanted.''

Although the Wild haven't been very good on the road this season, Florida has been even worse in Sunrise.

The Wild came into the night ranked 23rd in the league with eight road points; the Panthers were tied for 29th with just seven points at home.

Monday, Minnesota apparently shook off its beach rust -- the Wild brought a large contingent of family members on this Florida swing -- and took control early.

Jason Zucker got the first of his two goals six minutes in when his soft shot trickled between Roberto Luongo's skates.

With 2:17 left in the period, Nino Niederreiter made it 2-0 when he broke free off a Willie Mitchell turnover at center ice and roofed a shot past Luongo.

"We had a 'C' performance and that's not good enough,'' coach Gerard Gallant said.

"We got outworked in the first two periods and that's disappointing. I know the guys are disappointed because we had a good road trip. This happens a lot when you come off the road, but no excuses for this. We have to be a lot better.''

Although the Panthers were finally able to get some of their injured forwards back in the lineup, they created little offensive push -- at least in the opening two periods.

Florida was held to just five shots on goal and 10 shots attempted (blocked, missed and shots on goal) in the first. The Panthers had 14 shots heading into the third.

The Panthers scored 5:34 into the second when Shawn Thornton knocked down a long shot from Dmitry Kulikov and deflected it past Nik Backstrom.

Referee Ghislain Hebert originally waved off the goal thinking Thornton's stick came above the cross bar. The officials conferred and ruled Thornton made a legal move and a long review from hockey central in Toronto confirmed the good goal.

The Wild took its two-goal lead back late in the second when Zucker -- who had nine shots on goal in the first two periods -- took advantage of a lax Florida defense and scored top shelf on Luongo.

The Panthers had a few good scoring chances -- including Brad Boyes with 90 seconds left -- after that but Backstrom picked up his second win this month with an easy-looking 29 save night.

Minnesota got its final goal from Zach Parise into an empty net.

"We're a young team and we're going to make mistakes,'' Luongo said. "It's my job to bail us out when that happens. I didn't in the first period and it cost us the game.''

-- Forwards Brandon Pirri, Scottie Upshall and Sean Bergenheim all rejoined the lineup after missing time with injury.

Florida benched Tomas Fleischmann and Vinny Trocheck to make room. Colby Robak also replaced Dylan Olsen on defense for the first time this season.

-- Jacques Martin, Florida's coach and/or general manager from 2005-09, attended Tuesday's game as a scout for the Penguins.