January 18, 2016

TIME TO COME HOME: Panthers' slide at three after 3-1 loss to Tampa Bay Lightning ... Edmonton comes to town Monday, kicks off four-game homestand

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
TAMPA -- Nick Bjugstad has been in possession of the Panthers' famed 'Spacey In Space' sweatshirt the past three games.
That means the sweatshirt -- which goes to a team MVP after a victory -- hangs in his locker stall and travels with him in his equipment bag.
Bjugstad can't wait to get rid of the darned thing.
Because the Panthers lost their third straight Sunday evening -- this one 3-1 to the host Lightning -- the royal blue hoodie made its way back to South Florida in Bjugstad's bag.
When the Panthers win again, Bjugstad is in charge of awarding it to the next guy.
"I've had it for three games now,'' Bjugstad said after scoring Florida's lone goal on Sunday. "It's been in my stall too much. I have to get rid of it Monday night.''
The Panthers aim to end their losing streak Monday when the Edmonton Oilers come to the BB&T Center in Sunrise.
Coincidentally, Edmonton is the last team Florida has defeated and it's where Bjugstad was given the sweatshirt in the first place.
If the Panthers play Monday the way they did in the third period of Sunday's game, they could get back to their winning ways.
If Florida repeats the style it played in the first and second, however, Bjugstad may be stuck with the Kevin Spacey sweatshirt a little longer.
The Panthers end their six-game road trip 3-2-1.
"The third period was a real good period for us, we got within a goal,'' said coach Gerard Gallant, whose team went 0-5 on the power play in the loss.
"I thought we played well in the third, but the first two, there wasn't much offense from either team. Tampa took it to us a little in the second and we didn't get much from out power play.''
Florida's power play has struggled lately as the Panthers haven't scored with the man-advantage since Jan. 2.
After striking out on all five of their power play chances Sunday, the Panthers have gone scoreless on their past 19.
"We need to compete harder, put pucks at the net,'' Gallant said. "We had some great looks, changed things up in the third. When it's not going good, it gives the other team momentum.''
The Lightning survived two Florida power play chances in a scoreless first period which bled into the second.
After Tampa Bay killed off its second penalty, it took a 1-0 lead when Nikita Kucherov teed off from the right circle and beat Roberto Luongo top shelf.
Later in the second, the Lightning made it 2-0 leading the Panthers to go into the third down two goals.
Florida played a much better third and cut Tampa Bay's lead when Bjugstad followed up his own rebound and scored his first goal since Nov. 21.
Bjugstad missed a month dealing with painful migraines and his goal Sunday was his first point in his seven games since returning.
"We have to keep going, keep trying,'' Bjugstad said. "We knew their game plan, we just didn't execute the way we wanted to. They're a fast team.''
Florida and Tampa Bay -- which both hold playoff positions -- battled through the final half of the third period with no one giving up an inch.
With 1:32 left, Luongo skated off the ice to give Florida and extra attacker and the Lightning made the Panthers pay.
Just eight seconds left, Kucherov slid the puck into an empty net for his second of the night.
"We have to stop this as soon as possible,'' Jaromir Jagr said. "When you're on a winning streak, everything looks easy. When you're losing, it's the other way around. You have to stop it. Hopefully [the third period play] carries over on Monday. If it doesn't, it doesn't matter.''
-- The Panthers scratched Shawn Thornton Sunday although it's expected he'll be back Monday against Edmonton.
Defenseman Aaron Ekblad missed his third consecutive game after being boarded by Edmonton's Matt Hendricks last week. Hendricks wasn't penalized for the hit but was suspended three games. Hendricks' suspension ended and he's eligible to return against the Panthers.
-- Count Lightning coach Jon Cooper as one who thinks having both the Panthers and Tampa Bay being relevant is good for the rivalry.
"I think it's good for hockey, for everything in the state of Florida,'' Cooper said, adding the rivalry would get very heated if the two were paired up in the postseason.
"It's good for us to both do well."
Said Gallant: "It's good when both teams in the state are good and battle each other."
Monday: Oilers at Panthers
When, where:
7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640, WMNA 1210
Series: Edmonton leads 14-10-3
Scouting report: The Panthers beat the Oilers 2-1 last Sunday night before going on a three-game slide. Al Montoya will start in net for the Panthers, who haven't beaten Edmonton in Sunrise since 2002.



January 16, 2016

PANTHERS HEAD TO TAMPA: Rare meeting between in-state rivals when both hold playoff position ... Aaron Ekblad out against Lightning and Oilers, could return against Chicago

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Rare is the matchup in which both of Florida's NHL teams hold playoff positioning at the same time.
Yet when the Lightning play host to the Panthers on Sunday evening, that's exactly the scenario.
For the Panthers, Sunday's game marks the end of a long road trip -- which was interrupted by a few days back home in South Florida -- which started in Buffalo on Jan. 5.
"It was nice to get a couple days off and recharge the batteries a little bit,'' goalie Roberto Luongo said following Saturday's practice in Coral Springs.
"We have a big game in Tampa and are looking at it as one game. We have to get back on the winning track as soon as possible. We have some distance in our division and don't want that gap to close. We need to get back to getting some points."
Atop the Atlantic Division since late December, the Panthers have lost their past two games but their 18-3-1 run since Thanksgiving have put them in good position in their division as well as the Eastern Conference.
Tampa Bay, meanwhile, has bounced back from a slow start and has won five of its past six including its past four.
"They went to the [Stanley Cup] Finals last year, so they know what it takes to win,'' Luongo said. "There are a lot of good teams in our division and we can't take anything for granted. It's going to be a battle, a dogfight until the end of the year."
The Lightning came home from a similar western Canadian road trip on Friday and beat Pittsburgh 5-4 in overtime to put it in third place in the division -- seven points back of the Panthers -- coming into Saturday's games.
"Tampa has been playing better, have crawled back and have a playoff spot right now,'' Brian Campbell said.
"It's important for us to get some distance, keep this going with five games left before the All-Star break. We have to get back on track most importantly, get back to playing our style. We've been off the past four, five games. It'll be interesting to see how we react."
Said coach Gerard Gallant: "They are playing like they did last year. They're a good, solid group. It'll be a good test for us."
The Panthers and Lightning have never met in the playoffs, a prerequisite for taking this cross-state rivalry to the next level.
Neither team has been very good when the other one has been save, perhaps, for the 2011-12 season when the Panthers won the Southeast Division as the Lightning finished third and out of the playoffs.
Florida won the previous two meetings against Tampa Bay back in November with second-year defenseman Aaron Ekblad tying the first in the dying moments before winning the second with a goal in the final seconds.
The Panthers won't have Ekblad to do the damage Sunday as he remains out because of a suspected concussion suffered last Sunday in Edmonton but the Panthers plan on winning their third consecutive game against the Lightning without him.
"Teams are trying to catch us now,'' Campbell said. "Now we're the team being chased and we have to establish some distance and win some big games. This is the place we want to be and where we're capable of being.''
-- Gallant was back on the ice Saturday after missing Wednesday's 6-0 loss in Calgary to attend the funeral of his mother Rosie in the Canadian province of Prince Edward Island.
Gallant said he wasn't too upset with the loss to the Flames, joking his absence was the reason.
"That game was coming,'' Gallant said. "You could see it coming for the past week or so. We have a good group and sometime a good kicking is good for your team.''
-- Ekblad skated before Saturday's practice and took part in the early session before leaving.
After missing the past two games since being boarded by Edmonton's Matt Hendricks last week, Ekblad will also be out for Florida's upcoming two games on Sunday and Monday against the visiting Oilers.
The Panthers hope to have Ekblad back for Friday's game against the visiting Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks.
-- Steven Kampfer has filled in for Ekblad the past two games after missing a month with a knee injury suffered against the Capitals.
Kampfer said the timing worked out because he probably wouldn't have been ready earlier than he was.
"Edmonton may have been the first game so everything just worked out,'' he said. "I had a lot of treatment, lot of rehab. Everything's good now. I got my legs under me.''
Sunday: Panthers at Lightning
When, where: 5 p.m.; Amalie Arena, Tampa
TV/Radio: FSFL; 560 WQAM, 640 WMEN
Series: Florida leads 60-49-10
Scouting report: Florida won its first game in Tampa since the final game of the 2013 lockout-shortened season 5-4 in a shootout on Nov. 14. That snapped a four-game losing streak in Tampa.


January 14, 2016

SWEET HOME, FLORIDA: Panthers lick wounds, return home after 6-0 thrashing in Calgary ... Panthers get a few days off, visit Tampa on Sunday ... Sam Bennett lights up Luongo, Montoya with four goals

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Just two days after their franchise-record winning streak was snapped in Vancouver, the Panthers crashed back to earth late Wednesday night in Calgary.
The good news after the Flames' 6-0 victory? Calgary's airport was only a short bus ride away from the Saddledome.
"There’s no reason to hit the panic button,'' Erik Gudbranson told reporters.
"It’s just two games. We got a point in the last game we played. Sometimes, you just get it handed to you."
The Panthers, after 10 days in western New York and Canada, will be back home at least for a few days.
Florida, which is now riding a two-game losing streak after winning 12 consecutive, visits Tampa Bay on Sunday afternoon.
The team took Thursday off after an early morning arrival and won't practice until Saturday.
After this past trip, one in which the Panthers won in Buffalo, Ottawa and Edmonton before losing in overtime at Vancouver, they look like they could use the rest.
Florida goes into Tampa 3-1-1 on this current road trip and will follow its game with the Lightning with a four-game homestand before the All-Star break.
"We have a couple days off now we have to regroup and be positive,'' Jonathan Huberdeau said.
"We’re still a good team; it's just one game. We have to erase it out of our memories and just move onto Tampa next. It’s a division game so it’s going to be important. The game, our identity, that’s not how we play. We’ve gotta forget about it and regroup as a team and worry about the next game."
Wednesday's game was a nightmare from the start.
Florida fell behind 1-0 just 56 seconds in as Calgary's Sam Bennett beat Roberto Luongo on the first shot of the night.
The Panthers trailed 3-0 with 7:59 left in the first period after Bennett scored his second. Florida was being outshot 10-3 at the time.
With 2:59 left in the period, Bennett got his third of the night to bring a barrage of baseball caps onto the Saddledome ice.
Luongo (11 saves on 15 shots) stayed in net through the end of the first period but was on the bench to start the second as Al Montoya came on in relief.
Bennett scored his fourth goal of the game with 25 seconds remaining to put the end to a miserable night for the Panthers who were outshot 36-15 and really challenged goalie Jonas Hiller only once or twice.
"I don’t think we we were ready. That’s about it,'' Huberdeau said. "I think we let Luongo alone in the net tonight. Fortunately, Montoya came in the net for us. But we can’t let our goalie be in the net by themselves. We’re a good team. We just have to show it."
As for the loss, the Panthers aren't worried about people calling their 12-game winning streak a fluke -- and nor they should.
Although the Panthers were outshot in many of their games over the past month, they came into Wednesday's game either tied or holding a lead for of 88 percent of their previous 22 games (18-3-1).
And before Wednesday, the Panthers had not trailed at an intermission in 13 games.
"It’s always easier when you play with a lead and teams are pushing,'' Willie Mitchell said. "We really haven’t had games, to be honest, where we’ve gotten down early, where it’s been that hard-fought game.
"I think, the whole streak for us was good because you get on a roll like that and you want to keep it going.”
Florida, which came into Thursday continuing to hold a six-point lead on Detroit (the Red Wings played at Arizona late Thursday) atop the Atlantic Division, beat five teams which currently hold or are tied for a playoff spot during its winning streak.
Speaking of playoff positioning, Florida not only holds an automatic spot by being in the top three of its division, it came into Thursday 10 points ahead of Boston which held the final postseason slot.
The Panthers, who lost 8-2 at Winnipeg a year ago Wednesday in a similar position at the end of a long yet successful road trip, hope to get back on track against a Lightning team they beat twice in consecutive games in November.
Last year, the Winnipeg loss was the start of what ended up being a five-game losing streak.
The Panthers figure they're a much different team this year.
"It’s not back to the drawing board,'' Gudbranson said. "We’re a good hockey team, we just have to figure out a way to get back to our game. It just wasn’t good enough. ... At the end of the day, it’s a good thing; We needed a good spanking like that."
-- Assistant coach Mike Kelly coached the team Wednesday in place of Gerard Gallant who was back home in the Canadian province of Prince Edward Island for the funeral of his mother Rosie.
With Gallant away, goalie coach Robb Tallas wasn't in his usual spot in the coaches' booth above the ice but behind the bench helping run Florida's forward lines.
"Everyone goes through something like that," Kelly said of the thorough defeat Wednesday.
"You just have to suck it up, go home and we'll get a couple days of rest and get ready for the next one."
Gallant is expected to be back in time for Florida's 11 a.m. practice Saturday at the Coral Springs IceDen.
That practice is open to the public. The Panthers will then fly to Tampa for Sunday's 5 p.m. game against the Lightning.
Miami Herald corespondent Kristen Odland contributed to this report.


January 12, 2016

LATE NIGHT FIGHTS WITH THE PANTHERS: Florida's 12-game winning streak ends in overtime to Canucks but not before some shenanigans ... Aaron Ekblad misses game, day-to-day after Edmonton hit ... Gerard Gallant heads home for mother's funeral in PEI


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers' franchise-record 12-game winning streak came to an end late Monday night in Vancouver -- but it didn't come without a fight.
Moments after Daniel Sedin snapped Florida's run with an overtime goal in Vancouver's 3-2 win, a scrum broke out along the Florida bench.
According to reports from the Vancouver locker room, Florida's Shawn Thornton -- who helped Boston beat Roberto Luongo and the Canucks in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals -- had some choice words for Sedin and twin brother Henrik before overtime started.
Video shows Thornton on the ice before overtime saying something in the direction of the Sedins with a smile on his face.
The Sedins were not smiling.
"We have a lot of respect for their team,'' Daniel Sedin said after the game, refusing to identify the Florida player or the comment in question.
"It was just one guy and he knows who he is. He acted very inappropriate. It's something we hear every day but that was crossing the line."
After Daniel Sedin scored, captain Henrik Sedin skated toward the Panthers' bench waging his finger.
According to Vancouver's Derek Dorsett, defenseman Alex Petrovic squirted Henrik Sedin with water from the bench leading Dorsett to come over to confront Petrovic.
Instead, backup goalie Al Montoya gave Dorsett a shove with his glove hand, leading Dorsett to punch Montoya back.
"[The Sedins] were pretty mad,” Dorsett told reporters. "I saw Montoya and Petrovic jawing with them and trying to squirt them with water so I skated over to intervene. Montoya took a cut at me so I took a cut at him."
The Dorsett-Montoya incident started a series of events in which a number of Florida players piled out of the tunnel and back toward the ice.
Luongo was among them, jabbing his stick toward Dorsett from behind the bench.
Montoya was also seen hopping the wall and onto the ice to confront Vancouver backup goalie Ryan Miller. Brandon Prust had a hold of Steven Kampfer before Thornton grabbed him. Skirmishes broke out all over the ice.

"One of their guys came over to our bench and tried to punch one of our guys,'' Luongo said afterward. "He had 60 minutes to fight anyone on our team who was willing and able but he wants to do it after the game.''
Coach Gerard Gallant was in the middle of the mix and was seen being held back by officials and staff as he yelled at Vancouver assistant coach Glen Gulutzan as well as game officials and Dorsett.
Florida lost in great part to a late penalty on Jaromir Jagr which led to the Canucks having a 4-on-3 power play advantage in overtime.
No disciplinary actions are expected from the league since the game was over and no real damage was done.
The scrum did make for fun television, however, and was a big conversation piece on Canadian sports talk radio on Tuesday.
"It was much ado about nothing,'' general manager Dale Tallon said on Tuesday. "It was like a baseball fight. These don't happen anymore so people go crazy when they do.''
As for the game, even though the Panthers held a 2-0 lead at the first intermission, they didn't look to be in control as the Canucks had numerous prime scoring chances against Luongo.
Florida took the initial lead 1:20 in on Jussi Jokinen's eight goal, with Jonathan Huberdeau making it 2-0 by scoring with 33 seconds left in the period.
Vancouver cut its deficit to 2-1 in the second, with rookie Jake Virtanen tying it and forcing overtime by scoring with 2:38 remaining.
That came moments after Florida had a 3-on-1 breakaway with former Panthers' goalie Jacob Markstrom -- who came to Vancouver in the 2013 deal which brought Luongo back to Florida -- stopping Kampfer's slap shot.
In overtime, the Panthers had a number of chances but when Jagr was called for hooking with 2:53 left, Florida's fate was just about sealed. It only took 14 seconds for Sedin to find the back of the net.
The Panthers still have a franchise-record 13-game point streak going (12-0-1) and lead Detroit by six points in the Atlantic Division race after going 18-3-1 since Thanksgiving.
Florida will try to extend things Wednesday in Calgary.
"We played a better game Monday night than we did in the two previous games, but that's the way it goes,'' Tallon said.
"Sometimes a streak becomes a burden, but the guys weren't happy how it ended. That's a good thing. We're going to try and start a new one."
-- Gallant's mother Rosie passed away after a long illness last week.
Gallant left the Vancouver arena immediately without speaking to reporters to catch a red-eye flight home to the eastern Canadian province of Prince Edward Island for Tuesday's wake and Wednesday's funeral.
Assistant coach Mike Kelly will coach the team Wednesday.
Gallant -- named as a favorite for the NHL's coach of the year award by NHL.com on Tuesday -- is expected to be back for Saturday's practice in South Florida before the team travels for Sunday's game in Tampa.
Gallant travelled to Canada for a few days when the team was in Boston last month to visit his mother one final time.
-- Tallon said defenseman Aaron Ekblad is day-to-day after being boarded by Edmonton's Matt Hendricks in Sunday's win.
Ekblad sat out Monday's game with what is thought to be concussion-like symptoms. Tallon said Tuesday afternoon it was too soon to tell whether Ekblad could play Wednesday. The Panthers had Tuesday off.
Late Monday night, Hendricks was suspended three games by the NHL for the hit on Ekblad even though no penalty was called on the ice.
Hendricks is eligible to return for Edmonton's game in Sunrise on Monday.
Wednesday: Panthers at Flames
When, where: 9:30 p.m.; Scotiabank Saddledome, Calgary, Alberta
TV/Radio: FSFL; 560 WQAM, 640 WMEN
Series: Calgary leads 13-10-3
Scouting report: Florida is 3-0-1 in its past four visits to Calgary including last year's wild 6-5 win as the lead changed hands six times. The Flames have lost their past two after opening the homestand by beating Tampa Bay last week.


January 11, 2016

ROLLING ALONG: Panthers win 12th consecutive game, head to Vancouver on Monday

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers scored on their first and third shots of the night Sunday and it was just enough for yet another victory.
Florida's 2-1 victory over host Edmonton extended its franchise-record winning streak to 12 games as the Panthers have won 18 of 21 since Thanksgiving going into Monday's late game at Vancouver.
The Pittsburgh Penguins hold the NHL record for consecutive victories with 17 in 1993. The Panthers' current streak is 10th longest all-time.
"We weren't very good,'' coach Gerard Gallant said, "but we were good enough to win.''
After the Edmonton win, the Panthers were 3-0 on their six-game road trip. Following Monday's late game in Vancouver -- with Roberto Luongo scheduled to start in net -- the Panthers visit Calgary on Wednesday.
"We have to play better as a team,'' Jonathan Huberdeau said. "But good teams find ways to win."
The Panthers didn't play a great game by any stretch as they seemed to shut things down after dominating play in the first eight minutes by grabbing a 2-0 lead.
Edmonton outshot Florida 25-14 in a very physical game which saw Nick Bjugstad get into his first NHL fight in defense of a teammate as well as star defenseman Aaron Ekblad run head-first into the glass during a chippy third period.
Edmonton's Matt Hendricks was scheduled to have a disciplinary hearing with the NHL's player safety department for the hit on Ekblad -- even though on-ice officials didn't call anything on Hendricks.
After the hit, Ekblad stumbled when trying to get to his skates but eventually made it to the bench before skating into the locker room.
After a few minutes of being checked out by the Panthers' medical staff, Ekblad returned to the ice and played three shifts to close out the game.
Logan Shaw got his first NHL fight as well for taking on Hendricks after the questionable hit.
"It's all about team,'' said Gallant, who was seen screaming at officials after the hit.
"Players in the NHL defend their teammates. But that's why we're winning games. We have a good group of guys. I wasn't too happy with some of the hits, but we'll move on.''
Jaromir Jagr started the scoring 3:22 in by picking the pocket of defenseman Darnell Nurse in the Florida zone and breaking out.
Jagr, who has five goals in his past six games and leads the Panthers with 15, raced up ice and beat Cam Talbot with a soft shot as the puck rolled off his stick.
The Oilers appeared to tie the score a few minutes later when Taylor Hall scored, only Gerard Gallant challenged the call. Video showed the Oilers were way offside, and the goal was taken off.
The Panthers quickly made it 2-0 when Sasha Barkov dug the puck off the backboards and saw Huberdeau charging toward the net. Barkov hit him on the tape and Huberdeau picked up his second goal in the past three games.
"We were in the zone for a little bit,'' said Huberdeau, who has 13 points during this winning streak. "I was wide open in front and Barkov did a great job getting me the puck."
Edmonton eventually got a goal that stuck, making the score 2-1 with 7:28 left in the first when Mark Letestu scored his sixth of the season.
Surprisingly, there would be no more scoring yet not because of a lack of effort by the Oilers.
Although shots on goal and scoring chances were close in the first, Edmonton dominated the offensive play in the second and outshot Florida 14-2.
"We didn't do ourselves any favors,'' Erik Gudbranson said. "We turned the puck over too many times against a team that transitions very well. We created the trouble we got into."
Al Montoya gave the Panthers another terrific performance as he won his fifth consecutive game by giving up a single goal in each of them.
Montoya, who was almost replaced by Talbot had general manager Dale Tallon completed a deal with the New York Rangers at the June draft, ended with 24 saves including 21 in the final 40 minutes.
"I feel like my game keeps going forward,'' said Montoya, who is 7-1-1 this season with saves on 94 percent of shots faced.
"I know I have more to give, I know I have more to learn. I learn every night from [Roberto] Luongo in the pipes and he's been phenomenal. I consider myself a winner and whatever I can do to help this team win I'm going to do.''
-- Bjugstad didn't find the scoresheet Sunday but was the recipient of the 'Spacey In Space' sweatshirt awarded to the team MVP.
Bjugstad jumped Edmonton's Eric Gryba for his first NHL fight after Gryba ran Corban Knight into the boards near the Florida bench.
Not only did Bjugstad get numerous stitches for large cuts on his forehead thanks to a busted visor, but he also took a two-minute instigator penalty as well as a 10-minute misconduct for taking Gryba on.
"The boys were psyched because I finally got that first one under my belt,'' Bjugstad said. "The visor broke on me so I got cut up pretty good. But it was a good adrenaline rush and a good team win.''
-- The Panthers' win Sunday was their final one at Rexall Place in Edmonton as the Oilers will move into a new downtown arena next season and leave behind the building they won five Stanley Cups in.
Florida won its final two games at Rexall and went 5-7-1 since winning its first game there 5-3 on March 9, 1994.
The Panthers also won their final game at the Nassau Coliseum against the Islanders last season.

Monday: Panthers at Canucks
When, where:
10 p.m.; Rogers Arena, Vancouver
TV/Radio: FSFL; 560 WQAM, 640 WMEN
Series: Vancouver leads 13-9-6

Scouting report: Roberto Luongo is 2-1-1 in four starts against the Canucks since coming back to the Panthers in 2013. Florida won the previous meeting 5-4 in a shootout on Dec. 20. Luongo won in his return to Vancouver last year 3-1.

17: Pittsburgh 1993; 15: N.Y. Islanders 1982; Buffalo 2006; Penguins 2013; 14: Boston 1929-30; Washington 2010; 13: Boston 1971; Philadelphia 1985; New Jersey 2011; 12: Florida 2015-16 (six others tied)

January 06, 2016

ALL-STAR PANTHERS: Florida Panthers get three players into All-Star Game as well as coach Gerard Gallant ... Panthers put 10-game winning streak on line in Ottawa

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
For the first time in franchise history, the Panthers will have four representatives at the NHL All-Star Game.
On Wednesday, goalie Roberto Luongo and defenseman Aaron Ekblad were added to the Atlantic Division team which will take part in a reformatted All-Star tournament.
Jaromir Jagr had previously been voted onto the team as captain of the Atlantic team. Florida's 5-1 victory in Buffalo on Tuesday clinched a spot for coach Gerard Gallant as well.
The Panthers are the hottest team in hockey with the 10-game winning streak longest in the NHL this season. Florida has also won 16 of its past 19 games.
"It should be a lot of fun and it's an honor showing how well we've been playing,'' Gallant said. "I think it's great. The team is playing really well. We have 52 points and we're not to the halfway point. We just want to keep it going."
All-Star Weekend will be held in Nashville from Jan. 28-31 with the centerpiece being the new All-Star tournament.
There will be four teams split up by the four NHL divisions.
The teams will play one 3-on-3 period (Atlantic v. Metropolitan; Pacific v. Central) with the winners facing off in a third championship period.
The winning players will split a $1 million prize pool.
With the new 3-on-3 format and four teams at the All-Star game, rosters are limited to six forwards, three defenseman and two goalies per team.
"It's always an honor to be named to something like that,'' Luongo, 36, said. "You have to take it for what it is. You don't go expecting to play a defensive system. You go to enjoy the weekend.
"You know you're going to get lit up but you have to have fun, hang out, talk to the guys and do stuff with your family. It's a whole event you have to take in. I think I enjoy it more now that I'm older and don't know how many years I have left. Now I have little kids of my own to enjoy it with me.''

Jagr, 43, has expressed some reservations about going to his 13th All-Star Game -- and first since 2004 -- saying on Sunday he would rather spend the time in Florida or the Bahamas.
Yet it appears Jagr will go to the game along with his teammates.
Jagr's biggest concern seems to be the format and the extended playing time each player will have on wide-open ice.
"I need to get into shape,'' Jagr said. "Everyone else gets to rest, I have to play 3-on-3. Great. Thanks a lot. I appreciate it.''
For Luongo, this will be his sixth All-Star appearance and third as a member of the Panthers tying him with John Vanbiesbrouck (1994, 1996-97) for most in franchise history.
This is Ekblad's second consecutive All-Star appearance, tying him for third with Pavel Bure, Viktor Kozlov and Jay Bouwmeester.
Ekblad is in his second year after being the top pick of the 2014 NHL draft and winning the Calder Memorial Trophy for rookie of the year.
Last year, Ekblad went to be part of the skills competition and ended up taking part in the game as an injury replacement.
"I'm a young guy and don't think I have anything crazy to offer but they saw something and put me there,'' Ekblad said before Florida's practice in Ottawa on Wednesday afternoon.
"It's a great opportunity and it's pretty awesome to see us get some recognition for the way we're playing. Last year I was a rookie and wasn't supposed to be playing in the game. I'm going with a little different outlook this time.''
Gallant downplayed his coaching selection and instead praised his team which went into Wednesday leading the Atlantic Division by five points over Montreal.
The Panthers were five points out of a playoff position on Thanksgiving and 16 points behind the Canadiens for first yet have rattled off 16 wins in 19 games and are riding a franchise-record 10-game winning streak into Thursday's game at Ottawa.
"We can't worry about what we've done in the past,'' Gallant said. "We're going to have to play real well in Ottawa. We just have to keep going, moving forward. We want some more points.''
When the All-Star teams were announced, former Florida coach Doug MacLean was on his daily radio/television show on Canada's Sportsnet and joked about his old friend Gallant.
MacLean, the only other Florida coach to be behind the bench of an All-Star Game, has known Gallant since he was 10 and was Gallant's high school teacher and coach in Prince Edward Island, Canada.
"That's great, but if he can do it two years in a row that would be something,'' MacLean, a two-time All-Star Game coach, said on the air. "Maybe he'll get me a t-shirt.''
The two worked together when MacLean ran the Columbus Blue Jackets -- Gallant's first head coaching job -- and MacLean said he was extremely proud of the job Gallant has done with his former team.
"I told people when he went to Florida he's not only a great coach, but you will have to go a long way to meet a better man than Gerard Gallant,'' MacLean said off the air.
"This is great for him and the Panthers.''
-- Ekblad said the Panthers aren't looking too closely at the standings but realize they are starting to get a little separation from the pack in their division.
Florida, five points out of a playoff spot just a few weeks ago, is now eight points ahead of Boston which holds the final wild card spot in the conference.
"You would hope you would pull away at some point, but you don't focus on it too much,'' Ekblad said. "Obviously what we're doing is important right now. I don't think there's a guy on our team upset where we are right now. We're in a good spot.''
Thursday: Panthers at Senators at Panthers
When, where: 7:30 p.m.; Canadian Tire Center, Ottawa, Canada
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640
Series: Ottawa leads 47-31-3
Scouting report: The is the third of five meetings between Florida and Ottawa with the Sens taking the opener 4-2 and Florida winning 2-1 in a shootout prior to Christmas. Former Florida goalie Craig Anderson was terrific in that loss, stopping 39 shots before Brandon Pirri and Sasha Barkov beat him in the shootout.


January 04, 2016

A ROAD MOST TRAVELED: Florida Panthers put winning streak on the line Tuesday in Buffalo ... Florida kicks off six-game road trip ... Panthers have won 7 of past 9 on road ... Steven Kampfer close to return, Dave Bolland is not ... Connor Brickley back to

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The hottest team in the National Hockey League is taking its show on the road.
The Panthers, yes the Florida Panthers, have won a franchise-record nine consecutive games and 15 of their past 18 and came into Monday holding a three point lead atop the Atlantic Division.
"We won't be at home, but we want to keep playing the same game,'' center Sasha Barkov said. "We have to keep playing the same way, keep trusting in each other. We're not only winning at home, but we win on the road. That's the sign of a good team. We're pretty confident in our team. We know when we play like this, we can beat any team in the league.''
Monday morning, equipment managers Chris Scoppetto and Chris Moody were busy at BB&T Center loading gear into a panel van for the ride to Fort Lauderdale International airport.
Florida kicks off its six-game road stretch Tuesday in Buffalo with trips to Ottawa, Edmonton, Vancouver and Calgary. The team will come home for a few days then finish the road trip Jan. 17 at Tampa Bay.
Daunting? Perhaps for some.
The Panthers are currently 10-6-2 on the road (ranked ninth in the NHL) with wins in seven of their past nine.
Florida's recent run of success was fueled in part by a successful road trip at the start of December when Florida won in Detroit before picking up wins in St. Louis, Nashville and Columbus.
"That was a big part of our season,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "It was huge. The road has been good to us. We keep our game simple and the guys have been focused on the game."
It was on the road when this team started believing in itself and completely bought into the style of game it needs to play to be successful.
Since the win at Detroit on Nov. 29, victories have come in bunches as the Panthers now are one of six teams with 50 points coming into Monday.
The Panthers vow they won't rest on their laurels.
Despite their recent success, they only have three more points than they did through the same amount of games last year.
Florida is on pace for 105 points after ending with 91 last season.
"You at the schedule and we know we have six games coming up on the road,'' Gallant said.
"But it's one game at a time. For me, it's playing that game. And we have 10 left until the [All-Star] break. We're in a good position right now. Lets just make sure we play to win the game every night. We're going to play our game.''
-- Defenseman Steven Kampfer is basically back after suffering a knee injury Dec. 10 against Washington.
The Panthers haven't had to rush him back based on the success of their defense of late, but if needed, Kampfer could return.
"He's really close,'' Gallant said. "Could he play in the next game? Probably. I would sooner see him get some good practices in. We'll see what happens."
-- Center Dave Bolland, Florida's highest-paid forward at $5.5 million per season, will not travel with the team and Gallant said he doesn't expect him back on the ice until after the All-Star break.
General manager Dale Tallon and Gallant have been vague about Bolland's injuries, with Tallon saying Bolland has a few lingering issues which have bothered him throughout the season.
Tallon says the team wants him to get completely healthy.
"We want him to help us in the playoff run,'' Tallon said Friday. "It's lingering, minor stuff. It's been enough to take him off his game. We're going to make sure he's 100 percent. We won't bring him back at 80. When he's right, he's one hell of a hockey player.''
-- Winger Connor Brickley was sent to Florida's AHL team in Portland, Maine, on Monday. Brickley had been scratched in three of the past five games.
"Connor is a second-year pro and wasn't getting enough ice time,'' Gallant said. "We don't want young guys sitting in the stands or sitting on the bench getting five, six minutes. He's definitely a big prospect for us, but he needs to play.''
Tuesday: Panthers at Sabres
When, where: 7 p.m.; First Niagara Center, Buffalo
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640
Series: Buffalo leads 46-36-4
Scouting report: Buffalo finally beat Roberto Luongo on Nov. 12, winning 3-2 in Sunrise. The Panthers have won 17 of 23 since; Buffalo has lost 16 of 23 during the same span including its past four. Luongo had won seven consecutive games over Buffalo and has shutout the Sabres in his past three starts at First Niagara Center.


January 03, 2016

JAGR, MONTOYA LEAD PANTHERS TO ANOTHER WIN: Jaromir Jagr scores twice, Al Montoya stops 38 shots in 2-1 win over Wild ... Jagr says he'll probably go to All-Star Game, doesn't sound happy about it ... Nick Bjugstad returns

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers didn't have much going Sunday evening, yet they had Jaromir Jagr and Al Montoya.

That was enough.

With Jagr scoring twice and Montoya offering up another terrific start, the Panthers kept their winning ways going with a 2-1 win over Minnesota at BB&T Center.

Florida pulled off Sunday's win despite being outshot 39-28 and losing 62 percent of its faceoffs. Florida also went 0-for-5 on the power play.

"We didn't have our legs and didn't feel good about our game, but we had a good goaltender and that always helps,'' Jagr said.

The Panthers, who went 6-0 on this now-completed homestand, extended their franchise-record winning streak to nine as they've won 15 of 18 since Thanksgiving.

Florida kicks off a six-game road trip Tuesday in Buffalo.

"We looked like a tired bunch for whatever reason,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "We found a way to win, and that was huge."

Jagr wasn't happy with his performance in Saturday's win over the Rangers, sullenly tromping through the postgame locker room refusing comment to the media.

Sunday was much different as Jagr gave the Panthers a 1-0 just 27 seconds into the game by taking a Dmitry Kulikov pass, thundering through the Wild defense and blasting a shot past Devan Dubnyk.

"He was all alone in front, so, you better give it to him,'' said Kulikov, who ended the night with two assists.

The Wild and Panthers didn't do much else for much of the game, the two teams both playing the night before.

Minnesota tied it early in the second but the Panthers retook the lead for good when Jagr drove toward the net and whipped a shot from 30 feet out with 11:08 remaining.

Montoya, 5-0 all-time against the Wild, stood tall as he won his fourth consecutive start in place of Roberto Luongo. Montoya has given up just one goal in each of his past four wins.

"I feel good and I want to give this team a chance to win every night no matter the score,'' Montoya said. "You don't win as many games as we have without getting some bounces here and there, having guys step up every night.''

-- Last month, Jagr sent out a tweet imploring fans not to vote for him for the All-Star Game, saying the new 3-on-3 format would be too much for him at his age.

On Saturday, Jagr was voted as captain of the Atlantic Division team and he said Sunday he will likely travel to Nashville for it.

"I asked the fans not to vote for me and they didn't listen,'' Jagr said with a grin. "I think they didn't like me much; they want to see me dead. I'll probably have to go, I don't know what the rules are.

"I need to get into shape. Everyone else gets to rest, I have to play 3-on-3. Great. I'd rather be in Florida.''

-- Center Nick Bjugstad returned to the lineup for the first time since leaving practice on Nov. 30 in St. Louis because of migraines.

Bjugstad, a native of Minneapolis who was a standout at the University of Minnesota, said the pace of the game took him by surprise after being out so long.

"I had to apologize to a few guys because I was trying to get used to the pace,'' Bjugstad said. "I wanted to get my legs under me, play simple.''

-- Florida captain Willie Mitchell played in his 900th NHL game on Sunday -- 288 coming with the Wild and 105 with the Panthers.

-- Jagr's goal was the quickest Florida had scored this season, besting his goal 51 seconds into Florida's win over Washington on Dec. 10.


January 02, 2016

PANTHERS WIN (again): Florida Panthers set franchise record with eighth consecutive victory ... Florida's 3-0 victory over Rangers is 14th in past 17 games ... Roberto Luongo makes 40 saves, meets #SpaceyInSpace

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
During the second period Saturday night, a rubber rat was flung from the far reaches of a jam-packed arena, bouncing on the ice before being scooped up by an official.
Don't look now, but the Florida Panthers may just be back.
The Panthers, who captivated South Florida during a rat-tossing run to the Stanley Cup Finals 20 years ago, set a franchise record with their eight consecutive victory -- this one 3-0 over the Rangers in front of their third-biggest home crowd ever.
Florida retook first place in the Atlantic Division with the victory, its 14th in 17 games as it beat the Rangers for the first time in eight tries.
For a franchise which has only been to the playoffs four times in its history and hasn't won a postsason series since its magical run in 1996, things are very good.
"We're a long way from that, but it's a lot of fun,'' said coach Gerard Gallant, whose team goes for its ninth consecutive win Sunday against visiting Minnesota.
"The crowds are into the game, the team is playing very well. ... It's awesome, couldn't go any better for us right now. We just have to keep playing. We have to do it every night.''
Florida didn't play its best game of its current run Saturday but played pretty darn well and were opportunistic against a goalie who has owned them of late.
The Panthers took a 3-0 lead off just 10 shots against Henrik Lundqvist by the midway point of the second period when Brandon Pirri one-timed a Reilly Smith pass from the right circle.
With Roberto Luongo deflecting or catching every puck aimed his way, the Panthers didn't need to do much more.

"Right now it's really fun coming to the rink, having 20 guys contributing every night and playing the right way, finding a way to win,'' said Luongo, who stopped 40 shots for his seventh consecutive victory which is also a franchise record.
"There's been a buzz for a little while now and there were some Rangers fans in the building which meant there was some atmosphere. The last few games have felt like playoff games and those are the game you want to play in.''
Florida broke a scoreless tie with 24.8 seconds left in the first when Logan Shaw slid in front of defender Oscar Lindberg and popped a Corban Knight pass past Lundqvist.
Vincent Trocheck opened the second by deflecting a Alex Petrovic shot through, with one fan bringing back memories of 1996 by tossing a rat onto the ice.
Pirri added the finishing touches on things with 8:42 left in the period.
"It's pretty simple that we're a family here and we're playing hard for each other,'' Pirri said. "It's a fun time right now. Everyone cares for each other.''
-- Jaromir Jagr was voted to his 13th All-Star Game on Saturday as he was selected captain of the Atlantic Division team.
Jagr had previous reservations about the new 3-on-3 tournament format, but it sounds like he'll be a part of All-Star Weekend in Nashville from Jan. 28-31.
The 43-year-old didn't speak to reporters following the game.
Luongo -- who joked he would go as Jagr's personal assistant -- Sasha Barkov and Aaron Ekblad are also potential All-Star selections.
The complete teams will be announced Wednesday.
"Those are always great honors,'' Luongo said. "It's always fun to go to an All-Star Game."
-- Gallant officially signed his two-year contract extension Saturday, a day after Florida formally locked up general manager Dale Tallon and associate GM Tom Rowe through 2019 as well.
Like Jagr, Gallant could be headed to Nashville as well if the Panthers continue winning. Gallant could be only the second Florida coach to work the bench at an All-Star Game. The other is Doug MacLean, Gallant's former high school teacher and coach from Prince Edward Island, Canada.
"I'd like to be there because if I'm there that means we're in first place in our division at that time,'' Gallant said.
-- Saturday's sellout crowd of 20,289 was Florida's fourth consecutive home game in which it drew over 16,500 and is the largest home crowd of the season.
The Panthers, who have declared four sellouts this season, are averaging 17,002 in the first five games of their six-game homestand which concludes Sunday against the Wild.
Sunday: Wild at Panthers
When, where: 6 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640, WMNA 1210
Series: Minnesota leads 12-4-1
Scouting report: Minnesota, which won both games against the Panthers last season, played Saturday night in Tampa. Al Montoya, who has wins in his past three starts and has given up one goal in each of them, will play against the Wild.


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

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

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


January 01, 2016

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

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


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


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


December 31, 2015

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

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

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


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

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

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


December 30, 2015

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

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

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

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


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

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


December 29, 2015

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

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



December 28, 2015

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

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




December 27, 2015

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

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

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


December 26, 2015

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

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

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

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