March 28, 2014

LAST BATTLE?: Dvorak and Jovanovski Meet on Thursday

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: J Pat Carter/Associated Press

 

Saturday: Canadiens at Panthers

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

TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560

The series: Panthers lead 36-35-6

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

 

March 27, 2014

LUONGO KNOCKED OUT OF LOSS: Radek Dvorak's Hit Sends Luongo to Bench for Precaution as Panthers Lose 3-0

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

What may have been Radek Dvorak's final NHL game in South Florida didn't last long. Roberto Luongo's night ended early as well.

Dvorak, a rookie on Florida's Stanley Cup Finals team in 1996, was ejected from Carolina's 3-0 win over the Panthers after colliding with Luongo in the first period. Luongo remained in the game after the hit, one that looked more accidental than anything else, but didn't return for the second period.

Florida goalie coach Robb Tallas said during the second intermission that Luongo took a hard hit and was pulled purely for precautionary measures. Tallas added that he expected Luongo -- who suffered from a sore neck -- to play Saturday against visiting Montreal.

"They held him out for precautionary reasons,'' coach Peter Horachek said. "I'll have a report on Friday.''

Thursday's collision was one for the Panthers record books.

Dvorak had been Florida's all-time leader in games played after two stints with the Panthers before being passed by Stephen Weiss in 2012. Luongo is Florida's all-time leader in games played by a goalie yet the two have never been teammates with the Panthers -- although they have trained together in Coral Springs during the offseason.

Dvorak, who made the Hurricanes after a training camp tryout, rolled Luongo as he and Erik Gudbranson jockeyed for position driving toward the net. With Luongo on the ground, Gudbranson pounced and both teams ended up conversing in the crease.

Gudbranson was given two minutes for roughing but Dvorak was slapped with a five minute major and the automatic ejection that comes with a game misconduct.

"It was not intentional, I tried to stop,'' Dvorak said afterward. "That's not my game. I would never try and hurt the goalie. I got pushed a little and tried to hold up. I kind of felt bad. I never want to hurt anyone out there. It just happened.''

Carolina, which swept the season series for the first time, took a 1-0 lead when Jiri Tlusty froze Brian Campbell and Luongo and scored midway through the first.

Tlusty welcomed Dan Ellis to the Florida ice for the first time since joining the Panthers as the backup gave up his first goal 2:30 into the second as his defense broke down again in front.

Jeff Skinner made it 3-0 by poking a shot past Quinton Howden as Ellis was down on the ice 5:46 into the period.

Florida had numerous chances to get on the board in the second but Anton Khudobin (35 saves) made a number of great stops to keep the Panthers scoreless.

"It's never a fun situation knowing something is up with your [goaltending] partner,'' said Ellis, who stopped 18 of 20 shots. "That's the job and you have to be ready when they call you.''

GILBERT DONE

Defenseman Tom Gilbert had sports hernia surgery in Philadelphia on Thursday morning and will miss the rest of the season.

Gilbert, a pending free agent, played through the pain of what he reportedly thought was a hip injury.

"He's been dealing with it for a while,'' Horachek said.

"He's been playing through it, taking therapy and medicine trying to keep it under wraps. It got to a point where something needed to be done. He had the appointment and now the surgery.''

 

SURGERY FOR GILBERT: Defenseman Out for Remainder of the Season

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Defenseman Tom Gilbert had sports hernia surgery in Philadelphia on Thursday morning and will miss the final nine games of the Florida Panthers' season.

Gilbert, a pending free agent, has been fighting what some described to me as a hip injury for sometime now. Apparently it was a little more than that. Have to give him a lot of credit for trying to play through the pain, especially with nothing on the line the past month or so.

"He's been dealing with it for a while,'' coach Peter Horachek said after Thursday's morning skate.

"He's been playing through it, taking therapy and medicine trying to keep it under wraps. It got to a point where something needed to be done. He had the appointment and now the surgery.

"When things happen you look at all the options. I think the doctors knew what it was. You can play through it, manage it a little bit. Sometimes it gets worse.''

-- The Panthers will wear their road white jerseys at home for the first time in a long time -- thinking pre-lockout in 2004 -- on Thursday as Carolina plays its final game of the season in their black alternates.

No one can give me a reason why Carolina is wearing those tonight although it was on their schedule since the beginning of the season.

I like the idea of wearing white at home with the opponent bringing in different colors each night. But that's just me.

-- Horachek says there has been improvement from some of Florida's injured players although no real update.

I don't expect to see Tomas Kopecky, Jonathan Huberdeau or Aleksander Barkov back in a game this season, although that could change. Horachek said he thinks Kopecky is about to start skating on his own, but with nine games left, I don't see it.

 

March 25, 2014

COMEBACK CATS: Panthers Rally from 2-0 Deficit, Drop Sens in Shootout

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers got their first shootout win since Roberto Luongo rejoined the team after Vincent Trocheck and Brandon Pirri scored in the extra session to lift Florida to a 3-2 win over visiting Ottawa.

The Senators were trying for a rare Florida shootout sweep after beating the Lightning on Monday night. Florida snapped its three game losing streak with the win.

Ottawa started off by scoring its first goal on its 29th shot with Florida's porous defense allowing the Senators plenty of time to set up shop in front of Luongo (37 saves) and work the puck around before Mark Stone knocked it through.

"Luongo made some big, big saves and kept it 0-0,'' coach Peter Horachek said. "That was huge. They played last night, it should have been the other way around, them trying to find their legs. It was important we responded.''

Florida's horrid penalty kill gave up a goal in its 10th straight game later in the second before Florida pounced and got a pair of quick goals to end the second and tie things up.

"We weathered the storm,'' Luongo said afterward.

First up was Sean Bergenheim -- who was robbed of an earlier goal via a quick whistle before ringing one off the post in the third -- with 2:28 left. Moments later, Tomas Fleischmann picked off the puck and worked it up ice. Scottie Upshall and Trocheck went on the rush with the Trocheck beating Robin Lehner to make it 2-2.

"Luongo did a great job, did what he's billed as,'' Horachek said.

-- Jesse Winchester returned to the lineup after missing the past eight games. Winchester, who once played for the Sens, has scored a career-high nine goals for the Panthers this season.

-- Defenseman Erik Gudbranson has missed the past nine games with a knee injury but skated with the team Tuesday and is expected to rejoin the team Thursday against Carolina.

 

CHANGE AT TOP: Mike Santos To Leave Florida Panthers

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers front office was shook up a little Tuesday as assistant general manager Mike Santos was told he wouldn't be returning next season.

General manager Dale Tallon said before Florida's 3-2 shootout win over the visiting Senators that Santos, his assistant GM since 2010, would not have his contract renewed and was free to find employment elsewhere.

Santos has been general manager of Florida's AHL affiliate in San Antonio and was instrumental in the team's handling of contracts and bringing in a number of free agents.

"I thought about it long and hard,'' Tallon said. "I feel we need to go in a different direction, I need a different set of eyes, another opinion, different ideas. It was a tough decision, have gone back-and-forth the past couple months.''

With Tallon scouting last week, Santos traveled with the Panthers on their West Coast road trip.

Tallon, who lives next door to Santos off Fort Lauderdale beach, informed him of the news on Tuesday morning.

Tallon said the move was made now -- Santos is signed with the Panthers through June 30 -- so he could potentially find work elsewhere before the NHL draft.

"He can have conversations now with other teams about future employment,'' Tallon said.

Mike Dixon and Eric Joyce from hockey operations will take on more responsibility as will Tallon.

"We'll have an extensive search but haven't even looked at candidates,'' Tallon said.

Travis Viola, son of team owner Vinnie, was named a Vice President of hockey operations prior to the start of the season which made it look like Santos' future with the team in jeopardy.

Tallon said Santos' future with the Panthers is not tied to that of interim coach Peter Horachek.

Horachek and Santos worked together with the Nashville Predators before Santos hired him to coach San Antonio over the summer.

Horachek, who took over the Panthers in November, is expected to seek a three-year deal from the Panthers once the season is complete although Tallon and Florida's management team could go a different direction there as well.

Tallon said a decision on Horachek's future could come as late as May after he, Vinnie Viola and new CEO Rory Babich analyze the franchise.

 

March 23, 2014

FRIENDS OF A FEATHER: Ducks Get Four in Second, Roll Panthers 6-2 in Anaheim

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

ANAHEIM -- The Ducks and Panthers are both celebrating 20th anniversary seasons this year.

The similarities stop right there.

The Ducks, battling San Jose for the top playoff position in the Pacific Division, scored four goals in the second period in a 6-2 victory over Florida Sunday night at Honda Center.

The Panthers, meanwhile, have 10 games remaining and are a point away from being mathematically eliminated from the postseason. Florida is 20 points back of Toronto and Detroit for the last spot.

Sunday, the formerly Mighty Ducks avenged their November loss in Sunrise which was the first victory for Florida coach Peter Horachek.

Florida went down 3-0 but had cut its deficit to one goal midway through the second. The Ducks took their timeout and proceed to score twice within a span of just over a minute.

One moment the Panthers were back in the game, the next it was over.

"They had 14 shots at that point and ended with 40,'' Horachek said. "We were a little outmatched, but it goes back onto us and how we played it. .-.-. We handled every one of their goals poorly.''

Anaheim, which joined the league with H. Wayne Huizenga's Panthers in 1993, took a 1-0 lead with 8:03 left in the first when Patrick Maroon jammed a puck past backup goalie Dan Ellis on Anaheim's first power play attempt.

Ellis, making his second start since joining the Panthers on March 5, was battered for much of the game as Anaheim scored twice early in the second and got two more within a span of 1:01.

"We left him hanging,'' Horachek said.

Anaheim made it 2-0 off the opening face-off in the second with Teemu Selanne snapping a shot past Ellis a mere 15 seconds in. Moments later, Jakob Silfverberg picked off the puck during a Florida power play and scored.

Florida got back into it, however, starting when Jimmy Hayes deflected Krys Barch's wrister past Jonas Hiller.

At the midway point, Tomas Fleischmann connected on a wraparound pass from Vincent Trocheck to make it 3-2.

This game was over soon. Moments after Fleischmann's goal, Kyle Palmieri made it 4-2 with Corey Perry following suit a minute later.

Anaheim scored once in a stat-padding third period.

"We were right there but they have world-class players over there, guys who have won Gold Medals and Stanley Cups,'' Barch said. "They set their ship straight. We knew they were coming at us and couldn't stop it.''

The Ducks pulled within a point of San Jose -- which the Panthers beat 3-2 to kick off this road trip -- in the Pacific. Anaheim had lost two straight and six of eight coming in. Florida, meanwhile, lost the final three games of this four-game road trip and has dropped seven of the past nine games.

ROSTER MOVES

The Panthers made a few minor moves over the past 24 hours, including bringing up veteran defenseman Ryan Whitney from their AHL affiliate in San Antonio.

Whitney, who spent one season with the Ducks, was up on an emergency to fill in for captain Ed Jovanovski on the second of a back-to-back set.

The Panthers are expected to send Whitney back with Jovanovski back in the lineup Tuesday against Ottawa.

Garrett Wilson played Sunday with Quinton Howden going back to the AHL.

 

March 22, 2014

RECORD PERFORMANCE: Jonathan Quick Sets Kings Record for Wins in 4-0 Shutout of Panthers

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

LOS ANGELES -- There was no beating Jonathan Quick on Saturday, just like many days before it.

Quick set he Kings' franchise record for wins Saturday afternoon with 24 saves in Los Angeles' 4-0 win over the Panthers at Staples Center.

The MVP of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs, Quick picked up his 172nd win to pass Rogie Vachon -- who held the record since 1978 without benefit of shootouts much less overtime sessions.

“I wish I would’ve set the bar a little higher,'' Vachon said. "He’s playing great and is going to set some incredible records before his career is over. He’s going to set some records that I think no other goalie in the league will ever touch.''

The Kings outscored the Panthers 7-0 in their two wins this season as Florida was shutout for the fifth time.

St. Louis and Los Angeles account for four of those shutouts.

The shutout was Quick's fifth this season and 30th of his career. Quick is now within two shutouts of tying Vachon for the franchise lead in that category as well.

"He was on top of his game. You could see he was feeling it,'' said Florida goalie Roberto Luongo. "I don't know if we would have ever got a puck by him tonight. It was one of those games where he sees everything. Even the ones he didn't see he stopped.''

The Panthers offered a few challenges on Saturday but none bigger than a Tomas Fleischmann shot with Florida trailing 2-0 in the second.

Fleischmann, who has been a victim of bad puck luck all season, had a wide open net when he fired an odd-angled shot.

Quick's left arm shot though the air, however, his glove snapping the puck out of the air and seemingly before it crossed the line. Hockey Central in Toronto reviewed the play to see if Quick's glove went over the line, but his grand larceny was rewarded with the save.

"He just robbed me,'' said Fleischmann, who has seven goals this season and has had great scoring chances snuffed out by terrific saves all year.

"I saw and empty net and then all I saw was a glove. I wasn't happy about it. It was a big game-changer today. We made it easy on him, our shots were too far out. You can see he's one of the best goalies in the league. It was 2-0 and he made the save.''

Florida went down 2-0 in the opening period and watched the Kings make it 3-0 in the second not long after Fleischmann was robbed by Quick's glove.

And that was just about that.

"He's one of the best goalies in the league,'' coach Peter Horachek said. "It's a big difference if it's 2-1 right there, then they go out and get the third goal. It's a big difference, changes the momentum of the game.''

LONG TIME AGO

Luongo said he didn't recall the last time Florida won in Los Angeles although, believe it or not, he was there for it.

Florida has lost five straight in L.A. since beating the Kings 5-2 on Nov. 27, 2002. Janis Hurme, playing in place of Luongo that night, earned first star honors with 32 saves.

Florida, coached by Mike Keenan, got goals from Ivan Novoseltsev, Kristian Huselius, Andreas Lilja, Sandis Ozolinsh and Viktor Kozlov.

"It's been a while,'' said Luongo, who won a few games in Los Angeles in his eight seasons with Vancouver since leaving the Panthers in 2006.

"They're a good team especially in their building. They've won the Cup; they know what they're doing.''

-- Sean Bergenheim was back in the lineup after missing five games with an undisclosed injury.

"He was going to let us know when he was ready,'' Horachek said. "He came off and had some opportunities. His line was the better line, had some shots out there.''

-- Horachek said backup goalie Dan Ellis would start for the Panthers Sunday in Anaheim. Ellis has played once (lost in Tampa) since coming over from Dallas in a trade for Tim Thomas on March 5.

 

SUNDAY: PANTHERS AT DUCKS

When, Where: 8 p.m.; Honda Center, Anaheim

TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM 560

The series: Florida leads 11-10-3

Scouting report: Peter Horachek got his first win as Panthers coach back on Nov. 12 as the Panthers upset the Ducks 3-2 in Sunrise. Anaheim has lost two straight and six of the past eight.

 

March 20, 2014

DESERT ISLAND: Luongo Gets Run Over, Coyotes Outlast Panthers with 2-1 Win

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Roberto Luongo finally got his game in Arizona on Thursday night.

It was a rough one.

Phoenix kept its playoff hopes going as it picked up two points on Minnesota and Dallas by dropping the Panthers 2-1 at Jobing.com Arena.

Luongo, who was scheduled to start for Vancouver here the day he was traded back to the Panthers on March 4, made 20 saves but ended up on the ice a few times and even took an errant stick to the neck.

"The scene of the crime,'' Luongo joked beforehand.

Luongo wasn't laughing late in the first period when the Coyotes, who have won three straight and five of six, scored their second of the game.

Luongo never had a chance at the puck as Phoenix's Mikkel Boedker ran over Luongo. The two lay in a heap as Antoine Vermette scored to make it 2-0 with 1:22 left.

An official told Luongo and coach Peter Horachek that Florida defenseman Dylan Olsen hooked Boedker and if there was any penalty to be called, it would have been on the Panthers.

They didn't agree with that assessment as Vermette's goal stood up as the game-winner.

"They felt our guy pushed him into me,'' Luongo said afterward. "I felt the guy was already in the blue [paint] when contact was made. It makes it tough for me to do my job when I end up in the corner. It's frustrating because you want to have the chance to make a save. When you're taken out of the play, you can't do anything about it.''

Said Horachek: "They felt Olsen was doing it, but without the ability to look at video, it's hard. It was obviously not the right call. It should have come back. But those things happen and you have to deal with them. Everyone does.''

Phoenix, which beat the Panthers 3-1 in Sunrise earlier this month, had a number of chances against Luongo and the Panthers but couldn't get anything else through.

Early in the third period, Luongo hit the deck after getting caught by the stick of Martin Erat. As Erat was swinging around the cage, Luongo went out to make some contact and Erat's stick got under his mask and knocked him to the ice.

After being looked at by head athletic trainer David Zenobi, Luongo got up and continued the game.

"I don't think it was intentional but they're a big team, like to play the body,'' Luongo said. "That was a physical game.''

Florida finally scored with Scott Gomez getting his second of the season with 4:07 left.

Gomez whipped a shot past goalie Mike Smith's glove to give the Panthers hope. Despite playing a skater up for the final minute, Florida couldn't get anything else past the former Tampa Bay netminder.

"We knew it was going to be a tight game against these guys,'' Brian Campbell said. "I didn't think we were at our best and that's frustrating. We could have given a better effort.''

 

PANTHERS NOTES: Gomez Gets First Goal Since Opener ... Jovo Back in Arizona

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Thursday's goal was Scott Gomez's first in a long, long time. How long?

Gomez, 34, hadn't scored a goal for the Panthers since getting the team's first of the season in the opener at Dallas.

That was on Oct. 3.

"It came a little too late and we didn't get the two points so it really doesn't matter to me,'' said Gomez, who was a healthy scratch for big chunks of this season before becoming the full-time fourth line center after the trade deadline.

"My job is, I don't know when it started, but I'm so into the passing the puck. My job is to get the wingers the puck. I've been yelled at my whole career for not shooting.''

-- Florida captain Ed Jovanovski played his first game in Glendale since leaving the Coyotes for Florida in 2011.

 

March 19, 2014

LATE NIGHT CATS: Panthers Win Over San Jose Worth Staying Up For

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The Panthers aren't going to the playoffs but have given their fans reason to pay attention.

Tuesday night's late game -- one that ended after 1 a.m. back home -- was a prime example.

Not only did goalie Roberto Luongo turn in a classic performance in Florida's 3-2 upset of the host Sharks, but one of the Panthers' top-end young players put on a show during a 17-second span in the second period.

Brandon Pirri, acquired in a trade with Chicago earlier this month, scored a highlight-reel goal on a full-end rush to tie the score at 1. He then followed that with a hard shot on the ensuing shift that Quinton Howden swept into an empty net.

Florida has won two of three picking up five of the available six points. The Panthers' West Coast swing continues Thursday in Arizona against the Coyotes.

"There's obviously not much we can do over the rest of this season, but the future is good here,'' said Luongo, who made 28 saves in the third period alone.

"Like I've said before, it's going to be exciting to see what pieces we add to this over the summer and make a run for it next year. But this team doesn't quit. We battle no matter what, up or down.''

Tuesday's game felt like a heavyweight bout in which the Panthers took the brunt of the blows but held on just long enough to pull it out in the end.

Florida scored three goals in the second period to take a 3-1 lead into the third against a San Jose team trying to position itself for the top seed in the Western Conference.

San Jose, which had won six straight, took 54 shots at Luongo during the game. In the third period, Florida was outshot 29-2 with the Panthers getting both of their forgettable shots at Antti Niemi within the first four minutes.

Niemi didn't face a shot for the final 16:13 of the game with the Panthers only briefly getting the puck into the San Jose zone. When they did, they didn't do anything with it, content to just change lines.

Oh, and Florida's two shots of the period weren't exactly tough saves. Jimmy Hayes and Dmitry Kulikov's shots at the net came from 40-plus feet out.

"I wasn't feeling for him, trust me,'' Luongo said of Niemi's easy period.

The bushed Panthers were also forced to kill off four penalties in the third -- including a 5-on-3 chance for 51 seconds.

"We got into some penalty issues and they're such a good veteran team, they're going to get opportunities,'' captain Ed Jovanovski said. "Hey, we found a way to keep it out of the net. Lou played great. But they were coming in waves.''

San Jose seemed to toy with the host Panthers in a 3-0 win last month and took the initial lead.

After a scoreless first in which Luongo kept Florida afloat, the Sharks cashed in on a power play following a questionable boarding call on Jimmy Hayes.

Marty Havlat gave the Sharks a 1-0 lead when he teed off and fired one past a diving Luongo from 30 feet out after a sharp deflection ended up on his tape.

Yet as was the case in Florida's previous visit in 2011, three goals in second period ultimately did the Sharks in.

The Panthers, who scored three in the second during their 5-3 win here on Dec. 3, 2011, did it again Tuesday as they have won three straight in San Jose.

Florida tied it when Pirri took off on a rush and weaved his way through the defense and fired a shot at Niemi. The puck bounced over the goalie's head and trickled into the net.

Just 17 seconds later, Pirri hammered a shot that Niemi got a piece of. Howden was down low, however, and swept the loose puck into the empty net to give the Panthers their first lead of the night.

"It seemed like pucks were jumping everywhere,'' Pirri said. "It's a good feeling when the team gets a jump like that.''

Scottie Upshall made it 3-1 in the waning seconds of the second when his soft shot from inside the right circle got between Niemi's skates and nestled into the back of the net.

Then came the third. Florida took the first two shots in the period but then it was all San Jose. Save for the Florida goalie.

According to STATS, Florida's win was the second-biggest upset in the league this season as 39 points separate the two teams. Buffalo beat the Sharks earlier this season and that difference was 40 points.

"Louie played great obviously, but so many penalties in the third was the crazy part,'' coach Peter Horachek said. "They certainly know what they're doing in those situations and put a lot of pucks at the net. That's where [Luongo] shines, a big situation with pucks coming at him. We're fortunate to get out of here with the two points.''

THURSDAY: PANTHERS AT COYOTES

When, Where: 10 p.m.; Jobing.com Arena, Glendale, Ariz.

TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM 560

The series: Phoenix leads 13-9-3

Scouting report: This is the second meeting of the season with the Coyotes beating the host Panthers 3-1 on March 11. Phoenix continues to battle for a playoff spot and has won two straight and four of its past five.

March 18, 2014

LUONGO SHOW AT THE SHARK TANK: Panthers Goalie Makes 52 Saves - Including 28 in the Third - As Florida Tops San Jose 3-2

 

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Roberto Luongo won't participate in the upcoming postseason but he sure looked playoff ready Tuesday night.

The Panthers' goalie was absolutely outstanding throughout Florida's 3-2 win over the Sharks at SAP Center in a game that ended by the time Wednesday morning rolled around in South Florida.

Florida has won three straight in San Jose dating to Bryan Allen's overtime goal here in 2010.

On Tuesday, however, it was the Luongo Show as the Florida goalie made 52 saves -- including 28 in a lopsided third period in which the high-flying Sharks only scored once despite spending most of the period in Luongo's face.

As usual, Luongo wanted to talk about the one that got away soon afterward.

"I'm upset about the second goal,'' Luongo said. "I should have had it. .-.-.

"Some days you feel it more than others. Even this morning at practice I felt good. You have that feeling sometimes. I've always enjoyed playing in this building.''

Luongo, whose Canucks were swept out of the 2013 playoffs by these Sharks, was assaulted on all sides especially during a dominant third by the Sharks, one that was reminiscent of Luongo's past time in South Florida. Those days, Luongo seemingly had to make 50 saves each outing.

"That was vintage Panthers right there,'' Luongo joked.

The Sharks, who had won six straight, outshot the Panthers a whopping 29-2 in the final 20 minutes.

Florida was also forced to kill off four power plays -- including a 5-on-3 chance for 51 seconds -- during the third.

Luongo, who beat the Sharks in the 2011 Western Conference finals in five games, had 24 saves through the end of two.

"We got into some penalty issues and they're such a good veteran team, they're going to get opportunities,'' captain Ed Jovanovski said. "Hey, we found a way to keep it out of the net. Lou played great. But they were coming in waves.''

San Jose, battling for one of the top seeds in the Western Conference, seemed to toy with the host Panthers in a 3-0 win last month and took the initial lead.

After a scoreless first in which Luongo kept Florida afloat, the Sharks cashed in on a power play following a questionable boarding call on Jimmy Hayes.

Marty Havlat gave the Sharks a 1-0 lead when he teed off and fired one past a diving Luongo from 30 feet out after a sharp deflection ended up on his tape.

Yet as was the case in Florida's previous visit in 2011, three goals in second period did the Sharks in. Good thing. San Jose brought all it had in the third.

The Panthers, who scored three in the second during their 5-3 win here on Dec. 3, 2011, did it again Tuesday.

Outplayed to this point, Florida was able to tie it when rookie Brandon Pirri took off on a rush and somehow weaved his way through the defense and put up a shot that popped up over Antti Niemi's head.

Just 17 seconds later, Pirri hammered a shot that Niemi got a piece of. Quinton Howden was down low, however, and swept the loose puck into the empty net to give the Panthers their first lead of the night.

"It seemed like pucks were jumping everywhere,'' Pirri said. "It's a good feeling when the team gets a jump like that.''

Scottie Upshall made it 3-1 in the waning seconds of the second when his soft shot from inside the right circle got between Niemi's skates and nestled into the back of the net.

"Louie played great obviously, but so many penalties in the third was the crazy part,'' coach Peter Horachek said. "They certainly know what they're doing in those situations and put a lot of pucks at the net. That's where [Luongo] shines, a big situation with pucks coming at him. We're fortunate to get out of here with the two points.''

 

PROF. HORACHEK: Panthers Coach Helps Mold the Young Florida Panthers ... Bergenheim, Huberdeau Still Out

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The Panthers had yet another new face in the lineup Tuesday night with Garrett Wilson the latest to come up from the minors and join the team.

Instead of being negative about having to replace veteran players with inexperienced ones -- and being asked to try and win games -- coach Peter Horachek seems to be embracing his role as a teacher.

"If I start complaining about it, I'm only complaining to myself,'' said Horachek, who coached the likes of Wilson, Vincent Trochek, Colby Robak and others while with the San Antonio Rampage of the AHL before taking over the Panthers in November.

"It is what it is. I think everyone can see almost half of our team is from San Antonio. But they're playing hard. This is a great opportunity for a lot of players. To come into the NHL and be able to play against Joe Thornton and all these players .-.-. You'll see it in a year from now, two years from now. They're going to grow from this.''

When the Panthers took on the top-tier Sharks late Tuesday night at SAP Center, they did so with eight of their 18 skaters having played in the minors at some point this season.

Horachek says it's important these players learn what it takes to be NHL players and he plans on helping them.

"They don't need me yelling at them every day,'' he said. "I can make my point clearly without doing that.''

In Pete DeBoer's final months as Panthers coach in 2011, Florida had a similar look with general manager Dale Tallon trading away a number of veteran players and replacing them with call-ups from the minors or with castoffs from other teams.

DeBoer, now in his third year of coaching the Devils after being fired by Tallon at the end of that season, told NHL.com before last week's game in Sunrise that Horachek is handing things in a positive way.

"It looks eerily familiar to the last year I was here, the last couple of years,'' DeBoer said. "Upon reflection and watching, I  think Pete has done a very good job of handling the situation, much better than I  did at the time.''

Although the losses have frustrated Horachek as it did DeBoer, Horachek is taking a big-picture approach with Florida's young players.

DeBoer, sensing he wasn't going to be asked to return, didn't have much patience with helping along a construction project he wouldn't be around to finish.

Ultimately, Horachek could be in the same boat. The Panthers gave Horachek the head coaching job on a interim basis with Tallon saying the two will talk about the future once this season is mercifully done come April.

"There is an opportunity here to step up and they can grow together and make this a positive thing moving forward,'' Horachek said. "It's up to them. I can't give them the confidence. But they build the trust in their play. They're going to grow and they're going earn it. You can stay or you can go away.''

Horachek has drawn praise from both the young players he had in San Antonio at the beginning of the season to veterans he inherited when Kevin Dineen was fired.

"I think teaching the game, when you have a young group, can be difficult at times because they make mistakes and do so repeatedly,'' said captain Ed Jovanovski, who saw the ill effects the hard-nosed style Marc Crawford inflicted on young players when he was with Vancouver in 2000.

"Peter is a good communicator and I think he's done an honorable job for us. We all have to assume the responsibility of saying something when a player makes a mistake. All of us helping each other will put us closer to where we want to be.''

Said Trocheck: "It was a tough situation for him to come into, but Peter is a real positive guy and stays even keel all the time. He hasn't changed a thing even though so many guys are up. He expects you to do the job.''

WILSON IN

A fourth-round pick by the Panthers in 2009, Wilson took the long road to the NHL as he spent time both with Cincinnati of the ECHL and San Antonio before getting the call Sunday that he would be joining the Panthers.

Being told early allowed Wilson's parents to book a flight from Toronto and make it to San Jose in time to see their son make his NHL debut against the Sharks.

"My experience has been a little different than most guys up here,'' said Wilson, 23, who started on the fourth line with center Scott Gomez and Krys Barch.

"I just tried to stay positive when I was down there, keep working hard. My game is based on work ethic.''

-- Winger Sean Bergenheim could be back soon. Bergenheim missed his third straight game with an apparent groin injury but skated with the team on Tuesday.

-- Jonathan Huberdeau is out for at least the next few games after being run up into the boards during Sunday's game against the Canucks.

Horachek said Huberdeau didn't skate in South Florida on Tuesday and doesn't expect him to join the team on this West Coast swing. Jesse Winchester, who has missed five games, has been skating and could meet up with the team.

 

 

March 17, 2014

DIFFERENCE OF OPINION: Matthias Didn't Like Culture in Florida; Horachek Said Matthias a Victim of Being a Victim

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Shawn Matthias was back at the Panthers' training facility on Saturday less than two weeks after being traded to Vancouver in the Roberto Luongo deal.

General manager Dale Tallon earlier said that Matthias had asked to be traded a few months back as he was unhappy with his situation with the team.

On Saturday, Matthias said he was happy to be dealt away, saying he didn't fit in with Peter Horachek's philosophy and wasn't happy playing the role of a fourth-line winger.

"I think it was obvious [a trade] was going to happen, especially after [Kevin] Dineen was let go,'' Matthias said. "I was happy for the move, for the opportunity. I've really loved the change so far.

"I think it's a different atmosphere here, a different culture. You play hard, you play. In Florida too many players are given things and it's not the right way. .-.-. It was obvious whenever guys were out how well I played. Then they came back and nothing changed, nothing happened. I was upset for a while here. I wanted a fair shake. Now I'm in a good situation.''

Horachek tried holding back when asked about Matthias' comments but made it clear he feels Matthias needs to take responsibility for his standing in the league.

"He's a talented young player, has size, can skate and has all the tools,'' Horachek said. "But he gets in his own way. I'll leave it at that.

"He went through four coaches [in Florida]. No one is picking on him, no one is saying he can't play a different role. But there's accountability and the ability to get out of the victim role and start playing for the accountability of his teammates. Start playing for the team and stop playing for the name and number on the back.''

Since being dealt, Matthias has a goal and an assist for the Canucks. He had three goals in the two games with the Panthers before the trade.

PHOTO BY KELSEY HINDS @Kelsey1344

 

GO WEST YOUNG MEN: Panthers Looking for Wins On Final Big Trip of Season

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

For the final time this season, the Panthers packed their bags Sunday night and boarded their charter for a long road trip.

Although Florida have one last trip to New York remaining, that's a quick trip with two games on successive nights.

On Tuesday, the Panthers kick off a four-game west coast swing in San Jose. Florida will visit the Sharks, Phoenix, Los Angeles and Anaheim before coming home on Monday.

Eight of Florida's final 10 games following this trip will be in Sunrise.

"We're not going to focus too much on what the other team's situation is,'' said coach Peter Horachek, who gave the team Monday off in California. The team returns to the ice for Tuesday's morning skate.

"I know in California, they're all the best teams aside from St. Louis and Chicago in the West. We have our hands full and it starts in a tough place to play. The Shark Tank is as tough a place as there is to play.''

The Panthers have long given up hope for the playoffs as they came into Monday 18 points out of the final spot in the Eastern Conference.

The same cannot be said for the teams Florida is playing this week.

All four teams the Panthers face are either holding a playoff position or close to it. Last Friday, the Panthers hurt New Jersey's chances in the east -- and they would like to do the same on this trip.

"This is definitely not going to be an easy one,'' Tom Gilbert said. "The teams we're playing have all put themselves in position to be near the top of the league. That just makes it better.''

The Panthers go into this road trip feeling a little better about themselves after picking up three of the available four points over the weekend.

Horachek said his team, which is now stacked with youngsters up from AHL San Antonio, are trying to win every game they can. Although some fans would rather the team continue losing to improve the team's draft status, tanking is not on the minds of the players.

"We have a lot of new faces, a lot of kids trying to make a name for themselves,'' Scottie Upshall said. "On a road trip like this with four good teams, we have to just keep things simple.''

Said Roberto Luongo: "It's really a good test for our team, see where we're at in tough environments. We'll see what we're made of.''

-- Horachek said he didn't even know Jonathan Huberdeau got hurt during the second period of Sunday's game. Huberdeau, listed as having an 'upper body' injury, didn't travel to California.

 

TUESDAY: PANTHERS AT SHARKS

When, Where: 10:30 p.m.; SAP Center, San Jose

TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM 560

The series: San Jose leads 10-8-7

Scouting report: The Panthers had won four straight against the Sharks before losing 3-0 in Sunrise prior to the Olympic break. The Sharks have been rolling lately, winning six straight.

 

March 16, 2014

HUBERDEAU HURT: Not Going to California

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Reigning rookie of the year Jonathan Huberdeau left Sunday's game in the second period with an undisclosed upper body injury and didn't return.

The Panthers left his gear hanging in their locker room after the game while packing up the rest of the team. That would suggest Huberdeau was not on Florida's charter flight to California on Sunday night.

Drew Shore could be called up from AHL San Antonio for the upcoming four-game west coast set.

SHOOTOUT REDUX: Vancouver Avenges Earlier SO Loss to Panthers, Top Luongo 4-3

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Roberto Luongo was on the wrong side of a shootout the previous time Florida played Vancouver back in November.

He was again Sunday afternoon.

Luongo, now manning net for the Panthers, made 26 saves but gave up one to rookie Nicklas Jensen in the shootout as Vancouver beat the Panthers 4-3.

Jensen was recalled by the Canucks after Luongo left.

"It was normal. Once you get into the flow of things you're really not thinking about those kind of things,'' said Luongo, who was traded back to the Panthers less than two weeks ago after eight seasons with the Canucks.

"I knew right away it was going into a shootout. That's just the destiny we have. .-.-. What are you going to do? It takes perfect shots to beat goalies in the shootout and they got one. That was the difference.''

It almost didn't get that far. Florida trailed 3-2 late in the third before getting a power play chance with 1:51 remaining.

The Panthers power play, improved of late, cashed in again as Jimmy Hayes camped in front of the net and deflected a hard shot from Brain Campbell. Eddie Lack, Luongo's replacement, made the initial stop but Hayes stayed with it and pushed the puck through.

That forced overtime and gave the Panthers another chance.

"I was just trying to be big, be a pain in front,'' said Hayes, who scored Florida's first goal late in the opening period to give the Panthers the initial lead.

"I feel pretty good out there.''

Florida's 1-0 lead didn't last very long as the Canucks scored two quick goals before the end of the first. Dan Hamhuis tied it with a long shot from inside the blue line that avoided plenty of traffic in front. Moments later, Jensen got his second career goal to make it 2-1.

The Panthers knotted it again in the third as Vinnie Trocheck got his second goal in as many nights by wrapping the puck around and beating Lack 4:19 into the third.

But Alexandre Burrows, who ended with three points, gave the Canucks their lead back at 3-2 just over a minute later.

Florida had a great chance to tie it midway through the period only defenseman Kevin Bieksa made the save of the day on a Colby Robak shot soccer-style. The Panthers would have to wait a few more minutes to force overtime.

"We have a lot of new faces in the lineup,'' coach Peter Horachek said. "There's good conviction here. They're trying to win every game.''

-- Scott Mellanby, the originator of the 'Rat Trick' back in 1995, was at Sunday's game as part of the franchise's 20th anniversary celebration.

Mellanby, Florida's original captain in 1993, scored two goals in the Panthers' season opener in 1995. Before the game, he one-timed a rat that was creeping through the old locker room at Miami Arena up against the wall. Fans soon started celebrating goals by throwing rubber rats onto the ice as a tradition was born.

"People still talk to me about that,'' Mellanby said over the summer. "I love telling that story. Everyone remembers the rats.''

The Panthers feted Mellanby by handing out bobbleheads in his likeness to the first 10,000 at Sunday's game.

-- Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura, the top-ranked chess player in the United States, took part in a special chess day at the arena before Sunday's game.

Hikaru received a key to the City of Sunrise as well as a custom-made Panthers game jersey. Hikaru dropped the first puck during pregame ceremonies.

-- Florida placed defenseman Alex Petrovic (upper body) on injured reserve as it still has three injured players (Jesse Winchester, Erik Gudbranson and Sean Bergenheim) on the active roster.


March 13, 2014

OWNED BY LIGHTNING: Tampa Bay Completes Season Sweep of Panthers, Roll to 5-4 Win ... Dan Ellis Makes First Start, Quinton Howden Gets First NHL Goal

TAMPA -- Tampa Bay had lost five straight games but the Panthers their own special way of helping others turn things around.

Especially the Lightning -- at least lately.

Tampa Bay continued its recent dominance of the cross-state rivalry with a 5-4 win Thursday at Tampa Bay Times Forum.

"We came to play, owed them a good game,'' said Scottie Upshall, who scored the first of Florida's two goals in the final 1:05 to make the score a tad more respectable.

"We came out with a lot of energy but got away from playing a simple game. Their offense started to take over, had some long shifts and put us on our heels. From then it was an uphill battle. We had a big effort, but we have a long way to go to be where we want.''

Although the Panthers hold a nice advantage in the all-time series, Tampa Bay won all four meetings this season and seven of the past nine.

Steven Stamkos (who has 38 points in 31 games against the Panthers) scored his first goal since returning from a broken leg last week. Ryan Callahan, the former Rangers captain who came over the in Martin St. Louis trade, also got his first goal in a Tampa Bay blueshirt.

"We have to eliminate some of the little things,'' said Florida coach Peter Horachek, whose team led twice early.

"We have to bear down, put our foot down and not allow that Callahan goal.''

The Panthers, who have lost three straight and 11 of 14 as they jockey for prime draft position once again, watched the Lightning take control of the game by scoring twice in the second.

Florida led 1-0 after Tomas Fleischmann scored 1:44 into the game on a power play.

The Lightning tied things at 5:38 when Sami Salo beat Florida backup Dan Ellis on a long shot, but 12 seconds later, Quinton Howden scored his first NHL goal to make it 2-1.

It was all Lightning after that.

Mike Kostka tied it by scoring on the Lightning's fifth shot against Ellis at 8:18 of the first, with Callahan giving Tampa Bay its first lead at 12:04 of the second.

Tyler Johnson made it 4-2 with just over a minute left when he threw up an odd-angled shot that hit Ed Jovanovski's skate and skipped past Ellis.

Stamkos slammed home a power play goal midway through the third. Scottie Upshall and Brandon Pirri scoeed Florida's final goals of the night.

FIRST START

With two big games with personal meaning to Roberto Luongo upcoming, the Panthers went with Ellis on Thursday. Ellis' previous start came against Columbus while a member of Stars on March 4.

Ellis played for the Lightning during the 2010-11 season.

The Panthers play host to New Jersey -- and former Vancouver goalie Cory Schneider -- on Friday with the Canucks coming to town.

Schneider took Luongo's starting job in 2013 before being traded away last summer. Luongo was traded from Vancouver to Florida last week.

Ellis had 23 saves on 28 shots.

-- Howden saw plenty of familiar faces when he joined the Panthers for the first time this season. Howden, who played in 18 games last year, spent this season with Florida's AHL affiliate in San Antonio.

Seven of the Panthers' 20 players on Thursday had spent some time with the Rampage.

"You can't wait around for that call to come,'' Howden said. "You never know what's going to happen up here so you keep working for the chance. It's nice to see a lot of guys, guys you played with all year. It makes things more comfortable. It's awesome.''

-- The Panthers are scheduled to practice at their training facility in Coral Springs at 11 a.m. on Saturday. The Canucks -- with a number of former Panthers on their roster including Shawn Matthias and Jacob Markstrom -- will practice at the IceDen at 2:30 that day.

 

FRIDAY: DEVILS AT PANTHERS

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

TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM 560

The series: New Jersey leads 48-26-7

Scouting report: The Devils have won two straight and three of four as they try to stay in the race for a playoff spot. New Jersey has won three of the past four against the Panthers including an overtime victory in Newark on Jan. 11

March 11, 2014

FLORIDA DOGS: Coyotes Complete Sunshine State Perfecta With 3-1 Win over Panthers

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Phoenix Coyotes sure did enjoy their quick trip through the Sunshine State.

Phoenix, battling for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, won for the second straight night as it topped the Panthers 3-1 Tuesday at BB&T Center.

The Coyotes, fresh off a shootout win over the host Lightning, join Boston as the second straight team to pull all four points on the Tampa/Sunrise back-to-back set.

"We never really put our foot down to push forward and find an answer,'' said former Coyotes' defenseman and current Florida captain Ed Jovanovski.

"They're fighting for their lives and we're fighting for different reasons.''

The Panthers, after shutting out Buffalo in Roberto Luongo's re-debut last Friday, have lost two straight and 10 of the past 13.

The Coyotes didn't trail on Tuesday as they rolled out goalie Mike Smith (31 saves) for the second straight night.

"He's always a factor for them, he's a great goalie,'' coach Peter Horachek said.

Phoenix opened the scoring late in the first when Keith Yandle's long shot was redirected past Luongo by Mike Ribiero.

The Coyotes put the Panthers in their familiar 2-0 hole midway through the second when Oliver Ekman-Larsson took aim with a long shot from just inside the blue line.

Phoenix all but ended Florida's night in the third when Radim Vrbata and Antoine Vermette hooked up on a pretty 2-on-1 rush.

"I need to find a way to make a save there,'' Luongo said.

Florida cut into its deficit in the third when Brandon Pirri scored his first goal since coming over to the Panthers in a trade with Chicago on March 2.

-- Winger Sean Bergenheim left during the second period and didn't return but said he didn't think the injury was serious.

 

LIMPING PANTHERS: Gudbranson, Winchester Out A Few Weeks; Bergenheim Leaves Tuesday's Game

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Coach Peter Horachek said Erik Gudbranson's suspected knee injury isn't as severe as first thought but he'll likely be unavailable for the next few weeks.

"The scans came back better than we anticipated," Horachek said. "I  don't really have the exact timeline. We'll have to wait to see where it is, but in the short term we got good news with the scan .-.-. We were fearful there was more than we thought."

Florida also lost winger Jesse Winchester with an undisclosed lower body injury midway through the third of Sunday's loss to the Bruins. Winchester, having a career-year offensively, is also out for a few weeks.

The Panthers called up veteran defenseman Mike Mottau and winger Joey Crabb from AHL San Antonio.

-- Winger Sean Bergenheim missed Tuesday's morning skate "for maintenance,'' then left during the second period and didn't return.