March 12, 2015

JET FUELED: Panthers get highlight goal from Derek MacKenzie and strong play from all four lines in 4-2 win over Winnipeg ... Roberto Luongo still day-to-day

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

With six points between them and Boston for the final playoff spot, the Panthers couldn't afford the letdown suffered the previous time they played Winnipeg.
Perhaps home cooking -- and maybe a 90 degree difference in temperature -- did the trick because the Panthers looked like a completely different team Thursday. Thanks to another solid start from Dan Ellis and strong play from all four forward lines, Florida beat Winnipeg 4-2 at BB&T Center.
The Jets thumped the visiting Panthers 8-2 on a sub-arctic night in Manitoba back in January.
"I don't even remember, it was so long ago,'' said Jonathan Huberdeau, who assisted on two of Florida's goals.
"We're a better team than we were there and wwe had a really good road trip then and were just tired. We played hard and forgot about that last one. It's a huge win and now we have to focus on the next one.''
With the victory, Florida not only closed out its season-long seven-game homestand with consecutive wins but kept pace with Boston. The Bruins beat the visiting Lightning in a shootout to keep their six-point lead.
"We played a great game,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "We came out hard, had a good first period which was important. We played well.''
Derek MacKenzie got the Panthers going Thursday with a spectacular goal he said he couldn't replicate if given 100 more chances.
After Shawn Thornton dug out the puck, he passed to Dave Bolland. With MacKenzie yelling for the puck 20 feet away, Bolland sent a blind pass somewhere near where MacKenzie was skating.
The Florida center -- who slid over to left wing to make room for Bolland on Thursday -- dove for the pass and got a piece of his stick on it. MacKenzie's put the puck in the corner of the net for a 1-0 lead with 3:32 left in the first.
"Bolland made an unbelievable pass,'' said MacKenzie, who has five goals this year.
"I'll count the rest of it to luck. Obviously I ws tryingg to time it, get it to the net. We talked about getting some breaks and we'll chalk that up as a break. I was hoping for a breakaway out of it but the way it worked out, it was a desperation play.''
Winnipeg kept coming back at the Panthers, making each of Florida's first two goals.
Tied at 1, Brad Boyes chopped at a loose puck in front of the net and banged it off the stick of Winnipeg's Adam Pardy and past goalie Michael Hutchinson late in the second.
The Jets battled to tie it again 3:53 into the third when Drew Stafford beat Dan Ellis (18 saves) but Sasha Barkov's slick wrister with less than four minutes left popped the back of the net to give Florida its final lead of the night.


Nick Bjugstad ended things into an empty net for his team-leading 24th goal of the season.
"This is a fun time of year to be playing hockey,'' said Ellis, who is 2-0-1 in three starts in place of the injured Roberto Luongo.
"I haven't gotten to play a lot of games in March. .-.-. Our team is dialed in. This was a strong team and we got some big points.''
The trio of Barkov, Huberdeau and Jaromir Jagr has been lighting up the scoresheet ever since Jagr's arrival from New Jersey last month.
On Thursday, Barkov got the game-winning goal and has two goals and three points since Jagr joined the team -- and his line -- on Feb. 28.
Huberdeau was the game's top star with two assists (two goals, seven points in the past six games) and Jagr notched two assists and has a goal and five points since joining the Panthers.
"When we're skating, we can beat anyone,'' Jagr said.
Said Huberdeau: "We're all playing simple and [Jagr] has so many people on him, it opens things up for us.''
-- Luongo (shoulder) practiced before Florida's morning skate Thursday and is still day-to-day. Luongo could take part in Friday's practice at BB&T Center and potentially play this weekend.
"He's getting better every day,'' Gallant said. "Hopefully he gets a full practice but we'll see. We're not going to put him in until he's ready.''
-- With 25 players on the active roster, Scottie Upshall, Tomas Kopecky and Alex Petrovic were healthy scratches.
Luongo and Al Montoya aren't on the injured list because the Panthers don't need to use those spots since the trade deadline has passed.


March 11, 2015

ROUGH RIDE AHEAD: Panthers go into final stretch and it won't come easy ... Roberto Luongo out against Winnipeg, still day-to-day

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers embark on their final stretch of games Thursday with the postseason still in sight yet farther off in the distance than when they previous played.
Since beating the Islanders on Saturday night to pull within two points of Boston, Florida has watched the Bruins win their next two games over Detroit and Ottawa to extend their lead to six points.
Making their odds even longer, the Panthers will kick off their final stretch of games without goalie Roberto Luongo.
On Wednesday, coach Gerard Gallant confirmed Dan Ellis (1-0-1 in two starts) would go against Winnipeg at BB&T Center.
"He's getting better,'' Gallant said of Luongo. "We would love to have him [Thursday] but it's just not there. He's just not ready to play.''
Florida has 16 games left -- with three against Boston -- so it has time to make up ground.
It sure won't come easy.
The Panthers finish off their season-long sevem-game homestand Thursday before traveling to Carolina on Saturday.
Florida plays three games in four days against the Jets, Hurricanes and host Rangers on Sunday before returning to face a helacious three-game run against Montreal, Detroit and Boston.
Then comes another five game trip consisting of games against four teams in the postseason conversation.
"All year we've played good against the better teams in the league,'' Shawn Thornton said.
"We can't focus on the other side, just worry about what we're doing. We have three games against the team we're chasing. Those are going to be big games. Nothing is easy this time of year. No one is going to do us any favors.''
The Panthers hope Luongo will be able to return this weekend from a shoulder injury that has cost him three games.
Luongo worked out before practice again Wednesday but didn't participate in the full workout.
"We would like to have him back as soon as possible,'' Gallant said. "It's not anything longterm, but it won't be [Thursday].''
-- Center Dave Bolland will be back in the lineup Thursday after missing eight games as a result of taking a hard hit in Pittsburgh on Feb. 22.
Bolland's return was delayed by the flu.
"I probably could have come back but I only had one skate in before I got sick,'' he said. "I could have come back Saturday, but I would have been a mess.''
Bolland was working on Florida's second line with Nick Bjugstad taking another practice day off. Gallant said Bjugstad would play Thursday.
"He's just sore,'' Gallant said. "We've had some days off and were able to give him a few days off. He's played a lot of hockey.''
Thursday: Jets at Panthers
When, where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; 740-AM
Series: Jets/Thrashers lead 45-32-5
Noteworthy: The host Jets walloped Florida 8-2 back on Jan. 13 snapping the team's season-long three-game win streak and sending it into a five-game tailspin.


March 10, 2015

DAN ELLIS: Up for the challenge as Roberto Luongo's status remains in question ... Aaron Ekblad sets Florida rookie record ... No price increase for season tickets

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The status of Roberto Luongo remains up in the air for Thursday's game against visiting Winnipeg meaning Dan Ellis could make his third straight start.
After spending much of this season as Florida's starting goalie in the minors, Ellis is ready for the challenge.
"You don't necessarily want to be in the minors,'' Ellis said, "but it has been helpful. Over the course of your career sometimes you have to find your game and maybe you have to go down to the minors to do so. It's worked out well. I'm fortunate to have had the experience.''
For years, Ellis has been a backup goalie behind a starter who gobbled up much of the starts.
By going to San Antonio at the start of the season, Ellis has focused on being a starter for the first time in a long time.
"Being able to play so many games has really helped me,'' Ellis said.
"I'm used to being on a team where the other guy carried the load and I didn't get to play as much. That makes things a little more difficult. By playing a lot of games in the minors, you notice that you don't carry your mistakes with you. If you give up a bad goal, there's always tomorrow. As the backup, a bad goal or game can stay with you for weeks at a time.''
His newfound stature has helped not only himself but the Panthers as well.
Although it looked liked Florida was stuck with Ellis and his $1 million contract when the season began, having him in the fold when Luongo (shoulder) and Al Montoya (groin) were hurt in the same game last week was quite fortunate indeed.
Ellis returned to Florida not only with NHL experience, but he is now ready to hold down the starting job as long as needed.
Sure, the Panthers want Luongo back ASAP (Thursday would be great) but know Ellis is going to give them everything he's got to keep them in the playoff race.
"He's been huge and he was put in a tough spot but has been key for our team,'' Luongo said. "He's kept us in both games with key saves and got us points out of both games. We know at this time of the year how crucial it is to get every point in the standings. I'm really happy for Dan and the job he's done for the team.''
Luongo was the only Florida player to practice on the ice Tuesday and definitely saw more action than he did Monday.
He would not commit to playing against Winnipeg on Thursday, although he didn't rule it out either.
Luongo is expected to be back in the coming days, either Thursday or even Sunday in New York against the Rangers.
Tuesday, Luongo took shots from goalie coach Robb Tallas but limited most of his work to his left side.
"I took a few shots [on the right side] but it's not quite there yet,'' Luongo said after his workout.
"We're making progress every day and will see where we're at Wednesday. I want to be able to react without thinking and it's just not there yet.''
Luongo expects to practice before the team Wednesday and may join them afterward. His status for Thursday's game will likely be determined after Wednesday's workout.
"I'm not ruling anything out at this point,'' he said. "It gets better every day. I wish I could say I was playing Thursday but I just don't know.''
Overlooked in last week's loss to the Maple Leafs was Aaron Ekblad setting the franchise record for goals by a rookie defenseman as his 11th topped Ed Jovanovski's previous high set in 1995-96.
Not only are Ekblad and Jovanovski the only first overall picks made by the Panthers in the NHL draft but both are from Windsor, Ontario.
Jovanovski, Florida's captain the previous two seasons, had his contract bought out a day after Ekblad was taken by the Panthers in the 2014 NHL draft.
-- The Panthers announced Tuesday they will not be raising prices for season ticket holders for the 2015-16 season.
-- The team will hold an open practice at the Coral Springs IceDen on Wednesday at 11 a.m. The workout is free to the public.


March 09, 2015

BACK ON THE ICE: Roberto Luongo returns to work out, hopes to be back Thursday against Winnipeg

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Roberto Luongo was back on the ice Monday for the first time since injuring his right shoulder in last week's loss to the Maple Leafs.
Whether Luongo returns to action Thursday remains to be seen.
"It's no more than day-to-day,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "[Thursday] is the goal and the hope but we'll see how he gets along.''
Luongo worked with goalie coach Robb Tallas before Monday's practice and didn't take live shots from teammates.
As the Panthers worked their way onto the ice for their workout, Luongo was already back inside leaving Dan Ellis and Sam Brittain to handle practice.
"It was mostly just to get my legs going, there really wasn't any action on the right side of my body,'' said Luongo, speaking publicly for the first time since Tuesday's strange turn of events.
"I wanted to feel the ice, it had been a few days and you don't want to be away from the ice too long becaue it makes it that much harder to come back.
"I would love to [play Thursday] but right now it's too early to tell. There's been some improvement over the past 24 hours but the next two days will be key to see if I'm able to play on Thursday. It's not comfortable. But it has gotten better over the past 24 hours so that's encouraging.''
Last week, Luongo was hurt when a wrist shot from Toronto's Leo Komorov caught him square on the shoulder in the first period.
Luongo finished the period but looked to be in discomfort and didn't return for the second.
"It caught me in a spot at a weird angle, I was turned sideways a little bit and caught me where there was no equipment,'' Luongo said. "It was straight on.''
Backup Al Montoya replaced him but pulled a groin muscle at the start of the third period. In obvious pain, Montoya left for a few minutes leaving the Panthers scrambling to find a replacement.
At first it appeared Tallas was going to come in, but confusion from the league and on-ice officials led to forwards Scottie Upshall and Derek MacKenzie volunteering to suit up and go in net.
The verdict was MacKenzie would do it if needed.
"We played rock, paper, scissors for it,'' Upshall said Monday.
Montoya returned to the game as Luongo left the arena to get a CT scan at nearby Cleveland Clinic in Weston and wasn't an option initially.
Luongo said he was back in the car driven by a team doctor when he heard what was going on.
Heading back to the arena was Luongo's first thought.
"I saw [Toronto] had tied the score and was like 'aw man','' Luongo said.
"So I transferred over to Twitter to see what was going on and all of a sudden saw they were going to put Mac or Uppie in so I told doc 'step on it, we need to get back.' There was a lot of confusion on Twitter, I could only imagine what was going on in the locker room.
"I wasn't sure what was going to happen once I got back but when I saw [Tallas'] face I knew I better get dressed as quick as possible."
Once he returned to the arena, Luongo headed to the tunnel to plead his case to Gallant and general manager Dale Tallas. Luongo ended up coming in with 9:08 left and finished the game.
"Obviously it was a situation where I could do a better job that Montoya because of his injury,'' Luongo said.
"It was tough to watch him go through something like that. At least my legs were working. I went out there, tried to help out the team a little bit. Luckily there wasn't much action and the shot had kicked in. I was feeling OK. I didn't use my arm too much, kept it guarded.''
The flu bug that has ravished the Panthers last week seems to be gone.
Aaron Ekblad and Tomas Kopecky, who missed Saturday's win over the Islanders because of illness, were both back Monday.
Dave Bolland, out all last week, returned Monday and centered Florida's second line because Nick Bjugstad was given another day off after he took a hard shot off the chest in the Toronto game.
Bjugstad played in the past two games but hasn't been practicing.
"Maintenance day again,'' Gallant said. "There's still a little soreness.''
-- The Panthers won't be on the ice Tuesday but instead will hold off-ice workouts. Florida returns to the IceDen in Coral Springs on Wednesday.


March 08, 2015

MAKING IT COUNT: Steven Kampfer has made most of opportunity with Florida Panthers

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Some players don't fully realize when they are given opportunities in the NHL.
Steven Kampfer isn't one of them.
After not playing in the NHL since 2012 with Minnesota, Kampfer has taken full advantage of the chance and become one of Florida's most dependable defensemen since being recalled last month.
As Florida's defensive core gets healthier, coach Gerard Gallant has some decisions to make. If the Panthers keep seven defensemen, one has to sit.
Kampfer is making a strong case that it shouldn't be him.
"I don't what happened in the years past, don't know his history but I can't believe this guy hasn't been in the NHL,'' said Brian Campbell, who was paired up with Kampfer in Saturday's 4-3 shootout win over the Islanders.
"He's given us great depth, has proved how good he is. I enjoy playing with him. He moves the puck, is really good. He's making the decision hard on the coaches. Hopefully we get to keep him around a little longer.''
Kampfer came to Florida as a relative unknown, acquired in a deal with the Rangers after training camp ended.
General manager Dale Tallon, who finalized the deal while hiking up a mountain as part of a team building session at West Point, knew Kampfer from his time in Boston and figured he would be a serviceable defenseman if injuries dictated depth moves.
Turns out, getting Kampfer was a steal.
"I liked him in Boston,'' Tallon said. "He's done a fantastic job since he's joined us. He's done great. He's a great kid, plays with emotion and stays involved. He's good on both ends of the ice.''
Knee injuries as well as a concussion slowed Kampfer's progression in the NHL.
The Michigan grad played in 61 games with Boston and Minnesota from 2010-12 but was relegated to the minors the past two-plus seasons.
"I went through a lot of adversity,'' Kampfer said. "I needed to get my confidence back.''
After coming to the Panthers he reported to their minor league team in San Antonio where his play raised some eyebrows.
Of Florida's seven defenseman, two (Kampfer and Alex Petrovic) started the season in San Antonio.
Neither want to go back.
"I came here to help the team win and you try to contribute any way you can,'' Kampfer said.
"I'm trying to do what I'm asked to do. I'm definitely trying to earn a contract, but the biggest thing is trying to help this team win. I'm doing everything I can.''
Kampfer has a couple of standout moments with the Panthers in the past six weeks but none, perhaps, bigger than Saturday.
Midway through the third, a puck from a John Tavares shot got around goalie Dan Ellis and was sliding undeterred toward the net.
At the last second, Kampfer swept in and knocked it out of harms way. Had that puck gone in, the Panthers may not have won.
"I think I was just in the right place at the right time,'' said Kampfer, who scored his only goal this year in Florida's shootout win at Montreal last month.
"You just want to help out and I was fortunate to get back and see the puck rolling toward the goal. We found a way to win and that's huge.''
The Panthers finally have a couple days to breathe as their next game doesn't come until Thursday.
Gallant plans to have open practices at their Coral Springs IceDen facility on Monday and Wednesday with an off-ice session Tuesday.
With last Friday's practice cancelled because so many players were sick, the Panthers have had just two full practices in the past weeks.
"We still have a few guys with the flu so this time will help us get healthy,'' Gallant said. "The guys have played well so this is a perfect time for the break.''




March 07, 2015

SHOOTOUT WINNER: Huberdeau scores in regulation and SO as Dan Ellis gets first win with Panthers in 4-3 victory over Islanders ... Aaron Ekblad misses first NHL game with flu

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Dan Ellis admits he didn't finish last season with the Panthers the way he or anyone else around the team liked.
This is a different season, and, perhaps, a different goalie.
Ellis won his first game with the Panthers since coming over in a trade last March as Florida topped the Islanders 4-3 in a shootout at BB&T Center.
The Panthers had won two straight and kept pace with Boston in the playoff race. Earlier in the day, the Bruins rallied to tie Philadelphia in the final seconds before winning in overtime.
Since losing both Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya to injury last week, Ellis helped Florida pick up three of the available four points.
"I've stepped into a great situation where I've been able to play,'' said Ellis, who was winless in six starts with the Panthers before stopping 25 shots and all three offerings faced in the shootout.
"I just want to contribute any way I can right now.''
Said coach Gerard Gallant: "Dan Ellis was great. He's an NHL goalie and gave us a real good game. It was a big win, a big two points for us. The goal is to stay on pace, stay in the race. We played good from the drop of the puck.''
Florida held the lead for big chunks of the night as Erik Gudbranson, Nick Bjugstad and Jonathan Huberdeau all scored.
The Islanders answered each time, tying the game at 3 with 7:12 left on a Josh Bailey goal from 30 feet out.
In overtime, Florida -- which took just 17 shots on former Sabres goalie Michal Neuvirth (who lost to the Panthers the previous Saturday) in the first 60 minutes -- went on the attack and had the Islanders worn out in their zone when the horn sounded.
Huberdeau, who has two goals and three assists in the past four games, was the offensive hero as his slick spin-o-rama goal gave the Panthers a 3-2 lead.
In the shootout, Huberdeau charged in on Neuvirth and just about came to a complete stop before pushing the puck through.
Huberdeau was the only player to score as Florida improved to 7-10 and the Islanders dropped to 7-3 in shootouts. Ellis has stopped five of six shots in two shootouts since returning to the Panthers.
"The shootout was huge,'' Gallant said. "Huberdeau has played great lately and I really wanted to throw him back out there. I know this has been great for his confidence. Great goals by him, a real confidence builder.''
For the second straight game, Ellis was done in on a shot through traffic that was redirected off one of his teammates.
Thursday, two of the three goals scored went off a player in front.
Saturday, a long slapshot from Nick Leddy clipped Scottie Upshall's stick before finding its way to the back of the net to tie the score at 2.
Ellis didn't let that affect him too much, however, as he stood strong and stopped John Tavares in the shootout after getting beat by the Isles' top scorer on a breakaway in the second.
"We would have liked to win in regulation so we have to stop giving away leads,'' Brian Campbell said. "But this has been a tough week."
The Panthers were still missing a few pieces as the flu works its way through the team as Tomas Kopecky and Aaron Ekblad sat out.
Saturday's game was the first one missed by Ekblad, 19, this season.
With Ekblad sitting out, only Derek MacKenzie, Campbell and Bjugstad have played in all 66 games for Florida.
Campbell has not missed a game since coming to the Panthers in a draft-day trade in 2011.
-- Captain Willie Mitchell was activated off the IR before the game after missing the past 16 games. Because Mitchell is still fighting the flu, Jonathan Racine was recalled from the minors as a precaution.
Racine landed in South Florida but was told he wouldn't play and watched the game from the press box instead.
-- The Panthers' online promotion awarding someone the chance to be a goalie in a practice has received over 1,200 applications since it began Thursday.
A select number of applicants (have to be 18 and over and have goaltending experience) will compete for two final spots on March 16.
For more information, visit


March 06, 2015

HELP WANTED: Florida Panthers go public in search for emergency goalie, ESPN's Linda Cohn is "available"

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Tuesday's controversial goalie situation, in which goalie coach Robb Tallas suited up as Florida's backup goalie in the third period, has spawned the team's public search for an emergency goalie.
The Panthers officially unveiled their plan, called a 'Goal of a Lifetime,' in which local amateur goalies (18-and-over) will compete for the chance to work with the Panthers in practice for a day.
The team would also likely keep track of the participants in case they needed an emergency goalie for a practice, or again, even in the middle of a game.
Interested applicants need to apply through the team website and a competition will be held March 16 at the BB&T Center. Two finalists will compete for the job during an intermission of Florida's game against Montreal on March 17.
A number of national hockey outlets picked up on the promotion with ESPN's Linda Cohn tweeting a picture of herself in goalie gear to the Panthers with the message "I'm available for backup duty."

The Panthers responded "we'd love to see you in net at the BB&T Center.''
"We think we're going to have a great response for this,'' executive chairman Peter Luukko said. "[Assistant coach] John Madden told us they used to do this up in Minnesota so we figured, 'why don't we do it as well.' It should be a lot of fun.''


SAM BRITTAIN: Making the most of his opportunity with the Florida Panthers

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Sam Brittain's first real taste of NHL life came in January when the Panthers called up the rookie goalie when the team was in Vancouver.

Backup Al Montoya left the team in Washington, D.C., to be with his wife as she gave birth to their second child.
Florida needed someone to play opposite Roberto Luongo in practice and Brittain, knowing he would never even see the bench during a game, was more than happy to leave his ECHL team in Cincinnati for the opportunity.
"I don't care how it happens I'm just happy to be here to learn what it takes to be an NHL goalie,'' Brittain said after a lengthy workout in Vancouver. "To get a taste of this for a few days is invaluable.''
On Tuesday, the Panthers found themselves with a big problem after both Luongo and Montoya were hurt in a loss to Toronto.
With both players out, veteran Dan Ellis was brought in from Florida's AHL team in San Antonio but so was Brittain.
Thursday, Brittain found himself taking part in his first NHL morning skate at BB&T Center and on the bench for his first game later that night.
How long Brittain sticks around, or whether he gets a chance to play in an NHL game isn't known.
Luongo is out until at least Thursday with a shoulder injury and Montoya could be done for the remainder of the regular season with a groin pull.
Brittain, 22, is just enjoying each day in the NHL as it comes. It's possible he gets sent back to the minors following Saturday's game since the Panthers don't play again until Thursday.
"I was going to go wherever they wanted me to, work hard and do my best,'' Brittain said in his first day as an NHL backup goalie on Wednesday.
"It's just awesome I'm here in Florida with the big club. I'm looking forward to enjoying every moment and helping where I can. You have to prepare to play every day. You never know what can happen. I have to be ready and take care of business.''
Ellis made his first start with the Panthers since last April, stopping 29 shots in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Stars -- the team he played for before being traded to Florida last year.
Of the three goals he gave up in regulation, two were deflected (one directly off the stick of teammate Brian Campbell) and the other could be attributed to a defensive breakdown.
"I thought he was good, real sharp,'' coach Gerard Gallant said.
Ellis is expected to start Saturday against the Islanders and, if Luongo is healthy, take the bench Thursday against Winnipeg.
"I thought there would be some nerves but I think playing against my old team, seeing some friends helped,'' said Ellis, who is winless in six starts with the Panthers.
"I felt good in there, would have liked to get the second point but getting one was a positive.''
-- Florida went scoreless in a shootout for the second straight time as it has dropped to 6-10 in those games this year. The Panthers have lost six of the past seven shootouts.
"I'm putting the guys out there I think can win it for us,'' Gallant said. "The goalies have been pretty good.''
-- Defenseman Shane O'Brien, recalled on an emergency basis Thursday when Erik Gudbranson fell ill, was returned to AHL San Antonio on Friday.
Saturday: Islanders at Panthers
When, where: 7 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560
Series: Panthers lead 42-36-8
Noteworthy: The two teams have split the first two games with the Islanders winning in a shootout at Sunrise and Florida winning 4-2 last month in its final trip to Nassau Coliseum. The Isles ended a two-game slide with Thursday's win in Nashville.





March 05, 2015

SICK AND TIRED: Panthers battle illness, injury but keep pace with Boston in 4-3 shootout loss to Dallas ... Roberto Luongo injury not thought to be long term

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers had three players call in sick Thursday but their playoff hopes stayed out of intensive care despite a 4-3 shootout loss to the Stars.
With Boston also losing in a shootout, Florida kept pace with the Bruins and remain two points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
With all the Panthers have had to deal with the past couple of days, coach Gerard Gallant says he'll take the point and move on.
Not only did Florida lose its two goalies to injury, but at least seven players were suffering varying degrees of illness on Thursday.
Three -- Jaromir Jagr, Willie Mitchell and Erik Gudbranson -- didn't play.
Four others had to, one of whom got physically sick on the ice during warmups.
"I'm not one for making excuses but it didn't look too good with guys showing up sick, others not coming in,'' Gallant said.
"Four guys played pretty sick. We battled hard, played hard, came back from being down 2-0. We got a point. We're not worried about Boston, just ourselves.''
Not surprisingly, Florida didn't show much life early and watched the Stars -- who had lost seven of nine after losing leading scorer Tyler Seguin in a win over the Panthers on Feb. 13 -- take a 2-0 lead.
Brandon Pirri gave the Panthers a jolt of life with his fourth goal in as many games with three minutes left in the first period.
Florida took over the game in the second, scoring twice and chasing goalie Kari Lehtonen to the bench.
Jonathan Huberdeau tied the score by snapping his 18-game goal drought with a wrister from Nick Bjugstad.
Four minutes later, Dmitry Kulikov popped out of the penalty box, took a slick feed from Jussi Jokinen and charged in on Lehtonen.
Kulikov beat Lehtonen top shelf and gave the Panthers the lead for the first time.
Kulikov fought Curtis McKenzie in the first in response to Kulikov taking out Seguin on Feb. 13 in Dallas. Kulikov ended up with his first 'Gordie Howe Hat Trick,' as he got credited for a fight, scored and had the secondary assist on Huberdeau's goal.
"They stuck up for their teammate and I wasn't going to back down,'' Kulikov said.
"We needed a win. A point is good for us, but we needed two. We need to put this one behind and learn from what we did good and bad. We need to come out strong [Saturday].''
Florida didn't muster up much of a fight in the third, taking just two shots on goal as Alex Goligoski tied it with 6:39 left.

The Panthers had numerous scoring chances in overtime but couldn't solve Jhonas Enroth who stopped 10 shots not including all three faced in the shootout.
Dallas scored on its third and final shootout offering to sweep the season series against the Panthers.
"We have to start finding ways to win these games and not just get a point,'' said Shawn Thornton, one of the sick players.
"Everyone goes through adversity it's just unfortunate it has happened to us at crunch time. But there are no excuses. We can't be giving away points.''
Gallant said Luongo would miss Saturday's game against the visiting Islanders but could return to action next week.
After the Islanders game, Florida doesn't play again until Winnipeg comes to Sunrise the following Thursday.
"He won't play Saturday but after that he will be day-to-day,'' Gallant said. "There's a possibiltity we're looking at hime for [Thursday]. It's tough to lose a guy like that.''
Montoya is expected to be out a month with a groin injury. Although the Panthers haven't placed Montoya on the injured list yet, they will in the coming days.
-- With illness racing through his team, Gallant cancelled Friday's scheduled practice.


March 04, 2015

PUT ME IN COACH: Center Derek MacKenzie, goalie coach Robb Tallas prepare to play in goal for Florida Panthers

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

With much confusion over whom the Panthers could bring in to play goalie Tuesday, center Derek MacKenzie was tabbed as the player who would do so if needed.
When Montoya got hurt, goalie coach Robb Tallas, 41, was ready to go in. Problem was, he wasn't cleared by the NHL to be an eligible player and wasn't allowed on the ice by the on-ice officials.
That led the referees to tell the Panthers they needed to replace Montoya with someone who was on the active roster and currently in the game.
MacKenzie, who said his only goalie experience was goofing around during informal practices during the 2012 lockout, went into the locker room to change.
"I was ready to go out there and was debating in my mind whether to shuffle the crease like I knew what I was doing or just stumble out,'' MacKenzie said.

As for why he was chosen over Scottie Upshall: "It was a close game, you want the guys who can put the puck in the net out there on the ice trying to do that.''
He says he couldn't wear Roberto Luongo or Al Montoya's gear because it was too big, so he needed Tallas' equipment.
"I was down to putting on the chest protector when they changed their minds again,'' MacKenzie said.
The two trading gear led to even longer delays.
Montoya ended up returning to the game although he left the ice a second time leading to a delay of over 30 minutes.

Tallas was finally cleared by the NHL and was on the bench as the backup for the final 16-plus minutes of game time. MacKenzie put on his regular gear and returned to the ice.
Although it appeared MacKenzie was fighting with the officials before going off to the locker room, he says he was just warning them not to expect to much -- and to help protect him.
"I told them if anything came within three feet of the red line, they better blow the whistle for icing because I would be going back there,'' MacKenzie said.
As for Tallon saying the Panthers were considering going with an empty net instead of putting a forward like MacKenzie in there, MacKenzie smiled.
"I don't blame him,'' he said. "Everyone was concerned about another injury out there. Lou came out and stood up for us. He did us a big favor. Seeing both guys go out in a game is hard to process.''
-- Tallas previously suited up for a game in 2013 when Jacob Markstrom's equipment was delayed coming into Fort Lauderdale airport. Tallas took warmups and backed up Scott Clemmensen for the first period.
That game was exactly two years ago Tuesday.
"Next March 3rd I will be nowhere near a hockey rink,'' Tallas wrote on his Twitter account late Tuesday night.



RECALL NOTICE: Panthers call up Dan Ellis and Sam Brittain as they await word on severity of injuries to Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
With both of their primary goalies hurt, the Panthers quickly got to work and brought up a pair of replacements.
Whether this is a long-term solution or just a quick fix remains to be seen.
If Florida still wants to make the playoffs, it better hope this is nothing too serious.
Roberto Luongo injured his shoulder in the first period of Florida's 3-2 loss to Toronto on Tuesday night after being struck by a puck.
Luongo left the game during after the period and left the arena to get a CT Scan at Cleveland Clinic in Weston. When he heard backup Al Montoya got hurt trying to make a save early in the third, he raced back to BB&T Center and eventually returned to the game with nine minutes left in the game.
The extent of Luongo's injury isn't known as he continued to seek treatment by specialists on Wednesday.
Luongo and Montoya weren't available for comment.
"He's day-to-day right now and don't think it's as serious as we thought [Tuesday],'' coach Gerard Gallant said Wednesday.
Montoya appeared to injure his groin and he was limited upon his return. Gallant said "I don't think it's too serious but I don't know a whole lot."
The Panthers didn't have many options on Tuesday with 41-year-old goalie coach Robb Tallas (99 games over six NHL seasons) eventually signing a pro-tryout contract to be eligible to play if needed.
Tallas was back on the ice Wednesday in a coaching capacity with veteran Dan Ellis recalled from AHL San Antonio and rookie Sam Brittain brought up from ECHL Cincinnati.
Ellis will start Thursday against Dallas. Coincidentally, that game comes on the one-year anniversary of Florida acquiring Ellis in a trade with the Stars for Tim Thomas.
"This [Florida] team has shocked the league a little bit and they haven't gotten the credit for what they've done,'' said Ellis, who was with the Rampage for its series in Charlotte, North Carolina, when he got the call to come to South Florida.
"People have written the Panthers off yet here they are, competing night after night against the best teams in the league and winning. They've proved a lot of people wrong and it's great for the city because they want to see playoff hockey.''
If Luongo is hurt long-term, the Panthers do have some options -- none of which are as good as having a healthy Luongo.
Florida is currently two points back of Boston for the final playoff spot and can't afford to have its MVP on the shelf for the final 18 games.
Although the trade deadline passed Monday, General manager Dale Tallon could still acquire another goalie via free agency although that cupboard seems pretty barren.
The Panthers could also run with Ellis until Luongo is back. Ellis, who struggled with Florida at the end of last year, lost his backup job when Tallon signed Montoya to a two-year deal in July.
Ellis has been strong at times with San Antonio as he has accepted his role as a minor league goalie with class.
Ellis, 34, has gone 22-11-3 with the Rampage. He has played in 204 games over seven NHL seasons.
"Dan Ellis is an NHL goalie, we know that,'' Gallant said. "He's played a lot of games in the league and he's won a lot of games He's a good player, a good person. We know that. He'll work hard and give us a chance to win. That's all we ask.
"He's done a great job in San Antonio where it was a tough situation, an NHL goalie going down there. But he's worked hard and battled hard. Now he gets his chance again.''
-- Willie Mitchell is expected to return to the lineup after missing the past 15 games.
Center Nick Bjugstad was struck by a puck in the chest Tuesday and didn't practice Wednesday. He should play Thursday.
Thursday: Stars at Panthers
When, where:
7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560
Series: Florida leads 13-12-3
Noteworthy: Dallas won the first meeting 2-0 on Feb. 13. The Stars are without leading scorer Tyler Seguin who was hurt on a low hit from Florida's Dmitry Kulikov. Dallas has lost seven of nine since to drop out of the playoff race.


March 03, 2015


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards


This comes from the NHL:


Panthers goaltenders Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya both sustained injuries during the Maple Leafs/Panthers game. According to Rule 5.3, "In regular League and Playoff games, if both listed goalkeepers are incapacitated, that team shall be entitled to dress and play any available goalkeeper who is eligible. This goalkeeper is eligible to sit on the player’s bench, in uniform. In the event that the two regular goalkeepers are injured or incapacitated in quick succession, the third goalkeeper shall be provided with a reasonable amount of time to get dressed, in addition to a two-minute warm-up." In this situation, the League approved Florida's request to dress goaltending coach Robb Tallas.

From Dale Tallon:

"For our third goalie to go in, Robb Tallas, paperwork had to be cleared by the league before he could go in. The last time we did it, it was expired. It was a one-time PTO (pro tryout) and it had expired.

"The delay was, we were debating whether to put a player in or wait to get Robb legal so he could go in. We were in communication with the league so he could go in. We had to keep Montoya in; then Louie decided to come in and try and get us the win.

"We had [Derek MacKenzie] and Robb getting dressed.

"This is rare, it doesn't happen very often. We were in constant communiation with the league to do the right thing. You have to have him be legal, has to be cleared by Central Registry and that's hard to do at 11 o'clock or 10:30. Whatever.

"We had time, but I eventually you have to get someone cleared to play. If [Tallas] wasn't cleared we would have put a player in. And we probably would have decided not to have a goalie in there.

"We had to get Robb cleared and by that time, Louie decided to come back and give it a shot. Louie went for X-rays, a CT Scan. He decided he was fine to go. The rule states both goalies have to be incapacitated. You can't start things until the second goalie is hurt. Both goalies have to be incapacitated.

"[Montoya] is a lower body injury, Louie is an upper body injury. We have to bring up a goalie for practice tomorrow just to be sure. You may have to suit up.''


GOALIE MERRY-GO-ROUND: Roberto Luongo, Al Montoya hurt as Maple Leafs snap long road slide with 3-2 win ... Goalie coach Robb Tallas dresses but Luongo returns

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers went from starting their All-Star, future Hall of Fame goalie Tuesday to going with their backup.
They almost ended up putting in the guy selling Molsons in Section 132.
OK, things weren't that bad although Florida was forced to suit up goalie coach Robb Tallas -- who hasn't played an NHL game since 2001 -- in a deflating 3-2 loss to the Maple Leafs.
"We had communication with the league and had to get Robb legal to go in,'' general manager Dale Tallon said. "It's rare, this doesn't happen very often."
Tallas, who never went in as Roberto Luongo returned after a first period injury, was approved by the NHL to be Florida's emergency backup after Luongo hurt a shoulder in the first period and Al Montoya appeared to pull a groin muscle early in the third.
Montoya returned to the game after a lengthy delay early in the third period as Florida and league officials tried to work through the mess and figure out who was eigible and who was not.
Montoya was obviously hurt and gave up the game-winning goal to Peter Holland with 14:32 left.
With Tallas in the tunnel and in uniform, Luongo -- who had appeared in his dress clothes -- talked coach Gerrard Gallant into going back in.
While Montoya killed time best he could, Luongo got suited up and returned to the game with 9:08 left.
Toronto didn't score again -- but neither did the Panthers.
Florida remains two points back of Boston for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with the Bruins playing two fewer games.
Toronto had lost 16 straight road games -- dating to New Year's Eve -- before topping the Panthers.
"We were really concerned, playing a good game and lose both goalies boom, boom,'' Gallant said. "There was a lot of confusion going on.''
Montoya returned to the game in obvious pain and was lauded by management and teammates alike for returning.
Gallant said Montoya was "hurting pretty good" and Tallon confirmed Florida would recall a goalie from its minor league affiliate -- likely former NHLer Dan Ellis -- immediately.
"We have to bring a goalie up,'' Tallon said. "We'll see what happens after the medical report.''
Aside from Florida's goalie issues, its scoring issues popped up again as Jonathan Bernier slammed the door in the third.
The Panthers led 1-0 on a Brandon Pirri goal early with Aaron Ekblad making it 2-1 in the second.
Montoya was hurt trying to stop Nazem Kadri on his game-tying goal 22 seconds into the third forcing the Panthers to scramble and try and find an emergency goalie.
Both Scottie Upshall and Derek MacKenzie were considered, with MacKenzie going as far as to head back to the locker room to change.
Tallon, meanwhile, was working with the league to get Tallas approved to play. Tallas served as an emergency backup during warmups and the first period of a game against Carolina when Jacob Markstrom's equipment was late to arrive.
Tallas, Luongo and Montoya were unavailable for comment.
"We have to be mentally strong, try and keep pucks away from them,'' Pirri said. "We're not even close to being happy about what happened. We want that playoff spot.''

Tallas photo from 2013 warmups v Carolina courtesy of Eliot J. Schecther/Getty Images


SCOTTIE UPSHALL: Glad to be with the Florida Panthers

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Scottie Upshall walked up to a local reporter in the Panthers locker room Tuesday morning and held out a hand.
"It's good to see you today,'' Upshall said with a smile.
With the trade deadline Monday at 3, Upshall wasn't sure he'd be with the Panthers come Tuesday.
"It's nice to be here this morning,'' he said.
Although he knew he was one of the players being shopped around by the Panthers, Upshall said he didn't particularly pay much attention to the trade talk on Monday.
With family in town, he took them to the beach.
A day off in Fort Lauderdale? Why not.
"Deadline day in pro sports is where a lot of action happens,'' Upshall said. "It's nice to have it over with. You never like to see your friends go, and as much action that went on [Monday], it's good to see [Tallon] believes the group here can get the job done. We want to make the playoffs and do good things in the playoffs.
"We feel we're right there. With 19 games left, this is an opportunity for the guys here to do what we believed we could do from the start of the season. We want to turn some heads and prove we can get the job done. We're close and the push here in the next month is when hockey gets really tough. We like where we are.''


PETER HORACHEK: Staying positive despite the losses

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Peter Horachek is as positive a person one would ever meet.
It's a character trait that has done him well, especially with all of the negativity -- and flat out losing -- surrounding the Toronto Maple Leafs these days.
"I don't think there's any other way to go about it,'' Horachek said after Tuesday's morning skate in Sunrise.
"It doesn't help anyone if you get overly negative on the team right now. We're very clear when we make mistakes, clear with how we need to play.''
Horachek has been in this type of situation before, and not too long ago, either.
As the interim coach of the Panthers last year, Horachek took over a rough situation (Florida had lost seven straight when it fired Kevin Dineen) and tried to make things better.
As was the case in Florida, the Maple Leafs were sellers going into the trade deadline.
He'll work with what he has, he says, trying to make things better.
"There are challenges, we traded away six guys'' he said. "If I look like I'm not motivated and into it, neither will they.''
Toronto has 19 games left this season and his message is his players have a chance to show a little pride, prove themselves accountable.
And, in the process, maybe spoil some playoff dreams of some other teams.
Although the Leafs have lost 16 straight road games -- dating to a New Year's Eve win in Boston -- they sure could screw up the Panthers with a win tonight in Sunrise.
"This is a good opportunity for everyone to show what kind of person they are, what they're made of,'' Horachek said.



PHIL KESSEL: Leave Dion Phaneuf alone

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Those who thought the Toronto Maple Leafs may go quietly into the good night after the trading deadline passed were in for a little surprise Tuesday.
Phil Kessel, he of many trade rumors himself, stood in front of Dion Phaneuf's locker stall in the visitor's room at BB&T Center after Tuesday's morning skate.
After being asked a few questions about still being around -- he said he didn't assume he was going anywhere -- Kessel tore into the Toronto media for its perceived poor treatment of Phaneuf.
Kessel, it should be noted, was not asked about Phaneuf.
"I think the way the media treats Dion Phaneuf in this city is embarrassing,'' Kessel said, referring to Toronto and not, we think, Sunrise.
"A lot of people should be ashamed of themselves. I’m embarrassed for them. I don’t think anyone deserves to be treated like that and a lot of media should be embarrassed about what they said about him in general.
"It’s disgusting the way people treat him. You guys unfairly criticize him. He’s our best defenceman and you guys act like he’s not trying out there and this and that. Is it his fault we’re losing? No. Did he build this team? No. It’s not Dion Phaneuf.''
Rumors swirled this weekend and into Monday that Phaneuf and his large contract might be on the move to Detroit. That didn't happen.
Phaneuf didn't speak to the gathered media despite being requested. The players who were in the room seemed surprised by Kessel's rant as they all stopped what they were doing to listen in.
A few of them did so with raised eyebrows and some chuckled under their breath.
"The stuff he takes, the crap he takes, the things people say, I’m just tired of it,'' Kessel continued. "He’s owed some apologies by some people.''
TSN ended up apologizing to Toronto's Jeffrey Lupul for a tweet it ran during Monday's trade deadline show. The tweet, from the general public, talked about personal issues and seemingly slipped through the filtering process.
After the derogatory tweet got through, TSN stopped running live tweets on its show.
Lupul also didn't speak Tuesday. He did go to Twitter however, writing "get familiar with #nocomment."


WILLIE MITCHELL: We haven't done anything, but don't disrespect the Florida Panthers

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Panthers captain Willie Mitchell said he heard Sportsnet analyst Glenn Healy disrespecting the Panthers during SN's trade day coverage Monday and decided he couldn't let it sit.
Mitchell sent out a tweet directed at Healy that got plenty of play as it spiced up a fairly lame trading deadline.
When SN saw the tweet, it wasn't ignored and was brought up during a roundtable discussion.
Former Panthers coach -- and part-time South Florida resident -- Doug MacLean jokingly stuck up for his former team as he is never one to turn down a chance to rib Healy.
On Tuesday, Mitchell explained why he came out in defense of his team through social media.
"We're not satisfied with what we've accomplished by no means,'' Mitchell said. "We have one goal and that's to make the postseason and we've said that from the beginning of the season. We've worked our tails off. Ownership has given us a chance. I just thought it was uncalled for from the outside to discredit what we've done to this point.
"Again, we haven't accomplished anything, but, we were a last place team in the league and we're fighting with a team that won the Stanley Cup not that long ago. I thought it was uncalled for. We talk about the positive things in the Florida market. We're playing better, we're in every game. We try to do things the right way. I think people are seeing that.''
Mitchell added that there's a challenge of playing in a non-traditional market especially one like South Florida. He says he and his teammates relish the opportunity to get things right here.
"This group really likes that challenge, we embrace that,'' Mitchell said. "Everyone says hockey in Florida doesn't work, the Florida Panthers have never been a team to contend with. We have a lot of work to do to [disprove] that to our peers. The most important thing is when teams around the league know its not a lay-up in Florida. I know in playing against them last year, we're a different hockey club.''
Mitchell, who has been on the injured list for the past few weeks, says he was aiming to play Tuesday against the Leafs but is now hoping for Thursday.
"Some injuries [hang] around and this one has,'' he said. "I feel good, should be in the next game. I was trying to vouch for this one but the medical staff are pulling back the reigns a bit. You should see me in the next one.''
Dave Bolland, also on the IR, didn't skate Tuesday as coach Gerard Gallant says he was fighting the flu.


March 02, 2015

ALL'S QUIET IN SUNRISE: Panthers stand pat on trade deadline day but make news on Twitter

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The most exciting part of Monday's trade deadline for the Panthers was captain Willie Mitchell taking exception to a comment by a Canadian television analyst and responding to it on Twitter.
Yeah, it was a slow news day.
With general manager Dale Tallon making three trades last week -- including one for future Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr -- there wasn't much to do come Monday.
Tallon was believed to be shopping pending free agents Tomas Kopecky and Scottie Upshall but by 3 p.m., Florida didn't make any deals.
"We did most of our work early as did most teams. There wasn't a lot going on,'' Tallon said.
"Teams had done their trades over the past few weeks. We looked at possibilities with other teams and other players, but we knew this was going to be a quiet day. We wanted to help our offense but it's hard to do that.''
Florida's four pending free agents had been on the market all season with Tallon dealing away Sean Bergenheim last Tuesday and Tomas Fleischmann on Saturday.
Although Kopecky and Upshall may not be in the future plans of the Panthers, they are part of their immediate future and can help Florida in its quest for a playoff spot.
Upshall's goal Saturday broke a 3-3 tie in an eventual 5-3 win over the Sabres; Kopecky was back in the lineup on Sunday and had two key scoring chances against the Lightning.
"We're in the hunt, two points out,'' Tallon said. "Team morale is very high, we have a lot of energy and enthusiasm. Team chemistry is important and you don't want to disrupt that.''
So now, the Panthers move forward.
With 19 games remaining, coach Gerard Gallant knows who is on his team moving forward.
The Panthers currently have 21 players on the roster so they have room when Mitchell and center Dave Bolland return from injury.
"Tuesday will be a good day for us because we can move on, we know what our team is for the final games,'' Gallant said over the weekend. "It's tough for the guys who are involved in that, but they are pros and know this is part of the business. It will sort itself out.''
Said Upshall: "We know we have 15, 16 forwards and decisions need to be made. As a pro, you just do your job, come to play. We all want to be on this team, make the playoffs here.''
As for Mitchell, he didn't like snide remarks made toward the Panthers by Sportsnet commentator Glenn Healy including one comment in which he referred to Florida as the "mighty Panthers."
That led Mitchell to send a tweet toward Healy poking fun at his 14-year career as an NHL goalie -- as well as making an unprintable suggestion.
Mitchell's tweet caught the attention of the Sportsnet crew with former Panthers coach Doug MacLean defending Mitchell and his former team while good-naturedly ribbing Healy.

Roberto Luongo, himself a master of Twitter, jumped into the fray as well, posting a picture of a crying Terrell Owens with the line "that's my captain!"

Again, it was a slow day.
"God bless Willie,'' Tallon said with a chuckle. "He's a great captain and he's a Panther. We have a good group who really care for each other and believe in themselves, believe in our team. It's all good.''
-- Tallon said Mitchell is close to returning from his undisclosed upper body injury. Bolland is expected to join the Panthers for Tuesday's morning skate.
-- Former Panthers captain Olli Jokinen won't return to Sunrise on Tuesday as Toronto traded him to St. Louis for a sixth round draft pick.
Jokinen made his Toronto debut after being traded there from Nashville against the Panthers on Feb. 17.
Tuesday: Maple Leafs at Panthers
When, Where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560
Series: Toronto leads 33-29-7
Noteworthy: The Leafs have been bad but especially so away from Toronto as they have lost 16 straight road games. Toronto hasn't won on the road since winning at Boston on New Year's Eve.





March 01, 2015

ROLLING RIGHT ALONG: Panthers snap home losing skid v Lightning, hold on for wild 4-3 win ... Jagr gets goal, assist as Panthers have nine goals in past two wins

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers appear to have found their offense.
It couldn't have come at a better time.
On Sunday, Florida newcomer Jaromir Jagr led a balanced attack as the Panthers scored three unanswered goals then held on for dear life to beat Tampa Bay 4-3 at BB&T Center.
The Panthers hadn't beaten the Lightning in Sunrise since their 2011-12 season opener.
That victory kicked off Florida's previous playoff season; the Panthers hope Sunday's victory over Tampa Bay precludes another postseason berth.
Florida is back to being two points back of the final playoff spot.
"This could really be one of those games you look back on,'' defenseman Brian Campbell said.
"They play very well and we knew that. We know the level we have to play at to be consistent and to be good. We have Toronto and Dallas coming up. We need to keep piling them up. We have 19 games left. We know how many wins, how many points we need to get into the playoffs. We need to keep climbing.''
Before Jagr arrived in South Florida, the Panthers offensive had slowed to a crawl, scoring just 11 goals in the previous nine games.
Since Jagr popped into the lineup Saturday against Buffalo, the Panthers have nine goals.
Probably not.

Sunday, Jagr scored Florida's first goal after being fed in the slot by Jonathan Huberdeau and beating Ben Bishop top shelf.
In the second, tied at 1, Jagr fired a hard shot at Bishop with the puck lingering dangerously around the goal line. Sasha Barkov cleaned it up and Florida had a lead it would not relinquish.
Jagr hadn't scored a goal in 10 games before Sunday.
"It's only been two games but its a big two games and we're back in the race,'' said Jagr, who received the West Point victory jacket after tying Hall of Famer Phil Esposito for fifth all-time on the NHL goals list with 717.
"I came here to try to help this team get into the playoffs and these games are like the playoffs. We have 19 games left, it's exciting.''
Up 2-1, the Panthers kept coming at the Lightning and went into the second intermission up two when Brad Boyes scored a wacky goal by throwing a shot at Bishop from behind the goal cage.
In the third, Florida made it 4-1 on a power play blast from rookie Aaron Ekblad.
Tampa Bay, the NHL's highest-scoring team, didn't sit back and made it a game as Steven Stamkos scored midway through the third before Tyler Johnson made it a one-goal game with 2:44 left.
Backup goalie Al Montoya and Florida's defense stood up, however, and kept the Lightning at bay. The Panthers, who had lost four straight, have victories in consecutive days for the first time this season.
"The guys are going hard to the net,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "We played a real good game against a real good team. They put the press on us late and got some goals. We held on, found a way to get two big points.''
After already trading away Sean Bergenheim and Tomas Fleischmann, the Panthers aren't expected to be too busy before Monday's 3 p.m. trade deadline.
Tomas Kopecky and Scottie Upshall are being shopped by the Panthers but could remain after the deadline.
Kopecky was in the lineup Sunday after being scratched in the previous three games. Upshall scored the game-winner in Saturday's 5-3 win over the Sabres.
Both players will be free agents on July 1.
"Those are all just rumors, I just want to focus on my shifts,'' said Kopecky, who like Upshall served as an assistant captain Sunday.
"I can control what I can control and that's my work ethic.''
-- Boyes scored his 200th career goal Sunday. He had gone 17 games between goals.
"It's been a while since I've chipped in,'' Boyes said. "It was nice. We need goals.''
-- Campbell played in his 900th NHL game in Saturday's win over the Sabres -- the team which drafted him and he spent eight seasons with.


February 28, 2015

JAGR TIME: Jaromir Jagr doesn't land on scoresheet but makes presence known in Florida's 5-3 win ... Brandon Pirri comes off IR, scores twice

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Jaromir Jagr came to the Panthers with the thought he would help their much maligned offense.
And even though the future Hall of Famer didn't find the scoresheet Saturday, Jagr certainly had an effect as Florida recorded its fifth biggest output of the season in a 5-3 win over visiting Buffalo to snap a four-game losing streak.
"He was outstanding,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "He makes your team a lot better, gives your team a a lot of confidence.''
Jagr made his Florida debut Saturday afternoon just hours after he arrived at BB&T Center and headed to the home locker room for the first time.
The 43-year-old winger -- who shares a line with 19-year-old center Sasha Barkov as well as 21-year-old Jonathan Huberdeau -- ended up playing 21 shifts (17:09) with three shots on goal.
He'll get another chance to snap his eight game scoreless streak when Florida plays host to Tampa Bay on Sunday at 5.
"It was crazy for me since they told me about [the trade] at 4 on Thursday so I didn't have much time to pack up and get down here,'' Jagr said in a introductory postgame press conference.
"It's tough to just go to the game without any practice or preparation. We need every point we can get but this was new for me, not practicing and just jumping in.''
Not only was Jagr on the ice for both of Brandon Pirri's goals, but Pirri -- who was activated off the injured list before the game -- credited Jagr for getting him to take the shot in the first place.
Pirri's goals came just over a minute apart and tied the score at 2 past the midway point of the second period.
"He told me to shoot the puck, said 'you got it','' Pirri said. "I knew I had to be the shooter there, [Brian Campbell] put it in my wheelhouse and I teed off on it.''
Buffalo, the worst team in the NHL, jumped to a two-goal lead on the Panthers even when it looked like it didn't want to.
The Sabres, a team in tank mode as it hopes to hold the top pick in the NHL draft when it's held in Sunrise come June, was held to just 14 shots on goal yet found a way to get three past Roberto Luongo.
Buffalo's final goal tied the score at 3 with 7:06 remaining; the Sabres were being outshot 40-13 at the time.
Yet just when it looked like the Panthers would go to overtime despite thoroughly outplaying an opponent, Scottie Upshall came to the rescue.
Upshall, whom the Panthers have been trying to trade before Monday's deadline, took a feed from Derek MacKenzie in the slot and fired a wrister past Michal Neuvirth (42 saves) with six minutes left.
Buffalo didn't make much noise after that as MacKenzie put the Sabres out of their misery with an empty net goal in the final seconds.
"It felt great, nice to chip in and get on the board again,'' Upshall said. "It was nice to start a big weekend here with a win.''
Said Gallant: "It was tough seeing it tied 3-3. Fortunately for us, it's good to see your so-called fourth line get a goal for us.''
Florida at least kept pace with Boston for the final playoff spot. The Bruins opened their lead on the Panthers to four points after beating the Devils in overtime on Friday.
With the Bruins playing host to an Arizona team that hasn't won since Feb. 9 on Saturday evening, the Panthers couldn't afford to lose to the Sabres.
So the postseason hunt continues. Jagr should help things out.
"I'm going to do my best, that's why I'm here,'' Jagr said. "I've played the game so many years, when you add Europe I think it's the most ever, so I have a lot of experience. This makes me a little more excited. This is a new life.''

Sunday: Lightning at Panthers
When, where: 5 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560
Series: Florida leads 57-47-10
Noteworthy: The two cross-state rivals haven't met since the season opener on Oct. 9. The Lightning has won five straight over Florida and the Panthers haven't won in Sunrise since their 2011-12 home opener. Al Montoya starts in goal for Florida.