March 20, 2014

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

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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 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

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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.''


When, Where: 10 p.m.; 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


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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 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.''


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

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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.



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

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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.



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

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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.


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.



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.


DALLAS SCARE HITS HOME: Dan Ellis Thankful Rich Peverley, Friend and Former Teammate, Is Improving

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

When Dan Ellis heard Rich Peverley had collapsed on the Dallas bench during Monday night's game, he admitted he was scared and said a prayer for his good friend and former teammate.

Ellis was kept abreast of Peverley's situation from friends on the Stars' staff early in the ordeal and later by Peverley's wife.

"From what I've heard, he's doing well,'' said Ellis, who was traded to the Panthers from Dallas last week.

"You have to hope and pray for the best. You're thankful the doctors did as good a job as they did, thankful he's alive.''

Peverley, 31, didn't play in the season opener against the Panthers after missing the preseason for treatment of an irregular heartbeat. Peverley has been on medication and monitored all season and missed last week's game in Columbus because of it. Peverley did return to play against Vancouver two days later.

"When you can't be there for someone you care about .-.-. it's heartbreaking,'' said Ellis, who often rode with Peverley to games and practices during their time with the Stars.

Ellis said he and Peverley had extensive conversations on Peverley's health and the procedures he had and planned on undertaking.

Peverley was not allowed to drink alcohol or caffeine, Ellis said, and was going to have more work done in the offseason.

"Everything seemed to be under control, he did everything they said he needed to,'' Ellis said. "Then this happens.''


March 09, 2014

BOSTON BREWIN: Bruins Continue Domination of Panthers ... Gudbranson Leaves Game, Status Unknown

Roberto Luongo did slow down the Bruins but not even he could stop them from continuing to beat up on the Panthers.

Actually, few have done much of anything against the Bs lately.

On Sunday, arguably the top team in the Eastern Conference rolled into town and put on a show in the third period, scoring four goals en route to a 5-2 win over the Panthers.

"They have some players and they made some plays, scored some goals,'' said Luongo, who lost at Boston last month while a member of the Canucks. Sunday he made 37 saves.

"We just have to keep playing hard and learn from what happens on the ice. They've won the Cup, are one of the best teams in the league.''

Boston has won five straight games to take over the top slot in the Eastern Conference. The Bruins have also absolutely owned the Panthers. Boston has won eight straight against Florida including 14 of the past 16 and 20 of 26.

When asked if he was glad his team was done with the Bruins for the year, coach Peter Horachek exhaled. "Yes,'' he said.

Florida went 0-5 against the Bruins this season, not picking up a single point in the standings. Boston also outscored the Panthers 22-8 in the process.

"They are still a benchmark, still a team we have to gauge ourselves against,'' said Horachek, who took over the team a day after Florida lost 4-1 in Boston on Nov. 7 although the decision to fire Kevin Dineen had already been made.

"They are a disciplined team by their system and attitude. They don't have panic to their game. They just keep working at it. A lot of times things go their way.''

The Panthers watched Boston dominate play and keep pressure on Luongo throughout, the Bruins showing no ill effects from beating host Tampa Bay in a long shootout the night before.

Despite being outplayed, the Panthers took the initial lead as Boston native and former Boston College hero Jimmy Hayes followed up a fat rebound to beat backup Chad Johnson seven minutes into the second.

"We have to stay in the games, keep getting the pucks in,'' Hayes said. "We can't score and give them right back.''

The Bruins didn't wait too long to tie things up, getting a reviewed goal from Andrej Meszaros just before the 10 minute mark.

Luongo contested the goal as Carl Soderberg made contact with the Florida goalie as the shot was coming through but that non-call couldn't be enforced by review in Toronto.

"He interfered with it but if they don't call it on the ice, Toronto can't,'' Horachek said.

Boston took control of things in the third, scoring three goals within a five minute span.

Patrice Bergeron made it 3-1 with a power play goal, only Hayes cut Florida's deficit in half 39 seconds later by working the puck between Johnson's skates.

Boston all but ended things 23 seconds after Hayes' goal as Jarome Iginla got his 550th NHL goal by roofing a shot past Luongo. Chris Kelly iced things with an empty net goal with 1:08 remaining.

"We all know they're a good team but they outworked us again despite playing back-to-back,'' Jonathan Huberdeau said. "We should have taken advantage of that and didn't. Hopefully we beat them one day.''


Defenseman Erik Gudbranson had to be helped into the Florida locker room after taking a hit to the knee from Marchand.

Gudbranson hit the ice and was slow to make his way back to the bench.

Horachek said he didn't have a status update following the game. Florida was expected to recall a defenseman from AHL San Antonio anyway, so that move could come Monday.

-- Prior to Meszaros' goal midway through the second, Luongo hadn't given up a goal as a member of the Panthers since their 2006 season finale.

Atlanta's Steve McCarthy scored late in the first period of that overtime win for Florida.

Luongo went 2 hours 13 minutes 23 seconds of game time with the Panthers without giving up a goal over that almost eight-year span.


March 07, 2014

STORYBOOK RESTART: Luongo Shuts Out Sabres in Triumphant Return to Panthers ... Thomas Bobblehead Day is Back On

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Roberto Luongo left the Panthers as the franchise's all-time leader in shutouts back in 2006.

On Tuesday, he returned with his record still intact.

By Friday night, he was already adding to it.

Luongo had a triumphant return with the Panthers as he made 25 saves in Florida's 2-0 win over Buffalo at BB&T Center.

It was Luongo's 66th career shutout and 27th with the Panthers. He had three with Vancouver this season before coming back to Florida in a trade Tuesday afternoon.

"It was nice, a great reception from the start and I thought the boys played extremely well,'' said Luongo, in a Florida sweater for the first time since beating the Atlanta Thrashers 2-1 in overtime in the 2006 season finale.

"We're a really fast team. I was impressed by the speed that we generated. The future is very promising.''

Luongo didn't get a lot of goals from Florida's offense although the Panthers did take 44 shots at new Buffalo goalie Michal Neuvirth with coach Peter Horachek saying Florida had 30 scoring chances.

Sean Bergenheim had 12 shots.

Florida's power play -- ranked last in the NHL but not much worse than the one Luongo left behind in Vancouver -- scored twice for the first time since Dec. 3.

The power play got off to a rocky start after Buffalo took consecutive penalties to give the Panthers an extended run.

With Matt D'Agostini in the box, Marcus Foligno was kicked out of the game for running Brandon Pirri into the boards along the Buffalo bench.

Florida wasted most of the 6:35 power play but Jesse Winchester salvaged things. Winchester shoveled a shot past Neuvirth -- fresh out of Washington -- to make it 1-0 midway through the first.

"If that doesn't score, it probably gives them a little confidence and some momentum,'' Horachek said.

The Panthers continued to take aim at Neuvirth, still wearing his Capitals' themed equipment, yet couldn't find the back of the net as Luongo made one nice save after another.

Florida finally gave Luongo some breathing room early in the third when defenseman Dmitry Kulikov rifled a shot from 40 feet away to make it 2-0. Horachek said "Kulikov was outstanding, the best player on the ice".

With Luongo back, it seemed like a lot of Panthers were energized.

"Louie's first game back and this was fitting,'' said captain Ed Jovanovski, playing in his first game with Luongo as a teammate despite all their combined years together with the organization.

"I'm glad he's on our side. I've played with a few elite goaltenders before and he has a pretty good resume. Being able to play with him is nice.''

Luongo came onto the ice to raucous cheers as many in the crowd broke out their old No. 1 jerseys.

Once the captain in Vancouver who had been strung around the past few years with the Canucks, Luongo looked sharp, confident and especially comfortable back in the arena it all started for him in South Florida back in 2000.

"He's really happy to be here and I'm excited for him,'' GM Dale Tallon said. "He's had a tough couple of years and handled himself with class and dignity. He deserves good things to happen.''

Said Luongo: "Shutouts are always nice but in the end it's about the win. We were up one in the third but didn't sit back. It was good.''


The Panthers changed course and will give out Tim Thomas bobbleheads to the first 7,500 fans who attend Sunday's game against the Bruins as scheduled.

Thomas was traded to Dallas on Wednesday, one day after Florida got Luongo back. Thomas' bobblehead is the third to be given out during Florida's 20th anniversary season with three such days later this month.

-- Vincent Trocheck, 20, made his NHL debut Friday with a number of family members from Pittsburgh in attendance.

Trocheck took three shots on 25 shifts.

"I felt confident to use him in a lot of situations,'' Horachek said.


March 06, 2014

WELCOME BACK LOUIE: Roberto Luongo Returns to Florida Panthers Practice for First Time Since 2006

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Roberto Luongo spoke of "returning to normalcy" when he practiced with the Panthers for the first time since 2006 on Thursday afternoon.

Aside from his Vancouver-themed green-and-blue protective pads underneath his black practice jersey, it looked like Luongo had never left.

He even dug up his old Pink Panther-themed hockey mask with palm trees painted on it from his closet.

"I'm not used to wearing the red but it was nice to get on the ice and just do what I do,'' said Luongo, whom the Panthers re-acquired in a trade with the Canucks on Tuesday.

"I stopped some pucks, moved around there and had a good time trying to get to know my new teammates.''

Florida originally traded Luongo to Vancouver in a lopsided deal on the eve of the 2006 NHL Draft conveniently held in the Canadian city.

And although Luongo spent countless hours practicing at the Panthers' training facility -- he paid the team out of his own pocket for the privilege -- during the offseason and 2012 lockout, he'd not been allowed inside the locked doors leading to the team's headquarters.

On Thursday, Luongo was finally given access to all the good stuff which included Tim Thomas' old locker stall. The Panthers didn't have a nameplate ready for Luongo yet but that will be ready soon.

"I work out here during the summer but not in this locker room,'' said Luongo, wearing a red Panthers dri-fit practice t-shirt.

"This is very nice over here, beautiful stuff. I've never been over here. It's great. I couldn't believe how nice it was when I walked in [Thursday] morning. I didn't know they had all these amenities in here.''

On Wednesday, the Panthers sent Thomas to Dallas bringing backup goalie Dan Ellis in return. Florida then sent Scott Clemmensen, Thomas' backup here, to its AHL affiliate in San Antonio.

Since Ellis has never played with the Panthers, he didn't have any old gear to bring in as Luongo did. He practiced in his green Dallas pads with matching helmet.

Ellis is signed through next season so he'll be getting some Florida-themed equipment very soon.

"This is a team that has been putting in pieces for the longest time,'' said Ellis, who has a 4-2-3 record against the Panthers in his seven-year NHL career.

"There have been great people around here, great veterans. I think with the new ownership gives stability. In Dallas, new ownership stabilized the team, same in Tampa. That does a lot for you and gives you the ability to grow out. We have some great young players, really good veterans, just picked up a world-class goalie. It's a good place to be.''

-- Dan Ellis photo by KELSEY HINDS/@Kelsey1344



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

TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560

The series: Buffalo leads 44-30-4

Scouting report: Both teams will have new looks following the trading deadline. Florida has won two of three with its only loss to the Sabres this year coming at home on Oct. 25.





WELCOME TO THE SHOW: Vincent Trocheck Ready to Make NHL Debut with Panthers

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Center Vincent Trocheck is expected to have a number of family members at the BB&T Center for Friday's game against the Sabres as the 20-year-old makes his NHL debut.

The Panthers recalled Trocheck on Wednesday as he led San Antonio in scoring this season. Trocheck replaces Marcel Goc -- who was traded to Pittsburgh, Trocheck's hometown -- on Wednesday.

"I'm extremely excited,'' Trocheck said. "I got the call at 3:30, had to be on a plane by 6. I was there early, for sure. It's a dream come true, my goal since I was 5-years-old.''

Drew Shore was sent back to San Antonio despite playing well with the Panthers before and after the Olympic break.

"This gives Vinnie a chance to come up,'' coach Peter Horachek said. "There's a league rule about how many games you can play before you need waivers. He's done a good job, I like Drew Shore. From the first time he got called up, he approached it with a real professional attitude. He knew he was going to be a fourth liner, knew he would kill penalties. He did it with a passion and had an impact.''



MASKED MAN: Roberto Luongo Breaks Out Old 'Pink Panther' Mask from 2006

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

When Roberto Luongo walked out onto the Panthers' practice ice on Thursday, he had a familiar look.

Well, sure, he spent five seasons with Florida before being sent to Vancouver in one of the greatest heists in hockey history.

Luongo, not wanting to look like Mr. Plain, went into his closet and dug out his old mask from his final season with the Panthers. He brought it with him to practice and had it dusted off and updated a bit.

Panthers assistant equipment manager Chris Moody said Luongo's old mask is fine for him to wear in games for the time being as there hasn't been many changes in technology for hockey masks since the time he left.

The Panthers had a newer white mask ready for Luongo just in case, however, but he showed up with his old one. The team switched out the straps, sweat band and chin guard and his old mask was ready to go.

A new mask is said to be in the works but won't be ready for a few weeks.


TIM THOMAS: Says he Talked to Panthers About Getting Out Before Luongo Deal

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Tim Thomas flew to Dallas on Wednesday night after being traded from the Panthers earlier in the day.

He took part in the Stars' Thursday morning skate before their game with Vancouver -- who coincidentally had former Panthers' Shawn Matthias and Jacob Markstrom working with their new teammates after coming over in the Luongo deal.

Thomas, like Dan Ellis, was wearing his old equipment for his practice. Like Ellis, Florida's red-and-blue color scheme clashed with Dallas' kelly green.

In meeting with reporters, Thomas said he was happy to be on a team contending for a playoff spot and said he talked to the Panthers prior to the Luongo trade about the possibility about being shipped to a contender. The Luongo trade, he said, only facilitated things.

"From the Florida Panthers perspective,'' Thomas said, "they're looking at it as something to shore up their goaltending for a very long time. They did what they thought was best for their organization.''

Thomas told reporters in Boston on Tuesday, however, that he had not even thought about being traded to a contender because it apparently never came up. The thought here: Thomas figured he was coming back to Florida next year and wouldn't be dealt.

Here is the link to the Dallas Stars' website with video from Thomas talking about his first day with the Stars.

It's worth noting that Thomas' season started at AmericanAirlines Center in Dallas as Florida beat the Stars in the 2013-14 season opener.



March 05, 2014

LOUIE IS HOME: Roberto Luongo Returns to Florida Panthers ... Cats Trade Tim Thomas, Marcel Goc Before Deadline


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

When Roberto Luongo hit his pillow for his pregame nap Tuesday, he had no idea what was waiting once he awoke.

After a few years of trying to come back to the Florida Panthers, it came true. Vancouver general manager Mike Gillis called Luongo in the middle of his nap and told him not only would he not be starting for the Canucks later that night in Arizona, but he would be heading home to South Florida.

"I was getting ready to play, I didn't have any idea something serious was going down,'' Luongo said in a re-introductory press conference carried statewide on Fox Sports Florida from BB&T Center.

"There's always rumors floating around but I've been hearing them for a couple of years. You stop listening to them. I was ready to play. It happened quick and caught me off guard. To be honest, I'm still in a little bit of disbelief. It'll be nice to practice with my new teammates and get some normalcy back.''

The deal for Luongo just prior to Wednesday's trade deadline set a number of things in motion including dismantling Florida's goaltending tandem.

Starter Tim Thomas reluctantly waived his no-movement clause and was traded to Dallas. The Panthers got veteran goalie Dan Ellis in return, thereby sending backup Scott Clemmensen to Florida's minor league affiliate in San Antonio.

"We wanted a world-class goalie and a class act like Roberto,'' general manager Dale Tallon said. "We're excited about this. This is the beginning of many solid moves to move our franchise forward.''

Luongo, who played for the Panthers from 2000-06, said his interest in rejoining Florida was rekindled as the team make a run to the playoffs in 2012. Luongo was feeling heat in Vancouver with Cory Schneider making a case to be the starter. Luongo eventually asked for a trade -- with Florida being his main target.

"It really got me excited,'' said Luongo, shipped out in 2006 after a series of events unfolded leading to contract talks stalling with then owner Alan Cohen and GM Mike Keenan.

"I started thinking it would be great to come back and rejoin the team. It took a while and there were some other teams involved along the way, but in the end, I think when I least expected it, something happened. I'm excited about situation moving forward.''

The Panthers couldn't swing a deal for Luongo either in 2012 or last summer when Tallon confirmed he and Gillis talked about it at the draft.

"A lot of people think I want to come here and ride into the sunset,'' said Luongo, 34, who is signed through 2022. "I'm here to win, to bring this team back to the playoffs. I think with the ownership and the promises they've made, we can bring some new guys in and help the young guys along. We can be a contender.''

Rory Babich, named CEO of the team on Monday, says bringing Luongo back is a difference maker for the franchise.

"To be able to acquire a talent like will be tremendously positive for our fans and our players,'' Babich said. "Getting Roberto at the deadline converts the words we've been speaking into action. We really believe the players will get a lift. This is a tough end of the season where we're at, but this is all good.''

With Luongo, the Panthers all but said goodbye to Thomas. On Tuesday, Thomas said he learned about the trade while on the bus heading to the TD Garden.

When asked if he would accept a trade to a contender, Thomas didn't seem to know what to say. It was apparent he and Tallon talked about Thomas coming back next season. He had never really thought about leaving at the trade deadline.

On Wednesday morning, Thomas and Tallon broached the subject.

"I told him the truth, how it went down and what happened,'' Tallon said. "That's just the way it is. It's strictly business. We have to win games, build a solid championship team here. It was a good conversation. I don't blame him for being upset. This is the direction we're going in.''

The Panthers' organization seemingly thought Thomas would be around for a while as well. Sunday's home game against Boston was scheduled to have 10,000 Thomas bobbleheads as the giveaway.

Babich says while the trinkets won't be given out en masse, the team is working on a plan to get them to fans who want them.

"The timing is unfortunate,'' Babich said. "Tim is popular here and we looking forward to honoring him with a bobblehead night. He was important to us.''

Although Luongo said he and Thomas could coexist -- Thomas said the same thing on Tuesday -- it was obvious having two top-end goalies on the same team competing for playing time wasn't going to work for long.

So when the Panthers skate onto the ice for Thursday's practice in Coral Springs -- just a few miles from Luongo's home -- there will be no question who Florida's No. 1 netminder is.

As it was back in 2006, it's Luongo.

"You always feel you have something to prove, there's always someone behind you ready to take your job,'' said Luongo, who still holds the franchise goaltending records for games played, wins and shutouts.

"You have to have that desire to keep getting better and be the best. That, to me, is what it's all about. You have to keep pushing. When I don't have that, I'll step aside.''

-- The Panthers made one other deal before Wednesday's 3 p.m. deadline, sending third-line center Marcel Goc to Pittsburgh for a pair of draft picks. Goc is an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

-- Florida also made a few roster moves on Wednesday. Aside from sending Clemmensen down to San Antonio, the Panthers also sent Drew Shore back to the Rampage.

Center Vincent Trocheck, who leads the Rampage with 41 points, is coming up and expected to be in the lineup Friday against the Sabres.

-- The Panthers 11 a.m. practice at the IceDen in Coral Springs is free and open to the public.