December 08, 2014

BOLLAND'S BACK: Panthers will have Dave Bolland in the lineup v. Martin Brodeur and the Blues

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
ST. LOUIS -- The Panthers will have Dave Bolland back in the lineup Monday night when they take on Martin Brodeur and the Blues in St. Louis.
Who Bolland replaces is still unknown. The Panthers held an optional skate this morning and a number of forwards were missing.
Bolland has been out since leaving the Panthers' first win of the season in Buffalo on Oct. 17. The groin injury happened on his final shift of the night and he said he's never had to deal with such a serious groin pull.
"It has been a while so it's great to be able to get back out there, get in the lineup,'' Bolland said after Monday's skate.
"I'm there to help the team, it's never fun sitting out watching the guys go. When you have losses like that, by one goal, you know you could help. It's always heart wrenching. It kind of screws with your head watching that. .-.-. They've been playing great and that's the main thing. Whether you're in or out of the lineup and the team's winning, that's the main thing. As long as the younger guys are progressing, they're going to push me and I'm going to push them. That's the way it goes.''
Brodeur makes his first home start for the Blues tonight after signing a bonus-laden contract last week.
"I think it’s always an advantage to play in your own building,'' Brodeur said. "Fans are always a big component and reason why a team has success in their building. I never played on the other side of another team so now it’ll be interesting to see how it is. I know playing against these guys throughout the years in this building it’s always a fun place to play.''
On Monday, he said he split time between his homes in New Jersey and Boynton Beach.
During the week, he would workout on the ice then come to Florida for the weekend to hang out with the family and play a little golf.
Brodeur, who has pretty much owned the Panthers over the years, said he watched a number of Florida games on television when he was in Boynton and likes what he has seen from the Panthers.
The former Devils' netminder worked throughout the summer but didn't get an offer.
"[Florida has] a lot of talent, a lot of young guys through the draft the last couple of years, a lot of bodies, a lot of skill,'' he said. "It's just a matter of putting everything together. It seems like it’s coming along pretty good.''
As far as driving south to Sunrise to see a game, Brodeur smiled.
“No,'' he said, "I’m not that big of a fan.’’


December 07, 2014

JIGGS McDONALD RETURNS TO SUNRISE: Longtime announcer fills in for Randy Moller, mulling retirement (again) ... Luongo didn't always own Sabres

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The radio broadcast room at BB&T Center was especially busy Saturday night -- and brimming with Hall of Famers.

With radio voice Randy Moller sick and missing a second straight game, the Panthers brought in Jiggs McDonald to call Saturday's game against the visiting Sabres.

With McDonald in the building, that meant long conversations with old friends Denis Potvin and Bill Torrey. These three have been close since their days with the Islanders back in the early 80s.

Torrey, nicknamed 'the architect,' put the team together. Potvin was the captain who raised the Stanley Cup four straight years from 1980-83. And McDonald spun the tale, his legendary calls earning him a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame alongside Potvin and Torrey.

"This is a real treat. This is great fun, it really is,'' McDonald said. "There aren't any better people in the world than hockey people. What a solid group.''

McDonald, Florida's radio play-by-play man from 1999-2004, has come out of the bullpen to fill in on Panthers and Islanders broadcasts since he 'retired' in 2004. McDonald works about a dozen Islanders telecasts on MSG Network each season.

The part-time work keeps McDonald -- who in six decades is believed to have called more NHL games than anyone else -- close to the game he loves.

When the Panthers call, he heads over from his home in Fort Myers. Saturday's game was his first for Florida since filling in for Moller in 2010.

"I thought I could cut the cord,'' McDonald said of retiring after Florida's 2003-04 season. "But I got a call from MSG if I could help them get the [2005] season started because the Mets were in the playoffs. Then the Panthers called to fill in for Dave Strader. Any cord that was cut, it was healed again.''

Steve Goldstein, now Florida's television voice, was McDonald's pregame, postgame and intermission host before taking over when McDonald retired.

Like Potvin and Torrey, Goldstein made sure to saddle up to McDonald, who recently turned 76, before both went on the air.

"I grew up listening to him call Islanders games so when he was here, it was like 'wow, that's Jiggs McDonald','' said Goldstein, who did radio play by play with Moller for two seasons before moving over to the television side.

"He's such a great guy off the air. He's sharp, he's funny, he's witty and I learned a lot for him. I really enjoyed learning from him and he would bring me on the air which was really great of him. It's great to see him still plugging away.''

For McDonald, Saturday's gig was a rare opportunity to return to Sunrise and call a Panthers game before heading on the road with the Islanders.

This season, McDonald says, may be his last.

With the Islanders leaving the Nassau Coliseum for Brooklyn next year, McDonald feels it may be time for him to move on as well.

"In the back of my head, I'm saying this has to be it,'' said McDonald, who was the original voice of the Los Angeles Kings in 1967 as well as the Atlanta Flames in 1972.

He joined the Islanders after they won their first Cup in 1980.

"Ten years after retirement, I shouldn't still be wandering around charter planes and looking for hotel rooms in the middle of the night. Do I need to do this anymore? Maybe this should be it. When they move to Brooklyn, that should be my bye-bye. But most of the games I do are road games, so who knows?''


Roberto Luongo's shutout run against the Sabres was quite impressive, especially considering what happened in the start before his streak began.

On March 3, 2012, Luongo was pulled just 5:10 into a game against the Sabres after they scored three goals off seven shots.

The Sabres didn't get one past Luongo for a long time after that until Saturday night.

Luongo shutout the Sabres in three straight starts and didn't give up a goal until Drew Stafford scored with 8:58 left in the second period. That's a shutout run of 211 minutes 2 seconds as Luongo turned back 91 consecutive shots on goal.

The previous Buffalo player to score against Luongo before Stafford: Florida teammate Brad Boyes.

-- Coach Gerard Gallant said Dave Bolland is ready to return from a groin injury that has kept him out since Oct. 17 and should play Monday against the Blues.

Scottie Upshall (ankle) and Aleksander Barkov (hand) didn't travel to St. Louis but may join the team later in the week.

Monday: Panthers at Blues

When/where: 8 p.m.; Scottrade Center, St. Louis

TV/radio: FSFL; WQAM 560

Series: St. Louis leads 17-7-3

Noteworthy: The Panthers will see old pal Martin Broduer on Monday as the three-time Stanley Cup champion with the Devils makes his second start since signing with St. Louis last week. Brodeur is 40-16-2 against Florida with six shutouts.





December 06, 2014

A KID'S GAME: Bjugstad and Ekblad help fuel Florida's 3-2 win over visiting Sabres ... Kopecky pots first goal of the season ... Injury updates

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Roberto Luongo's shutout streak against the Sabres came to an end Saturday night.

Luckily for the Panthers, Nick Bjugstad and Aaron Ekblad continued to put up points.

Bjugstad's goal off an assist from Ekblad in the final seconds of the second period was the difference in the Panthers 3-2 win over Buffalo at BB&T Center.

Ekblad had the primary assist on Florida's final two goals as Tomas Kopecky got his first of the season after deflecting a long shot.

"This was a good win, I'm pretty happy about it,'' said Ekblad, who had three assists Saturday to give him six points in the past four games.

"I knew [Kopecky] tipped it but I don't know how. It was a knuckleball on my end. He got a stick on it and it went in. I got the puck there as quick as I can and good things happen.''

Said coach Gerard Gallant: "He put some pucks to the net and was rewarded for it.''

The Panthers, who have beaten the Sabres five straight times, took a 1-0 lead in the first off a long snapshot from Brad Boyes.

Luongo, who had shutout the Sabres in three straight starts, held Buffalo scoreless into the second.

With 8:58 left in the second, Drew Stafford finally ended Luongo's streak against Buffalo at 211 minutes 2 seconds.

"It took a perfect play from Gretzky on the one-timer there,'' Luongo joked. "It was a hell of a play by them, a hell of a shot. I'm sure they were happy to get one by me.''

After Kopecky scored to give Florida back the lead, Brian Gionta tied it again by deflecting a puck as Luongo gave up two goals off three shots.

With 16.2 seconds left in the second period, Bjugstad knocked a loose puck past Michal Neuvirth to give Florida a lead it wouldn't relinquish.

"Obviously every goal is important and that one was timing,'' Kopecky said. "It gave us momentum going into the third.''

-- Center Dave Bolland didn't return Saturday although Gallant said he was close enough to be considered a game-time decision.

Florida can activate Bolland, out since Oct. 17 with a groin injury, at any time and currently have two open roster spots.

Gallant said he didn't know whether Scottie Upshall (ankle) or Aleksander Barkov (hand) would travel with the team to St. Louis on Sunday afternoon.

If they don't, he said, they would probably meet the team in Detroit for Wednesday's practice.

-- The Panthers will hold an open workout Sunday at the IceDen in Coral Springs begining at 11 a.m. It is free and open to the public.

TALLON APOLOGIZES: Sabres owner, GM upset with Panthers' pregame video featuring snowstorm

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Florida general manager Dale Tallon apologized to Buffalo owner Terry Pegula and general manager Tim Murray for the team's pregame video on Saturday night.
The video interspersed scenes from Buffalo's recent major snowstorm with those of the Panthers' mascot fishing and doing other activities outside in the South Florida sun.
Pegula, who lives in Palm Beach County and recently purchased the Bills, was incensed as he spoke with Tallon about the video.
Over a dozen deaths were blamed on the massive snowstorm that crippled parts of the Buffalo area last month.
"People died in that storm,'' Pegula was overheard saying to Tallon. "That's not funny.''
Tallon said he didn't see the video -- he wasn't in the press box at the time -- but was told about before meeting with Pegula and Murray during the second intermission.
"I can't comment on it because I haven't seen it and don't really know what's in it,'' Tallon told the Miami Herald after walking away from the Buffalo management group.
"But if they're upset, rightfully so.''


December 05, 2014

BJUGSTAD ON A TEAR: Panthers center has 10 goals in past 14 games ... Attendance to start picking up ... Bolland practices, returning v. Buffalo?

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
It wasn't so long ago Nick Bjugstad couldn't buy a goal with an American Express card and a PayPal account.

Florida's second-year center was getting plenty of opportunities yet missed shot after shot.

Coach Gerard Gallant noticed the quality chances and kept Bjugstad on a top line despite the lack of statistical production.

"Even when he wasn't scoring, you could see it,'' Gallant said. "He was hitting goal posts, was getting chances. I think he's maturing as a player. .-.-. The only thing I was concerned with was him getting frustrated. I was happy with how he was playing.''

Gallant's decision to have Bjugstad keep doing what he was doing sure has paid off.

Since Nov. 6, Bjugstad has been on a tear, scoring a team-high 10 goals in the past 14 games.

Going into Saturday's game with Buffalo, Bjugstad is the team leader in goals (10) and points (15).

Bjugstad, who scored 16 goals in his first full NHL season last year, is on pace to eclipse the 30 goal mark this year.

No Florida player has scored 30 goals or more since David Booth had 31 in 2008-09.

"Percentage-wise, if you're going to create chances, the puck is going to go in eventually,'' Bjugstad said Friday, a day after scoring twice in Florida's 4-3 shootout loss to Columbus.

"At the start of the season I thought I was playing well. I was getting chances. That's what you have to do. I had a few lucky ones [Thursday], so, sometimes the puck luck goes in.''

Bjugstad, who has three multiple-goal games this season after doing it once last season, is becoming one of Florida's most consistent players.

Tough on defense as well, Bjugstad uses his big frame (6-4, 190 pounds) to drive to the net and force his shot through.

"He's a big guy who controls the puck pretty good and is a fast skater,'' said linemate Tomas Fleischmann, whose play has picked up since being paired up with Bjugstad.

Said Gallant: "He's a horse.''

On Thursday, Bjugstad's first goal came when he drove toward the net while holding off a defenseman and shoveling a shot that bounced around and slid between the skates of goalie Sergei Bobrovsky.

The second goal came in a fracas by the goalmouth as Bjugstad knocked a puck over Bobrovsky's shoulder to tie the score at 3.

"I have to produce, that's why I'm here,'' Bjugstad said. "I've been relied on to score most of my life from high school through college. Hopefully I can continue that here.''


The Panthers continue to draw small crowds to BB&T Center as the team is averaging 8,871 through the first 11 games.

With the team in playoff contention -- and big-name opponents on their way -- the team is expecting that number to rise significantly in the coming months.

The Panthers, who have cut out basically all free and discounted tickets, play host to the Sabres on Saturday which could bring the largest crowd of the season. Florida's biggest crowd so far was 11,419 for the home opener against New Jersey.

A four-game homestand which starts against Pittsburgh on Dec. 22 and includes Toronto, Montreal and the New York Rangers should change things. All four games are expected to be Florida's biggest crowds of the season.

"As a player, you don't think about the crowd during the game but I think you do afterward,'' winger Sean Bergenheim said. "You hope there would be more fans but we have to keep working hard to get some wins and get people in there. It's up to us.''

Added Fleischmann: "Us winning will have more people show up. Baby steps. When we were winning the year we made the playoffs, a lot of people were excited. We're shooting to bring that atmosphere back.''

-- Center Dave Bolland hasn't played since injuring his groin in Buffalo on Oct. 17 but took part in Friday's full practice as he continues to work on his conditioning.

Scottie Upshall (ankle) and Aleksander Barkov (hand) both skated Friday.

Saturday: Sabres at Panthers

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

TV, radio: FSFL; WQAM 560

The series: Buffalo leads 44-32-4

Of note: Roberto Luongo has shut out the Sabres in each of his past three starts including two straight with Florida (March 7, Oct. 17). The Panthers have won four straight against Buffalo dating to last season.




December 04, 2014

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

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




December 03, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

It won't come easy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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




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

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





December 02, 2014

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

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

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



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

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards


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

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

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

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


Luongo photo courtesy of TWITTER: @Bill_Roose


RAMPAGE INSIDER: Bittersweet watching players move on

TWITTER: @tonyuminski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goaltender Al Montoya is a whole different story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

P.S. Coaches Trivia!

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

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

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

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

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December 01, 2014

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

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

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

It was a costly mistake.

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

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

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

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

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

It was that kind of night for the Panthers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday: Panthers at Red Wings

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

TV, radio: FSFL; WQAM 560

The series: Detroit leads 16-7-3

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



November 30, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday: Panthers at Blue Jackets

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

TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560

The series: Columbus leads 11-4-0

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





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday: Panthers at Blue Jackets

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

TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560

The series: Columbus leads 11-4-0

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







November 29, 2014

FIGHT STOPPER: Thornton, Neil surprised refs spoiled their showdown

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

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

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

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

And that was it.

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

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

"We were both surprised by it.''

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



November 28, 2014

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

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

Florida got a little something for the effort.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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




November 27, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Friday: Senators at Panthers

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

TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM-560

The series: Ottawa leads 47-30-3

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






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

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

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

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

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

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