December 23, 2015

TIME FOR CELEBRATION: Panthers go into holiday break holding rare playoff spot ... Jaromir Jagr has fun with dentistry

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Some packed up and headed for a holiday up north while many more are staying home to enjoy their Christmas on the beach.
Regardless of where the Panthers are spending the next few days, they do so holding a rare holiday playoff spot.
"We just have to make sure, when we come back from Christmas, we continue to play the same way,'' Jaromir Jagr said.
"We're playing a good team game, five guys up and five guys back checking. We need to play as a team.''
The Panthers, who have been to the postseason just twice since 2000 and only four times in franchise history, went into the NHL's Christmas break tied in points with Boston for second place in the Atlantic Division.
And after winning 11 of its past 14 games including its previous five, Florida is only a point back of Montreal for first place in a division the now-struggling Canadiens were running away with just a few weeks ago.
The Panthers resume their season Sunday against visiting Columbus.
Florida has four games left on this holiday homestand with the Rangers and Canadiens among those coming to Sunrise.
"This is a good Christmas present for all of us,'' said Sasha Barkov, who iced Florida's 2-1 shootout win over Ottawa on Tuesday with yet another shootout goal.
"We have won five in a row so after Christmas, we'll be back getting back to work.''
The Panthers, who last held a Christmas playoff spot in 2011 when they eventually won the Southeast Division, have climbed through the standings and were ranked third in The Hockey News' latest NHL Power Rankings.
Coach Gerard Gallant, one of those staying in town for the holiday, said he would have liked to have gotten two points and left the Senators with none on Tuesday but is real pleased with what he has been seeing lately.
Of the teams in the Atlantic in which the Panthers are competing with, only the Senators picked up a point Tuesday. Montreal, Boston, Detroit and Tampa Bay all lost. Just six points separate the sixth-place Lightning and first-place Montreal.
"We're finishing real strong here and the guys will have three good days off,'' Gallant said. "We'll get back to work and know how important these points are especially early in the season like this. We have 42 points now. We're real close to the top of the division, which is a good sign, but everyone else is real close too.''
The Panthers have been terrific on both sides of the ice, dominating play in the offensive zone while limiting chances for goalies Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya.
"We've been carrying the play most nights,'' Luongo said. "That's the type of hockey we want to be playing."
On Tuesday, the Panthers were all over Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson, outshooting the Senators 40-16.
In Florida's past 14 games, it has outshot its opponents in 10 of them.
"We've been real patient and soon the goals are going to go in,'' Jagr said. "We know how we can play. It's pretty good. When we need to, we need to start scoring.''
-- Jagr had plenty of jokes after a scary moment in the first period Tuesday in which he hit the ice in a pool of blood after being smashed in the mouth by the errant stick of Ottawa's Alex Chiasson.
"It'll be a dentist Christmas,'' he quipped.


Jagr supposedly also told Gallant he planned to sell the four teeth left on the ice on eBay. After the game, he told reporters the loss of his teeth actually "increased my speed" and helped him on his coast-to-coast breakaway in the final seconds of overtime.
On Twitter, Jagr wrote to Santa asking for "new teeth for Christmas," because it would "be tough to eat good" and indulge over the holiday.
"At least I don't get fat,'' he wrote.
-- The 2016 World Junior Championship starts Saturday in Helsinki with the Panthers having four of their prospects playing.
Lawson Crouse, Florida's top pick in the June draft, and goalie Samuel Montembeault (third round pick in 2015) will play for Team Canada.
Juho Lammikkko, who was a third round pick in 2014, will represent Finland while Denis Malgin (fourth round, 2015) will represent Switzerland.
-- The Panthers reconvene after their time off with an open practice Saturday at 11 a.m. at the IceDen in Coral Springs.


December 22, 2015

WRAP IT UP: Panthers dominate, settle for 2-1 shootout win over Craig Anderson and the Sens ... Anderson makes 39 saves but can't stop Brandon Pirri and Sasha Barkov in shootout

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
With just one point separating them in the standings, Tuesday's game between the Panthers and visiting Senators was expected to be close.
If not for Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson and some questionable officiating, it may not have been.
Although the Senators stole a point by surviving until overtime, the Panthers kept their winning streak going with a 2-1 shootout victory at BB&T Center.
Florida goes into its Christmas break winners of five consecutive games and 11 of its past 14 and pulled into a virtual tie with Boston for second place in the Atlantic Division and are a point away from first place.
"We definitely played a good game, but it's a scary game there at 1-0 and then it's 1-1,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "We held our composure and the guys found a way to get the two points.''
Ottawa was one of the teams to beat Florida during this recent hot streak and, as was the case in New Jersey last week, the Panthers got some measure of revenge on Tuesday.
Anderson, the former Panthers goalie who continues to make his home in South Florida, has been terrific in the past against the Panthers and had to be again Tuesday.
The Panthers were all over Anderson and the Senators through the first two periods yet only held a 1-0 lead going into the third.
Anderson stopped 13 shots in the first period then faced 17 in the second. Anderson made 39 saves overall but gave up a pair in the shootout to automatics Brandon Pirri and Sasha Barkov for Florida to earn the extra point.
"We had 40 shots and I think I had six of them,'' Barkov said. "Overall, it's good to win. This is a team we wanted to beat, we're in the playoff race with them. It's good to win. [Anderson] was really good, excellent. I don't have the words to say he was so good."
Corban Knight, who has been strong since being recalled from the minors last week, gave Florida a 1-0 lead midway through the second when he sliced through the Ottawa defense and beat Anderson with a slick wrister from the left circle.
The Panthers had more to deal with than just Anderson, however, as the officiating crew of Jean Hebert and Kyle Rehman missed a pair of high-sticks that would have given Florida two four-minute power plays.
The crew also blew a whistle early on a scrum in front of the net where Aaron Ekblad scored. Ekblad went up to the glass to celebrate a goal that never was, drawing the ire of Ottawa tough Chris Neil.
"It's tough. Sometimes you get upset, but they missed them. They came up and said 'we didn't see it, so we can't call it','' Gallant said. "They are good guys and do the best they can. They said they missed it, you move on."


On the first missed call, Reilly Smith appeared to be snared by Patrick Wiercioch. The second was much more serious as Jaromir Jagr caught the blade from Alex Chiasson's stick right in the mouth.
Jagr hit the ground, blood pouring from his mouth with team trainer Dave Zenobi offering assistance.
Jagr eventually got up and went to the bench, returning to the ice for his next shift minus a few front teeth and an even bigger smile than usual.
As he skated back, Jagr tapped Chiasson on the helmet then told Gallant his mouth was fine.
Jagr had a chance to win it late in overtime when he went coast-to-coast on a breakaway, the puck floating off his stick at the last moment for Anderson's final save of the evening.
"I lost some teeth but I gained some speed as you saw on that breakaway,'' said Jagr, who said he lost four teeth. "I don't want to hear I'm slow anymore. I had the breakaway. I don't think I'll have another one for 10 years."
Despite being outplayed and badly outshot, Ottawa tied the score early in the third on its second power play of the night after Erik Karlsson's long shot was deflected in by Mark Stone.
Ottawa took just two shots on goal in the third period.
"I thought we played a really good game, could have had three or four goals easily,'' said Roberto Luongo, who made 15 saves. "They got a lucky bounce but we found a way. Guys are confident in themselves and the way we're playing. We believe we can win every game.''
-- Dave Bolland returned to the Panthers on Monday and his gear is back in the team locker room but he may not play right away.
Bolland suffered some sort of injury while on assignment to Florida's AHL team in Portland, Maine.
General manager Dale Tallon would only say that Bolland is being evaluated for a 'lower body' injury.
-- With the Christmas holiday coming up, the Panthers will be off until a scheduled practice Saturday morning at 11 a.m. at the IceDen in Coral Springs.
Florida resumes its homestand Sunday against Columbus.


December 21, 2015

PANTHERS HAVE GOALS TO GO: Increased scoring helping the Panthers find victory ... Florida has won 10 of 13 and four consecutive going into Tuesday's game with Ottawa ... Dave Bolland recalled; Alex Petrovic activated

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
At this time last year, the Panthers were one of the lowest scoring teams in the NHL.
Florida was averaging two goals per game and most nights needed a terrific performance from its goaltender to win.
These days, the Panthers are still getting great goaltending yet are scoring goals as well.
Florida is 12-0-1 this year when scoring three goals or more.
"I think it makes my job a little easier,'' Roberto Luongo said Monday, a day after the Panthers scored four regulation goals in a 5-4 shootout win over Vancouver.
"This is a low-scoring league and when you get three, four or five goals, we need to make sure we win those. It doesn't happen very often. It's nice to see guys getting it done. It starts with defense, but we're scoring with a balanced lineup. That makes it harder on the opposition. We like our group in here. We have four lines contributing.''
The Panthers came into Monday holding the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference while being two points back of Boston for second place in the Atlantic Division and three behind Montreal for first.
"You don't want to, but you look at the standings every day,'' coach Gerard Gallant said.
In Florida's recent winning surge in which it has won 10 of 13 and its past four, scoring has been up.
Over its past 13 games, the Panthers are averaging 2.7 goals per game, a huge improvement over last season.
During its four-game winning streak, Florida is averaging four goals.
Overall, the Panthers are 13th in the league by averaging 2.6 goals per game.
At this point last year, the Panthers' power play was ranked 27th. On Monday, it was 12th in the league, clicking at close to a 20 percent success rate.
New additions Jaromir Jagr (he came to the team last February) and Reilly Smith have definitely helped things out.
Those two lead the team with a combined 21 goals.
"We don't play a real risky game, up-and-down trying to outgun the other team,'' said Jaromir Jagr, who is a goal behind Smith for the team lead with 10.
"We play with structure and our game is cycling the puck, create scoring chances in the offensive zone. Teams change strategy on you and you have to find a way.''
A big reason for Florida's increased offensive production is its improved defensive play. The Panthers are generating turnovers by using their speed to pick off the puck. Once Florida has possession, it doesn't give it up very easily.
"Our young kids are getting better,'' Gallant said. "We have some kids sprinkled through the lineup and we have more scoring through it. It's really important. You can't leave it to one line. The team has to do it and guys are getting better.''
Possession in the offensive zone is up this year, and scoring is much more spread out.
Last year at this time, the Panthers had one 10-goal scorer in Nick Bjugstad with only Jimmy Hayes (seven) close by.
This season, the Panthers have three players with 10 goals (Smith, Jagr and Vincent Trocheck) and five others -- Aaron Ekblad, Sasha Barkov, Jussi Jokinen, Brandon Pirri and Bjugstad -- with seven or more.
"Our goal is to be able to win games, even if it's like Carolina and it's 2-0,'' Jonathan Huberdeau said. "Scoring power play goals has been huge for us. We added some scoring and that has helped. We have a few guys over 10 goals and that's good for us. Guys are working hard.''
-- Bjugstad has been out the past month with migraines but has started skating again and worked out Monday before practice.
General manager Dale Tallon told SiriusXM radio Monday that Bjugstad could return in the next week.
-- Center Dave Bolland's trip to the minors is over after the Panthers brought him back from the AHL Monday. Gallant said Bolland will not play Tuesday.
Florida also activated defenseman Alex Petrovic off the injured list and returned Dylan Olsen and center Rocco Grimaldi to its AHL team in Portland, Maine.
Derek MacKenzie and Petrovic return to the lineup Tuesday.
"Everything has come along well, have been skating on it the past week,'' said Petrovic, who missed three weeks with an injured foot.
Tuesday: Senators at Panthers
When, where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640, WMNA 1210
Series: Ottawa leads 47-30-3
Scouting report: The is the second of five meetings between Florida and Ottawa with the Sens taking the opener 4-2 two weeks ago. Ottawa has lost four of six since and are a point back of the Panthers in the standings.




December 20, 2015

BARKOV DOES IT AGAIN: Panthers win fourth consecutive game 5-4 over Vancouver in a shootout ... Sasha Barkov pots game-winner ... Jaromir Jagr now alone for fourth all-time ... Cats getting healthier

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Jaromir Jagr achieved another milestone then smiled as he watched linemate Sasha Barkov burn yet another goalie with a spectacular shootout goal.
Yeah, it was just another Sunday for the Panthers.
Jagr's goal, which put him alone in fourth place on the NHL's all-time list, and Barkov's highlight-stealer helped lead the Panthers to a 5-4 victory over visiting Vancouver.
"Great win,'' said coach Gerard Gallant, whose team has won 10 of its past 13.
"It was a great game where we created a lot but gave up way too much. ... We got the two points, played a better second half in the third and it was a great win for the fans. Those kind of games sell tickets for sure."
Florida's fourth consecutive victory puts it just three points back of Montreal for first place in the Atlantic Division and kept the Panthers in playoff position for another day.
Although it's only December, the Panthers' solid play is building plenty of confidence.
The Panthers play host to Ottawa on Tuesday in their final game before the Christmas break. Florida plays its next five in Sunrise, not leaving again until January.
"We found a way to win and we'll take it,'' said Shawn Thornton, whose first goal of the season tied the game at 1 in the opening period. "We have to keep being consistent here. It's a long season, a long time between now and April. But we know we have a good team.''
Florida didn't play the strong defense it had shown on its recent 3-1 road trip as Vancouver had numerous chances and held the lead twice early.
Down 1-0, Florida got a rare goal from Thornton after he buried the puck after Vancouver's Ben Hutton put it on his stick with goalie Ryan Miller out of position.
"It has been a while,'' Thornton joked.
Trailing 2-1 late in the period, Jagr camped out in front of Miller and drilled a great pass from Barkov to tie the score with 11.5 seconds left before the first break.
The goal put Jagr ahead of Marcel Dionne for fourth all-time and puts him nine back of Brett Hull for third.
"The goal is sweet but the win is even sweeter,'' Jagr said. "We didn't give up, waited for the perfect opportunity to win the game.''
Florida grabbed the lead twice in the second on goals from Vincent Trocheck and Aaron Ekblad only to see the Canucks tie it up in pretty quick fashion.
The Panthers played a much better defensive game in the third and had chances to take the lead again only Miller was strong with 38 saves.
Florida was all over Miller in overtime, taking eight shots in the 3-on-3 session but even a brief 4-on-3 chance late couldn't get the Panthers a coveted overtime win.
In the shootout, Brandon Pirri was automatic again and knocked Miller out of the game with what the team is calling simple cramps.
Former Panthers goalie Jacob Markstrom -- who went to Vancouver in the Roberto Luongo trade in 2014 -- came in and stopped Huberdeau before Barkov came on.
Barkov, as creative a shootout specialist Florida has ever had, charged in on Markstrom then bounced the puck off his skate, tapped his stick on the ice to get Markstrom moving left before backhanding a shot top shelf.
"Barkov made a great move, a special move,'' Jagr said with a grin.
"I told him I'm done with him. I teach him everything I can and he hasn't taught me anything.''
Luongo (30 saves) made one last stop on Sven Baertschi and the rubber rats began to hit the ice.
The win was Luongo's first in Sunrise against his former teammates since coming back in 2014.
"It's always great to win, get two points but it was a tough game,'' Barkov said. "When you score in the shootout, you have confidence to try new moves. Now I have to learn something else. I don't have anything more.''
-- Jagr on his goal: "It is special and it tells me I played with a lot of great players. That makes it a lot easier for me. I started in Pittsburgh with great players and I'm going to end here with great players."
-- Gallant said Nick Bjugstad has been skating the past few days but will not return until after the break.
Bjugstad has been out since Nov. 30 due to migraines and just returned to the ice.
-- Derek MacKenzie and Alex Petrovic have been medically cleared to play and one -- if not both -- will be back Tuesday.


December 19, 2015

STRONG IN NET: Panthers win with Roberto Luongo or Al Montoya ... Big homestand kicks off Sunday v Vancouver

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
When it comes to which goaltender he's going to play each night, Florida coach Gerard Gallant is in an enviable position.
It's nice to be able to choose between Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya, especially lately.
"Montoya has been great all year, it has been great to see him go in there and battle and play hard,'' said Gallant, whose team is ranked third in the league by allowing 2.3 goals per game.
"He has stepped up every time he has played for us."
Over the past few weeks, the Panthers have won nine of their past 12 games.
Florida's goalies -- Luongo has made nine of the starts -- have surrendered just two goals or fewer in its wins.
In eight of the wins, the Panthers have given up a goal or less.
Of Florida's past three wins, Luongo and Montoya have given up two goals -- one each to the Islanders and Devils. Luongo notched his second shutout of the season Friday against the Carolina Hurricanes.
"The guys are playing well in front of us and that makes our jobs easier,'' said Luongo, who has given up 12 goals in seven games this month.
"Montoya has done an unreal job for us this year which makes my job easier. I know I can take a few more breaks and know he'll play big for us. Things are going well right now but we have a long road ahead of us. It's fun playing hockey now.''
Sunday, Luongo faces Vancouver -- the team Florida traded Luongo to in 2006 before getting him back from the Canucks in 2014 -- at BB&T Center.
"We just have find a way to be ready to play,'' Luongo said. "It's always special, I played with a lot of those guys for many years. It's always a fun game. At the end of the day, it's a game we want to win.''
Montoya had an inconsistent season last year with the Panthers but has been strong in his second season.
In his past four starts, Montoya has given up one goal in each.

"I like my game, I've worked for this and I've had a lot of help surrounding me,'' Montoya said. "I feed off of Luongo, feed off this team. I try to give us a chance to win every time I'm in net.''
-- The Panthers are going to try and continue their strong road play when the return home Sunday.
Florida will play its next six games at home, not returning to the road until visiting Buffalo on Jan. 5.
In their previous long stay at home last month, the Panthers won three of seven. With wins in nine of their past 12 -- including eight of 10 on the road -- the Panthers feel they are in a much better place now.
"We're playing much better hockey,'' captain Willie Mitchell said. "If you look at our body of work, the games we lost, we could have won. I think we're playing well and our group knows that and knows what it takes. We have a better idea of what our identity is.''
Sunday: Canucks at Panthers
When, where: 4 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; 560 WQAM, 640 WMEN, WMNA 1210.
Series: Vancouver leads 13-8-6
Scouting report: Roberto Luongo is 1-1-1 in three starts against the Canucks since rejoining the Panthers in 2014. His only win in that stretch came in Vancouver last January.


December 18, 2015

ROAD WINS: Panthers end another successful road trip with 2-0 win over host Hurricanes ... Florida has won eight of past 10 on road; nine of past 12 overall

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Erik Gudbranson called Florida's game Friday night "boring" and he wasn't wrong.
Despite it being the hockey equivalent of a large shot of NyQuil, coach Gerard Gallant seemed to love every minute of it as his Panthers continued their hot tear with a 2-0 win over the host Hurricanes.
Florida's third consecutive victory gave them wins in eight of its past 10 road games. Overall, the Panthers have won nine of 12 to stay in the playoff conversation.
"We played three games in four nights and play again Sunday so we had to play smart,'' Jaromir Jagr said.
"We knew we wouldn't have the legs, so we had to stick together. You have to find a way to win. I told the kids it was like a playoff game. All you need is one chance but take advantage. They shut you down all game, but take advantage."
The first two periods were a non-prescription cure for insomnia as both teams skated around and fumbled the puck on bad ice blamed on N.C. State's winter graduation ceremony held a few hours prior to the puck dropping.
The third didn't offer up much early, but the Panthers -- playing their ninth road game in the past few weeks -- were happy to keep things simple, or as Roberto Luongo echoed Gudbranson, boring was good.
"We see how the standings are, there are a lot of good points, so we're just trying to accumulate points,'' said Luongo, who recorded his 70th career shutout and second this season by stopping 24 shots.
"The shutout is nice, but we're all about the win. We're really starting to play well as a five-man unit, not giving up odd-man rushes. That's where it begins, the biggest difference for our team right now.''
Florida took the lead for good 4:09 into the third when Jonathan Huberdeau made a great play holding the puck off the boards and looked toward the net.
Huberdeau had a future Hall of Famer in Jagr around the cage as well as defenseman Willie Mitchell -- who came into the game with no goals.
Huberdeau didn't pass to Jagr.
"And he chose Willie Mitchell,'' Jagr said with a laugh.
"It's time to retire. Bye. I'm done after this one.''
Mitchell flashed to the right side of the net and one-timed the perfect pass from Huberdeau, beating Cam Ward.
"He made a great pass like he always does,'' said Mitchell, who hadn't scored since doing it against the Hurricanes last spring.
"I don't think the puck hit the ice again, it was right on my stick. It was nice to score again, I don't score a ton. ... I knew it was big when I scored it and that felt good. If you don't score a lot of them, you want them to be big ones.''
Florida continued to play lock down hockey as Luongo pushed back whatever the Hurricanes had to offer.
In the final seconds, Reilly Smith blocked a shot then fired the puck into an empty net for the final goal of the night.
Smith extended his team lead in goals as the empty netter was his 11th.
Smith, who came to the Panthers in a July trade with Boston, scored on each game of the four-game (3-1-0) road trip which started with a loss to the Bruins last Saturday.
"There wasn't much offense so both goalies had to make some key saves,'' said Gallant, whose team has won five consecutive over the Hurricanes dating to last season.
"Louie was a real plus for us. Big Willie got his first of the year and it was a great play. Good for him. It's good to see. It was a real nice goal, a timely goal for us.''
-- Huberdeau continues to be one of the Panthers' team leaders in dishing out the puck as his pass to Mitchell was his 15th assist of the season.
Former Carolina winger Jussi Jokinen leads the Panthers with 16 assists.
-- The Panthers won both of their meetings with the Hurricanes in Raleigh this season and have won their past three at PNC Arena.
The season series between the two concludes in the final game of the regular season in Sunrise on April 9.


December 17, 2015

NEWARK NIGHTMARE ENDS FOR PANTHERS: Florida wins first in Newark since 2012 playoffs with 5-1 rout of Devils ... Al Montoya takes it easy, earns third consecutive win

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers exorcized some Prudential Center demons Thursday as they dominated play from start to finish in a 5-1 rout of the Devils.
Florida had lost eight consecutive games here dating to its Game 3 victory in the 2012 Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
The Panthers have won their past two by identical scores heading into Friday's game at Carolina and seven of their past nine road games.
Thursday's win also pulled Florida into a virtual tie with New Jersey for the final playoff spot in the east.
"It's good to come in here and play real well,'' said coach Gerard Gallant, whose team has won eight of 11 yet lost here 4-2 less than two weeks ago.
"The last game here we played a strong second and third but the first one cost us. I thought [Thursday] we played the full 60. ... We talked about always being close with these guys and now we're tied. We're in the race and we're battling, just trying to get points.''
Thursday, the Panthers brought a strong game to Newark and battered goalie Cory Schneider all while backup Al Montoya continued to shine when given the chance.
Montoya's 15 saves earned him his third consecutive win although his bid for his first shutout since New Year's Eve in 2013 was busted when Sergey Kalinin scored with 6:22 remaining.
"I wasn't sucking wind tonight, [aside] from a couple of chances, it was a solid, predictable game on our part,'' said Montoya, who came within a minute of shutting out Washington in his previous start last week.
"We kept the puck in their end, made them work. ... We knew what kind of game this was. They're right there with us and we needed to push. It was a huge statement for ourselves.''
Montoya didn't have much for much of the night Florida continued the dominant style it showed here 10 days prior.
In the final two periods of an eventual 4-2 loss to the Devils, the Panthers dictated the pace and dominated puck possession.
Thursday, the Panthers played the same style from the onset -- and took the only lead they needed midway through the first when Jussi Jokinen charged in on Schneider and buried his chance.
"We're having fun, and when you're winning, you enjoy coming to the rink,'' said Brandon Pirri, who scored early in the second.


"We're just enjoying the ride. We know how we have to play if we're going to be good. Guys are buying in. That's what it boils down to."
The Panthers, who had lost 10 of 14 to Devils, took a 2-0 lead into the first break when Dmitry Kulikov scored his first goal of the season by firing a wrister from the right circle past Schneider.
"We talked before the game that we're playing good, consistent hockey and we needed a good start,'' said Kulikov, who played perhaps his best game of the year as he was effective on both sides of the ice.
"We have been waking up in the middle of the first or second but we needed to start with a lot of pressure. Everyone is playing good right now and you can see it on the bench. Everyone is playing hard for the next guy.''
In the second, Florida took complete control when Pirri fed Logan Shaw, then jumped all over the rebound from Shaw's shot 2:44 into the period.
The Panthers made it 4-0 in the third when winger Reilly Smith continued his scoring tear by backhanding a loose puck through with 12:32 remaining.
Smith has scored goals in his past three games and four of his past five and became the first Florida to hit double digits in goals with his tenth.
"You try to keep those waves going,'' Smith said.
-- Roberto Luongo, who made 33 saves in Tuesday's win over the Islanders in Brooklyn, will be back in net Friday against the Hurricanes.
"Montoya's going to rest,'' Gallant quipped.
-- Jaromir Jagr returned to the lineup after missing Tuesday's game with the flu. Jagr assisted on Kulikov's goal and played 15 shifts.
Friday: Panthers at Hurricanes
When, where:
7 p.m.; PNC Arena, Raleigh, North Carolina
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640
Series: Carolina leads 54-42-11
Scouting report: Florida swept the season series for the first time in franchise history last year and won the opener at Raleigh 4-1 on Oct. 13 after Connor Brickley scored his first NHL goal in the third period. The Hurricanes are 4-2-1 this month.



December 16, 2015

BACK IN JERSEY: Panthers hope to keep up winning ways although Newark is rarely kind ... Jaromir Jagr returns to the ice ... Reilly Smith keeps on scoring

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
NEWARK, New Jersey -- After the Panthers lost their third consecutive game on Nov. 23, coach Gerard Gallant made some wholesale changes.
When the team came back to practice a few days later, Gallant had shuffled all four of his forward lines as well as his three defensive pairings.
The changes quickly paid dividends as Florida ended its losing streak with a shootout win against the Islanders.
Things have been going pretty good ever since.
The Panthers visit New Jersey Thursday night with wins in six of their past eight roads games -- one of the losses was to the Devils here on Dec. 6.
Since changing things up, Florida won five consecutive games and seven of the past 10. The Panthers came into Wednesday two points back of a playoff spot.
"We had a tough stretch there but we battled back from that and have been playing well,'' Gallant said after Wednesday's workout at Prudential Center.
"Definitely there was some concern when we went 3-6-3. We're back in and need to keep winning. I didn't think we were playing all that bad but we weren't getting points and it was getting frustrating. Sometimes you beat yourselves up.''
The Panthers are definitely playing with more confidence and have found success with a simplified game.
On Tuesday, the Panthers faced an Islanders team which hadn't lost in regulation in three weeks and despite all their injuries and illnesses, won 5-1.
Roberto Luongo was a big reason for Tuesday's success although so too was strong play from all four forward lines and a solid outing from Florida's six defensemen.
"I think we're confident in the way we're playing and feel we could have won the games we've lost,'' Willie Mitchell said. "I think we've become real connected as a group, a lot more predictable on the ice. There's a lot less running around out there. Everyone becomes faster.''
The Panthers are battling with New Jersey for playoff positioning in the Eastern Conference and felt they played well enough to win here a few weeks back.
Florida fell behind 2-0 before playing a strong 40 minutes only to come up short against goalie Cory Schneider and lose 4-2.
Since Gallant's restructuring, Florida has really only played poorly in one game but still had a chance to pull out a win Saturday in Boston.
"Either at home or on the road, I think we've been playing some good hockey,'' Erik Gudbranson said.
"We didn't feel like we played our game in Boston, but aside from that one, we've been coming out with the same mentality consistently. That's been positive for us. We had a couple games where we did things the right way. It cemented the fact that if we play that way, we'll be successful. We know how we have to play night in and night out.''
-- Jaromir Jagr missed Tuesday's game with the flu but was back at practice Wednesday.
Jagr said he was stuck in his hotel room for three days with the illness and appeared happy to be back on the ice working up a sweat. He said he'll be back in the lineup against the Devils.
"It was tough, three days of not doing anything,'' Jagr said. "I'm a little tired today. ... I'll play, I just needed to work out. My whole body is sore. I just need to be careful.''
-- Reilly Smith, who came to the Panthers in a deal with Boston for Jimmy Hayes in July, took over the team lead from Jagr with his ninth goal on Tuesday.
Smith has goals in three of his past four games and is on track to score 24 this season. Smith's career high is 20 goals scored with Boston two seasons ago.
"I knew what type of player he was but didn't know he was this good,'' Gallant said. "He has fit in good, is playing well with his teammates. He's a little better than I thought he was to be honest. He has skill and can score.''
Thursday: Panthers at Devils
When, Where: 7 p.m.; Prudential Center, Newark, New Jersey
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640
Series: New Jersey leads 52-28-7
Scouting report: The Devils thwarted Florida's hope for a franchise-record sixth consecutive road win with their 4-2 win here on Dec. 6. New Jersey, which beat Buffalo on Tuesday, hasn't won consecutive games in over a month.


December 15, 2015

HELLO BROOKLYN: Panthers make Barclays debut memorable with 5-1 win over Islanders ... Roberto Luongo keeps Panthers in it early, five goals in second and third to blow things open ... Dave Bolland demoted

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
BROOKLYN, New York -- The Panthers came into Tuesday's game underdogs against an Islanders team which hadn't lost in regulation in almost a month.
Factor in that the Panthers were missing perhaps their top offensive weapon and three of their opening night centers and the smart money was on the Islanders.
Florida still had Roberto Luongo and at times, that was enough.
With Luongo stopping 33 shots and Florida getting goals from all over its roster, the Panthers won their debut at Barclays Center 5-1 over the Islanders.
New York came into the night an NHL-best 8-0-2 in its previous 10 games. The Panthers have now beaten the Islanders twice in the past three weeks.
"It seems like no matter who we play, if they don't give us a chance to win, we're right there with them,'' said Vincent Trocheck, who gave the Panthers a commanding 4-1 lead early in the third.
"When we go out and play our game, we're a good team. This team, our culture here, is us coming together and not playing as individuals.''
The Panthers, missing Jaromir Jagr to the flu and three other centers to various maladies and assignments, looked rough from the start. For the first 18 minutes of the first, it was all Islanders as the Panthers didn't get their first shot off against Jaroslav Halak until midway through the period.
Luongo, however, was quite busy as he stopped 19 shots in the opening period helping the Panthers go in at the first break still scoreless.
"We were down a few boys and we weathered the storm in the first,'' said Luongo, who was awarded top star honors. "We came out in the second, got some goals, and it really gave us some confidence.''
Florida struck first early in the second with Reilly Smith -- who missed Monday's practice with the flu -- scoring on his team's fourth shot 1:51 into the period. Sasha Barkov, also on the sick list Monday, made it 2-0 with a pretty backhanded shot six minutes later.

"We got some momentum in the second and played a lot better after that,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "We played everyone, no one sat on the bench and we went four lines.''
The Islanders finally solved Luongo at 12:37 of the second, but the Panthers answered quickly after Aaron Ekblad made it 3-1 a mere 30 seconds later.
A number of fans started heading toward the subway station when Trocheck made it a three-goal game. Jonathan Huberdeau was awarded an empty net goal with 3:43 left for the final tally of the night.
"We found a way to get it done,'' Luongo said. "It's my job to make the saves, keep the boys in it. Then we found our legs in the second. That's part of being a team. Different guys have to step up at different times. Maybe they leaned on me in the first, but they got rewarded later with a strong performance.''
-- The Panthers sent struggling center Dave Bolland to their AHL team in Portland, Maine, in hopes he gets his game back on track.
Bolland, who is Florida's highest-paid forward at $5.5 million per season, has just one goal and five points in 25 games so far.
In the past few weeks, Bolland has been benched as well as being played on the wing on Florida's fourth line. In his past 11 games, Bolland has just two shots on goal.
"We want him to get back to what he was in 2010 and we both agree,'' said general manager Dale Tallon, who brought Bolland to Chicago when he was with the Blackhawks.
"We want him to get some confidence in the offensive side of the game. I think he hasn't played much hockey and the contract has become a burden. He's being extra cautious and he's lost a little bit of his mojo.''
Bolland wasn't placed on waivers and can stay with Portland for two weeks under his conditioning assignment. Bolland is being paid his full NHL salary and his cap hit continues to count against the Panthers.
"You want him to play better, work harder, compete harder and score some points,'' Gallant said. "This is just something to try and jump-start him I guess.''
-- Center Nick Bjugstad hasn't skated since leaving the Panthers practice in St. Louis on Nov. 30 after complaining of migraines Tallon said Tuesday.
Tallon said the mystery is what is causing them.
"We're testing for everything,'' Tallon said. "He was good today and I think he's day-to-day. We want to make sure he's 100 percent.. We're not going to mess with this.''




JERSEY/LOGO REPORT, PART XII: New details about Florida Panthers new logo and jersey come to light (sort of)

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
As everyone knows by now, the Panthers are changing their entire look next season.
The team will change their primary 'leaping cat' logo for the first time in franchise history and will have new logos.
From what a player who saw the new jerseys said, this is a complete departure from everything the team has had in the past.
"It's completely different,'' the un-named player said, adding that he really liked the new look.
From what I've been told, my latest idea of the '101st Airborne' patch/logo/shield is apparently on mark.
Instead of an eagle, a Panther head will adorn the front of the jersey.

And the Panther head is a complete change from what the team has used before. The new Panther is said to look more natural, like the big cats who roam the Everglades.
The Canadiens' style horizontal stripe across the jersey is what they're going with.
The biggest change in the color palate apparently is blue is being minimized, red is the signature color and the yellow gold is going to be a much deeper gold.
Now I still haven't seen the new look so I'm going on vague descriptions from those who have.
When I see them myself, I'll try and describe them the best I can.


December 11, 2015

HUBERDISH: Jonathan Huberdeau keeps the assists coming ... Nick Bjugstad put on IR; Steven Kampfer hurt, Dylan Olsen returns ... Alex Petrovic skates

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Jonathan Huberdeau would love to have more goals this season.
A prolific scorer throughout his junior career, Huberdeau came to the Panthers touted to be Florida's biggest scoring threat in years.
Today, Huberdeau's most important asset to the Panthers' offense right now may be his passing.
Huberdeau notched two assists in Thursday's 4-1 win over the Capitals.
Huberdeau's first came on Jaromir Jagr's historic 731st career NHL goal which put him into a tie for fourth all-time as he dug the puck out and rifled a perfect shot to Dmitry Kulikov. Kulikov's long wrist shot was redirected by Jagr and into the net.
In the third period, Huberdeau and Aaron Ekblad broke loose with Huberdeau sliding a pretty pass to Ekblad who scored to make it 3-0 and put the Capitals away.
"It's been tough scoring goals, but to me, scoring or setting up goals by passing is fine by me,'' said Huberdeau, who has three goals this year (two coming last week) and leads the team with 14 assists.
"I just want to help the team consistently. The puck is going to go in. I'm playing for the team and if I see a chance to pass I will, and if the shot is there, I'll take it. I've been shooting more lately. It's going to go in."
Coach Gerard Gallant switched up his lines a few weeks back, splitting up Huberdeau, Jagr and Sasha Barkov.
"He's a great player, one of the smartest players in the league,'' Barkov said. "He makes passes I've never seen before. It's a lot of fun to play with a guy you know can put the puck anywhere you want.''
Last Sunday in New Jersey, Gallant put the trio back together and they have gone back to their old ways of creating plenty of chances by hogging the puck and staying deep in their opponents' zone.
"They support the puck, make the short pass and are tough to defend in the offensive zone,'' Gallant said. "They watched what was successful last year, take pride in what they're doing and are playing real well.''
-- Center Nick Bjugstad (upper body) was placed on the injured reserve and is not expected to join the Panthers on their upcoming road trip and may be weeks away from rejoining the lineup.
-- Defenseman Steven Kampfer was hurt during Thursday's game and had an MRI on what is thought to be an injured knee. Kampfer did not travel to Boston, but may join the team later on the trip.
"I'm hoping it's not real bad," Gallant said.
Dylan Olsen was brought back on an emergency recall after being sent back to the AHL last week. Olsen played well in three games in place of Alex Petrovic.
"I came here to do a job and feel like I did what they wanted me to do,'' Olsen said in Columbus before heading back to Portland, Maine.
Petrovic has missed the past seven games but skated Friday and was said to travel with the team to Boston.
-- Brian Campbell didn't suffer a broken nose after being boarded by Washington's Tom Wilson but did receive numerous stitches. Campbell returned to Thursday's game and practiced Friday.
Saturday: Panthers at Bruins
When, where:
1 p.m.; TD Garden, Boston
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640
Series: Boston leads 44-34-6
Scouting report: The Panthers have lost 17 of the past 21 to Boston including a 3-1 setback in Sunrise in October. Boston has lost three of its past five but is coming off a win in Montreal on Wednesday.


December 10, 2015

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER: Delayed Panthers jump all over Capitals in 4-1 win ... Jaromir Jagr scores early, tied for fourth in goals all-time

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Jaromir Jagr continued to paw through the NHL's record book, Jonathan Huberdeau kept dishing out assists and backup goalie Al Montoya impressed again as the Panthers beat visiting Washington 4-1 on Thursday night.
The Panthers snapped a two-game slide by beating the Capitals for just the third time in their past 15 meetings.
Of Florida's recent wins, this is the first Washington left without at least securing a point.
The Panthers have won six of its past eight games as it heads back on the road for a four-game trip which starts Saturday in Boston.
Florida went 4-1 on its previous road trip which ended Sunday.
"We found a way, battled hard,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "Hopefully we [play] this road trip like the last one. The last road trip was good and hopefully we're confident on the road.''
Jagr, 43, scored his 731st career goal 51 seconds into the game after redirecting a long shot from Dmitry Kulikov.
"It was a good start,'' Jagr said, "exactly what we needed."
That goal tied Jagr with Hall of Famer Marcel Dionne for fourth on the NHL's all-time list.
With his next goal, Jagr -- who had gone eight games without one before Thursday -- will take over sole possession of fourth as he now sits 10 back of Brett Hull for third place.
"I was waiting for a long time, had some chances and couldn't score,'' Jagr said. "I'm glad it's behind me. Every record has karma around it, it's hard to break. It's not the first time I was stuck on a number. It always seems like a huge wall."
On the other end of the ice, Montoya got a somewhat surprising start Thursday as Roberto Luongo has seen most of the playing so far this season.
Montoya, who picked up Florida's previous win last Friday in Columbus, ended with 19 saves for his personal two-game winning streak.
Montoya was able to watch much of Thursday's game as Florida bottled things up by dictating the pace of play for much of the night.
"They are a great team that fires on all cylinders,'' Montoya said. "I didn't get the shutout but we got the win and I'll take that any night. ... Our team did a phenomenal job.''
Florida dominated much of the game yet only had a 1-0 lead to show before Brandon Pirri teed off on a Brian Campbell feed and sent a shot of goalie Philipp Grubauer's shoulder on a power play chance in the second.
In the third, Florida gave Montoya even more breathing room as Huberdeau slipped a pretty pass to Aaron Ekblad on a breakaway and Ekblad buried it. Huberdeau ended with a pair of assists and leads the team with 14.
The Capitals didn't seem too interested in doing much against the Panthers after winning six of their past seven games. The team had their dads on the trip and looked sluggish as coach Barry Trotz shook up his lines throughout trying to find some sort of spark.
Alex Ovechkin scored with Washington's goalie on the bench with 2:08 left, spoiling Montoya's first shutout since New Year's Eve in 2013 while with Winnipeg.
Logan Shaw ended it with an empty-net goal with 1:04 remaining.
-- Thursday's game was delayed 15 minutes after Sunrise emergency personnel were called to a nearby accident.
When it was discovered no paramedics were on site, the two teams went back to their locker rooms.
-- The Panthers lost defenseman Steven Kampfer to an disclosed lower body injury during the first period.
With Alex Petrovic out, Florida is expected to recall a defenseman from its AHL team in Portland, Maine.
Dylan Olsen has seven games remaining as an emergency recall after playing three in place of Petrovic.
Brian Campbell also appeared to suffer a broken nose after being boarded by Tom Wilson in the third.
Campbell returned but Wilson didn't; he was hit with a five-minute major and a game misconduct.


December 09, 2015

INVESTING IN THE FUTURE: Doug Cifu says Florida Panthers looking forward to locking up core players ... Nick Bjudstad out indefinitely

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
With the Panthers getting their $86-million financial package passed by the Broward County Commision on Tuesday evening, the team is looking forward to a brighter future in South Florida.
Doug Cifu, co-owner of the team, said the Panthers will continue to invest in the on-ice product moving forward.
The Panthers have a lot of young, talented players who need to be signed in the coming years. Cifu said locking up Florida's core players is key to the Panthers' future success.
Florida has a number of players who will be looking for new contracts soon including center Sasha Barkov, winger Jonathan Huberdeau (who is signed through next season) as well as defensemen Erik Gudbranson and Aaron Ekblad.
"We want to focus now on how we fit guys in under the salary cap,'' Cifu said. "Our commitment is to take the great guys we know are the foundation of our franchise and keep them here for the long haul, build a nucleus of players who want to be winners here.''
Last year, the Panthers started locking up their young players by signing center Nick Bjugstad to a six-year contract extension worth $25 million.
Barkov is in his third season and will become a restricted free agent after this season. It's unknown what Barkov will be seeking in his coming negotiations, but the Panthers are expected to offer a long term deal, perhaps even the league-maximum of eight seasons.
Gudbranson, in his fifth NHL season, will also be looking for a new contract after the two-year bridge deal signed in 2014 expires after this season.
"It's good that the owners care about our team and it's a great opportunity here,'' Barkov said. "I see a bright future here with all the good young guys we have. I'm having fun here.''
Aside from Barkov, Ekblad and Gudbranson, Florida will also likely want to work out new deals with pending restricted free agents Brandon Pirri, Vincent Trocheck, Connor Brickley, Logan Shaw and Quinton Howden as well.
"We know we're real close to being a great team,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "We just want to keep building on that. It's good to hear that from your ownership."
For Ekblad, last year's rookie of the year, helping build the Panthers into a perennial winner is something he says can happen. Keeping the group they have already, while potentially adding some free agents to the mix, will go a long way in building a winning team which after Tuesday's county vote, isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
"The most important thing for us is winning hockey games,'' Ekblad said. "We appreciate them investing in us. We have a lot of young guys who are very good players. It's exciting to be able to stay together and build up a chemistry here.''
-- Gallant said his players didn't know how the county vote went before Tuesday's game with Ottawa.
Gallant knew the Panthers succeeded, however, and said ending any relocation rumors helps his team in the long run.
"We love playing down here, it's good to know we're staying,'' Gallant said. "I knew that in the past, but the feeling is that it's a done deal and the guys are excited they don't have to worry about it.''
-- Bjugstad has been dealing with an undisclosed upper body injury the past few weeks and left practice in St. Louis last Monday, returned to Florida and hasn't skated since.
Gallant said Bjugstad is out indefinitely and will not travel with the team for its game Saturday in Boston. Gallant hopes Bjugstad can join the team next week in New York but added "they haven't been telling me a whole lot."
Bjugstad, 23, is not believed to have suffered a concussion as some have speculated. Bjugstad missed the start of the 2013-14 season after being concussed during rookie camp.
-- A group of players visited the Chris Evert Children's Hospital on Wednesday to spread a little holiday cheer. The above photo is courtesy of Florida in-game host Andrea O'Campo.

Thursday: Capitals at Panthers

When, where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640, WMNA 1210
Series: Washington leads 60-45-9
Scouting report: The Capitals, who beat the Panthers in overtime on Oct. 31, had their six-game winning streak snapped Saturday in Winnipeg. Washington bounced back by beating Detroit in a shootout on Tuesday.




NEW UNIFORM, LOGO COMING SOON: Panthers to overhaul their look with new threads, cat in 2016-17

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers will have a brand new look next season.
According to a source within the organization, the team is completely rebranding itself for the 2016-17 season.
The Panthers will have new jerseys replete with a new logo as well as a possible new color scheme.
I was told the team's traditional red-gold-blue colors will be similar, but that's pretty vague.
As far as the Florida look goes, the team hasn't had much change since joining the league as an expansion team in 1993.

As it has been explained to me, expect a horizontal logo (like the Blackhawks, although perhaps in a circle crest) on a horizontal striped sweater (like the Canadiens). The alternate palm tree/hockey stick logo will likely be lost in the transition.
Florida's original 'leaping cat' logo has remained a constant since 1993 although there was one minor tweak to it when an alternate blue jersey was introduced in the late 1990s that had the cat holding a broken hockey stick.

The Panthers also experimented with an alternate jersey under their previous ownership/management in which two shades of blue -- nicknamed the 'JetBlues' because they were rumored to have been designed to lure the airline to become a major sponsor (they did) -- and a circular logo with the Panther head were used.

Those jerseys were retired after a lukewarm reception from fans.
When I see the new look, I will definitely pass a description along. Remember, this is the first place the 'JetBlues' and current red home jerseys were unveiled.
Stay tuned.


December 08, 2015

STAYING HOME: Broward County agrees to new deal with Florida Panthers ... Team gets $86 million of tourist taxes through 2028

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Doug Cifu told the Broward County Commission his dream of a Stanley Cup parade down Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale.
Commissioner Barbara Sharief jokingly stopped the co-owner of the Panthers, telling Cifu any such parade had to "stay out west."
Cifu isn't concerned of such logistics, of course. He's just happy if the Panthers ever do reach the ultimate height of hockey, it will likely do so in Broward County.
Tuesday, the commission voted 5-3 to grant the Panthers' request for an $86-million financial grant which will keep the team in South Florida -- and in the county-owned BB&T Center -- for the foreseeable future.
"What the county did was ... allow us to put a professional product on the ice and bring world-class entertainment to Broward County,'' said Cifu, whose team has a contract with the county through 2028.
The commission meeting was highly watched by officials around the league and in cities who hoped the deal would fall through and the Panthers would become relocation candidates.
Both Las Vegas and Quebec City have applied for expansion teams with Seattle and Kansas City also expressing interest for a future team.
"This is the first county commission meeting where half of Canada is watching,'' Mayor Marty Kiar joked.
The Panthers will not be that team looking for a bigger, better deal somewhere else, at least not now.
"We have no intention of moving this team, we never want to move,'' Cifu said. "We want to be here. I don't speak French and I don't want to go to Seattle or Kansas City or anywhere. We want to be in Broward County. We're trying to build the right culture here. The outpouring of support, frankly, has been overwhelming."
Sharief, who represents parts of Pembroke Pines and Miramar, was the deciding vote as the Panthers clinched the vote early by going 5-0 before the final three commissioners voted against it.
Two of those (Chip LaMarca and Kiar) gave vocal support to the deal before voting against it.
"I was just happy we had five,'' Cifu said, smiling. "I'm a glass half-full kind of guy." We didn't have to go to overtime and we still won."
Of the three districts which represent the beaches -- where the lion's share of the tourist tax money is raised -- only Tim Ryan voted for the Panthers.
"This gives us the opportunity to continue to provide a first-class facility to our fans, bring more big events to town,'' Florida executive chairman Peter Luukko said.
"More importantly, it gives us the financial stability, to improve our team and be better on the ice. It gives us the ability to see the light at the end of the tunnel and be able to invest in the team and in the building.''
The Panthers deal will give them significantly more tourist tax money to help offset massive financial losses including $36 million last season alone.
"Our losses have been substantial so it doesn't solve the problem completely,'' Cifu said. "It goes a long way in relieving the burden of having to operate the building, putting on a roof, fixing the stands. It goes a long way. Now we can focus on building a world-class organization."
The Panthers and county administrators negotiated the terms over the past year with the vote going easily after first being presented to the commission in October.
The Panthers' old lease had the team getting almost all of the revenue created by the arena but the new deal lowers the threshold for profit-sharing between the Panthers and county.
Owner Vinnie Viola will also provide a letter of credit which guarantees the county's investment if the team were to try and relocate or declare for bankruptcy.
"It's an insurance policy for us,'' Ryan said before casting the first 'yes' vote.
The new deal also promises the NHL will bring its All-Star Weekend back to South Florida in the coming years as well as spend $1.5 million investing in local youth hockey initiatives.
Although the team has a 13-year lease, it can opt out after eight provided it can prove it lost $100 million in the first seven years of the new pact and gives a year notice.
The county would also get a 10 percent cut if Viola and Cifu sold the team and will receive part of the team's share of potential -- and probable -- NHL expansion fees in the future.
The Panthers will continue paying over $5 million per year to pay off their share construction debt of the 17-year-old arena.
Although the meeting was packed with team executives, employees and supporters (most of whom seemed to have a financial stake in the team sticking around), no players were in attendance.
With the meeting going almost five hours, that wasn't practical with the team hosting the Ottawa Senators Tuesday night in Sunrise.
The vote was a topic of conversation, however, before the game as Florida's social media friendly players have heard the 'Quebec City Panthers' talk over the years.
"Since this ownership has taken over, they've made strides in growing the game here,'' Shawn Thornton said. "We need more wins to become relevant around here. But it's trending upward. We want to help grow the game here. We all love it here."
Said Erik Gudbranson: "This is where our hearts are, this is where we want to be. We want to create something special here."


December 07, 2015

VOTE ON PANTHERS FUTURE COMES TUESDAY: Broward County Commission to decide on Panthers' financial package on Tuesday ... Panthers kick off another tough stretch against visiting Ottawa

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Florida Panthers future in South Florida will likely be determined in a county meeting Tuesday afternoon.
The Broward County Commission is expected to vote on a financial package in which the team's long-term lease at the county-owned BB&T Center will be rewritten, with the Panthers getting more tourist tax money to help offset massive losses.
The Panthers and county administrators negotiated the terms over the past year.
Those terms, which would give the team a financial package worth $86 million, were presented to the commission at an October meeting.
Of the nine county commissioners, eight will vote with Stacy Ritter abstaining because her husband works for the team as a lobbyist. The measure needs to pass 5-3.
The Panthers' lease with the county runs through 2028 with the team getting almost all of the revenue created by the arena.
The new proposal would lower the threshold for profit-sharing between the Panthers and county.
Owner Vinnie Viola is also providing a letter of credit which guarantees the county's investment if the team were to try and relocate or declare for bankruptcy.
The Panthers have not threatened either and have instead promised to make the franchise work in South Florida.
The lease would remain for 13 years, although the team could opt out after eight years if it gives the county a year's notice and proves it lost $100 million over the next seven years.
If the team was to be sold for a profit -- Viola and Doug Cifu bought the franchise in 2013 -- the county would get a 10 percent cut.
The team will also give its portion of potential NHL expansion fees awarded to each team to the county once its other losses are covered.
Broward County will receive development rights on land controlled around the arena by the Panthers as well as more say on capital improvements at the arena.
The NHL, which will donate $1.5 million toward local hockey development, has promised its All-Star Weekend will return to South Florida in the coming years.
Most, if not all, of the activities and hotels will be based in Broward County to bring extra tourist dollars to the area.
The Panthers will continue paying over $5 million per year to help pay off the debt incurred on bonds issued to build the arena as well as the off-ramp from the Sawgrass Expressway which leads into the arena.
The Panthers moved to Sunrise in 1998 after spending their first five seasons at Miami Arena.
-- The Panthers return home Tuesday after one of their most successful road trips in franchise history.
Florida won the first four games of its five-game trip before seeing its five-game winning streak come to a close with a 4-2 loss at New Jersey on Sunday night.
The Panthers will play host to Ottawa and Washington this week before heading out for a four-game trip which starts Saturday afternoon in Boston.
Florida, which came into Monday a point back of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, face teams holding a playoff position in five consecutive games.
Ottawa currently holds third place in the Atlantic Division, three points ahead of Florida.
"When we started the trip, if someone would have told me we'd be 4-1, I would be pretty excited,'' coach Gerard Gallant said.
"We play one game at a time and we're back in the hunt which is what we wanted to do. Now we have to pick it up. We have eight games before the Christmas break and we have to keep playing hard, pick up more points. These are huge games. We're back in the race, we have to stay in the race."
Tuesday: Senators at Panthers
When, where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640, WMNA 1210
Series: Ottawa leads 46-30-3
Scouting report: The is the first of five meetings between Florida and Ottawa with three coming between now and Jan. 7. Ottawa kicked off its four-game road trip Sunday with a 4-1 loss to the Rangers.


December 06, 2015

SCHNEIDER BE-DEVILS PANTHERS: Florida's winning streak comes to an end, where else?, in New Jersey ... Cory Schneider stops 34 in Devils' 4-2 win

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Jaromir Jagr sat at his locker stall Sunday night not wanting to talk about the Panthers' recent five game winning streak -- especially so soon after it ended.
"Sometimes you win games you should lose and sometimes it goes the other way around,'' Jagr said after New Jersey topped a hard-charging Florida team 4-2.
The Panthers saw their longest winning streak since 2013 come to an end despite playing one of their most complete games of the entire season.
Florida's slow start -- the Devils jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first -- did it no good but the reaction following may be something for the team to build on.
The Panthers came hard after goalie Cory Schneider and the Devils in the final two periods yet never were able to equalize things no matter how many chances they had.
New Jersey, meanwhile, didn't break despite Florida's heavy offensive surge and never trailed nor were tied with Florida following Lee Stempniak's opening goal 26 seconds into the game.
The Panthers have now lost 10 of their past 14 games to the Devils and haven't won at Prudential Center since Game 3 of the 2012 Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
Schneider, Roberto Luongo's old teammate in Vancouver, made 34 saves.
"We're disappointed, got off to a bad start in the game,'' said coach Gerard Gallant, whose team outshot the Devils 26-11 over the final two periods and took aim at net 22 more times.
"We talked about playing 60 minutes and if you don't, you're not going to win in this league.
"We played really well in the second half of the game, but it was too little, too late. We had chances but were always playing from behind. It was a battle, but we lost that game in the first period.''
Florida, which played five games in eight days, looked flat and tired early as the Devils built a 2-0 lead.
The Panthers came out charging in the second with Aaron Ekblad scoring off a Jagr feed 45 seconds into the period.
The Devils, as they did all day, countered and rebuilt their lead to two when Adam Henrique -- who slayed the Panthers in double overtime of 2012's Game 7 -- scored at 3:43 of the period.
Jonathan Huberdeau brought the Panthers back within a goal at 3-2 as his being reunited with Jagr and Sasha Barkov really sparked Florida's comeback.
Huberdeau's biggest lament was being stopped on a penalty shot late in the second period which would have likely had a 3-3 game heading into the third.
"I needed that, needed to put that in to make it 3-3 and maybe change the game,'' said Huberdeau, who has goals in two of Florida's past three games.
"It would have changed the momentum. But we had a good road trip. Now we need to go home and win our two games."
In the third, Florida continued to come hard after Schneider as it dominated the play inside the Jersey zone.
The Devils, playing on their heels, didn't get their first shot of the third until six minutes in.
Of course, New Jersey's second shot of the third was a doozy as Mike Cammalleri took a Damon Severson offering and beat Luongo to make it 4-2 with 13:16 left to play.
"It was a tough start, we dug a hole and Jersey is good at closing things up, trapping things up,'' Luongo said. "We made a push, but I need to be better. It wasn't my best effort and that's disappointing in that regard.''
Said Jagr: "We made one mistake and they scored on it."
Florida kept coming but Schneider kept turning shots away and the Panthers had to head home happy with what they had previously done on this trip.
The Panthers got themselves back in playoff contention by taking eight of 10 points on this road trip with victories in Detroit, St. Louis, Nashville and Columbus.
Florida comes home to face Ottawa on Tuesday and has gone 7-3-1 in its past 11 games.
"Unfortunately you're only as good as your last game so we're not real happy right now,'' Luongo said.
"All in all, we did a good job and now need to get home and get back up on the saddle. We have a few big games coming up.''
-- Center Nick Bjugstad (upper body) missed the final four games of the road trip after being sent back to South Florida.
Gallant said although Bjugstad hasn't resumed skating, he has been working out. His future status is not known.




December 05, 2015

DAY OFF IN THE CITY: Panthers enjoy day off, winning streak on line Sunday in Newark

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers took Saturday off in New York City.
It was a much welcomed day away from hockey.
It was also much deserved.
The Panthers have won five straight games and woke up Saturday holding the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
"You want to keep it going, we're playing well obviously,'' coach Gerard Gallant said after Friday's 2-1 shootout win over the Blue Jackets.
"The next one is a big one and the last one is always the hardest one. We want to play well.''
Florida will be back at it on Sunday when the team drives to Newark, New Jersey, to face the Devils.
Sunday's game is the finale of a five-game road trip which has reignited the Panthers as the have won all four previous games with wins at Detroit, St. Louis, Nashville and Columbus.
Florida has won five consecutive games overall, its longest such streak since 2013.
A win Sunday would not only be the Panthers' longest winning streak since 2008, but would set the franchise record for consecutive road wins previously done in 2007.
The big thing is piling up points. Few would have dreamed the Panthers would have a chance to take all 10 points from this tough trip yet, with a win Sunday, that's exactly what they will do.
"We've been more responsible and we're treating these games like playoff games,'' Jaromir Jagr said.
"We're not just showing up and I don't think we're good enough for that. Confidence is building. When you're winning a few games in a row, you really start believing in yourself.''
Winning in Jersey won't be easy for the Panthers as the Devils give Florida more fits than just about any other team in the league.
The Devils haven't lost at home to the Panthers since Game 3 of their opening round playoff series in 2012.
Since then, New Jersey has won nine of 13 against the Panthers.
"We just have to play the same way we have been playing,'' Jagr said. "This has been a tough schedule. We've played a lot of games."
Of course, this road trip has seen Florida win in places it usually does not.
The Panthers had lost their past six to the Blues before they won 3-1 on Tuesday.
On Thursday, Florida won in Nashville for the first time since 1999 and Friday's win was just the Panthers third in Columbus.
"We just don't want to lose anymore,'' Jonathan Huberdeau said. "We want to finish it with a win. We're going to get a day off, get a little bit of rest. We need to be ready as we've been against New Jersey.''
-- Al Montoya had another strong start for the Panthers Friday although they haven't seen one in a while.
Montoya got hurt during his previous start on Nov. 23 so Friday's start was his first full game in a month.
"Every game is an opportunity for me,'' he said. "I'm excited where this team is going."
In Friday's win, Montoya made 22 saves not including three in the four-round shootout.
"He's worked extremely hard,'' goalie coach Robb Tallas said.
"He was excited to play and deserved to play. This was a big win for us and we needed a strong performance in goal. Montoya gave it to us. You can see this team coming together."
-- During Florida's five-game winning streak, defense has been key.
Although the Panthers have scored 10 goals (not counting shootouts) in those games, they've given up just six.
"We've had good goaltending, good defense,'' Jagr said.
"We're not making many risky plays, we're playing safer than we did in the first 20 games."
Sunday: Panthers at Devils
When, Where: 7 p.m.; Prudential Center, Newark, New Jersey
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640
Series: New Jersey leads 51-28-7
Scouting report: The Devils have lost four of their past six including a 4-3 overtime loss against Philadelphia on Friday. Florida is looking for a franchise record sixth consecutive road win dating to Nov. 14 at Tampa Bay.


December 04, 2015

ENJOYING THE ROAD: Panthers continue hot road streak, now 4-0 on trip with five straight wins after beating Jackets 2-1 in shootout ... Panthers tie franchise record (2008) with fifth straight road win dating to Tampa

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers aren't used to enjoying a long winning streak but found out Friday the puck can go your way when things are going good.
Right now, things are definitely all good with the Panthers.
Friday, despite being outplayed in the second half, the Panthers forced overtime and got goals from Jonathan Huberdeau and Sasha Barkov to beat the Blue Jackets 2-1 in a shootout.
The victory is Florida's fifth straight as they close this five-game road trip Sunday in New Jersey with a chance to get all 10 of the available points.
The Panthers also won at Nationwide Arena for just the third time in franchise history and first time since 2007.
Florida also tied a franchise record for consecutive road wins with five dating to its shootout win in Tampa on Nov. 14. The Panthers last won five straight road games in 2008.
"This was a pesky road game, 1-1, and we hung in there,'' said backup goalie Al Montoya, who got his first win in six weeks by making 22 saves -- not including three in the four-round shootout.
"I was like 'get this into overtime, take it to the shootout. We got this.' Hats off to these guys. [Columbus] had three games off. There's no reason we should have been the team on top yet here we are.''
Florida, which has played four games in six days, looked fatigued late but was the aggressor early and grabbed the early lead 1:16 into the second.
The Panthers were at the end of a power play when Vincent Trocheck sent a pass toward the Reilly Smith in the slot.

The pass never got to its intented target as it hit Columbus' Justin Falk and past goalie Sergei Bobrovsky.
"We've run that play a lot,'' Trocheck said. "The defenseman went down and we got the bounce. We need those bounces. We're working real hard and sometimes goals like that go in when you do that.''
Added coach Gerard Gallant: "We were due a goal like that. Those go in when things are rolling for you.''
Columbus eventually tied the score midway through the period on a goal from recent call-up Michael Chaput as the Jackets started to find their footing.
The Jackets, who won 40 of 64 faceoffs and ended up out-hitting and chancing the Panthers, came strong throughout the third.
With 5:56 left, Brandon Pirri got nailed for a high stick with Willie Mitchell joining him in the box not long after.
Florida's penalty kill has been surpurb of late and was again Friday as the Panthers killed off the extended power play and forced overtime.
"To kill off back-to-back penalties at the end of a game like that was huge,'' said Gallant, whose team has killed off 15 consecutive penalties and 23 of its past 25.
"Give the grinders credit; they got in the way. The penalty kill did a real good job."
The Panthers had a chance to win in overtime after the Jackets got called for having too many on the ice. Florida couldn't cash in on the 4-on-3 chance but did in the shootout.
Florida was down to its last shooter when Huberdeau tied it to force a fourth round. Barkov, who tallied the shootout winner last Friday against the Islanders, did so again against the Jackets.
"We got a good point, kept the streak going,'' Huberdeau said. "We were a little tired, gave them a few too many rushes. But we had a chance and knew we had the shooters, knew we had the guy in net.''
-- Dmitry Kulikov returned to the lineup for the first time since suffering a minor knee injury Nov. 14 in Tampa.
Kulikov replaced Dylan Olsen on the ice with Erik Gudbranson as well as on the roster. Olsen, who was with the Panthers on an emergency recall so he wouldn't be subject to waivers, was sent back to Florida's AHL team.
The Panthers also placed defenseman Alex Petrovic, who didn't travel with the Panthers on this trip, on the injured list.


December 03, 2015

MUSIC TO THEIR EARS: Panthers win fourth straight for first time since 2013 with 2-1 win in Nashville ... Jaromir Jagr says he's too old to play 3-on-3 All-Star Game

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Florida's past couple of games haven't been the prettiest but they sure have been efficient.
And quite successful, as well.
Thursday, the Panthers extended their winning streak to four as they snuffed out one chance after another in a 2-1 win at Bridgestone Arena.
This winning streak is the longest since interim coach Peter Horachek's group won five straight in 2013. Thursday's win was also Florida's first in Nashville since the second year of the Predators franchise in 1999.
"It's a great win for us,'' coach Gerard Gallant said.
Much of the credit for Florida's win Thursday goes to goalie Roberto Luongo who made 32 stops with 27 coming in the final 40 minutes.
"We had our foot on the gas pedal but dug a hole we couldn't get out of,'' Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said.
In the first period, Nashville took aim at the goal just five times yet got things going in the second and third but Luongo and the Florida defense, for the most part, stood up to the challenge.
"You want t get on a bit of a roll, get some points,'' Luongo said. "We've had some great tests on this road trip, won some gritty games. This is the type of hockey you want to be playing.''
The Panthers didn't create much offense in the first period either, taking seven shots on goal, yet took a 1-0 lead into the first break.
Quinton Howden took a Sasha Barkov pass off the side boards, charged in on goalie Pekka Rinne and scored with 5:01 left in the period.
"When you have Luongo holding you in there like that, you just want to keep it simple,'' Howden said.
In the second, Florida cashed in with a pair of rarities: A road power play goal which came off the stick of Jonathan Huberdeau.
Huberdeau came into the night with only one goal this season (it came in his 16th game). Thursday, Huberdeau scored his first in nine games and second this season by beating Rinne late in Florida's lone power play chance of the night to make it 2-0.
"It felt good, especially to come in a close game like that,'' Huberdeau said. "They were all over us in the second and third. This was two points we needed. It was nice to help the team.''
The Panthers entered the game with the 29th-ranked road power play in the league, scoring just three goals.
Nashville cut its deficit in half off Roman Josi's deflection but couldn't do anything else against Luongo and a Florida defense which bottled things up and kept the big chances to a minimum until Nashville pulled Rinne in the final minutes.
Nashville almost tied it with 31.3 seconds left, but Cody Hodgson's deflection hit the cage and bounced out.
"Tonight wasn't our best game but we found a way to get two points,'' Gallant said. "Luongo was huge. Nashville is a team that creates a lot of chances with their speed and their attack. We made some really good saves. To win in Nashville, you have to have good goaltending.''
-- Jaromir Jagr caused quite a stir on Twitter on Wednesday when he sent out a message asking fans not to vote for him for the upcoming All-Star Game to be held in Nashville.
Jagr is fourth in voting for the Atlantic Division as the format of the game changes to a series of 3-on-3 periods.
"I appreciate your votes for All-Star game," Jagr wrote, "but 3 on 3 would kill me, and I don't want to die yet. Thank you for understanding. Too old."
Jagr backed up that statement Thursday in Nashville saying he would have loved to play such a format years ago but not know. Jagr is part of Florida's 3-on-3 overtime unit.
"It's too much for me,'' said Jagr, who turns 44 on Feb. 15.
"Fifteen years ago, OK. Not at 44. [3-on-3] is good for the NHL, there's a lot of scoring chances and that's what NHL fans have wanted to see."
-- Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov is expected to be cleared to rejoin the lineup Friday in Columbus after suffering a minor knee injury Nov. 14 at Tampa Bay.
Friday: Panthers at Blue Jackets
When, where: 7 p.m.; Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640
The series: Columbus leads 13-5-0
Scouting report: With the Panthers playing on back-to-back nights, backup goalie Al Montoya will get the call. Florida has only won twice in Columbus in nine tries and not since 2007.