February 25, 2014

TIM THOMAS: New Mask Post-Olympics

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Goalie Tim Thomas has a new mask, one that's been in the works for a few weeks. We first spotted Thomas' new 'We See Red' version last month, but now he's wearing it in practice and should be rocking his new look Thursday against the Capitals.

What y'all think?


February 15, 2014

THE INJURE GAMES: Barkov, Kopecky Hurt in Sochi

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers only had two players in the Olympics but that was probably two too many.

Both Aleksander Barkov and Tomas Kopecky were hurt over the weekend.

A report out of Finland states that Barkov -- who was the second overall pick of the 2013 draft -- will miss the next four to six weeks.

Barkov left a game in Buffalo last month with a knee injury and then missed the following four games. Barkov returned, I'm thinking to tune up for Finland's run to the Gold, and played in four games with the Panthers. He had no points in those games.

Kopecky, playing for Slovakia, took a shot to the head while playing down near the net. I do not know what his status is moving forward.

If you want to read the report on Barkov -- it's in Finnish so see if Olli Jokinen can translate it for you -- it's right here: http://yle.fi/urheilu/barkovin_vamma_heratti_epailykset__hatailtiinko_nhln_paassa/7091446


February 08, 2014

FRIENDS IN LOW PLACES: Panthers In a Familiar Position Heading into Break

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Panthers head into this Olympic break in a familiar place.

Hopes of making the playoffs this season are all but dead, with Florida needing a lot of wins and even more help.

So, there's really no reason to even talk about the postseason as Florida came into Saturday a healthy 13 points out of the final spot with 26 games remaining. Florida has lost six of eight.

A Detroit win in Tampa on Saturday will put the Panthers 15 points back.

"We're really disappointed. This was not the way we wanted to go on the break and I don't think anyone in this locker room is feeling too good,'' Sean Bergenheim said.

"But when we come back, we have to be positive and work harder than we have. I don't think we should look at how much we have to climb. Lets just win games, play the best we can every single night. That's something we all can do better.''

What the Panthers should expect once they return from this 20-day hiatus on Feb. 27 is more of the same.

The trade deadline is March 5 and the Panthers are expecting to be sellers once again. Florida has plenty of pending free agents, some of whom other teams may want for their playoff runs.

General manager Dale Tallon has been told by new owner Vinnie Viola that he has the "green light" to spend toward the salary cap ceiling this offseason, but that is months away.

Right now, Tallon is looking to take advantage of expiring contracts and continue this endless rebuild.

One of the biggest names Tallon has to dangle is forward Brad Boyes, who has a team-leading 15 goals (most for him since 2009) and would make any team's shootout better as points become harder and harder to get down the stretch.

Defenseman Tom Gilbert also came via the try-out route and is having a pretty solid season. He would also be a candidate to move.

Goalie Tim Thomas -- yes, he tried out in camp as well -- has a no-trade clause and has indicated that if Florida wants him back next season, it's something he would consider.

Thomas started out in Boston when things weren't going very well following the lockout season of 2004-05. The Bruins got better -- much, much better -- and Thomas says that helps his thought process today.

"If anything it is helpful because I’ve been there and seen the other side,'' Thomas said last week. "If anything it gives me a better perspective looking into the future because I know it can change. .-.-. It’s baby steps at times, but we have a lot of young talent here, and that’s obviously one very positive thing to look at.''

Florida could also move Marcel Goc, Mike Weaver, Scott Clemmensen, Krys Barch and Scott Gomez depending on the marketplace.

Moving players such as Scottie Upshall, Tomas Fleischmann and Tomas Kopecky would be tougher to do since they are all signed through next year. If a team wants them, however, they're available. Upshall has a no-trade clause as well.

Interim coach Peter Horachek says he's not going to worry about what Tallon has to do when the season restarts.

"Guys are playing for jobs, but should play for pride,'' said Horachek, whose status remains up in the air as well despite improved play under his watch.

"I think pride is the biggest, most important driving factor. If you don't feel that in your stomach, something is missing. Something is wrong.''

This isn't a strong class of free agents coming up although there are certainly some quality players whom Tallon is watching closely.

Some of the big name free agents Florida could target include Thomas Vanek, Ryan Miller, David Legwand and Matt Moulson.

The Panthers are expected to be active around draft time as Florida could improve its roster through trades. In 2011, Tallon started off his roster makeover by acquiring Brian Campbell from Chicago before trading for Kopecky.

Tallon's work that offseason led to Florida's first playoff appearance since 2000.

This year will most likely mark the 12th time in 13 seasons that Florida didn't make the playoffs.

-- The Panthers split up from Raleigh following Friday's 5-1 to the host Hurricanes with some heading back to their homes for a few days while others (Kopecky, Aleksander Barkov and broadcaster Steve Goldstein) took off for Russia.

Florida will have almost two full weeks away with the first practice scheduled for Feb. 21 in Coral Springs. The Panthers return to the ice Feb. 27 when they play host to the Capitals in Sunrise.


February 07, 2014

NO TO OLYMPICS: Bergenheim Regrets Turning Down Finnish Offer

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Sean Bergenheim declined to take advantage of all the injuries besetting Finland's national team as he turned down an invitation to play in the Olympics.

Bergenheim, who turns 30 on Saturday, missed all of last season and a chunk of this one after having numerous surgeries related to his abdominal core.

This would have been Bergenheim's first trip to the games.

"For any athlete, having to say no to the Olympics is disappointing,'' Bergenheim said Saturday night.

"I had to make a decision with my best interests in mind. I really feel I need to the break. I'm happy with how far I have come, but I could take a real step forward after the break.''

Had he traveled to Sochi, Bergenheim would have been Florida's third player in Russia.

Aleksander Barkov (Finland) and Tomas Kopecky (Slovakia) plan to fly to Russia together from New York on Saturday. Broadcaster Steve Goldstein will be flying to Russia out of Miami.

Bergenheim added that he is not only going to get some much-needed rest during the break, but he'll be able to continue doing some rehabilitation as well.


FAIR WARNING: Hurricanes Roll Panthers 5-1; Florida Goes Into Trip on Slide as Playoff Hopes Disappear

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Panthers took off for their Olympic break a few hours earlier than scheduled as they fell behind and never came back in Friday's 5-1 loss to the Hurricanes at PNC Arena.

The Panthers, who are trending to miss the playoffs for the second straight season and for the 12th time in the past 13, don't play again until Feb. 27.

Florida heads into its winter hiatus with losses in six of eight games -- a run that realistically ended any hopes of the postseason.


"It's really disappointing to see where our expectations are,'' said coach Peter Horachek, who pulled Tim Thomas from net when Carolina made it 4-1 early in the second.

"My expectations and everyone's expectations have to be on the same page. We have to raise them. We have to expect more from each other. That certainly wasn't desperate hockey.''

Carolina, which still has to face visiting Montreal Saturday before its break, took control midway through in the first by scoring twice within a span of 1:27.

Although the Panthers got a goal from Nick Bjugstad to make it 2-1 with 4:30 left in the period, Carolina went into the intermission up 3-1 as Florida again failed to get the puck out of its own zone.

All three of Carolina's first period goals came when the Panthers couldn't get rid of the puck and allowed the Hurricanes to continue to work it around.

Reilly Nash scored off a Dylan Olsen turnover, Alexander Semin scored when Jonathan Huberdeau and Scottie Upshall couldn't clear it, and Brett Bellemore scored when Upshall failed to control possession.

Horachek replaced Thomas with Scott Clemmensen after the Hurricanes pretty much ended things a mere 4:36 into the second when Jiri Tlusty.

At the pace Florida scores, and the way it played defense Friday, this game was over early.

The Panthers did get plenty of chances with Anton Khudobin -- Thomas' understudy in Boston -- playing exceptional in making 34 saves. Florida had two big scoring chances early in the third but couldn't finish.

"We wanted to finish on the right note, get win going into the break,'' Huberdeau said. "We need to reset things. Everyone needs to come back ready to go.''

-- Horachek put defenseman Dylan Olsen back in the lineup on Friday with Mike Weaver being a healthy scratch for the first time this season.

Olsen could play games for Florida's AHL team in San Antonio during the break.

"He's 30-something years old and hasn't had the best success in the back-to-backs,'' Horachek said of Weaver.


February 06, 2014

ANYONE HOME? Red Wings Take Charge, Drop Panthers 3-1 in Home Finale Before Olympic Break

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

A few nights after taking a season-high 48 shots in a win over Toronto, the Panthers apparently didn't have much left in the tank.

Florida took two shots on goal in the opening period and rarely challenged the visiting Red Wings in a 3-1 loss at BB&T Center.

The Panthers play their final game before a 20-day break for the Olympics on Friday at Carolina. Thursday's game was Florida's last one at home until Feb. 27.

"They outworked us, it's as simple as that,'' coach Peter Horachek said. "We weren't there for the whole game. We have to work harder than that. You can't play half a game or a period and expect to win.''

The Panthers didn't do much in the first period, getting a Erik Gudbranson shot on goal 1:05 in with Detroit doing the rest of the heavy lifting.

Florida went almost 18 1/2 minutes without a shot before Scottie Upshall charged out of the penalty box and took a perfect pass from Tomas Kopecky as he strode into the Detroit zone.

Upshall got Florida's second shot of the game with 25.4 seconds to play -- and it was a doozy. Upshall's shot between the skates of Jimmy Howard gave Florida a 1-0 lead going into the second despite being outshot 11-2. Florida would get six more in the second and ended with 24 total.

"We came into the locker room after the second and all I could think about was us having eight shots,'' Dmitry Kulikov said. "That's not enough. It's not even close to being enough. We got lucky to score at the end of the first after they outplayed us. They spent all that time in our zone.''

Detroit dominated play in the second as well, only not as pronounced as in the first.

The scoreboard, however, reflected it. The Wings put two pucks past Tim Thomas (30 saves) with Daniel Alfredsson getting his on a power play at 6:30 and Gustav Nyquist driving in unassisted at 13:22.

The Wings outshot Florida 12-6 in the second and went into the third holding a 23-8 advantage.

Florida had a few chances in the third period -- including a Sean Bergenheim breakout with 4:30 left -- but never put another puck past Howard. Detroit added its third goal when Brian Lashoff got out of the penalty box and scored into an empty net with 20 seconds left.

"It was great to have the 1-0 lead but we never built momentum from it,'' Thomas said. "We had a nice push in the third, but it was too little, too late.''

Detroit and Florida split the season series with six points each although the Panthers won three of the five games.


Jonathan Huberdeau said his first NHL fight didn't come out of frustration due to his recent struggles. Huberdeau, now in his second season, hadn't fought since his days of junior hockey until jumping all over Toronto's Jake Gardiner on Tuesday.

"They all made fun of me the next day 'oh, you're tough,','' said Huberdeau, who has one goal in his past 25 games after winning the league's rookie of the year honors last year.

Although Huberdeau doesn't do much fighting, neither do the Panthers these days. Huberdeau's bout was Florida's first since Krys Barch and Winnipeg's Chris Thorburn duked it out on Dec. 20.

"I think that is something from him working hard, be more competitive on the puck and in those situations,'' Horachek said. "You're not going to see that every night with him, that's not his thing. But the fact that he did it? He was fired up. He didn't back down.''

-- The Panthers unveiled banners honoring Olympians Aleksander Barkov (Finland) and Kopecky (Slovakia) during the first period.

-- Kopecky got slapped with a pair of minor penalties in the second -- one for hooking and another for unsportsmanlike conduct for flinging the puck at an official.

February 05, 2014

OFF TO RUSSIA: Steve Goldstein to Join Tomas Kopecky and Aleksander Barkov in Sochi

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

In a few days, two members of the Florida Panthers will pack up their equipment and fly thousands of miles from South Florida.

Although many of their teammates will spend the upcoming break on a beach or visiting family up north, Aleksander Barkov and Tomas Kopecky will continue playing hockey.

In Russia. At the Olympics.

"I'm enjoy to enjoy this as if it were my first Olympics,'' said Kopecky, making his second run with Slovakia after competing in the 2010 Vancouver Games. Slovakia lost to Canada in the semifinals and to Finland in the Bronze medal game.

"We have a great group of guys and I'm excited to see some other events if I have the time. You focus on hockey but you need to get your minds off things during the off time. I'm excited to go. It should be fun.''

Barkov is no stranger to international competition, but for the 18-year-old center, this will be his biggest stage yet.

A two-time member of Finland's world junior team, Barkov wasn't considered a favorite to land a spot on his national team until a hot streak just prior to the selection announcement.

Barkov, the second-overall pick of last year's draft, says he's been concentrating on the Panthers but he can't wait to go to the Olympics. Barkov grew up in Finland to Russian parents who hail from the Moscow area.

"These are my first Olympics, so I'm 100 percent excited no matter where they are,'' Barkov said. "I was happy to hear [about being selected] and a little surprised about it.''

Those two won't be the only ones with Florida ties in Sochi. Former Panthers captain Olli Jokinen and goalie Roberto Luongo, who both spend their offseasons in Broward, will represent Finland and Canada respectively.

Television voice Steve Goldstein is also making the trip as he will do radio play-by-play alongside former Florida defenseman Bret Hedican for Westwood One Radio.

Although local stations aren't picking up the hockey games, they can be heard on SiriusXM satellite radio.

"The games are going to be awesome,'' said Goldstein, who worked his first of four Olympics back in 1994 at Lillehammer.

"I'm really looking forward to Feb. 15 in particular when the United States plays Russia in Russia. That's something historical I get to do. There's so much history there. It'll be nice being somewhere I've never been.''

Although there has been well-publicized concerns about security and readiness of the games, Goldstein and Kopecky say they can't wait to get there. Goldstein said Westwood One already had staffers in Sochi and they were pleased with how things were running.

"Our hotel is done and within walking distance of the hockey arena and broadcast center,'' said Goldstein, who will make the 25-hour trip on Saturday.

"And the weather is the kind we love here in South Florida. It's 50, 55 degrees. You can wear shorts at the Winter Olympics.''

Kopecky said he's seen some of the images coming out of Sochi and smiled when he mentioned the infamous bathroom shot as well as the three single beds that some players from Team Canada will share.

The Ritz-Carlton, this isn't.

"Vancouver was nice because there was a language there you spoke,'' Kopecky said. "Sochi will be different. You see the picture of the two toilets together, that's something you've never seen. But we're going there to play hockey. Security is really high. That's good.''

-- The team has renamed and has plans on rebranding its training facility in Coral Springs at the Florida Panthers IceDen. The name change is effective immediately.


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

TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560

The series: Detroit leads 15-7-5

Scouting report: This is the final meeting between the two teams this season with Florida winning both games in Detroit and three of four overall. The Panthers rallied from a two-goal deficit to beat the Wings at Joe Louis Arena in a shootout last month.


February 04, 2014

WELCOME TO FORT LAUDERDALE: Panthers Dominate Leafs in 4-1 Rout (That Was Closer Than it Looked)

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Panthers captain Ed Jovanovski relayed a message through the media Tuesday morning: His team, he said, needs to played like they are ticked off.

Or something to that affect.

Florida certainly played with an intensity rarely seen in last week's embarrassing end to a road trip as it dominated play from start to finish of a 4-1 win over visiting Toronto on Tuesday night.

"It was collectively a great team effort, one of the better ones of our seasons,'' Jovanovski said afterward. "That's how we're effective. .-.-. That's how this team is made up. Everyone has to tug the same way. If not, it doesn't work.''

Said coach Peter Horachek: "I think it's good to have a leadership that believes that and pushes that message. You have to put things on the line every day.''

The Panthers coughed up a 2-0 lead in an eventual 6-3 loss to the Maple Leafs last Thursday in Ontario but completely turned the tide in Sunrise.

Had it not been for the outstanding play of an overworked goalie -- Jonathan Bernier made 44 saves -- those blue-clad snowbird fans from the Great White North would have left the building much earlier.

Tuesday's win snapped a three-game slide, one in which the Panthers were outscored 16-6 and outplayed far too much. Toronto had won nine of its past 11 heading into sunny South Florida.

The Panthers came out with plenty of jump as it looked as if the Maple Leafs spent too much time Monday night enjoying Fort Lauderdale's flora and fauna at Elbo Room.

Florida kept the puck in the Toronto zone for most of the opening period as the Leafs didn't get their first shot on Tim Thomas until 7:19 in. The Panthers had already taken nine shots on Bernier.

"It was just tight enough to be a little nerve-wracking,'' Thomas said. "But we took it to them. That was the best game we played all year.''

All told, the Panthers outshot the Leafs 19-4 in the first period and went into the third holding a 37-12 edge.

Unfortunately for Florida, the Panthers only had a 1-0 lead heading into the final period as Tom Gilbert's long power play shot was the only one to get past Bernier.

That power play goal was just Florida's second in 53 tries with the extra skater.

Florida padded its lead in the third period to give itself a little breathing room when Brian Campbell threw up a long shot. Jesse Winchester had Bernier completely screened as the puck clipped him on the way past.

A few moments later it looked like Florida had broken things wide open when Erik Gudbranson was given a goal he shouldn't have. Gudbranson's shot never broke the line and a review from Hockey Central confirmed it.

The Leafs finally woke up from their hangover midway through the period and made it 2-1 when Tomas Kopecky turned over the puck with David Clarkson wristing a shot past Thomas.

Florida finally all but ended things with 6:38 left when Shawn Matthias -- who hails from the area near Toronto's Pearson Airport -- picked off the puck from Cody Franson and charged in on Bernier.

Matthias' goal came on Florida's 46th shot of the evening.

Marcel Goc added the Panthers' fourth goal of the night one shot later as he deposited the puck into an empty net after Bernier left with 2:30 remaining.

"It was a good 60 minutes for us,'' Campbell said. "When we skate well, we're a good team. We need the energy from the top every night.''


February 02, 2014

DMITRY KULIKOV: I Don't Want to Play in KHL, Want to Help Turn Florida Panthers Around

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- With the trade deadline approaching, Dmitry Kulikov says he has heard his name mentioned as a possible candidate to leave the Panthers.

A first-round pick in 2009, Kulikov has spent his entire NHL career in Florida and says he doesn't want to go anywhere.

Those rumors about him wanting to go back to play in his native Russia? Kulikov says not only are they not true, but he has no idea where they started.

"I would like to face those people saying those things and ask them where they are getting their information,'' said Kulikov, who returned to Russia to play for the KHL's Yaroslavl Locomotiv during the lockout of 2012-13.

"Wanting to go back to Russia? Those words have never come out of my mouth. I think the people starting that are just trying to create more drama for the league or whatever. .-.-. I want to help turn things around here. I want to win here. The year we made the playoffs was like the best thing ever. It's a totally different feeling. I want to feel that again.''

Kulikov got a taste of Russian hockey during the lockout and some thought he might stay. Kulikov was a restricted free agent then and was holding out for a better deal. When the Panthers had a quick training camp once the lockout ended, Kulikov was still in Russia. A deal was struck before the season began, however, and Kulikov flew to New York before meeting the team before the season opener.

"I had a great experience in the KHL during the lockout,'' Kulikov said. "That was my first chance to play there. I left when I was 17. I wanted to play there and see how it is. But that experience was enough for me. I experienced it. My dream since I was a kid was playing here. I'm living the dream.''

Now that contract is about up. Still a restricted free agent, the Panthers hold his contractual rights for another two seasons.

"I try not to listen to those things because they are mostly negative,'' Kulikov said of the rumors. "You never know who is putting them out there or why. I don't focus on them. I'm just playing my game.''

Assistant general manager Mike Santos says the Panthers are still high on Kulikov and want to see him to continue to get better. Although he's in his fifth NHL season, Kulikov is only 23.

"The KHL offers so much money to players, so you're always going to hear those rumors,'' Santos said. "We're not worried about them. He came over here as a teenager, he's now in his fifth season with us. People think he's farther along in his development but he's still young.''

Kulikov had a rough start to the season, with mental errors clouding his game and forcing coach Peter Horachek to bench him for a game in December.

At the time, Horachek said the move would do Kulikov some good, give him a chance to slow things down and just go out and play hockey again.

It definitely seemed to have done the trick.

Kulikov has been much improved over the past few months and is becoming more of an offensive threat. The Panthers sure could use some of that.

In the past eight games, Kulikov has four of his six goals this season. Florida finally snapped its franchise-record power play drought last Tuesday courtesy of a Kulikov slapshot.

"I think when I wasn't playing good, I was getting ticked off at everything. At myself,'' Kulikov said.

"There was a lot of frustration. Everyone I talked to told me I had to change my mindset, be more positive. I think the coaches helped turn me around. I thought it was OK to be frustrated when things weren't going so well.''

-- The Panthers limped home Saturday night after a once-promising road trip turned sour quickly.

Florida was flying high heading into Boston after a rousing comeback victory in Detroit on Sunday. The Bruins came at the Panthers in waves, however, and blew the game open by the middle of the second period.

The Panthers' 6-2 loss to the host Bruins was just the start of a rough week, one that included losses to the Maple Leafs and Blue Jackets. All told, the Panthers were outscored 16-6. They haven't been the same since Boston.

"You would like to think we're moving forward in a positive way from the Detroit game,'' Horachek said. "The Boston game was different from the others. I didn't like that game at all -- any of the periods, any of the time. .-.-. All three games aren't the same, but the results are. We lost the games. Too many goals against.''

-- The Panthers will hold an open practice at the Coral Springs Iceplex Monday at 11 a.m.


February 01, 2014

CANNON FODDER: Panthers Fall Behind, Rolled Again in 4-1 Loss to Blue Jackets

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- After beating Detroit, Panthers' coach Peter Horachek called the final games before the Olympic break a "seven-game series" in trying to get into the playoff mix.
By Horachek's theory, Florida is on the verge of elimination.

The Panthers' bad week continued Saturday night as the Blue Jackets handed Florida its third straight lopsided loss with a 4-1 rout at Nationwide Arena.

Florida entered Saturday 10 points back of the final playoff spot in the east. The Panthers have 26 games remaining so being eliminated mathematically is still a way off.

"This is not what we want,'' said Brad Boyes, who scored Florida's lone goal. "We pushed back, had a lot of chances. But they scored and we didn't. That's the difference. .-.-. We're getting to the point of the season where you need results. You need a point, have to find a way.''

Since beating the host Red Wings last Sunday in a shootout, the Panthers have just been hammered. Columbus followed up blowouts in Boston and Toronto as the Panthers have been outscored 16-6.

Since taking a 2-0 lead on the host Leafs, the Panthers have given up 10 goals while scoring only twice during that span.

That's not a good recipe for winning.

"Going 1-3 makes it tough, this is a results industry,'' Horachek said.

The Jackets, looking for their second playoff berth in franchise history, won for the 10th time in their past 13 games and did so by taking advantage of some empty nets.

The Panthers, however, were robbed by goalie Sergei Bobrovsky when they aimed toward the net -- and flat-out missed when he was out of position.

Columbus took its lead in the opening period after Tim Thomas (26 saves) came out of the net to play a puck but caught his glove on the lip of the cage and watched the puck slip away. Boone Jenner tapped the puck into the vacated space.

It became a 2-0 game with 1:58 left in the period when Jenner made a sweet move and backhanded a pass to Ryan Johansen who popped the puck in clean.

"The team needs me to keep us as close as possible,'' Thomas said. "We're a little fragile right now .-.-. From my end, I feel awful.''

Florida got its goal in a hard-fought second period, one in which the Panthers dictated the pace but couldn't find the net save for when Boyes sent a shot off Columbus defender David Savard past Bobrovsky.

Columbus all but ended things in the final minutes of the second when Nick Foligno walked in on Thomas and fired a shot at him. Thomas got a chunk of the puck but didn't stop it as it dribbled past him and into the net.

"I thought our chances were better but we didn't capitalize on ours and they did,'' Horachek said. "We didn't really get a save [Saturday] and that's the way it is. Playing catch-up hockey is difficult.''

BACK IN, BACK DOWN: Panthers Activate Barkov, Play Gudbranson ... Shore Sent to San Antonio

COLUMBUS, Ohio --Despite playing well, Drew Shore was a victim of the numbers game as he was assigned to AHL San Antonio following Saturday's morning skate.

With the Florida roster at 23, it needed to make some sort of move to get Barkov off the injured list. The only players who could go to San Antonio without clearing waivers first was Shore and second-line center Nick Bjugstad.

Shore flew home with the Panthers and plans to join his Rampage teammates Sunday.

By heading back now, Shore is eligible to play for the Rampage during the Olympic break.

"I think being a young guy, [playing] is a good thing,'' he said before the game, before knowing he was definitely headed back.

"I suspect that, just seeing how things are going. They want me to keep playing and I think it's a positive. It would be nice to have the break, don't get me wrong, but this game is all about rythym and flow. I don't think taking a few weeks off would do me some good.''

-- Defenseman Erik Gudbranson ditched his protective cage and returned to the lineup Saturday. Wearing just a traditional visor, Gudbranson played after being scratched in the previous three games.

Gudbranson had surgery to repair a broken orbital bone in December and had been wearing a restrictive full cage since returning on Jan. 6. Dylan Olsen sat in Gudbranson's place.

"I think the half visor will minimize the risk but not having the jaw piece is nice,'' Gudbranson said. "I'm very excitied. This past week hasn't exactly be easy but this is my chance to get back in the lineup and hopefully stay there.''


January 30, 2014

FLASH SITS: Horachek Benches Fleischmann During Slump

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

TORONTO -- For the first time since joining the Panthers in 2011, Tomas Flesichmann missed a game for something other than the flu as Horachek made him a healthy scratch.

"It looks like his enthusiasm .-.-. he doesn't have the drive right now,'' coach Peter Horachek said. "He needs to pick it back up and get his game back. He's a talented player, a good player.''

Fleischmann led the Panthers in scoring the past two seasons but has slumped this year. Fleischmann, who is fourth on the team this year with 23 points, hasn't scored a goal in his past 18 games. He has five assists during that span.

"I didn't expect it,'' said Fleischmann, who watched the second half of Thursday's game from the press gondola atop the arena.

"I always try to do what I can to help the team win, but it didn’t work last game. .-.-. Obviously, I’m supposed to score goals.’’

Jimmy Hayes was scratched for the third time in five games and Erik Gudbranson sat for his third straight game.


BLOWN AWAY: Leafs Rally from 2-0 Deficit, Drop Panthers 6-2

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

TORONTO -- Scott Clemmensen has had some great games in this building but Thursday sure wasn't one of them.

Clemmensen gave up two goals in the opening minute of the second period as the Maple Leafs went on a five-goal run in an eventual 6-3 win at Air Canada Center.

Florida, which led 2-0 late in the first, has been outscored 12-5 in its past two losses.

"This game stings. It hurts,'' said Sean Bergenheim, whose goal late in the first gave Florida its two-goal lead.

"We're really disappointed because that's a game we have to have. We played good at the beginning then they got their goals when we fell asleep. It wasn't good enough.''

The Panthers grabbed a 2-0 lead after Toronto's defense all but betrayed goalie Jonathan Bernier with turnovers deep in its zone.

Yet the offense would soon warm up against Clemmensen.

Toronto got its first goal with 3:11 left in the first when Cody Franson let a 55-foot shot fly -- one that Clemmensen never seemed to see.

The Leafs came out flying to kick off the second, scoring on their first two shots of the period. The first when Mason Raymond walked in on Clemmensen and scored 27 seconds in; the second came on a power play as James van Riemsdyk tipped a Phil Kessel shot at the 58 second mark.

"They stayed with their game plan and really stifled us,'' said Clemmensen, now 3-2-2 at the ACC.

"Give them credit: They screened me very well. I was having a hard time seeing anything. .-.-. There wasn't much I could do.''

The Panthers settled down once down 3-2 and had a few chances snuffed out by Bernier as they turned the game back their way.

In the third, however, Toronto put things away with Nik Kulemin and Joffrey Lupul scoring within a span of 2:22. Dmitry Kulikov got the Panthers back to 5-3 with 5:31 left, but Toronto's Tyler Bozak wrapped it up a few minutes later.

"We wanted to hold that lead, score another one and they got two quick ones,'' said Kulikov, who has two goals in the past two games -- ones Florida has been outscored 12-5.

"We should have been able to handle them after they came out in the second. We knew they would come out hard in the second after they got some bad words from their coach. We didn't handle it.''

Florida scored the first two goals with Drew Shore and Scottie Upshall feeding Nick Bjugstad for the opener 1:39 in.

The second goal came when Scott Gomez picked off a puck and it ending up on Bergenheim's stick for a 2-0 lead at 13:50.

"You're looking for the 60 minute game, looking to be resilient,'' coach Peter Horachek said. "You have to bear down; when they score two like that, some of the guys were back on their heels.''


January 28, 2014

POLITICAL BEATDOWN: Florida Panthers Lit Up by Bruins in 6-2 Loss

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

BOSTON -- Things got so bad for Tim Thomas during the Panthers' 6-2 loss to the Bruins on Tuesday that his mind may have drifted toward Washington and his old buddy Barack Obama.

"I might have enjoyed myself watching the State of the Union more,'' said Thomas, who famously skipped a White House ceremony a few years back.

Both Democrats and Republicans would agree Tuesday's game was hard to watch as Thomas and the Panthers were completely lit up.

Thomas, playing in the Garden for the first time since leaving the Bruins at the end of the 2011-12 season, really seemed to want to beat his old teammates.

Only it appeared the Bruins wanted to beat him more.

The Bruins led 2-0 after a dominating opening period before opening to a four-goal lead in the second. Florida cut its deficit in half early in the third, but the Bruins kept coming and had things safely in hand midway through the final period.

"I don't think our guys were in the mindset to play,'' said coach Peter Horachek, whose team has lost six straight to the Bruins.

"It was pretty disappointing all the way around.''

Thomas, who led the Bruins to their Stanley Cup in 2011, was assaulted from all sides and didn't get much help from his new mates. Boston outshot, outchanced and outmuscled the Panthers for much of the night.

By the time the Panthers looked like they could play with the Bruins, they were already down four.

"I didn't expect it to go this way, I felt good,'' said Thomas, who faced 41 shots and gave up the most goals since joining the Panthers this past summer.

"I thought I was going to play a strong game. But you can see the result. The good thing is a loss is a loss no matter how much you lose by. We can make the next game a win.''

The Atlantic-leading Bruins, who have won six of eight, showed no ill effects of playing the previous night on Long Island as they peppered Thomas with shots from the start.

Thomas held down the fort for a while, but Boston broke through 7:41 in when Jonathan Huberdeau coughed up the puck deep in the Florida zone, The puck got to Jarome Iginla who fed Milan Lucic for his first of two. Florida was being outshot 11-4 at the time.

"If your mindset isn't to come out and play hard, you're not going to have any success especially here,'' said Horachek, whose team had won its past three road games including ones in Pittsburgh and Detroit.

"They had 19 shots. I counted us with maybe one scoring chance.''

Boston kept coming at Thomas in the first and ended with 19 shots in the opening period. One, by Zdeno Chara, hit Dmitry Kulikov and Thomas before bouncing behind the Florida goalie and skipping across the line.

Early in the second, Lucic made it 3-0 when Thomas made a save on Iginla but couldn't control the puck. Lucic hopped all over it and tapped it home.

Riley Smith -- who scored the game-winner against Thomas earlier this season in Sunrise -- scored later in the third with Sean Bergenheim in the penalty box.

Former Boston forward Brad Boyes put the Panthers on the board with his team-leading 14th goal of the year with 24.9 seconds left in the period.

After Kulikov scored a power play goal -- Florida's first since 2013 -- to make it 4-2 but the Bruins kept coming. Shawn Thornton showed a move Thomas had probably never seen by walking in and backhanding a high shot through with 11 minutes left. David Krejci ended the scoring with 2:09 remaining.

"For a guy like [Thomas], who has done so much for us,'' Boyes said, "we have to play better in front of him.''

-- Tomas Kopecky was activated after missing four games. To make room, Florida placed rookie center Aleksander Barkov (knee) on the IR retroactive to last week.

Barkov is eligible to come off the IR in time for Thursday's game in Toronto although that seems doubtful.

-- Shawn Matthias (flu) didn't play Tuesday with defenseman Erik Gudbranson scratched for the second straight game.


January 27, 2014

TIM THOMAS READY FOR BRUINS: Florida Goalie Has Great Memories of Boston ... Barkov Still Out

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

BOSTON -- Bruins fans gave Tim Thomas the reception he deserved in November, giving their former goalie -- who helped the city win its first Stanley Cup in four decades -- a standing ovation when he returned to the Garden for the first time as a visitor.

Thomas was up in the press box, however, not on the ice.

"That was awesome, a great tribute,''Thomas said after Monday's afternoon practice at the Garden.

On Tuesday, Thomas will take on the Bruins -- in Boston -- for the first time in his career.

The Panthers' veteran netminder spent a decade in the Bruins' organization before splitting after a tumultuous 2011-12 season to take a break.

According to Thomas, it was a much-needed respite from the game.

"It rejuvenated me, gave me a new life so to speak,'' Thomas said. "It's allowed me to again appreciate being able to play in this league.''

Thomas was engaging on Monday, speaking with reporters about a variety of subjects including his departure from the Bruins as well as reiterating that he feels his infamous White House snub following the 2011 Stanley Cup was "blown out of proportion.''

Thomas also said he is willing to go to Sochi if Team USA needs him.

"There's disappointment,'' said Thomas, who wasn't one of three goalies selected for the U.S. Olympic team on New Year's Day.

"But I'll be ready to take the call if something happens in the next week and a half if there was an injury and they want to bring me. That's how I'm looking at it.''

The Panthers were a team is disarray the last time they visited the Garden with Kevin Dineen not knowing he was coaching his last game with the Panthers back on Nov. 6.

The decision to replace Dineen with Peter Horachek had already been made as Horachek flew to New York so he could meet the team in Ottawa on Nov. 7.

Thomas didn't play in Florida's 4-1 loss to the Bruins, the final of six consecutive games he missed with a groin injury. The Panthers had lost seven straight games and Dineen paid for it with his job.

The Panthers were a woeful 3-9-4 at that time; thanks in part to strong play from Thomas, Florida has gone 18-15-3 since.

On Sunday, the Panthers rallied from a 4-2 deficit to beat the host Red Wings 5-4 in a shootout -- Florida's third straight road win.

"He's been really good for us,'' said Horachek, who celebrated his 54th birthday with Sunday's win.

"He gives our young guys a lot of confidence. When there's breakdowns, he makes big plays. He scrambles and is competitive. He has a smile on his face when he makes those big saves. It allows guys to settle down.''

Thomas says he is kind of glad he didn't play in that previous trip back as he was able to take it all in and enjoy himself, The Panthers could have used him, however, what was done was done. A win over the Bruins wouldn't have saved Dineen and his staff anyway.

"There was a flood of emotions, all good,'' Thomas said. "Being back in the city, seeing how people -- from hotel workers to cab drivers -- treated me, it was better that I wasn't playing. I got to appreciate it a bit more.''

Tuesday's game isn't the first time Thomas has faced his former teammates, however, as he took a 3-2 loss to the Bruins on Oct. 17 in Sunrise.

Thomas made 37 saves but Reilly Smith scored with 59 seconds left for the game-winning goal.

On Tuesday, Thomas brings a regular season record of 101-61-26 at the Garden. He won 29 of 50 postseason starts for the Bruins including 16 during that incredible run to the Cup not even three years ago.

Yes, Thomas made some great memories in Boston.

"Me and my wife have always been of the mindset that we can make a good life wherever we go.'' Thomas said. "We enjoyed ourselves in Boston but how can you not enjoy South Florida? It's pretty awesome.''


Horachek said Sunday that he hoped Aleksander Barkov (knee) would be able to meet the team in Boston and perhaps play Tuesday.

On Monday, Horachek said it's doubtful that his rookie center would play Thursday in Toronto. Horachek wouldn't rule out a Barkov return this weekend in Columbus.


When, Where: 7 p.m.; TD Garden, Boston

TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560

The series: Boston leads 38-32-6

Scouting report: The Bruins, who won four of six going into Monday's game at the Islanders, have beaten the Panthers five straight times.


January 26, 2014

SCRATCHED: Panthers Sit Erik Gudbranson, Activate Dylan Olsen

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

DETROIT -- Panthers coach Peter Horachek said the decision to sit Erik Gudbranson on Sunday after the team activated Dylan Olsen was based on performance.

Gudbranson's playing time has been diminished since he returned from having surgery on his orbital bone after being smacked in the face from a puck in December.

"The bottom line is he really hasn't played well,'' Horachek said. "He has played poorly since he's had that cage on. We've been going with six guys, now we have a healthy guy back. You have to make decisions. He has to learn from it. It's difficult for a player to wear that cage when he's not used to it. You're looking down all the time for the puck. I think it has effected his game. He hasn't been at the top of [his game]. It will come back. He's a good kid with a lot of character. He wants to win, he cares. He'll learn from it and move forward.''

Gudbranson said he wouldn't use wearing the full-metal cage on his helmet as an excuse.

"There's no issue with that,'' Gudbranson said. "I just need to get back to playing hockey.''

Gudbranson was unconfortable talking about being benched, saying that he was simply happy the Panthers won in Detroit.

"Getting two points here was the best thing that could happen,'' he said. "This is going to go a long way for us in the future.''

-- Florida put Tomas Kopecky on the injured list. Since it was done retroactively, Kopecky is eligible to come off Tuesday in Boston. Aleksander Barkov, Horachek said, could meet the team in Boston and play Tuesday against the Bruins.

-- The Panthers sent defenseman Alex Petrovic back to their AHL team in San Antonio. Petrovic had been working his way back from injury and hasn't played since Jan. 4.


MOTORING THROUGH: Panthers Rally in Third, Take Down Red Wings 5-4 in Shootout

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

DETROIT -- Things didn't look good for the Panthers on Sunday. Not down two goals in a hostile building, not late in the third period.

Somehow, Florida pulled one out.

Fueled by late goals from Drew Shore and Brad Boyes, the Panthers forced overtime before earning another shootout win, this one a 5-4 victory over the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena.

Shore's goal came less than a minute after Detroit made it 4-2; Boyes' goal came while Florida was killing a penalty with 3:46 remaining.

Both goals came in the final 5:32 of regulation.

"That was a crazy one. It looked like we were down-and-out a couple of times,'' goalie Tim Thomas said.

"We came back with some great individual efforts and hopefully it was a character-building win. It's hard coming back in this league.''

The Panthers think they can make a run to the playoffs despite thier current standing. On Sunday, they picked up a point on No. 8 Detroit as they won in the Motor City on both trips this season.

Florida, which has won three of four against the Red Wings, has three more games left on this trip as it handed Detroit its 19th home loss (eighth in overtime) of the season.

"The main thing is getting points,'' coach Peter Horachek said. "That's a character win when you find ways to get back in. We didn't handle a lot of things well, but we kept pushing and pushing.''

Florida trailed 3-1 going into the final period but cut into its deficit when Jesse Winchester continued his career-year by poking in his seventh of the year midway through the third.

Detroit then seemingly put the game away when Tomas Tartar scored with 6:27 remaining.

The Panthers battled back with Tomas Fleischmann working the puck deep in the Detroit zone and freezing goalie Jonas Gustavsson. Fleischmann then slipped a pass to Shore who scored his fourth of the year.

"There's no quit here,'' Winchester said. "We're finding ways to grind them out.''

With Marcel Goc going to the penalty box, Florida seemed to lose momentum. But it returned when Brad Boyes got a loose puck and took off on a breakaway. Boyes wasn't about to pass it to Sean Bergenheim (who made it 1-0 early in the first) and scored Florida's third shorthanded goal since its previous power play goal.

The Panthers extended their franchise-record for power play futility, by the way, by going 0-for-4. Florida hasn't scored in its past 42 power play opportunities (Dec. 28).

"I'm usually not even on the penalty kill,'' Boyes said.

Detroit went all-in against Thomas in overtime, with Thomas making two big stops before Danny DeKeyser hopped on a rebound and aimed for an empty net. Unfortunately for him, Tom Gilbert jumped in the way and swatted it to safety.

"That was the save of the game,'' Winchester said. "It kept us in it.''

In the shootout, Thomas stopped all three shots faced as Florida -- playing without Aleksander Barkov for the second straight night -- got all it needed from Nick Bjugstad on the opening shot.

"Obviously everyone is pitching in any way they can,'' said Thomas, who made 26 saves and is now 5-2 in shootouts for the Panthers. "Our problem hasn't been effort.''



January 22, 2014

ED JOVANOVSKI: The Long Road Back to the Panthers

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

BUFFALO -- When asked why he would go through the endless hours of rehabilitation to continue playing hockey at 37, Ed Jovanovski sat back in his locker stall and sighed.

If there was any question whether Jovanovski loves playing this game, it quickly disappears.

"I take every day as a win,'' Jovanovski said Tuesday night, not long after he had his biggest moment since returning to the Panthers earlier this month.

"I'm very fortunate.''

Jovanovski was the biggest story to come out of Florida's 4-3 victory over the Sabres as the Panthers' captain scored their third goal of the first period and assisted on the first.

The goal was Jovanovski's first since the end of the 2012 season. He played six games last season, one in which the pain in his hip got so bad he says he couldn't bend over to tie his shoes.

After traveling to Europe to try and find relief through Platelet Rich Plasma therapy, Jovanovski returned to the Panthers for a game on March 16. He lasted just two periods. For him to have any chance to continue playing, he needed surgery on the hip, needed to take the extreme measure of undergoing hip resurfacing. It's possible Jovanovski will eventually need a hip replacement.

"I had no options,'' he said during training camp.

It's believed no professional athlete has ever returned to such a high level of competition, but Jovanovski worked throughout the summer and early part of this season to come back.

Although many doubted he would ever come back -- or at least return at the level it takes to play his position in the NHL -- he played his first game of the season on Jan. 4 and had a plus-3 rating against Nashville.

"I'm getting a little up there,'' Jovanovski said, "but I think for me, being able to be in the locker room and do something that I love .-.-. to continue to do that is a privilege.''

Tuesday's game was his ninth of the year. He's yet to take a game off since returning.

"I think his pain has been relieved,'' said general manager Dale Tallon, who signed Jovanovski to a four-year deal worth $16.5 million in 2011.

"He's a leader and God bless him. What's he's doing is unbelievable. He's a tough SOB and I really like him. His teammates love him. If anyone would come back from this is Jovo. He's been terrific.''

Obviously the financial situation comes into play although Jovanovski's contract is guaranteed and he would be paid out whether he played or not.

It appears that Jovanovski's main motivation has been to not only keep playing the game, but to continue to stay around it as well.

The camaraderie of the locker room, continuing to be one of the boys is something he's not willing to give up just yet.

"He cares and wants to win, but he also wants to have fun and that's been important to us too,'' Brian Campbell said. "He loves being in this locker room. Time goes pretty fast and this can go away pretty quick. I think it's a good lesson for everyone. He loves what this is. This is him, where he strives.''

Tuesday's game was a big test for Jovanovski and his hip as it was the first time he played on consecutive nights. The Panthers have tried to manage his time but with Mike Mottau on the injured list, the team is carrying six defensemen. For Jovanovski to take a night off, a roster move would need to be made.

Coach Peter Horachek said that he didn't use Jovanovski in the latter stages of Monday's 5-1 win at Pittsburgh knowing that he would be needed the next night in Buffalo.

On Tuesday, Jovanovski not only got the Panthers going offensively, but logged big minutes in the latter stages when the Sabres were bringing everything they had in trying to tie the score.

Jovanovski played eight shifts in the third period including the final 46 seconds when Buffalo was up a skater after pulling goalie Ryan Miller.

"He's just a warrior,'' Horachek said. "His leadership is outstanding, he wants to win. What he's gone through to get here is just incredible.''

-- The Panthers will hold an open practice Thursday at 11 a.m. at the Coral Springs Iceplex.


January 21, 2014

BARKOV LEAVES GAME: Horachek Says Rookie Should be Fine

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BUFFALO -- Rookie center Aleksander Barkov left late in the first period with an undisclosed lower-body injury.

Coach Peter Horachek said the injury isn't considered serious adding that Barkov was lifted from the game for precautionary reasons.

Barkov, the second-overall pick of the 2013 draft, leads the Panthers in points.

"They said it would be safer .-.-. He probably could have gone back out,'' Horachek said afterward. "We were [winning] and on the road. We just want to be very careful with him.''


POWERFUL KILL: Panthers Hang On with Late Penalty Kill, Top Sabres 4-3 ... Jovo Has Goal as Panthers Win Second Straight

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

BUFFALO -- When it comes to killing penalties, a team's goalie is often your best defense.

With Tim Thomas, the Panthers feel pretty good about their chances regardless of the situation.

The Panthers needed a big penalty kill late Tuesday night and got it as Thomas stopped shot after shot in a 4-3 victory over the Sabres in which Florida hung on for dear life.

Buffalo had an extended power play -- which included a 4-on-3 chance for almost 90 seconds -- but failed to score. Florida may have given up a pair of power play goals earlier in the game, but its penalty kill worked wonders against the Sabres when it truly counted.

Tuesday's win was Florida's second in less than 24 hours after it thumped the Penguins 5-1 on Monday.

"There was a little bit of chaos there at the end but I bet it was entertaining for the fans,'' said Thomas, who stopped 28 of the final 29 shots he faced including 15 of 16 in the third period.

"I can laugh at it [now] since we came out on top.''

The Panthers hadn't surrendered a power play goal since Dec. 28 before Drew Stafford scored on Buffalo's first opportunity 2:23 in. Stafford's goal, his first of two, was the first Florida had allowed after stopping 27 straight.

"That was a hard-fought game,'' said Jesse Winchester, who scored the tying goal less than two minutes later. "We grinded it out and got the big PKs when we needed them. It's a really rewarding feeling to get two straight on the road. It feels pretty darned good.''

In the third with a 4-3 lead, Ed Jovanovski and Brad Boyes landed in the penalty box together. Boyes was given a four-minute infraction for a high stick giving the Sabres ample opportunity to tie the score.

They didn't. When Boyes came out of the box with two minutes left to play, Florida still had the lead.

"They came through; battled, blocked shots and did what they had to do,'' coach Peter Horachek said. "It's tough to win in anyone's barn these days. When you can learn to win, it's a valuable lesson.''

Florida, which took the season series against the Sabres, scored three goals in the opening period to take a 3-2 lead into the second.

Winchester, who has four points since coming off the injured list Monday, knocked in a long shot from Jovanovski to tie things.

After Stafford gave Buffalo a 2-1 lead with 13:44 left in the period, Florida scored twice within a 52 seconds late in the period.

Sean Bergenheim made it 2-2 by getting his stick on Tom Gilbert's long shot. Soon after, Jovanovski let a heavy wrister fly from just inside the blue line for a 3-2 lead and his first goal since 2012.

"Has it been that long?" said Jovanovski, playing in his 1,100th NHL game. "I was just trying to get a shot to the net and got lucky. .-.-. It was nice to see.''

The Panthers made it 4-2 in the second when Nick Bjugstad got loose on a breakaway and snapped a shot over Ryan Miller's shoulder.

With Florida holding the lead, Thomas -- back after missing Monday's game -- held down the fort as Florida was outshot 16-4 in the third and 35-22 overall.

"This was big for the whole team. We needed it,'' Thomas said.