February 03, 2015

FISHING FOR A WIN: Panthers end New York trip with two points as Montoya comes up big and Hayes scores twice ... Panthers had lost two straight and seven of eight

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Unless a miracle happens and these two end up in the playoffs, the Panthers have played their final game at Nassau Coliseum.
They sure left the old barn in style.
Thanks to a pair of goals from Jimmy Hayes and a terrific spot start from Al Montoya, the Panthers got back on the winning track with a 4-2 victory over the Islanders Tuesday night.
The win was Florida's 20th in 44 games at the Coliseum.
The Islanders are packing up after spending all 43 years of their existence here, heading to the shiny new Barclays Center in Brooklyn next season.
"This is a terrific place to play hockey and seeing these stands filled every night makes it special,'' said Montoya, who spent two seasons with the Islanders and was making his first start since Jan. 9.
"They have a real hometown advantage here. Long Island deserves better.''
Few gave the Panthers much of a chance on Tuesday, not after it lost a track meet the night before against the Rangers and were playing for the third time in four nights.
Florida came in losers of two straight and seven of eight but gave coach Gerard Gallant that complete game he had been begging for and, in turn, got a win it was desperate to get.
"It was a great game, both teams were fast paced and our guys played for 60 minutes and that was the difference,'' Gallant said.


"Al battled hard, played well and made some key saves out there. But this was a team effort and a team win. Everyone came to play.''
The Islanders, which have now lost three straight, jumped all over the Panthers with Anders Lee scoring 1:44 in.
Only Florida had some scoring punch this night with Hayes redirecting a blistering slap shot from Nick Bjugstad to tie it.
Erik Gudbranson gave the Panthers their first lead with a rare driving goal that conjured up images of the great Bobby Orr. Gudbranson charged the net and cooly backhanded the puck past Jaroslav Halak.
"I had the opportunity, had the lane and took it,'' Gudbranson said. "I got a lucky bounce going shortside because I don't think [Halak] gives that up too often. When have you seen me do that in the offensive zone? Never.''
Although the Islanders tied it heading into the third, Florida got a second goal from Hayes on a power play chance off another Bjugstad shot early in the third and Brandon Pirri ended it with an empty net goal with 23 seconds left.
"This was for our team because we needed it,'' said Hayes, who was voted the game's first star.
"We have to put pucks at the net and need to do that to be successful.''
-- Montoya wasn't the only new face in the Florida lineup on Tuesday as Sean Bergenheim and Shawn Thornton were scratched allowing Tomas Fleischmann and Scottie Upshall to return.
"I got what I wanted from everyone,'' Gallant said. "But they were real good. They competed and I thought the team played great. It wasn't about one line.''

PHOTOS BY SEAN CUSHING/twitter: @SeanCushing

 

February 02, 2015

BAD APPLE: Panthers losing ways continue in New York City as Rangers score three in third for 6-3 win ... Panthers saying goodbye to the Coliseum on Tuesday

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
NEW YORK -- Sure, the Panthers have 33 games remaining in this season but Monday was all but a must-win if this team hopes to make a serious run at the playoffs.
Looking at Erik Gudbranson in the hushed visitors' locker room at Madison Square Garden, slumped over in his stall in full dress, told the story of how this one didn't go as planned.
No, the Panthers didn't get a win they desperately needed Monday as the Rangers scored three in the third for a 6-3 win.
Florida has lost seven of its past eight games as that postseason light continues to dim. The Rangers now lead the Panthers in the playoff race by 10 points.
New York has won five straight against the Panthers and has outscored them 11-5 in its two wins this year.
"It doesn't feel like the end of the year,'' said Dave Bolland, who had a goal and an assist.
"It's no fun losing but it's not the end of the year. There's always another game. We have another one [Tuesday] and we'll be ready to play.''
Things don't go a team's way during a long losing stretch and that certainly was the case for the Panthers on Monday.
Two of New York's goals went off of the Panthers as the redirected pucks went past Roberto Luongo.
Mark Staal gave the Rangers a 3-1 lead in the second period when his shot went off Sean Bergenheim; Dan Boyle scored the game-winner with 11:50 left when his shot went off Willie Mitchell and past Luongo.
"We wanted to win the game, get to within six points and get back in the race,'' said coach Gerard Gallant, whose team wraps up this three-game New York trip (0-2) Tuesday against the Islanders.
"It's real disappointing to lose. I don't worry about the past, we played some good games. We did again tonight we just let too many pucks in. We're finding ways to lose games and earlier we were finding ways to win.''
After scoring the opening goal on a nice play by Aleksander Barkov, the Panthers watched the Rangers take a 3-1 lead midway through the second.
Florida battled back, however, with Bolland batting in a puck to make it 3-2 before Brandon Pirri tied it with his fourth goal in the past five games.


"We didn't play a bad game, we were on them in the second and that's why we came back,'' Jonathan Huberdeau said.
"We needed to play that way for the whole 60 minutes. We've lost some games here but we have to look ahead, find some positives. We have to start this [Tuesday]. We don't want to lose like this, we need more consistency. We know we're a good team.''
New York controlled much of the third and got two on Luongo pretty early on in the proceedings to end it. Rick Nash picked up his second of the night with 1:53 remaining into an empty net.
"It's a tough loss,'' Nick Bjugstad said. "We needed that one. We need to draw something up. We're coming down to the wire now.''
GOODBYE, LONG ISLAND
The Panthers play their final regular season game at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, on Tuesday.
The Islanders will be leaving their Long Island home after this season and will begin play at Brooklyn's Barclays Center next year.
The Panthers have plenty of Islanders fingerprints on the organization as Bill Torrey -- the architect of New York's four Stanley Cup titles in the 1980s -- was Florida's first team president. Denis Potvin, captain of those Islanders teams, is Florida's television analyst.
Both Torrey and Potvin will attend Tuesday's game.
The Panthers have won 19 of 43 games on Long Island since 1993.
Tuesday: Panthers at Islanders
When/Where: 7 p.m.; Nassau Veterans Coliseum, Uniondale, N.Y.
TV/Radio: FSFL; WSBR 740-AM
Series: Panthers lead 41-36-8
Noteworthy: The Islanders are 1-0 against Florida this year after winning in a shootout in Sunrise on Nov. 14.

 

February 01, 2015

TIME TO GET BACK IN THE RACE: Slumping Panthers say things aren't lost just yet ... Florida has lost six of seven but can turn things around ... Pirri playing well in expanded role ... Hayes set to return v Rangers

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
NEW YORK -- After losing six of their past seven games, the Panthers have lost precious ground in the playoff race.
Coach Gerard Gallant has often put a positive spin on his team regardless of its struggles, but this latest rough patch has him looking at things pretty realistically.
The Panthers, according to Gallant, aren't really in the playoff race any more.
"Our goal all year has been to be in the race and I don't know right now if we're in it,'' said Gallant, whose team is eight points out of the final postseason spot in the Eastern Conference.
"It's time, for me, for us to get back in the race. There are eight teams in front of us and they're all good teams. We have to make sure we get back into the picture. We've slid out of it a little bit. We have to worry about our games.''
Defenseman Willie Mitchell said his team can definitely get back in the hunt if they stop worrying about the "big hill" in front of them and worry about each game as it comes.
Although the Bruins have won eight of their past 10, Florida hopes to pick up ground on the likes of the Rangers -- whom the Panthers play on Monday -- or the Capitals.
Washington, which leads Florida by eight points, lost for the sixth time in seven games on Sunday and has played three more games than the Panthers.


"We are still right there,'' Mitchell said. "We have a lot of work to do but every team has a part of their season where things fall off a little bit. That will happen to the teams in front of us. It has to be about us and what we're doing. We need to play the way we know we can.''
The next two games give the Panthers an opportunity to gain ground on teams in front of them.
It won't come easy.
Monday, the Panthers visit Madison Square Garden where they have lost five of the past six games to the Rangers.
New York has won 13 of its past 18 against the Panthers over the past six seasons and eight of the past 10.
The Panthers haven't won at the Garden in two years. The Rangers hold an eight-point lead on Florida.
"We were in the hunt all year and now we're sliding a little bit,'' Gallant said. "In my opinion, we're out of the hunt but we're real close to getting back. They are all elite teams when you look at the eight. But we need to play with confidence and start getting some points.''
Following Monday's game, the Panthers will play their final regular season game at Nassau Coliseum as the Islanders head to Brooklyn next season.
Florida, which is 13 points back of the Islanders, has found success in Uniondale and has won three of the past five there.
"We need to get on a run and we probably need to do it pretty soon,'' Brian Campbell said.
"It's going to be a challenge, but we need to get ourselves a streak. What sucks is we're not in control of things anymore. We're scoreboard watching. But we have to take care of us before anything else changes.''
PIRRI'S BACK
After suffering a concussion on Oct. 30, Brandon Pirri missed 10 games.
It took some time for Pirri to get going again as he went 10 games with just one assist as he found himself out of the lineup more and more.
Gallant has put Pirri in the past four games and he's been strong, scoring three goals in that time.
"I missed a lot of time and it took me some time to get back,'' Pirri said Sunday, a day after scoring Florida's lone goal in a 3-1 loss to the host Devils.
"Right now, the opportunity is there for me, I'm getting a lot more minutes.''
-- Jimmy Hayes was a healthy scratch Saturday but is expected to be back in the lineup Monday as he worked on Florida's second line during Sunday's workout in Newark.
Monday: Panthers at Rangers
When/Where: 7 p.m.; Madison Square Garden, New York
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560
Series: New York leads 46-32-6
Noteworthy: The Panthers are 0-1 against New York this season and return here for the series finale on March 15,

 

January 31, 2015

NEWARK STATE OF MIND: Panthers kick off Gotham road trip with tough loss to Devils ... New Jersey has owned Panthers since end of 2012 playoff series

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
NEWARK, N.J. -- The Panthers kicked off a tough road trip in the New York metro area Saturday with the most winnable game of the three.
This may not end well for them.
The Devils -- who played the night before, used their lightly-used backup goalie and had just 14 shots on goal -- scored twice in the opening period and handcuffed Florida the rest of the way in a 3-1 victory.
New Jersey was credited with just two shots on goal in the entire second [ITAL] and [ITA] third periods before Steve Bernier's empty-net goal made it 3-0 with 2:32 left.
"We have to start scoring sooner or later,'' said Brandon Pirri, who scored Florida's lone goal with 89 seconds remaining.
"One goal isn't enough and that's on forwards like me who need to be scoring. Things were clogged up, yes, but there were rebounds to be had. We just need to go to the hoop. We're not going to score the easy ones. That's not how we're built. We're an ugly team and need to score ugly goals.''
The Panthers have lost six of seven heading into Monday's game at the Garden against a Rangers team which now leads them by eight points for the final spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
As for postseason hopes, well, the Panthers may as well stop worrying about the standings for the time being.
After Saturday, Florida is not only eight back of New York and Washington (both have 60 points), but trail Boston by nine points for the top wild card spot with 35 games remaining.
"They're going to win because the teams in front of us are good teams,'' coach Gerard Gallant said.
"If we're going to lose, we're going to fall behind. We have to take care of ourself, our own game. And we weren't good enough [Saturday].''
As has been their style seemingly forever, the Devils didn't do much but play shutdown defense on Saturday.
And, as it historically has been the case, it was plenty good enough.
"You know how they play, and you can't spot them two goals,'' Shawn Thornton said. "For decades, they don't give up much defensively. At the end it only matters what the score is and we come out of here with a loss.''
New Jersey, which has secured at least a point in eight of 10 games, scored on two of its first four shots on goal in the first period (in almost 15 minutes of play) with Jaromir Jagr and Mike Cammalleri doing the honors.
Cammalleri's goal came on a power play as he teed off on a slick through-the-skates pass from Bernier with 5:23 left in the first.
Jagr slid into the slot and his wrister made it 1-0.


"We knew this is the game they were going to play,'' said Roberto Luongo, who faced just 13 shots all night.
"They don't give up much of anything. I enjoy a few shots to keep me sharp. That was probably the most boring game I've ever been a part of. .-.-. That was a bad hockey game right there.''
The Panthers held the Devils to zero shots on goal for all but the final two seconds of the second period, but New Jersey held Florida off the scoreboard so it would gladly make that trade time and again.
As was the case in the second, the Devils' played keep away from the Panthers in the third.
When Luongo stepped out of the cage to give the Panthers another attacker, the Devils pounced and sent a few toward the enticing empty net. Bernier connected on the Devils' second shot of the third period to end things.
Florida had 27 shots on goal and 51 shot attempts to just 33 for the Devils.
"We had some good chances, it wasn't like there wasn't any offense,'' Gallant said.
"We just didn't capitalize on our chances. I'm not saying we played great, but we had chances in the second half of the game to get back into it.''
BE-DEVILED
Since holding a 3-2 series lead on the Devils in the opening round of the 2012 playoffs, the Panthers have won two of eight meetings against New Jersey.
The Devils won the final two games of that series and eventually advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals.
New Jersey has outscored the Panthers 8-2 in its two wins this season. The third game of the series comes in the regular season finale on April 11 in Sunrise.
-- Tomas Kopecky and Jimmy Hayes were Florida's healthy scratches Saturday as Tomas Fleischmann and Scottie Upshall returned to the lineup.

 

January 29, 2015

SKID COMES TO A CLOSE: Panthers end five-game losing streak, long losing slump against Columbus with Bergenheim's third period goal ... Dylan Olsen put on waivers

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
It had been 11 years since the Panthers beat Columbus on their home ice.
Florida's latest five-game skid only seemed that long.
Thursday, the Panthers snapped a few long losing streaks with one big goal as Sean Bergenheim's deflection of a Dmitry Kulikov shot lifted the Panthers to a 3-2 win over the Blue Jackets.
"We're not looking back. This is over now,''
said Kulikov, whose team lost the first four of the five game homestand which concluded Thursday.
"It's hard getting over the hump. It took a little longer than we thought it would but we're going to get going now.''
The Panthers hadn't beaten Columbus at home since Gerard Gallant -- Florida's first-year coach -- was behind the Blue Jackets' bench on Jan. 3, 2004.
Overall, Florida hadn't tasted victory over the Jackets since winning in Columbus in 2007 -- thereby ending the second longest active losing streak in the league.
Edmonton has lost 13 straight to the Bruins.
"It was good to get the last game of the homestand and get a win,'' Gallant said. "They took it to us early but after that, I thought we handled the game. Columbus is a tough team. They forced us into mistakes. We battled and finally got some breaks tonight.''
Florida desperately needed a win yet it looked at times as if the Blue Jackets were going to find away to take another one.
After a coma-inducing scoreless first, Columbus took a 1-0 lead just 1:08 into the second. Over a minute later, Jonathan Huberdeau tied it again with a backhander past Curtis McElhinney.
"It was important to get the two points and that's what we did,'' Huberdeau said.
Florida held a 2-1 lead on rookie Aaron Ekblad's seventh goal of the season midway through the second yet the Blue Jackets forged another tie after Alex Wennberg bunted a puck past Roberto Luongo 1:26 before the end of the period.
Florida took the lead back for good with 6:52 remaining when Bergenheim set up shop on McElhinney's right and got a chunk of Kulikov's shot.
The puck found its way to the back of the net, and after a long review to see if Bergenheim used a high stick, the goal was ruled clean.
"I like to get shots like that, it was a good shot by Kulikov,'' said Bergenheim, who also took a Jack Johnson stick to the face during his goal giving Florida a power play (0-3).
"I didn't think it was a high stick. When I saw it on the scoreboard, I thought it was clean. But you never know.''
Bergenheim had missed a good chunk of the game after getting hit with 14 minutes (slashing, unsportsmanlike conduct, misconduct) of penalties midway through the second.
The Panthers sure were glad to see him back on the ice.
"It wasn't good what I did and I shouldn't have taken the penalties I did,'' Bergenheim said. "I wanted to do something good for the team.''
OLSEN WAIVED
The Panthers not only replaced Dylan Olsen in the lineup with Alex Petrovic on Thursday, but placed the 24-year-old defenseman on waivers as well.
Although Olsen could be claimed by another team, the Panthers made the move in order to send him to their AHL affiliate in San Antonio.
Coincidentally, Colby Robak -- who was Florida's seventh defenseman at the start of the season -- was waived by Anaheim Thursday as well. The Panthers don't appear to be interested in putting a claim in.
"We are confident with our defensive depth and I'm not happy with the way we've been playing defensively,'' general manager Dale Tallon said.
"We have a lot of guys who are ready to do the job.''
-- Florida canceled Friday's practice and will instead just fly to New York in the afternoon.

 

January 28, 2015

PANTHERS NOT PANICKING: Florida veterans try to right ship during season-long losing streak ... Petrovic called up, Thornton returns ... Luongo expected back v Columbus

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
One reason Florida general manager Dale Tallon brought in established veteran players with championship credentials this offseason was evident on Wednesday morning.
As the team stretched on the BB&T Center ice, Derek MacKenzie cracked jokes as Willie Mitchell, Shawn Thornton and Dave Bolland chirped in as well.
That light atmosphere allowed younger players to loosen up before what turned into a long midweek practice session.
The Panthers sure didn't look like a team in the throes of a five-game losing streak -- which was the point.
Thornton, who won the Cup with Boston in 2011 and Anaheim four years prior, said this is the time for Florida to make its stand.
"This is the time when you see the good teams really start winning and teams that aren't so good start showing some inconsistencies,'' Thornton said.
"We have to start being really consistent, string some wins together and start moving on up. You can't hit the panic button but there needs to be a sense of urgency. There isn't much movement in the standings at this time of year. We need to take advantage of every opportunity you can. It gets tougher and tougher to catch up.''
The Panthers know they are standing on perilous ground now, their season-long losing streak putting their playoff hopes in serious doubt.
Yet with a win Thursday against visiting Columbus, the Panthers can at least end this slide before embarking on a tough metro New York trip that starts Saturday night in New Jersey.
Florida goes into Thursday's game seven points back of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Thanks to other losses, the Panthers didn't lose any ground despite Tuesday's 5-4 loss to the Red Wings -- yet didn't gain any either.
"Right now is our playoff. The games down the stretch don't mean a thing if we don't win now,''
said Mitchell, who been part of Los Angeles' Stanley Cup championship teams in two of the previous three seasons.
"You want to be uncomfortably comfortable which means you're prepared, are doing every with a purpose and know what you're doing. But you're doing it outside your comfort zone, are pushing your limits. The teams that do that, win.''
Coach Gerard Gallant, who pulled his team into a far corner of the arena after the workout for a private chat, again stressed his team can't make up ground in one night.
For the Panthers to get back into the mix, they're going to need to chip away on their deficit one night at a time.
"It's a fine line in whether you want a team loose or real uptight and I would rather them be loose,'' Gallant said. "There's nothing you can do about last night or the four behind that. Move on. Lets play the next one and try and get back in the race. It's good to have players who have been there before.''
PETROVIC RETURNS
Florida's recent soft defensive play led the team to recalling Alex Petrovic on Wednesday.
The 22-year-old defenseman recently took part in the AHL All-Star game and has 19 points in 39 games for San Antonio.
Petrovic has played in 13 games with the Panthers over the previous two seasons and is expected to play Thursday -- perhaps in place of the struggling Dylan Olsen.
-- The Panthers are also expected to have Thornton back in the lineup Thursday. Thornton has been out since Dec. 6 with a lingering groin injury.
"It's been a while so I'm excited,'' Thornton said. "Jimmy [Hayes] told me today to settle things down a little. I was a little too jumpy. I have eight weeks of energy going.''
With Thornton activated and Petrovic recalled, the Panthers would go into Thursday's game at the roster maximum of 23 -- meaning three players will be scratched against the Blue Jackets.
-- Gallant said he expected Roberto Luongo would be back in net Thursday after being pulled during the second period of Tuesday's loss.
Luongo gave up five goals -- four in the second period -- but wasn't blamed for the porous defense played in front of him.
Al Montoya came in and stopped all 10 shots faced allowing the Panthers to claw back into the game.
-- Florida won't find the road to breaking its losing streak easy come Thursday. The Panthers are 0-1-1 against Columbus this season and have lost 10 straight to the Blue Jackets.
The Panthers haven't beaten Columbus at home since Gallant coached the Jackets back in 2004.
"They played us great in Columbus but I thought we had one of our best games of the season here when we had 55 shots,'' Gallant said.
"Columbus is a good time. Before all of their injuries, to me, they were one of the eight playoff teams.''
Thursday: Blue Jackets at Panthers
When/Where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560
Series: Columbus leads 14-4-0
Noteworthy: Columbus has won three of its past four but is without star goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (76 saves on 80 shots vs. Florida this year).

 

 

January 26, 2015

LONG CLIMB: Florida Panthers have tough road ahead to get back in playoff hunt

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Even though they are seven points out of a playoff spot, the Panthers feel they are a postseason contender as the unofficial second half of the season kicks off Tuesday.
Florida opens its post-All Star break with a tough matchup straight out of the chute as Detroit visits BB&T Center.
Although the Panthers have won both of their matchups against the Red Wings, Detroit is currently in second place in the Atlantic Division and just one point behind Eastern Conference leading Tampa Bay.
"The league is so balanced these days, you see teams come and go out of playoff spots,'' goalie Roberto Luongo said from the All-Star Game this past weekend.
"You just have to get hot. We were collecting points every night and were still barely in. When you lose, you lose ground pretty fast. We can't look at the big picture right now because you don't want to be overwhelmed by the standings. We just have to take care of our business and the standings will take care of themselves.''
The Panthers hoped to ride a wave of momentum into the All-Star break yet lost their final four games.
Florida then watched Boston pick up three of an available four points to put the Panthers seven points back.
And even though the Panthers have played four fewer games than the Bruins, a number of national media members don't see Florida catching Boston -- or anyone else holding a playoff spot for that matter.
"I love their team this year but things have been tough on them lately,'' said E.J. Hradek of NHL Network.
"I think the eight playoff teams are already set, it's just a matter of things being shuffled around. Now, last year, Toronto fell off a cliff. If someone else does that this year, Florida could be able to get back into it. I like this team though, I like their big picture in Florida. They've stayed the course and they look good.''
The schedule should play into Florida's favor a little bit -- it finishes the season with five at home -- although the competition in the coming weeks is going to be rough.
Even though it looks like a break when Columbus visits Thursday, Florida is winless in two games against the Blue Jackets this year.
After finishing off two games at home this week, Florida plays three games in four days on a tough New York trip that has the Panthers facing the red-hot Rangers and Islanders on back-to-back nights.
Despite the tough schedule, Pierre LeBrun of ESPN and Canada's TSN says Florida can claw its way back into things.
"They are the only ones in the Eastern Conference not in a playoff spot that have a chance,'' LeBrun said. "Toronto is toast, Ottawa isn't getting back into it. Florida has the best shot although I don't think they should be aiming for Boston. The Bruins will be top three in the division soon I think. But maybe Detroit or Washington starts to slip. That would help the Panthers.''
Tuesday: Red Wings at Panthers
When/Where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560
Series: Detroit leads 16-8-3
Noteworthy: The Red Wings won five straight coming into the All-Star break and sit just one point behind Tampa Bay in the Atlantic Division. Florida has won both meetings against the Wings this year -- both coming in Detroit.

January 25, 2015

ALL-STAR TWEETING: Roberto Luongo makes most of vantage point on bench as Team Toews tops Foligno 17-12 in defenseless exhibition ... Ekblad notches four assists

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- After giving up four goals in the opening period Sunday, Roberto Luongo spent the rest of the game on the bench.
He wasn't sulking mind you.
Just tweeting.
Luongo's first period was actually one of the defensive highlights of Sunday's 60th NHL All-Star Game, a high-scoring affair that ended up being a 17-12 victory for 'Team Toews' over 'Team Foligno.'
The 29 goals scored were most in an All-Star Game and with the game out of hand coming into the third, Luongo decided to do some live work on his popular Twitter account.
Players are forbidden from using social media during games but since this was the exhibition of all exhibitions, an exception was made.
"Everyone was pretty much for it,'' Luongo said.
Luongo's most popular tweet was his first, a complaint aimed toward the Civil War-style cannon usually shot off after Blue Jackets goals.
"I didn't like the cannon,'' Luongo said. "You get used to it, but the first few times, you get freaked out.''
Sunday, the cannon went off every time the home team -- the one picked by Columbus' Nick Foligno -- scored.
Luongo played on Jonathan Toews' squad and it went off four times while he was on the ice.
"You did this to yourself,'' replied the official Blue Jackets' account, which led Luongo to ask if they could put him on the 'Kiss Cam.'
Luongo wasn't alone in his disdain for the Columbus pyrotechnics.
"I hate the cannon," Philadelphia's Claude Giroux said. "It gets me every time."
Said Toews: "It’s loud enough that it gets on your nerves pretty quickly and especially when they score a 12 or so goals like that .-.-. it gets you a little.''
Luongo, making his fourth All-Star appearance, played just one period as scheduled and left with the game tied at 4 as he held things down the best he could.

 

Radim Vrbata gave Team Foligno the first lead by beating Luongo 3:09 into the first off a breakaway.
Toews' team battled back and Luongo ended up making a few highlight reel saves in his 20 minutes of work -- his biggest coming when he robbed Alex Ovechkin midway through the period.
Luongo gave up two quick goals at the end of the period, but Jonathan Tavares' first of four came with 57 seconds left in the first to tie things at the break.
Tavares lost out on being game MVP as Columbus' Ryan Johansen took that with two goals and four points.
"You have to enjoy this,'' Luongo said. "It's not every day you get to play in an All-Star Game and it's not often you get to [tweet during a game]. So that's fun.''
Luongo served as the honorary backup for the second and third period and had a great seat for the seven goals surrendered by Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury in the second period.
Things got so bad for Fleury, at one timeout he skated to the visitors bench to talk to Luongo.
"He actually came to me on the first TV timeout,'' Luongo said.
"I don't know what that meant, whether he was looking for some comforting words or something from me. He wasn't on my team, so I wasn't going in for him. What are you going to do? It's an all-star game, obviously. Things happen. It's tough to come in cold like that. He'll be fine.''
Said Fleury: "After the second period, I heard on television that seven goals in a period was a record. It was so long, probably the longest 20 minutes of my career. We are at this game to have fun, but at one time, it was frustrating. Normaly, I'll be quick out of the game way before giving up seven goals.''
Florida rookie Aaron Ekblad had a solid All-Star debut, notching four assists -- all secondary -- in the game to tie for third on his team in scoring.
Afterward, he joked that he needed to have a little amnezia after Sunday's defense-less game. The Panthers are back playing games that count starting Tuesday.
"That was like summertime hockey,'' Ekblad said. "I’ll forget all that before the next game.''
Ekblad, who was a late substitution for the game after being selected to participate in Saturday's skills competition, said he enjoyed the experience and "was welcomed with open arms.''
If Ekblad continues his current trajectory, Sunday won't be his final time playing in an All-Star Game.
"Hopefully I'll get another chance at this sometime later in my career,'' said Ekblad, 18. "This was a learning experience.''

 

 

January 24, 2015

LUONGO'S BACK: Roberto Luongo returns to All-Star Game, happy to share experience with family

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- It's been a few years since Roberto Luongo was selected to play in an All-Star Game so he's doing this one up right.
Luongo brought his family -- wife Gina and their two young children -- north to enjoy the sights and sounds of this celebration of hockey.
"I'm looking forward to them just enjoying this experience,'' said Luongo, making his fourth All-Star appearance.
"I've been able to live this a few times but now I get it to live it through their eyes for the first time. That makes it fun. I think 2009 was my last one so it has been a while. It's fun and it's an honor. I'm excited to be here.''
Luongo will play one period for 'Team Toews' in Sunday's game (5 p.m., NBCSN) before returning to South Florida to get back to trying to lift the Panthers back into the postseason.
When Luongo fought to be traded from Vancouver back to the Panthers the past couple of years, he says he did so not to retire in the sun but to help the franchise become viable again.
So far, he's improved the Panthers stock.
Luongo, at 35, is putting up some of the best numbers of his career and it has helped keep Florida in the playoff conversation.
"He's made up for all of my stupid mistakes,'' said Florida defenseman Aaron Ekblad, who is making his All-Star debut in Sunday's game.
"I turn the puck over every once in a while and he's always there to bail me out. He's one of the best goalies to ever play the game and I stand by that without a doubt. He's in the gym, in the room doing all the little things it takes to be a pro. That's what I've learned from him.''
Since rejoining the Panthers last March, Luongo's save percentage and goals-against average are among his best.
Being able to put the soap opera that surrounded him in the hockey-crazed Vancouver market behind him seems to have lightened a load.
"He seems happy again,'' Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf said. "I think that's the main thing when you're talking about a hockey player. If you're in a happy place and you're excited to be at the rink every day, chances are your play's going to go up and you're going to be a better hockey player. I'm assuming that has a little bit to do with it.''
Luongo maintained his residence in Broward County after being traded to Vancouver in 2006, spending his offseasons in South Florida.
Being able to return to the Panthers is something he pursued for a few years as his playing time dwindled in Vancouver.
Coming back to the Panthers not only meant a homecoming for Luongo, but a return to being the counted on No. 1 goaltender.
Unlike Vancouver, there is no goalie controversy with the Panthers. From the moment Florida traded to get Luongo back, he's been the top guy.
That probably has something to do with Luongo's state of mind in net as well.
"There was nothing wrong with Vancouver but it had gotten to the point where I think I just needed a fresh start,'' he said.
"We started with a blank page and I don't need to worry about things as much. .-.-. The pressure doesn't come from the outside but it comes from within. We've just four in a row and I'm as mad about that as if I was anywhere else. To me, winning is where the pressure comes from no matter where you're playing.''
As for the game itself, Luongo says he's not going sweat giving up a few goals.
Being an exhibition, offense is stressed at All-Star Games and goalies aren't expected to do much more than slow things down a bit.
"I don't prepare, you just go out there and have fun,'' Luongo said.
"You can't this too seriously because there's no prize or anything like that. You just want to have fun, hang out with the guys and mix in a big save or two.''
Sunday: NHL All-Star Game
When/Where: 5 p.m.; Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio
TV: NBCSN
Noteworthy: Florida's Aaron Ekblad, 18, is the youngest defenseman to ever partake in an All-Star Game. Both Ekblad and G Roberto Luongo are playing for 'Team Toews' after being selected by captain Jonathan Toews of Chicago.

 

January 23, 2015

EKBLAD THE ALL-STAR: Panthers rookie named to All-Star team ... Cats have two on All-Star roster for first time since 2003

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Just six months ago, Aaron Ekblad sat on a riser in Philadelphia talking to the national media about getting the opportunity to play in the National Hockey League.
On Friday morning, Ekblad was back in a similar setting although no one was asking him how cool it would be to be the first overall pick in the NHL draft.
No, this time the talk was of the 18-year-old being the youngest player at the NHL All-Star Game.
"It's quite an honor,'' Ekblad said. "I'm very lucky and fortunate. No doubt.''
Originally selected to be just part of Saturday's skills competition, Ekblad -- whom the Panthers took first overall at the Philadelphia draft last June -- was added to the All-Star Game roster on Friday after Colorado's Erik Johnson backed out because of injury.
Ironically, Ekblad was the first defenseman taken with the top pick since St. Louis took Johnson in 2006.
"It feels long ago, but the journey leading up to this was much longer,'' said Ekblad, who was playing Canadian junior hockey for the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League at this time last year.
"I didn't know I would be coming here at all, didn't think I would be playing in the game. It's been a whirlwind. It's all moved very quickly.''
Now the Panthers have two players on an All-Star Game roster for the first time since Olli Jokinen and Sandis Ozolinsh were selected for the 2003 game held in Sunrise.
Florida traded Ozolinsh to the Kings just before that game was played.
Because of various injuries to All-Star selections -- and veteran players already on vacation and unwilling to come to central Ohio -- a few rookie selections have been tabbed to play in Sunday's All-Star Game.
Although Ekblad acknowledged "there are tons of better players who could be here over me" that doesn't mean he's not worthy to be on an All-Star team.
Ekblad is having an outstanding rookie season and turning heads in the process as 18-year-old defensemen aren't supposed to be doing what he's doing.

"I'm so happy for him,'' Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo said.
"He deserves it man, he's been our best player on the ice all year. He's so solid back there. He deserves it.''
Ekblad already owns the Panthers' franchise record for scoring by a rookie defenseman and is considered a strong candidate for the league's rookie of the year award.
Competition for the Calder Trophy, however, is stiff as Nashville's Filip Forsberg is the favorite as he comes into the All-Star Game -- he was added as well -- with 15 goals and 25 assists in 45 games.
If Ekblad keeps up his pace he could garner more traction in Calder voting as he not only is playing a tough position but came straight out of junior hockey.
Forsberg made his NHL debut with the Predators during the 2013 season and split time last year in the minors and with Nashville but is still technically considered a rookie.
"We've played them a couple times and he's been real tough to play against,'' said Forsberg, who is two years older than Ekblad and played three years of professional hockey in his native Finland.
"He's playing with huge confidence and is tough on both ends of the ice. He's shutting people down on defense and putting up points on offense. He gives you everything you want from a defenseman and at that age, it's impressive.''
When the season started in October, there's little chance Ekblad nor the Panthers envisioned him being here at the NHL's midseason showcase.
Ekblad didn't have the best training camp as he looked a little shaky at times. When Florida played its opener in Tampa, however, things changed.
Paired with veteran Brian Campbell for most of the year, Ekblad hasn't looked out of place save for extremely rare moments of levity. And even when he makes a mistake, Ekblad bounces right back and doesn't let it affect his next shift.
"You have ups and downs but he's had very few downs this year,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "As coaches, we get upset when mistakes are made but that's part of maturing. Everyone does it but it doesn't bother the star players. It's surprising he does that at his age.''
Said Luongo: "In training camp, you could tell he was nervous. But then the regular season started and you didn't notice that. He flipped the switch right away. You could never tell he's 18. He's that good. We're happy to have him for sure.''

 

January 19, 2015

HITTING THE SKIDS: Panthers lose again, this time 2-1 to the visiting Canucks ... Bergenheim and Upshall sit for Perri and Trocheck

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers wanted to go into the All-Star break on a wave of momentum yet instead ride a downward spiral after losing their fourth straight on Monday, this one 2-1 to visiting Vancouver.
Remember that franchise-best 4-2-0 road trip earlier this month?
May as well have been last season.
"We're going to need a big effort in February,'' defenseman Brian Campbell said. "We've given away quite a few points. We can't give up any more.''
Florida, which doesn't play again until next Tuesday, lost the finale of that season-long road trip 8-2 in Winnipeg and hasn't been completely right since.
The Panthers have lost five straight at home dating to a shootout loss to Montreal on Dec. 30.
The four-game slide (at Winnipeg and home games to Colorado, Edmonton and Vancouver) is Florida's longest of the season.
Before Sunday, the Panthers hadn't lost three straight all year.
"You can feel we lost a little bit of jam as a team in the past week or so,'' said goalie Roberto Luongo, who is Florida's lone representative at this weekend's All-Star Game in Columbus.
"It's good for the guys to get this week off to recharge and refresh a little bit and come back with a fresh mindset. We have to attack the second half of the season. That's huge for us.''
Vancouver, which lost to the Panthers and Luongo at home on Jan. 8, jumped all over Florida in the rematch.
The Canucks took their first lead 3:25 in and got the eventual game winner with more than 10 minutes left in the first on Bo Horvat's breakaway shot that trickled past Luongo.
"They took it to us in that first period,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "It probably should have been 5-0 but Louie kept us in there. We played better in the second and I thought real well in the third. It was just a little too late.''
Goalie Ryan Miller, who gave up three to the Panthers in Vancouver, went more than three hours of game-time before being scored on again.
Miller didn't play in the Canucks' following two games after the Florida loss then rolled shutouts in his following starts against Philadelphia and Carolina.
Miller's shutout streak ended with 2:32 left when Brandon Pirri -- back in the lineup after a three game absense -- scored on a faceoff won by Dave Bolland.
Although the Panthers made an all-out attack to tie the score in the final minutes, Miller was too much.
BENCHED
Wanting to get Pirri and Vincent Trocheck into the lineup, Gallant put a pair of veteran forwards on the bench Monday in Scottie Upshall and Sean Bergenheim.
Both seemed puzzled why their numbers were called.
Bergenheim had goals in consecutive games at Calgary and Edmonton on the previous road trip; Upshall, however, has one assist in his past 10 games.
"All I can do is play as good as I can play,'' Bergenheim said. "I've had less ice time than before and with that in mind, I'm happy with the way I've played. I can only look at what I've brought to the team. I can't hang my head. I honestly don't know what's going on.''
Said Upshall: "We have numbers and coach had to make a hard decision. It makes everyone accountable. When you are in a little skid like we have been, changes will be made.''
-- The Panthers next practice isn't until Monday following All-Star weekend in Columbus. Luongo will be playing in Sunday's game with rookie Aaron Ekblad going and participating in Saturday's skills competition.

 

January 18, 2015

POWERED DOWN: Panthers power play struggling ... Again



TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards


The Panthers led Edmonton by a goal heading into the third period despite not having a single power play in the first 40 minutes.
Coincidence or not, but the Panthers got three chances with the man advantage in the final period in a game they ended up losing.
Sure, the Panthers power play is improved over last season but that's not saying much.
Florida finished last in the league on the power play last year and set a franchise low for power play efficiency.
This year is better, yes, but things sure aren't good.
On Saturday, the Oilers scored a goal on a Florida power play chance -- a shorthanded goal that was a killer -- as the Panthers went 0-for-3.
The Panthers have scored just one goal in their past 19 tries and have a single power play goal in their past seven games.
Thanks to the inept Sabres, however, don't expect the Panthers to finish last in the league this year.
Florida's power play is currently 29th in the league, its 17 goals in 129 tries good for a 13.2 percent success rate. The last place Sabres have just 12 power play goals (9.4 percent).
"We have to be smarter with the puck and really get set up,'' said Jonathan Huberdeau, who has yet to pot a power play goal this year.
"And you definitely can't give one up when you have the power play chance. That hurts.''
Already past the midway point, how do the Panthers rectify the situation?
Coach Gerard Gallant has already tried some new things but the Panthers haven't been able to create much offensive chances.
The team works on the power play throughout the week, yet nothing seems to get better.
Florida was ranked as high as 23rd on the power play this year, but since Nov. 22, the Panthers have just seven goals.
In a league that places so much importance on special teams, that's not going to cut it.
"It's a struggle,'' Gallant said. "We're putting the guys on the ice we think can get the job done. It's frustrating, no doubt. The players are getting frustrated. But you keep working in practice and hopefully get better.''
-- The Panthers will try and salvage the finale of this three-game homestand before the All-Star break kicks off as Vancouver visits Monday.
Florida has lost three straight since having its first three-game winning streak of the season. That three-game run started with a 3-1 win in Vancouver in Roberto Luongo's homecoming.
The Panthers have lost four straight in Sunrise, going 0-2-2.
"I think we've played pretty well at home generally although we've lost a few here lately,'' Luongo said of Florida's recent home struggles. "I don't think our game is that much different on the road or at home. We know what systems we want to run it's just a matter of executing.''
Monday: Canucks at Panthers
When/Where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560
Series: Vancouver leads 12-8-6
Noteworthy: The Panthers have won three of the past four meetings between the two. Vancouver has won its past two at Philadelphia and Carolina by a combined 7-0.


 


January 17, 2015

COVERED IN OIL: Panthers lose third straight as Edmonton wins rare road contest ... Cats hold closed door meeting after shootout loss ... Roster moves coming?

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
There are few 'gimmes' in the NHL, but if there ever was one, it was Saturday night.
The visiting Oilers sure didn't follow the script.
Edmonton, which hadn't won on the road since November, got a short-handed goal in the third and topped the Panthers 3-2 in a shootout at BB&T Center.
The Oilers had been 0-8-6 away from Edmonton before winning the shootout session 1-0.
Florida, which hasn't beaten the Oilers at home since 2002, has lost three straight for the first time this season. The Panthers did pick up a point on Boston and the Rangers in the playoff race after the Bruins lost to Columbus.
"This was a game we needed to win and we didn't work hard enough,'' captain Willie Mitchell said after a closed-door postgame meeting.
"As a player, you owe it to your teammate to lay it all out there. I don't deny our want to win as a team; we just weren't good enough in all aspects of the game. .-.-. It wasn't a mature enough game for us.''
Said coach Gerard Gallant: "We had a real bad game again tonight, got outworked in every aspect of the game. [Roberto Luongo] bailed us out to get that one point. We were definitely not good enough.''
Florida won in Edmonton last Sunday yet struggled to get anything going on Saturday.
The Panthers went into the third up 2-1 before the Oilers' Matt Hendricks scored a short-handed goal after a Florida turnover at center ice midway through the period.
Florida's power play has struggled all year but it has been magnified of late.
The Panthers have one power play goal in their past seven games and went 0-for-3 in the third period Saturday.
"We definitely wanted these points at home,'' Nick Bjugstad said. "We beat ourselves. We need to score on the power play and giving up a short-handed goal is huge. That kind of put us away for a little bit. It wasn't good.''
Florida trailed 1-0 after Jordan Eberle drove in on Luongo 3:35 into the second period.
Two minutes later, Erik Gudbranson got his second of the season on a shot from just inside the blue line. Gudbranson hadn't scored since he notched Florida's first goal of the season in the opener at Tampa on Oct. 9.
"It was a great shot,'' Gallant said. "Too bad we fell a little bit short.''
Later in the period, Jonathan Huberdeau gave Florida its first lead after jumping on a loose puck that bounded off the goal cage off a Aleksander Barkov shot.
"I was in front and hoping the puck would come,'' Huberdeau said. "It did and I was very fortunate. We're playing pretty good together but we have to pllay better on both sides of the ice.''
BACK TO THE MINORS?
Vincent Trocheck and Brandon Pirri were both healthy scratches for the third straight game.
The duo have been mostly left out of the lineup the past few weeks and at least one -- probably Trocheck -- is expected to be sent to the minors as the All-Star break starts Tuesday.
Pirri has a one-way deal meaning he would have to pass through waivers and be paid his full NHL salary if sent to AHL San Antonio. Trocheck wouldn't have to be risked through waivers and would be paid a lesser AHL salary.
Trocheck has been scratched in five of the past six games; Pirri eight of the past 11.

 

January 15, 2015

DEFLATED: Panthers come home, can't shake Avs in 4-2 loss

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers were desperate for a bounce-back win Thursday after getting shellacked in Winnipeg a few days earlier.
They didn't get it.
Florida had its share of chances but struggled against goalie Semyon Varlamov as Colorado escaped BB&T Center with a 4-2 win.
The Panthers have lost two straight regulation games for the first time since November.
Florida remains three points back of the Rangers for the final playoff spot in the east but are now five back of Boston which holds the top wild card slot.
"We're not happy. We wanted to come home and get off to a good start.'' Nick Bjugstad said. "We need to be better on the penalty kill, not get so many penalties. We have to find ways to put the puck in the net. It's a tough way to lose.''
Before Nick Holden scored on a power play with nine minutes left, the Panthers had matched Colorado's first two goals within minutes.
Three minutes after Tyson Barrie gave the Avs a 1-0 lead, Aaron Ekblad fired off a mid-range shot from the slot that beat Varlamov (30 saves).
In the second, Colorado made it 2-1 on Gabe Landeskog's goal only to have Aleksander Barkov tie it a mere 23 seconds later.
"I thought we played a good game honestly, we were as good a team as they were,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "Overall, we competed and played a lot better than last game obviously.''
In the third, Holden fired a shot from 50 feet out that was deflected by Scottie Upshall's stick and skipped off the ice and past Roberto Luongo.
Colorado was able to hold off Florida's charges and iced the game on an empty net goal by Jarome Iginla with 27 seconds left.
"The guys had a little more pep in their step and we played well, fought hard,'' Luongo said. "We had a bad bounce, a bad goal by me and that's the difference.''
LONG DAY
The Panthers longest road trip was extended by a few hours Wednesday as their chartered jet was grounded in Winnipeg delaying their departure by more than four hours.
The team was able to get a jet from Canada's Sun Country Airlines and landed in Fort Lauderdale after 8 p.m.
Most of the players spent their time milling about Winnipeg's airport either playing cards, watching videos or reading. Some tried to catch up on sleep.
"It was a safe day and we made it back which is the main thing,'' Gallant said. "We get spoiled. We get to come back to a great place and sometimes you face some adversity.''
-- Florida sent defenseman Shane O'Brien back to its minor league affiliate in San Antonio after he didn't play in the past two games.
Forward Shawn Thornton is close to returning to the lineup as well and O'Brien maxed out Florida's roster.

 

January 14, 2015

A GAME TO FORGET: Panthers ready to move on, kick off long homestand Thursday v Avalanche

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
It was already the most successful six-game road trip in Panthers' history regardless of what happened in the sixth game.
Of course, there was that sixth game.
Florida's 8-2 loss to host Winnipeg on Tuesday night may have taken some shine off the team's successful two-week run that took them across North America.
Yet, as coach Gerard Gallant stressed postgame, the Panthers can't let one lopsided loss mess up what was accomplished.
After all, the Panthers now embark on an important five-game home stretch with three games coming before the weeklong All-Star break.
Do well in these final three games before the mid-season vacation and that six goal loss in frigid Manitoba can be forgotten.
"It's one game. We're disappointed, a little embarrassed,'' said Gallant, whose team opens up its long homestand Thursday against Colorado.
"Instead of showing a lot of video, they know they played a horrible game and weren't ready and didn't compete. It happens, we don't like it when it happens, but hopefully we learn a lesson from it.''
The Panthers haven't had many of these types of games -- especially not lately.
When the team left South Florida on New Year's Day headed to Buffalo, Florida was riding a two game losing streak after dropping home games to the Canadiens (in a shootout) and the Rangers.
The Panthers then won in Buffalo, lost by one in Washington and beat Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton before Tuesday's debacle.
Florida kept pace in the playoff race with the 4-2-0 road trip and came into Wednesday three points back of Boston for the final slot with three fewer games played.
"We just have to keep doing the same things we've been doing in the second half,'' Gallant said. "If we do, we're going to be a playoff team. If we fall off and don't do the right things, we're not going to be there.''
Florida's success on the road has been well documented this season with its 28 points ranking fourth in the league.


The Panthers have played more road games than all but three other teams meaning if they want to make it to the playoffs, they're going to have to win at home.
Florida's 17 home games played to date are tied with Ottawa for fewest in the league. The Panthers' 21 home points, predictably, are ranked in the bottom third.
Although the team has a few more long road trips left -- the Panthers have a pair of five-game roadies remaining -- the team has plenty of long homestands to play as well.
Florida has a seven-game run at home from Feb. 26-March 12 and concludes the regular season with five in Sunrise.
That's a lot of home points on the table.
"Our team has been battling,'' Gallant said. "I think our team is confident and we're looking forward to it.''
-- As ugly as Florida's loss looked on Tuesday night, the numbers look even worse in the daylight.
The Panthers fell behind by three before Dave Bolland scored his first with Florida to give the Panthers life with 14:45 left in the second.
Then the Jets scored a minute later and the Panthers were done.
"The way we were playing,'' Gallant said, "there was no way we were coming back.''
With that in mind, Roberto Luongo was pulled by Gallant for the second time this year as the defense collapsed time and again.
While Winnipeg's Matthieu Perreault scored four goals, the Panthers had two players who were a minus-4 in Brian Campbell and Tomas Kopecky.
The Panthers only attempted 41 shots while Winnipeg sent out 66.
"I'm going to forget about it,'' Gallant said. "We just have to turn the page.''
-- Gallant made it clear he didn't pull Luongo out of dissatisfaction with him.
Down 4-1, however, with a long flight home and the Avs awaiting, there was just no reason to keep Luongo out there.
"Louie has been strong,'' Gallant said. "I'm not blaming any of the goals on Louie. We just wanted to get him out and get him ready for the next game.''
-- The Panthers haven't lost two straight games in regulation since November and have won eight straight after such a loss since.
Thursday: Avalanche at Panthers
When/Where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, ESPN 1210 (Spanish)
Series: Colorado leads 19-10-3
Noteworthy: Florida lost a 2-0 first period lead but rallied and topped the host Avs 4-3 in overtime off Brad Boyes' power play goal in October. This remains Florida's lone win in overtime this season not counting shootouts.

 

January 11, 2015

CLEANING UP THE OIL: Panthers get timely offense, strong goaltending in 4-2 win over Edmonton ... Cats have won three straight for first time this season ... Florida is 4-1-0 on road trip

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
EDMONTON, Alberta -- The Panthers continued their fantastic road run through western Canada on Sunday night, finding the right mix of offense and goaltending in a 4-2 win over the host Oilers.
And for the first time this season, Florida is on what had been an elusive three-game winning streak.
Florida's three wins came in a span of four nights starting Thursday in Vancouver. The Panthers then polished off the host Flames on Friday.
"Right now we're getting rewarded and our finding ways to win games,'' said goalie Roberto Luongo, named the game's first star after sending back 31 shots offered by Edmonton.
"We knew [Edmonton] had been playing well lately and this was going to be a tough game. There's no easy game for us in this league. If we want to win, we have to come to play. We knew this would be a tough match and we responded.''
The Panthers have struggled against the Oilers over the past few years despite both teams usually hanging out around the bottom of the standings.
Sunday's win, which makes Florida 4-1-0 on this six-game trip that ends Tuesday in Winnipeg, was just Florida's second in 11 tries against Edmonton.
The Oilers had won five straight against the Panthers.
"We battled, stayed ahead much of the night and played pretty well. It was a good, solid game,'' coach Gerard Gallant said.
Florida opened the scoring on Jimmy Hayes 13th goal of the season as he hammered a drop pass from Nick Bjugstad and sent it screaming past Ben Scrivens.
"We have 20 guys going every night and we're a tough team to beat when we do that,'' Hayes said. "We just have to keep it up.''
Edmonton tied it up 4:07 into the second, but the Panthers took a 2-1 lead into the second break when Brian Campbell scored his second in as many games off another 50-foot shot that Scrivens never saw.
"I didn't know who was screening for me and it was Hayes,'' Campbell said.
"I saw where the puck was going. You have to credit guys who go to the net. It found a hole.''
The third all but belonged to the Panthers as they took a two-goal lead on two separate occasions -- first off a Tomas Kopecky goal and then Sean Bergenheim iced it with 4:32 left.
"We can enjoy this for five minutes and then we have to start looking for Winnipeg,'' said Kopecky, who scored his first goal in a month.
Added Bergenheim: "I would say it was an ugly win for us, but we got the two points and we're happy about that. But I don't think we should be happy with the way we played. It was a little sloppy. I know how we can play and there's a lot to improve. This won't cut it against Winnipeg.''
HOMETOWN PROUD
Scottie Upshall took a quick flight to his hometown of Fort McMurray, Alberta, on Saturday to be honored by his former junior team.
The Fort McMurray Oil Barrons retired the No. 7 that Upshall wore in his one season (1999-2000) playing for his hometown squad.
Shane O'Brien and Shawn Thornton went along for the hour-long private jet flight.
"It was a really cool deal, very classy and was real nice for my family,'' said Upshall, who grew up about a four-hour drive north of Edmonton. "They had a full house of about 1,200 and it was a nice event. Not bad for a tier-2 junior team.''
-- The Panthers got Dmitry Kulikov back after he missed Friday's game with the flu. Aleksander Barkov, however, missed his second straight game.
Florida also scratched Vincent Trocheck and O'Brien.

 

January 10, 2015

ALL-STAR ONCE MORE: Roberto Luongo returns to All-Star Game ... Aaron Ekblad selected for Skills Competition

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
EDMONTON, Alberta -- The first time Roberto Luongo appeared in an NHL All-Star Game, it came as a member of the Florida Panthers in 2004.
Luongo will again be an NHL All-Star as he was named Saturday as Florida's lone representative selected for the game.
Rookie defenseman Aaron Ekblad will also be heading to Columbus, Ohio, as he was picked for the skills competition.
This year's All-Star Weekend will be held in Columbus from Jan. 24-25.
"It is an honor and not only a reflection of myself but the way this team is playing,'' said Luongo, who is making his fourth trip to the event and first since 2009 in Montreal.
"It's more of a team recognition than anything else. Obviously I've felt good on the ice, have worked hard on the ice and off it as far as the mental aspect goes. But this wouldn't be possible I don't think without our team play.''
Said Ekblad: "I'm very happy to go to Columbus. Obviously it's another step, something to look forward to. It's an honor. Not many people get this chance.''
Friday night, Luongo took the night off as the Panthers got into a track meet with the host Flames at the Saddledome.
Florida's 6-5 win had six lead changes-- the final one coming when Tomas Fleischmann scored with 3:09 remaining.
Tied at 4 heading into the third period, the Panthers took a 5-4 lead when Brian Campbell scored a controversial goal that took a few minutes to be reviewed at Hockey Central in Toronto.
In question was whether Sean Bergenheim deflected Campbell's long shot with a high stick before the puck reached goalie Jonas Hiller and bounded off his blocker and into the cage.
The official review was inconclusive and Campbell was awarded the goal.
"That's the first bounce I've had on the offensive side this season,'' Campbell said. "I'll take it.''
Florida's lead didn't hold up for long as the Flames tied it with 3:54 remaining.
As they had all night, the Panthers kept coming and grabbed their final lead of the game less than a minute later when Dave Bolland fed Fleischmann in the slot.
Fleischmann shoveled the puck past Hiller and the Panthers were up 1 with 3:09 left.
"It was so good to see that,'' Campbell said. "Flash works so hard. He needed some puck luck there.''
The final few minutes matched the previous 58 for intensity as Calgary got a late power play chance and had six skaters attacking Montoya with an empty net.
Florida held tight -- Jussi Jokinen made a huge block on a T.J. Brodie shot -- and escaped with another road win.
"That was back-to-back for us and we really battled back,'' Jokinen said. "Even though Montoya gave up five goals, he made some really big saves especially at the end.''
Montoya gave up five goals a few days after flying across North America. Montoya's wife Annie gave birth to a son on Monday morning in South Florida and Al flew to Vancouver on Wednesday.
"It's great, I'm glad we won and I'm not going to think too much about it,'' Montoya said.
"These guys battled for me. My hat is off to them. They stuck with it and believed we were going to win this game. Not every team can do that. This team believes in each other.''
-- Gallant said Saturday that there was no update on Kulikov or Barkov's condition but he hoped they could play Sunday.
-- The Panthers have won three of their first four in the six-game road trip that continues Sunday.

Sunday: Panthers at Oilers
When/Where:
7 p.m.; Rexall Place, Edmonton, Alberta
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560
Series: Edmonton leads 13-8-3
Noteworthy: The Panthers have won their past two in Edmonton and haven't won here since 2008. The Oilers have won two of four this month -- with wins over the Islanders and Blackhawks -- after losing 12 of 14 in December.

 

 

January 09, 2015

JUST IN TIME: Vincent Trocheck hurries to Saddledome, makes late substitution for Aleksander Barkov

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
CALGARY -- Panthers' coach Gerard Gallant knew Dmitry Kulikov was going to miss Friday's game with a case of the flu but the team's second victim came as quite a surprise.
Aleksander Barkov was forced to come off the ice during warmups. The Panthers quickly called Vincent Trocheck to tell him he was playing.
Since he thought he was a scratch, he and Brandon Pirri were taking their time in getting to the arena.
Trocheck would quickly get on his horse.
"We left the hotel at 6:30, grabbed some dinner. Luckily I stayed light and got a salad,'' said Trocheck, who was sporting a nasty cut near his right eye after being checked into the boards in the first.
"There was a ton of traffic on the way here and we were going slow. Then they wouldn't let us into the gate and we had to walk with all of our luggage. It was a day, I guess. That's a first.''
Trocheck made it to the Panthers bench just as the anthems had finished. He took Barkov's spot centering Huberdeau and Boyes.
"I literally ran through the halls,'' Trocheck said. "I was in the cab at 6:57 and on the ice by 7:04.''

 

CRAZY NIGHT IN CALGARY: Panthers get late goal from Tomas Fleischmann, hang on to top Calgary 6-5 ... Al Montoya makes big saves at the end to hold second straight win

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
CALGARY -- Al Montoya sat in his locker stall, half of his gear on the floor.
The Panthers' goalie was battered and exhausted Friday night, yet he mustered a smile when talking about his teammates.
Most goalies wouldn't be in a talkative mood after giving up five goals. But when your team scores six, well, that makes it easier to move on.
"It's great, I'm glad we won and I'm not going to think too much about it,'' Montoya said after Florida's wild 6-5 win over Calgary at the Saddledome.
"These guys battled for me. Some nights you feel great and can't get a win. Tonight I didn't feel great and they got me one. My hat is off to them. They stuck with it and believed we were going to win this game. Not every team can do that. This team believes in each other.''
Friday's game had six lead changes and would not be confused for a goaltending exhibition.
Both the Panthers and Flames seemed to score whenever needed as the lead changed hands six times.
When Florida gets into a track meet game, the results usually aren't positive.
"I had a rough night,'' said coach Gerard Gallant, whose team won in Vancouver the night before.
"It was a long night and a frustrating night but I thought we played well coming off a back-to-back. We put a lot of pucks at the net. I was satisfied.''
Friday, the Panthers kept coming and coming. Calgary's Jonas Hiller definitely fared worse than a jet-lagged Montoya did.
Montoya's wife gave birth to a son on Monday morning and he flew from South Florida to Vancouver on Wednesday. At times, it looked like it.
"I think they had one shot for eight minutes in the first period and they scored on it,'' said Brian Campbell, whose third period goal gave Florida a short-lived 5-4 lead.
"We outplayed them but made some mistakes and it cost us. Things just snowballed on us.''
The game was tied at 4 heading into the third and it appeared Campbell was going to give the Panthers a win when he scored a controversial goal.
Campbell's 50-foot shot may or may not have hit the high stick of teammate Sean Bergenheim before hitting Hiller and finding the back of the net.
The play went to review in Toronto but it was ruled inconclusive whether Bergenheim's outstretched stick made contact with the puck.
Campbell said he saw the puck fly and hit Hiller's blocker before popping behind him; Bergenheim didn't want to comment. Although with the game in the books, he really can't self-incriminate himself now.
"Well, yeah, I have no comment,'' Bergenheim said. "I don't want to even speculate on it. They see on the video what's true and what's not. I knew it was a long review but I didn't think it wouldn't count.''
Added Campbell: "That's the first bounce I've had on the offensive side this season. I'll take it.''
Regardless, Florida's lead once again didn't hold up for long as the Flames tied it with 3:54 remaining.
As they had all night, the Panthers kept coming and grabbed their final lead of the game less than a minute later when Dave Bolland fed Tomas Fleischmann in the slot.
Fleischmann shoveled the puck past Hiller and the Panthers were up 1 with 3:09 left.
"It was so good to see that,'' Campbell said. "Flash works so hard. He needed some puck luck there.''
The final few minutes matched the previous 58 for intensity as Calgary got a late power play chance and had six skaters attacking Montoya with an empty net.
Florida held tight -- Jussi Jokinen made a huge block on a T.J. Brodie shot -- and escaped with another road win.
"That was back-to-back for us and we really battled back,'' Jokinen said. "Even though Montoya gave up five goals, he made some really big saves especially at the end.''
The Panthers are 3-1-0 through the first four of this six-game road trip which continues Sunday in Edmonton and concludes Tuesday in Winnipeg.
"We did alright out west in California and need to keep this thing going,'' Campbell said. "It's a good challenge to see how many points you can get, how many wins you can take.''
-- The Panthers trailed 1-0 just 2:42 into the game but took a 2-1 advantage on first period goals by Jonathan Huberdeau (his third in two nights) and Brad Boyes. Calgary tied it going into the second on Brodie's first.
Florida got goals from Bergenheim and Jimmy Hayes in the third to tie the score going into the third.
-- Florida had nine players on the scoresheet with Huberdeau (goal, assist), Boyes (same), Fleischmann (ditto), Bergenheim (two assists) and Bolland (two helpers too) hitting the sheet twice apiece.
-- The Panthers and Calgary seem to enjoy high-scoring affairs with one another as the Flames topped the Panthers 6-4 in November.
In two games this season, the Flames and Panthers combined for 21 goals.
-- The Panthers are 3-0 this year when scoring six goals and have now beaten Anaheim, Toronto and Calgary when doing so.

 

PANTHERS FIND HOME FOR SHORE: Drew Shore dealt to Calgary as Corban Knight returns to the Panthers

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

CALGARY -- The Panthers finally found a home for center Drew Shore, trading him to Calgary in exchange for former Florida draftee Corban Knight.
Shore, 23, played in 67 games with the Panthers but has been stuck in the minors since last season. Shore can play one NHL game before being waiver eligible so instead of losing him for nothing, the Panthers re-acquired Knight.
"We tried to fit him into the mix here but we've been healthy and had a busy offseason signing [Dave] Bolland and [Derek] MacKenzie,'' GM Dale Tallon said.
"We're very deep the middle. It was frustrating on both ends that we couldn't get him more action. This is an opportunity for him. I have nothing but good things to say about the kid. He's very valuable, but we have a lot of depth.''
Knight, 24, will replace Shore on the AHL San Antonio roster. Knight, who basically became a free agent when he didn't sign with Florida in 2013, played nine NHL games with Calgary.
-- Dmitry Kulikov missed Friday's game at Calgary with the flu. Erik Gudbranson returned to the lineup after missing the first three games of the road trip.