February 13, 2015

NUMBERED DAYS: Sean Bergenheim scratched, upset at Gerard Gallant comments questioning his effort ... Has demanded trade from team

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

DALLAS -- Panthers coach Gerard Gallant stirred up a little controversy Friday when in explaining why Sean Bergenheim was scratched -- again -- he questioned the veteran winger's effort.
When asked if Bergenheim gave him 100 percent effort, Gallant stared straight ahead.
Then he answered: "If he gave me 100 percent, he would be playing. That's fair. But there's a few guys who didn't give 100 percent last night. You just have to make a decision."
Gallant has been steadfast in defending the veteran players (Bergenheim, Tomas Kopecky, Scottie Upshall) he's had to put on the bench lately.
He did so again on Friday, saying he had nothing against Bergenheim.
"I'm trying to win,'' Gallant said. "When I made my decision with my coaches, it was only who gives us the best chance to win.''
Bergenheim said Friday he requested a trade from the Panthers earlier this month when he was a healthy scratch in three straight games.
He said Gallant never came to him with questions about his effort -- and he disagreed with that assessment.
"All I've done is give everything I have every time I'm on the ice,'' Bergenheim said.
"I've played as hard as I can for the Panthers. So to read something like that is upsetting. [Gallant] didn't say anything; he told me I wasn't playing but didn't say why. I got comments from some assistant coaches who said they liked the way I played, said I 'was flying.' I tried. What can you do?
Bergenheim asking for a trade isn't much more than a formality as the Panthers have been shopping him around. A pending free agent on July 1, Bergenheim's days with the Panthers were already numbered -- only now his exit seems to have been accelerated.
"I wish none of this would have come out,'' Bergenheim said. "When I asked for a trade, I thought everything would be kept -- as it should -- within the team. This shouldn't have been done this way.
"I just want to play. And this could be good for the Panthers. Maybe they get something in return that helps them become a better team."
As Bergenheim notes, Florida has a number of pending free agents. Perhaps not coincidentally, they've also been healthy scratched in the past few weeks. Gallant said Friday that GM Dale Tallon has not made any demands of who is in or out of the lineup.

"I think from the Panthers side, well, they've known about the situation and it's not just about me,'' Bergenheim said.

"They have to make some decisions and I'm one of those. I want to play hockey, play somewhere where my style of play is valued and appreciated.''
When asked if he would be surprised to be traded, Bergenheim didn't flinch.
"No,'' he said. "I don't know the full timeline of it, but they have to make a decision. Whatever they decide, they decide.''

 

 

 

February 12, 2015

BJUGSTAD'S HOMETOWN GOAL NOT ENOUGH: Panthers continue losing ways in Minnesota with 2-1 loss to Wild

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
ST. PAUL, Minnesota -- The Xcel Energy Center is one of the nicest and cleanest buildings in the NHL yet for the Panthers and Roberto Luongo, it may as well be the county dump.
Aside from pulling off a couple trades here at the draft a few years back, Florida hasn't done much in this building and its losing ways continued with Thursday's 2-1 loss to the host Wild.
The Panthers have won just one of eight games played here since the Wild's expansion season in 2000 and are one of two teams to never get a regulation win in the building.
Minnesota has won seven of eight as Florida's four-game point streak came to an end. The Panthers went 0-2 against the Wild this season.
"It's fun to play in front of your friends and family so that's pretty cool,'' said Nick Bjugstad, a Minneapolis native who scored a goal in Minnesota for the first time since his days with the Gophers in the second period.
"It's fun playing in this building but it's better with a win. It's a tough building to play in; Minnesota fans are passionate. They're into it. It's a good atmosphere for them.''
As for Luongo, the Xcel Center has been such a tough place to play for him the Canucks decided to just stop playing him here despite their many visits to the 'State of Hockey.'
Thursday's start was Luongo's first since 2010 after Vancouver pulled him in three of his final four starts with the Canucks in the building.
"I don't think about that stuff, more gets made out of it by the media,'' Luongo said. "I don't particularly care about the past. It's a rink, same as any other. This was a close game. I would have liked to tie it up, but we weren't able to.''
Thursday, Luongo (21 saves) didn't get much help on Minnesota's first goal as Jason Pominville deflected a puck off his skate and Zach Parise got his by shoving Dmitry Kulikov out of the way in front of the net before banging a loose puck through.
The Panthers got back in the game when Bjugstad, the hometown boy, charged up the right side of the ice and threw a shot up at Devan Dubnyk (26 saves).
The puck caught the top of the cage and went past Dubnyk's shoulder to cut Florida's deficit in half.
"You have to just fire away,'' Bjugstad said. "They're a good team, play well defensively. We could have come out with a better effort.''
Florida had plenty of opportunities after Bjugstad's goal and didn't cash in on a four-minute power play (which was cut in half when Aleksander Barkov took a penalty of his own) as well as a late gift penalty when Kulikov fell on his own.
Despite having six skaters to Minnesota's four in the final moments, Florida couldn't connect and failed to pick up two points on the idle Bruins.
The Panthers remain four points back of Boston for the final playoff spot in the East.
"We could have applied a little more pressure in some areas,'' Brian Campbell said. "We did some good things, but good things don't get you points. We need points right now.''
PIRRI OUT
Neither Brandon Pirri nor Willie Mitchell flew with the team for this short road trip.
Pirri hurt his shoulder during his opening shift in Tuesday's win over Anaheim with coach Gerard Gallant saying he's out at least two weeks.
The timing of Pirri's injury couldn't have been worse as he's been on an offensive tear with six goals in the previous eight games. Before suffering a concussion on Oct. 30, Pirri had goals in three straight games.
"He's proven he can play and deserves his ice time,'' Gallant said. "He's been taking advantage of his opportunities.''
Mitchell has missed the past four games with an undisclosed injury but could be back next week.
-- Bjugstad was the most sought-after player at Thursday's morning skate as the Minneapolis native spent more than 20 minutes fulfilling various media requests.
Bjugstad's family and friends bought 160 tickets for Thursday's game. It was apparent he was happy to be back -- and proud of his currently frigid hometown.
"One of the guys said I should grab the mic on the bus,'' Bjugstad said.
"I was giving them a little tour, pointing out the new Vikings stadium, the [Gophers] stadium. I really get excited to come back and give the guys advice, where to go eat and stuff. I just love coming back here. It's a great place."
Friday: Panthers at Stars
When, where: 8:30 p.m.; American Airlines Center, Dallas
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560
Series: Florida leads 13-11-3
Noteworthy: This is the first meeting of the season between the two with the Panthers winning the past three -- including both games last year.

 

February 10, 2015

DUCKS ON A POND: Panthers top Anaheim by 6-2 score for second time this season ... Six players score in rout ... Gallant doesn't think Pirri's shoulder injury too serious

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
There were many who figured the Panthers' four-goal win earlier this season in Anaheim -- one of the top teams in the NHL -- was a tad on the fluky side.
Perhaps they just like playing the Ducks.
Tuesday, Florida brought more of the same against their 1993 expansion cousin, dropping Anaheim by a 6-2 score for the second time in the past few months.
The Panthers won by the same exact score in Anaheim on Nov. 16.
"That's a fun game to be a part of, everyone was scoring and making plays,'' Nick Bjugstad said.
"I don't think we expected that kind of game again. I guess we matchup pretty well against them. It worked out tonight.''
The Panthers jumped to a 3-0 lead early in the second and went into the third up three at 5-2. Florida's goal scorers on Tuesday: Dmitry Kulikov, Bjugstad, Aaron Ekblad, Aleksander Barkov, Dave Bolland and Jimmy Hayes.
Jonathan Huberdeau was named top star of the game with three assists.
"That's our team and we need that to be successful,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "I thought everyone played real well, real hard.''
The Panthers needed a win not only to pick up ground in the playoff race but because they are about to embark on a really tough stretch.
In the coming weeks, Florida plays seven games in 11 days -- six coming on the road.
As for the scoreboard watch, well, with three wins in the past four, Florida is within four points of Boston for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
"This is huge,'' Ekblad said. "Obviously we need as many points as we can to get back in the race. We're right there behind Boston but it hurt to give up one point against Nashville. Still, five of six against these teams [Kings, Predators and Ducks] is something you'll take most days.''
Florida opened the scoring on a long slapshot from Kulikov 5:31 in before Bjugstad made it 2-0 with his second goal in three games.
Ekblad scored early in the third before the Panthers gave the Ducks a golden opportunity. Both Steven Kampfer and Bjugstad were called for penalties at the same time, giving the Ducks a 5-on-3 advantage for an entire two minute stint.
As expected, Anaheim cashed in as Kyle Palmieri scored.
The Panthers didn't let that goal deter them, however, as Barkov and Bolland scored within a span of 22 seconds to make it 5-1.
Anaheim pulled goalie Ilya Bryzgalov when it was 3-0 and the veteran couldn't bear to watch as he sat on the bench refusing to pull off his mask.
There sure wasn't much to see -- at least from the Ducks' perspective. Anaheim, which has the secon-most points in the league behind Nashville, has lost three straight.
"This was a big night for us, big two points,'' Hayes said. "It's nice to play with the lead. We had a lot of confidence in our team.''
PIRRI HURT
Winger Brandon Pirri injured his shoulder after being hurt 17 seconds into the game when he and Ryan Getzlaf collided at center ice on the opening shift.
Gallant said he didn't think it was anything too serious.
-- Shawn Thornton was back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch the past three. He promptly got into a fight with Anaheim's Tim Jackman on just his second shift.
Sean Bergenheim, who also missed the previous three games, was back as well. Scottie Upshall and Tomas Kopecky sat out.
-- Tomas Fleischmann recorded his 300th NHL point with the primary assist on Bolland's goal.

 

 

February 08, 2015

SMOKY MOUNTAIN SNUFFED: Nashville scores twice in third, top Panthers 3-2 in shootout

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Holding a two-goal lead in Sunday's third period, the Panthers appeared poised to take two big points in the standings with a third straight win.
Nashville, however, scored a pair power play goals in the final period to force overtime then took the second point as well in a 3-2 shootout victory at BB&T Center.
"We needed two and that's the part that hurts,'' defenseman Erik Gudbranson said.
"I can't sit here and say we played well and are happy with one point. We need two. This time of the year you have to find a way to win those.''
The Panthers took a 2-0 lead into the third after scoring twice in the second period.
Tomas Fleischmann got Florida on the board with a great play as he intercepted a loose puck in the Nashville zone and zipped a shot past backup Carter Hutton midway through the second.
"We let that second point slip away,'' Fleischmann said. "And that's not good.''
Six minutes later, 19-year-old Aaron Ekblad scored Florida's second goal by pouncing on a loose puck left by Jimmy Hayes' attempted wraparound.
With the Predators looking like a team which played the day before -- in Tennessee, no less -- it appeared Florida was in complete control.
Only Nashville took advantage of its two power play chances in the third and scored twice on just four shots on goal in the entire period.
Florida general manager Dale Tallon was incensed at the officiating crew afterward as he felt his team didn't get the calls the visitors did.
Most egregious, perhaps, was Gudbranson taking the butt-end of Mike Fisher's stick into his lower regions at the end of the third. Yet there was no spearing call -- or any type of call against the Preds.
"The officials were good, there were no issues there at all,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "We didn't play well enough in the [third]. I thought we were real good in the first two. We weren't bad in the third, but we gave them two scoring chances and they scored on both of them. They were Grade-A chances.''
In the shootout, the Predators scored on their first two shots but Roberto Luongo stopped the third to force an extra round.
There, Dave Bolland -- one who kept Florida's 20-round shootout against Washington -- was stopped and Filip Forsberg scored to finish it.
"It's disappointing for myself because I wasn't very good in the third or in the shootout,'' said Luongo, who stopped 23 of 25 shots but just one of four in the shootout.
"The boys deserve two points and I couldn't give it to them.''
-- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman attended Sunday's game and watched from the owner's box.
-- Sunday was a showdown of top rookies Forsberg and Ekblad. Forsberg took first star of the game honors after scoring the game-tying goal with 4:43left before getting the shootout-winner.
Ekblad was second star of the game after scoring his eighth goal of the season.

 

WEDDING CATS: Florida Panthers season ticket holders exchange vows before Predators game

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
As is the case every weekend, there were plenty of weddings around South Florida on Sunday.
Only one, however, took place near a sheet of ice.
Around 2:20 p.m., in Section 116 of the BB&T Center just two rows from ice level, David Ortiz and Judy Chance tied the knot in front of family in friends. Minutes later, their beloved Florida Panthers took the ice for warmups, the confetti Chance snuck in still all covering the surrounding seats and flooring.
"This is my favorite place and all the people that I love and hold dear are right here,'' said Chance, a Panthers' season ticket holder since the team's days at Miami Arena.
"This is the perfect setting for me. I couldn't ask for a better place to be married. ''
Minutes after marrying his girlfriend of 14 years, Ortiz bounded up the stairs to celebrate with a drink.
Of Tim Hortons' coffee, that is.
"I just got married,'' Ortiz told those around him. "I mean, I just got married!"
Jimmy Phillips, a season ticket holder who sits behind Chance and Ortiz, officiated the brief ceremony.
According to Chance, friends and family were all asked to adhere to the strict dress code.
"Panthers jerseys are a must,'' Chance said. "That's all we asked for."
Said Ortiz: "When she thought this up, I was 100 percent behind it. Actually, 110 percent. I'm from New York and supported the Rangers and Islanders. She converted me to the Panthers. I haven't worn another jersey but this one in 14 years.''

 

 

February 05, 2015

THE PIRRI IS RIGHT: Winger gets game-winner as Panthers top Kings 3-2 ... Pirri has six goals in seven games ... Bjugstad, Barkov also score for Cats ... Mitchell out, Kampfer recalled

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Brandon Pirri has scored some pretty goals in the past few weeks but none were as big as the one he got Thursday.
With just over three minutes left, Pirri corralled a puck left for him by Tomas Fleischmann, got in front of the Kings' defender and beat Stanley Cup hero Jonathan Quick to lift the Panthers to a 3-2 win over Los Angeles.
Florida has won two straight now as Pirri has goals in six of the past seven games.
The Kings, the NHL's defending champs, are foundering as they sit outside the playoffs with losses in seven of eight.
"Things are going good right now,'' said Pirri, who earned the teammate-awarded hero jacket from West Point.
"You just try not to overthink it. Just shoot pucks because when they're going in, they're going in. You just try to ride this as long as possible.''
The Panthers opened the scoring on an Alexsander Barkov one-timer midway through the first but found themselves down a goal in the third.
Florida tied the score when Los Angeles' Jake Muzzin handed the puck to Nick Bjugstad deep in the Kings' zone. Bjugstad, Florida's leading goal scorer, knew what to do with it as he walked in on Quick and scored to tie it up.
"It was right there on a platter,'' said Bjugstad, who added he was "licking his lips" when he picked off the puck.
Florida kept coming at Quick and the Kings but didn't get its go-ahead marker until Fleischmann -- a scratch of late who was made an alternate captain with captain Willie Mitchell out -- led the charge up ice.
Pirri scored with 3:05 left and goalie Roberto Luongo (29 saves) did the rest.
"We didn't get a whole lot of offense in the second period but we found a way in the third period,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "[Pirri] got a good goal, he's hot right now. He's taking advantage of his opportunities.''
Luongo hadn't beaten the Kings in his previous eight tries.
"There's no quit and that's huge for a young team like this,'' Luongo said. "No matter the score, we find a way to come back in it.''
CALLED UP
The Panthers brought up defenseman Steven Kampfer from the minors Wednesday after Mitchell was hurt Tuesday against the Islanders.
Kampfer, acquired in a trade with the Rangers before the season started, was playing in his first NHL game in almost three full years. Kampfer, who leads all San Antonio defensemen in scoring, hadn't played in the NHL since March 2012.
"It was like my first game all over again,'' Kampfer said during first intermission.
Gallant said Mitchell could miss the next two games with an undisclosed injury.
-- Defenseman Erik Gudbranson missed a large chunk of the opening period after he got something in his eye between warmups and the national anthem.
-- With the Panthers winning Tuesday, Gallant kept his lineup intact aside from switching out goalies meaning Shawn Thornton and Sean Bergenheim missed their second straight games.

 

PHILADELPHIA PANTHER: Peter Luukko, former Flyers' president, to be named executive chairman of Florida Panthers on Friday

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers will announce the hiring of former Philadelphia Flyers executive Peter Luukko on Friday, the Miami Herald has learned.
A high-ranking source within the Florida organization said Luukko -- who left his position as Flyers' team president and COO of the organization's Comcast-Spectacor operating arm in 2013 -- came highly-recommended from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.
The Panthers' new ownership group, which took over the team in September 2013, went to Bettman looking for an executive with extensive hockey and building operating experience to help out the franchise six months ago.
Bettman and Luukko are said to be extremely tight.
Rory Babich, who replaced team president Michael Yormark last year, will remain CEO of the organization and will work alongside Luukko.
Luukko will hold the title of executive chairman with the Panthers.
"Rory needs some help,'' the source said. "He's done a lot in a short time but there's a lot more to be done.''
Luukko, when reached by the Philadelphia Daily News, would not comment, citing a confidentiality agreement. He's expected to talk extensively on Friday's conference call.
On Thursday, the Florida source said general manager Dale Tallon and Luukko have known each other for years and are expected to work well together.
Luukko, 55, was considered the right-hand man of Philadelphia owner Ed Snider for 25 years before leaving the organization. Luukko has been working in the business sector the past few years.
"He's looking for a challenge,'' the source said of Luukko. "The Panthers are a challenge.''
Snider, who employed Luukko from 1985 until his abrupt resignation in 2013, told Philly.com at the time that Luukko was leaving quite a void.
"We’ll survive,'' Snider said, "but he’s done a hell of a job and he will be hard to replace.”
With the Panthers, Luukko is expected to consult on hockey issues with Tallon and the hockey operations side of the organization as well as restructure the team's sales staff and help gain more sponsorship dollars as well as season ticket holders.
Luukko's will also help grow business at the BB&T Center as far as concerts and shows go and will be part of the Panthers' ongoing negotiations with Broward County regarding payment restructuring.
"We needed someone with a lot of experience,'' the source continued. "Peter knows everyone in this industry. Everyone."



 

 

February 04, 2015

GOALIE CONTROVERSY?: Montoya's start against Islanders should have him in conversation for Thursday's date with the Kings

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
NEW YORK -- Moments after Al Montoya helped the Panthers get a much-needed win over the host Islanders, coach Gerard Gallant was asked if he had a goalie controversy on his hands.
"Yes,'' Gallant said with a big grin, "and that's good.''
Although no one expects Montoya to usurp Roberto Luongo as Florida's netminder, his past two performances at least put him in the thoughts of the Panthers to perhaps get a second straight start Thursday against Los Angeles.
Since signing on as Luongo's backup in July, Montoya has gotten just one set of consecutive starts with the Panthers and that was because Luongo was hurting.
Tuesday's start was Montoya's first in almost a month.
Afterward, Gallant said he and goalie coach Robb Tallas would discuss who would start against the Kings on the flight home from New York.
"I know what I'm capable of doing because I've done it before,'' Montoya said. "I had some good practices with the goalie coach and really wanted to play. I wanted to give the guys a chance and I felt good.''
Being a backup goalie is a tough position and Montoya's teammates have noticed his hard work and lack of reward as far as playing time goes.
Against the Islanders, Montoya gave up a goal on New York's second shot of the night but settled in and ended up with 32 saves.
"He's been everything we could have asked for,'' Gallant said. "He has worked hard and competed. That's good for the team's confidence and his as well. He's a big part of our group.''
The win was just Florida's second in the past nine games and was its first road win since the Panthers won in Edmonton on Jan. 11.
"We haven't been playing well and to come into a place like this, well, the odds were stacked against us,'' Derek MacKenzie said.
"For Montoya to come up with the effort he did is huge. You see how hard he works every day so this is great for all of us. I'm glad we have him a 60-minute game. He deserved it.''
Added Erik Gudbranson: "He was exceptional for us, not only in net but his rebound control and playing the puck. He set things up for us so give him some credit.''
NO TEARS SHED
Count Gallant as one who doesn't seem too broken up that the Islanders are moving to Brooklyn next season.
Gallant, who said he was an Islanders fan before joining the Red Wings, admits the Nassau Coliseum has some special meaning to him but it's time to move on.
On Jan. 22, 1985, Gallant made his NHL debut at the Coliseum with the Red Wings and scored on Hall of Famer Billy Smith 1:55 into the second period to help Detroit snap a 12-game winless streak.
"I got into my first NHL game as player and was a big Islanders fan so it meant something back then,'' Gallant said.
"There was a lot of tradition here and they won Stanley Cups here. But for visiting coaches and players, I don't think it's a big deal.''
Bill Torrey, the architect of New York's Stanley Cup dynasty from 1980-83, has been with the Panthers since their inception in 1992 and says he'll miss his old home.
Since his granddaughters play youth hockey in the building, however, Torrey says he'll be back at Nassau soon enough. Torrey also plans to attend the Islanders' regular season finale here on April 11.
"This is a great hockey building but it doesn't measure up to all the new stuff that has been built,'' Torrey said. "For anyone who likes to watch hockey, it's a great building. People know hockey here, it's exciting.''
-- Nick Bjugstad had his seventh multi-point game of the season Tuesday as he had the primary assists on both of Jimmy Hayes' goals.
"Good play by him for going to the net,'' Bjugstad said. "We need to keep getting pucks at the net, bodies in front and create some commotion.''
-- Brandon Pirri continues to sizzle on the scoresheet as his empty net goal Tuesday was his fifth goal in six games and assured a victory.
"We worked our tails off in this one,'' Pirri said.
Thursday: Kings at Panthers
When/Where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560-AM
Series: Los Angeles leads 15-9-3
Noteworthy: The defending Cup champs are 1-0 against the Panthers but have struggled this season. The Kings came into Wednesday five points back of a playoff spot and have lost six of their past seven.

 

February 03, 2015

POTVIN SPEAKS: Hall of Fame defenseman says Nassau County politicians to blame for Islanders leaving for Brooklyn

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Florida television analyst Denis Potvin is one of six Islanders whose number hangs from the Coliseum rafters.
On Tuesday, the Isles' former captain had pointed words for local politicians who he says allowed his team to leave its long-time community.
"This could be my last time in this building and I think it's a totally unfair situation,'' said Potvin, who led the Islanders to four Stanley Cup championships from 1980-83.
"Nassau County has to be blamed 100 percent for this. So many ownerships here have tried to get something done going back to Bill Torrey. We needed a helping hand to make this a modern building. It never happened. It's tough to see this go.''

Potvin said he doesn't plan on returning for the Islanders' grandiose celebration in their final regular season game on April 11. The Panthers play host to New Jersey that day and Potvin says he'll be on that broadcast.
Of course Potvin could come back for a playoff game or two.
"This is where I really feel it,'' he said. "My friends and family here on Long Island are going to lose an NHL franchise. You don't get those back. I'm more emotional today because the reality is here. I won't be back.''

We also spoke to Torrey and I will get to that on Wednesday. Torrey said he's also sad to see the team leave but understands this building isn't up to NHL standards anymore. He'll be back here likely for the end of season ceremony -- but he'll also return to the Coliseum to watch his three granddaughters play hockey here.

 

 

 

 

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.