November 23, 2014

TENNESSEE QUICK STEP: Panthers score twice in final minute, force OT in 3-2 shootout loss to Preds ... Grimaldi gets first NHL goal, sent back to minors ... Bjugstad remains red-hot heading into game v Wild

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers don't like losing but Saturday's shootout loss to the host Nashville Predators felt as close to a victory as it possibly could.

Down 2-0 in the final minute, Florida scored two goals within a 12 second span to force overtime and gain at least a point in the standings.

The Panthers had a chance to win it in the shootout but only rookie Filip Forsberg scored in the four-round session and the Predators escaped with a 3-2 win.

"Nice way to end a road trip,'' coach Gerard Gallant told reporters afterward. "We played against a really good hockey team. .-.-. The guys never quit. We're not happy with the performance, but to get a big point out of it here at the end of a trip is real good for us.''

The shootout loss gave the Panthers five of the available eight points on their four-game trip with wins at Anaheim and San Jose as well as a regulation loss at Los Angeles on Tuesday.

Florida kicks off its Thanksgiving three-game homestand Monday against the Minnesota Wild at 7-5-6 in its first 18 games.

The Panthers came into Sunday four points back of Toronto for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Rocco Grimaldi got the Panthers going by scoring his first NHL goal in his seventh game with 43 seconds remaining.

Grimaldi, who passed up a prime scoring chance in the second, didn't do any second guessing on this one as he teed off on a Brian Campbell rebound with a hard slapshot from the left circle.

"Well, obviously, it's good. It's a relief,'' said Grimaldi, who was sent back to the minors on Sunday.

"Obviously I wanted to win. We almost had it. We had a good comeback, just came up short.''

On Florida's next trip up the ice, the Panthers carried the puck deep in the Nashville zone with Nick Bjugstad throwing up a shot shot from the right circle.

Somehow, some way, the puck got past Pekka Rinne with 31 seconds left in regulation.

"We didn't play like we wanted to,'' said Bjugstad, who has seven goals in his past eight games going into Monday's game against his hometown Wild.

"We figured it out at the end and waited a while to score but [Roberto Luongo] kept us in it which was nice. [Grimaldi] had a big goal. I just kind of threw it on net. Didn't even know it went in.''

Tied 2-2, goalie Roberto Luongo returned to his post as both of Florida's goals came with Luongo on the bench and the Panthers going with the extra attacker.

According to Elias Sports, Saturday marked just the fourth time since 2006 that a team avoided a regulation loss while trailing by two in the final minute of a game.

Luongo was strong throughout Saturday's game with both of Nashville's regulation goals coming thanks to a bit of luck.

Nashville's initial goal, which came on its 31st shot of the game, bounced off a Florida defenseman as Colin Wilson tossed it from the back boards and hit Luongo in the mask before going in.

"You could try that 100 times and it wouldn't happen again,'' Luongo said.

The Predators made it 2-0 with 5:59 left when Matt Cullen's shot appeared to clip Dmitry Kulikov and get past Luongo.

Luongo ended with 48 saves in regulation and overtime and stopped three of four in the shootout.

"It's the kind of game I enjoy,'' Luongo told Fox Sports Florida after the game.

"They were throwing pucks from everywhere so I was able to get in the game early and get a good feeling going. Unfortunately both of their goals weren't even really shots on net, they both deflected off our guys. But we battled in the last minute and tied it up. That was good.''

Said Gallant: [Luongo] was the star of the game. He kept us in it.''

-- Florida's eight overtime games -- two wins -- are second-highest in the league just behind Anaheim with nine.

The Panthers are now 1-3 in shootouts with goals on four of 12 shots. Florida was 0-for-4 against Rinne on Saturday with Jonathan Huberdeau, Jussi Jokinen, Bjugstad and Brad Boyes all failing to score.

-- The Panthers sent Grimaldi back to San Antonio on Sunday as it appears a number of players are ready to come off the injured list.

Scottie Upshall (lower body), Sean Bergenheim (lower body), Dave Bolland (groin) and Brandon Pirri (concussion) all skated before Saturday's game.

-- The Panthers are adding four more Spanish-language broadcasts to their schedule and will do a total of seven games this season including Wednesday's game against the visiting Hurricanes.


Monday: Wild at Panthers

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

TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560

The series: Minnesota leads 10-4-1

Of note: The Wild had its four-game winning streak snapped in a 2-1 loss at Tampa on Saturday. Minnesota winger Thomas Vanek seems to like playing the Panthers, scoring 21 goals with 11 assists in 33 games against Florida.

November 21, 2014

MINNESOTA HEAT: Nick Bjugstad continues hot streak, leads Panthers to 3-2 shootout win in San Jose ... Panthers continue success over Sharks, now 2-5 in OT

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Nick Bjugstad has yet to score an NHL hat trick but he's sure come close this week.

In Sunday's win over Anaheim, Bjugstad had already scored twice when he banged what would have been his third goal off the goal post.

On Thursday, Bjugstad scored both of the Panthers' goals in regulation, then potted the game-winning shootout goal in Florida's 3-2 win over San Jose.

Bjugstad's shootout goal, however, doesn't count as an actual goal.

Four goals in two wins, however, is good enough for Bjugstad.

"Things are clicking a little bit with our line especially,'' Bjugstad said from his hotel in Nashville where the Panthers play the Predators on Saturday night.

"You can't really describe how it sometimes goes in. When it doesn't, you get frustrated but that's the way it works. Eventually if you're getting your chances and your shots, it'll find the back of the net.''

Bjugstad got the Panthers' first goal early on as he deflected a long shot from Dmitry Kulikov just 24 seconds into the game.

Florida held its 1-0 lead until the second when Logan Couture scored but Bjugstad gave the Panthers the lead back 11 minutes later when he scored on a power play.

Bjugstad now has a pair of two-goal games in Florida's past three games. Last year, he had one and it came in the 81st game of the season.

In nine games this month, Bjugstad has six goals, three assists and a shoootout-game winner.

In eight games during October, Bjugstad -- who led the Panthers in scoring last year -- had just one assist.

"I've been focused on getting the chances,'' said Bjugstad, who had four goals, three assists and a game-winning shootout goal in Florida's California road trip which ended Thursday.

"You need some puck luck and if you put your stick in the right place sometimes you get them through. I was fortunate on the first one and was pumped up about it.''

Although the Sharks tied the score with just 34 seconds left after Patrick Marleau scored, the Panthers went into overtime on a power play and had a few good scoring chances.

In the shootout, Bjugstad won it in the third round. Jussi Jokinen also scored for Florida.

"It's a great win against a good San Jose team after battling all night,'' coach Gerard Gallant said.

"We hung around although they tied it up late, we got a good shootout win at the end. This is very satisfying.''


The Panthers have had great success over the past few years against San Jose.

Thursday's win was Florida's seventh in the past eight games against the Sharks. The Panthers have won five straight in San Jose and haven't lost there since 2005.-- Florida improved to 2-5 in overtime this season with Thursday's win. The shootout victory was Florida's first in three tries.

In the shootout, Gallant switched up Florida's lineup. Although the first two shooters were the same as in the Panthers' first two shootouts, Bjugstad took over the third spot usually held by Brad Boyes -- who is tied among active players with 37 shootout goals.

Gallant said goalie coach Robb Tallas suggested Bjugstad get into the shootout lineup and since he had two goals, Gallant went with it.

"He was hot so we went with him,'' Gallant said. "Bjugstad was putting the puck in the net, hit a few posts as well. I thought he played a great game. It's good for our confidence to get a shootout win.''

-- Goalie Roberto Luongo was given the postgame West Point cadet jacket after making 28 saves and helping the Panthers get the win.

Although the Sharks scored late to tie the score, San Jose had other opportunities including a penalty shot from Marleau that Luongo stopped with 6:53 left in the third.

Luongo also stopped two of three shots in the shootout.

"He deserved it, that penalty shot saved the game for us,'' Bjugstad said.

-- The Panthers tweaked their lineup on Thursday with Aleksander Barkov moving back onto the top line (with Tomas Fleischmann and Rocco Grimaldi) after missing Tuesday's game with an illness.

Kulikov (knee) also returned after missing four games.

-- Because a conflict with the Miami Hurricanes football game at Virginia, Saturday's radio broadcast has been moved from 560-AM to 1470-AM.

Saturday: Panthers at Predators

When, where: 8 p.m.; Bridgestone Arena, Nashville

TV/Radio: FSFL; WWNN 1470

The series: Nashville leads 9-8-3

Of note: Florida has won just two of 10 games in Nashville -- with those wins coming in its first two trips to the Music City in 1998 and '99. This year, the Preds have won six of eight at home and came into Friday atop the Central Division.


November 19, 2014

TWO ON, ONE OFF COST PANTHERS: Kings score four in second, top Florida 5-2 in Los Angeles ... Rocco Grimaldi does double duty for Rampage, Panthers ... Willie Mitchell gets his ring

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers played two pretty good periods in Los Angeles on Tuesday night but one ugly one did them in.

The host Kings cashed in on two power plays and scored four times in the second to top Florida 5-2.

Florida had scored 17 goals in its previous four games but didn't get on the board Tuesday until Jimmy Hayes jumped on a rebound from a Jonathan Huberdeau shot and put the puck past Jonathan Quick two minutes into the third period.

Hayes' goal made it a 4-1 game.

"We really played well in the first period and obviously the second period was the difference in this game,'' coach Gerard Gallant told reporters afterward.

"We came out, we were flat and they were really coming at us. We just didn’t respond until we got upset in the third period and we started to play a better game.''

After a scoreless first, the Kings took a 1-0 lead on a Matt Greene goal 4:32 into the second.

Florida's Vinny Trocheck then took a four-minute penalty for high sticking and the Kings quickly added their second goal.

Los Angeles scored four in the second -- including one from Robyn Regehr with eight seconds left -- to pretty much end things for the Panthers.

Florida battled back in the third thanks to goals from Hayes and Jussi Jokinen in the first seven minutes of the third, but the Panthers couldn't get anything else past Jonathan Quick (30 saves).

The Kings iced the game on Dustin Brown's power play goal past Al Montoya -- who replaced Roberto Luongo to start the third -- with 3:11 left.

"They got three power play goals and that makes it tough,'' Gallant said. "They’re a good team, we played 40 minutes as good as you can play against them, but in that second period we got totally dominated.''


Rookie Rocco Grimaldi was asked to play in a rare double-header Tuesday. Grimaldi started the day playing in San Antonio's matinee against Oklahoma City.

Grimaldi was pulled in the second period and told to get going, the Panthers needed him in Los Angeles.

"All the years of playing roller hockey and being on two teams and playing two tournaments a day really helped,'' Grimaldi told reporters afterward.

With Aleksander Barkov sick and Florida's other recovering forwards not yet ready, Grimaldi was one of the Panthers' few options.

"This is one of the ones on the calendar that I really wanted to play and I obviously didn’t expect it coming into this morning,'' said Grimaldi, who grew up just south of Los Angeles in Orange County.

"I was just getting ready for OKC and then I get pulled off after the second period and told I was coming home. So I’m excited and glad to see family and friends coming out.''

After Tuesday's game -- Grimaldi played 16 shifts for 10:36 against the Kings -- he told reporters that after he was pulled from the Rampage's game, he raced home to pack a bag.

Although his flight was slightly delayed to Los Angeles and there was traffic from LAX to Staples Center, he made it in plenty of time.

"It was different, I had to rush out of the rink,'' said Grimaldi, who arrived at the arena about 90 minutes before the start of the game.

"The flight was delayed about half and hour and I wasn't sure I was going to make it here. Then I got stuck in L.A. traffic, which I'm pretty used to.''

-- Defenseman Willie Mitchell received his 2014 Stanley Cup championship ring before Tuesday's game.

Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter and captain Dustin Brown presented Mitchell with his ring and he was honored with a short video montage during the first period.

Mitchell told Fox Sports Florida during the first intermission he was happy just to get everything over with.

"It's better now that it's out of the way,'' Mitchell said. "As much as you prepare and get the nerves out, you're seeing old friends. Getting the ring was like unfinished business. It was a real cool moment. You try to enjoy it but also prepare the best you can for the game to help your teammates.''

-- Hayes continues to put up points for the Panthers as his goal Tuesday was his fourth in the past five games. In the past four contests, Hayes has four goals and two assists.

"He scores a lot of goals in the blue paint,'' Gallant said. "You have to pay a price to get there.''

Thursday: Panthers at Sharks

When, Where: 10:30 p.m.; SAP Center, San Jose, California

TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM 560

The series: Tied 10-10-7

Of note: This is the second meeting between the two is just over a week. Florida topped the visiting Sharks 4-1 last Tuesday with the Panthers getting goals from Jimmy Hayes, Aleksander Barkov, Derek MacKenzie and Tomas Fleischmann.



November 17, 2014

SCORING BINGE: Florida Panthers keep up high-scoring ways in 6-2 rout of Ducks ... Cats getting plenty of contributions ... Mitchell to get ring in LA ... Montoya plays well in spot start

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers put on quite an offensive show Sunday night, scoring as many goals in the second period as they have in a single game all season.

Add in goals in the first and third periods and the Panthers' 6-2 win over the host Ducks in Anaheim was Florida's biggest offensive night of the year.

For a team that scored two goals or fewer in 10 of its first 11 games, Florida's latest goal binge is a welcomed sight.

In the past four games, the Panthers have scored 17 times and have gone 2-1-1 in the process.

Florida's California road trip continues Tuesday against the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings in Los Angeles.

The Panthers wrap up their Golden State tour Thursday in San Jose.

"It's good to see,'' coach Gerard Gallant said before Monday's workout at the Toyota Sports Center.

"We talked about putting pucks to the net all year and now we're doing it. We had some puck luck [Sunday] as well, had some pucks bounce off their people and we needed some of that finally.''

The Panthers got contributions from throughout their lineup with 10 players appearing on the scoresheet.

The biggest game came from Nick Bjugstad who earned the West Point cadet jacket (which goes to the team's 'hero' of the night) after scoring two goals and registering a career-high four points.

"It was a good game, a good all-around game for everyone,'' said Bjugstad, who came into Sunday with three points in his first 14 games but now has four goals in five games.

"We played good defensively and the offensive stuff came from that. It was a good win and a fun game.''

Other big contributors in the win included Brad Boyes, who had two goals and an assist for the first time since the 2013-14 home opener against Pittsburgh.

Jonathan Huberdeau scored his first goal since the opener as five of Florida's six goals came from the Huberdeau-Bjugstad-Boyes line.

"We've played really well against good teams and this is one of the best teams in the league,'' said Boyes, who hadn't scored in eight games before Sunday.

"We're doing some things as a team, playing smart with the puck. We did a lot of things well. We're putting pucks to the net, had some lucky bounces. For us, we need to learn to do that and the coaches have been on us to do just that.''

Rookie defenseman Aaron Ekblad kept his scoring run going as he assisted on Huberdeau's goal and is now now second on the team with 10 points -- six coming in the past four games.

"I think he's getting more confident every game,'' Gallant said. "We look at from the first game on, he hasn't had a rough spot. He's played real well for us but every game he seems to get better. He's not cocky but he does have confidence. He's doing everything we expect him to. We're real happy with him.''


Panthers captain Willie Mitchell will receive his 2014 Stanley Cup championship ring prior to Tuesday night's game.

Kings' general manager Dean Lombardi, who signed Mitchell to a four-year deal in 2010, will present Mitchell with his hardware in a private ceremony at the arena.

"It's always nice to be able to win the Cup and then return to the place you did it,'' Gallant said. "It's going to be a great night for him I'm sure.''

-- Roberto Luongo will be back in net Tuesday after being given Sunday off. Al Montoya made 33 saves as he recorded his first win with the Panthers in his third start.

Montoya lost to the host Capitals in a shootout on Oct. 18 and lost at home to the Flames on Nov. 8.

"He was really solid [Sunday] and it was a good bounce-back game for him,'' Gallant said. "He wasn't happy with his last game against Calgary. He made some key saves at key points of the game.''

-- Florida's four injured players -- Dmitry Kulikov, Dave Bolland, Sean Bergenheim and Brandon Pirri -- are close to returning but Florida's recent success has Gallant hesitant to make any changes.

Bergenheim, Gallant said, is the closest to being ready to return and could play Tuesday.

Vinny Trocheck is likely to head back to the minors when Florida does make some roster moves even though he has a goal and four assists in the past four games.

"He's been awesome, has played really well for us,'' Gallant said. "He came up and fit in real well and is getting some points. He's doing everything we've asked.''

Tuesday: Panthers at Kings

When, Where: 10:30 p.m.; Staples Center, Los Angeles

TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM 560

The series: Los Angeles leads 14-9-3

Of note: The Kings, which are coming off Saturday's 3-2 overtime win over Anaheim, won both meetings against the Panthers last year by a combined 7-0. The Panthers haven't won in Los Angeles since Nov. 27, 2002.

November 15, 2014

THE RING IS THE THING: Willie Mitchell excited for west coast trip, chance to pick up his ring

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Willie Mitchell said he hadn't thought much about going back to the west coast until this past week.
The San Jose Sharks came to Sunrise and seeing some 'old friends' in those familiar teal jerseys definitely brought back some memories for the Panthers' captain.
"I've been so focused with things here,'' said Mitchell, who will play his first game in California since leaving the Stanley Cup champion Kings as a free agent on Sunday.
"You go through such a wonderful journey with basically the same nucleus of guys. It was the ultimate of ultimates and we did it twice. You share a special bond with those guys. It doesn't go away no matter where you play. I'm looking forward to it, but am a little bit nervous.''
Mitchell is, without a doubt, a west coast guy.
Born and raised in British Columbia, Mitchell has spent almost the entirity of his career out west.
Save for a brief run with the Devils, Mitchell has spent the past 12 seasons playing in the Western Conference be it with Minnesota, Dallas, Vancouver and the Kings.
Mitchell was part of two Stanley Cup championships in Los Angeles.
When the season started, Mitchell said he would be fine with the Kings packing up his 2014 championship ring and sending it south.
The Kings didn't like that idea.
"They are classy about things like this,'' Mitchell said.
Although the Panthers open this three-game California trip in Anaheim -- a place Mitchell isn't very well liked thanks to his run with the Kings -- Mitchell and the Panthers will make it to Los Angeles soon enough.
The Kings could present Mitchell with his ring on the ice before Tuesday night's game at Staples Center although it doesn't sound like Mitchell wants that.
Team president Dean Lombardi, who signed Mitchell back in 2010 and had to tell him the Kings had no room for him anymore last summer, is expected to do the honors.
"Everyone else has their ring and they could have sent it to me but Dean wants to give it to me,'' said Mitchell, who last saw the Ducks in last summer's west semifinals.
"I thought that was classy. I'm sure we'll meet up underneath [the arena] behind closed doors. We'll have a little chit-chat, share some laughs and reminisce a little bit. When you get your ring, it's time for reflection and closure of a great trip''
This is a big road trip for the Panthers, a team that has played 14 games -- fewest in the league.
Florida's schedule finally starts to look normal as the days of playing two games in a week are over.
This week, the Panthers will play three games in California from Sunday through Thursday and end the trip Saturday in Nashville.
If the Panthers want to start making their climb up the standings, now would be a good time to begin doing so.
"It's going to be a tough road trip for our guys,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "We have four tough games and we have to be ready. So far, we've been good and have competing. But we'll have to be good again.''
-- Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo wasn't happy with his performance in Friday's shootout loss to the Islanders.
Luongo gave up two goals on three shootout shots. Florida only got one from Jonathan Huberdeau.
"I have to find a way to make some saves in the shootout,'' Luongo said.
"It's not acceptable for me to let in two there. The most you want to give up is one. I've been working on it a lot and have felt good. I just need to be better.''
This was only the second shootout of the season for the Panthers. Backup Al Montoya played in the first, giving up goals to all three Washington shooters faced.
In six rounds of shootouts this season, Florida is being outscored 5-1.
"It's tough, a battle,'' Gallant said. "The three guys [New York] sent in all have great skill. Unfortunately for us, they got two and we got one.''

Sunday: Panthers at Ducks
When, Where:
8 p.m.; Honda Center, Anaheim
TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM 560
The series: Tied 11-11-3
Of note: The Panthers haven't won in Anaheim since David Booth recorded a hat trick in 2008. Florida has lost three of the past four meetings between the two.


November 14, 2014

BATTLING BACK: Panthers rally from two goals down before losing 4-3 in a shootout to Islanders ... Cats on the mend as Pirri, Kulikov skate ... Players on injury list headed west

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

As good as the Islanders goaltending has been lately, the Panthers looked dead on the ice once they fell behind two goals on Friday night.

Yet Florida scored twice in the final 10 minutes of the third period to force overtime and gain a point in the standings before losing 4-3 in a shootout at BB&T Center.

"It's never easy to climb back down two,'' said Brian Campbell, whose goal just before the midway point of the third gave Florida new life.

"It's good to get a point but we had a chance to get two. We knew what was at stake, knew we had to battle point-wise. You obviously always want more. Giving up the early goal in the third was tough but we showed some desperation and it was good to see us fight back.''

The red-hot Islanders have won five straight heading into Saturday's game across the state at Tampa Bay. Florida has lost four of the past five as it embarks on a four-game road trip with three stops in California before wrapping up in Nashville.

Friday, the Panthers got to Islanders' goalie Jaroslav Halak early.

Until Jimmy Hayes scored to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead in the opening period, the Islanders were about six minutes away from setting the franchise record for consecutive shutout minutes.

Hayes' third goal in as many games ended New York's shutout run at 193 minutes 48 seconds -- just shy of the franchise record of 199:13 set in 1998.

Hayes did what he did best on his goal as he crashed the net and hammered a pass from Vinny Trocheck past Halak 12:37 into the game.

"Trocheck and [Jussi] Jokinen are really making a lot of plays out there,'' Hayes said. "I'm going to the net and they're getting me the puck. They're easy to play with.''

The Islanders scored the next three goals, however, and it looked like they would wrap things up in regulation.

Midway though the period, the Panthers picked up a power play chance and Campbell cashed in with a 30-foot shot that eluded Halak.

Florida had a few more chances but it was Aaron Ekblad's 50-foot shot that tied the score to force overtime.

Ekblad, who now has two goals in his 14 game NHL career, wristed a shot that Halak stopped with his glove but couldn't control. The puck trickled behind him and into the cage.

"The kid has confidence, is playing well and has some real offensive instincts,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "Obviously he put a puck up in an area he knew there would be traffic. He made a great shot.''

In overtime, it looked like the Panthers were going to end things after Ryan Strome went to the penalty box with 1:03 left.

Florida couldn't take advantage of its 4-on-3 chance although it held the puck in the Islanders zone until the final seconds.

In the shootout, the Islanders scored twice with Florida only getting one from Jonathan Huberdeau.

The Panthers are now just 1-5 in overtime this season and 0-2 in the shootout.

"I thought we showed a lot of character after being down two goals late,'' said goalie Roberto Luongo. "It was a huge comeback for us but I have to find a way to make some saves in the shootout. It's not acceptable for me to let in two there. The most you want to give up is one. I've been working on it a lot and have felt good. I just need to be better.''


Brandon Pirri took another step forward on his return from a concussion Friday as he participated in the morning skate.

Pirri has played since being hit in the head by the elbow of Arizona's Keith Yandle on Oct. 30.

"He's getting closer and that's good,'' Gallant said.

The Panthers injury list appears to be getting smaller and smaller.

Although Sean Bergeneheim didn't play Friday, he's ready to return to the lineup after missing six games.

Pirri, Dmitry Kulikov (knee) and Dave Bolland (groin) are also on the mend. All five of Florida's inactive players were scheduled to fly with the team to Southern California following Friday night's game.

Florida currently had one opening on its roster but would have to start making some moves if more than one injured player comes back.

Trocheck continues to make a case to stick around as he set up Florida's first and third goal on Friday night and has four assists in six games.

-- Luongo ended with 31 saves Friday and passed former Florida goalie John Vanbiesbrouck for fifth on the all-time saves list.

Luongo currently has 22,214 saves, just 220 back of Ed Belfour for fourth place.

Belfour ended his NHL career with the Panthers after the 2006-07 season. Coincidentally, he was signed by the Panthers a few weeks after Luongo was traded to Vancouver in 2006.


November 13, 2014

ALEKSANDER BARKOV: Shoot more, pass later ... Kulikov improving, ready to start skating ... Bergenheim could be ready for Islanders

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Aleksander Barkov knows he needs to shoot the puck more, but a little prodding from coaches and teammates hasn't hurt.

Barkov, 19, is in his second season as Florida's top-line center and his shot is as good as it gets. Sometimes, old habits are hard to break.

"My shot is better but I have to use it more,'' Barkov said on Thursday, a few days after his wicked wrist shot beat San Jose's Antti Niemi for his second goal of the season.

"I have to be more selfish because I've always thought 'pass first.' I have to change that mentality.''

Barkov missed most of the second half of last season to a knee injury but during the summer, his wrist shot was one of the biggest things he worked on.

Tuesday, his powerful shot zipped past the goalie and hit the back of the goal cage so hard it ricocheted out so fast officials initially didn't know if it went in.

"I always think to pass but I have to shoot,'' Barkov said. "It's hard to change, but I have to.''

Although new linemates Scottie Upshall and Tomas Kopecky will likely benefit from Barkov's good hands and passing ability, they want him to shoot more as well.

Selfishly, Upshall knows what can happen when Barkov shoots. Either the puck is going in, or as is often the case, the rebound will come out in a spot where he or Kopecky can clean it up and score one themselves.

"He shoots the puck so well but sometimes we have to remind him that it's OK to shoot it,'' said Upshall, who had success when paired with Barkov last season.

"Sometimes he creates a better chance by shooting it than passing. We don't mind that. I love playing with him and one of my best stretches last season with with him and [Brad] Boyes. I like the way he plays and at right wing, I like a left-handed center who sees you and can hit you coming up the ice. He's a really talented and gifted player.''

Barkov, the second overall pick of the 2013 NHL draft, is one of the Panthers' top offensive players and one they are counting on to do some of the scoring.

Last year, Barkov scored on 9.2 percent of the 87 shots (eight goals) he took.

This year, he's had a 13.3 percent success rate.

Florida has won each game in which Barkov has scored a goal.

"He's a big guy who gets into the slot and has a pretty good shot,'' coach Gerard Gallant said.

"We want him to shoot more pucks but everyone to shoot more to be honest. We've definitely talked to Barkov about shooting it more. Put the puck to the net and good things happen.''


Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov missed Tuesday's game after leaving Saturday's loss to Calgary with a knee injury.

Gallant said Kulikov's injury wasn't serious and expects him to resume skating on Friday. Kulikov will not play against the Islanders but could return on next week's west coast trip.

"He's looking pretty good, things are going in the right direction,'' Gallant said. "I don't think it's too serious. He's going good. [Thursday] was a good off-ice day for him.''

-- Winger Sean Bergenheim (lower body injury) participated in Thursday's practice with the fourth line and could be available for Friday's game.

Bergenheim was drafted by the Islanders in 2002 and spent six seasons in the New York organization.

"He skated well [Thursday] and it looks like he's pretty close to being game ready,'' Gallant said. "We'll see how it is. It was only one practice. We'll make a decision [Friday] after the morning skate.''

-- The Panthers are holding Hockey Fights Cancer night on Friday with the first 5,000 fans receiving commemorative silicon wrist bands.

Friday: Islanders at Panthers

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

TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM 560

The series: Florida leads 41-35-8

Of note: The Islanders have only been to the playoffs once in the past seven seasons but have started out 10-5-0 and are currently second in the Metropolitan Division. New York has won four straight including a 6-0 win over the visiting Avs on Tuesday.

November 11, 2014

A COMPLETE VICTORY: Florida Panthers take biggest leads of season, topple San Jose 4-1 ... Sean Bergenheim close ... Veterans Day special to the Panthers

TWITTER: @GeorgeRIchards

For the first time all season, the Panthers could sort of relax in the third period.

With a four goal lead and Roberto Luongo in net, Florida finally got to enjoy a blowout of its own design and snapped a three-game winless streak with a 4-1 rout of visiting San Jose at BB&T Center.

"I think we really stuck to our game plan and we were ready to go right from the start,'' said Jimmy Hayes, who gave Florida a 1-0 lead midway through the first.

"We continued playing throughout the game. We got the quick start and kept the pressure on them. And Luongo was played like he does. He keeps us in every game. ''

Florida has scored at least four goals in two straight games although it would like to forget Saturday's 6-4 loss to the visiting Flames.

The Panthers are 2-1 in games in which they score at least four times.

In 13 games this season, the Panthers have scored two goals or less in 10; they've scored four in each of the other three.

"We'll take them when they come because this is a league where you don't see many games like that,'' said Luongo, who wasn't challenged much as the Sharks mustered just 22 shots on goal as the Panthers blocked 17 shots.

"It's kind of a nice change of pace when they do happen. As a goalie you take those and move onto the next one.''

Florida looked as lifeless as the Sharks did in the first 10 minutes of the game yet Hayes' second goal in as many games seemed to ignite Florida's spirit.

Less than 90 seconds after Hayes made it 1-0, Aleksander Barkov whipped a wicked wrister that shot off the back of the cage with such force even Barkov wasn't sure it counted. It did, and Florida led 2-0.

"I thought we played a very good game, got a lot of goals and played defense,'' Barkov said. "We showed we could win if we scored four. We played better defense, didn't give up great scoring chances. We played smart.''

Unlike past games in which the Panthers opened with a two-goal lead, the opponent didn't come back.

Florida took its first 3-0 lead of the season in the second when Derek MacKenzie scored off an Aaron Ekblad offering.

In the third, Tomas Fleischmann broke his long goal drought by muscling in front of the net and knocking a nice pass from Shawn Thornton past Antti Niemi.

Fleischmann had been benched after not scoring in Florida's first 11 games on Saturday.

"It's good too see a guy come back and get a goal,'' said coach Gerard Gallant of Fleischmann, who hadn't scored in 21 games dating to March 23.

San Jose spoiled Luongo's shutout bid when Joe Thornton tapped in a loose puck with 9:25 remaining.

Florida has now won six of the past seven games against the Sharks. Last year, Luongo made 52 saves as Florida upset the Sharks in San Jose.

The two teams meet again and conclude the season series at SAP Center next week.

"We played a hell of a game,'' Gallant said. "That was the best 60 minutes we've played all year. We've played a lot of good games but that was a great performance by our group. You couldn't draw it up any better.''


Winger Sean Bergenheim took part in Tuesday's morning skate but wasn't in the lineup against the Sharks.

Bergenheim has missed the past five games with what the team is calling a lower body injury. He could be back Friday against the Islanders.

"We're getting closer,'' Gallant said. "Hopefully we'll have him back in the near future. He's a forechecker, an energy guy and goes to the net hard. When he's in our lineup, he's noticeable.''

-- With the Panthers having so many military veterans within the organization -- including owner Vinnie Viola, a West Point graduate -- Tuesday's Veterans Day celebration took on a different feel than in past years.

For the first time, the Panthers wore special camouflage jerseys during warmups. During the first period, the team made the presentations of $25,000 from the Viola and Panther foundations to a pair of local veteran charities.

The team also used a timeout to honor the Canadian military as well.

"This is the least we can do to show we have respect for all the services,'' said Eric Joyce, the general manager of Florida's minor league team in San Antonio who is also a West Point graduate.



November 10, 2014

VETERANS DAY IN SUNRISE: Panthers to celebrate Military Appreciation Night on Tuesday

The Panthers will celebrate Veterans Day on Tuesday by holding Military Appreciation Night by offering deeply discounted tickets to active military and veterans.

Not only will the Panthers wear special camouflage jerseys in warmups, but retired Army Brigadier General Pete Dawkins will drop the ceremonial first puck.

Tuesday's game will also be broadcast to troops stationed overseas on the American Forces Network.

The Panthers say the special replica jerseys will be sold at Pantherland at the arena with the team-worn jerseys auctioned off for charity.

Here is the official team release and information on how to get the discounted tickets:

SUNRISE, Fla. – The Florida Panthers announced today that the team will honor military veterans at their Veteran’s Day game against the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday, Nov. 11.

"We are very proud to honor and recognize all members of the armed forces at our Veteran’s Day game on Tuesday," said Panthers President & CEO Rory Babich. "Led by Owner/Chairman and West Point graduate Vinnie Viola, our organization has hired numerous veterans to fill a variety of roles within our company. We appreciate and thank all current and former military members for their service to our country."

Some of the special events and tributes that will take place during Tuesday’s game include:

United States Army Brigadier General (ret.) Pete Dawkins will drop the ceremonial puck drop before the start of the game. The West Point graduate is well known for his athletic achievements, playing hockey during his time at the military academy and winning the Heisman Tropy in 1958. Selected as a Rhodes Scholar, Dawkins went on to become a leading businessman after his military career. Dawkins will be featured on the Fox Sports Florida telecast and 560 WQAM radio broadcast.

As a salute to the military, Panthers players will wear special camouflage jerseys for pre-game warmups. Five select player jerseys will be available for fans to bid on as part of a silent auction on Tuesday night, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Florida Panthers Foundation. Additional jerseys will be auctioned off throughout the season on Military Mondays.

The United States National Anthem will be sung by Sergeant Corrin Campbell.

The Presentation of the Colors will be conducted by the Young Marines.

The game will be broadcast to troops stationed overseas on the American Forces Network.

Florida Panthers players will pay tribute to armed forces with taped in-game video segments that will be aired on the jumbotron and on the Fox Sports Florida broadcast.

Active military and veterans will receive 50% off select tickets for Tuesday’s game (tickets must be purchased at For more information,

Tuesday: Sharks at Panthers

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

TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM 560

The series: San Jose leads 10-9-7

Of note: Florida has won five of the past six games against the Sharks.

Aaron Ekblad photo courtesy of the Florida Panthers



MORE LINEUP CHANGES: Panthers lose Kulikov for at least next two games ... Bergenheim, Bolland close to a return

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

For the first time this season, Colby Robak will in the Panthers lineup Tuesday as a defenseman.

Robak, filling in for the injured Dmitry Kulikov, has played in two games this season -- both times as a left winger.

"They had to start working with me on skating backward again,'' Robak joked after Monday's practice.

"I feel a little bit more comfortable [on defense] because those two games took a little bit of getting used to. I'm back to defense-first and focusing on helping [Roberto Luongo] first and going from there.''

The Panthers had to mix up their defensive pairings for the first time this year when Kulikov left Saturday's 6-4 loss to Calgary in the second period when he was hit in the knee.

Coach Gerard Gallant said Kulikov is scheduled for a second MRI but the team doesn't think the injury is serious.

Kulikov watched Monday's practice without crutches but Gallant said he wouldn't play the next two games at minimum.

"He won't play the next two games and hopefully we know more by the west coast road trip,'' Gallant said. "We should know more later in the week.''

With Kulikov out, Robak has been paired up with Brian Campbell. Aaron Ekblad has been playing with Campbell but is back with preseason partner Willie Mitchell.

"I hope he does as good as he did in his forward debut,'' Gallant said of Robak. "He's chomping at the bit to get back in there. When you have injuries, you need guys to step right in there and Colby's a good kid, had a good preseason. We're excited to give him a chance. We'll see how it goes.''

Florida's defensive pairings aren't the only changes heading into Tuesday's game against visiting San Jose.

Tomas Kopecky has been moved up to Florida's top line alongside Aleksander Barkov and Scottie Upshall.

"He's been real good all year, has been working real hard,'' Gallant said of Kopecky. "We want to see him up with Barkov, get a guy going to the net with a little more drive. We want guys going to the net more. We're playing on the perimeter a bit too much.''

Tomas Fleischmann, benched on Saturday, is on the fourth line with Derek MacKenzie and Shawn Thornton.

Fleischmann said Saturday's benching got him "thinking a little bit" and he hopes his scoring touch returns. Fleischmann led Florida in scoring his first two seasons but the past two seasons have been tough.

"I have to step up a little more,'' said Fleischmann, who has no goals and one assist in 11 games this season.

"Some decisions I've made on the ice could be better as far as shooting goes. That's the reason I haven't scored. I expect more from myself.''


The Panthers could be getting a few more of their injured forwards back in the lineup soon.

Although Sean Bergenheim and Dave Bolland didn't practice with the team on Monday, both skated and Gallant says both should return in the coming days.

Bergenheim has missed four straight games and could be back Friday against the Islanders. Gallant said Bolland, who has missed the past eight games with a groin injury, should return on Florida's upcoming west coast trip.

Brandon Pirri, out the past four games with a concussion, didn't skate Monday.

-- Rocco Grimaldi was told he was headed back to the minors shortly after Saturday's game and the rookie winger made it back to San Antonio in time to play for the Rampage on Sunday night.

Grimaldi, as was the case Saturday with the Panthers, started on San Antonio's top line. Grimaldi was paired with Drew Shore and Mark Mancari in the Rampage's 3-1 win over Oklahoma City.

Goalie Dan Ellis made 20 saves in the win.

"He had energy, played hard, was quick,'' Gallant said of Grimaldi's play in his four games with the Panthers. "He's a real good prospect for us. I thought he played four good games for us.''


November 08, 2014

THE DEFENSE RESTS: Panthers score four but lose 6-4 shootout to Flames ... Kulikov leaves game with apparent knee injury ... Fleischmann benched

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
For only the second time this season, the Panthers scored four goals in a game.

It was in vain.

Calgary scored three goals in the third period and continued its successful road trip Saturday afternoon by beating the Panthers 6-4 at BB&T Center.

The Panthers, who beat Colorado 4-3 in overtime on Oct. 21, have lost three straight and have been outscored 10-5 in the past two.

"That was a horse [expletive] game by us,'' said captain Willie Mitchell, who fanned on a shot late in the third that led to Calgary's empty-net goal with 1:05 left.

"It's not our [style of] game. We're too young a hockey club and as you evolve, maybe you can play more offensive. The best teams in the league don't play in 6-4 shootouts. That's not how it's done. The teams that win Cups play good D, give yourself a chance. .-.-. I sure hope we learned our lesson. Maybe it's because we were all in shock we scored three or four goals.''

Florida gave a rare start to backup goalie Al Montoya and did give him plenty of goal support.

The Panthers led 2-0 early in the second period, but the Flames -- now 3-1 on this five-game trip that wraps Tuesday in Carolina -- kept coming.

The Panthers led 3-1 midway through the second after Scottie Upshall scored his second of the game but Calgary scored twice in a three minute span to tie the score.

Florida took a 4-3 lead into the third after Jimmy Hayes deflected a shot from Upshall -- who was originally credited with the hat trick -- and put it past starter Karri Ramo.

The Flames pulled Ramo in favor of Jonas Hiller and Florida's offensive outburst was over. The rest of the scoring belonged to the visitors.

Hiller faced one shot in his 6:29 in the second and stopped all eight shots faced in the third.

"It wasn't our best,'' Upshall said. "We had a good stretch of holding teams to one or two goals and we scored four. We let off our defensive game which is a sign we weren't ready to play the full 60 minutes. I thought we were soft in some areas.''

Montoya, making his first home start and second in 12 games, stopped 19 of 24 shots faced but Florida's defense did him few favors.

Calgary's second goal, making it 3-2, came on a Florida power play and Montoya had no way to stop it as he was run over by Lance Bouma and was still on the ice as Mark Giordano flipped the puck into a vacated net.

The game-tying goal came on a slick pass from Johnny Gaudreau that split defenders Aaron Ekblad and Brian Campbell. Sean Monahan put it in the back of the net at the 4:53 mark of the third.

Montoya would likey love another chance at the soft shot Jiri Hudler took to tie the score at 3 as the puck fluttered over his shoulder.

"We gave up a lot of goals and it's too bad we score four and can't win the game,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "We weren't good enough. We didn't compete enough on defense and gave them a lot of chances. It wasn't good enough.''


The Panthers lost Dmitry Kulikov to a apparent knee injury on Calgary's shorthanded goal in the second period.

Kulikov was clipped in the knee by a Calgary player, left and didn't return. Gallant didn't know the extent of Kulikov's injury but Florida has a seventh defenseman in Colby Robak who could play Tuesday.

-- With Jonathan Huberdeau back from an illness, Gallant had to sit one of his forwards and decided to sit veteran Tomas Fleischmann who has no goals and one assist this season.

Rookie Rocco Grimaldi, who made his debut a week ago Saturday, was up on Florida's top line.

"We can only play 20 and he was the odd man out,'' Gallant said. "We wanted to give the younger guys a chance and they played well. I don't like benching a veteran guy, but he was just a number.''

-- Down 5-4, the Panthers were hamstrung as Jussi Jokinen was called for embellishing a hook from TJ Brodie with 1:28 left. Instead of attacking with six skaters (Montoya left the net empty moments before), the Panthers were forced to kill a penalty.

Gaudreau got the empty net goal with 1:05 left to end any hope the Panthers had of coming back.

"The guy hooked me and I lost my balance,'' Jokinen said. "I guess the ref saw something different. It's disappointing.''



November 07, 2014

GETTING STARTED: Nick Bjugstad hopes first goal gets his season going ... Ekblad has (some) good memories of Philadelphia ... Panthers/Flames going International

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
After scoring a team-high 38 points last season, the neither the Panthers nor Nick Bjugstad thought it would take 11 games to score his first goal of the year.
Yet that's exactly how long it took for the second-year center.
Now that he's got one, Bjugstad is ready for more. And the Panthers sure could use the scoring help.
"You don't really think about how long it's going to take but you don't want it to take that long,'' Bjugstad said after scoring Florida's lone goal in a 4-1 loss to the host Flyers on Thursday.
"You just have to stay positive thought it. You start thinking about it although you try not to. You have to stay positive because if you're playing hard, there's nothing more you can do. Hopefully they start going in and we start winning.''
Bjugstad was the latest Florida player to get on the goal sheet although there are plenty of others still waiting to get one.
Among those players the Panthers were hoping to get some scoring help from, Tomas Fleischmann, Tomas Kopecky, Dave Bolland and Jimmy Hayes have yet to find the back of the net.
Coach Gerard Gallant said Bjugstad was probably pressing as he tried to score and the same can be said for a lot of his players.
As for Bjugstad, Gallant says he was never really worried.
"It was just a matter of time for him,'' Gallant said. "The guy hit four or five goal posts and was having some tough luck. He was playing well, but was having tough luck. Hopefully he'll continue to score. He's been playing very well for us.''
Aaron Ekblad has plenty of memories of Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia yet Thursday marked just the first time he had skated there.
In June, Ekblad was in the stands in the Flyers' arena when he heard his name called by general manager Dale Tallon as the top overall pick of the 2014 draft.
"I didn't really even think about it until I was on the ice,'' Ekblad said after Thursday's morning skate. "Obviously the whole setup is different. .-.-. A lot has changed since then and a lot of good things have happened. I've learned from the mistakes I've made and now want to capitalize on those learning experiences.''
The large crowd in Philadelphia cheered him then. On Thursday, Ekblad got the true Philly treatment when he and Zac Rinaldo exchanged words.
When Ekblad was shown on the big screen, the boos rained down from the stands.
-- Jonathan Huberdeau has missed the past week because of an illness but was back on the ice Friday. Gallant said Huberdeau is expected to be back in the lineup for Saturday's matinee against Calgary.
"He skated well and is ready to go,'' Gallant said.
Gallant said Brandon Pirri (concussion), Sean Bergenheim (lower body) and Dave Bolland (groin) are all still day to day but will not play against the Flames.
-- Saturday's game will be get the international treatment at it will be broadcast in 12 European countries including the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany and the United Kingdom.
"South Florida attracts sports fans from around the world, and we have found our international fan base growing,'' team president Rory Babich said in a statement.
"Through this broadcast, our European fans will have an opportunity to see their favorite Panthers players.''
Saturday: Flames at Panthers
When, Where:
3 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM 560
The series: Calgary leads 13-9-3
Of note: This is the fourth game of a five-game trip for the Flames. Calgary won in Montreal and Washington before losing to Tampa Bay 5-2 on Thursday.


November 06, 2014

A HOLE TOO BIG: Low scoring Panthers trail by three early, lose 4-1 to host Flyers ... Barkov returns, Thornton stitched up

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

PHILADELPHIA -- The Panthers don't score very much and have won just one high-scoring game this season.
So spotting the Flyers a three goal lead Thursday probably wasn't the best way to go about things.
Flyers goalie Steve Mason made sure the low-scoring Panthers didn't come back from their deficit, either, stopping 34 shots in Philadelphia's 4-1 win at Wells Fargo Center.
"It's tough for us to climb out of that with the scoring we've been having,'' coach Gerard Gallant said.
"But we weren't sharp enough, hungry enough and didn't fight enough. We didn't do a lot of the things we had been doing all year. It caught up to us tonight. We didn't play well.''
Florida's loss snapped a few positive trends as it had not lost a road game in the first six tries this season. The Panthers also had their seven game (4-0-3) point streak halted in the loss.
The Panthers run of scoring two goals or fewer? That, unfortunately for them, did continue.
Florida has scored twice or less in 10 of its first 11 games. Not a good recipe when a team takes a 3-0 lead fairly early into the proceedings.
"You don't want to think that way,'' said goalie Roberto Luongo, who stopped 26 shots.
Philadelphia's offense was stymied by Luongo and the Panthers last week in a 2-1 loss.
Thursday, the Flyers brought its top game as they scored twice within the first seven minutes.
Philadelphia led 3-0 just 2:50 into the second and the Panthers barely had time to celebrate Nick Bjugstad's first goal of the year before the Flyers had their three-goal cushion back.
"It doesn't help to score and have them come right back,'' said Bjugstad, who made it 3-1 midway through the second only to watch Philadelphia score 39 seconds later.
"You can't dig yourself too big a hole with those guys. They're too good.''
Sean Couturier opened the Flyers' scoring by camping out in front of the cage and redirecting a shot from Brayden Schenn and putting it past Luongo 3:53 into the game.
A few minutes later, Michael Del Zotto made it 2-0 as he used official Dean Morton as a screen and flung an odd-angled shot that found its way past Luongo.
"It was a weird play, no doubt about that,'' Luongo said. "When you're on, though, you find a way to be on top of that. I was already out of position so I'm not going to blame the referee for that one.''
Down 3-0 after Pierre-Edouard Bellemare scored off a puck freed up after Dmitry Kulikov was sandwiched against the end boards, Bjugstad briefly gave the Panthers life by banging in a fat rebound off a power play shot from Jimmy Hayes.
The Flyers had killed at 19 straight opposing power plays at home before Bjugstad scored.
Philadelphia all but ended any hope the Panthers had of pulling another road point when Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek broke loose. Voracek scored his NHL-leading 19th point on a cross-ice pass from Giroux.
"That's a key moment in the game, maybe [I] should have been more patient there,'' Luongo said. "Giroux froze me on the pump fake .-.-. I was flat footed. It was a key moment in the game. I needed to make the save.''
Forward Shawn Thornton briefly left Thursday's game to take stitches after a deflected puck hit him just above the eye near the end of the first period.
Thornton was being defended by Mark Streit when Dylan Olsen's long shot deflected off Streit's stick and shot straight up and hit Thornton in the face.
Thornton doesn't wear a visor.
"It hit me in the safest place; my head,'' Thornton joked afterward. "I'm fine.''
--Aleksander Barkov returned to the lineup after missing two games with a sore knee.
Barkov put in two full practices before coming back Thursday. Barkov was on Florida's top line with Brad Boyes and Jussi Jokinen.


November 04, 2014

SOMETHING'S BREWIN: Panthers continue losing ways in Boston, look different doing it...2-1 OT loss brings yet another road point

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
BOSTON -- The Panthers have been one of the NHL's top road teams this season.

There are few places in the league as tough on the Panthers as Boston's Garden has been but Florida's success continued Tuesday night.

Although the Panthers lost 2-1 to the host Bruins, Florida collected yet another road point as it ran its record away from Sunrise to 2-0-4. That's at least a point in all six road games this year.

"It was a hard fought battle in a hard building to play in,'' said goalie Roberto Luongo, who made 23 saves before Brad Marchand beat him 3:27 into overtime for the game-winner.

"We battled hard and were very disciplined in not taking any penalties which was really good. It came down to overtime and their guy made a hell of a play on the goal. .-.-. It was a good point but obviously we want more. Right now we feel good about our team, good about our game. We know we can play with anyone.''

Boston, as usual, beat the Panthers but didn't do it in the humiliating fashion of recent history.

Florida has still lost nine straight to the Bruins and 15 of the past 17, but Tuesday's game felt much different as the Panthers took the initial 1-0 lead on Jussi Jokinen's second period goal and clamped down defensively.

The Panthers don't score many goals but they sure don't give many up either. Florida has surrendered two goals or fewer in seven of the past eight as the Panthers are 4-0-3 in their past seven contests.

"We came into a tough building against this team and battled real hard,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "We wanted to win. We got one point and we're not satisfied with that and the guys are a little disappointed. But overall, I'm happy with the way we're playing.''

The Panthers again struggled against goalie Tuukka Rask as he is now 11-1-0 against Florida. Rask was saved by a post late, however, as Erik Gudbranson's 45-foot shot rang off the cage with 6:45 left.

Rask made 18 saves.

"We've played real well the past few weeks in collecting some points,'' said Jokinen, Rask's teammate on the Finnish national team. "We know the games are going to be low scoring, we're not getting five or six goals. It was a tight game. It was right that both teams got at least a point.''

Boston tied the score three minutes after Jokinen's second period goal as Patrice Bergeron fired a shot that slightly deflected off the stick of Florida's Brian Campbell and over Luongo's shoulder.

The two teams then played a tight defensive game the rest of the way through.

"We played them pretty much straight up and it came came down to a play in overtime,'' Luongo said. "We couldn't be prouder of the way we played, but we can't be satisfied with just collecting points. We need wins to start climbing the standings.''


The Panthers hoped to have at least one of their regulars back in the lineup Tuesday although Aleksander Barkov's sore knee didn't allow him to play.

Florida used the same lineup as it did in Saturday's 2-1 win over Philadelphia.

Defenseman Colby Robak reprised his role as Florida's fourth-line left winger and played well alongside Rocco Grimaldi and Vinny Trocheck.

Robak played 19 shifts on Tuesday after getting just eight on Saturday.

"They played excellent, had some real scoring chances,'' Gallant said. "They were probably our best line.''

Barkov was the only of Florida's five injured of sick regulars to make the trip north.

Jonathan Huberdeau was left home with the flu although Gallant said he could potentially meet the team in Philadelphia.

-- Florida didn't get called for a penalty in a game for the first time since 2013. Boston was only called for one.



HONORED: Bruins celebrate Shawn Thorton's play, chartiable works during first period

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
BOSTON -- Shawn Thornton was given a rare start Tuesday and why not?

Thornton spent seven seasons in Boston before signing with the Panthers in July.

The Bruins honored Thornton for his play and humanitarian works with a highlight reel played during the first period. Thornton got a rousing standing ovation from the sellout crowd.

"It was pretty touching,'' said Thornton, whose foundation donated $150,000 to a pair of Boston charities before Tuesday's game.

"I got a standing ovation in a visiting arena and that's pretty special. The fans have always been great to me here and were again tonight.''






November 02, 2014

ROBAK GOES FROM D TO LW: Panthers ask defenseman to step up to fourth line in Saturday's 2-1 win over Flyers ... Roberto Luongo not upset about losing another shutout

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Colby Robak sat out the first eight games of the season so when he was told he might get to play Saturday night, he didn't care how it came about.

Robak, Florida's seventh defenseman, was called into service Saturday when Jonathan Huberdeau couldn't play against the Flyers because he was sick.

So, by Robak's estimation, he went in and played on a forward line for the first time since he was a youngster.

Whatever it takes.

"Things are going to happen. Guys are going to get hurt, guys are going to get sick. It's part of the game,'' said Robak, who played eight shifts for 5:45 in Saturday's 2-1 win over Philadelphia in Sunrise.

"You just go out there and do what you're told and just embrace it. I had a lot of fun out there. I probably haven't played forward since I was 8 or 9 -- and I don't even know if I did it then. But I just went out there and worked, see what happens.''

Robak didn't look all that out of place Saturday as he and linemates Rocco Grimaldi and Vinny Trocheck created chances and did a good job defensively.

"I thought he was great, did a heck of a job,'' Grimaldi said of Robak, who ended with two shots on goal. "It's tough moving from a D to a forward. It's really tough. He had to learn a lot of new things in a really short period of time. He did a great job.''

Said goalie Roberto Luongo: "[Robak] had a couple scoring chances there that could have put the game away. I think I'll have to have a little chat with him.''

Coach Gerard Gallant said Robak did a good job despite his limited time on the ice. Robak was held to one shift in the third period but Gallant said Robak probably should have played more.

With Huberdeau expected to be back in the lineup Tuesday at Boston, the Robak forward experiment is likely over for now. But that doesn't mean a similar situation won't pop up again. If it does, Robak says he will be ready.

"We knew [Huberdeau] was sick at the game day skate so I just waited until I was called upon,'' he said. "I wasn't super shocked when I came to the rink, I kind of knew what was going on.''

-- Luongo is the NHL's active leader with 67 shutouts, although that could change if former New Jersey netminder Martin Brodeur finds work this season. Brodeur is the NHL's all-time leader with 124 shutouts.

On Saturday, Luongo came within a few seconds of No. 68 but old pal Vinny Lecavalier scored with 7.4 seconds left.

Luongo took the near-shutout in stride.

"I would probably have more shutouts than [Brodeur] if you counted all the ones I lost in the final minute during my career,'' he said. "It happens but we're just happy to get the win.''

-- With five forwards out of the lineup Saturday, Gallant didn't to do some serious line shifting.

Florida's top line had Jussi Jokinen starting at center for the first time this season in replacing Aleksander Barkov (lower body). Jokinen was joined by Tomas Fleischmann and Brad Boyes.

Jimmy Hayes, who had been a healthy scratch, was bumped all the way up to the second line and played with Scottie Upshall and Nick Bjugstad.

"You don't worry about who isn't in your lineup but who is in your lineup,'' Gallant said. "I thought the guys who came in played real well, they competed.''

-- Grimaldi was up on the first line to start Saturday's game as he made his NHL debut on the opening faceoff. Grimaldi's first NHL shift was quite brief as he came off on the first stoppage just 16 seconds in.

"Coach is the boss so whenever he calls my number, I have to be ready,'' Grimaldi said.

-- The 17 goals surrendered by the Panthers are fewest in the league with Minnesota second at 18 goals allowed.

Florida has also given up the fewest goals during five-on-five play with six. Anaheim is next with nine.

-- The Panthers will hold an open practice Monday at 11 a.m. at the Coral Springs IceDen before flying to Boston.

November 01, 2014

BIG NIGHT FOR PANTHERS, AARON EKBLAD: Despite injuries, Panthers top Flyers 2-1 ... Luongo makes 36 saves, Ekblad scores game-winner and will remain with team

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers were so banged up Saturday they were forced to use a defenseman as a winger.

Yet Florida still had Roberto Luongo, and truthfully, that was good enough.

The Panthers got goals from Willie Mitchell and Aaron Ekblad but Luongo stole the show in Florida's 2-1 victory over Philadelphia at BB&T Center.

"I don't think a lot of people give us a chance to begin with,'' said Luongo, who stopped 36 shots.

"I think the guys are starting to realize we have a pretty good team here. You're seeing that confidence every game. Even though we're not blowing people out, we're finding ways to win. That's key, especially at the beginning of a season.''

Luongo, who had shut out the Flyers until Vinny Lecavalier scored with 7.4 seconds left, led Florida to its second straight win.

The Panthers are 4-0-2 in the past six grabbing 10 of 12 available points in the standings.

In the past four games, Luongo has stopped 137 of 144 shots. In the previous two games, the opponent has scored just once.

"I feel pretty good, the puck's hitting me,'' Luongo said afterward. "You just want to keep it going. It's a combination of many things. Our guys are playing hard, putting pressure on them by not giving them time or place. I wouldn't be playing this well if not for the guys in front of me.''

The Panthers were down five forwards with four guys hurt and Jonathan Huberdeau out with the flu.

Coach Gerard Gallant had no other choice but to give defenseman Colby Robak his first start of the season -- only instead of playing defense he joined up with Florida's fourth forward line.

Robak's line played well enough the Gallant told him he should have played more.

"He was awesome,'' Gallant said. "He had some great scoring chances and played real well. We were short with [Huberdeau] having a touch of the flu. He was the only extra guy we had. The more he played the better he was.''

Despite all its issues, Florida didn't back down and took the game to a Philadelphia team that had spent the past few days on Fort Lauderdale beach after winning three of four.

Florida took a 1-0 lead in the first on a long shot from Mitchell and then held on by stopping six Philadelphia power plays before Ekblad gave the Panthers some breathing room with 4:22 left.


Ekblad, the 18-year-old rookie, was told after the game he would remain with the Panthers for the remainder of the season after he played in his ninth game Saturday.

With Lecavalier scoring late, Ekblad's goal went from insurance to game-winner.

"We had to make a decision,'' Gallant said with a grin, "and if he didn't score tonight he was probably going to go back tomorrow. With the winning goal, we're going to keep him. It's official.''

After the game, Ekblad was handed the puck from his first NHL goal.

When asked if he had been given official work he was staying, Ekblad said no but gave it away with a large smile.

"I haven't gotten 100 percent official word,'' Ekblad said, "but things are good.''




BACK IN SUNNY FLA: Panthers recall Rocco Grimaldi, Vinny Trocheck ... Duo ready to make their mark


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Rocco Grimaldi was summoned to see San Antonio coach Tom Rowe on Friday and saw Vinny Trocheck sitting there.
Grimaldi, who plays alongside Drew Shore, knew it wasn't a line meeting.
Then Rowe gave him the news. He was heading to Florida, getting his shot to play in the NHL.
Grimaldi didn't believe him.
"I didn't think he was being serious so I just kind of stared at him,'' Grimaldi said after Saturday's optional morning skate in Sunrise. "I didn't smile or say thanks or anything. I just stared at him because I didn't think it was real. Then he said it was real and I could smile. I was real happy. .-.-. I definitely didn't expect it. I was just getting ready to play Rockford. It was definitely a surprise.''

Grimaldi will indeed make his NHL debut Saturday against the visiting Flyers as Florida will be missing three forwards from Thursday's lineup.
With Sean Bergenheim (lower body), Aleksander Barkov (lower body) and Brandon Pirri (concussion) out, Florida recalled Grimaldi and Trocheck. Jimmy Hayes will also be in the lineup against the Flyers.
Once Grimaldi wrapped his head around what was going on, he made some phone calls. His parents quickly booked a flight from California -- and landed in Miami about the time he touched down in Fort Lauderdale. A number of friends from college are also making the trip for tonight's game.
"It'll be cool to see everyone again,'' said Grimaldi, who will wear No. 23 for the Panthers. "I've been dreaming about this since I was a kid. This should be fun. It's just a game and I'm looking to do the best I can.''
Even though Trocheck has been here before -- he played in 20 games with the Panthers (five goals, three assists) last year -- he admits there are some nerves about being back.
Trocheck had a strong training camp but lost out in the numbers game. Florida simply had too many centers. With Dave Bolland (groin) out as well, Florida is going to find out how good its organizational depth really is.

"Obviously this is where I wanted to be ,'' Trocheck said. "Unfortunately it came because of injuries, but I'm going to try and make the best of my opportunity. .-.-. To get told you're being sent back is kind of deflating but you can't let it get into your head or stay with you too long. You have to let it roll off you, water off a duck's butt as they say.''
Added coach Gerard Gallant: "They showed us a good training camp and were good in the exhibition games. They're getting an opportunity. Like when Pirri and Hayes got in, do what you do with the opportunity. Don't change a thing. These are guys who were close to making the hockey team.''
-- To make room for Grimaldi and Trocheck, Florida placed Pirri and Bolland on the injured list.
Since Bolland was put on retroactive to Oct. 17, he basically could play tonight. But since Florida put him on the IR to bring up two players, that's not going to happen.
Pirri would be eligible to return next Saturday against Calgary.
-- Because of heavy beach traffic, the Flyers decided against skating on Saturday morning.
We could see some sun burned and hung-over Flyers tonight.

Grimaldi photo via Tony Gutierrez/AP

Trocheck photo via Kelsey Hinds/ @Kelsey1344



NEW LOOK FOR LOUIE: Roberto Luongo has another new mask

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October 31, 2014

NO GHOST IN SUNRISE: Flyers return South Florida's Gostisbehere to minors

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, a native of Pembroke Pines, won't get to play in front of his family and friends Saturday at BB&T Center after all.
The first South Florida raised player to appear in the NHL, Gostisbehere was sent back to Philadelphia's AHL team after Friday's workout in Sunrise.
Gostisbehere, 21, made his NHL debut last Saturday.
"I knew it was coming," Gostisbehere told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "It was nothing I didn't expect. I mean, it's going to happen. I'm a young guy. .-.-. My time will come."