February 26, 2015

BIG MOVE: Panthers acquire Jaromir Jagr for playoff push, give up draft picks

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers addressed their biggest need on Thursday -- scoring -- by trading for future Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr.
Florida picked up the 43-year-old winger for a pair of draft picks.
New Jersey will get Florida's second round selection in this upcoming draft (held at the BB&T Center in Sunrise) and a conditional third round pick in 2016.
Jagr broke in with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1990 and won a pair of Stanley Cups alongside Mario Lemuiex.
A nine-time All-Star and 15-time 30-goal scorer, Jagr has slowed a bit over the years but should bring the Panthers an added spark on a power play ranked 28th in the league and give them a dangerous scoring option.
Jagr had 11 goals in 57 games with the Devils as he recently complained of diminishing playing time since New Jersey fired former Florida coach Pete DeBoer in December.
In 1,530 NHL games, Jagr has 716 goals and 1,068 assists.
Jagr also scored 66 goals in three seasons in the KHL from 2008-11.
In his four seasons since returning from playing abroad, Jagr has 69 goals with Philadelphia, Boston, Dallas and New Jersey.
Jagr is first among active NHL players in points (1,784), games played (1,530), assists (1,068), goals (716), plus/minus (+284) and power play goals (202).
Among all-time NHL leaders, he ranks first in game-winning goals (127), fifth in points, sixth in goals, seventh in assists and 13th in games played.


February 25, 2015

THE CHICAGO WAY?: Alex Petrovic won't face suspension as Chicago comes to Sunrise without Patrick Kane ... Florida kicks off long homestand ... Sean Bergenheim happy in the Wild

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Florida defenseman Alex Petrovic will not be suspended for a hit that injured Chicago's Patrick Kane on Tuesday — but he could have a target on his back come Thursday.
With the Panthers and Chicago playing a rare home-and-home series, Petrovic could find some leftover anger from the Blackhawks when they visit BB&T Center on Thursday night.
Kane, tied for the NHL lead with 64 points, is expected to be miss three months after havingg surgery on a broken collarbone on Wednesday.
Petrovic was given a two-minute penalty for cross-checking Kane midway through the first period of Chicago's eventual 3-2 shootout win at United Center.
After reviewing the play — Petrovic gave Kane a slight shove causing Kane to lose his balance and crash into the boards leading with his left shoulder — the NHL decided no further discipline was warranted.
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville was incensed on the bench after Kane skated off to the locker room but didn't rip into Petrovic in his postgame media session saying only "live, it looked a little dangerous.''
The Blackhawks and Panthers were both off on Wednesday.

"We're missing a valuable guy, one who is having a year that's very noticeable,'' Quenneville said of Kane, a past postseason MVP who was the top pick of the 2007 NHL draft by current Florida general manager Dale Tallon.
"We still have to stick with it, go with what you've got.''
Former Florida winger Kris Versteeg, who scored Chicago's second goal Tuesday, said Kane is "irreplaceable.''
"You're really ticked off when a player like him gets hurt,'' Versteeg said. "You never want to see someone like that hurt, someone that exciting who people pay to watch play. It's not good for the game."
Kane, 26, is the second high-profile player knocked out for some time by the Panthers this month.
On Feb. 13, Dmitry Kulikov's low body check took out Dallas' Tyler Seguin at the knees. Seguin is expected to miss at least another month with an MCL strain.
Kulikov was suspended four games for the hit, one Seguin called "dirty."
Kane was placed on the long-term injury list.
"You're talking about one of the best players in the league so there's no doubt,'' Florida coach Gerard Gallant said when asked if the Blackhawks are a different team without Kane. "It's unfortunate he got hurt.''
The Panthers battled back from a 2-0 deficit in the third period as Jussi Jokinen and Vincent Trocheck scored in a span of four minutes to gain a point by forcing overtime.
Despite Florida’s strong offensive push in the final minute of overtime, the game went to a shootout where Chicago scored on its two attempts and the Panthers went scoreless against goalie Scott Darling.
The Panthers kick off a season-long seven-game homestand Thursday against the Blackhawks and do so two points back of Boston for the final playoff spot.
"We don't give up,'' goalie Roberto Luongo said. "It's exciting to be in a playoff race at this time of year but we have a lot of work to do. We know that. But we want to keep growing and getting better and have a chance to sneak in.''
-- Sean Bergenheim said he was happy to be traded by the Panthers to Minnesota on Tuesday as he joins another team in the midst of a playoff run.
Bergenheim could make his debut with the Wild Thursday in Nashville after being a healthy scratch in six straight games and nine of the previous 11 by the Panthers.
"I was very very happy. I kind of expected something would happen before the trade deadline,'' said Bergenheim, who in fact asked the Panthers for a trade earlier this month.

Thursday: Blackhawks at Panthers
When, where:
7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560
Series: Chicago leads 18-9-3
Noteworthy: Florida has lost six straight to the Blackhawks and three straight overall after Tuesday's 3-2 shootout loss in Chicago. The Panthers kick off a seven-game homestand with three games in the next four days.


February 16, 2015

FOUR GAME VACATION: Dmitry Kulikov gets four games for hit on Tyler Seguin; Can return to Panthers on Sunday in Pittsburgh

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov was suspended four games for his hit on Dallas' Tyler Seguin.
Kulikov missed Florida's 2-1 shootout loss to St. Louis on Sunday pending Monday's ruling.
Seguin, who was the second-highest scorer in the league at the time of Friday's hit, is out at least a month with a knee injury.
Although Kulikov was offered an in-person meeting with the NHL's Department of Player Safety in New York, he declined and instead held his hearing over the phone Monday morning as his teammates practiced at BB&T Center.
Kulikov did not travel with the team to Canada on Monday and will miss Florida's three-game tour in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa. Kulikov is expected to meet the team in Pittsburgh and could be in the lineup Sunday against the Penguins
By missing four games, Kulikov will forfeit $93,189.96 with that money going to the Players' Emergency Assistance Fund.
"Kulikov bent severely at the waist and throws his body at Seguin's knees flipping Seguin and causing a significant knee injury,'' said Patrick Burke, an NHL player safety director, on the video explaining the ruling.
Kulikov went in for a hip check on Seguin as the Dallas forward crossed into the Florida zone.
Seguin made a pass and didn't see Kulikov coming. Although hip checks are legal, Kulikov appeared to mis-time his and took out Seguin at the knees with his upper body.
The league made the determination that Kulikov's hit was not a hip check but a low body check.
At the time of the hit, Kulikov was charged five minutes for clipping and given a 10-minute game misconduct. There was just 6:55 remaining in what became a 2-0 loss to the Stars.
"It's illegal to throw a body check below the knees,'' Burke said. "The player delivering the check is responsible for any consequences. In this case, Kulikov delivered a dangerous hit that is excessively low leaving the opposing player no way to defend or brace for the contact.''
Florida could have some defensive help coming back soon as captain Willie Mitchell is close to a return. Mitchell practiced Monday and traveled to Canada.
"He's skated four straight days and he's doing well,'' coach Gerard Gallant said.

Here is the NHL video on the incident:



HEY OLLI: Former Panthers captain lands in Toronto, doubtful for Tuesday's game against Florida

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers face a Toronto team clearly in the throes of a rebuild Tuesday.
The Maple Leafs, who replaced coach Randy Carlyle with former Florida interim coach Peter Horachek last month, have lost 17 of 19 and came into Monday 12 points out of the final playoff spot in the East.
On Sunday, Toronto traded pending free agents Mike Santorelli and Cody Franson to Nashville. More trades are in the works.
"It has to be tough and I'm sure they're feeling it,'' said Dave Bolland, who played for the Leafs last season.
"When you're in the dumps, people get on you. You have to block it out to do what you need to do on the ice.''
Former Florida captain Olli Jokinen was acquired by the Leafs on Sunday and reported for duty on Monday despite his displeasure with the trade.
Jokinen cannot skate until Santorelli and Franson pass their physicals with Nashville. Word is, he will not face the Panthers for the third time this season.
"As a player, you got to a new team and you try and fit in,'' Jokinen said. "You have a job to do and have to respect the game, respect the players you play with. You have to enjoy playing this game. That's the bottom line. You do what they tell you.''
Jokinen isn't expected to be in Toronto long as general manager Dave Nonis has said he will try find the 15-year veteran a home on a playoff contender by the March 2 trade deadline.
Although he's played in 1217 NHL games (567 over seven seasons with the Panthers), Jokinen appeared in just six postseason games with Calgary in 2009.
Nashville is atop the Western Conference and considered a serious Stanley Cup contender.
"You want to see a guy like that succeed, go to the playoffs,'' said Florida goalie Al Montoya, who played with Jokinen in Winnipeg.
"He went from one of the best teams to a team thatt looks like it's rebuilding. He's a professional, has been his whole career. He knows this game is a business.''
Tuesday: Panthers at Maple Leafs
When, where: 7 p.m.; Air Canada Center, Toronto
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560
Series: Toronto leads 33-28-7
Noteworthy: Florida has won four of five against the Leafs including a 6-4 decision in Sunrise.


February 15, 2015

POINTED COMMENTS: Nick Bjugstad, Roberto Luongo get Panthers a point, displeased it was only one in 2-1 loss to Blues

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Nick Bjugstad and Roberto Luongo were the biggest reasons the Panthers at least got a point out of Sunday's 2-1 shootout loss to the visiting Blues.
Neither one was all too pleased about it. One point simply isn't good enough right now.
"That's not a great mentality to have,'' Luongo said. "You want to win games, that's the mentality that gets you into the playoffs.''
Bjugstad has been the only Florida player to score in the past three games and Sunday, his shot with 1:13 left tied the score and forced overtime after Florida pulled Luongo to add an extra attacker.
"A point is nice, but we want to win,'' Bjugstad said. "You can't be satisfied with that.''
Florida's defensive play has been better lately although its offense has gone dry.
In the Panthers' three-game winless streak (0-2-1), Florida has just two Bjugstad goals -- both odd-angled shots from the goal line -- to show for it.
With goals at a premium, Luongo and St. Louis counterpart Brian Elliott did plenty of heavy lifting.
The Blues' lone goal came midway through the second when Jaden Schwartz's high wrister beat Luongo on St. Louis' 20th shot.
Aside from that, Luongo made 32 saves not including three in the shootout. The Blues' won that 2-1 in the fifth round after Jori Lehtera scored and Jimmy Hayes was stopped.
Elliott earned first star honors after he made 40 saves -- not counting four in the shootout.
"Our goalie was our best player,'' St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock said on his way to the bus. "See you tomorrow."
With the point, Florida finally pulled within three points of idle Boston for the final playoff spot in the East. After last Tuesday's 6-2 rout of Anaheim, Florida was four points out.
Then the offense went flat.
"We battled hard, tying it up at the end was huge at the end,'' Luongo said. "It's nice to get a point but it's not going to cut it if we don't start winning games.''
-- Sean Bergenheim, who has asked the Panthers for a trade, was a healthy scratch for the second straight game and fifth time in the past seven.


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers held a moment of silence for defenseman Steve Montador who was found dead in his suburban Toronto home on Sunday morning.

Montador, 35, spent three seasons with the Panthers from 2005-08 and played for five other NHL teams as well.
Popular with teammates and fans alike, Montador had been open about his battle with depression he says was caused by concussions.
"I consider Monty one of my closest friends,'' said St. Louis defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, a teammate in Florida.
"I heard about it just before we got to the rink. I'm still in disbelief. I don't know what happened. It sucks. I don't think anyone who ever played with him had a bad word to say. He was always happy, smiling. I saw him earlier this year in L.A., spoke to him at Christmas. I wish I would have called him more often.''
Luongo only spent one season with Montador but the two had a lasting relationship. Montador frequented the Italian restaurant Luongo's in-laws owned and the two stayed in touch.
"I've been sad all day. He's been in my thoughts the entire day,'' Luongo said. "He's my age and that's kind of a reality check. You never know what a day will bring. It's tough to hear news like this.''
Martin Gelinas -- who played with Montador with the Flames and Panthers -- fought back tears as he spoke to reporters in Calgary.
"Nobody has a bad thing to say about Steve,'' Gelinas said. "He was a fun guy to be around.''

Photo courtesy of @DavidDwork


February 14, 2015

PAYING THE PRICE: Dmitry Kulikov suspended for hit on Tyler Seguin; length to be determined

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
DALLAS -- The Panthers will be without defenseman Dmitry Kulikov for Sunday's game against St. Louis.
How long he'll be out of the lineup will be determined soon.
Kulikov has been suspended by the NHL for his rolling hip check on Dallas' Tyler Seguin in the third period of Florida's 2-0 loss to the Stars.
Seguin, second in the NHL in scoring this year and Dallas' leader with 29 goals, had to be helped off the ice after being taken out at the knees. Seguin was placed on the injured reserve list by the Stars on Saturday and is expected to miss a few weeks at minimum.
"It's a dirty shot, something that takes your best player not only out of the game, but out of our lineup for a little bit,'' Dallas coach Lindy Ruff said afterward.
"Let the league deal with it. I used to yell and scream about things like this and it didn't do any good. It's just a shot that didn't need to happen.''
The league is obviously dealing with it.
Kulikov was granted an in-person hearing by the NHL's player safety department but he turned it down. Kulikov's hearing will now take place over the phone on Monday.
That means Kulikov will be given the opportunity to plead his case as his suspension could be in excess of five games -- starting with Sunday's matchup with the Blues.
Kulikov was given a five-minute major for clipping and a 10-minute game misconduct. He left the ice with 6:55 remaining in the game.
Florida coach Gerard Gallant was seen discussing things with the officials drawing boos from the crowd at AmericanAirlines Center.
After the game, Gallant said he wasn't arguing with the officials over Kulikov's on-ice penalty but he said he was just getting clarification.
"It was the right call,'' Gallant said. "It was a five minute and a game misconduct. There's no issue.''
With Kulikov out, the Panthers recalled veteran defenseman Shane O'Brien from their AHL affiliate in San Antonio.
This will be O'Brien's third stint with the Panthers. The 31-year-old has played in four games with Florida and has appeared in 532 NHL games over the course of his career.
The Panthers had sent Dylan Olsen to San Antonio after he cleared waivers on Jan. 30.
Olsen wasn't available for recall, however, as he has yet to report to the minors.
The Panthers say Olsen is dealing with a "personal matter" and is back home in Canada.
It's not known whether Olsen has been skating or plans on reporting to the Rampage.
In a span of 13 days, the Panthers play seven road games with only one at home.
And just their luck, it's the St. Louis Blues who are waiting for them in South Florida.
The Blues, who dismantled the Lightning 6-3 in Tampa on Thursday, have won nine of their past 11. St. Louis has also won five straight against the Panthers.
After Sunday's game, Florida takes off again -- this time for five games. The Panthers will play three games in Canada (Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa) before visiting Pittsburgh and Chicago.
"We have a really tough matchup against St. Louis, we know how good they are,'' defenseman Erik Gudbranson said.
"The games are getting tight and we know that. [Friday's loss] is a tough one to swallow, but we'll regroup.''
-- Defenseman Alex Petrovic laughed off his disappearing act on Friday. Petrovic went to check Vern Fiddler into the boards only Fiddler quickly stopped with Petrovic continuing.
As Petrovic hung halfway over the boards -- there was no glass because it was between the two benches -- Fiddler pushed Petrovic the rest of the way.
"I guess they don't have boards like that in the AHL,'' Petrovic said with a smile. "I thought I could get him, then he pulled a fast one on me. That's OK though.''
Sunday: Blues at Panthers
When, Where: 5 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560
Series: St. Louis leads 18-7-3
Noteworthy: The Panthers lost out to the Blues in their only other meeting this year 4-2 as two pucks went in off Florida players and another went into an empty net.


February 13, 2015

THE STARS ARE BIG AND BRIGHT: Dallas takes 2-0 lead, clamps down on Panthers in shutout win ... Costly win for Stars as Seguin, Eaves and Hemsky hurt

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

DALLAS -- The Panthers kicked off perhaps their toughest and most important stretch of games this season with Thursday's loss in Minnesota.

After Friday's 2-0 loss to the host Stars, this run of playing seven of eight away from home only looks more daunting.
For the second straight night, the Panthers failed to create much offense against a team -- like themselves -- on the periphery of the playoff race.
Thursday, Minnesota pulled to within two points of a postseason spot with its 2-1 win over the Panthers. Dallas got to within three after Friday. Florida, by getting none of the available four points, stayed flat.
"Hats off to these guys, we came out after a back-to-back and put pucks on net,'' said Florida goalie Al Montoya who didn't celebrate his 30th birthday the way he wanted as Kari Lehtonen got the shutout with 37 saves.
"The guy at the other end was seeing everything. He was on tonight and saw everything.''
Like Thursday, there wasn't a whole lot to get excited about as Dallas' defensive style stymied the Panthers.
After taking a two goal lead in the first, the Stars clamped down.
Once Dallas' Jason Spezza made it 2-0 on a fabulous goal in which he picked up the puck in the slot, spun around and flung a wrister past Montoya (26 saves), the entertainment level hit the skids.
The biggest highlight after Spezza's SportsCenter-worthy goal came when Florida's Alex Petrovic almost crushed broadcaster Billy Lindsay when he went flying over the boards.
In the second, Petrovic went to check Dallas pest Vernon Fiddler just past the Florida bench. Only Fiddler slammed on the brakes, Petrovic's momentum swinging him over the boards and into Lindsay who was working in the area between the two benches for Fox Florida.
Fiddler then helped Petrovic all the way over leading the Dallas in-house crew to set the numerous replays to R. Kelly's 'I Believe I Can Fly.'
"I guess they don't have boards like that in the AHL,'' Petrovic said with a smile. "I thought I could get him, then he pulled a fast one on me. That's OK though.''
Petrovic's disappearing act was not only humorous -- cameras showed him smiling afterward -- but one of the only memorable things the Panthers did in Dallas.
Dmitry Kulikov was thrown out of the game with 6:55 left after his low hip check took Tyler Seguin out at the knees.
Kulikov was given five minutes for clipping and a game misconduct.
Seguin, whose 59 points are second in the league, was helped off the ice and didn't return.
Dallas coach Lindy Ruff, a former Florida assistant back in the expansion days, said Kulikov's hit was dirty and that Seguin is going to be out of the lineup for some time.
"It's a dirty shot, something that takes your best player not only out of the game, but out of our lineup for a little bit,'' Ruff said.
"Let the league deal with it. I used to yell and scream about things like this and it didn't do any good. It's just a shot that didn't need to happen.''
Moments later, Dallas' Patrick Eaves took a slapshot off the side of the head from John Klingberg.
Eaves hit the ice and didn't move for a few minutes as medical personnel was brought out to check on him.
Eaves eventually was brought to his feet and helped to the locker room. Eaves was evaluated underneath the seating areas being taken to a local hospital.
"He's had a previous injury there so we're pretty concerned,'' Ruff said.



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.''
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.''
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.''
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.''
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.''
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.''
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,