January 20, 2014

IRON CITY VICTORY: Panthers Win in Pittsburgh for First Time Since the Igloo .. Shore Scores Twice, Clemmensen Sharp in 5-1 Win

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

PITTSBURGH -- The Panthers knew no one gave them much of a shot before Monday's game against the Penguins.

Only just about everything went right for the Panthers as they rolled to a 5-1 win over the Eastern Conference's top team.

"This is a tough place to play,'' coach Peter Horachek said. "It's good for our guys to know they can beat the good teams if you prepare and play 60 minutes. It's just one game, but it's good for our guys. I'm proud of them.''

Florida, which hadn't won here in over five years, got great performances from Drew Shore (two goals), Jesse Winchester (three primary assists), Mike Weaver (plus-5) and backup goalie Scott Clemmensen (35 saves) to put an end the Penguins' franchise record 13-game home winning streak.

The Penguins had won eight straight and 11 of 12 at home against the Panthers. Florida took the season series by winning two of three.

"We wanted to treat this game as a playoff game,'' said Shore, who scored Florida's first two goals to give the Panthers a 2-0 lead heading into the third.

"We wanted to make a statement to ourselves. We knew they would come hard. It feels good to get a win.''

The Penguins hadn't lost to the Panthers on home ice since they played in the now-demolished Igloo across the street.

How long ago was that? That game, on Jan. 3, 2009, is best known for Sidney Crosby jumping the diminutive Brett McLean in the faceoff circle and spending much of the day in the penalty box.

Scorers for the Panthers that day were Richard Zednik, Bryan McCabe, Nathan Horton and Ville Peltonen.

Horton was traded away four years ago; Zednik and Peltonen left the NHL after that season. McCabe is in Florida's front office.

"I thought our guys played pretty well from the beginning,'' Horachek said. "We got a lot of contributions from a lot of people.''

Shore got the scoring going for the Panthers as Florida was killing a penalty. The Panthers haven't given up a power play goal since Dec. 28 -- a run of 26 straight kills.

After Clemmensen blocked a shot, Shore picked up the puck and went on a 2-on-1 break with Marcel Goc. Shore kept the puck and beat Marc-Andre Fleury (23 saves) to make it 1-0.

"Everything came together for us,'' said Clemmensen, who got the assist on that one. "This is a tough league. But [Monday], everything clicked. I got an assist. That's when you know everything is going your way.

"A guy with my puck-handling skills doesn't get an assist very often.''

Shore made it 2-0 in the second when he took a Winchester pass from behind the net and scored. Dmitry Kulikov made it 3-0 early in the third when he jumped on a fat rebound and wrapped the puck around Fleury.

Pittsburgh cut its deficit when Matt Niskanen scored at 5:11 of the third, but the Panthers put it away when Jonathan Huberdeau scored his first goal since Dec. 5 on a wacky play that led to a review considered the longest in Panthers history.

Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad crashed the net with Huberdeau being hit from behind and thrown into the goal cage -- along with the puck. Moments after the goal was allowed, Shawn Matthias made it 5-1 on yet another slick feed from Winchester.

"It feels really good, but this is a big win for our team,'' Huberdeau said. "We needed to make a statement. We know we can beat the best team in the league. We just need to get on a streak and get back into playoff position.''


Starter Tim Thomas took his first game off in weeks after getting hit with a flu bug he said had run through his family. Thomas, who had started eight straight games, is expected to be back in net Tuesday night in Buffalo.

"I feel a lot better today than I did [Sunday],'' Thomas said after a robust workout Monday morning.

-- Florida put defenseman Mike Mottau (leg) on the injured list to make room for Winchester.

Horachek said Mottau suffered a leg injury a few days ago and hasn't skated lately. Mottau hasn't played in the past 20 games.

-- Tomas Kopecky missed Monday's game after being slammed shoulder-first into the boards Saturday in Carolina. Horachek said Kopecky could be back as early as Tuesday.


When, Where: 7 p.m.; First Niagara Center, Buffalo

TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560

The series: Buffalo leads 34-29-4

The game: The Sabres remain last in the Atlantic Division yet have split the first two games of this three-game set with the Panthers. Florida won here 2-1 in a shootout on Jan. 9.


January 18, 2014

BLACKED OUT: Panthers Power Play Shut Off Again in 3-2 Loss at Carolina


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Panthers' longstanding problems with their power play may have cost them a win on Saturday.

Florida, which hasn't netted a power play goal since the 2013 calendar year, struck out again in a 3-2 loss to host Carolina at PNC Arena.

Saturday, the Panthers once more looked to be skating with a man disadvantage during their power play, going 0-for-5.

Carolina, meanwhile, cashed in and scored what would be the game-winning goal during a Florida power play chance when Florida's Tom Gilbert fumbled the puck in the neutral zone.

"Scoring goals on the power play is the key. That was the game, again,'' said Tomas Fleischmann, who was credited with one shot on goal during Florida's power play chances.

"If we had one power play goal, we'd have [at least] a point.''

The Panthers have failed to score in 32 consecutive power play attempts dating to Dec. 28 against Detroit.

On the flip side, Florida's penalty kill has been terrific and hasn't surrendered a goal while down during the same span.

"It's very frustrating. We're losing, right?,'' said goalie Tim Thomas, who made 36 saves.

"San Jose played really good [Thursday], are a really good team. Carolina, I'm not saying their not a good team because they are, but this was a different situation. We made mistakes that were preventable. That's what is frustrating to me.''

While the Panthers' power play has been a problem all season, Saturday's game was a example of what could have been.

Florida's power play is ranked last in the NHL -- and it's not all that close. The Panthers have goals on 9.3 percent of their power plays -- a number that would be worst in franchise history if it holds up.

"Maybe we need to look at some different people or something,'' coach Peter Horachek said. "It's frustrating because in the third period we were where we wanted to be.''

The Panthers' previous worst of 13 percent (2000-01) looks robust compared to the current number.

"You don't have to look at the numbers,'' Brian Campbell said. "For me, we need to shoot the puck more and quit with the nice cross-ice passes.''

The Hurricanes -- which have won 29 of 40 home games against the Panthers since 2000 -- came hard at Thomas in the opening period and fired off eight shots during their two power play chances.

Thomas didn't bend, however, although the Hurricanes struck first when Brad Boyes gave up the puck and Riley Nash scored.

Florida tied it 10 minutes later when Jonathan Huberdeau fought to keep the puck deep in the Carolina zone and found Marcel Goc in front of the net. Goc's goal made it 1-1 with 4:45 left in the second.

"He worked hard and that was a pretty good effort, he's going in the right direction,'' Horachek said of the slumping Huberdeau. "We saw some good things. That's a real positive.''

Carolina scored twice within a six-plus minute span of the third to open things up.

Alexander Semin, called out by GM Jim Rutherford two days prior, whipped a shot from inside the left circle off a faceoff that Florida's Nick Bjugstad appeared to win. Thomas never saw the shot as Jiri Tlusty drove a Florida defender into the goalie as the puck began its flight.

Later, Gilbert gave up the puck on Florida's fifth power play of the night with Eric Staal picking it off and sliding it to Semin for the breakaway goal.

The Panthers brought the deficit back to one when Tomas Kopecky -- who briefly left the game after going hard into the boards -- redirected a long shot from Dmitry Kulikov past goalie Anton Khudobin (37 saves) with 5:39 left.

Florida pulled Thomas but couldn't find the elusive third goal.


Horachek said that Jesse Winchester hasn't been cleared to return to the lineup after missing the past month with a broken hand.

Winchester was hurt Dec. 15 in Montreal after blocking a shot.

"He just got back and had one full practice,'' Horachek said. "I and the trainers felt it was important for him to have an extra day.''


January 16, 2014

SHARK SHUTOUT: Panthers Outplayed Throughout 3-0 Loss to San Jose ... Tim Thomas Strong in Loss

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Aside from a four-goal outburst on Tuesday, the Panthers haven't scored much lately.

It cost them again Thursday.

San Jose got rolling on a breakaway goal from Joe Thornton late in the second period en route to a 3-0 win at BB&T Center.

Despite giving up a few goals Thursday, few can blame goalie Tim Thomas as he's kept the Panthers in every game lately despite almost no goal support.

Thomas stopped the first 27 shots he faced before Thornton scored. San Jose's next two goals came after Thomas made the initial stop and the Sharks' pounced on the rebound.

Florida has scored one goal or fewer in five of the past seven games. Thomas has salvaged four points from three of those games.

"We weren't happy that they came and took it to us,'' Thomas said, "that they were the team ready to play and we weren't. .-.-. We were at home. They flew thousands of miles and it didn't look like it. They looked like the fresh home team and we couldn't get anything going.''

The Sharks, coming off a shootout win in Washington on Tuesday, had plenty of jump as they brought the house in the opening period.

San Jose had 21 shots on goal in the first yet couldn't get anything past Thomas as he rejected one shot after another.

The Sharks, who outshot Florida 21-8 in the first 20 minutes, didn't get their first goal until Thornton picked up a loose puck in front of Mike Weaver in the neutral zone and took off.

Thornton charged in on Thomas, going top shelf on San Jose's 28th shot of the game.

"We have to bury our chances and our opportunities,'' Scottie Upshall said.

Florida had shots but not many real scoring chances against rookie goalie Alex Stalock. One terrific chance came in the third when Tomas Fleischmann fed Upshall in front of the net. Stalock, who made 24 saves, made a terrific stop as he would record his first NHL shutout.

Moments after Upshall was stopped, San Jose charged up the ice and took a 2-0 lead.

Thomas made a nice stop on a shot from Tyler Kennedy yet was still sprawled on the ice when Matt Nieto followed up and pumped a shot into the vacant net at 4:44 of the period.

Midway through the period, Thomas made a kick save on Brent Burns that Joe Pavelski jumped all over.

"They certainly outplayed us,'' coach Peter Horachek said. "We weren't ready to play and I'm not very happy with that.''


Some of the Panthers' youngest players all scored during Florida's 4-2 win over the visiting Islanders on Tuesday night.

In the opening period, rookie Aleksander Barkov, Drew Shore and Nick Bjugstad staked the Panthers to a 3-0 lead.

"You're looking at the long term situation,'' Horachek said. "The future is one thing and now is another thing so as long as they continue to contribute right now where they are -- and they are -- we're okay.''

-- Florida's league-worst power play continues to shoot blanks. The Panthers went 0-for-3 on Thursday and has now gone scoreless on their past 27 tries.

The Panthers haven't scored a power play goal since Dec. 27 against the Red Wings.

-- The Panthers will hold an open practice Friday at the Coral Springs Iceplex at 11 a.m. before flying to Raleigh, N.C., to kick off a three-game trip.


January 15, 2014

HUBERDEAU READY TO BOUNCE BACK: Reigning Rookie of the Year Hoping to Break Slump

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

It has been a long time since Jonathan Huberdeau was benched. It's a feeling he doesn't like.

For now, being sat for much of the third period on Tuesday could be the end of it for the NHL's reigning rookie of the year.

Panthers coach Peter Horachek says Huberdeau will be allowed the chance to play through his slump and he'll be back in the lineup Thursday against the visiting San Jose Sharks.

"I don't like to use the word benched, but that's the analogy of what it was,'' said Horachek, who pulled Huberdeau off the ice 2:38 into the third period Tuesday and didn't put him back in.

"His time is earned and he's going through a tough time right now. We're asking him to work harder. He's feeling the pressure of not scoring.''

Said Huberdeau: "For sure, you want to be out there helping the team. I understood why [Horachek] didn't want me on the ice. It's a learning process. I have support from the coach, he knows what I can do better. I want to do better. It's hard personally but the team is winning. I'll get over it.''

Huberdeau has been struggling this season, one in which he was eased into training camp after having hip surgery over the summer. Huberdeau played with the injury all of last season yet still won the Calder Trophy after scoring 14 goals and picking up 17 assists in playing all 48 games of a lockout-shortened season.

Huberdeau not only played all of those games for the Panthers last season, but also played 30 games in the Quebec junior league and represented Team Canada at the World Juniors.

"There are no excuses, I'm not physically tired,'' Huberdeau said. "The surgery, I couldn't skate all summer. But now I feel pretty good on the ice. There's no hip problem or anything. It's on me. I have to get better.''

This year, Huberdeau has yet to find his rythym. Over the past few weeks, Horachek has sought to kickstart his game and put him with Marcel Goc and Tomas Kopecky.

Huberdeau hasn't scored a goal in his past 14 games and has three points since Dec. 13.

He hopes to find some fun in the game and stop pressing so much.

"I've been digging a hole, being negative all the time,'' Huberdeau said. "I just need to stay positive. It's good that the team is winning. That helps. Right now this is all about me. I'm going through a slump and I could be scratched or sent down. But they're giving me a chance. I know I can have success here. I have to keep telling myself that. I wish I could snap my fingers and things go back like last year. But it's a different year. I need to produce.''

On Tuesday, Huberdeau gave up the puck without much complaint to Kyle Okposo which led to Thomas Vanek's goal making it a 4-2 game. He also took two penalties earlier in the game, leading Horachek to pull him off the ice.

Earlier in the game, Huberdeau was stopped on a breakaway. That, he said, "could have been a game changer.'' Horachek agrees.

"This isn't a long-term thing he just needs to push himself a little harder,'' Horachek said.

"He's never had adversity like this. He's never had it in junior, he wins rookie of the year his first year pro. Adversity is hard for people who haven't had to deal with it before. That's part of maturing, growing up. He's a good young man and is very talented. We just have to work through it.''


Even though the Panthers haven't scored a power goal in their past seven games but Horachek liked what he saw from the unit Tuesday.

Florida had numerous chances and put the pressure on the Islanders only goalie Kevin Poulin made some spectacular stops.

"We know the pucks have to start going in,'' Horachek said. "But when you see the number of chances we have, we have to look at it as an encouragement. If you have no chances, no times up the ice, it's a negative. We're getting into the zone and getting multiple scoring chances. Hopefully that starts to become a factor and start winning games for us.''



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

TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560

The series: San Jose leads 9-8-7

Scouting report: The Panthers have won four straight against the Sharks dating to the 2008-09 season. San Jose is coming off a 2-1 shootout win Tuesday at Washington.


January 14, 2014

ON AN ISLAND: Panthers Build Lead, Beat Islanders 4-2 ... Tim Thomas Makes 31 Saves in Win

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

It didn't take long for the Panthers to extinguish the hottest road team in hockey Tuesday night.

Aleksander Barkov scored 32 seconds in and Florida scored three in the opening period en route to a 4-2 win over the Islanders at BB&T Center.

The Panthers hadn't scored more than one goal in any of their previous three games before halting the Islanders' run of seven straight road wins.

Before the game, coach Peter Horachek vowed his team would start scoring. The Panthers proved him right.

"We got goals from all different lines,'' said Nick Bjugstad, who made it 3-0 near the end of the third.

"A lot of guys came through. It was good to see. We bore down.''

The Islanders, who hadn't lost away from Long Island since Dec. 12 in Arizona, looked road weary in the first period as soft clearing passes and poor puck handling helped lead to Florida's quick start.

On the game's opening shift, Barkov and Brad Boyes alternated passes up the ice with Barkov finally sending the puck into the empty net as Kevin Poulin committed to Boyes.

The Islanders, in the middle of a six-game trip, woke up as the period wore on only to find Tim Thomas waiting for them. The Panthers goalie made a number of key saves as he waited for the Florida offense to add support.

With 4:26 left in the first, the Panthers took a 2-0 lead as Drew Shore spun in the right circle and threw up a shot that banged off Brian Strait's skate. Bjugstad then made it 3-0 by driving in and scoring off another New York turnover. Bjugstad ended up being thrown into the goal.

"I just tried going to the net,'' Bjugstad said. "It's part of the game.''

The Islanders came hard at the Panthers in the second but Thomas (31 saves) was strong again. Florida made it 4-0 when Scottie Upshall steamrolled Andrew MacDonald to steal the puck and scored on the breakaway.

Upshall's goal -- his first in 16 games -- came as Florida was killing off a penalty.

"It was a big play by our defenseman [Ed Jovanovski and Brian Campbell] down low,'' Upshall said. "We were able to play with the lead and that's a big confidence booster. I think all four lines were great. It was a big effort from everyone.''

New York, which didn't get much from leading scorer John Tavares, cut its deficit to three late in the second just as its third power play ended as Colin McDonald scored in front of the net. Early in the third, Thomas Vanek -- a potential Florida target this offseason -- made it 4-2.

Although the Islanders kept coming, Thomas kept the puck out.

"Timmie keeps us in it every time,'' Bjugstad said. "It's nice having a tender like that.''


The Panthers announced they will host the NHL Draft next summer. The first round is expected to be held on June 26, 2015, with the following rounds on June 27.

"I think that's something that is going to build and build and build,'' Horachek said. "I don't think most people knew it was coming before it was announced. I think it's a great thing, great for South Florida, our team and this building. It will be exciting.''

Team president Michael Yormark said the team is working on bringing more such events to the Broward County-owned (but team run) arena.

The NHL promised the county a draft and future All-Star Game last summer in exchange for the commission approving a new scoreboard. Yormark said the BB&T Center has an agreement to continue hosting the Orange Bowl college basketball tournament and the arena is looking into NCAA men's basketball tournaments.

-- Although Upshall scored shorthanded, the Panthers weren't as good with an extra skater as their last-place power play went 0-for-5 and hasn't scored in seven games.

Florida had numerous chances but couldn't score on an long 5-on-3 opportunity in the first nor a four-minute power play in the third.


BIG-TIME GOAL: Cypress Bay's Jake Levy Makes SportsCenter with Help from Jake Winderman

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Cypress Bay High in Weston is best known for its football team, but on Monday, the Lightning's hockey team got national recognition when a video clip of Jake Levy was selected as ESPN's play of the day on SportsCenter.

Levy's slick penalty shot, in which he worked the puck between his legs before shooting high on the Flanagan goalie, would be the envy of some Florida Panthers.

For ESPN to notice a video highlight of a high school player from South Florida takes some work.

Jake Winderman, a Cypress Bay senior, caught the goal on video and knew he had something special.

Winderman, the son of long-time Sun-Sentinel NBA writer Ira, raced home and uploaded the video to his YouTube account. Then he sent a tweet to ESPN's John Buccigross alerting him to the play. He also sent a tweet to Steve Levy, who was hosting SportsCenter that night.

A producer at ESPN noticed it and asked Winderman for permission to use the footage. Stuart Scott gave the commentary.

"It was really cool, really exhilarating to see something I filmed and produced made it on a top network like that,'' Winderman said.

Levy was expected to be a guest of the Panthers at Tuesday night's game; Ira and Jake Winderman also planned to attend.

"I think it's great, brings attention to the area,'' Panthers coach Peter Horachek said. "It's good to have young players have that opportunity.''


January 13, 2014

ANOTHER SUNRISE DRAFT: Florida Panthers to Host NHL Draft in 2015

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers announced that the 2015 NHL Draft is coming to Sunrise on Tuesday morning. The second draft to be held in South Florida will be June 26-27, 2015.

The Panthers previously hosted the draft in 2001 and selected Stephen Weiss with the fourth overall pick.

Last summer, the NHL promised the Panthers a draft and future All-Star Game as a return to Broward County for paying for the arena's new scoreboard.

The 2014 NHL Draft will be held at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia this coming June.

"I think that's something that is going to build and build and build,'' coach Peter Horachek said. "I don't think most people knew it was coming before it was announced. I think it's a great thing, great for South Florida, our team and this building. It will be exciting.''

SCOTTIE UPSHALL: Lots of Chances Not Translating into Goals

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Scottie Upshall hasn't had the best of luck lately.

The Panthers winger has been one of his team's better players, getting scoring chances on just about every other shift he plays.

There has been little reward for Upshall's efforts, however. In Saturday's 2-1 overtime loss to the Devils, Upshall was credited for four shots on goal yet his secondary assist on Nick Bjugstad's goal was his first point in eight games.

For Upshall, scoring chances just haven't translated to goals.

"As I've gotten older, throughout your career you realize sometimes the game gets tough,'' said Upshall, who scored all six of his goals this season during a 13-game span from Nov. 5-30.

"It's a challenge. We just have to keep creating plays, working hard and maybe work harder and do things better. The chances are there. The effort is there. The bounces will eventually come.''

Upshall's play has definitely picked up since Peter Horachek took over for Kevin Dineen in early November.

Under Horachek, Upshall has four of his goals this season and 10 of his 13 assists.

"His energy is there,'' said Horachek, who was Upshall's first coach at AHL Milwaukee and was an assistant in Nashville when he became a full-time player there in 2005.

"He's still working hard, busting to the net trying to get that rebound goal. He's working. There are a lot of chances that could go in for a lot of people. We need to score them.''

The combination of Upshall, Bjugstad and Tomas Fleischmann has been pretty solid for the Panthers although all three have gone through scoring droughts.

Bjugstad's goal Saturday was his first in six games; Fleischmann has led the Panthers in scoring in each of the past two seasons yet has just five goals this season.

Upshall says as long as the chances keep coming, the goals will as well.

"It's the way the game works,'' Upshall said. "The only thing a player controls is the effort. I think we're close.''

-- The Panthers will play host to one of the hottest teams in the league when the Islanders visit on Tuesday.

New York has won four straight and seven of its past eight. John Tavares' 56 points is tied for second in the league and has eight goals in his past nine games.

-- Jesse Winchester is about to return to practice after being out since injuring his hand blocking a shot in Montreal on Dec. 15. Horachek thinks Winchester will rejoin the lineup during next week's road trip.



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

TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560

The series: Panthers lead 39-34-8

The game: This is the first meeting between the two teams this season with the second coming on Long Island on March 2. The Isles won all three games last year.

January 12, 2014

PETE DeBOER: Win or Go Home ... John Madden Behind Bench in Jersey

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

NEWARK, N.J. -- The Panthers have gone 14-12-3 under interim coach Peter Horachek although there has been no determination whether or not he'll return next season.

Horachek says he can only do the best he can moving forward as general manager Dale Tallon says the Panthers will "wait and see what happens" as the season progresses.

Pete DeBoer once held Horachek's job, and like Horachek, the Florida gig was his first NHL head coaching job.

DeBoer, Florida's coach for three seasons before being fired by Tallon following the 2010-11 season, says he thinks Horachek has done a pretty job since taking over.

"They are playing well, you can see some structure and they have a good gameplan,'' said DeBoer, hired by New Jersey a few months after being let go in Florida.

"You can see a little Nashville there which isn't surprising considering Peter coached there so long.''

DeBoer said he was disappointed Kevin Dineen, who replaced him in Florida, was fired in November. After all, the NHL is about winning right now.

"I have a lot of respect for Kevin, the job he did there,'' DeBoer said.

Although Dineen led the Panthers to the playoffs in his first season, the team struggled through injuries in his second and had lost 13 of the first 16 games to start this season.

Under DeBoer, New Jersey beat the Panthers in the opening round of the 2012 playoffs before advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals. The Devils lost to the Kings.

On Saturday, the DeBoer improved to 9-6 against the Panthers -- including the postseason -- as the Devils won 2-1 in overtime.

"This is a what have you done for me lately league,'' said DeBoer, himself under some heat from Devils fans.

"We went to the Finals 24 months ago and, you know, people don't talk much about that. Kevin brought them to the playoffs for the first time in a decade but that's the league. Things get forgotten in a hurry. He's still an excellent coach. He'll land on his feet somewhere.''


John Madden was a center for the Devils for more than a decade and was part of two Stanley Cup teams. Saturday, he was on the bench facing his old team -- one in which he battled as a member of the Panthers during the 2012 playoffs -- as an assistant coach.

Madden, who retired after playing his last game against the Devils on April 26, 2012, was a pro scout for the Panthers when the season started but promoted to assistant coach when Kevin Dineen and his staff was fired in November.

"[Coaching] was something I always wanted to do but this came along a lot sooner than I thought,'' Madden said. "The opportunity came up and it's been fun. I'm learning a lot, trying to move forward and help our team get better.''

Said Horachek: "He has a good awareness and is really in touch with what's going on with the game today. He's got good insight and has given me good information on the bench. He's been a real good resource for me.''

-- Devils fans booed when it was announced Scott Gomez was scratched before Saturday's game.

Gomez, who hasn't played in 16 of the past 18 games, scored 116 goals over seven seasons with the Devils and was part of the 2003 Cup championship team.

-- The Panthers are taking Sunday off and return to practice Monday at the Coral Springs Iceplex. The 11 a.m. workout is free and open to the public.


January 11, 2014

TALLON: Florida Panthers Will Spend Money in Offseason

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

General manager Dale Tallon said Saturday night that owner Vinnie Viola has given him "the green light" to spend upward toward the salary cap ceiling next season.

The Panthers, while in the midst of being sold from Cliff Viner to Viola, weren't a free agent player last summer. Tallon says that will change.

Florida, which is asking Broward County to rework its arena lease to free up $63 million in bond payments, is spending about $50 million in salary this year which is near the bottom of the league. The salary cap is expected to be north of $70 million next year.

"I'm excited,'' Tallon said. "We're going to be able to go out there and get the players we need to get.''

One of the promises team president Michael Yormark has made to the Broward commission is that the Panthers will have a payroll "at a level competitive with the rest of the National Hockey League.''

Tallon says they will do more than that in hopes of turning their on-ice fortunes around.

"I'm excited about our future. We not only have great kids, but we know have the ability to go get some players,'' Tallon said. "We're going to be a cap team and that's pretty exciting. We've always scouted players and that hasn't changed. But now we have the freedom to go out and get them.''


DEVIL OF A NIGHT: Thomas, Schneider Star although Zidlicky Gets OT Winner for Devils

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

NEWARK, N.J. -- It may not have had the soundtrack of Billy Joel, but Tim Thomas and Cory Schneider sure put on a show Saturday night.

There would be no encore at Prudential Center, however, as Thomas stormed off the ice after Marek Zidlicky's one-timer zipped past him with two-plus seconds left in overtime as the Devils won 2-1.

"I was aware that must have been an entertaining game for the fans,'' said Thomas, who stopped 34 saves including 15 from the third period on. "I was just trying to be the guy who didn't get scored on.''

Florida picked up a point in the standings with the overtime loss although coach Peter Horachek sure wasn't happy afterward.

The Panthers didn't do much of anything for the first two periods save for have Thomas in net. In the third, the two goalies traded saves. Although Florida defensemen Dmitry Kulikov and Erik Gudbranson made some sacrificial blocks to help out Thomas, Horachek was steamed the Devils forged into the Florida zone with such ease.

"We didn't deserve anything; we got a point we didn't deserve,'' Horachek said. "They outplayed us much of the game. We had scoring chances but were terrible in our own zone. We gave up a lot of chances. A lot of guys weren't playing, didn't compete. We scratched a point out of it. Tim Thomas played well, kept us in it.''

Florida went 1-1-1 on this three-game road trip with lost opportunity at the start and finish. Although the Panthers didn't play very well in New Jersey, had they held off the Devils in the final seconds of overtime, that second point in the standings may have been theirs.

Although the Panthers have been pretty good in the shootout by winning six of 11, the Devils have been dreadful and are winless in six.

That was all moot when Travis Zajac won the final faceoff and the puck got to Zidlicky. Nick Bjugstad said the shot went off his stick and changed its trajectory as it headed toward Thomas.

"That's about as bad as it could end,'' said Bjugstad, who tied the score at 1 in the second by driving in on Schnieder and powering a Tomas Fleischmann feed through.

"That puck had eyes.''

The Panthers had a few early chances against Schneider including a Tomas Kopecky shorthanded chance in the second. That was one of just two Florida shots on goal in the opening 11 minutes of the period with Bjugstad scoring the equalizer just before the 12 minute mark.

Both Sean Bergenheim and Fleischmann had chances to end it in the final seconds of regulation with Aleksander Barkov getting a prime scoring opportunity early in OT.

"We were hoping to get to the shootout at the end of it,'' Horachek said. "Odds are pretty good, we've had some success. But we didn't deserve it. I'm disappointed with the effort.''

-- Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov broke his capped front teeth after taking a stick to the face Thursday in Buffalo. Kulikov, at least temporarily, has two jagged nubs where his teeth used to be.

"I spit them into my glove,'' Kulikov said. "Not fun.''

-- Former Heat center Shaquille O'Neal wore a very snug Devils jersey and dropped the ceremonial first puck before Saturday's game.

O'Neal is a Newark native and showed up early Saturday night to drive the Zamboni around the ice with the Devils mascot riding shotgun.


January 05, 2014

GUDBRANSON RETURNING: Panthers Still Nicked Up

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Defenseman Erik Gudbranson could be back in the lineup Monday in Montreal but will do so wearing a steel cage on his helmet.

Gudbranson needed orbital bone surgery after being struck in the face by a puck Dec. 20 in Winnipeg. That was a rough trip for Gudbranson as he was slashed by a skate in Montreal a few days prior.

"We're hopeful he could play on this trip, as early as Monday,'' coach Peter Horachek said. "He'll have to wear the cage because of the surgery. You can't risk a direct hit.''

Florida's defensive depth has been receding of late with Alex Petrovic going down with an upper body injury Saturday. Horachek said Petrovic will not be on this road trip. Dylan Olsen (lower body) will not fly to Montreal but could meet the team later on in its travels.

"We're going to let [Petrovic] get some treatment and see where he is,'' Horachek said. "We'll know in the next few days. It's better to have our doctors here look at him.''

-- Winger Jesse Winchester is three weeks removed from injuring his hand blocking a shot in Montreal. He doesn't have a cast on the hand anymore and said he should be back later in the month. Winchester won't be on the trip.


KOPECKY STILL SOLID: Goal Scoring is Done, Defensive Play is Not

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Tomas Kopecky isn't scoring at the rate he did last year although he said Sunday that he is OK with the role he plays with the Panthers.

Kopecky tied a career-high with 15 goals last season, doing so in just 47 played due to the lockout-shortened campaign.

Although Kopecky is doing many of the same things he's done in the past, the scoring hasn't come as he hoped. He feels like things are going to even out.

In Saturday's 5-4 shootout win over the visiting Predators, Kopecky scored his fourth goal of the year before ending the contest in the sixth round of the shootout.

"Each year is different and I'm playing against the other team's top lines,'' said Kopecky, who got the shootout-winner in Florida's 10-round marathon against Washington on Dec. 13.

"The priority is on the defense. Last year I was playing on the first power play and this year I'm not. Whatever helps the team win. I learned a long time ago not to feel sorry for yourself, just accept your role. Obviously it's more fun when you're scoring goal. But I'm putting the priority on shutting the other guy down.''

Kopecky's forte is creating traffic in front of the net and playing tough defense.

"He and Marcel Goc have been doing a lot of our penalty killing duties,'' coach Peter Horachek said. "He's a smart guy, a big body who you put in a lot of responsible situations like late in the game. He's come up big in a few shootouts and has been a guy who gets you 10, 15 goals. He's a guy who look at who has some skill and think he could hit that 20 goal plateau sometime.''

As for Kopecky moving up higher in the Panthers' shootout pecking order, don't expect that to happen anytime soon. Florida's top three of Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Brad Boyes are pretty solid with Nick Bjugstad a nice option if a shootout goes longer.

Kopecky is 3-for-7 in shootouts over his career with both game-deciding goals coming this season.

"You have to have a feel for what you have,'' Horachek said.



When, Where: 7 p.m.; Bell Center, Montreal

TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560

The series: Panthers lead 36-34-6

Scouting report: The Panthers, one of three teams in the NHL with an all-time winning mark against the Canadiens, have won the first two meetings of the season. Montreal has lost three of its past four games.


January 04, 2014

JOVO'S TRIUMPHANT RETURN: Panthers Top Predators 5-4 in Shootout after Nashville Rallies in Third ... Jovo Plus-3 in Win, Petrovic Hurt

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers started the second half of the season with their captain back on the ice after being denied his services for almost a year.

Ed Jovanovski didn't make the scoresheet but celebrated Saturday's 5-4 shootout win over visiting Nashville as if he scored each of the goals himself.

The Panthers feted their captain with a closed-door celebration following the game. Jovanovski, who played 15:54, received the hero hat from his teammates.

"It was nice to celebrate a goal,'' said Jovanovski, who had been out since having hip resurfacing surgery last spring. Jovanovski was on the ice for three of Florida's four regulation goals.

"I got a little antsy there, jumped around in warmups. It was nice to get the first shift out of the way, move the puck a little. It was good to move on from there.''

The Panthers will need plenty more wins in the final 40 games if the hope to play any role in the postseason chase. After closing to within four points of Toronto for the final playoff spot last month, the Panthers have fallen back.

Florida came into Saturday's game 10 points back of Detroit for the last slot.

On Saturday, Florida went the long way to victory after taking a 4-2 lead early in the third. Nashville scored twice within the final 4:08 yet its shootout struggles continue as Florida won it in the sixth round via Tomas Kopecky.

"It wasn't pretty but it felt pretty good,'' said interim coach Peter Horachek, who spent the past decade as an assistant in Nashville before being fired after last season.

"You want to beat your former team and they're all friends over there. The main thing is we need to keep moving forward, find ways to win. We let them tie it up but they stayed on point, got the extra point.''

Florida, which hadn't beaten the Preds since 2011, fell behind 1-0 before scoring the final two goals of the first period to take a 2-1 lead into the break.

Midway through the first, Brad Boyes got his team-leading 11th goal by jamming a loose puck past Marek Mazanec. With 2:04 left in the first, Kopecky gave Florida its first lead by teeing off on a poor clearing chance from Mattias Ekholm.

"I'm just working whatever strengths I have,'' said Kopecky, who has four goals in 37 games after tying a career-high with 15 in 47 last year.

"We have to learn from this. We have to learn to play if we're up, stick with the gameplan. We have to realize to play a little more defensively, keep it away from our goalie.''

Nashville tied the score late in the second on Mike Fisher's 11th of the year, but it took Sean Bergenheim 57 seconds to give Florida the edge again.

Bergenheim whiffed on his initial shot, but rookie Aleksander Barkov -- who now looks like a lock to represent Finland at the Sochi Games -- tapped the puck back and Bergenheim buried it.

Marcel Goc, who spent two years in Nashville, scored early in the third but the lead wouldn't hold up.

Seth Jones, whom the Panthers bypassed in last June's draft to take Barkov, make it 4-3 with 5:08 left. Playing with an extra skater and empty net, Nashville tied things with 48 seconds remaining when Paul Gaustad swept in a puck that got behind Tim Thomas (38 saves; five in the shootout).

Nashville is now 0-4 in shootouts off 1-for-16 shooting. Florida improved to 5-5.


General manager Dale Tallon said the 'lower body' injury to defenseman Dylan Olsen wasn't anything too serious. Olsen will be eligible to come off the IR in time for Thursday's game at Buffalo.

Olsen was placed on the IR to make room for Jovanovski.

-- Florida played shorthanded when defenseman Alex Petrovic left with an undisclosed injury five minutes into the third.

-- Winger Scottie Upshall returned to the lineup after missing the past three games with an undisclosed upper-body injury sustained against Tampa Bay just before the Christmas break.

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

Photo courtesy of @ChunkyNHL


January 03, 2014

JOVO IS BACK: Panthers Captain Returns Saturday v Preds

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers announced Friday that captain Ed Jovanovski has been taken off IR and will make his season debut Saturday against the Predators.

Jovanovski has been out since having radical hip surgery last spring. Dylan Olsen has been placed on IR with a lower body injury making room for Jovo.

Here's what I wrote earlier this season:

Jovanovski underwent hip surgery in April after radical treatments in Germany didn’t help with the pain. On Thursday morning, five months after his surgery, Jovanovski — who turned 37 in June — was back on the ice with his teammates for the first day of training camp.

Just being suited up and participating on the opening day of camp seemed out of the question to Jovanovski a few months ago.

“It’s been a long summer,” he said. “You always have those doubts, I would be lying if I said I didn’t. I had a major surgery done. I had no options. I’m happy where it is right now. My quality of life is much better.”

Now, however, the battle for Jovanovski is to see if he can get back to game speed and help the Panthers on the ice.

“I’m skating right now, and it’s pretty much pain-free,” Jovanovski said. “But that’s skating where pretty much everything is controlled. Getting into a game-like situation, we’ll see what happens.

“My goal is to be an everyday player, to lead these guys. It’s been tough, but I think I’ve been happier lately. I can do everyday things again like playing with my kids.”

Jovanovski was the first overall pick of the 1994 NHL Draft by the Panthers and played from 1995 to ’99 in Florida before being traded to Vancouver as part of the Pavel Bure deal.

Jovanovski returned and signed a four-year deal with Florida in 2011 and was named the seventh captain in Panthers history on the eve of last season’s opener.

Although he had dealt with the pain in his hip over the past few years, things really got bad at the start of last season.

When Jovanovski was knocked out of a game in Tampa five games in, the pain in his hip was becoming unbearable. In a desperate effort to find relief without having surgery, Jovanovski went to Germany for advanced platelet rich plasma therapy, something a number of athletes are turning to in trying to heal without surgery.

How bad was his pain?

“It got to the point where I couldn’t bend down to tie my laces anymore,” he said.

He came back to Florida and worked his way back into the lineup, returning after missing 22 games. Jovanovski didn’t last long as he left Florida’s game against the Islanders after the second period. He made the decision to have surgery soon afterward.

“I exercised every single option,” he said. “I needed to get it fixed. So that’s what we did.”

Some would ask why Jovanovski is putting himself through this, through trying to come back from such a debilitating injury. Money isn’t what drives Jovanovski, at least not in this case as he has two years left on his contract with $8.25 million guaranteed.

Jovanovski said just being able to continue playing the game he loves is his motivation. Being there and trying to help the Panthers win is right there as well.

“I just love the game, love being around it,” he said. “I don’t know anything different. My passion is hockey — it is everything. It’s the competition, the opportunity to be able to compete day in and day out. And there’s the camaraderie. Most guys say that is the biggest thing they miss when it’s over. I’m just driven to play.”

Jovanovski’s work through the pain hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“That’s why he’s our captain. He’s our leader and he’s our front man,” said Erik Gudbranson, Jovanovski’s defensive partner for much of his rookie year in 2011-12.

The question now is whether Jovanovski can make it all the way back.

Panthers coach Kevin Dineen knows the type of drive that is fueling Jovanovski, saying Thursday that when it came to the end of his career, “They had to boot me off the ice.”

Dineen, who was 39 when he retired four games into the 2002-03 season, is definitely rooting for the guy he named captain of the Panthers last January. Dineen will, however, be watching the situation closely.

"I got around November and knew the pace wasn’t going to stay where I was at,’’ Dineen said. "In saying that, he’s made a heck of an effort to come back. He’s a hockey player. This is what he does, this is what his life is about. We’re hoping surgery worked for him, although that hasn’t been answered yet.’’

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/09/13/3623630/ed-jovanovski-takes-first-step.html#storylink=cpy


January 01, 2014

ATTENDANCE LAGGING: Despite Recent Uptick, Panthers Numbers Down After 'Stagnant' Offseason

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Coming off their first playoff appearance in more than a decade, the Panthers had one of their best attended seasons last year despite a lockout that cost half the home dates.

A last place finish for the first time in franchise history and a complete lack of activity on the free agent market over the summer has cost the Panthers at the gate this season.

Although Florida has gotten a recent push from big draws Detroit, Montreal and the New York Rangers, the Panthers are still near the bottom of the league in average attendance (26th) and capacity percentage (29th).

"Finishing last is always an issue as is getting off to a slow start,'' team president Michael Yormark said.

"Two years ago we went to the playoffs then we were hit with a work stoppage. When we start up, we finish last in the league. We had concerns last summer. The franchise was in transition. We were stagnant last summer.''

With the team up for sale, the Panthers not only didn't make a splash with free agent signings, but also let center Stephen Weiss - the team's all-time leader in games played and face of the franchise - walk away without much of a fight.

The team tried to create excitement in a market that yawned. The Panthers slashed prices on season tickets - some were going as low as $7 per game - with a number of perks to those who signed on.

Swag the Panthers offered season ticket holders include free parking (they now charge $20 per car), a free home jersey and tickets to select concerts (which turned out to include Barry Manilow and comedian Jeff Dunham) and other home games.

Through 21 home dates this season, the Panthers are averaging 2,334 less per game than they announced in 24 home games last year.

Last year was different not only because the team was coming off its first division title in franchise history, but also started playing in the middle of the winter once the lockout ended. October and November are traditionally hard sells not only for the Panthers, but for a good number of NHL and NBA teams.

"Having seven games in October hurt us; it's too much for us,'' Yormark said of Florida's early season struggles. "With the Olympic season, it's not a balanced schedule. We just had too much inventory in October and I think things are going to catch up. We have a lot of big games left.''

Yormark says the Panthers announced attendance is tickets sold and not necessarily fans in the seats. "We've had some no-show issues,'' Yormark said. Currently, Florida is playing to 76 percent of its capacity at the BB&T Center which holds 19,250.

The Panthers have reduced official capacity by putting up tarps in the upper deck for select games. The numbers used in this report reflect the arena's true capacity.

Although attendance figures have picked up at the same time out of state (and Canadian) license plates have infiltrated South Florida roadways, the start of this season was a nightmare for Yormark and his sales staff.

With a decrease in season ticket holders as well as a rough start by the team, demand was lower than usual. Although the Panthers drew an announced 18,584 for their home opener against Pittsburgh on Oct. 11, only 12,810 showed up two days later for a game against 2012 Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles.

During one two-game weekday stretch early last month, barely half of the BB&T Center was filled when Ottawa and Winnipeg came to Sunrise. Photos of swaths of empty seats quickly made their way around the internet.

Florida's announced attendance for Ottawa on Dec. 3 was 10,074 -- lowest since a game against Carolina on Halloween 2007. It has gone up from there in small increments although Florida drew 54,906 (average of 18,302) to its most recent three games.

The Panthers didn't do much to help their own cause as the team went into the Ottawa game with wins in just seven of their first 27 games and had fired their coach a few weeks before.

Craig Custance, NHL writer for ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine, covered the Atlanta Thrashers when that team played many games in a mostly empty downtown arena. The Thrashers were eventually sold and relocated to Canada, something some fans fear could happen to the Panthers.

"The optics of mass sections of empty seats in Florida aren't great in a time when the league talks of prosperity, successful recovery from the lockout and even rumblings of expansion,'' Custance said.

"Clearly, there's still work to be done in Florida. You certainly can't blame the fans for not showing up. The team wasn't good last year and didn't spend anything in the summer to dramatically upgrade the roster and then struggled to start the season. That's hard to bounce back from.''

There are distinct differences in the Atlanta situation and the Panthers, however.

When the team was sold to Vinnie Viola in September, one of the first things NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said was the stability Viola brought would end talk of the Panthers leaving South Florida for good.

The Panthers have a long-term lease with Broward County, one that allows them to run the building and keep most of whatever profits are raised from it. That helps keep the Panthers here as well.

The Thrashers couldn't find a local owner who would keep the team in town as tenants at Philips Arena to the NBA's Hawks. The Panthers, obviously, control their arena concerns.

"The key here is ownership,'' Custance said. "Florida fans have shown they'll show up if the product is good and that starts at the top with a commitment from Vincent Viola and a demand for something more than seasons that alternate between mediocrity and the basement. The NHL has proven it can work in non-traditional markets with strong ownership and good management. It doesn't stand a chance without it."

With the new ownership, which has promised to spend whatever is necessary to make the Panthers a winner, Yormark is confident fans will return. The team beginning to pull itself out of the cellar is most definitely helping.

Those Florida fans in the building sure seemed to enjoy serenading the large group of Montreal followers who left Sunday's game early. The Panthers won that one 4-1.

"It was great to see the place packed, that makes for a fun night'' Brian Campbell said. "And it was great that our fans got to stand up and be proud at the end of the game. We heard them. They deserved that.''



Via hockeyattendance.com



21 home games; Average 14,658 (26th in NHL); 76.1 of capacity (29th)


24 home games; Average 16,992 (22nd); 88.3 of capacity (24th)


41 home games; Average 16,628 (21st); 86.4 of capacity (23rd)


41 home games; Average 15,686 (22nd); 81.5 of capacity (25th)


41 home games; Average 15,147 (25th); 78.7 of capacity (27th)

(*) - Season not yet completed

(**) - Lockout shortened season






December 31, 2013

MERRY NEW YEAR: Panthers End Winning Month with 2-1 Shootout Loss to Rangers

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Not all of 2013 was bad for the Florida Panthers. In fact, Florida wouldn't mind if December kept on going.

The Panthers tied a franchise record with their 17th point of the month by picking up one in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Rangers at BB&T Center.

Had Florida won - and it came dangerously close to doing so - the team really would have had a month for the record books.

"We're picking up some momentum, doing some good things,'' said goalie Tim Thomas, who made his first start in three weeks and made 30 saves. "We're a much better team than we were in October. If we keep making strides, that's the direction we want to go.''

New owner Vinnie Viola pulled the team out of the locker room following the game for a little pep talk and to wish them all a happy New Year.

For the Panthers, turning the page on 2013 is welcomed. Not only did Florida finish last season with the worst record in the entire league for the first time, but a 3-9-4 start cost Kevin Dineen his job behind the bench.

The Panthers went 8-5-1 in the final month of '13 after going 4-8-3 in November.

"The guys battled hard,'' said interim coach Peter Horachek. "We need to take something positive out of it. We need to be comfortable in a one-goal game.''

The Panthers, swept by the Rangers this season, had been waiting on Thomas for a few weeks after he tweaked his groin in practice on Dec. 12. Thomas was taken off the injured list on Christmas Eve, yet backup Scott Clemmensen got the next two starts just to be safe.

"I think it was a wise choice to sit him,'' Horachek said. "We didn't want him in and out. He does it again, you're missing weeks.''

With Thomas tossing back shots, the Panthers took the game to the Rangers yet only led 1-0 after Brad Boyes' goal in the second.

Boyes, who becomes Florida's first 10-goal scorer of the season, backhanded a slick feed from Aleksander Barkov through Lundqvist's skates.

"We need to keep the wins going, get some points,'' said Boyes, who leads Florida in goals yet has two in his past 18 games.

The Rangers had new life when Florida failed to do much on a four-minute power play in the third after Nick Bjugstad left the ice after taking a stick to the face.

New York tied it with 2:10 left on a Brad Richards shot.

Florida still had chances and came thisclose to winning it in the waning seconds of overtime but Tomas Fleischmann's shot went wide.

The Panthers went 0-3 in the shootout as Richards' won it on New York's third shot.

"We played well but sat back in the third period,'' Boyes said. "We didn't generate chances much less a goal and that hurt us. They kept pushing. It was somewhat surprising for us. We usually don't sit back.''


The roster for the U.S. Olympic team will be announced Wednesday afternoon and Thomas has made a strong case to be included.

Although the Detroit Free Press reported that Jimmy Howard would be the third goalie, Thomas is convinced a decision will not be made until just before the announcement.

Thomas missed the past three weeks with a groin injury, but he isn't alone. Howard came back from a knee injury Monday and looked very rusty in a loss to Nashville. Thomas, on the other hand, has looked sharp and has won three of his past four starts and is giving up fewer than two goals in each of those games.

-- Center Aleksander Barkov, 18, continues to impress and his nice pass led to Florida's first goal. Barkov moved into a tie for sixth on the NHL's rookie scoring list with his 19th point Tuesday.


December 30, 2013

MIFFED: Canadiens Not Happy With Goal Reversals

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers were the beneficiary of goals being waved off by the officials Sunday as Montreal scored twice but had them reversed.

The first goal came when Brian Gionta was said to have hit the puck with a high stick. Gionta said he never touched it.

The second disallowed goal came after Alex Galchenyuk plowed into Clemmensen. It looked like Galchenyuk was shoved into Scott Clemmensen, drawing the ire of Montreal coach Michel Therrien, but Clemmensen clearly had no shot of making a play after being hit.

"I think it's a good call,'' Clemmensen said. "I was in the crease and the guy came up behind me and pushed me out. He didn't mean to.''


OUTDOOR HOCKEY: McCabe Among Former Panthers at the Big House on Tuesday

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Former Panthers captain Bryan McCabe will participate in the Winter Classic alumni game Tuesday pitting former members of the Maple Leafs against Red Wings alums.

McCabe is currently working in the Panthers' front office.

"I haven't skated at all,'' McCabe said at Florida's game in Toronto earlier this month. "This should be interesting.''

A total of six former Panthers are expected to play in the game at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor.

Former Panthers Dino Ciccarelli, Igor Larionov, Jason Woolley and Mike Vernon will be back with the Red Wings; McCabe and Gary Roberts again represent the Leafs.


SEAN BERGENHEIM: Healthy and On a Tear

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Coaches aren't supposed to pick favorites but Peter Horachek admitted he may have one.

"I really like the way Sean Bergenheim is playing,'' he said after the Panthers 4-1 win over Montreal on Sunday. "He's become one of my favorite players. The way he plays is kind of like a bull in a china shop. He just barrels in there and makes things happen all the time.''

The Panthers sure did miss having Bergenheim around not only during last year's lockout-shortened season, but early on this year as well.

Bergenheim was subjected to a series of surgeries related to his abdomen, groin and hip area discovered after a short stint playing in his native Finland during the lockout.

Bergenheim missed all of last season yet was paid after winning a medical grievance against the Panthers as he successfully showed his injuries were sustained while playing in Florida.

Bergenheim missed the first three weeks of the season as he continued to recover from his surgeries although as some points some wondered when, exactly, he would return.

Former coach Kevin Dineen publicly questioned Bergenheim's resolve as he grew frustrated with the delay in returning to the lineup. Bergenheim at one point left the team to work with a physical therapist in Toronto to help speed up his return.

"I'm worried about the guy first as his coach and I worry about him as a player,'' Dineen said then. "It's been an extremely long time off.''

For Bergenheim, it was definitely a dark time. When he returned, he admitted he wasn't always 100 percent.

"In the beginning of the season, the first 10 games, you can basically forget,'' he said Monday. "My skating wasn't there but it got a little bit better. I still have a ways to go, still feel my first few steps could be stronger. But I've come a long way. The training staff has been great. It's only going to get better.''

In the past 16 games, however, Bergenheim has looked like his old self as he has quietly scored eight goals during that time. On Sunday, his empty net goal sealed Florida's win. He has four goals in the past three games as he looks extremely comfortable playing alongside rookie Aleksander Barkov and veteran Brad Boyes.

That trio has created numerous scoring chances for the Panthers over the past few weeks. Since Dec. 10, Florida has won six of nine with those three combining for 10 goals and nine assists.

"Once I get healthy, I'm going to be a better player than I was before,'' Bergenheim said. "That's what I'm working at. When you don't play for a year and come back ... you missed out on the fun. There's a new hunger, a new joy for playing again.''


When, Where: 5 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise

TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560

The series: New York leads 44-32-6

Scouting report: This is the final meeting between the two this season with the Rangers winning the first two games by a combined 9-5. New York has won three of its past four including Sunday in Tampa Bay.