January 08, 2015

BIG NIGHT FOR LUONGO, PANTHERS: Florida rallies behind its goalie with two goals from Jonathan Huberdeau in 3-1 win at Vancouver

TWITTER:@GeorgeRichards VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- On a night in which his eight mostly-successful seasons here were celebrated, Roberto Luongo got the thing he most wanted. A victory. Luongo, who was winless in three previous games against the Canucks, made 32 saves and held off Vancouver for a 3-1 victory. Luongo, who tied Dominik Hasek for 11th all-time with his 389th victory, has now beaten all 30 teams in the NHL. Vancouver, before Thursday, had been the only team Luongo had never beaten. Luongo does have four wins against the Panthers. "This was special,'' said Luongo, traded back to the Panthers from Vancouver last March. "The whole night they were cheering me on. I'm very thankful for the support and very happy things went the way they did. We got the win and I was able to enjoy a great night." The trio of Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov and Brad Boyes were all over the ice on Thursday, creating one scoring opportunity after another. Down 1-0 in the first, Huberdeau picked up his first goal of the night by scoring off a loose puck not long after the Canucks celebrated Luongo's time here with a 45 second video on the scoreboard. Luongo didn't seem to want to watch the piece, saying he didn't want to get too emotional. Luongo did acknowledge the mostly positive reaction from the sold-out crowd. "I didn't want to get too emotional and have to fight that afterward,'' Luongo said. Added coach Gerard Gallant: "I thought we played a pretty good game after the six minute mark. Lou played an outstanding game and was great for us. He was outstanding. Definitely the No. 1 star." In the second, Barkov got his first goal since Nov. 11 by deflecting a long shot from rookie defenseman Aaron Ekblad. Barkov had originally been awarded Florida's first goal as it appeared he knocked in a loose puck. The scoring was changed during the intermission although Barkov didn't seem to mind. "Big win for us,'' he said. The Panthers took a two-goal lead into the third period when Huberdeau got his second of the night. Dmitry Kulikov caught Huberdeau streaking up the ice with a crisp long-distance pass and Huberdeau walked in on Ryan Miller and scored top shelf. "I got the puck, saw him in front of the defenseman and laid it out there for him to skate into,'' Kulikov said. "I love making plays like that, especially when we scored. That made it hard for them to come back. It was huge. Everyone showed up today. Huge win.'' Said Huberdeau: "Things were working for us. We worked the puck in, got behind the net and got some bounces. We won the 1-on-1 battles and didn't have to play much defense. We were in our zone the whole night.'' This was Luongo's night, however, as despite Huberdeau's three-point night, the Florida goalie -- who was cheered for much of the night -- was named the game's top star. After the Panthers killed off a four-minute penalty (one in which they were down two skaters for 40 seconds), Luongo was run over by Derek Dorsett. Luongo took umbrage to being hit again and threw punches at Dorsett before Huberdeau jumped in to defend his goalie. "I thought he was going to fight,'' Huberdeau said with a smile. "The most important thing for us is to protect our goalie. We're always going to protect him. He's been great for us.'' Said Luongo: "That was the third or fourth time I got knocked over. I had just had enough.'' Luongo ended up finishing things off without much problem after that and was mobbed by his teammates when the final horn sounded. After they all skated toward the locker room, Luongo made his way to the bench to a rousing ovation. Luongo took off his mask, waving his stick in the air in salute to the cheering throng that remained. After Huberdeau was announced as the game's second star, the 'Lou' chant got louder. Everyone knew who would be coming back out of the tunnel to be awared the player of the game honors. "It was nice to receive that acknowledgement,'' Luongo said. "I played here for eight years, gave my heart and soul the whole time. There were some ups-and-downs obviously but I'm glad the positive was remembered more than the negative.''


MONTOYA RETURNS: Al Montoya back with Panthers after 'blur' of a few days ... Tomas Fleischmann, Tomas Kopecky back in lineup v Canucks

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Goalie Al Montoya flew to Vancouver on Wednesday night after his wife Annie gave birth to the couple's second child on Monday morning.
Montoya left the team following Sunday's loss in Washington and was there for the birth of Henry Silva Montoya.
The Montoyas' also have a daughter -- 2-year-old Camila Marie.
"It was amazing. The past couple days have felt like a blur,'' said Montoya, who will likely start Friday's game in Calgary.
"The wife was amazing. But this is what it is being a hockey player; you pop out for a couple days and have a baby and get back to work. You enjoy it when you get home. It all worked out great.
-- The Panthers got a number of players back into the lineup Thursday as Tomas Fleischmann and Tomas Kopecky returned.
Erik Gudbranson, who was hurt during the morning skate on Jan. 2 in Buffalo, participated in Thursday's workout and is probably close to coming back as well. Shane O'Brien was schedule to play Thursday.

Friday: Panthers at Flames
9 p.m.; Scotiabank Saddledome, Calgary, Alberta.
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560
Series: Calgary leads 14-9-3
Noteworthy: Calgary scored three goals in the third period and topped the Panthers 6-4 on Nov. 8 in Sunrise. Calgary has lost two straight -- both at home.


HOMECOMING DAY: Roberto Luongo not the only former Canucks player in Florida lineup as Willie Mitchell and Shane O'Brien also return

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Despite such a large geographical distance, the Panthers and Canucks share much history.
Arguably Florida's biggest trades over the past two decades have been with Vancouver.
Because of that, some of the most recognizable names in both team's history have worn the Florida and Vancouver sweater including Pavel Bure, Roberto Luongo and Ed Jovanovski.
On Thursday night, Luongo returned to face Vancouver for the first time since the Panthers reacquired him last March.

Although much of the focus of Thursday's game surrounded Luongo, it was a also a homecoming of sorts for two other players now representing the Panthers.
Neither Willie Mitchell nor Shane O'Brien were acquired by the Panthers in a trade with Vancouver even though both share much history with Luongo and the Canucks.
Both played here during Vancouver's big years when the Canucks were racking up 100 point seasons, winning the President's Trophy and were considered one of the top teams in the NHL.
Mitchell left the Canucks in 2010 after missing the second half of that season because of a concussion that put his career in doubt.
He ended up signing with Los Angeles and won the Stanley Cup twice in his four seasons with the Kings.
Watching the Canucks lose in the 2010 playoffs while hurt -- and in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals to Boston while he was with the Kings -- Mitchell figures he could have helped bring this city its first Stanley Cup.
"I don't think you get to this point if you don't believe you can impact a team,'' Mitchell said. "You have to that belief you're going to win every night or it's not going to happen.''
Mitchell, who has faced the Canucks numerous times since leaving, signed on with the Panthers as a free agent in July and was named captain of the team just before the season opener.
Like Los Angeles, Mitchell feels he can help this young team become a contender.
"I basically went with what I thought was the right fit,'' said Mitchell, who played four seasons with the Canucks and grew up in nearby Port O'Neill, British Columbia.
"It's been great, really good. New ownership, new coaches here and when you're part of something, you take a sense of pride in it.''
O'Brien spent two seasons with Vancouver with the team being knocked out of Stanley Cup contention both times by Chicago.
Although Mitchell got his revenge on the Blackhawks while with Los Angeles, O'Brien hasn't had the same chance.
"We had some hard-fought series with Chicago,'' O'Brien said. "They got the better of us.''
O'Brien was with Calgary last season and landed in Florida after earning a two-way contract after a training camp try-out.
O'Brien started this season in the minors and because of Florida's lack of injuries among defensemen, didn't make his season debut until last week in Buffalo.
With Erik Gudbranson missing a third straight game on Thursday, O'Brien was in the lineup in familiar territory.
"I had two great years here, we had great teams, won the division both times,'' he said. "I love this city. I have a lot of friends here, a lot of great memories.''


January 07, 2015

HIGHLIGHT REEL: Canucks to honor Luongo during first period on Thursday ... Injury updates ... Trocheck fined

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
VANCOUVER -- The Canucks are planning to honor Luongo with a highlight video during one of the first stoppages in play on Thursday night.
Luongo spent parts of eight seasons with the Canucks after being traded to Vancouver by the Panthers in 2006.
Sports network TSN, whom Luongo did some work for this past spring, was also putting together a top-10 special featuring Luongo's Vancouver highlights.
"I think it's going to be emotional,'' Luongo said Wednesday. "I'm flattered that they're doing it and I told them it wasn't necessary. But a little recognition is probably good for both sides I would guess.''
-- Everyone was on the ice Wednesday as the Panthers get closer and closer to being completely healthy.
Even Shawn Thornton, whose been out a month with a groin injury, got in a long on-ice workout. Thornton isn't expected to play until the Panthers return home at least.
"Everyone is pretty much coming back,'' Gallant said.
-- Vincent Trocheck was fined $2,000 by the league on Wednesday for embellishing his fall when tripped by Washington's Mike Green on Sunday.
The penalty gave the Panthers a 5-on-3 chance and Trocheck was skewered by both Green and Washington coach Barry Trotz in postgame comments.
"I watched the video, and honestly, it doesn't look good,'' Trocheck said. "It does look like I embellished. But, I'm a pretty honest kid. If I took a dive, I would admit it. It wasn't that [Green] hit me hard but it was he hit me. He hit me right on a nerve and sent a shock through my entire left leg. I went down and when I got back up it locked up. I couldn't do much about it.''
Thursday: Panthers at Canucks
10 p.m.; Rogers Arena, Vancouver
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560
Series: Vancouver leads 12-7-6
Noteworthy: The Panthers have won two of the past three meetings between the two including a shootout here last November.


BLUEPRINT IN PROGRESS: Dale Tallon has turned over Panthers roster, working toward future success

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
VANCOUVER -- Dale Tallon promised changes when he took over the Panthers almost five years ago and, if nothing else, he's delivered.
Since Tallon was named general manager in 2010, the Panthers have been completely overturned and overhauled.
When Tallon traded to get Roberto Luongo back last March, he sent two players (Jacob Markstrom and Shawn Matthias) to Vancouver who weren't picked by him.
On the current roster, only Dmitry Kulikov was selected or acquired by the Panthers by someone other than Tallon.
A complete overhaul, he said, wasn't the original intent.
"I was trying to identify the best players who would give us the best future and sometimes you have to pay a price for that,'' Tallon said.
"We're always looking to do what's best for the franchise's present and future. I didn't trade guys because they weren't 'my guys.' That would be a stupid way of doing business. But I only know how to do things the way I did them before. Although most of the guys are gone, that wasn't pre-planned.''
Kulikov is the final leftover from the previous management team as he was drafted by Randy Sexton in 2009.
Matthias and Markstrom were either acquired or drafted by Jacques Martin.
Just weeks after taking the reins of the Panthers, Tallon asked players whether they wanted to be part of the rebuild. Some weren't so keen on the idea, so, Tallon traded them away.
In his first four years, Tallon traded the likes of Nathan Horton, Keith Ballard, Kris Versteeg, Marcel Goc and Mike Weaver as well as let Stephen Weiss walk away during free agency.
"I think he had to do that,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "When he first started, he brought a lot of guys he knew from the Chicago organization and it has turned over pretty quick. I think the success we're having this year is helped by the six veteran guys we brought in over the summer.''
Kulikov, now in his sixth season with the Panthers says he has gotten used to having a new team every year. The Panthers have also had plenty of coaching turnover as well.
"Every year is a new year and many have been completely new from coaches to the players,'' said Kulikov, who is on his fourth coach with the Panthers.
"You get used to getting to know guys during training camp. I don't really think about although some may take it as a shock. I'm used to it. I just want to win. We've had some great groups of guys but we've come up short.''


January 06, 2015

HEAD OF THE CLASS: Peter Horachek interim coach again, this time with Maple Leafs


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

VANCOUVER -- Last year, Peter Horachek was coaching Florida's AHL team in San Antonio when the Panthers fired Kevin Dineen and made him the interim coach of the big squad.
On Tuesday, Toronto fired Randy Carlyle and tabbed Horachek -- who was brought on to Carlyle's staff after being let go by the Panthers -- as an interim coach of the Maple Leafs.
How long will this gig last? Who knows. Darren Dreger of TSN writes that he thinks Horachek will stay on throughout the year with Steve Spott staying on as his top assistant. Spott is also interim coach for the time being.
As always, there are plenty of ties to the Panthers here -- aside from Horachek.
Spott replaced Pete DeBoer as coach and GM of the OHL's Kitchner Rangers when the Panthers' hired DeBoer in 2008. There has been talk that Spott may join the Panthers as an assistant at some point although that never happened.
Rumors abound that DeBoer, himself now a free agent after being fired by the Devils the day after Christmas, could be a candidate for the full-time job in Toronto. Dineen's name has also been thrown out there.
We'll see what happens here. Trust me, there won't be a lack of coverage.
Anyway, good to see Peter Horachek get another chance at being a head coach even if it's only for a short time.
Again, who knows?
Below is Horachek meeting with the Toronto media earlier today.


ON FROZEN PHONE: Roberto Luongo meets the Vancouver media


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

VANCOUVER -- Below is a link too the first six minutes of Florida Panthers' goalie Roberto Luongo talking to the Vancouver media ahead of Florida's game here on Thursday.

Props to Billy Lindsay and Steve Goldstein for finding the Fox Florida backdrop and adding some color to the presser.


READY TO MAKE NICE: Roberto Luongo hopes boos turn to Lous when Panthers visit Vancouver on Thursday ... Cats getting healthy ... Brittain recalled from Cincy

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
VANCOUVER -- Roberto Luongo doesn't exactly know how the Canucks' faithful will greet him when he steps onto the ice Thursday night.
In his typical smart-aleck way, Luongo says it will be fine whether they offer cheers or jeers.
"Lou's and boos all sound the same,'' Luongo said Tuesday afternoon.
"I won't be able to tell the difference. I just want to enjoy the game.''
Luongo was back on the ice at Rogers Arena for the first time Tuesday since Vancouver traded him back to the Panthers last March.
For three years, Luongo had faced scrutiny as he had gone from savior of the Canucks after arriving here from Florida in 2006 to being just another goalie -- albeit one with a massive contract -- fighting for playing time.
After Vancouver lost the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals to Boston, faith in Luongo eroded.
The Canucks held a 3-2 series lead before the Bruins stormed back.
"I've moved on, but my time here was great,'' Luongo said. "I'm just disappointed I wasn't able to bring a Cup here. This market wants one more than anything. That's the one thing I'm disappointed about.''
First, Cory Schneider found himself playing more frequently, putting Luongo on the bench more than he had ever been in his professional career.
Then, after Schneider was traded to New Jersey before the 2013-14 season, Eddie Lack became the Canucks' new favored goalie.
Luongo made it clear he was ready to leave what had become a toxic situation, but the Canucks and general manager Mike Gillis couldn't find the right landing spot.
A big reason for that was Luongo was adamant he wouldn't waive his no-trade clause for just anyone.
Coming back to the Panthers, where he played from 2000-06, was his top priority.
"There was a point in time where I had given up on it,'' said Luongo, who was traded by Florida's Mike Keenan to Vancouver in 2006.
"I was focused on playing here [in Vancouver] and just see what would happen with teams and trades.. At the end of the day, everything happens for a reason. This one worked out.''
The situation came to a head when then-coach John Tortorella announced Lack -- and not Luongo -- would start in the much-anticipated Heritage Classic at B.C. Place.
Luongo was so incensed at the snub, agent Pat Brisson went to Gillis demanding a trade.
Gillis allowed Brisson to shop his client and his first call was to Florida general manager Dale Tallon.
A few days after the Heritage game was played in the large dome -- which hosted the opening and closing ceremonies for the 2010 Winter Olympics as well as being the home of the CFL's Lions -- Luongo was headed back to Florida.
"I had given up on it,'' Luongo said.
Tallon had conversations with Gillis about acquiring Luongo in the past, but nothing ever went through.
Luongo had heard the rumors he would be heading back to Florida before, so he didn't pay much heed to the latest talk between the two teams.
Tallon, however, now had the financial backing of new ownership not to mention a much lower pricetag for Luongo's services.
Vancouver had been asking for some of Florida's top prospects -- most notably Nick Bjugstad -- in previous talks.
In March, all Tallon had to give up was center Shawn Matthias and goalie prospect Jacob Markstrom to bring Luongo back to South Florida.
When the trade was finally agreed to, Brisson called Luongo in his hotel room in Arizona. He woke him up from his pregame nap with the big news.
"This deal was 2 1/2 years in the making,'' Tallon said Tuesday.
"It was close, then it wasn't, then it was revitalized. We were elated to get it done. Everyone knows how great he is, what a great pro he is. He's a world-class goalie but a world-class guy. That's just as important to me. I'm elated he's a Panther.''
The deal has worked out for both teams although Gillis and Tortorella were both let go following Vancouver's dreadful season.
Even though the Canucks were left without a true No. 1 goalie when the trade was made, they snared All-Star Ryan Miller in free agency.
Lack is now the backup although he started Tuesday's game against the Islanders.
Although Matthias says he loved playing for the Panthers and still stays in close contact with many of his former teammates, Vancouver offered a fresh start and new opportunities.
This year, Matthias -- who spent parts of six seasons with the Panthers -- has seven goals and 12 points.
Matthias even has ties to the original Luongo trade as then-general manager Jacques Martin acquired Matthias from Detroit in exchange for Todd Bertuzzi back in 2007.
"I've really enjoyed my time here, it's a beautiful city and great organization,'' Matthias said. "Being a Canadian kid playing in Canada, well, it feels like home.''
-- The Panthers had a full house at Tuesday's afternoon practice at Rogers Arena.
Tomas Kopecky, who has missed the past four games, was back on the ice as was Tomas Fleischmann and Erik Gudbranson. The only regular missing was Sean Bergenheim.
"It was a maintenance day for him,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "It was good to have everyone else back. That's a good sign.''
-- The Panthers recalled goalie Sam Brittain from their ECHL affiliate in Cincinnati on Monday.
With Al Montoya back in South Florida as his wife gave birth to a son, Florida needed a second goalie for practice.
Montoya is expected to fly to Vancouver on Wednesday and be back in time for Thursday's game.


THE LUONGO TRADE(S): Where are they all now?

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Florida Panthers acquire Roberto Luongo and Olli Jokinen from New York Islanders for Mark Parrish and Oleg Kvasha.

Olli Jokinen: Became captain of the Panthers before being traded to Coyotes in 2008. Currently with Nashville.
Mark Parrish: Retired in 2012, currently television analyst for St. Cloud State in Minnesota.
Oleg Kvasha: Last played in NHL in 2005-06; still playing in KHL.
Islanders GM Mike Milbury: 'Resigned' from New York in 2006; currently television commentator in Boston and for NBC Sports.
Florida GM Bryan Murray: Fired by the Panthers in Dec. 2000; currently GM of Ottawa Senators.

Florida Panthers trade Luongo and Lukas Krajicek to Vancouver Canucks for Todd Bertuzzi, Alex Auld and Bryan Allen.

Lukas Krajicek: Last played in the NHL in 2009-10; currently playing in the KHL.
Todd Bertuzzi: Was traded to Detroit in 2007, played with Red Wings until last season.
Alex Auld: Spent one season with Panthers, final NHL season in 2011-12; currently living in Vancouver.
Bryan Allen: Spent next five seasons with Panthers; was put on waivers by Montreal on Monday.
Florida GM Mike Keenan: Was fired by Panthers two months after Luongo trade. Coached Calgary Flames, led Magnitogorsk to KHL championship last season.
Vancouver GM Dave Nonis: Left the Canucks and replaced by Mike Gillis; currently GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Florida Panthers acquire Roberto Luongo and Steven Anthony from Vancouver Canucks for Jacob Markstrom and Shawn Matthias.

Steven Anthony: Reported to Florida's ECHL team in Cincinnati last year and wasn't offered a new contract.
Jacob Markstrom: Spent the end of last season with Canucks; currently with Vancouver's AHL team in Utica, New York.
Shawn Matthias: Has seven goals and five assists for Canucks through first 35 games this season.

Vancouver GM Mike Gillis: Fired by Vancouver following the 2013-14 season.



January 05, 2015

BACK IN VAN: Roberto Luongo returns to Vancouver, expect to start v. old teammates Thursday

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
WASHINGTON -- Following Florida's 4-3 loss to the host Capitals on Sunday afternoon, Panthers' goalie Roberto Luongo faced a media contingent he could count on one hand.
He won't have such a quaint gathering come Tuesday in Vancouver.
Luongo is expected to get the royal treatment when the Panthers practice at Rogers Arena -- the arena the Florida goalie called home for eight years.
"We'll probably do a press conference,'' Luongo said with a grin. "Do it up big.''
Since being traded back to the Panthers in March -- Florida originally traded Luongo to the Canucks in a blockbuster deal on the eve of the 2006 draft held at Rogers Arena -- Luongo has only been back to Vancouver once.
When Florida general manager Dale Tallon finalized the deal, Luongo and the Canucks were in Arizona. Luongo flew east on the first flight he could get.
Wife Gina and the couple's children packed up the place in British Columbia and headed back to Florida as well. The Luongos have since sold their home there.
"I'll be in the [team] hotel,'' Luongo said. "I'm just visiting now.''

With the team off Monday and having a few days before Florida takes on Vancouver on Thursday night, Luongo definitely has plenty of time to see old friends and visit some old haunts.
"I was there for a few days this summer with Team Canada getting our [Olympic] Gold Medal rings which was nice,'' Luongo said. "It's going to be fun. We're going to be there for a few days and that gives me time to see a lot of people I didn't get to see when I left last year.''
While the Canucks prepare for a game Tuesday night against the visiting Islanders, the Panthers will take a few days to get acclimated to the time change and get in some practice.
The Panthers are scheduled to work out at Rogers Arena (formerly GM Place) following the Canucks and Islanders' morning skates.
Luongo and the Panthers lost to Vancouver 4-3 in a shootout in Sunrise just a few weeks after the trade went down.
"To be honest, I'm just looking forward to being there for three or four days,'' Luongo said.
"I'm not quite sure what kind of reception I'm going to get but I'll definitely enjoy the game. They're all big games at this juncture of the season. We're fighting for every point.''
With Sunday's game ending early, the Panthers decided to fly across the country directly following the game.
The Panthers are two games (1-1-0) into this six-game road trip that continues to Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg.

Getting some time off and a chance to work through some things in Vancouver is welcomed especially with Friday's game in Calgary coming off the heels of a late Thursday game in Vancouver.
"We have the four Canadian teams coming up and we know we'll have to play well out there,'' coach Gerard Gallant said.
"We need to win some hockey games. We have seven or eight games left before the All-Star break. We want to get some wins.''
Florida was still without forwards Tomas Kopecky and Tomas Fleischmann as well as defenseman Erik Gudbranson on Sunday.
Kopecky has missed the past four games; Fleischmann and Gudbranson were both hurt in Friday's morning skate at Buffalo.
-- Defenseman Shane O'Brien, who is filling in for Gudbranson, picked up his first point with the Panthers by assisting on Dylan Olsen's second period goal.
O'Brien could get a homecoming of his own Friday as the Panthers travel to Calgary. O'Brien spent part of last season with the Flames before being banished to the minors after having a falling out with coach Bob Hartley.
-- Washington holds a 2-0-1 series lead on the Panthers with all three games decided by a goal.
The first two went to shootout -- including last month's epic 20-rounder which Florida won in Sunrise.




January 04, 2015

CAPITAL LOSS: Florida Panthers losing ways continue in D.C. as Capitals win 4-3 ... Roberto Luongo hit by Alex Ovechkin, misses third period but is fine

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
WASHINGTON -- The Panthers may not win here very often, but at least their games against the Capitals are usually quite entertaining.
On Sunday, Florida's losing ways continued as it lost its 10th straight in Washington, this one 4-3 at Verizon Center.
The Panthers had trailed by two before Nick Bjugstad scored with under two minutes left. Florida didn't get any closer, however, as it has now lost 13 of 14 here dating to 2010.
"We weren't good enough,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "We battled back and found a way to get close at the end, but we didn't play hard enough. They were more physical, won the puck battles. That's why they won.''
Sunday's game sure wasn't lacking for action.
It featured a full-speed hit from power forward Alex Ovechkin on goalie Roberto Luongo; a three-player pileup at center ice leading to a Florida three-on-one break; even a puck lost somewhere on goalie Braden Holtby.
After being searched for a few minutes by NHL officials doing their best impersonation of TSA agents, the puck finally slid out of Holtby's padding and the game continued -- only it did so with Luongo on the bench.
Luongo was hit hard by Ovechkin in the first period and he stayed down on the ice for a little bit. Luongo resumed playing and finished the first period and the entire second.
The third started, however, with Luongo in the training room and backup Al Montoya in net.
Luongo said coming out was a "mutual decision" although Gallant said the medical staff told him during the second break that Luongo wasn't available.
"I wanted to keep going but after what happened in the second (three goals against) we thought it best to sit out the third,'' Luongo said.
"I was fine [in the second] but it wasn't the kind of period I wanted to have. There was no injury or anything like that.''
Said Gallant: "It was just precautionary. The trainers came in and told me it was upper body and we would see after the game.''
The Panthers and Capitals played a tight first period, one highlighted by the collision between Luongo and Ovechkin.
Luongo came out of the cage and was leveled by Ovechkin as the two converged on the puck. The play continued with no goalie; Scottie Upshall saved a goal with an off-balance kick save.
No penalty was called, leading to a conversation between Gallant and the officials. Luongo said it was a "bang-bang play and I didn't think it was intentional.''
Said Gallant: "I don't think he meant to hit Roberto but the puck was there, Roberto played the puck first and a second later he's hit. They say to avoid the goaltender at all costs. It was clear Roberto played the puck first.''
In the second, Ovechkin got the best of Luongo again with a power play goal 1:16 in.
Moments later, Washington's Jack Hillen and Mike Green collided at center ice sending teammate Evgeny Kuznetsov into a spill.
With those three on the ice, Florida had the ice to itself with Vincent Trocheck, Willie Mitchell and Jussi Jokinen charging hard on Holtby.
The Washington goalie made the save on Trocheck's first shot but Mitchell whacked at it and left it alone for Trocheck to get a second shot. This one he buried to make it 1-1.
On Florida's next shot attempt, Dylan Olsen scored on a wrister to give the Panthers their first and only lead of the day.
"We didn't play so well in the first and [Gallant] let us know we needed to pick it up in the second,'' Trocheck said. "We just couldn't get two in the third. You can't let those guys get as many odd-man chances as they did. That hurt us.''
Washington kept coming at Luongo, however, and tied it with 7:47 left in the second before taking the lead back for good in the final minute of the period.
The Capitals made it a two-goal game 5:42 into the third and Florida failed to cut into it despite a 5-on-3 power play chance for 47 seconds midway through the period.
With the assist on Bjugstad's late goal, Aaron Ekblad set the Panthers' record for points (22) by a rookie defenseman.
Ed Jovanovski, bought out by the Panthers the day after Florida took Ekblad first overall last June, recorded 21 points in 1995-96.
"It's not really that big of a deal,'' Ekblad said. "You just play hockey and hope for things like that to happen. I'm more focused on the loss. We didn't play the way we needed to.''
-- Montoya was the first player out of the Panthers' locker room Sunday -- and for good reason.
Montoya was racing to the airport to catch a flight back to South Florida where his wife was expecting to deliver a baby.


January 03, 2015

DOWN AND OUT IN D.C.: Panthers try to reverse fortune in the District Sunday against Capitals

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
WASHINGTON -- The Panthers haven't enjoyed many of their trips to Washington lately as the Capitals have dominated Florida on home ice.
Since the 2009-10 season, Washington has won 12 of 13 against the Panthers on home ice including the past nine.
And although Florida's previous loss here in October was a respectable one (2-1 in a shootout), most of its losses here have been ugly.
In the past 13 games at Verizon Center, Washington is outscoring the Panthers 53-20. Florida hasn't won in Washington since Dec. 9, 2010.
"I don't worry about what happened in the past,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "I know the [Panthers] haven't played well here or won here in a long time. But that has nothing to do with us.''
Florida has been better against the Capitals in Sunrise and are 1-0-1 against Washington this season after winning the longest regular season game in NHL history against the Capitals last month.
Florida and Washington went 20 rounds in a shootout with the Panthers prevailing on a goal by Nick Bjugstad.
-- Neither Erik Gudbranson nor Tomas Fleischmann practiced Saturday and are doubtful for Sunday. Gallant said Roberto Luongo would play in goal against the Capitals.
Luongo has won seven of his past eight starts in Washington either for the Panthers or with Vancouver.
Sunday: Panthers at Capitals
When/Where: 3 p.m.; Verizon Center, Washington
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560
Series: Washington leads 59-45-9
Noteworthy: The Capitals are fresh off a 3-2 win over Chicago in Thursday's Winter Classic at Nationals Park. Washington has at least a point in 12 of its past 13 games (9-1-3).


DEFENSIVE DEPTH: Panthers D-corps have been healthy but have good option in Shane O'Brien

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
WASHINGTON -- Although coach Gerard Gallant didn't want to talk about it trying not to jinx things, the Panthers have been extremely fortunate when it comes to the health of their defensemen.
On Friday, Erik Gudbranson became just the second Florida defenseman to miss a game with an injury after suffering a slight injury during the morning skate earlier in the day.
Unlike past years, Florida didn't have to go to its minor league team and recall and inexperienced youngster as a replacement.
No, the Panthers called up NHL veteran Shane O'Brien who has over 500 games of experience. Florida's defense didn't seem to miss a beat as the Panthers held Buffalo to seven shots on goal in the opening period and won 2-0.
"I thought he was real solid,'' Gallant said of O'Brien, who was paired with Dylan Olsen.
"He's played a lot in the NHL so he's a veteran job, did his job and did it well. I didn't see any mistakes. There's no doubt he has experience and he knows all our guys. It's great when you can bring up a guy like that.''
Florida hasn't had to mess with its defensive pairings very much this season as the six it started the season with have played in every game but five.
Dmitry Kulikov, whose play has been much improved this year, is the only other defenseman to miss time as he was out for four games with a knee injury in November.
Gudbranson didn't practice on Saturday and is doubtful for Sunday's game against the host Capitals.
"It's good to be able to have the same partners, have some camaraderie and I think it's really helped us,'' defenseman Brian Campbell said. "O'Brien has a lot of games worth of experience but it's never easy to step in and play that first game. But I thought he was good.''
Knowing a player with O'Brien's experience was playing in San Antonio was one reason Colby Robak was deemed expendable.
Robak had been Florida's seventh defenseman until he was traded to Anaheim last month.
When Kulikov was hurt, Robak filled in.
After Robak was traded away, O'Brien became Florida's top option as general manager Dale Tallon told him he would be.
O'Brien came to the Panthers on a tryout during training camp after he and Calgary parted ways after last season.
With Robak occuping the seventh spot, O'Brien was offered a two-way deal by Tallon with an opening assignment in the minors.
O'Brien didn't think it would take so long, yet Friday marked his first game with the Panthers.
Sunday should be his second.
"I know I can still play and you want to take advantage of your opportunity when you have it,'' O'Brien said. "I know a lot of the guys here and being in the NHL is definitely fun. When something is taken away from you, you have a real appreciation when it's back.''


January 02, 2015

LOUIE LOVES BUFFALO: Roberto Luongo keeps shutout streak intact in Wing City, leads Florida to 2-0 win over slumping Sabres ... Shane O'Brien replaces hurting Erik Gudbranson in lineup

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
BUFFALO -- When the Panthers jumped out to an early two-goal lead Friday night, the Sabres may as well have packed up and headed off to their next stop.
With Roberto Luongo in net, the Sabres never really had a chance.
Luongo did what he usually does in Buffalo as he slammed the door shut on the Sabres and led Florida to a 2-0 victory at First Niagara Center.
Luongo has two shutouts this season -- both in Buffalo. Luongo has also pitched a shutout in each of his past three trips here and has won six of seven against the Sabres including the past five.
The Sabres haven't scored on Luongo in Buffalo since Justin Pominville did so during Luongo's original stint with Florida on Feb. 11, 2006.
"When do we come back,'' Luongo asked after making 30 saves for his 68th career shutout (13th all-time).
"I enjoy playing in this building and am having success. I don't know if you get in another team's head or not, but for me, I'm just trying to do my job and take the wins.''
Florida has enjoyed its games against the Sabres lately as Friday's win was its sixth in seven games dating to last year.
The Panthers have won their past seven in games following a regulation loss. Florida lost to the visiting Rangers 5-2 on Wednesday.
"I heard the guys talking about it that they wanted to get right back at it,'' said coach Gerard Gallant, whose Panthers are 3-0-1 against Buffalo this year.
"I think they wanted to win. They played the right way.''
Florida jumped all over goalie Michal Neuvierth and the slumping Sabres (lost seven of eight) by taking a 2-0 lead midway through the opening period.
Brad Boyes opened the scoring slamming home a nice feed from Aleksander Barkov.
With 8:09 left in the first, Nick Bjugstad got his team-leading 14th of the season following up a rebound from Jimmy Hayes on the power play.
"I jumped on it,'' Bjugstad said. "It was right in front of me and I had a wide-open net.''
After that, the Panthers didn't do a whole lot. Didn't really need to, either.
Although Buffalo didn't muster much offense in the opening period -- "I was Tweeting,'' Luongo said -- it didn't lull the Florida goalie to sleep as he was sharp when needed in the second and third.
Buffalo outshot the Panthers 23-14 in the final 40 minutes after Florida held a 19-7 advantage in the first.
"We shut them down and didn't give them goals, stayed out of the penalty box,'' Boyes said. "We won, whether we win by playing well or by being outplayed, we need points.''
Said Luongo: "We were a little upset about the last game so we came out strong.''
Defenseman Shane O'Brien finally made his debut with the Panthers on Friday after being recalled from the minors that afternoon.
Erik Gudbranson apparently banged his shoulder when he fell during the morning skate and couldn't go against the Sabres.
O'Brien was in Toronto with Florida's AHL team and made the short drive to Buffalo for the game.
General manager Dale Tallon said he didn't think Gudbranson's injury was anything serious. O'Brien is expected to stay with the team at least through Sunday's game at Washington.
"Obviously I've been keeping my eye on the boys and they've been playing great,'' said O'Brien, who played in his 529th NHL game on Friday but first since last January with Calgary.
"Typical game for these guys, they played good stingy defense. I'm glad I could help the boys get two points.''
-- Tomas Kopecky missed his third straight game (upper body) but did go through the full morning skate Friday and also did conditioning work.
Tomas Fleischmann (lower body) was out of the lineup after pulling something during the skate. Fleischmann left the ice about midway through the practice and didn't return.


January 01, 2015

GETTING THINGS DONE: Nick Bjugstad on fast track with Florida Panthers ... Jimmy Hayes, Jonathan Huberdeau next up on contract talks

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
BUFFALO -- For a guy so calm and collected, Nick Bjugstad sure likes to hurry up and get things done.
A budding star center for the Florida Panthers, Bjugstad not only finished high school in three years, but graduated from the University of Minnesota in the same amount of time.
On Tuesday, in his third year with the team, he became the first of Florida's young cornerstone players to sign a long-term contract.
Bjugstad, the Panthers' scoring leader the past two years, inked a six-year contract which will pay him $4.1 million annually starting next year.
The only player under Florida's control longer is goalie Roberto Luongo whose pact runs through the 2021-22 season.
"I really like it down here and the security is nice,'' Bjugstad, 22, said after the deal was officially announced on Wednesday.
"We have a good thing going with the young guys, Dale is doing really good with the draft picks. We're going to have some really good chances in the playoffs the next few years and that contributed to my decision.''
Bjugstad wasn't in much of a rush to get his Florida career started, opting to go back to Minnesota after a sophomore season in which he helped lead the Gophers to the Frozen Four.
After a strong junior year -- one in which the Gophers failed to win the national title -- Bjugstad decided he would join the Panthers but only if it happened right away.
Instead of starting in the minors, Bjugstad's agent made it clear the Panthers needed to start him at the NHL level or he wouldn't sign with the team.
Had Bjugstad not signed with Florida and returned to Minnesota as a senior, he could have signed with any other team later that summer.
Not wanting to lose Bjugstad over a contract year -- and lets face, it; the 2013 Panthers needed the help -- general manager Dale Tallon agreed to the deal.
"I knew I was going to be a Panther but I wanted to play in the NHL, get that experience,'' Bjugstad said. "I think it helped my career. I knew what it was like. But there was never any doubt in my mind I would be here.''
Bjugstad, fresh out of college, played in 11 games for the last-place Panthers in 2013.
"It paid dividends on both sides,'' said Tallon, who landed Bjugstad at 19th overall in 2010.
"That's the nature of the business. You have to take some risks sometimes and do things that benefit the future of the franchise.''
Bjugstad may have forced the Panthers hand a bit, but it worked out in the end. The 11 games played in 2013 was a great experience, one that benefited him the following year. And with this new deal, the burned contract year didn't really come into play.
"It could have went either way,'' said Bjugstad, who scored his first NHL goal in his 11th game on April 27 at Tampa Bay.
"It worked out well. Dale gave me a chance and I've been pretty lucky.''
When training camp opened in 2013, the Panthers planned on having Bjugstad start the year in the minors.
Bjugstad, however, suffered a concussion before camp opened. By the time Bjugstad was ready to play in October, the Panthers were desperate for offense.
Then-coach Kevin Dineen, who would be fired a few weeks later, saw no reason for the 6-foot-6 center to go to San Antonio when the Panthers so obviously could use his skills and asked Tallon to keep him on the big squad.
Bjugstad never did go to San Antonio as he became the first rookie to lead the Panthers in scoring (38 points) in franchise history.
With Bjugstad set to be a restricted free agent following this season, Tallon initiated talks with Bjugstad's camp.
On Tuesday, Tallon and agent Ben Hankinson finalized the deal in Tallon's suite on the press level during the first intermission. Bjugstad scored his team-leading 13th goal in the third period.
"He has tremendous upside,'' Tallon said. "He's fun to watch.''
Bjugstad signed the paperwork not long after the game ended with his mother Janeen -- who happened to be in town for the holidays -- alongside.
After signing the big deal, Bjugstad took his mom and sister Abbie out to dinner at the only place they could find that was still open.
A sports bar in Weston may not have been the fanciest place to celebrate a $24.6 million contract, but for a blue-collar player such as Bjugstad, it was good enough.
"I'm going to keep living like I've been living,'' said Bjugstad, who despite his raise says he's going to keep his late-model Chevrolet Tahoe a little longer.
-- With Bjugstad signed, Tallon says he will look at signing Jimmy Hayes and Jonathan Huberdeau to contracts in the near future.
Hayes and Huberdeau become restricted free agents on July 1.
"If you want to be a Panther you have to perform,'' Tallon said. "It's a great message all around.''
Hayes had a career year with the Panthers last season, scoring 11 goals in 53 games. On Wednesday, he matched his goal total from last year in his 27th game.
"It's confidence right now and I'm getting some good bounces,'' Hayes said. "I'm going to the net and need to continue to get open.''
Friday: Panthers at Sabres
When/Where: 7 p.m.; First Niagara Center, Buffalo
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560
Series: Buffalo leads 45-34-4
Noteworthy: Florida's five-game winning streak over the Sabres came to a close last month as Nikita Zadorov scored in overtime to lift Buffalo to a 4-3 win. Florida is 2-0-1 against Buffalo this season.

December 31, 2014

EARLY NEW YEAR'S HANGOVER: Rangers run around Panthers in 5-2 win in Sunrise ... Florida's home point streak snapped ... Nick Bjugstad, Dale Tallon talk about new contract

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers found out Wednesday that the New York Rangers probably aren't the ideal guests to invite to their New Year's Eve party.
Playing its third game in four nights, Florida looked flat and, well, partied out as the defending Eastern Conference champs got back on the winning track with a relatively easy 5-2 win at BB&T Center.
The Rangers had won eight straight before losing Monday in Dallas and went 9-3-0 in December. The Panthers had registered at least a point in their previous eight home games before losing in regulation Wednesday.
"They dominated pretty much most of the night,'' said coach Gerard Gallant, whose team mustered just 20 shots against one of the league's top goalies in Henrik Lundqvist.
"Most of the night the Rangers were all over us. They were fast and they dominated. .-.-. We weren't good enough and that was the best team we've seen all year.''
Wednesday, most of the traits that has brought the Panthers success so far this season wasn't there as they seldom hit anyone and didn't block a New York shot until late in the second.
Al Montoya started against the team that drafted him a decade ago and did a good job of keeping his new teammates in it.
Although the Rangers scored late in the first off a Chris Kreider goal for a 1-0 lead at the intermission, Montoya kept it from being much, much worse.
"He made some great saves for us,'' said Jimmy Hayes, who scored in his first game playing against younger brother Kevin.
"We need to be more aware on the ice defensively.''
The Rangers kept up the pressure in the second and scored the first two goals of the frame to take a 3-0 lead.
The Panthers showed a little life late in the second as Tomas Fleischmann broke out after picking up a long pass from Jonathan Huberdeau and beating Lundqvist to make it 3-1.
King Henrik didn't give the Panthers much more room after that, although Florida pulled within one after Hayes scored off a off-balanced pass from Aleksander Barkov on a power play chance.
Minutes later, Florida nemisis Martin St. Louis knocked in a loose puck -- it was reviewed as it appeared to be kicked in -- to make it 4-2.
With 4:25 left, Dominic Moore followed up a St. Louis shot to make it 5-2.
With the assist, St. Louis passed his old Tampa Bay teammate Vinny Lecavalier for most points scored against the Panthers with 73.
"Martin's a very good player and he's owned a lot of teams over the years,'' Gallant said. "It's disappointing. We got outworked, out-competed for much of the night. I guess we were due for one of those games.''
Nick Bjugstad had a pretty memorable night Tuesday.
Not long after scoring the game-tying goal in an eventual 2-1 shootout loss to the Canadiens, Bjugstad signed a six-year deal with the Panthers worth $24.6 million.
Bjugstad would have been a restricted free agent this summer so his new contract doesn't kick in until next season.
"Thankfully we could get the deal done halfway through the season rather than wait,'' Bjugstad said on Wednesday.
"I didn't want to deal with any of that."
The new deal locks up one of the Panthers' top young talents for the foreseeable future. Not only is Bjugstad committed to the Panthers during his restricted free agency, but also for the first few years when he could be unrestricted and sign anywhere else.
General manager Dale Tallon finalized the deal with Bjugstad's agent during the first intermission of Tuesday's game. Bjugstad signed the paperwork not long after the game ended with owner Vinny Viola.
"It's a great deal and sends a great message that we're committed to our young players,'' Tallon said.
"Not only is a he a really good hockey player, but he's a tremendous young man of character. That's important to us.''
-- Florida ended 2014 with a successful December despite the final outcome against the Rangers.
The Panthers went 7-4-3 in the last month of the year and had their eight-game home point streak (6-0-2) snapped on Wednesday.


December 30, 2014

BREAKING NEWS: Nick Bjugstad signs six-year deal with Panthers ... Third-year center will make $4.1 million per season

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Tuesday was one heck of a night for Nick Bjugstad.

Not long after scoring the game-tying goal in an eventual 2-1 shootout loss to Montreal, the Panthers' center was signing a six-year deal with the team sources told The Miami Herald.

Bjugstad, a restricted free agent following this season, will get $4.1 million annually.

"He's a cornerstone piece to the franchise,'' the source said.

Bjugstad's new deal will be announced by the team on Wednesday afternoon.

On Tuesday, the University of Minnesota graduate scored his team-leading 13th goal with under two minutes left to help the Panthers force overtime and at least get a point out of their game with the Canadiens.

Last year, Bjugstad led the Panthers in scoring with 38 points as a rookie.

Bjugstad left Minnesota in 2012 and signed with the Panthers, the 11 games he played burning a year off his entry level contract.


FIGHT TO THE END: Panthers tie up Canadiens late, lose 2-1 in shootout ... Fleischmann returns to lineup ... Familiar faces everywhere

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers haven't been able to put a three game winning streak together all season.
It's one of the few things this team just hasn't been good at.
Tuesday night, in front of the largest home crowd of since last year, the Panthers again failed to get an elusive victory although they sure gave it everything they had.
Montreal, playing its annual home-away-from-home game at BB&T Center, watched the Panthers force overtime with a late Nick Bjugstad goal before winning 2-1 in a shootout.
The Panthers are winless in four games following their second straight win but the Canadiens are currently riding a four-game winning streak and have won three-plus games five times this season.
"You go on those streaks but truthfully I take it one game at a time,'' coach Gerard Gallant said Tuesday morning.
"I know we won our last game, but that's in the past. I'm moving forward. I couldn't tell you what our record is in the past 10. I don't worry about that.''
The Panthers once again had plenty of chances offensively just couldn't solve backup Dustin Tokarski until the clock had almost run out.
Down 1-0 with under two minutes left, goalie Roberto Luongo looked at the bench as if to come out to add another attacker.
Instead, Bjugstad broke into the Montreal offensive zone and hung a shot that zipped past Tokarski with 1:49 remaining in regulation.
It was the first goal since Montreal took a 1-0 lead late in the second period.
"We kind of struggled the whole game but we had our chances,'' Bjugstad said.
"We didn't have momentum from the get-go. It was nice to force a shootout but we didn't capitalize and that's what happens when you don't play 60 minutes. It was nice to get a point though. That's one of the better teams in the league.''
The Canadiens won at Carolina on Monday night with All-Star Carey Price in net but getting Montreal's backup didn't bring Florida any breaks.
Tokarski, playing for the first time since last month, made 33 saves before Bjugstad scored.
"They're a good team, but were playing back to back,'' Jonathan Huberdeau said. "At least we got a goal at the end to get a point. It would have been nice to get a win though.''
The two were scoreless throughout the first and second periods with Florida almost taking the initial lead when Aleksander Barkov rang a shot off the goal cage.
Moments later, Brendan Gallagher gave Montreal a 1-0 lead when his 30-foot shot hit Roberto Luongo and snuck through his skates with 1:06 left in the period.
Luongo made 33 saves against his hometown team but couldn't keep Florida's home winning run going. Florida is 6-0-2 in its past eight games in Sunrise.
The Panthers' four-game shootout winning streak also ended as Florida went 0-for-3 while Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau scored on Montreal's third offering.
Florida had a nice chance to win but Jimmy Hayes misfired on an empty net in the closing seconds of overtime.
The Panthers (5-5 in shootouts) get a chance to get going quickly as the Rangers come to town Wednesday evening.
Tomas Fleischmann was back in the Florida lineup after being scratched the previous two games after Tomas Kopecky came up with a minor injury during Sunday's win over Toronto.
Gallant said Kopecky has an upper body injury and is day-to-day. Brandon Pirri missed his second straight game.
Fleischmann has been scratched four times this season after leading the Panthers in scoring in 2011-12 and in 2013.
"The team is playing well and getting points with a healthy lineup,'' Fleischmann said. "I haven't played for a week but I feel good. Rested. .-.-. It's always nice to play in the games. I'm excited.''
Said Gallant: "I'm not disappointed with him but we have 14 forwards and have to sit two. Hopefully it will give him a jolt. You don't want to sit players but it's part of the job.''
-- There were a few familiar faces in the building Tuesday.
Defenseman Tom Gilbert spent last season with the Panthers and was in the starting lineup.
Former Florida defensemen Bryan Allen (2006-11) and Mike Weaver (2010-14) were healthy scratches for the Canadiens.
Allen was part of the original trade between the Panthers and Vancouver for Luongo in 2006.
Gallant spent the past two seasons on the Montreal coaching staff before coming to Florida this past summer.
"There are wonderful people over there,'' Gallant said.
-- Jacques Martin, who was either the Panthers' coach or general manager from 2004-09, watched Tuesday's game from the press box. Martin left the Panthers in 2009 to coach the Canadiens before being let go in 2011.
-- Al Montoya, who was picked sixth overall by the Rangers in the 2004 draft, is expected to start against New York on Wednesday.
Wednesday's game is the finale of Florida's fourth back-to-back set this season. The Panthers are 1-0-2 in the second game of back-to-backs so far this year.
Florida also has consecutive games next week in Vancouver and Calgary.
-- The announced crowd of 19,614 was Florida's largest of the season and biggest since the team announced 19,891 last year when the Canadiens made their New Year's visit.
Wednesday: Rangers at Panthers
When/Where: 6 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560
Series: New York leads 43-34-6
Noteworthy: New York, the defending Eastern Conference champs, has won 12 of its past 16 contests games including 10 of 13. The Rangers won all three games against Florida last year. This is New York's only game in Sunrise this season.


December 29, 2014

OFFENSE COMING AROUND: Panthers getting plenty of chances, opportunities in offensive zone ... Family affair Tuesday night for Huberdeau clan

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Despite being one of the lowest scoring teams in the league, it's not very accurate to say the Panthers' offensive is struggling.
They may not be scoring many goals, but they are definitely putting the offensive pressure on opposing teams.
On Sunday, the Panthers scored six goals on Toronto, matching their season-high (Nov. 16 at Anaheim) for a single game.
Sunday's game was also the seventh time this month Florida has scored three goals or more.
For those who like positive trends, the Panthers have scored three-plus goals in their past two games -- both wins -- and have out-shot their opponent in the past five games.
The Panthers are 10-1-3 when scoring three-plus goals this season.
"It's coming, we're getting plenty of scoring chances and we're putting pucks at the net,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "I know we're playing very well and out-chancing the other team.''
Despite Sunday's goal avalanche -- Florida scored four times in the third period which is more than it has scored in 26 full games this year -- the Panthers don't expect to become a high-scoring team any time soon.
Florida's 2.24 goals this season, which do not include five team goals awarded by the league for shootout wins, ranks 26th in the 30-team NHL.
Among the 19 teams within five points of a playoff spot -- the Panthers came into Monday two points out -- Florida has the fewest goals by far and is the only team of the group with a negative goals for/against number.
"We're going in the right direction and we're going to win games differently,'' said Jonathan Huberdeau, who scored his fourth goal on Sunday.
"I think maybe the net needs to be a little bigger for us. No, we have two great goalies and they keep us in games. We don't want to get into 6-4 games every night. We're not going to win a lot of those.''
Over the past few weeks, the Panthers' offense has been outworking their opposition with Florida generating plenty of chances.
On Sunday, the Panthers outshot the Maple Leafs 34-22 with Florida getting 50 shot attempts (shots on goal, missed shots, blocked shots).
Since the start of the month, the Panthers have outshot their opponent in nine of 12 games.
On Sunday, the Panthers spread the scoring around as 12 of the 18 skaters made it to the scoresheet.
"The more shots you get, the more chances you get to score,'' Nick Bjugstad said.
"We need to create more top-notch chances. We have to create opportunities and guys have been doing that. Four lines have been contributing and when we're working hard, we're all over people.''
Huberdeau has a large group of family and friends in town from Quebec for the holidays and said he needed to get 80 tickets for Tuesday's game against Montreal.
One person who doesn't need a ticket is his 14-year-old sister Josiane.
On Tuesday, Josiane Huberdeau will sing 'O! Canada' in French and English before the game.
"It's going to be great with all the family here,'' Jonathan Huberdeau said. "She's sang the national anthem at junior games so I figured why not ask and see if she could do it here. It's cool that the organization is letting her do it.''
-- Defenseman Willie Mitchell and forward Tomas Kopecky were given the day off from Monday's practice.
"Everything is fine,'' Gallant said. "They both got a little banged up [Sunday] but its nothing serious.''
Shawn Thornton (groin) didn't practice either.
-- Sunday's comeback marked the first time the Panthers rallied to win a game in which they trailed by two since beating Dallas last season.
Tuesday: Canadiens at Panthers
When/Where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560
Series: Tied 36-36-8
Noteworthy: The Panthers have won four straight home games and are 6-0-1 in their past seven games in Sunrise. The Canadiens, who split last year's four-game set with Florida with Gerard Gallant as an assistant coach, played in Carolina on Monday night.

December 28, 2014

BIG THIRD FUELS PANTHERS WIN: Florida bounces back from two-goal deficit with four in third to top Toronto 6-4 in Sunrise ... Big crowd watches Panthers' win ... Familiar faces come back to Sunrise

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Despite dominating much of Sunday's game, the Panthers went into the second intermission down two goals.
A deficit like that sometimes can be insurmountable for the goal-challenged Panthers.
It wasn't on this day.
The Panthers stayed aggressive in the third and scored four goals in the final period en route to a rousing 6-4 win over Toronto at BB&T Center.
The Maple Leafs had been 14-0 when leading after two periods.
"We were upset and frustrated because we were outplaying them but they got four scoring chances and scored on all of them,'' said defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, who started Florida's goal assault in the third by scoring off a long slap shot 2:45 in.
"We were outplaying them and deserved to win. For the most part, we played better than them. But we gave them Grade-A chances. They are a team that will score if you give them room like that.''
Although the Panthers have been outshooting their opponents almost every night, they continue to struggle in putting the puck into the net.
Sunday, Florida outshot the Maple Leafs -- who lead the NHL with 122 goals -- by 13 in the first two periods and scored twice off those 29 shots.
In the third, the Panthers went more of the quality-not-quantity route and scored four goals off just six official shots.
"It was a great battle-back for us,'' said Scottie Upshall, who scored into an empty net to ice the game with 1:25 left.
"We played great for 55 minutes. When we compete and play our game we really don't have to adjust to anything. You hate to play against teams that play a hard, tight game. And that's what we are.''
The two teams played a scoreless game for more than 25 minutes before the goal gates came flying open.
The Leafs opened the scoring 6:39 into the second when Richard Panik scored.
Florida matched almost two minutes later with a Jonathan Huberdeau goal as Jimmy Hayes made it 2-1 a few minutes after that.
Toronto then scored three times -- off four shots within a span of 4:43 -- to close out the second and take a 4-2 lead into the third.
The Panthers would not go quietly.
"We had played well but gave them areas that were uncharacteristic for us,'' said Brad Boyes, who potted the game-winner off a power play chance with 3:15 remaining.
Said coach Gerard Gallant: "I was frustrated because we usually don't make those mistakes. We talked about it, we were down two goals and had been playing well. We just made a few mistakes that cost us some goals.''
In the third, the Panthers continued to come hard at backup James Reimer and tied the score midway through the period on a long shot from Mitchell.
Boyes gave the Panthers their first lead since the second after he knocked down a long shot from Kulikov and put it through.
Upshall was able to sink the empty net goal -- Florida's first third season -- as it won its first game not decided by a single goal since beating the Ducks in Anaheim 6-2 on Nov. 16.
"It was nice getting that empty-net goal because they were had 6-on-5 in our zone and were pretty good,'' Gallant said. "It was good to have a two-goal lead.''
The Panthers once again played in front of their biggest home crowd of the season Sunday as the team's announced attendance was 17,877.
Last Monday's announced crowd of 15,947 stood as Florida's largest of the season for just a few days.
And with Tuesday's game with Montreal close to selling out, Sunday's number is likely to be eclipsed as well.

"It was a good atmosphere and we enjoyed it,'' Mitchell said.
"You can feel South Florida starting to embrace the way and style we're playing. We give an honest game every night and we're competitive. I think people are seeing that.''
-- Reimer got the start for Toronto on Sunday after usual starter Jonathan Bernier fell ill.
Coach Randy Carlyle told reporters the Leafs' "medical staff feels he does have the mumps. It's the flu.''
-- There were quite a few familiar faces on both sides of the ice Sunday.
Florida center Dave Bolland spent last season with the Leafs before signing a five-year deal with the Panthers on July 1.
Toronto forwards David Booth (2006-11) and Mike Santorelli (2009-13) both spent time with the Panthers. Maple Leafs' assistant Peter Horachek was Florida's interim head coach last season.