March 18, 2014

PROF. HORACHEK: Panthers Coach Helps Mold the Young Florida Panthers ... Bergenheim, Huberdeau Still Out

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The Panthers had yet another new face in the lineup Tuesday night with Garrett Wilson the latest to come up from the minors and join the team.

Instead of being negative about having to replace veteran players with inexperienced ones -- and being asked to try and win games -- coach Peter Horachek seems to be embracing his role as a teacher.

"If I start complaining about it, I'm only complaining to myself,'' said Horachek, who coached the likes of Wilson, Vincent Trochek, Colby Robak and others while with the San Antonio Rampage of the AHL before taking over the Panthers in November.

"It is what it is. I think everyone can see almost half of our team is from San Antonio. But they're playing hard. This is a great opportunity for a lot of players. To come into the NHL and be able to play against Joe Thornton and all these players .-.-. You'll see it in a year from now, two years from now. They're going to grow from this.''

When the Panthers took on the top-tier Sharks late Tuesday night at SAP Center, they did so with eight of their 18 skaters having played in the minors at some point this season.

Horachek says it's important these players learn what it takes to be NHL players and he plans on helping them.

"They don't need me yelling at them every day,'' he said. "I can make my point clearly without doing that.''

In Pete DeBoer's final months as Panthers coach in 2011, Florida had a similar look with general manager Dale Tallon trading away a number of veteran players and replacing them with call-ups from the minors or with castoffs from other teams.

DeBoer, now in his third year of coaching the Devils after being fired by Tallon at the end of that season, told before last week's game in Sunrise that Horachek is handing things in a positive way.

"It looks eerily familiar to the last year I was here, the last couple of years,'' DeBoer said. "Upon reflection and watching, I  think Pete has done a very good job of handling the situation, much better than I  did at the time.''

Although the losses have frustrated Horachek as it did DeBoer, Horachek is taking a big-picture approach with Florida's young players.

DeBoer, sensing he wasn't going to be asked to return, didn't have much patience with helping along a construction project he wouldn't be around to finish.

Ultimately, Horachek could be in the same boat. The Panthers gave Horachek the head coaching job on a interim basis with Tallon saying the two will talk about the future once this season is mercifully done come April.

"There is an opportunity here to step up and they can grow together and make this a positive thing moving forward,'' Horachek said. "It's up to them. I can't give them the confidence. But they build the trust in their play. They're going to grow and they're going earn it. You can stay or you can go away.''

Horachek has drawn praise from both the young players he had in San Antonio at the beginning of the season to veterans he inherited when Kevin Dineen was fired.

"I think teaching the game, when you have a young group, can be difficult at times because they make mistakes and do so repeatedly,'' said captain Ed Jovanovski, who saw the ill effects the hard-nosed style Marc Crawford inflicted on young players when he was with Vancouver in 2000.

"Peter is a good communicator and I think he's done an honorable job for us. We all have to assume the responsibility of saying something when a player makes a mistake. All of us helping each other will put us closer to where we want to be.''

Said Trocheck: "It was a tough situation for him to come into, but Peter is a real positive guy and stays even keel all the time. He hasn't changed a thing even though so many guys are up. He expects you to do the job.''


A fourth-round pick by the Panthers in 2009, Wilson took the long road to the NHL as he spent time both with Cincinnati of the ECHL and San Antonio before getting the call Sunday that he would be joining the Panthers.

Being told early allowed Wilson's parents to book a flight from Toronto and make it to San Jose in time to see their son make his NHL debut against the Sharks.

"My experience has been a little different than most guys up here,'' said Wilson, 23, who started on the fourth line with center Scott Gomez and Krys Barch.

"I just tried to stay positive when I was down there, keep working hard. My game is based on work ethic.''

-- Winger Sean Bergenheim could be back soon. Bergenheim missed his third straight game with an apparent groin injury but skated with the team on Tuesday.

-- Jonathan Huberdeau is out for at least the next few games after being run up into the boards during Sunday's game against the Canucks.

Horachek said Huberdeau didn't skate in South Florida on Tuesday and doesn't expect him to join the team on this West Coast swing. Jesse Winchester, who has missed five games, has been skating and could meet up with the team.



March 17, 2014

DIFFERENCE OF OPINION: Matthias Didn't Like Culture in Florida; Horachek Said Matthias a Victim of Being a Victim

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Shawn Matthias was back at the Panthers' training facility on Saturday less than two weeks after being traded to Vancouver in the Roberto Luongo deal.

General manager Dale Tallon earlier said that Matthias had asked to be traded a few months back as he was unhappy with his situation with the team.

On Saturday, Matthias said he was happy to be dealt away, saying he didn't fit in with Peter Horachek's philosophy and wasn't happy playing the role of a fourth-line winger.

"I think it was obvious [a trade] was going to happen, especially after [Kevin] Dineen was let go,'' Matthias said. "I was happy for the move, for the opportunity. I've really loved the change so far.

"I think it's a different atmosphere here, a different culture. You play hard, you play. In Florida too many players are given things and it's not the right way. .-.-. It was obvious whenever guys were out how well I played. Then they came back and nothing changed, nothing happened. I was upset for a while here. I wanted a fair shake. Now I'm in a good situation.''

Horachek tried holding back when asked about Matthias' comments but made it clear he feels Matthias needs to take responsibility for his standing in the league.

"He's a talented young player, has size, can skate and has all the tools,'' Horachek said. "But he gets in his own way. I'll leave it at that.

"He went through four coaches [in Florida]. No one is picking on him, no one is saying he can't play a different role. But there's accountability and the ability to get out of the victim role and start playing for the accountability of his teammates. Start playing for the team and stop playing for the name and number on the back.''

Since being dealt, Matthias has a goal and an assist for the Canucks. He had three goals in the two games with the Panthers before the trade.



GO WEST YOUNG MEN: Panthers Looking for Wins On Final Big Trip of Season

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

For the final time this season, the Panthers packed their bags Sunday night and boarded their charter for a long road trip.

Although Florida have one last trip to New York remaining, that's a quick trip with two games on successive nights.

On Tuesday, the Panthers kick off a four-game west coast swing in San Jose. Florida will visit the Sharks, Phoenix, Los Angeles and Anaheim before coming home on Monday.

Eight of Florida's final 10 games following this trip will be in Sunrise.

"We're not going to focus too much on what the other team's situation is,'' said coach Peter Horachek, who gave the team Monday off in California. The team returns to the ice for Tuesday's morning skate.

"I know in California, they're all the best teams aside from St. Louis and Chicago in the West. We have our hands full and it starts in a tough place to play. The Shark Tank is as tough a place as there is to play.''

The Panthers have long given up hope for the playoffs as they came into Monday 18 points out of the final spot in the Eastern Conference.

The same cannot be said for the teams Florida is playing this week.

All four teams the Panthers face are either holding a playoff position or close to it. Last Friday, the Panthers hurt New Jersey's chances in the east -- and they would like to do the same on this trip.

"This is definitely not going to be an easy one,'' Tom Gilbert said. "The teams we're playing have all put themselves in position to be near the top of the league. That just makes it better.''

The Panthers go into this road trip feeling a little better about themselves after picking up three of the available four points over the weekend.

Horachek said his team, which is now stacked with youngsters up from AHL San Antonio, are trying to win every game they can. Although some fans would rather the team continue losing to improve the team's draft status, tanking is not on the minds of the players.

"We have a lot of new faces, a lot of kids trying to make a name for themselves,'' Scottie Upshall said. "On a road trip like this with four good teams, we have to just keep things simple.''

Said Roberto Luongo: "It's really a good test for our team, see where we're at in tough environments. We'll see what we're made of.''

-- Horachek said he didn't even know Jonathan Huberdeau got hurt during the second period of Sunday's game. Huberdeau, listed as having an 'upper body' injury, didn't travel to California.



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

TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM 560

The series: San Jose leads 10-8-7

Scouting report: The Panthers had won four straight against the Sharks before losing 3-0 in Sunrise prior to the Olympic break. The Sharks have been rolling lately, winning six straight.


March 16, 2014

HUBERDEAU HURT: Not Going to California

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Reigning rookie of the year Jonathan Huberdeau left Sunday's game in the second period with an undisclosed upper body injury and didn't return.

The Panthers left his gear hanging in their locker room after the game while packing up the rest of the team. That would suggest Huberdeau was not on Florida's charter flight to California on Sunday night.

Drew Shore could be called up from AHL San Antonio for the upcoming four-game west coast set.

SHOOTOUT REDUX: Vancouver Avenges Earlier SO Loss to Panthers, Top Luongo 4-3

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Roberto Luongo was on the wrong side of a shootout the previous time Florida played Vancouver back in November.

He was again Sunday afternoon.

Luongo, now manning net for the Panthers, made 26 saves but gave up one to rookie Nicklas Jensen in the shootout as Vancouver beat the Panthers 4-3.

Jensen was recalled by the Canucks after Luongo left.

"It was normal. Once you get into the flow of things you're really not thinking about those kind of things,'' said Luongo, who was traded back to the Panthers less than two weeks ago after eight seasons with the Canucks.

"I knew right away it was going into a shootout. That's just the destiny we have. .-.-. What are you going to do? It takes perfect shots to beat goalies in the shootout and they got one. That was the difference.''

It almost didn't get that far. Florida trailed 3-2 late in the third before getting a power play chance with 1:51 remaining.

The Panthers power play, improved of late, cashed in again as Jimmy Hayes camped in front of the net and deflected a hard shot from Brain Campbell. Eddie Lack, Luongo's replacement, made the initial stop but Hayes stayed with it and pushed the puck through.

That forced overtime and gave the Panthers another chance.

"I was just trying to be big, be a pain in front,'' said Hayes, who scored Florida's first goal late in the opening period to give the Panthers the initial lead.

"I feel pretty good out there.''

Florida's 1-0 lead didn't last very long as the Canucks scored two quick goals before the end of the first. Dan Hamhuis tied it with a long shot from inside the blue line that avoided plenty of traffic in front. Moments later, Jensen got his second career goal to make it 2-1.

The Panthers knotted it again in the third as Vinnie Trocheck got his second goal in as many nights by wrapping the puck around and beating Lack 4:19 into the third.

But Alexandre Burrows, who ended with three points, gave the Canucks their lead back at 3-2 just over a minute later.

Florida had a great chance to tie it midway through the period only defenseman Kevin Bieksa made the save of the day on a Colby Robak shot soccer-style. The Panthers would have to wait a few more minutes to force overtime.

"We have a lot of new faces in the lineup,'' coach Peter Horachek said. "There's good conviction here. They're trying to win every game.''

-- Scott Mellanby, the originator of the 'Rat Trick' back in 1995, was at Sunday's game as part of the franchise's 20th anniversary celebration.

Mellanby, Florida's original captain in 1993, scored two goals in the Panthers' season opener in 1995. Before the game, he one-timed a rat that was creeping through the old locker room at Miami Arena up against the wall. Fans soon started celebrating goals by throwing rubber rats onto the ice as a tradition was born.

"People still talk to me about that,'' Mellanby said over the summer. "I love telling that story. Everyone remembers the rats.''

The Panthers feted Mellanby by handing out bobbleheads in his likeness to the first 10,000 at Sunday's game.

-- Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura, the top-ranked chess player in the United States, took part in a special chess day at the arena before Sunday's game.

Hikaru received a key to the City of Sunrise as well as a custom-made Panthers game jersey. Hikaru dropped the first puck during pregame ceremonies.

-- Florida placed defenseman Alex Petrovic (upper body) on injured reserve as it still has three injured players (Jesse Winchester, Erik Gudbranson and Sean Bergenheim) on the active roster.

March 13, 2014

OWNED BY LIGHTNING: Tampa Bay Completes Season Sweep of Panthers, Roll to 5-4 Win ... Dan Ellis Makes First Start, Quinton Howden Gets First NHL Goal

TAMPA -- Tampa Bay had lost five straight games but the Panthers their own special way of helping others turn things around.

Especially the Lightning -- at least lately.

Tampa Bay continued its recent dominance of the cross-state rivalry with a 5-4 win Thursday at Tampa Bay Times Forum.

"We came to play, owed them a good game,'' said Scottie Upshall, who scored the first of Florida's two goals in the final 1:05 to make the score a tad more respectable.

"We came out with a lot of energy but got away from playing a simple game. Their offense started to take over, had some long shifts and put us on our heels. From then it was an uphill battle. We had a big effort, but we have a long way to go to be where we want.''

Although the Panthers hold a nice advantage in the all-time series, Tampa Bay won all four meetings this season and seven of the past nine.

Steven Stamkos (who has 38 points in 31 games against the Panthers) scored his first goal since returning from a broken leg last week. Ryan Callahan, the former Rangers captain who came over the in Martin St. Louis trade, also got his first goal in a Tampa Bay blueshirt.

"We have to eliminate some of the little things,'' said Florida coach Peter Horachek, whose team led twice early.

"We have to bear down, put our foot down and not allow that Callahan goal.''

The Panthers, who have lost three straight and 11 of 14 as they jockey for prime draft position once again, watched the Lightning take control of the game by scoring twice in the second.

Florida led 1-0 after Tomas Fleischmann scored 1:44 into the game on a power play.

The Lightning tied things at 5:38 when Sami Salo beat Florida backup Dan Ellis on a long shot, but 12 seconds later, Quinton Howden scored his first NHL goal to make it 2-1.

It was all Lightning after that.

Mike Kostka tied it by scoring on the Lightning's fifth shot against Ellis at 8:18 of the first, with Callahan giving Tampa Bay its first lead at 12:04 of the second.

Tyler Johnson made it 4-2 with just over a minute left when he threw up an odd-angled shot that hit Ed Jovanovski's skate and skipped past Ellis.

Stamkos slammed home a power play goal midway through the third. Scottie Upshall and Brandon Pirri scoeed Florida's final goals of the night.


With two big games with personal meaning to Roberto Luongo upcoming, the Panthers went with Ellis on Thursday. Ellis' previous start came against Columbus while a member of Stars on March 4.

Ellis played for the Lightning during the 2010-11 season.

The Panthers play host to New Jersey -- and former Vancouver goalie Cory Schneider -- on Friday with the Canucks coming to town.

Schneider took Luongo's starting job in 2013 before being traded away last summer. Luongo was traded from Vancouver to Florida last week.

Ellis had 23 saves on 28 shots.

-- Howden saw plenty of familiar faces when he joined the Panthers for the first time this season. Howden, who played in 18 games last year, spent this season with Florida's AHL affiliate in San Antonio.

Seven of the Panthers' 20 players on Thursday had spent some time with the Rampage.

"You can't wait around for that call to come,'' Howden said. "You never know what's going to happen up here so you keep working for the chance. It's nice to see a lot of guys, guys you played with all year. It makes things more comfortable. It's awesome.''

-- The Panthers are scheduled to practice at their training facility in Coral Springs at 11 a.m. on Saturday. The Canucks -- with a number of former Panthers on their roster including Shawn Matthias and Jacob Markstrom -- will practice at the IceDen at 2:30 that day.



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

TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM 560

The series: New Jersey leads 48-26-7

Scouting report: The Devils have won two straight and three of four as they try to stay in the race for a playoff spot. New Jersey has won three of the past four against the Panthers including an overtime victory in Newark on Jan. 11

March 11, 2014

FLORIDA DOGS: Coyotes Complete Sunshine State Perfecta With 3-1 Win over Panthers

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Phoenix Coyotes sure did enjoy their quick trip through the Sunshine State.

Phoenix, battling for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, won for the second straight night as it topped the Panthers 3-1 Tuesday at BB&T Center.

The Coyotes, fresh off a shootout win over the host Lightning, join Boston as the second straight team to pull all four points on the Tampa/Sunrise back-to-back set.

"We never really put our foot down to push forward and find an answer,'' said former Coyotes' defenseman and current Florida captain Ed Jovanovski.

"They're fighting for their lives and we're fighting for different reasons.''

The Panthers, after shutting out Buffalo in Roberto Luongo's re-debut last Friday, have lost two straight and 10 of the past 13.

The Coyotes didn't trail on Tuesday as they rolled out goalie Mike Smith (31 saves) for the second straight night.

"He's always a factor for them, he's a great goalie,'' coach Peter Horachek said.

Phoenix opened the scoring late in the first when Keith Yandle's long shot was redirected past Luongo by Mike Ribiero.

The Coyotes put the Panthers in their familiar 2-0 hole midway through the second when Oliver Ekman-Larsson took aim with a long shot from just inside the blue line.

Phoenix all but ended Florida's night in the third when Radim Vrbata and Antoine Vermette hooked up on a pretty 2-on-1 rush.

"I need to find a way to make a save there,'' Luongo said.

Florida cut into its deficit in the third when Brandon Pirri scored his first goal since coming over to the Panthers in a trade with Chicago on March 2.

-- Winger Sean Bergenheim left during the second period and didn't return but said he didn't think the injury was serious.


LIMPING PANTHERS: Gudbranson, Winchester Out A Few Weeks; Bergenheim Leaves Tuesday's Game

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Coach Peter Horachek said Erik Gudbranson's suspected knee injury isn't as severe as first thought but he'll likely be unavailable for the next few weeks.

"The scans came back better than we anticipated," Horachek said. "I  don't really have the exact timeline. We'll have to wait to see where it is, but in the short term we got good news with the scan .-.-. We were fearful there was more than we thought."

Florida also lost winger Jesse Winchester with an undisclosed lower body injury midway through the third of Sunday's loss to the Bruins. Winchester, having a career-year offensively, is also out for a few weeks.

The Panthers called up veteran defenseman Mike Mottau and winger Joey Crabb from AHL San Antonio.

-- Winger Sean Bergenheim missed Tuesday's morning skate "for maintenance,'' then left during the second period and didn't return.


DALLAS SCARE HITS HOME: Dan Ellis Thankful Rich Peverley, Friend and Former Teammate, Is Improving

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

When Dan Ellis heard Rich Peverley had collapsed on the Dallas bench during Monday night's game, he admitted he was scared and said a prayer for his good friend and former teammate.

Ellis was kept abreast of Peverley's situation from friends on the Stars' staff early in the ordeal and later by Peverley's wife.

"From what I've heard, he's doing well,'' said Ellis, who was traded to the Panthers from Dallas last week.

"You have to hope and pray for the best. You're thankful the doctors did as good a job as they did, thankful he's alive.''

Peverley, 31, didn't play in the season opener against the Panthers after missing the preseason for treatment of an irregular heartbeat. Peverley has been on medication and monitored all season and missed last week's game in Columbus because of it. Peverley did return to play against Vancouver two days later.

"When you can't be there for someone you care about .-.-. it's heartbreaking,'' said Ellis, who often rode with Peverley to games and practices during their time with the Stars.

Ellis said he and Peverley had extensive conversations on Peverley's health and the procedures he had and planned on undertaking.

Peverley was not allowed to drink alcohol or caffeine, Ellis said, and was going to have more work done in the offseason.

"Everything seemed to be under control, he did everything they said he needed to,'' Ellis said. "Then this happens.''


March 09, 2014

BOSTON BREWIN: Bruins Continue Domination of Panthers ... Gudbranson Leaves Game, Status Unknown

Roberto Luongo did slow down the Bruins but not even he could stop them from continuing to beat up on the Panthers.

Actually, few have done much of anything against the Bs lately.

On Sunday, arguably the top team in the Eastern Conference rolled into town and put on a show in the third period, scoring four goals en route to a 5-2 win over the Panthers.

"They have some players and they made some plays, scored some goals,'' said Luongo, who lost at Boston last month while a member of the Canucks. Sunday he made 37 saves.

"We just have to keep playing hard and learn from what happens on the ice. They've won the Cup, are one of the best teams in the league.''

Boston has won five straight games to take over the top slot in the Eastern Conference. The Bruins have also absolutely owned the Panthers. Boston has won eight straight against Florida including 14 of the past 16 and 20 of 26.

When asked if he was glad his team was done with the Bruins for the year, coach Peter Horachek exhaled. "Yes,'' he said.

Florida went 0-5 against the Bruins this season, not picking up a single point in the standings. Boston also outscored the Panthers 22-8 in the process.

"They are still a benchmark, still a team we have to gauge ourselves against,'' said Horachek, who took over the team a day after Florida lost 4-1 in Boston on Nov. 7 although the decision to fire Kevin Dineen had already been made.

"They are a disciplined team by their system and attitude. They don't have panic to their game. They just keep working at it. A lot of times things go their way.''

The Panthers watched Boston dominate play and keep pressure on Luongo throughout, the Bruins showing no ill effects from beating host Tampa Bay in a long shootout the night before.

Despite being outplayed, the Panthers took the initial lead as Boston native and former Boston College hero Jimmy Hayes followed up a fat rebound to beat backup Chad Johnson seven minutes into the second.

"We have to stay in the games, keep getting the pucks in,'' Hayes said. "We can't score and give them right back.''

The Bruins didn't wait too long to tie things up, getting a reviewed goal from Andrej Meszaros just before the 10 minute mark.

Luongo contested the goal as Carl Soderberg made contact with the Florida goalie as the shot was coming through but that non-call couldn't be enforced by review in Toronto.

"He interfered with it but if they don't call it on the ice, Toronto can't,'' Horachek said.

Boston took control of things in the third, scoring three goals within a five minute span.

Patrice Bergeron made it 3-1 with a power play goal, only Hayes cut Florida's deficit in half 39 seconds later by working the puck between Johnson's skates.

Boston all but ended things 23 seconds after Hayes' goal as Jarome Iginla got his 550th NHL goal by roofing a shot past Luongo. Chris Kelly iced things with an empty net goal with 1:08 remaining.

"We all know they're a good team but they outworked us again despite playing back-to-back,'' Jonathan Huberdeau said. "We should have taken advantage of that and didn't. Hopefully we beat them one day.''


Defenseman Erik Gudbranson had to be helped into the Florida locker room after taking a hit to the knee from Marchand.

Gudbranson hit the ice and was slow to make his way back to the bench.

Horachek said he didn't have a status update following the game. Florida was expected to recall a defenseman from AHL San Antonio anyway, so that move could come Monday.

-- Prior to Meszaros' goal midway through the second, Luongo hadn't given up a goal as a member of the Panthers since their 2006 season finale.

Atlanta's Steve McCarthy scored late in the first period of that overtime win for Florida.

Luongo went 2 hours 13 minutes 23 seconds of game time with the Panthers without giving up a goal over that almost eight-year span.


March 07, 2014

STORYBOOK RESTART: Luongo Shuts Out Sabres in Triumphant Return to Panthers ... Thomas Bobblehead Day is Back On

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Roberto Luongo left the Panthers as the franchise's all-time leader in shutouts back in 2006.

On Tuesday, he returned with his record still intact.

By Friday night, he was already adding to it.

Luongo had a triumphant return with the Panthers as he made 25 saves in Florida's 2-0 win over Buffalo at BB&T Center.

It was Luongo's 66th career shutout and 27th with the Panthers. He had three with Vancouver this season before coming back to Florida in a trade Tuesday afternoon.

"It was nice, a great reception from the start and I thought the boys played extremely well,'' said Luongo, in a Florida sweater for the first time since beating the Atlanta Thrashers 2-1 in overtime in the 2006 season finale.

"We're a really fast team. I was impressed by the speed that we generated. The future is very promising.''

Luongo didn't get a lot of goals from Florida's offense although the Panthers did take 44 shots at new Buffalo goalie Michal Neuvirth with coach Peter Horachek saying Florida had 30 scoring chances.

Sean Bergenheim had 12 shots.

Florida's power play -- ranked last in the NHL but not much worse than the one Luongo left behind in Vancouver -- scored twice for the first time since Dec. 3.

The power play got off to a rocky start after Buffalo took consecutive penalties to give the Panthers an extended run.

With Matt D'Agostini in the box, Marcus Foligno was kicked out of the game for running Brandon Pirri into the boards along the Buffalo bench.

Florida wasted most of the 6:35 power play but Jesse Winchester salvaged things. Winchester shoveled a shot past Neuvirth -- fresh out of Washington -- to make it 1-0 midway through the first.

"If that doesn't score, it probably gives them a little confidence and some momentum,'' Horachek said.

The Panthers continued to take aim at Neuvirth, still wearing his Capitals' themed equipment, yet couldn't find the back of the net as Luongo made one nice save after another.

Florida finally gave Luongo some breathing room early in the third when defenseman Dmitry Kulikov rifled a shot from 40 feet away to make it 2-0. Horachek said "Kulikov was outstanding, the best player on the ice".

With Luongo back, it seemed like a lot of Panthers were energized.

"Louie's first game back and this was fitting,'' said captain Ed Jovanovski, playing in his first game with Luongo as a teammate despite all their combined years together with the organization.

"I'm glad he's on our side. I've played with a few elite goaltenders before and he has a pretty good resume. Being able to play with him is nice.''

Luongo came onto the ice to raucous cheers as many in the crowd broke out their old No. 1 jerseys.

Once the captain in Vancouver who had been strung around the past few years with the Canucks, Luongo looked sharp, confident and especially comfortable back in the arena it all started for him in South Florida back in 2000.

"He's really happy to be here and I'm excited for him,'' GM Dale Tallon said. "He's had a tough couple of years and handled himself with class and dignity. He deserves good things to happen.''

Said Luongo: "Shutouts are always nice but in the end it's about the win. We were up one in the third but didn't sit back. It was good.''


The Panthers changed course and will give out Tim Thomas bobbleheads to the first 7,500 fans who attend Sunday's game against the Bruins as scheduled.

Thomas was traded to Dallas on Wednesday, one day after Florida got Luongo back. Thomas' bobblehead is the third to be given out during Florida's 20th anniversary season with three such days later this month.

-- Vincent Trocheck, 20, made his NHL debut Friday with a number of family members from Pittsburgh in attendance.

Trocheck took three shots on 25 shifts.

"I felt confident to use him in a lot of situations,'' Horachek said.


March 06, 2014

WELCOME BACK LOUIE: Roberto Luongo Returns to Florida Panthers Practice for First Time Since 2006

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Roberto Luongo spoke of "returning to normalcy" when he practiced with the Panthers for the first time since 2006 on Thursday afternoon.

Aside from his Vancouver-themed green-and-blue protective pads underneath his black practice jersey, it looked like Luongo had never left.

He even dug up his old Pink Panther-themed hockey mask with palm trees painted on it from his closet.

"I'm not used to wearing the red but it was nice to get on the ice and just do what I do,'' said Luongo, whom the Panthers re-acquired in a trade with the Canucks on Tuesday.

"I stopped some pucks, moved around there and had a good time trying to get to know my new teammates.''

Florida originally traded Luongo to Vancouver in a lopsided deal on the eve of the 2006 NHL Draft conveniently held in the Canadian city.

And although Luongo spent countless hours practicing at the Panthers' training facility -- he paid the team out of his own pocket for the privilege -- during the offseason and 2012 lockout, he'd not been allowed inside the locked doors leading to the team's headquarters.

On Thursday, Luongo was finally given access to all the good stuff which included Tim Thomas' old locker stall. The Panthers didn't have a nameplate ready for Luongo yet but that will be ready soon.

"I work out here during the summer but not in this locker room,'' said Luongo, wearing a red Panthers dri-fit practice t-shirt.

"This is very nice over here, beautiful stuff. I've never been over here. It's great. I couldn't believe how nice it was when I walked in [Thursday] morning. I didn't know they had all these amenities in here.''

On Wednesday, the Panthers sent Thomas to Dallas bringing backup goalie Dan Ellis in return. Florida then sent Scott Clemmensen, Thomas' backup here, to its AHL affiliate in San Antonio.

Since Ellis has never played with the Panthers, he didn't have any old gear to bring in as Luongo did. He practiced in his green Dallas pads with matching helmet.

Ellis is signed through next season so he'll be getting some Florida-themed equipment very soon.

"This is a team that has been putting in pieces for the longest time,'' said Ellis, who has a 4-2-3 record against the Panthers in his seven-year NHL career.

"There have been great people around here, great veterans. I think with the new ownership gives stability. In Dallas, new ownership stabilized the team, same in Tampa. That does a lot for you and gives you the ability to grow out. We have some great young players, really good veterans, just picked up a world-class goalie. It's a good place to be.''

-- Dan Ellis photo by KELSEY HINDS/@Kelsey1344



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

TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560

The series: Buffalo leads 44-30-4

Scouting report: Both teams will have new looks following the trading deadline. Florida has won two of three with its only loss to the Sabres this year coming at home on Oct. 25.





WELCOME TO THE SHOW: Vincent Trocheck Ready to Make NHL Debut with Panthers

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Center Vincent Trocheck is expected to have a number of family members at the BB&T Center for Friday's game against the Sabres as the 20-year-old makes his NHL debut.

The Panthers recalled Trocheck on Wednesday as he led San Antonio in scoring this season. Trocheck replaces Marcel Goc -- who was traded to Pittsburgh, Trocheck's hometown -- on Wednesday.

"I'm extremely excited,'' Trocheck said. "I got the call at 3:30, had to be on a plane by 6. I was there early, for sure. It's a dream come true, my goal since I was 5-years-old.''

Drew Shore was sent back to San Antonio despite playing well with the Panthers before and after the Olympic break.

"This gives Vinnie a chance to come up,'' coach Peter Horachek said. "There's a league rule about how many games you can play before you need waivers. He's done a good job, I like Drew Shore. From the first time he got called up, he approached it with a real professional attitude. He knew he was going to be a fourth liner, knew he would kill penalties. He did it with a passion and had an impact.''



MASKED MAN: Roberto Luongo Breaks Out Old 'Pink Panther' Mask from 2006

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

When Roberto Luongo walked out onto the Panthers' practice ice on Thursday, he had a familiar look.

Well, sure, he spent five seasons with Florida before being sent to Vancouver in one of the greatest heists in hockey history.

Luongo, not wanting to look like Mr. Plain, went into his closet and dug out his old mask from his final season with the Panthers. He brought it with him to practice and had it dusted off and updated a bit.

Panthers assistant equipment manager Chris Moody said Luongo's old mask is fine for him to wear in games for the time being as there hasn't been many changes in technology for hockey masks since the time he left.

The Panthers had a newer white mask ready for Luongo just in case, however, but he showed up with his old one. The team switched out the straps, sweat band and chin guard and his old mask was ready to go.

A new mask is said to be in the works but won't be ready for a few weeks.


TIM THOMAS: Says he Talked to Panthers About Getting Out Before Luongo Deal

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Tim Thomas flew to Dallas on Wednesday night after being traded from the Panthers earlier in the day.

He took part in the Stars' Thursday morning skate before their game with Vancouver -- who coincidentally had former Panthers' Shawn Matthias and Jacob Markstrom working with their new teammates after coming over in the Luongo deal.

Thomas, like Dan Ellis, was wearing his old equipment for his practice. Like Ellis, Florida's red-and-blue color scheme clashed with Dallas' kelly green.

In meeting with reporters, Thomas said he was happy to be on a team contending for a playoff spot and said he talked to the Panthers prior to the Luongo trade about the possibility about being shipped to a contender. The Luongo trade, he said, only facilitated things.

"From the Florida Panthers perspective,'' Thomas said, "they're looking at it as something to shore up their goaltending for a very long time. They did what they thought was best for their organization.''

Thomas told reporters in Boston on Tuesday, however, that he had not even thought about being traded to a contender because it apparently never came up. The thought here: Thomas figured he was coming back to Florida next year and wouldn't be dealt.

Here is the link to the Dallas Stars' website with video from Thomas talking about his first day with the Stars.

It's worth noting that Thomas' season started at AmericanAirlines Center in Dallas as Florida beat the Stars in the 2013-14 season opener.



March 05, 2014

LOUIE IS HOME: Roberto Luongo Returns to Florida Panthers ... Cats Trade Tim Thomas, Marcel Goc Before Deadline


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

When Roberto Luongo hit his pillow for his pregame nap Tuesday, he had no idea what was waiting once he awoke.

After a few years of trying to come back to the Florida Panthers, it came true. Vancouver general manager Mike Gillis called Luongo in the middle of his nap and told him not only would he not be starting for the Canucks later that night in Arizona, but he would be heading home to South Florida.

"I was getting ready to play, I didn't have any idea something serious was going down,'' Luongo said in a re-introductory press conference carried statewide on Fox Sports Florida from BB&T Center.

"There's always rumors floating around but I've been hearing them for a couple of years. You stop listening to them. I was ready to play. It happened quick and caught me off guard. To be honest, I'm still in a little bit of disbelief. It'll be nice to practice with my new teammates and get some normalcy back.''

The deal for Luongo just prior to Wednesday's trade deadline set a number of things in motion including dismantling Florida's goaltending tandem.

Starter Tim Thomas reluctantly waived his no-movement clause and was traded to Dallas. The Panthers got veteran goalie Dan Ellis in return, thereby sending backup Scott Clemmensen to Florida's minor league affiliate in San Antonio.

"We wanted a world-class goalie and a class act like Roberto,'' general manager Dale Tallon said. "We're excited about this. This is the beginning of many solid moves to move our franchise forward.''

Luongo, who played for the Panthers from 2000-06, said his interest in rejoining Florida was rekindled as the team make a run to the playoffs in 2012. Luongo was feeling heat in Vancouver with Cory Schneider making a case to be the starter. Luongo eventually asked for a trade -- with Florida being his main target.

"It really got me excited,'' said Luongo, shipped out in 2006 after a series of events unfolded leading to contract talks stalling with then owner Alan Cohen and GM Mike Keenan.

"I started thinking it would be great to come back and rejoin the team. It took a while and there were some other teams involved along the way, but in the end, I think when I least expected it, something happened. I'm excited about situation moving forward.''

The Panthers couldn't swing a deal for Luongo either in 2012 or last summer when Tallon confirmed he and Gillis talked about it at the draft.

"A lot of people think I want to come here and ride into the sunset,'' said Luongo, 34, who is signed through 2022. "I'm here to win, to bring this team back to the playoffs. I think with the ownership and the promises they've made, we can bring some new guys in and help the young guys along. We can be a contender.''

Rory Babich, named CEO of the team on Monday, says bringing Luongo back is a difference maker for the franchise.

"To be able to acquire a talent like will be tremendously positive for our fans and our players,'' Babich said. "Getting Roberto at the deadline converts the words we've been speaking into action. We really believe the players will get a lift. This is a tough end of the season where we're at, but this is all good.''

With Luongo, the Panthers all but said goodbye to Thomas. On Tuesday, Thomas said he learned about the trade while on the bus heading to the TD Garden.

When asked if he would accept a trade to a contender, Thomas didn't seem to know what to say. It was apparent he and Tallon talked about Thomas coming back next season. He had never really thought about leaving at the trade deadline.

On Wednesday morning, Thomas and Tallon broached the subject.

"I told him the truth, how it went down and what happened,'' Tallon said. "That's just the way it is. It's strictly business. We have to win games, build a solid championship team here. It was a good conversation. I don't blame him for being upset. This is the direction we're going in.''

The Panthers' organization seemingly thought Thomas would be around for a while as well. Sunday's home game against Boston was scheduled to have 10,000 Thomas bobbleheads as the giveaway.

Babich says while the trinkets won't be given out en masse, the team is working on a plan to get them to fans who want them.

"The timing is unfortunate,'' Babich said. "Tim is popular here and we looking forward to honoring him with a bobblehead night. He was important to us.''

Although Luongo said he and Thomas could coexist -- Thomas said the same thing on Tuesday -- it was obvious having two top-end goalies on the same team competing for playing time wasn't going to work for long.

So when the Panthers skate onto the ice for Thursday's practice in Coral Springs -- just a few miles from Luongo's home -- there will be no question who Florida's No. 1 netminder is.

As it was back in 2006, it's Luongo.

"You always feel you have something to prove, there's always someone behind you ready to take your job,'' said Luongo, who still holds the franchise goaltending records for games played, wins and shutouts.

"You have to have that desire to keep getting better and be the best. That, to me, is what it's all about. You have to keep pushing. When I don't have that, I'll step aside.''

-- The Panthers made one other deal before Wednesday's 3 p.m. deadline, sending third-line center Marcel Goc to Pittsburgh for a pair of draft picks. Goc is an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

-- Florida also made a few roster moves on Wednesday. Aside from sending Clemmensen down to San Antonio, the Panthers also sent Drew Shore back to the Rampage.

Center Vincent Trocheck, who leads the Rampage with 41 points, is coming up and expected to be in the lineup Friday against the Sabres.

-- The Panthers 11 a.m. practice at the IceDen in Coral Springs is free and open to the public.


WHEELING AND DEALING: Goc, Thomas Only Panthers to Go on Deadline Day

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Tim Thomas Era in Florida is over.

The Panthers traded the two-time Vezina winner to Dallas on Wednesday afternoon after he waived his no-trade clause after Florida picked up Roberto Luongo the day before.

The Panthers got veteran goalie Dan Ellis back in return. Ellis is signed through next season so it appears he is the new backup to Roberto Luongo. That would mean Scott Clemmensen, who cleared waivers at noon, would be heading to San Antonio to play for Florida's AHL affiliate.

Florida also sent Marcel Goc to a contender as the third-line center goes to Pittsburgh. The Pens gave up a fifth round pick this summer and a third round selection in next year's deeper draft.

TSN reported that Thomas wasn't happy about the trade, although I would say he's just not happy with how things went down. Thomas was apparently led to believe he had a future here as the Florida goalie and was content to stick around. Then Luongo came to town and everything changed.

"That's something that hadn't really been discussed,'' Thomas said Tuesday night when asked if he would be willing to move to a contender. Thomas added he learned of the Luongo deal while riding the bus to the arena. He reportedly wasn't real happy about it.

Dale Tallon acknowledged this when he said he would talk to Thomas about it. "This was a business decision,'' Tallon said, adding it was something the Panthers felt they had to jump on. Tallon added that the deal came together "out of nowhere'' thereby covering himself when it comes to previous conversations with Thomas.

We're talking to Thomas in a little bit. Will get into all of this then.

Follow me on Twitter for all the breaking news.


March 04, 2014

A TALE OF THREE GOALIES: What Happens Next for the Florida Panthers Netminders?

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

BOSTON -- What's next for Florida's goaltending situation?

Well it's pretty obvious that Roberto Luongo is your guy for the foreseeable future.

But what happens to Tim Thomas? Scott Clemmensen?

Well, Thomas said Tuesday that he heard about the Luongo deal on the bus heading to the arena. So, as of Tuesday night, he hadn't spoken to Dale Tallon.

Thomas has a no-trade clause in the one-year deal he signed in September.

Does Thomas stay for the rest of the year? Will he waive his no-trade and move to a contender?

On Tuesday, Thomas said he hadn't thought about leaving until Luongo got here.

"That's something that hadn't been discussed until this point,'' Thomas said. "That needs some discussion before comment.''

Said Tallon: "This all came out so quickly, I'll sit down and talk to Tim and see what he would like us to do. Goaltending is pretty solid with those two guys. We have to talk to Tim and see what he would like to do and we'll do the best we can to make this work. You can't win without great goaltending and we'll see what direction it takes us. We'll have a conversation [Wednesday] with Tim and see where it leads. This is a business decision and we felt we had to do it. It came out of nowhere.''

One would think it is easy money to bet on Thomas leaving but Thomas doesn't always do what everyone thinks. He's his own guy. He smiled at the question of whether he and Luongo could coexist in South Florida.

Tallon said he would like to have both of them stay in Florida.

"I have to see the situation, see what they're thinking,'' Thomas said. "I would like to talk to Dale before I comment on anything.''

Thomas and Luongo could definitely be entertaining together. When the battled in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, Luongo seemed to take exception to something Thomas said about his style of play. Thomas responded with a now-famous line that he didn't know he was around to pump Luongo's tires -- which means stroke his ego.

Now the duo are teammates. For the time being.

"I have a line that probably someone else has thought of,'' Thomas said, almost beaming.

"It looks like Dale went kicking some tires and found one that needed pumping.''

Thomas then broke out laughing. When told of Luongo's tweet that said the two would "tear it up" in South Florida, Thomas nodded. Thomas wasn't told Luongo called him 'Tiny Tim.'

"It will be interesting, but I don't know how things will work out,'' Thomas said. "I am looking forward to it. It's going to be fun. It's like, I don't think it will be anything really. We're both old pros, have been in the league a long time and have a lot of experience.''

The future for Clemmensen is a little more murky.

Florida placed Clemmensen on waivers on Tuesday.

A few things can happen.

First, Clemmensen can be claimed by another team by noon and leave Florida.

Clemmensen could end up staying as Luongo's backup if Thomas is dealt, or, Clemmensen could be sent to AHL San Antonio if Thomas sticks around.

Tuesday, Clemmensen said he was just going to worry about what he could control.

"Instead of wracking my head, I'm going to wait it out,'' Clemmensen said. "I have no idea what's going to happen. I'm not going to try and figure it all out.''


DAY OF NEWS: Panthers Play on Ice Doesn't Warrant Any as Bruins Roll 4-1

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

BOSTON -- The big news came off the ice for the Panthers on Tuesday with Roberto Luongo coming back to town and Brad Boyes sticking around a little longer.

Good thing. Florida didn't do much on the ice.

The host Bruins scored twice within a four minute span in the first period and got a David Krejci hat trick en route to a 4-1 win over Florida. Boston has won seven straight against the Panthers.

"I think a lot of people are thinking, am I next, but those are excuses,'' coach Peter Horachek said of the pending trade deadline. "As professionals you can't let that go in. This is a business. Sometimes you will be traded, sometime not. You still have to play.''

Tim Thomas, who may have played his final game with the Panthers thanks to Luongo, made 35 saves. Boston opened the scoring at 7:29 of the first when Krejci picked off a Tom Gilbert clearing pass and beat Thomas. Not long later, Jarome Iginla got in front of Ed Jovanovski and sliced the puck through for a 2-0 lead.

Boston basically ended things when Krejci got his second with 47.6 seconds left in the second period.

Boyes, who signed a two-year deal worth over $5 million earlier in the day, hit a few posts as Florida tried to come back. Florida got its lone goal from Brian Campbell with 7:13 left.

Krejci scored into an empty net with Thomas returning for the final 14 seconds.

BLOCKBUSTER RETURNS TO SUNRISE: Panthers Get Roberto Luongo Back, Tim Thomas Florida Future Decided Soon

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

BOSTON -- Roberto Luongo is coming home.

The Florida Panthers reacquired their former All-Star goalie on Tuesday almost eight years after trading him in what is considered one of the worst deals in NHL history.

Luongo originally came to the Panthers along with Olli Jokinen in a similarly lopsided deal -- this one in Florida's favor -- in 2000.

"It's nice, it's home,'' Luongo told reporters in shortly after the news broke.

"The new ownership is committed to winning and there are some good young players there. This is a good opportunity for me.''

Florida gave up goalie prospect Jacob Markstrom and forward Shawn Matthias for Luongo -- who still resides a few miles from the Panthers' training facility in northwest Broward County. The Panthers also got prospect Steven Anthony, a former linemate of Florida's reigning rookie of the year Jonathan Huberdeau.

Luongo, who is signed through 2022, is owed roughly $32 million with Vancouver paying 15 percent.

The Panthers are expected to re-introduce Luongo on Wednesday afternoon at BB&T Center.

"It's huge,'' general manager Dale Tallon said. "He's a big name down here. It sets the tone for our franchise. .-.-. [We] want to win the Stanley Cup but talk is cheap. We're acting and following up on what we said we would do.''

Last summer, Luongo requested a trade from Vancouver and the Panthers -- one of the few teams he would waive his no-trade deal for -- looked into making a deal.

With the team for sale and the Canucks wanting a lot for Luongo (reportedly including center Nick Bjugstad) nothing happened. Vancouver dealt Cory Schneider to New Jersey and Luongo, the Canucks' former captain, was Vancouver's starter again.

"Sometimes it takes years to get the right deal done,'' Tallon said.

So, on Monday. Tallon called Vancouver's Mike Gillis to "kick the tires'' and ask about Luongo again. Talks heated up Monday night and Tallon spoke to owners Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu as well as new CEO Rory Babich to see if he could continue working the deal Tuesday morning.

"I was given the green light,'' Tallon said. "And here we are. I'm excited about. I think it's great for our franchise.''

Said Gillis: "Now that they've gotten new ownership .-.-. they were able to do things.''

Luongo, scheduled to start Vancouver's game in Phoenix Tuesday night, was taking his pregame nap when Gillis woke him with news of the deal.

"I thought my contract was untradable,'' Luongo said. "I wasn't expecting this to happen especially not today.''

Despite being traded by the Panthers' Mike Keenan in 2006 (for Todd Bertuzzi, Alex Auld and Bryan Allen), Luongo never left his home in Broward.

After all, he met his wife Gina while she was working at her father's Italian restaurant in Coral Springs just a mile from the Panthers rink. The Luongo's now have two children and lots of happy relatives waiting in South Florida.

"This is good for my family,'' said Luongo, who is originally from just north of Montreal.

Bringing back Luongo -- who lost his duel with new (if temporary) teammate Tim Thomas in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals -- could be a game-changer for a franchise trying to fight its way back into South Florida's consciousness.

Former Panthers coach Kevin Dineen told Canada's Rogers Sportsnet that Luongo will pay on and off the ice.

"I'm a big believer in Roberto Luongo,'' said Dineen, fired by the Panthers in November. "He's going to his happy place. I think this is going to put him in a good frame of mind which he hasn't been in Vancouver the past few years. He's where he wanted to go. He's still a name in Florida, will bring fans to the building.''

For that, however, the Panthers may have paid a steep price.

Not only will Florida dole out a lot for Luongo in salary -- he'll make $6.714 million the following three seasons before it goes down considerably -- but Markstrom was considered the franchise's 'goalie of the future.'

Tallon says Luongo's track record trumped Markstrom's potential.

"We're getting a great goaltender, a proven commodity,'' Tallon said. "Jacob has great upside but we needed to make a statement. .-.-. You have to pay the price to get guys like this. You don't get Roberto Luongo for nothing.''

Florida could now move Thomas -- named the league's top goalie twice -- as early as Wednesday's trade deadline.

Tallon said he would talk to Thomas and see what he wants to do. Thomas has a no-trade clause, one he may now waive although he said he and Luongo could co-exist.

"I was surprised at first, like a lot of people, I didn't see that coming,'' Thomas said after Tuesday's 4-1 loss in Boston. "I don't know what their plans are right now, so I can't say much. I have to see the situation, see what they're thinking. I'm going to check in with Dale.''

The Panthers also gave up Matthias, the player they got from Detroit in the Bertuzzi (who played seven games with Florida) trade of 2007.

Matthias had three goals in Florida's previous two games.

"I think he may need a change of scenery,'' Dineen said.

-- Lost in the shuffle of the Luongo news were two other moves made by the Panthers. Defenseman Mike Weaver was sent to Montreal for a fifth round selection in the 2015 draft.

Before the Luongo news broke, Brad Boyes signed a two-year deal worth just over $5 million. Boyes, Florida's leading goal scorer, said getting Luongo trade bolstered his decision.

"We're not standing pat, it's not a rebuild,'' Boyes said. "We're going to win some games and I think we're going to do something really big next year. I want to be part of this.''