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36 posts from March 2013

March 31, 2013

GROWING UP: Florida Panthers Figuring Things Out

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Too bad this lockout-shortened NHL season is almost over. The Panthers, it seems, are growing up and finally figuring things out.

The Panthers have been beset with injuries throughout this abbreviated season, losing close to 250 man games to injury.

Veteran leaders such as Stephen Weiss, Kris Versteeg, Sean Bergenheim, Jose Theodore and captain Ed Jovanovski haven't been around much as they all have been knocked cold because of various injuries.

"They are being given the opportunity, and sometimes that's all you can ask for,'' defenseman Brian Campbell said.

"There are situations where they are having success. They are learning quickly. Mistakes have been made, but they are working hard and learning from them.''

Filling that void hasnt been easy although players such as Calder Trophy candidate Jonathan Huberdeau, Shawn Matthias and Drew Shore have taken on bigger roles with the Panthers than previously thought.

Rookie goalie Jacob Markstrom has also settled into a starting role and is playing lights out lately.

"Leaders grow into those roles and you are seeing snapshots of our future right now,'' coach Kevin Dineen said, adding that veterans like Marcel Goc and Tomas Kopecky have been a big help on and off the ice.

"We know what those kids are doing. They are starting to develop and take on a significant role within the team.''

On Saturday, as the Panthers won for the second straight game as Matthias continued his hot streak.

Matthias surpassed his previous career high for goals in a season with his 11th on Thursday against the Sabres. He's scored three more since -- getting two goals in each of the past two games.

Matthias became the fifth player since 1989-90 to score more goals in one month (11 in March) than has as a previous career-high for a season.

"He's getting an increased role,'' Dineen said. "When you smell opportunity sometime, it's what you do with it. You can read the motivational books, do what you want but when the opportunity is there, you have to take advantage of it. That's what he has done.''

The Panthers still remain far out of playoff contention with 12 games remaining. Yet with eight points in their past seven -- and the Panthers playing well lately -- players say the race isn't over.

Time, however, isn't on their side. At least not when it comes to this season anyway.

"We're not going to quit,'' Matthias said. "We may be down, but we're going to keep battling to the end. Guys are maturing and we're becoming a team. We're young but there's a fire under us. We want to win every night.''

-- The Panthers could add a few more young players to their roster in the coming days.

Speaking to a group of potential season ticket holders before Saturday's game, general manager Dale Tallon said collegiate players Nick Bjugstad (Minnesota) and Mike Matheson (Boston College) could leave school and sign with the Panthers.

Florida would like to have its collegiate players start in the minors but may have Bjugstad -- projected to be a top-end center -- finish this season in Florida.

Tallon reiterated Saturday that the Panthers aren't pushing any of their college players to leave school early and are leaving that decision up to them.

Bjugstad was a first round pick (19th overall) by the Panthers in 2010 and just finished his junior season with the Gophers. Matheson was Florida's first round pick (23rd overall) last June and played strong as a freshman for the Eagles.

-- Tallon said he had an informal meeting with the agent for pending free agent Stephen Weiss on Saturday. Weiss, the Panthers' all-time leader in games played, had season-ending wrist surgery last month in Cleveland.

-- With enforcer George Parros back in the lineup Saturday, Greg Rallo was returned to Florida's AHL affiliate in San Antonio.

March 30, 2013

TYSON STRACHAN DOGS IT: Panthers Defenseman Big Heart, Big Help to Rescue Dogs

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Defenseman Tyson Strachan has been nominated for the a national sports philanthropy award for his work with abandoned dogs -- most notably with the 100+ Abandoned Dogs of the Everglades in South Florida.

Strachan and his girlfriend Kate have adopted a pair of rescue dogs -- Soder, a pure-bred Italian Mastiff, and Raja, a mix Mike Santorelli said looks like a hyena -- and spend plenty of time at the 100+ offices helping with the dogs rescued from the Everglades.

"I think we can create something great here,'' said Strachan, who is up for the national humanitarian award from All Sports United. "These are great dogs who have been through a lot. They just want a nice home."

Strachan and his girlfriend didn't adopt their two dogs in South Florida, but rescued them when he played in St. Louis. Strachan has helped foster rescue puppies found in the Everglades in differing states of duress.

"Missouri is really bad when it comes to abandoned dogs, so we were really active there,'' Strachan said, adding that Blues' center David Backes does a lot of work with dogs in St. Louis. "It's nice that with what I do that I'm able to promote some awareness for this in our area.''

PANTHERS GET OT WINNER: Kulikov's Goal Good Enough for 3-2 Win over Devils; Matthias Scores Twice - Again

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The last time the Devils visited Sunrise, the game went late into the night, Adam Henrique winning it with a goal in the second overtime.

Saturday's game between the Devils and Florida didn't carry the same weight as Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals but for the Panthers, this one is going to have to do.

Dmitry Kulikov got the Panthers at least a small measure of revenge Saturday as he beat Martin Brodeur with an overtime slapshot to give the Panthers a 3-2 win at BB&T Center.

Kulikov's shot ensured Shawn Matthias' second straight two-goal night wouldn't be in vain as Florida won in overtime -- not counting two shootout wins -- for the first time this season.

The Panthers have won two straight games as Thursday's win over Buffalo came in a shootout.

"It feels good to get a win against the Devils,'' said Kulikov, who scored with 3:17 left in overtime. "We remember the loss in the playoffs last year and they are rivals to us. We play them as a rival. Every time we play them, it's a great game, a great battle. Everyone goes as hard as they can.''

Said Matthias: "I'm happy with the two goals. That felt good, especially to beat them. I like beating those guys. They won a bigger game against us, but this still feels good.''

It looked like Brodeur and the Devils were going to get the Panthers again as New Jersey had won three straight against Florida dating to last postseason.

Only the Panthers came hard with Jacob Markstrom out of the net in the final minute. Matthias continues to work hard for every goal he gets as he scored with 27 seconds left in regulation to force overtime.

Matthias won the faceoff deep in the Jersey zone then beat Brodeur on Florida's 26th shot of the night. He gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead in the first after camping out in front of Brodeur and redirecting a Jonathan Huberdeau shot from the right side on a power play chance.

"I liked our tempo in the final seven minutes after they scored their last goal,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. "I felt there was a lot of belief on our bench. It took us a long time, but that was an entertaining game.''

Aside from Brodeur (who is 38-18-7 in 62 starts against Florida), Steve Bernier has burned the Panthers of late as well. Bernier, who didn't do much in his one season with the Panthers in 2010-11, has been a pain for Florida since.

Bernier, reunited with former Florida coach Pete DeBoer in New Jersey last year, scored twice Saturday to give the Devils a 2-1 advantage. Bernier's second goal came with Matthias in the box.

For a guy who found himself getting limited minutes -- who was even put on waivers -- after coming to the Panthers in the Keith Ballard trade with Vancouver, Bernier has settled in nicely with the Devils and was a big part of their run to the Stanley Cup Finals last year.

Saturday's two goal night gives Bernier five goals in 10 games -- including last year's seven-game opening round playoff series -- against the Panthers since he left Sunrise.

"We're not quitting,'' Matthias said. "We're battling until the end.''

-- The Panthers are off Sunday but return to the practice ice Monday before flying to Tampa. The Panthers workout at the Saveology.com Iceplex in Coral Springs starts at 1 p.m. Monday and is open to the public.

March 28, 2013

UPS AND DOWNS FOR PANTHERS: Panthers Beat Sabres 5-4 in Shootout but Lose Captain Jovanovski for Season to Surgery


A few minutes before the Panthers snapped a three-game losing streak Thursday night, the team announced captain Ed Jovanovski would undergo season-ending hip surgery.

And although the Jovanovski news wasn't exactly surprising, it seemed fitting. The Panthers captain, after playing in just six games, was done for the season.

"It would be nice to be a surgeon,'' general manager Dale Tallon said without hint of a smile. "It’s never easy. It’s been a tough year for all of us, but we’ll get through it and we’ll look forward to moving on and getting better.”

The Panthers, who beat the visiting Sabres 5-4 in the fourth round of a shootout thanks to a Mike Santorelli goal, have lost over 210 games to player injury this season with Jovanovski missing 29 alone.

Jovanovski, 36, apparently has a degenerative hip condition that has been giving him trouble for some time.

When he left the Panthers' loss at Tampa on Jan. 29 after a knee-on-knee hit from B.J. Crombeen, he decided to use that down time to try and relieve some of his pain in the hip -- and even travelled to Europe for treatment.

"He's our captain and I've said all along how we need him in this room,'' said Erik Gudbranson, Jovanovski's defensive partner. "He's one of the best and he's good to have on the ice. For long-term, I think he made the right decision. I hope it all goes well for him.''

Jovanovski decided to give things one more try to see if he could play without surgery and worked his way into game shape. After missing 22 games, Jovanovski returned to the lineup March 16. He lasted less than two periods, leaving that game early and not returning.

Tallon says he expects Jovanovski -- who signed a four-year deal worth $4.125 million per last season -- to return to the team.

“I hope so. I think so. I know Jovo will do everything in his power to get back to playing,'' Tallon said. "That’s what he’s all about. I hope it all works out for him. It’s never easy, but if anybody can do it, it’ll be Jovo.''

Not long after Tallon spoke with the media atop the BB&T Center, the Panthers took a 2-0 lead on Buffalo before the Sabres roared back with three unanswered goals to close the second period.

Buffalo scored twice within the final five minutes of the second to take a 3-2 lead into the third before the Panthers did some damage of their own.

The Panthers, who took the initial lead when Shawn Matthias scored his career-high 11th goal, tied things at 3 when Matthias got his second of the night with pure grit and determination.

Matthias out-battled Patrick Kaleta and Kevin Porter for the puck then followed Peter Mueller's rebound and put it past Ryan Miller.

"We got the result we wanted and it feels pretty good right now,'' Matthias said. "We let up for a bit but definitely came together in the third. It looked pretty bad for a bit, but we played our hearts out. That was a good win.''

Just 43 seconds into the second, Tomas Fleischmann made it 2-0 with a power play goal -- but the Sabres answered less than a minute later when Nathan Gerbe scored from 50 feet out.

With 5:03 left in the second, Andrej Sekera lauched a shot from 55 feet out that found the back of the net to tie the score. With 55.4 seconds remaining in the second, Drew Stafford redirected a long shot from Christian Ehrhoff past Markstrom.

Florida trailed twice times in the third, but fought back to tie it each time. After Matthias tied it at 3, rookie Jonathan Huberdeau got his first goal in 10 games by sliding into the slot and pushing a puck beneath Ryan Miller to help force overtime.

There, Huberdeau scored on a goal that was reviewed in Toronto.

"We came back in this game and it's nice to get two points,'' Huberdeau said. "We were up 2-0 and didn't want to lose this game. We have some character and that's what we were trying to show. Nine games [without a goal] is a lot, but you have to work for them.''

In Round 4 of the shootout, Markstrom stopped Steve Ott before Santorelli sidestepped Miller's pokecheck and popped the puck into the vacated net. Rats rained down from the crowd, something that hasn't happened much all season.

Florida is now 2-6 in overtime with both wins coming in a shootout. This was the first one on home ice.

"We haven't been the best in overtime, so this really feels good to do it at home,'' Santorelli said.

SURGERY FOR JOVO: Ed Jovanovski to Undergo Hip Surgery

Panthers captain Ed Jovanovski is scheduled to undergo season-ending hip surgery next Friday the team announced on Thursday.

Jovanovski, named Florida's captain at the end of training camp, played just six games this season because of the degenerative problem.

Things got so bad for Jovanovski this season that he flew to Europe seeking treatment.

March 27, 2013

BRACKET BUSTERS: Florida Panthers Well Represented at NCAA Tournament ... Drew Shore Has a Rooting Interest

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

March Madness has struck the Panthers, although most players admitted they weren't very educated when filling out their NCAA college basketball brackets -- ones for entertainment purposes only, of course.

The Panthers have more of a rooting interest in the upcoming collegiate ice hockey regionals as seven prospects will participate.

Florida's prospects include Minnesota's Nick Bjugstad and Kyle Rau, North Dakota's Corban Knight and Rocco Grimaldi, Eddie Wittchow (Wisconsin), Sam Brittain (Denver) and Michael Matheson (Boston College).

Panthers forward Drew Shore will be watching his Denver Pioneers take on New Hampshire on Friday. Brothers Nick and Quentin Shore are now playing on a line together and hope to get DU into the Frozen Four.

The NCAA finals will be held in Pittsburgh this season.

"I'm excited and happy we don't have a game that night. I don't get to watch a lot of their games,'' said Drew Shore, who left Denver after three successful seasons last spring.

"I don't know where I will watch it. But I will be. I'm excited about it."


BRACKET BUSTERS: Florida Panthers Well Represented at NCAA Tournament ... Drew Shore Has a Rooting Interest

FRESHMAN RUSH: Jonathan Huberdeau Making Case for Calder Trophy

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

TORONTO -- The Florida Panthers have won very few NHL awards during their 18 seasons.

Pavel Bure, the biggest star the franchise has known, won the Rocket Richard Trophy for most goals in a season twice.

On awards voted on by peers or by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association, only Brian Campbell has won, bringing home the Lady Bing Memorial Trophy for "gentlemanly play" from Las Vegas last summer.

Jonathan Huberdeau would like to add to the Panthers' modest trophy case and is considered a favorite to be a finalist for the league's rookie of the year.

No Florida player has won the Calder Trophy, although Huberdeau -- with a strong finish in the final month -- could make a strong case to be the first.

"He has great creativity to his game, is a smooth operator in tight spaces,'' Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "I think he is a very good teammate in which he understands the hierarchy of the dressing room while understanding he's an important part of any success we're going to have.

"He needs to play a strong game for us night in and night out and I think he's done that consistently for us.''

After Tuesday's loss in Toronto, Huberdeau was ranked first in the league among rookies in goals with 12 and second to Tampa Bay's Cory Conacher with 21 points.

The competition for the award is going to be stiff, with Conacher (24 points) and Montreal's Brendan Gallagher (nine goals, 18 points, plus-8) being the top challengers right now.

Huberdeau being a well-known player in Canada should help him, however, if his numbers are there. A top-end junior player, Huberdeau was the third overall pick in 2011.

Voters, the PHWA selects this one, may also be swayed by Huberdeau's youth (he's just 19) and consider he may not have the talent surrounding him with the Panthers that others do.

"I think he's in good shape, especially when you look at some of the guys he has played with compared to the other candidates,'' said David Shoalts, a national hockey writer based in Toronto for the Globe and Mail.

"He's really on the radar of the voters.''

Huberdeau's chances have been hurt by his recent dry streak as he hasn't scored a goal in nine games although he has assists in four of the past six games.

"I'm still learning. I have a lot to learn,'' Huberdeau said. "I got off to a hot start but I need to keep going. Things have been slow a bit, but I need to keep going. Keep things simple. You play so many games in the NHL, you can't be negative if you have a bad game.''

Although Dineen says he knows what Huberdeau is going through, perhaps the pressure of being one of the few players on the Panthers who has been scoring consistently has wore on him.

Huberdeau once led the Panthers in goals, although Tomas Kopecky caught him. Shawn Matthias got his 10th on Tuesday.

"I definitely want to put up some points, help our team win some games,'' Huberdeau said.

When, Where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSNF; WSBR 740-AM
The series: Buffalo leads 43-27-4
The game: This has been a disappointing season for the Sabres, one that cost longtime coach Lindy Ruff his job. Buffalo's three game winning streak was snapped with a loss in Tampa on Tuesday. Florida went 2-3 on its recent five-game road trip -- dropping the final three games.

PHOTO BY JOE RIMKUS JR./Miami Herald Staff

FRESHMAN RUSH: Jonathan Huberdeau Making Case for Calder Trophy

March 26, 2013

NOT ENOUGH IN T.O.: Leafs Help Playoff Hopes with 3-2 Win over Panthers ... Cats Go 2-3 on Roadie, Headed Home


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

TORONTO -- The Maple Leafs are desperate to make the playoffs this spring, desperate to end a postseason drought that is now longest in the game.

On Tuesday, Joffrey Lupul scored a pair of goals within the first few minutes of the third period as the Leafs held off a fast finish by the Panthers 3-2 to help their playoff hopes.

Since the Panthers reached the playoffs last season, the Leafs are the NHL's only team to not make the postseason since a lockout wiped out the 2004-05 season. The Leafs last playoff appearance was in 2004 -- but they could change that in the coming weeks.

For Florida, Tuesday's loss was its third straight after the Panthers started this season-long road trip with two wins. The Panthers opened the trip with wins in Carolina and New York; they closed it with losses to the Devils, Islanders and Leafs.

"We played hard, it was a good game,'' said Shawn Matthias, who tied last year's career-high 10 goals by scoring early in the third. "There's lots of positives from this. It was a hard-fought game. .-.-. We have to go in front of the net to score goals. That's where the puck was. Fortunately we couldn't get one.''

The Panthers have eight of their nine wins when scoring first, only that formula didn't work out Tuesday.

Florida took a 1-0 lead into the second period after Tomas Fleischmann slid a wrist shot between the skates of Toronto goalie Ben Scrivens 6:39 into the game

Toronto, which lost in a shootout at Boston on Monday night, bounced back in the second and scored the equalizer midway through the second from Dion Phanuef.

Prior to that, Panthers goalie Jacob Markstrom had stopped all 11 shots he faced. Markstrom came into the game as only the sixth goalie since 2007 to allow two goals or fewer while making 33-plus saves in three straight starts.

Markstrom was the second Florida goalie on that list as Craig Anderson did it with the Panthers in 2008. Markstrom ended up giving up three goals on 31 shots to the Leafs.

"It was a fast game on both sides, a lot of shots,'' Markstrom said. "These are the kind of games we want to come out on top. We just couldn't do it [Tuesday].''

The third period started off fast and furious as Florida's Filip Kuba was called for tripping at the end of the second. Lupul cashed in 22 seconds into the third by charging in on Markstrom and putting a Tyler Bozak feed past him.

Just 23 seconds later, Matthias tied the score as his shot deflected off Toronto's Mike Kostka and past Scrivens.

"I tried to throw it to my backhand and missed,'' Matthias said. "I got a lucky bounce right there.''

Toronto soon retook the lead with Lupul scoring a few minutes later. Florida had plenty of opportity in the second half of the third period, must notably great chances from Greg Rallo, Scottie Upshall, Fleischmann and Tomas Kopecky.

Scrivens made 40 saves in the win.

"We looked like a different team in different sections of the game,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. "You play 25, 30 solid minutes and then have a few issues that we have to take care of. We had a fairly strong finish but not enough to get the job done.''


The Panthers say they have no further updates on the status of injured wingers Jack Skille and Eric Selleck -- both of whom suffered concussions and are going through the NHL's protocol. Skille is thought to have suffered his concussion before leaving Saturday's game in New Jersey.

Dineen won't even say what is wrong with Skille other than he has an 'upper body' injury although he said Monday it wasn't a shoulder issue. Dineen did say Skille was sent back to South Florida to be evaluated.

-- With Erik Gudbranson back after missing two games with the flu, the Panthers now have seven defensemen. T.J. Brennen, acquired in a deal with Buffalo on March 15, was Florida's healthy scratch on Tuesday.

March 25, 2013

IT'S ALMOST DONE: Panthers Trying to Finish Strong Despite Obstacles

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

TORONTO -- By the time the Panthers get back to South Florida early Wednesday morning, they will have one month left in their season.

A total of 14 games will remain in Florida's abbreviated 48-game schedule, one that started on Jan. 19.

Yes, this disastrous season is almost over.

Barring a miracle, the Panthers season will end on April 27 in Tampa. As has been the case every spring since 2001 -- save for last year -- the Panthers will watch the playoffs and not participate in them.

"We're trying to keep our competitive level extremely high,'' said second-year coach Kevin Dineen, who led the Panthers to the playoffs for the first time since 2000 last season.

"I think I said from Day 1 we wanted a healthy, quality environment. It's no fun right now. We're not having fun. But we're still making strides trying to make this a place in which we get better no matter the situation.''

Even though the playoffs aren't forthcoming for a team that has won two straight games just twice this season, that doesn't mean the Panthers are giving up.

Defenseman Brian Campbell came to Florida from the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks and isn't used to losing. At least not like this.

"This is not a situation you like being in,'' said Campbell, who will miss the postseason for the first time since 2004. "We want to get some positives going for the rest of the season. Hopefully everyone knows this is not acceptable -- especially with so many young players in our lineup.

"This isn't acceptable no matter how many injuries we have. We have played better lately. We need to build on that.''

The Panthers are currently last in the league, a spot that -- if they finish there -- could help them pick up a top draft pick come June.

An influx of talent would help the Panthers in the future, no doubt. That doesn't help the present, however. The losses, the ones that have been piling up like cords of wood, are wearing on the players and staff.

The furthest thing on Dineen's mind is getting a top-end player in the upcoming draft. No, all he wants to do is beat the Maple Leafs on Tuesday. And then the Sabres on Thursday.

"I'm in charge of 18 guys and we have an incredible sense of pride,'' Dineen said. "I truly believe in the logo and the team and what we're trying to accomplish as a group. [A high draft pick] isn't even in my thinking."


The Panthers injured list continues to grow as Jack Skille was sent back to South Florida to meet with doctors for an undisclosed injury.

Florida has lost players for 208 games to injuries -- including pre-lockout injuries to Sean Bergenhiem, Marcel Goc and Erik Gudbranson.

"This is very unique,'' Dineen said. "It's tough on everyone to have pieces of the puzzle missing. That's just been the nature of it.''

Dineen said that George Parros (upper body) could be back in the lineup by the weekend. Parros has been out since March 16.

-- When Skille left Saturday's game in New Jersey, the Panthers quickly got on the phone and called up Greg Rallo. In 62 games with AHL San Antonio, the 31-year-old Rallo has 22 goals with 16 assists.

"I was on my way home and I was told to turn around and to get my gear,'' Rallo said after playing in his second NHL game with the Panthers on Sunday. "This year, every one who has come up has deserves it. I waited patiently. Hopefully I make the most of it.''

When, Where: 7 p.m.; Air Canada Center, Toronto
TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560
The series: Toronto leads 30-24-7
The game: Florida took all four games against the Leafs last season, but lost at home 3-0 to Toronto on Feb. 18. The Panthers gone 13-4-3 in the past 20 games against the Leafs. Florida has lost two straight as it wraps up this season-long five game road trip.

March 24, 2013

ON AN ISLAND: Jacob Markstrom Stands Tall, but Panthers Shutout 3-0 by Islanders


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- When Andy MacDonald scored six minutes into Sunday's game, few inside the Nassau Veterans Coliseum could have guessed that would have stood as the winning goal.

Unfortunately for the Panthers, that one goal was enough to beat them.

Florida's scoring woes continued on Sunday as the host Islanders got MacDonald's early goal then tossed two more into an empty net late to snap a three-game losing streak with a 3-0 win against the Panthers.

The Panthers have now been shutout five times and have scored one goal or fewer in 13 of 33 games this season.

Florida finishes this five-game roadie Tuesday in Toronto. Prior to Sunday, the Panthers hadn't been shutout since the Leafs did it on Feb. 18. The Panthers have lost two straight after opening the trip with wins in Carolina and New York.

"We've given up four goals in the past three games,'' coach Kevin Dineen said, adding he doesn't count the empty net ones.

"We have to find some production and encourage some of the plays that are creating chances. But we need some finish right now. We need some opportunistic guys to see the opportunity to produce right now.

The Panthers didn't offer Jacob Markstrom much support, again, as he has given up 23 goals during his nine starts this season. The Panthers have scored just 20 goals in those games.

Sunday, Markstrom was sharp for much of the night as New York's only goal came with Filip Kuba serving a penalty as MacDonald rifled in a shot from 35 feet out on the Islanders' fourth shot of the night.

"It was a tough game for us,'' said Markstrom, who is 3-6-1 and made 34 saves Sunday. "We had a good push at the end but we couldn't get the puck in. It's a hard way to lose.''

The Panthers have now lost to the Islanders twice in eight days as New York had lost three straight since beating the Panthers 4-3 in Sunrise.

Evgeni Nabokov faced just four shots in the opening period and made a total of 26 saves to earn his 55th shutout in his career. The Islanders' goal total was pumped up by empty net goals by John Tavares with 31 seconds left and Casey Cizikas with 13 remaining.

"It's frustrating. We didn't have the greatest start but we had chances in the second and third,'' Shawn Matthias said. "It felt like we were right there in the end. We had them running around. We just couldn't get it done.''


Colby Robak admitted he had a bit of a sleepless night not knowing whether he would face further discipline from the league for his soft shove of New Jersey's Tim Sestito in Saturday's game.

Sestito lost his balance and rammed into the glass and ended up leaving the game midway through the third period. Robak was hit with a five-minute penalty for cross-checking and was ejected from the game. The league did not offer up any more penalties and Robak played Sunday.

"It looked a lot worse than I anticipated it would be,'' Robak said. "We wee going for a puck and I thought I'd give him a nudge on the hip to get a step on him. I guess I pushed him a little harder than I thought. It's not something you want to see.''

-- Winger Jack Skille left Saturday's game with a mysterious 'upper body' injury Dineen did not expound on. Dineen said Skille was sent back to South Florida to be checked out by doctors and that the injury was something "that happened a couple days ago. He's not sure."

Skille missed big chunks of last season with shoulder injuries.

Greg Rallo, who played in one game with the Panthers last season, was recalled from their AHL team in San Antonio. Rallo leads the Rampage in goals (22) and is second with 38 points,

-- Matthias said he didn't know how many stitches it took to close a large cut above his left eye after being struck by a puck Saturday night. The are around Matthias' eye is discolored and swollen as he said he couldn't open it Sunday morning.

Matthias not only returned after being stitched up Saturday, but played 23 shifts Sunday.

March 23, 2013

PANTHERS CLOSE, LOSE AGAIN: Devils Score Twice in Second, Hold on for 2-1 Win ... Devils Lose Kovalchuk (Shoulder) in Chippy Third


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

NEWARK, N.J. -- Even though the Panthers aren't getting the results they want every night, they are playing their best hockey of the season.

It has come a lot later than they had hoped and in a lockout-shortened season. Way too late.

The Panthers played another solid game Saturday night yet mustered just one goal against certain Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur as they fell 2-1 to the Devils at Prudential Center.

"Too bad there are just a few games left in our season,'' said Tomas Fleischmann, who set up Peter Mueller for Florida's only goal then fought Adam Henrique once the final horn sounded. "We are feeling good about our game right now. .-.-. This is how we should have been playing all season. But we didn't.''

Said coach Kevin Dineen: "I can sit here and paint the picture that we weren't bad, chances fairly even, did a good job on the penalty kill. But it's a results business. We didn't get it done. Close is just not working. the effort is there, we didn't give up a lot. We just couldn't find a way to win''

Even though these two teams battled it out in a seven-game thriller last postseason, they are two different squads today.

The Panthers, who had won two straight for just the second time this season coming in, sit in last place in the NHL although they are technically the defending Southeast Division champs. A slew of injuries have sapped the Panthers from making a run in a division no one seems to want to win.

New Jersey, meanwhile, started Saturday in seventh place in the east. Making an upward move will be slowed with the loss of star Ilya Kovalchuk to a shoulder injury in the third period. The Devils didn't disclose how long Kovalchuk would be out, but it didn't sound good.

"Florida is playing well, played well on this road trip and we knew it would be tough,'' said Pete DeBoer, now in his second year behind the Devils bench after being fired by the Panthers.

After a hard-to-watch first period -- the Devils got two shots from Steve Bernier in the opening four minutes then nothing else -- New Jersey took the first lead on its third shot of the night 1:24 into the second when Travis Zajac hooked up with Patrik Elias off a Florida turnover.

Ten minutes later, David Clarkson fired a shot at Florida starter Scott Clemmensen that was initially blocked. Clemmensen, who once played in Jersey and historically has done well here, mishandled the puck and failed to cover it up. Clarkson pounced and chopped at it, putting it past for a 2-0 lead.

"In a short season, every game is so important and we've been playing pretty good lately,'' said Clemmensen, who made 23 saves. "I thought it was a well-played game by both teams. The score reflects that. But it's tough to win on the road. We played a pretty good road game. We just came up short.''

Florida cut into its deficit with just under 10 seconds left in the second when Fleischmann tied up Brodeur behind the net and slipped a nice pass to Mueller crashing in. Mueller picked up his seventh goal of the year by popping the puck into an empty net.

The Panthers, however, couldn't get anything else past Brodeur as he stopped all six shots faced in the final 20.

"We ran out of gas, had a short bench there at the end,'' Dineen said. "It's been the same old story; we haven't been able to finish with the complete lineup. It makes things challenging.''

Florida was forced to kill off a five minute penalty when Colby Robak was ejected for what looked like a soft hit on Tim Sestito who had to be attended to on the ice.

Dineen was upset that the Devils didn't take a penalty for roughing - as the least - as Robak was jumped as gloves flew.

On Thursday, Rangers' star Rick Nash left his feet to hit Tomas Kopecky on the head with an open elbow. Nash wasn't penalized for the hit -- and the league didn't discipline him either.

"You judge them as they're hit,'' Dineen said. "As usual, in our situation when you're where we are in the standings, it's useless to vent or complain or try to work something in your favor. You just have to go out there and work. We try to be very respectful of the officials.''

As for any burgeoning rivalry with the Devils, well, perhaps its a little one-sided. Although rivalries seem to be born in the postseason, the Devils moved on quickly after beating the Panthers and went on to drop the Flyers and Rangers before losing to Los Angeles in the Finals.

Still, there seemed to be some feistiness between the two as the game went on. It ended with Fleischmann and Henrique -- who beat the Panthers in double overtime in Game 7 last April -- throwing punches after Scottie Upshall put Bryce Salvadore into the boards as time expired.

"Their guy speared Upshall. I asked him why and he punched me so I punched him back,'' Fleischmann said.

-- Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov was back after he missed the previous 10 games after dislocating a shoulder March 2. Kulikov replaced Erik Gudbranson (flu).

-- Shawn Matthias left the game during the second period after taking a hard shot to the face from Kulikov. Matthias took a mess of stitches above his left eye and returned to start the third.

-- Jack Skille left the game with 7:35 remaining with an undisclosed injury. Dineen said Florida may have to make another recall from AHL San Antonio.

When, Where: 5 p.m.; Nassau Veterans Coliseum, Uniondale, N.Y.
TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560
The series: Panthers lead 39-32-8
The game: The Islanders have lost three straight since beating the Panthers 4-3 in Sunrise last week. Florida played in New Jersey on Saturday night and are 0-3-1 in the second game of a back-to-back set this season.

March 22, 2013

JACOB MARKSTROM: Strong in Net for Panthers ... Tomas Kopecky Had Been There Before ... Panthers Return to Newark

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

NEWARK, N.J. -- Jacob Markstrom hasn't been benched much in his life. It's obvious he doesn't like it.

Since returning to the Panthers' starting lineup after watching Scott Clemmensen replace him for consecutive games, Markstrom has come back with a vengeance stopping 77 of 79 shots in leading the Panthers to wins in Carolina and New York.

"There's a healthy competition here between Clemm and myself,'' Markstrom said after a workout at Prudential Center on Friday.

"I didn't win for a couple and he came in and played well. He's a great goalie and it's a great competition. The coach's job has to pick the goalie he thinks gives us the best chance to win. I worked hard in practice and tried to get better. That's all you can do.''

Opponents scored first on Markstrom in his previous four games before coach Kevin Dineen went with Clemmensen on March 14 against the Bruins.

Clemmensen played a good game against Boston, so he was back between the nets the following game against the Islanders.

Markstrom returned Tuesday against Carolina and didn't give up a goal until there was 2:33 left when the Hurricanes scored on a power play chance. The Panthers had already built themselves a three-goal cushion by then.

When the Rangers scored in the third period on Thursday, the Panthers were up 2-0.

"I think he's made a silent statement that is based only on hockey,'' Dineen said. "That's what I've been looking for. We're done talking about potential and this guy or that guy. Just go out and play and show us what you can do.''

Markstrom says he doesn't know how to explain why he gave up so many early goals. In his previous four starts before coming back, Markstrom gave up goals within the first three shots of the game.

"It was frustrating,'' he said. "I wanted to help the team and win games. You don't want to give up those early goals. But I can't look back at the good or the bad. Tomorrow is another game.''

Thursday's win may have been Markstrom's most impressive in his short time with the Panthers.

Markstrom's signature victory prior to Thursday was a 40-save performance in a 2-1 win at Montreal last season. On Thursday, he shut down a Rangers team that had won three straight and is in a fight for a spot in the playoffs.

"It's more fun when you win, makes it fun to come to the rink,'' said Markstrom, whose 44 saves against the Rangers was a career high.

"I feel good right now. I've been playing since our season started in San Antonio, so it's been a long season. I believe in myself. When things go bad, you can't start changing things.''


Rangers' captain Rick Nash avoided suspension from the league for his open-ice hit on Tomas Kopecky during Thursday's game.

Nash left his feet and came down on Kopecky's head with his elbow; Kopecky briefly left the game but returned to score the clincher with 58 seconds left.

"I'm glad I'm fine. I just had a little deja vu,'' Kopecky said of the hit to his head. "Right after it happened I thought it had happened before. Then I came to the bench and I was fine. I didn't have a headache, no blurry vision.''

Dineen said he didn't want to comment on the league's decision -- likely because he didn't want to face a fine for the second time in a week. Dineen was slapped with a $10,000 fine for Eric Selleck's instigator penalty in Carolina.

-- When the Panthers opened their season against Carolina on Jan. 19, Dineen had an odd line pairing as he had 19-year-old Jonathan Huberdeau next to Alex Kovalev -- 20 years his senior. Kovalev, now 40, officially retired earlier this week.

"He was a great player who had a great player,'' Huberdeau said. "He shouldn't have any regrets. He tried to come back and it just didn't work out. He helped us at the beginning of the season and he really helped me relax during my first NHL game. I'll always remember that.''

-- Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov has missed the past 10 games after dislocating a shoulder but could return Saturday against the Devils.

When, Where: 7 p.m.; Prudential Center, Newark, N.J.
TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560
The series: Devils lead 45-25-7 (not including 8-3 in the postseason)
The game: This is the first meeting between the two teams since the Devils knocked the Panthers out of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs with a 3-2 double-overtime win on April 26. The Devils, led by former Panthers coach Pete DeBoer, snapped a three-game losing streak by beating Carolina on Thursday as Martin Brodeur returned from injury.

March 21, 2013

PANTHERS GO TUBTHUMPING IN NEW YORK: Cats Knocked Down, Get Back up and Beat Rangers 3-1 ... Jacob Markstrom Terrific with Career-high 44 Saves


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

NEW YORK -- Sometimes the best thing for a struggling team is a nice long road trip, one in which players can get away from the distractions of friends and family and just concentrate on the task at hand.

Certainly seems to be the case for the Panthers this week.

Two nights after snapping their six game losing streak with a rousing win in North Carolina, the Panthers had Madison Square Garden buzzing -- in a bad way for the home team -- as they dropped the Rangers 3-1.

Florida is 2-0 on its season-long five-game road trip that continues Saturday in New Jersey and moves on to Long Island and Toronto.

"I thought we played our system to a tee, played a good road game,'' said Brian Campbell, whose gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead. "You need good goaltending to win in this league and we got that again. It was a success and we're starting to see some improvement in our overall game.''

The Panthers held a 2-0 lead going into the third period before the Rangers pulled to within a goal with 3:48 remaining.

Only goalie Jacob Markstrom stood tall in the final minutes and Tomas Kopecky was able to get a little revenge after nothing was called when Rick Nash left his feet and hit Kopecky over the head like a professional wrestler.

With Tomas Fleischmann killing a penalty and New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist on the bench, the Rangers had a 6-on-4 advantage. Only Kopecky pulled in a loose puck deep in the Florida zone and flung it an estimated 150 feet into the empty net with 46 seconds left.

"That's Chumbawamba right there,'' Dineen said, referencing the British band from the 1990s. "You get knocked down and get right back up. We're beat up. We have a lot of bodies out, people at home watching. Kopecky wanted to get right back in the fight.''

Kopecky's goal -- his team leading 12th -- gave the Panthers plenty of cushion what with Markstrom outdueling his older Swedish counterpart. Markstrom made a career-high 44 saves; Lundqvist made 21.

"It's a W and that's what matters, but he's a role model to a lot of young kids in Sweden,'' Markstrom, 23, said.

The Panthers, who have struck first in two straight games after falling behind every night during the six-game losing streak, came out flying and made it 1-0 when Campbell got his seventh of the year by cracking a 50-foot slap shot over Lundqvist's shoulder 8:22 in.

Markstrom has been terrific since watching Scott Clemmensen make consecutive starts last week. Since returning, the rookie has stopped 77 of 79 shots.

"Good goaltending leads to good overall play,'' Dineen said. "We were happy with the result here.''

Florida took a 2-0 lead in the second when Jack Skille worked the puck out of the corner and started a battle in front of the net. Scottie Upshall, playing in his 10th game because of various injuries, knocked at the loose puck and put it through at 4:28 of the season.


Dineen said Selleck suffered a concussion after being punched square in the face by Carolina's Kevin Westgarth on Tuesday. "We sent him home so he could start his recovery,'' Dineen said. "It's part of the protocol.''

Selleck was given an automatic suspension for instigating the fight by going in on a line change with 2:58 left in Florida's 4-1 win. Selleck was given a second game suspension on Wednesday -- although because of the concussion, he wouldn't have played anyway.

Dineen, per NHL rule 46.22, was fined $10,000 by the league for Selleck going onto the ice for the fight. Dineen wouldn't talk about the fine when asked about it, although he did allude to it.

"My kids are going to community college now,'' Dineen said.

-- Dineen said injured defenseman Dmitry Kulikov should return to the lineup in the coming days. Kulikov dislocated a shoulder during Florida's loss at Carolina on March 2.

Kulikov, who has missed 10 straight games, said he hasn't been given a timeline on a return but says things are progressing.

"I've been doing a lot off-ice to strengthen the shoulder, get some stability,'' Kulikov said after Florida's morning skate at Chelsea Pier in Manhattan. "It's not good news that it was dislocated, but the good news was there was no surgery. It wasn't as bad as some we've seen here.''

ALEX KOVALEV: Quietly Retires as Member of the Florida Panthers

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

NEW YORK -- Panthers general manager Dale Tallon confirmed to The Miami Herald on Thursday night that 40-year-old Alex Kovalev signed his retirement papers and is no longer a member of the Florida organization.

Kovalev, who signed a one-year deal after the lockout ended, hadn't played for the Panthers since getting nine-plus minutes in a loss at Pittsburgh on Feb. 22.

The Panthers and Kovalev parted ways soon afterward as Kovalev practiced with the Panthers on Feb. 24 but was a healthy scratch that night against Boston.

He left the team soon afterward.

Kovalev never did become the NHL's eighth active player to hit the 40 mark since he didn't play after his birthday. Yet, what a career he had.

Beloved in New York and Montreal, appreciated in Pittsburgh and looked on with disdain in Ottawa, Kovalev won the Stanley Cup with the Rangers in 1994 and was the final active piece of Mike Keenan's bunch.

Kovalev played in 1,316 NHL games, scoring 430 goals with 599 assists. He also appeared in 123 postseason games, scoring 45 goals with 55 assists.

A Hall of Famer? Perhaps. Based on his playing days in Russia and with the NHL, he most definitely has a case.

That's a big reason why the Panthers didn't force him out by putting him on waivers and making him refuse an assignment to San Antonio.

"He's a classy guy who has had a great career," Tallon said last week.

In 14 games with the Panthers, Kovalev has two goals and three assists. His best game was his first as he got a goal with two assists in Florida's opening night victory over the Hurricanes.

PHOTO BY JOE RIMKUS JR./Miami Herald Staff

ALEX KOVALEV: Quietly Retires as Member of the Florida Panthers

CATS IN THE CITY: Panthers Visit Rangers on Thursday, 7 p.m.

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

NEW YORK -- About to head over to Madison Square Garden for tonight's tilt between the Panthers and homestanding Rangers.

Quick news:

Kevin Dineen confirmed that Eric Selleck has a concussion and has been sent back to South Florida to start healing up.

So that two game suspension for Selleck only means money -- he wasn't going to play anyway.

Dineen also got hit with a $10,000 haircut although he declined to answer when I asked him to confirm the NHL fine.

NHL rules state if a player gets an instigator penalty in the final five minutes of a game -- or during overtime -- the player gets an automatic suspension and the coach gets hit with a fine.

Dineen did say his kids are now heading to community college. He didn't say if they were looking at Miami-Dade or Broward college.

-- Dmitry Kulikov said his injured shoulder is healing up and he's happy to be back skating with the Panthers.

Dineen said Kulikov is expected to be back on the ice during this road trip. Tonight is Game 2 of 5.

-- Have to expect Jacob Markstrom back in goal for the Panthers. I couldn't make it to the morning skate at Chelsea Pier so I didn't see who was getting most of the work.

-- No surprise, but Dineen says he's pulling for Miami in the NCAA tournament. Since coming to South Florida, Dineen has become a fan of the local teams.

Kind of refreshing, actually.

March 20, 2013

YOUNG GUNS: Florida Panthers Getting Younger and Younger ... Eric Selleck Suspended Two Games for Instigating Fight ... Trocheck OHL's Top Scorer

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

RALEIGH, N.C. -- When the Panthers finally opened this season back on Jan. 19, Jonathan Huberdeau made his much-anticipated NHL debut.

Huberdeau, the third-overall pick of the 2011 NHL draft, was thought to be one of the few young players the Panthers would have to depend on.

Yet because of a truckload of injuries, the Panthers have become less of a veteran team and more a junior varsity squad.

On Tuesday night, Eric Selleck became the sixth player to make his NHL debut with the Panthers this season. Selleck also became the 13th member of the Panthers who appeared in the minor leagues this year. Selleck was ejected from Tuesday's 4-1 win over Carolina for instigating a fight.

Florida and Tampa Bay lead the league with most players to make their debut this season.

"To get a guy to come up and play in their first NHL game, something that's happened a few times the past few weeks, is always exciting,'' coach Kevin Dineen said.

"One thing you usually get is a short-term jump from a guy who is in their for the first time. They usually have a lot of enthusiasm.''

Huberdeau remembers his first night with the Panthers fondly -- as well he should. Huberdeau came up with high expectations and was thought to be a Panthers regular from the start.

A goal with two assists in his debut only cemented his standing with the team and he's appeared in all 30 games this season. Huberdeau, 19, leads the Panthers with 12 goals.

"It was great to have my first game be the first game of the season. It was really exciting,'' Huberdeau said.

"I got a chance to make my debut at home and it went pretty well. I was happy with it and I was pretty nervous before it started. Now we have a lot of young players who need to step up. There have been so many injuries, but I think we've handled it well. But I didn't expect to play 18 minutes a night."

Others, obviously, aren't in the same boat and had to work a little harder to get the attention of the coaching staff to earn their keep.

Drew Shore, whom Dineen joked came to Florida with a suit and a pair of jeans, could have been one of many who have rotated between the Panthers and their minor league affiliate over the past two years.

Shore, a second round selection in 2009, played so well the Panthers had little choice but to keep him in the lineup.

"You really get to soak it in after that first game,'' Shore said. "You sit back and go 'I just played in the NHL.' Every kid works toward that so it's a pretty special moment. But after a few games, your goal shifts goes from just playing an NHL game to becoming an NHL player. You need to contribute.''

Colby Robak, a second round pick in 2008, played in three games last season but is making his mark this year by taking advantage of Florida's banged up blue line.

Robak, who turns 23 on Sunday, has played in 11 games since being called up late last month.

"You can't explain what it's like to make your NHL debut because it's something you've dreamt about since you were a little kid,'' Robak said. "The butterflies are out of control. It's strange because while this is still a game, one you've been playing since you were a kid, it's also your job. You have to stay on your toes.''

-- Selleck, who appeared to be woozy after taking a punch from Carolina's Kevin Westgarth flush in the face, was given a game misconduct and an automatic one-game suspension for instigating a fight in the final five minutes of a game.

On Wednesday, the league announced Selleck would be suspended an additional game for leaving the bench during a line change to fight Westgarth -- who had tried to fight Tyson Strachan late in Tuesday's game. Strachan declined said request.

Selleck would be eligible to return to the lineup Sunday against the Islanders.

-- The Panthers continue to be excited about prospect Vincent Trocheck -- especially after the season he had in the Canadian junior leagues.

Trocheck, a third round pick in 2011, won the Ontario Hockey League scoring title by bagging 50 goals with 59 assists in 63 games for the Michigan-based OHL teams in Saginaw and Plymouth.

The Pittsburgh native, who said at the draft he was a fan of the Panthers growing up, could compete for a spot on the team in training camp come September.

When, where: 7 p.m.; Madison Square Garden, New York
TV/Radio: FSN; WQAM-560
The series: Rangers lead 41-30-6
The game: Florida snapped a six-game losing streak by beating Carolina Tuesday to kick off a season-long five-game road trip. The Rangers have won two straight. New York won three of the four games between the two last season.

March 19, 2013

A MUCH-NEEDED WIN: Panthers Get Four in the Third, Drop Hurricanes in Standings with 4-1 Win in Raleigh ... Selleck Makes Debut, Loses Fight Late


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The previous time the Panthers visited the Hurricanes, the visitors locker room looked more like the waiting room at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

Three players sat on folding chairs in various state of injury from goalie Jose Theodore to Dmitry Kulikov and Scottie Upshall. The dour looks on their faces reflected the final score, a romp by the home team.

Tuesday night, the last-place Panthers turned the tables on the division-leading Hurricanes in their building.

Playing as division rivals for the final time (at least for now), the Panthers put on a clinic in the third period to blow past host Carolina 4-1 at PNC Arena to snap a six-game winless streak.

"It's been a few weeks here since we got some reward,'' said coach Kevin Dineen, who served as the Hurricanes' captain in 1997 when the franchise moved south from Hartford.

"I wasn't disappointed with our tempo of our game the past few outings. The results just haven't been there. It was nice to get some on the power play, get the win, get the goaltending. It was a pretty complete effort. Honestly, there's a big sigh right now. We needed to take a breath and get two points.''

The Hurricanes' 32 points were by far the fewest of any divisional leader in the Eastern Conference. Carolina, which has lost four straight, was jumped in the standings by Winnipeg (34 points now) on Tuesday and dropped into a tie with New Jersey for seventh in the east.

The Panthers, which move to a more Canadian-centric division next season as the Hurricanes stay in the mid-Atlantic, won just nine of 40 games played here since the building opened in 1999.

Florida, 6-2 losers here on March 2, have won three of the past five games in Raleigh as the Panthers split the four-game series with Carolina this season. Florida continues its season-long five-game road trip Thursday in Manhattan against the Rangers.

"I couldn't let my teammates go out there without me,'' said Shawn Matthias, who was sick all day Tuesday but got well enough to play -- and score Florida's third goal. "I didn't care how bad I felt earlier, this feels pretty good right now.''

The Panthers played a strong game throughout and had plenty of chances against a Carolina team that lost a shootout in New York the night before. Florida was outshooting the Hurricanes 28-22 going into the third yet the score was tied at 0.

Florida changed that 7:39 into the third when Tomas Fleischmann took a Tomas Kopecky feed and beat Dan Ellis on the Panthers' 36th shot.

Later, Marcel Goc made it 2-0 as he redirected Filip Kuba's shot on a 5-on-3 power play chance. The Panthers hadn't scored a power play goal in the previous nine games. Not to be outdone, Matthias got his ninth at the tail end of the power play by jamming the puck home.

Carolina got a power play goal of its own (only its fifth on home ice all year) with 2:33 left, but Jacob Markstrom would let nothing else pass. Markstrom, who watched Scott Clemmensen make Florida's previous two starts, was terrific in stopping 33 shots.

Markstrom had surrendered the initial goal within the opening three shots in his past four starts. Tuesday, the Hurricanes didn't solve Markstrom until the outcome had all but been decided.

"Everyone feels good about this,'' said Markstrom, who celebrated Jerred Smithson's empty net goal with 1:03 left.

"The power play was timely and stepped up in the third. It could be frustrating when we're not winning and it was 0-0 in the third. But we kept doing what we had been doing. It was a great period. The puck finally bounced our way.''


The Panthers had a player make his NHL debut for the sixth time this season as enforcer Eric Selleck took over for George Parros.

Selleck, 25, got into a pair of fights his game Sunday with the AHL San Antonio Rampage -- knowing Parros was injured the night before and the Panthers were watching.

Tuesday, Selleck fought Kevin Westgarth late but the bout was over quick. Selleck had to be helped from the ice after taking a punch flush in the face. Dineen didn't have much of an injury update.

"He played really well, played a couple of really good periods for us,'' Dineen said. "He showed he can be very comfortable in this. Unfortunately, he took one in the button there at the end. We'll see where he's at. He's a tough kid. It was unfortunate but that's our sport.''

-- Matthias missed the morning skate with "flu-like symptoms" but was in the lineup. Quinton Howden was recalled from San Antonio but didn't play. Howden will likely stick around with Selleck questionable.

March 16, 2013

DALE TALLON: Times Are Tough, Panthers Will Be Smart at Deadline

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

When asked if he could pick out what has exactly gone wrong with his team this year, Panthers general manager Dale Tallon sits back in his chair and closes his eyes.

His answer?

Tallon doesn't really have one.

"We had a pretty good team last year,'' Tallon said, literally wringing his hands. "To have this happen is frustrating. I'm actually confused. I can't figure out for the life of me how this happened. But it did and we have to deal with it and get better.''

The Panthers hoped to compete for a second straight division championship this season, but those plans unraveled not long after Florida's opening night dismantling of the visiting Hurricanes.

Florida had a bunch of players hurt coming out of the lockout -- and many of those who weren't injured came in out of shape. The Panthers lost five straight following a 5-1 win over Carolina and were treading water from then on.

The Panthers came into Saturday's game -- a sixth straight loss -- with seven regulars on the shelf as Ed Jovanovski returned after missing six weeks.

Florida may spin off some players by the April 3 trade deadline, although Tallon says he's not going to do anything crazy despite reports to the north saying otherwise. A fire sale, Tallon says, isn't forthcoming.

Friday, Tallon made an addition by acquiring defenseman TJ Brennan from Buffalo for the fifth round pick the Panthers got from Los Angeles for Keaton Ellerby.

"I'm listening to everything there is, but there's a lot of vultures out there,'' Tallon said. "Guys want to pluck our top players. I'm not going to do anything emotionally, anything to disrupt the future of this team for a band-aid for this year.''

-- The Panthers had a familiar face in the lineup Saturday as Jovanovski, Florida's captain, returned after missing 21 games. Jovanovski had been out since Jan. 29 with a 'lower body' injury.

"That's a heck of an addition, having our captain back,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. "He's been sorely missed. He makes a big difference with our group.''

Jovanovski was reunited on Florida's blue line with Erik Gudbranson as those two paired up last year for much of Gudbranson's rookie season.

Gudbranson, who was named an alternate captain Thursday in Boston, said he was glad to see Jovanovski -- the top pick of the 1994 draft by the Panthers -- back on the ice.

"It's really good to have him back and we're all excited about it,'' Gudbranson said. "He's been around for so long, he really understands the game. He knows how to get a team fired up. We need him to bring our confidence back.''

Jovanovski's return was short lived, however, as he left Saturday's game in the second period and didn't return.

Dineen said he would update Jovanovski's condition on Monday.

-- Jovanovski said he felt for Kris Versteeg as he will have season-ending knee surgery likely in the coming week. Versteeg spent last summer rehabbing after hip surgery and spent most of this season in the training room with one injury or another.

"He's going to be rehabbing for like three summers in a row. You feel for him,'' Jovanovski said. "But he'll come back stronger than ever. But it's a grind, that's for sure. He has to dig deep and find it.''

PANTHERS FIND NO LUCK IN SUNRISE: Cats Rally from 3-0 Deficit, Still Lose Sixth Straight ... Jovanovski, Parros Leave Game


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

It doesn't seem to matter what Kevin Dineen does in trying to change the Panthers' fortune, nothing seems to work.

Dineen has changed goalies, practice venues, offensive lines and defensive pairings. Even wearing his lucky green tie with embroidered shamrocks didn't help things Saturday night, although for a bit, it looked like it might.

The Panthers fell into a 3-0 hole only to rally and tie the score in near-record time Saturday. Yet the visiting Islanders scored with seven minutes left and handed Florida its sixth straight loss with a 4-3 victory at BB&T Center.

"I've had it almost a dozen years,'' Dineen said, his dark green tie still knotted tight. "Unfortunately my record took a little beating.''

Saturday's game was Florida's last at home for some time as the Panthers -- riding a season-long winless streak -- embark on a season-long five-game road trip with games against playoff challengers Carolina, the Rangers, Devils, Maple Leafs and these Islanders.

Yes, believe it or not, but the Islanders are three points out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Florida, meanwhile, remains in last place in the entire league and if that holds, it would mark the first time the Panthers have finished at the bottom of the NHL.

With such a finish comes perks as potentially having their pick of the litter at the upcoming draft. Although adding another bluechip prospect to a deep stable of can't-miss-kids will be fun for the Panthers come June, things are quite painful right now.

Florida has not only lost six straight, but it has dropped nine of the past 10. And 11 of the past 13. And 16 of 19. Saturday's loss leaves the Panthers 4-8-5 on home ice.

"We all want to win in here, so from that standpoint, it's getting frustrating,'' Jack Skille said. "Everyone wants it in here. We all say the right things between periods, we have a lot of character in this room.''

The Islanders, who have five of seven, scored twice in the opening period as Scott Clemmensen -- getting his second straight start -- surrendered goals on consecutive shots within a span of 2:33.

New York quickly made it 3-0 when Brad Boyes scored 33 seconds into the second period -- giving the Isles three goals on four shots against Clemmensen.

The Panthers have been down this road a lot lately, as they have surrendered the initial goal in 10 of their past 12 games. All of those games in which the Panthers fell behind, not coincidentally, were losses.

Florida bounced back to life in the third, finally beating Evgeni Nabokov when T.J. Brennan -- acquired in a Friday night deal with the Sabres -- scored in his Florida debut by banging in a loose puck from the slot.

He didn't know what he would start.

Brennan's goal kickstarted a three-goal outburst from the offensively challenged Panthers as Marcel Goc and Mike Santorelli followed.

"Maybe it's nice to be thrown into the fire, it settles you down a bit,'' Brennan said. "I wasn't trying to do too much. They told me to shoot when I can, if I see opportunities.''

Florida's three-goal tally in 1:43 was third-best in franchise history. The Panthers scored three in a span of 62 seconds at Buffalo in 2009.

"We have highs and lows we need to balance out,'' Dineen said. "When you push as hard as we did to come back, you're proud of them.''

The Panthers couldn't get at least a point out of the rebound, however, as Casey Cizikas dove for a loose puck in front of Shawn Matthias and put it past Clemmensen.

"It has to be a more productive game,'' Dineen said. "We need a more complete game.''

-- The Panthers lost defenseman Ed Jovanovski to an undisclosed injury during the second period. Jovanovski had missed 22 games with a lower body injury before returning Saturday.

Jonathan Huberdeau (hand/wrist) and Peter Mueller (lower body) left during the first period. Both were on the ice to start the second. George Parros (upper body) left after fighting during the first and didn't return.

PANTHERS, LIGHTNING HEADED NORTH: Realignment Doesn't Make Geographical Sense, But...

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

BOSTON -- So how did the Panthers fare in the NHL's new alignment, one in which Florida and Tampa Bay leave the sunny south and count the likes of Buffalo, Boston, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Detroit as divisional rivals?

Depends on who you ask.

The business side of the organization love the new format, with six of the seven other teams coming from "snowbird" areas in the northeast, Michigan and Canada. The other team in the new and as-yet-unnamed division is a short drive away.

That means a full building many nights as fans of 'original six' teams Toronto, Boston, Montreal and Detroit make their way to Sunrise. The Panthers should also get a boost in television coverage with so many games against high-interest opponents.

“Not only will we maintain and grow our in-state rivalry with the Lightning, but we will also be able to cultivate rivalries with some of the NHL’s most historic clubs,'' Panthers president Michael Yormark said in a statement.

The hockey side of things, however, isn't as thrilled with the change.

The Panthers are currently in the Southeast Division with the closest road game -- aside from Tampa -- being a quick flight to Carolina or Washington.

Now, as coach Kevin Dineen said, the Panthers are going to be "flying over" NHL cities such as Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and New York to get to new divisional destinations.

The added games against Canadian teams is also going to add to Florida's travel times as trips through customs can be a lengthy process both coming and going. If the NHL factors this into consideration and consolidates as many trips north as possible, it should be only a slight problem.

But if the league doesn't do that, the Panthers and Lightning could find themselves traveling more and spending substantially more money in airfare.

Because of their geographic location, the Panthers and Lightning already travel more than any other teams in the Eastern Conference.

The new format -- one that makes no geographical sense -- could make things even worse. Outside of Tampa, Florida's closest new divisional rival resides in Buffalo, N.Y.

"It's going to be expensive and it's going to be time consuming,'' general manager Dale Tallon said. "Those road trips to and from Canada are going to be rough on Tampa and ourselves. But it's probably best for hockey overall.''

Commissioner Gary Bettman said Thursday the league is going to keep the Panthers and Lightning in mind when the schedule is worked out.

"From a business standpoint, I think this is probably really good for both Florida teams,'' Bettman said. "Travel-wise they may have issues. But based on where it is from the geographic standpoint, it wasn’t going be perfect. .-.-. We're going to try and do the best possible job of focusing on the travel needs of the two Florida clubs and the teams in their division and their travel to and from Florida.''

This current alignment will be in place for the following three seasons with the league and its players' association reexamining things after that.

Even though Bettman said there are no plans for relocation or expansion, both are expected. With the probability of expansion teams coming to Quebec and the Toronto area, the divisions may have to be redrawn anyway as there are 16 teams in the east and 14 in the west.

"The travel is more, but hey, we get four of the Original Six teams in our division,'' Tallon said. "This should be good for hockey fans in South Florida."

-- The Panthers will hold their morning skate Saturday at the Saveology.com Iceplex in Coral Springs. The practice is scheduled to start at 10:15 a.m. and is free and open to the public.

When, Where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560
The series: Florida leads 39-31-8
The game: This is the first meeting between the two teams this season with the Panthers going 3-0-1 last year. This is Florida's final home game before kicking off a season-long five-game road trip Tuesday in Carolina. Florida's next home game isn't until March 28.


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