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35 posts from April 2013

April 29, 2013

LOTTERY LOSS: Florida Panthers Drop to Second in NHL Draft as Avs Win Lottery

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Panthers general manager took a cloverleaf up to the Toronto area on Monday hoping his franchise got lucky and kept its top standing in the upcoming NHL draft.

It didn't.

Despite finishing dead last in the NHL, the Panthers lost the draft lottery to Colorado. The good news for the Panthers is they couldn't fall any further than second overall. Florida holds the second pick with Tampa Bay choosing third,

The NHL draft will be a one-day affair this season and will be held at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., on June 30.

As Tallon said at the Panthers' season-ending media session on Sunday afternoon, the team figures to score no matter where the ping pong balls landed on Monday.

The 2013 draft is considered to be talent-heavy on the top end with at least three players projected to be NHL ready now or in the near future.

"We're going to get a really good player within the first two picks,'' Tallon said Sunday. "We're going to get a hell of a player.''

The top-rated North American skater according to NHL Central Scouting is defenseman Seth Jones, a native of Arlington, Texas, who is the son of former NBA player Popeye Jones.

Seth Jones played for Portland of the Western Hockey League and led all rookie defensemen in the WHL with 14 goals and 42 assists. Jones also was the youngest member of Team USA's gold medal team at the world juniors.

Center Nathan MacKinnon and winger Jonathan Drouin -- who both played for Halifax of the Quebec junior league -- are also in the running to be the top overall pick.

Drouin led the Mooseheads with 41 goals and 105 points to earn league MVP honors; MacKinnon had 32 goals and 75 points for Halifax.

"We're really on course. We're in good shape,'' Tallon said. "The NHL combine is at the end of next month and we'll have our organizational meetings there. I've been watching the top three and have a good feel for who they are.''

The Panthers have been lucky in the draft lottery before, securing the top spot in both the 2002 and 2003 drafts.

Florida, however, never used those top picks and instead traded them away.

In 2002, the Panthers didn't need a goaltender so they traded the top pick to Pittsburgh who took Marc-Andre Fleury. Florida slid down to No. 3 and took the player it wanted in defenseman Jay Bouwmeester.

Two years later, Florida decided it wanted Nathan Horton. Columbus wanted Rick Nash and dealt with the Panthers to move into the top slot. Both teams got the players they wanted with Nash becoming an All-Star selection for the Blue Jackets -- and a player they ultimately traded to New York last summer.

Both Bouwmeester and Horton asked for trades and were later dealt. Bouwmeester will make his postseason debut with the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday against the defending champion Kings; Horton won the 2011 Stanley Cup championship with the Bruins.

Since 2001, the Panthers have had eight top-10 picks.

Of those, all but Rostislav Olesz were in the league last season but just three remain with the organization.

Florida had all five of its top selections from 2008-11 in the lineup at some point this season -- including No. 3 picks Erik Gudbranson (2010) and Jonathan Huberdeau (2011).

Whomever is taken on June 30 could be in the lineup come October although the Panthers made both Gudbranson and Huberdeau wait a year before coming up to the big club.

"You see it coming but I want to win now and I don't want to wait for years to pass,'' defenseman Brian Campbell said of Florida's youth.

"Look at a guy like Huberdeau who solidified his spot here and is a top six forward in this league. We expect great things from his next year. He had a good year. Now he should want to have a great year.''

April 28, 2013

FLORIDA PANTHERS 2013: What Went Right (Not Much) and What Went Wrong (Where to Stop/Start?)


-- Injuries took apart the Panthers as they led the league with 338 man games lost. Sure, some minor players were gone, but Florida really struggled without the likes of Stephen Weiss (17 games played), Kris Versteeg (10), Jose Theodore (15), Ed Jovanovski (six) and Sean Bergenheim (none).

-- The Panthers felt good after a rousing 5-1 win over Carolina to open things up, but things went south in a hurry. Florida lost its next five games and never recovered, finishing last among the 30 NHL teams.

-- Goaltenders Theodore and Scott Clemmensen got off to rough starts with Theodore tearing two groin muscles right as he was turning things around. Jacob Markstrom came up and showed promise as the future starter.

-- Florida's penalty kill was not only last in the league, but it was statistically the worst since at least 1997-98 (that's as far back as the NHL stats go). The Panthers gave up power play goals almost 26 percent of the time.

-- The Panthers got shutout seven times this season as consistent scoring was a problem throughout. The Panthers ended tied for last in goals scored and 29th in 5-on-5 scoring.


-- With so many injuries, the Panthers were forced to plug holes with younger players. The experience could prove beneficial in the future as Markstrom, Drew Shore, Nick Bjugstad and Quinton Howden found what it takes to succeed at this level. Jonathan Huberdeau looks like a future star as he tied for the rookie scoring title.

-- Without Weiss, Versteeg and Bergenheim, the Panthers got strong offensive seasons from Tomas Fleischmann (who led the team in scoring for the second straight season), Tomas Kopecky, Huberdeau and Shawn Matthias.

-- Florida's power play went through stretches without production, but for the most part was pretty good. The Panthers ended with a 20.4 percent success rate -- ranked sixth in the league.

-- Believe it or not, finishing last for the first time in franchise history may prove to be something that went right. The Panthers will find out Monday whether they will pick first or second in this top-heavy draft. Florida ended the season with 10 players on the roster who are 25 or younger and will add to that youth in June.

-- If you are going to have a season like this, at least let it be a short one.

PANTHERS CLEANOUT: Stephen Weiss, Jose Theodore Hope to Return ... Panthers Looking for Top Pick in Draft

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Before speaking to the media Sunday afternoon, Stephen Weiss pulled off his baseball cap and tossed it into the locker stall that used to have his name on it.

Weiss says he hopes that locker space becomes his once more -- and says the Panthers have shown interest in bringing him back.

There are a few factors which could end Weiss' career with the Panthers. The main one, of course, being money.

If the two sides don't come together, it's extremely possible Weiss' return to the BB&T Center for Sunday's season-ending locker clean out day could be his last with the Panthers.

Florida ended the 2013 season with a 5-3 win over the Lightning on Saturday.

"I think the consensus is they want me back and I want to be back,'' said Weiss, who made his debut with the Panthers in 2002. "It's just a matter of the numbers game. .-.-. It's a business. Sometimes those things don't fit and don't make sense. I understand that. We'll see what we can do.''

How to handle the Weiss situation is just one of the many issues facing general manager Dale Tallon heading into this offseason.

Tallon, coach Kevin Dineen and many players talked about how the direction of the franchise shouldn't be judged on 2013's last-place finish. The Panthers lost a number of key players - Weiss included - for much of the 48-game season because of injuries.

Weiss is Florida's only major unrestricted free agent going into the offseason although the team seems to have interest in bringing back goalie Jose Theodore to compete with Jacob Markstrom.

Shawn Matthias, Jack Skille, T.J. Brennan, Matthias and Peter Mueller are restricted free agents.

"I want us to get better. I want to win,'' Tallon said. "I want to build on what we did last year and not tear down everything just because we had a 48-game season that wasn't an effective one. I'm going to erase this and keep adding pieces to the puzzle.''

The Panthers finished last in the NHL for the first time in franchise history and Dineen says things will change in Sunrise. Dineen and his coaching staff won't be one of the changes.

Dineen and his assistant coaches are signed through next season and Tallon said they would all return for the 2013-14 campaign.

"To be in the situation that the Panthers did this year, you have to address things as a team and we're going to continue to do that,'' Dineen said.


The Panthers have a 25 percent chance to claim the top pick in the upcoming draft with the lottery held Monday night in Toronto.

Tallon says he is taking his lucky cloverleaf to Toronto for the televised event. If Florida doesn't win the top selection, it will pick second.

"We should get some exciting new pieces,'' Tallon said. "I'm excited about our future. The past is the past.''

-- Winger Kris Versteeg had knee surgery on March 25. Vertseeg says he has been off crutches for the past two weeks but won't be cleared to skate until August.

Versteeg also said he probably won't be ready for the start of the season. A November return, he said, is possible.

-- Theodore reiterated his desire to return to the Panthers next season but made it clear he would be fighting for the starting job and wouldn't just accept being Markstrom's backup.

Scott Clemmensen is signed through next season and could return if the Panthers decide not to bring Theodore back.

-- The Panthers will have a number of players competing in the upcoming IIHF World Championships starting in Sweden and Finland later this week.

Those participating: Nick Bjugstad (Team USA), Brian Campbell (Canada), Jacob Markstrom (Sweden), Marcel Goc (Germany), Tomas Kopecky (Slovakia) and Tomas Fleischmann (Czech Republic).

-- Jonathan Huberdeau ended the season tied atop the rookie scoring leaderboard after Edmonton's Nail Yakupov scored three goals in his season finale late Saturday night.

Yakupov scored six goals in the final three games and tied Huberdeau -- who had three assists Saturday -- with 31 points.

-- Dineen said training camp for the 2013-14 season would start Sept. 11.

OnFrozenPhone: Jacob Markstrom

Jacob Markstrom speaks:


OnFrozenPhone: Jose Theodore

Jose speaks:


OnFrozenPhone: Ed Jovanovski

Ed Jovanovski speaks on Sunday's locker clean out...


April 27, 2013

OUT WITH A BANG: Panthers Rally to Beat host Lightning 5-3 in Southeast Division Finale ... Huberdeau Takes Rookie Scoring Title


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

TAMPA -- It was most fitting that, as not only the NHL's southernmost teams but ones at the bottom of the league standings, the Panthers and Lightning officially closed the book on the Southeast Division (circa: 1998-2013) on Saturday night.

Although it may not be remembered long by haughty league historians or, well, most anyone else, the Panthers won the final Southeast Division game by beating the Lightning 5-3 in the season finale for both at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

With little on the line, Saturday's spotlight was on Lightning scorers Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos as they jockeyed for the league scoring title.

St. Louis won the title by scoring once and assisting on another to end with 60 points. Stamkos ended with an assist to finish with 57 points.

The Panthers ended with a little pride as they finished this brutal season ranked dead last in the 30-team NHL but with wins in two of the final three.

Jonathan Huberdeau finished his rookie of the year campaign on a high note by assisting on three goals to claim the freshman scoring title.

"They worked hard. We got a snapshot of our potential [Saturday] and got a gritty effort,'' said coach Kevin Dineen, who led Florida to the division title in his first season behind the bench last year.

"We got some real timely plays. It was good to get that comeback, show some belief and keep pushing in the right direction.''

With realignment coming to the league next season, Florida and Tampa Bay will remain together although they'll be heading deeper north more frequently in what could be called the Snowbird Division.

The Lightning and Panthers join Boston, Buffalo, Detroit, Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa in 2013-14.

Washington won the division for the seventh time in the 14 year history which was highlighted by Stanley Cup championships by the Lightning and Carolina. Florida, like Atlanta, won the division just once.

"I think we're looking at a much tougher division when you look at who is coming and who we're going to be playing against,'' Brian Campbell said of moving divisions next year. "It's going to be an even bigger challenge for us.''

On Saturday, the Lightning took a 2-0 lead in the opening period before Nick Bjugstad notched his first NHL goal in his 11th game near the close of the first.

"We fought back and played hard at the end. That was good,'' Bjugstad said. "If I didn't score in 11 games, it would have been a long summer. I didn't even think about that shot; I just put it on net.''

Florida tied it on Tomas Fleischmann's first of two early in the second before the Lightning made it 3-2 when St. Louis cleaned up a loose puck behind Jacob Markstrom (28 saves).

The Panthers then outscored the Lightning 3-0 in the third as Scottie Upshall, Fleischmann and Marcel Goc all scored within a span of 14 minutes to put the Lightning away. Goc's ninth of the year went into an empty net with 48 seconds left.


Jack Skille was scratched from Saturday's game as Dineen gave Eric Selleck a second NHL game. Selleck was knocked out during a fight in his NHL debut on March 19.

Selleck came up big in the third as it was his shot that Upshall followed up on to tie the score at 3 with 14:30 left.

"This last month was a long road,'' Selleck said afterward. "To get in and then get a point was great. This was a great win for the boys. This gets the confidence up for me moving forward.''

Dineen said not playing Skille was "an organizational decision," which he later explained as someone had to sit to allow Selleck to play following his concussion. "Believe me, I had a good talk with Jack,'' Dineen said. "There as no message being sent.''

Skille is a restricted free agent so it's up to the Panthers whether or not the seventh overall pick by the Blackhawks in 2005 will return. Florida acquired Skille late in the 2011-12 season for Michael Frolik.

-- General manager Dale Tallon didn't travel with the team to Tampa on Friday and stayed behind in South Florida as Sunday officially closes out the 2013 season.

Because Tallon has to be in Toronto for the draft lottery on Monday, the Panthers will hold medicals and exit interviews starting Sunday morning with the day lasting into the early afternoon.

Players will be free to head home - or go anywhere they like, really - once they leave the arena on Sunday.

April 26, 2013

COMEBACK KID: Peter Mueller Florida's Masterton Nominee ... Kevin Dineen Laments Last Place Finish, Long Summer ... Cats End 2013 Saturday in Tampa

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Despite basically being locked down in a dark room because of severe headaches stemming from a concussion, Peter Mueller says he never doubted he would return to the NHL.

Two different concussions cost Mueller the entire 2010-11 season and more than half of the following season. A promising career looked derailed because of the head trauma.

"It never crossed my mind,'' he said. "I just knew, somehow, I was going to make it back. I knew there was a light at the end of the tunnel.''

Mueller, now 24, battled back and played in 32 games with Colorado last season.

The Avalanche let him go after he scored seven goals with nine assists and he signed a one-year deal with the Panthers. Mueller didn't miss a game due to injury with Florida this season and has eight goals with nine assists in 42 games.

On Friday, Mueller was named Florida's nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association.

The award is given to a "player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.''

Mueller was Colorado's Masterton nominee last year as well.

"Hopefully this the last time I'm nominated,'' said Mueller, who missed five games this month to be with wife Taylar as she recently gave birth to their first child.

"In some ways it's an honor because it shows that with hard work and dedication through the offseason you can get back to where you were. It's been a tough stretch for me but I'm very fortunate to be where I am. I'm in good health and getting better every game.''

Tomas Fleischmann, Florida's nominee last season, played with Mueller in Colorado and saw first-hand what he was going through. Colorado obviously had doubts Mueller would ever be the player he was projected to be when he was the eighth overall draft pick by Phoenix in 2006.

"He's a really great player and you can see what he does offensively,'' said Fleischmann, who coincidentally signed with Florida after being let go by the Avs.

"I saw him in Colorado and felt really bad for him. He went through a lot but has accomplished a lot.''

Mueller is a restricted free agent after this season ends; both he and the Panthers expect him to return next year.


Coach Kevin Dineen said following Thursday's 4-0 loss to the Maple Leafs that finishing this season as the last-place team in the NHL "stings" but fans should have faith general manager Dale Tallon will make the right moves in the offseason to get the team back on track.

Dineen spoke on Thursday night -- one day before Friday's one-year anniversary of the end of Florida's 2012 season which came in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

Florida's 2013 season ends Saturday in Tampa.

"We're at the bottom of the pile,'' Dineen said. "That's a lot of hockey teams [above Florida]. You're always looking to try and reinforce some positives, but that is a brutal reality for our team. That's something we have to sit on for four months here.

"There are areas we certainly need to address and make sure we're back to where we were recently. .-.-. It's going to be a long summer.''

-- Rookie center Nick Bjugstad will continue his season after Saturday's finale as he was chosen to represent Team USA at the upcoming World Championships held May 3-19 in Stockholm, Sweden and Helsinki, Finland.

Bjugstad was part of the USA team in the past two world junior teams. Florida athletic trainer Dave Zenobi will also be part of the team.

"I feel fortunate to be able to go and continue to improve by playing high-speed hockey with some older guys,'' Bjugstad said.

Center Drew Shore will not play at the worlds as it appears he will need offseason wrist surgery.

-- Jonathan Huberdeau will conclude his rookie season Saturday against the Lightning. Huberdeau has played in all 47 games to date and is expected to be a finalist for the Calder Trophy which goes to the league's top rookie.

Huberdeau is first in goals among rookies with 14 and is tied with 28 points.

When, Where: 7 p.m.; Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tampa
TV/Radio: FSN; WQAM-560
The series: Florida leads 56-42-10
The game: This is the season finale for both teams and the final game between the two as Southeast Division rivals. Florida and Tampa Bay will stay together in a new division next season.

April 25, 2013

ONE AND DONE: Panthers to Finish Last in NHL after Leafs win Florida's Home Finale 4-0 ... Last Place a Franchise First


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

As the Miami Heat continued its defense of the NBA championship on Thursday in Milwaukee, the Panthers made history of their own in their home finale in Sunrise.

This 'accomplishment' won't be celebrated nor honored with rings or banners.

By losing 4-0 to the Maple Leafs at BB&T Center, the Panthers will finish a season ranked last in the NHL for the first time in franchise history.

The Panthers had earlier clinched last place in the Eastern Conference for the second time in franchise history and second time in the past three years. Florida won the Southeast Division last season but have now finished last in the division in three of the past four years.

Florida has a 25 percent shot - best among non-playoff participants - to land the top pick in the 2013 draft when the lottery is held Monday night in Toronto. The Panthers can fall no lower than second overall in what is considered a very talented top-end draft.

The Panthers will play the final game of this abbreviated 48-game season, one that started on Jan. 19, Saturday in Tampa.

"It hasn't been an easy year for players or management and more importantly our fanbase,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. "For all of us, it was a pretty active season where things happened fast and furious. Days off were few and far between for all of us. That was the nature of the season.

"Unfortunately for us, once we got down we couldn't stop the ball rolling.''

Thursday, the Leafs - who lost in Tampa on Wednesday night - took a few minutes to get going but took a 1-0 lead after Leo Komarov fired a shot past Jacob Markstrom on the team's first shot 5:39 in.

Ten minutes later, Clarke MacArthur made it 2-0 when he followed up Jay McClement's shot off the rush and put the loose puck past Markstrom.

As has been the case the past few weeks, the Panthers didn't create much offense and only threw up five shots toward James Reimer in the opening period before ending the night with a 34-17 edge in shots on goal.

Things didn't get any better for the Panthers in the second as Phil Kessel got a pair of goals to give the Leafs a 4-0 lead headed into the final 20.

Kessel's first goal came when rookie Alex Petrovic unwisely passed to Peter Mueller instead of shooting in front of the cage. The Leafs picked up the puck and came on the rush with Kessel scoring off Nazem Kadri's rebound.

“These are hard lessons to learn,'' assistant coach Gord Murphy told Fox Sports during the second intermission.

"That’s what being professional is about, showing up every night and being consistent. They relaxed a little bit and thought it was going to be easy. These are hard lessons for these young men.”

Reimer made 34 saves to earn his career-best fourth save of the season and 10th of his career. Florida, which has lost seven of eight, has been shutout seven times this season.


With Quinton Howden back from an illness and Tyson Strachan back from an upper body injury, the Panthers released Scott Timmins and Colby Robak from their active roster.

Timmins, 23, played in five games for the Panthers this season; Robak, who turned 23 on Wednesday, played in 16 games.

-- Erik Gudbranson worked out with the team during Thursday's morning skate but didn't play for the fourth straight game after being hurt in the final minute of last week's loss to the Rangers.

The Panthers have lost 331 man-games to injuries so far this season.

-- Tomas Kopecky, who came into Thursday's game leading the team with 15 goals, was named MVP of the 2013 season via an online vote.

-- Add another injury to the Panthers long list of them in 2013: On Wednesday night, in-game host Bill Murphy was hurt as he crashed into the boards during a pickup game at the BB&T Center.

Murphy missed his first game since 2002 as he suffered a broken clavicle and fractured a few ribs. "It could have been a lot worse,'' Murphy said Thursday morning from his home in Plantation. "I was actually pretty lucky.''

Florida Panthers' season rankings since 2008-09

2012-13*: 30th in NHL/15th in Eastern Conference
2011-12: 14th/6th
2010-11: 28th/15th
2009-10: 28th/14th
2008-09: 14th/9th
(*) - 2013 season abbreviated to 48 games because of the NHL's lockout

April 24, 2013

PANTHERS WANT TO FINISH STRONG: Maple Leafs Here for Home Finale ... Cats to Honor Miami Canes Basketball Team ... Markstrom Stands Tall v Lundqvist ... Bouwmeester Headed to Playoffs

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers play their final home game of the abbreviated 2013 season Thursday night and, unlike Tuesday, won't be able to postpone any playoff party for the Maple Leafs.

Toronto had been the only team since the 2004-05 lockout to not make the playoffs after Florida made it last season. For the first time since 2004, the Maple Leafs have secured an invitation to the Stanley Cup playoffs.

On Tuesday, the Panthers put off the Rangers' postseason berth with a 3-2 win at BB&T Center. New York, currently sitting in eighth in the Eastern Conference, just needs two of its available four points to advance assuming Winnipeg wins its season finale Thursday against the Canadiens.

After Florida's win on Tuesday, which snapped a six-game losing streak, the Panthers talked about their motivation coming into the game.

The team held a meeting on Monday and talked about which way they wanted to finish this thing out. They could continue down the losing path they were going - or do something about it.

Thanks to a stellar night in goal from Jacob Markstrom, they were able to at least get a late-season victory.

Florida finishes the season in Tampa on Saturday. Part of Florida's six-game skid was a winless four-game road trip in which the Panthers were outscored 20-5.

“We talked about it after we came back from the trip that it wasn’t pretty,'' defenseman Filip Kuba said. "We want some pride in our game and want to play good for our fans here.”


The Panthers plan to honor the University of Miami's ACC champion men's basketball team at Thursday's home finale with coach Jim Larrañaga dropping the ceremonial opening puck.

Larrañaga is expected to be joined by UM athletic director Blake James as well as assistant coaches and players.

“Many Panthers fans are also Canes fans,'' team president Michael Yormark said in a statement. "As a member of the South Florida sports family, we believe strongly in supporting our fellow local teams.”

-- With Peter Mueller back in the lineup, the Panthers parted ways -- for now, at least -- with forward Greg Rallo. With the season complete for the AHL Rampage, Rallo was "sent home for the summer," as Dineen put it.

Rallo, 31, played in 10 games for the Panthers this season and scored one goal.

-- Markstrom was expected to get a few stitches after Tuesday's game after getting hit with a puck. Markstrom needed a timeout to get patched up during the third period and spoke to the media following the game with a piece of tape loosely covering the damage.

"Instead of my health, I take care of this because I'm thinking of you guys,'' Markstrom joked about meeting the media before getting stitched up.

-- After Markstrom made 44 saves in Florida's win at Madison Square Garden on March 21, he spoke of how revered Rangers' goalie Henrik Lundqvist is in his native Sweden.

"He's most definitely a role model,'' Markstrom said, "a hero to a lot of people at home.''

On Tuesday, Markstrom out-dueled Lundqvist for the second time in his career and is now 2-0 against him. Markstrom said he was just happy the Panthers got a victory.

"Just beating anyone is good,'' said Markstrom, who stopped 36 of 38 shots in the win. "I don't have that many wins. Hopefully we can build on this and get a few more wins before the season is over.''

-- Former Florida defenseman Jay Bouwmeester will finally see the postseason as his NHL record for not making the postseason will likely end at 764 regular season games.

Bouwmeester played in 471 games with the Panthers over six playoff-less seasons but will make the postseason this spring with St. Louis. The Panthers traded Bouwmeester to Calgary in 2009 after he declined offers to resign with the team.

The record will revert back to former Panthers' assistant coach Guy Charron who played in 734 games from 1969-80 and never made the postseason. Former Panthers captain Olli Jokinen held the record for a short time as well.

"Sometimes it just doesn't work out,'' Bouwmeester told reporters after Tuesday's win over Colorado. "You never think it's not going to happen."


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

TV/Radio: FSN; WQAM-560

The series: Toronto leads 31-24-7

The game: Florida plays its final home game of the 2013 season and searches for its first win against the Leafs. Florida has been outscored 6-2 in its two losses to Toronto. The Panthers play their final game of the season Saturday in Tampa.

April 23, 2013

PANTHERS NOTEBOOK: Mueller Returns to Lineup ... Theodore Done, Jovo Says Hello

TWITTER: @GeorgRichards

Peter Mueller was back in the lineup after his wife Taylar gave birth to their first child, a son named Charlie.

Mueller missed the four game road trip after returning home as the baby wasn't allowed to come home immediately.

"Everything is good, everyone is back home,'' Mueller said.

"The doctors and nurses were great. I got no sleep for a couple of days.''

-- Goalie Jose Theodore worked out on the ice before Florida's morning skate Tuesday but it doesn't look like he'll play in another game this season.

Theodore has been out since tearing two groin muscles at Carolina March 2.

-- Captain Ed Jovanovski visited the locker room following Tuesday's win.

Jovanovski had major hip surgery on April 5 and said he has no timetable for a return.

"I'm feeling great, going through therapy and am doing everything to make it stronger,'' Jovanovski said.

"It's responding well. So far, so good. No setbacks. It's no secret the surgery I had was pretty aggressive. I just want to do things properly.''

NEW YORK, NEW YORK: Panthers Slow Down Rangers with 3-2 Win


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers have had ample opportunity to slow down the playoff aspirations of opponents for the past couple of weeks.

Until Tuesday night, however, they didn't do anything about it.

Thanks in great part of a strong defensive effort and a terrific game from goalie Jacob Markstrom, the Panthers held off the Rangers' playoff party for at least another night by pulling off a 3-2 win at BB&T Center.

With a win, the Rangers would have clinched a playoff spot and assured the Panthers of the first last-place NHL finish in franchise history. Both of those things will likely happen before week's end.

Only they didn't happen on Tuesday as Florida snapped its six game losing streak.

"We had a meeting yesterday and talked about laying down and doing nothing or going out as hard as we can, win some games,'' said Markstrom, who went 2-0 against Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers by stopping 80 of 83 shots in the victories.

"The guys did a great job. We skated hard for 60 minutes. .-.-. The whole team, from the start, played confident and made that push.''

Markstrom took a puck to the chin late in the game but after a quick patch job returned to the net. Good thing. Markstrom, who stopped 36 of 38 shots on Tuesday, was a difference maker.

The Rangers, with two games left, need two points to advance to the playoffs; Winnipeg must win its finale and hope for some help.

"We were 1-1 against them and wanted to win this series,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. "It was a hard-fought win. It was good to get it in front of our fans and shut theirs up.''

The Panthers were held to a season-tying low two shots in a scoreless opening period, finally taking a 1-0 lead 5:04 into the second when Tomas Fleischmann got a chunk of a Filip Kuba wrist shot and put it past Lundqvist.

New York, which started a three-game winning streak by thumping the Panthers 6-1 at MSG last Thursday, tied the score in the third but watched the Panthers get the go-ahead goal when Marcel Goc redirected a Fleischmann feed on a power play.

The Panthers opened it to 3-1 on Drew Shore's empty net goal while Florida was killing off a penalty. That goal came up huge as the Rangers got their second of the night with 32.9 seconds left.

"We had a great team effort, got great goaltending,'' defenseman Brian Campbell said. "We found a way. We knew they were going to press. We did a pretty good job holding them off.''

April 21, 2013

PANTHERS HONOR BOSTON: Team Wears Boston PD Caps in Warmups ... Gudbranson Could Return, Kulikov Hurt and Likely Out for Season

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

BOSTON -- Not only did the Panthers wear '617' decals on their skates and helmets Sunday, but they wore 'Boston Strong' t-shirts purchased for charity underneath their warmups as well as Boston Police baseball caps.

Florida's trainers and equipment staff wore the Red Sox's 'B Strong' patches on the back of their jackets as well as the Boston Strong ribbon patch on the front.

Coaches, front office staff and team broadcasters wore blue and yellow ribbons.

Backup goalie Scott Clemmensen, a Boston College graduate, wore a different baseball cap during each period representing the Massachusetts State Police, Boston's District 4 and the Boston PD.

The Bruins had a postgame ceremony in which first responders were awarded jerseys from the game.

"We wanted to show our support here,'' Clemmensen said. "We got in [Saturday] afternoon and it was good to see people out and about after the week they had. The park by our hotel was pretty packed. It's good to see the reaction.''

-- Tomas Kopecky missed his first game of the season on Sunday as Scott Timmins was recalled from AHL San Antonio. Kopecky, Dineen said, "just can't play. He's hurting there a little bit.'' Kopecky could be back Tuesday.

-- Defenseman Erik Gudbranson missed his second straight game after hurting his hand/wrist in the final minute of Thursday's loss to the Rangers.

"He skated today, will skate [Monday] and I'm hoping he'll be ready Tuesday,'' Dineen said.

-- Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov and Jagr got tangled up early in the third and Kulikov hit the ice hard and awkwardly.

Kulikov was helped off the ice by trainer Dave Zenobi and didn't return. Dineen said Kulikov could miss the final three games.

"He won't be available,'' Dineen said, "probably for the rest of the season.''

PANTHERS HONOR BOSTON: Team Wears Boston PD Caps in Warmups ... Gudbranson Could Return, Kulikov Hurt and Likely Out for Season

DROPKICKED IN BOSTON: Panthers Lose Again, This Time 3-0 to Bruins


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

BOSTON -- The Panthers concluded their final real road trip of the year on Sunday afternoon and did so in a style fitting for this 2013 season.

As had been the case so many times before, the Panthers kept things close for much of the game but didn't have the firepower to overtake the host Bruins and lost 3-0 at TD Garden.

Florida has lost six straight -- including all four games of this season-ending road trip. The Panthers finish the season with a pair of home games before concluding things Saturday night in Tampa.

"There was enough try for us to be very competitive in this game,'' said coach Kevin Dineen, whose team has been outscored 30-8 during the losing streak.

"We have to go home and keep pushing with some dignity and some pride.''

The Panthers did more than their part in honoring Boston after this rough week as players came out for the pregame skate wearing baseball caps with the Boston police shield on them and played the game with '617' - the main Boston area code - decals on their helmets and skates.

Both teams came out sluggish after losing games on Saturday -- and neither has been playing very well of late. The Bruins, who pulled into a tie with Montreal for second in the Eastern Conference, had lost five of seven.

Just 3:03 in, the Bruins were feeling pretty good about themselves as Jaromir Jagr scored soon after the Panthers turned over the puck deep in their zone to make it 1-0.

Jagr's goal - only his second since joining the Bruins last month - was all Boston needed as Tuukka Rask made 28 saves to become sixth goalie to shutout the Panthers this season.

Florida had a couple of scoring chances but couldn't solve Rask as he picked up his career-best fourth shutout of the season. Boston took a 2-0 lead in the second when Dougie Hamilton scored then closed things out with Brad Marchand's empty net goal with 1:22 remaining.

Jacob Markstrom played well in the defeat, stopping 36 of 38 shots.

"Tuukka had a real strong game, made some big saves early,'' Markstrom said. "It's tough. There are a lot of good goalies in this league so we need to bear down when you get the chances.''

April 20, 2013

HONORING BOSTON: Panthers Wear Special Decal Before Visiting Bruins on Sunday ... Penalty Kill Continues to Struggle ... Mueller Still in Florida

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

NEWARK, N.J. - The Panthers wore specially made '617' decals on their helmets to honor the victims and first responders to the Boston Marathon bombings.

Florida will wear the decals, which represent Boston's main area code written in the Red Sox's classic font, Sunday against the Bruins.

"Obviously we have an NHL team in Boston and we're all together in trying to help the city any way we can,'' Jack Skille said.

"It's a tragedy what happened. You hate too see that anywhere, but especially in one of our most beloved cities.''

-- Florida's penalty kill continues to give up goals as New Jersey scored on one of its three power play chances -- although Dainius Zubrus' goal came eight seconds after Tomas Kopecky's slashing penalty expired.

The Panthers' kill rate of 72.8 percent is by far worst in the league and could end up being the worst in the NHL in a very long time.

League records go back to the 1997-98 season and no team has had worse than a 74.6 percent (Toronto in 2009-10) rate.

Florida hasn't finished last in the league in killing off penalties since 1997-98 (79.6 percent).

Florida's power play remains in the top 10 in the league as it went 1-for-2 (Goc) on Saturday.

-- Peter Mueller missed his third straight game Saturday as he remains back in South Florida after his wife Taylar gave birth to a son on Wednesday.

Mueller is not expected to join the team in time for Sunday's game at Boston.


When, Where: 12:30 p.m.; TD Garden, Boston

TV/Radio: Sun Sports/NHL Network; WQAM-560

The series: The series: Boston leads 35-32-6

The game: Expect to see Boston College grad Scott Clemmensen back between the pipes for the Panthers as they try to snap a five-game skid. The Bruins lost to Pittsburgh on Saturday and have dropped four straight and five of seven.

HONORING BOSTON: Panthers Wear Special Decal Before Visiting Bruins on Sunday ... Penalty Kill Continues to Struggle ... Mueller Still in Florida

DEVILS CRUISE TO MUCH-NEEDED WN: Panthers Take Lead, Still Lose 6-2 in Newark


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

NEWARK, N.J. -- It had been a while since the Panthers built a two-goal lead in a game so excuse them if they didn't know how to react.

On Saturday afternoon, the Panthers pounced on the host Devils by scoring twice off their first four shots of the game.

New Jersey answered those two goals a few times over, taking the lead for good in the second period before winning 6-2 at Prudential Center.

Although it looks as if the Panthers have given up, defenseman Brian Campbell says they have not. The team, he says, may not be fighting for a playoff spot but has plenty to play for.

"I would hope not, I know I haven't [quit],'' said Campbell, whose team has lost five straight and has been outscored 27-8 in the process.

"There are lot of guys playing for jobs here - and I'm not just talking about the young kids. You want to rise up, play more minutes. Some of the guys we have in the lineup, I don't think, have solidified their spot with their play.''

Coach Kevin Dineen spoke about his team's complacency in the wake of this season coming to a quick close. The Panthers are dead last in the entire league with 32 points with four games left.

Florida ends the 2013 season Saturday night in Tampa.

"It was very sloppy as we work toward Game No. 48,'' Dineen said. "Our commitment to defense has waned and hasn't been strong enough. We're too easy to play against. Hence, we've given up five, six goals throughout the road trip.''

With the win, the Devils kept their extremely slim playoff hopes alive.

New Jersey, which bounced the Panthers out of the opening round last year before losing in the Finals to Los Angeles, is six back of the Rangers with four games left and could have been eliminated had Florida's early lead held up.

Florida, meanwhile, at times looks like a team that would rather be anywhere else but on the ice.

On Saturday, defensive lapses and sloppy puck play helped lead to the attack on goalie Jacob Markstrom.

The Devils were being outshot 4-0 by the Panthers when Brian Campbell scored to make it 2-0 with 12:55 left in the first. New Jersey then scored five goals on 22 shots to take a 5-2 lead into the third.

By the time Darius Zubrus deflected Adam Larsson's shot in the third to make it 6-2, the Panthers had been outshot 32-9 and outscored 6-0 during that span.

"They started coming back halfway through the first and we made way too many mistakes,'' said Marcel Goc, who scored 6:11 in to give Florida its first 1-0 lead since April 2. "That's a very good team that plays structured, keeps coming at you. We need to play like that. We need to stay the course.''

April 19, 2013

PANTHERS NOTES: Gudbranson Out for Weekend; Kuba Returns ... Panthers Take Over MSG

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

NEW YORK - Defenseman Erik Gudbranson suffered an undisclosed injury to a hand or wrist late in Thursday's 6-1 loss to the Rangers.

Coach Kevin Dineen said nothing was broken although Gudbranson didn't practice Friday and isn't expected to play in Florida's final two games of the road trip.

Filip Kuba, who has missed the past two games, will be back in the lineup Saturday.

"Gudbranson is out for the weekend although it's not anything we're worried about long-term,'' Dineen said. "It's just best to keep him out through the weekend.''

-- As they have for the past three days, the Panthers practiced at Chelsea Piers in midtown Manhattan on Friday.

Because the locker room space there is small, the Panthers have dressed at Madison Square Garden then boarded a bus for practice. The team would then get back on the bus after practice and return to the Garden.

With the Rangers off to Buffalo, the Panthers pretty much had the Garden to themselves on Friday as workers covered up the ice and put down the basketball court for Saturday's playoff opener between the Knicks and Celtics.

-- Defenseman Alex Petrovic made his NHL debut at the Garden on Thursday night and still seemed excited about it a day later. Petrovic, who made his professional debut last spring with the AHL Rampage, likely would have been called up earlier this season but was injured.

"Now I can take a deep breath,'' Petrovic said Friday. "I think I did pretty good. There's no better place to play your first game than New York. Even though we lost, I'll never forget it.''

PANTHERS WATCHING BOSTON: Panthers Play Devils on Saturday Before Trip to Boston on Sunday

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

NEW YORK -- Not long after the Panthers returned to the visitor's locker room at Madison Square Garden following Friday's practice, a good number of players crowded into a small room to watch television coverage of the Boston manhunt.

Although the Panthers have gone about their business on this New York trip, things could change after Saturday afternoon's game in New Jersey. The Panthers scheduled to fly from Newark to Boston shortly after Saturday's game at Prudential Center.

The Panthers have a game against the Bruins at TD Garden on Sunday afternoon. Friday's game at the Garden between the Bruins and visiting Penguins was postponed.

"The whole nation is watching Boston right now trying to figure out what's going on,'' said goalie Scott Clemmensen, a Boston College graduate.

"Boston is not a destination spot right now. All joking aside, the situation is scary for the city and its residents.

"We have to go to work and have a game to play. We're focused on New Jersey right now, but we're watching Boston. Hopefully it doesn't affect us. They wouldn't let us go there if things weren't worked out. We're just watching from afar like everyone else.''

With Boston under lockdown Friday morning, the Bruins and Pens cancelled their morning skate with the game announcement coming a few hours later.

The Red Sox were scheduled to play at Fenway for the first time since the marathon bombings against Kansas City. That game was postponed as well.

With the Panthers and Bruins not playing until Sunday, the concern of the game being cancelled or postponed isn't great just yet.

The Panthers figure they will close this four-game road trip at Boston on Sunday and fly home afterward. As scheduled. The Bruins already had to reschedule their game against the Senators that was to be played the night of the bombings.

"It's going to be heavy and I've thought about it a lot knowing we're going there,'' forward George Parros said.

"It's one of those things where we are pulling together as a nation right now. If we can bring a little distraction, we're happy to do that. My brother went to Boston College; I have a lot of friends there. It hits home. But we have to proceed as usual.''

Coach Kevin Dineen was looking forward to going to Boston as his daughter Hannah -- who is a senior at a prep school in New Hampshire -- had planned on heading into the city to spend some time with her father.

Those plans haven't been cancelled as of yet.

"We're just more concerned about the people. We're just a small piece of this puzzle,'' Dineen said. "This is on the horizon. There are logistics to a game [Friday night] and that could come into play. The NHL and the Bruins will handle it, and we will take their lead on it.''


When, Where: 1 p.m.; Prudential Center, Newark

TV/Radio: Sun Sports; WQAM-560

The series: Devils lead 46-26-7

The game: The last time Florida played here, the Devils won 2-1 and were sitting in a good playoff position. But Ilya Kovalchuk hurt his shoulder in that win and the Devils went into a tailspin, losing 10 straight before beating the Flyers on Thursday. The Devils went into Friday six points behind the Rangers for the final playoff spot. Florida beat New Jersey 2-1 in overtime on March 30.

April 18, 2013

PANTHERS NOTES: Mueller Still Out; Petrovic Makes NHL Debut as Strachan and Kuba Sit ... Gudbranson May be Hurt

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

NEW YORK - The Panthers played their second straight game without forward Peter Mueller as he is back in South Florida after his wife Taylar gave birth to their first child - a boy - on Wednesday.

Mueller is staying with his family for the time being although he could come north at any time.

The Panthers don't seem to be in any rush to get him back with the team - although with so many flights to the New York area he could be back in uniform before the road trip ends.

-- With Filip Kuba and Tyson Strachan out with injuries, Alex Petrovic was called up and made his NHL debut Thursday.

Petrovic, a second round pick in Florida's so-far successful 2010 draft, took No. 72 as he became the eighth Florida player to make his NHL debut this season.

"It’s pretty amazing to be in Madison Square Garden,'' Petrovic said before the game, adding he sent a text message with the news to his entire contact list.

-- Kuba took part in Thursday's optional skate at Chelsea Piers but said he wasn't able to go. He added he hoped to play before the road trip ends Sunday in Boston.

-- Defenseman Erik Gudbranson left Thursday's game with over a minute left after going into the boards. Gudbranson's wrist/hand injury needs to be evaluated, Dineen said.

Gudbranson seemed to be in some pain as he worked his way to the bench, putting his head down as he clutched his hand. Gudbranson was attended to by Dave Zenobi and skated off with his glove off as he was moving his thumb around.

-- The Rangers had a moment of silence for the victims of Monday's bombing in Boston.

The two teams skated out to the Dropkick Murphys' favorite 'Shipping Up To Boston' to start each period.

After the game, Neil Diamond's 'Sweet Caroline' played. That song, obviously, is a Boston favorite and a Fenway Park tradition.

BLOWN OUT ON BROADWAY: Rangers Close Out Panthers with 6-1 Win ... Cats Give Up Three Late in Rout


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

INSTAGRAM: OnFrozenPond93

NEW YORK -- With no mathematical chance at the playoffs for the 11th time in 12 seasons, the Panthers have made it a point to just finish strong.

Florida's opponents of late are aiming a little higher. Simply put, the Panthers just don't have the firepower left to compete at that level. Just eight of the 18 skaters who dressed on Opening Night played Thursday.

Even though the Panthers were missing a few more regulars, the Rangers struggled to put Florida away - yet eventually did just that, scoring three goals in the final four minutes to win 6-1 at Madison Square Garden.

After the game, coach Kevin Dineen held a closed-door meeting with his players. After the meltdown in the third, it probably wasn't the friendliest of chats.

"There's always a big picture,'' said Dineen, whose team has five games left before this season's merciful end. "The game finished ugly. That's the nature of it. [Playoff teams] are what we're going to see from here on out. They are cookie monsters out there, hungry at the end of the game.''

As the win helped bolster New York's playoff chances -- the Rangers are eighth in the east -- the Panthers look destined to finish last in the Eastern Conference for the second time in three seasons.

Prior to 2011, the Panthers had never finished last in the conference. With this recent slump, Florida is close to suffering the ignominy of 15th-place conference finishes wrapped around last season's division championship.

If someone was writing a book about these Panthers, the title could be: From Worst to First to Worst Again.

"It's not easy to beat teams hungry for the playoffs,'' Tomas Fleischmann said. "You could tell their will to win was bigger than ours. We pushed for half a game. We went had for part of the third. It didn't work. It ended bad for us.''

The Panthers found themselves in a familiar hole as Derick Brassard and Rick Nash scored on power play chances within the first nine minutes off Scott Clemmensen.

Florida rookie Jonathan Huberdeau cut the deficit in half with a slick goal, but with 4:43 left in the first, the Panthers could get no closer despite outshooting the Rangers 35-30.

New York took a 3-1 lead into the third thanks to Mats Zuccarello's goal in front of Clemmensen then broke things open late. Florida had a number of chances against Henrik Lundqvist yet couldn't get anything through.

At the end, Florida gave up three goals within a span of 3:25.

"We had a good pushback at the beginning of the third, then we started running around and got away from the game plan,'' rookie Drew Shore said. "We were right there, but losing is losing, whether it's 3-1 or 6-1.''