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25 posts from January 2014

January 30, 2014

FLASH SITS: Horachek Benches Fleischmann During Slump

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

TORONTO -- For the first time since joining the Panthers in 2011, Tomas Flesichmann missed a game for something other than the flu as Horachek made him a healthy scratch.

"It looks like his enthusiasm .-.-. he doesn't have the drive right now,'' coach Peter Horachek said. "He needs to pick it back up and get his game back. He's a talented player, a good player.''

Fleischmann led the Panthers in scoring the past two seasons but has slumped this year. Fleischmann, who is fourth on the team this year with 23 points, hasn't scored a goal in his past 18 games. He has five assists during that span.

"I didn't expect it,'' said Fleischmann, who watched the second half of Thursday's game from the press gondola atop the arena.

"I always try to do what I can to help the team win, but it didn’t work last game. .-.-. Obviously, I’m supposed to score goals.’’

Jimmy Hayes was scratched for the third time in five games and Erik Gudbranson sat for his third straight game.


BLOWN AWAY: Leafs Rally from 2-0 Deficit, Drop Panthers 6-2

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

TORONTO -- Scott Clemmensen has had some great games in this building but Thursday sure wasn't one of them.

Clemmensen gave up two goals in the opening minute of the second period as the Maple Leafs went on a five-goal run in an eventual 6-3 win at Air Canada Center.

Florida, which led 2-0 late in the first, has been outscored 12-5 in its past two losses.

"This game stings. It hurts,'' said Sean Bergenheim, whose goal late in the first gave Florida its two-goal lead.

"We're really disappointed because that's a game we have to have. We played good at the beginning then they got their goals when we fell asleep. It wasn't good enough.''

The Panthers grabbed a 2-0 lead after Toronto's defense all but betrayed goalie Jonathan Bernier with turnovers deep in its zone.

Yet the offense would soon warm up against Clemmensen.

Toronto got its first goal with 3:11 left in the first when Cody Franson let a 55-foot shot fly -- one that Clemmensen never seemed to see.

The Leafs came out flying to kick off the second, scoring on their first two shots of the period. The first when Mason Raymond walked in on Clemmensen and scored 27 seconds in; the second came on a power play as James van Riemsdyk tipped a Phil Kessel shot at the 58 second mark.

"They stayed with their game plan and really stifled us,'' said Clemmensen, now 3-2-2 at the ACC.

"Give them credit: They screened me very well. I was having a hard time seeing anything. .-.-. There wasn't much I could do.''

The Panthers settled down once down 3-2 and had a few chances snuffed out by Bernier as they turned the game back their way.

In the third, however, Toronto put things away with Nik Kulemin and Joffrey Lupul scoring within a span of 2:22. Dmitry Kulikov got the Panthers back to 5-3 with 5:31 left, but Toronto's Tyler Bozak wrapped it up a few minutes later.

"We wanted to hold that lead, score another one and they got two quick ones,'' said Kulikov, who has two goals in the past two games -- ones Florida has been outscored 12-5.

"We should have been able to handle them after they came out in the second. We knew they would come out hard in the second after they got some bad words from their coach. We didn't handle it.''

Florida scored the first two goals with Drew Shore and Scottie Upshall feeding Nick Bjugstad for the opener 1:39 in.

The second goal came when Scott Gomez picked off a puck and it ending up on Bergenheim's stick for a 2-0 lead at 13:50.

"You're looking for the 60 minute game, looking to be resilient,'' coach Peter Horachek said. "You have to bear down; when they score two like that, some of the guys were back on their heels.''


January 28, 2014

POLITICAL BEATDOWN: Florida Panthers Lit Up by Bruins in 6-2 Loss

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

BOSTON -- Things got so bad for Tim Thomas during the Panthers' 6-2 loss to the Bruins on Tuesday that his mind may have drifted toward Washington and his old buddy Barack Obama.

"I might have enjoyed myself watching the State of the Union more,'' said Thomas, who famously skipped a White House ceremony a few years back.

Both Democrats and Republicans would agree Tuesday's game was hard to watch as Thomas and the Panthers were completely lit up.

Thomas, playing in the Garden for the first time since leaving the Bruins at the end of the 2011-12 season, really seemed to want to beat his old teammates.

Only it appeared the Bruins wanted to beat him more.

The Bruins led 2-0 after a dominating opening period before opening to a four-goal lead in the second. Florida cut its deficit in half early in the third, but the Bruins kept coming and had things safely in hand midway through the final period.

"I don't think our guys were in the mindset to play,'' said coach Peter Horachek, whose team has lost six straight to the Bruins.

"It was pretty disappointing all the way around.''

Thomas, who led the Bruins to their Stanley Cup in 2011, was assaulted from all sides and didn't get much help from his new mates. Boston outshot, outchanced and outmuscled the Panthers for much of the night.

By the time the Panthers looked like they could play with the Bruins, they were already down four.

"I didn't expect it to go this way, I felt good,'' said Thomas, who faced 41 shots and gave up the most goals since joining the Panthers this past summer.

"I thought I was going to play a strong game. But you can see the result. The good thing is a loss is a loss no matter how much you lose by. We can make the next game a win.''

The Atlantic-leading Bruins, who have won six of eight, showed no ill effects of playing the previous night on Long Island as they peppered Thomas with shots from the start.

Thomas held down the fort for a while, but Boston broke through 7:41 in when Jonathan Huberdeau coughed up the puck deep in the Florida zone, The puck got to Jarome Iginla who fed Milan Lucic for his first of two. Florida was being outshot 11-4 at the time.

"If your mindset isn't to come out and play hard, you're not going to have any success especially here,'' said Horachek, whose team had won its past three road games including ones in Pittsburgh and Detroit.

"They had 19 shots. I counted us with maybe one scoring chance.''

Boston kept coming at Thomas in the first and ended with 19 shots in the opening period. One, by Zdeno Chara, hit Dmitry Kulikov and Thomas before bouncing behind the Florida goalie and skipping across the line.

Early in the second, Lucic made it 3-0 when Thomas made a save on Iginla but couldn't control the puck. Lucic hopped all over it and tapped it home.

Riley Smith -- who scored the game-winner against Thomas earlier this season in Sunrise -- scored later in the third with Sean Bergenheim in the penalty box.

Former Boston forward Brad Boyes put the Panthers on the board with his team-leading 14th goal of the year with 24.9 seconds left in the period.

After Kulikov scored a power play goal -- Florida's first since 2013 -- to make it 4-2 but the Bruins kept coming. Shawn Thornton showed a move Thomas had probably never seen by walking in and backhanding a high shot through with 11 minutes left. David Krejci ended the scoring with 2:09 remaining.

"For a guy like [Thomas], who has done so much for us,'' Boyes said, "we have to play better in front of him.''

-- Tomas Kopecky was activated after missing four games. To make room, Florida placed rookie center Aleksander Barkov (knee) on the IR retroactive to last week.

Barkov is eligible to come off the IR in time for Thursday's game in Toronto although that seems doubtful.

-- Shawn Matthias (flu) didn't play Tuesday with defenseman Erik Gudbranson scratched for the second straight game.


January 27, 2014

TIM THOMAS READY FOR BRUINS: Florida Goalie Has Great Memories of Boston ... Barkov Still Out

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

BOSTON -- Bruins fans gave Tim Thomas the reception he deserved in November, giving their former goalie -- who helped the city win its first Stanley Cup in four decades -- a standing ovation when he returned to the Garden for the first time as a visitor.

Thomas was up in the press box, however, not on the ice.

"That was awesome, a great tribute,''Thomas said after Monday's afternoon practice at the Garden.

On Tuesday, Thomas will take on the Bruins -- in Boston -- for the first time in his career.

The Panthers' veteran netminder spent a decade in the Bruins' organization before splitting after a tumultuous 2011-12 season to take a break.

According to Thomas, it was a much-needed respite from the game.

"It rejuvenated me, gave me a new life so to speak,'' Thomas said. "It's allowed me to again appreciate being able to play in this league.''

Thomas was engaging on Monday, speaking with reporters about a variety of subjects including his departure from the Bruins as well as reiterating that he feels his infamous White House snub following the 2011 Stanley Cup was "blown out of proportion.''

Thomas also said he is willing to go to Sochi if Team USA needs him.

"There's disappointment,'' said Thomas, who wasn't one of three goalies selected for the U.S. Olympic team on New Year's Day.

"But I'll be ready to take the call if something happens in the next week and a half if there was an injury and they want to bring me. That's how I'm looking at it.''

The Panthers were a team is disarray the last time they visited the Garden with Kevin Dineen not knowing he was coaching his last game with the Panthers back on Nov. 6.

The decision to replace Dineen with Peter Horachek had already been made as Horachek flew to New York so he could meet the team in Ottawa on Nov. 7.

Thomas didn't play in Florida's 4-1 loss to the Bruins, the final of six consecutive games he missed with a groin injury. The Panthers had lost seven straight games and Dineen paid for it with his job.

The Panthers were a woeful 3-9-4 at that time; thanks in part to strong play from Thomas, Florida has gone 18-15-3 since.

On Sunday, the Panthers rallied from a 4-2 deficit to beat the host Red Wings 5-4 in a shootout -- Florida's third straight road win.

"He's been really good for us,'' said Horachek, who celebrated his 54th birthday with Sunday's win.

"He gives our young guys a lot of confidence. When there's breakdowns, he makes big plays. He scrambles and is competitive. He has a smile on his face when he makes those big saves. It allows guys to settle down.''

Thomas says he is kind of glad he didn't play in that previous trip back as he was able to take it all in and enjoy himself, The Panthers could have used him, however, what was done was done. A win over the Bruins wouldn't have saved Dineen and his staff anyway.

"There was a flood of emotions, all good,'' Thomas said. "Being back in the city, seeing how people -- from hotel workers to cab drivers -- treated me, it was better that I wasn't playing. I got to appreciate it a bit more.''

Tuesday's game isn't the first time Thomas has faced his former teammates, however, as he took a 3-2 loss to the Bruins on Oct. 17 in Sunrise.

Thomas made 37 saves but Reilly Smith scored with 59 seconds left for the game-winning goal.

On Tuesday, Thomas brings a regular season record of 101-61-26 at the Garden. He won 29 of 50 postseason starts for the Bruins including 16 during that incredible run to the Cup not even three years ago.

Yes, Thomas made some great memories in Boston.

"Me and my wife have always been of the mindset that we can make a good life wherever we go.'' Thomas said. "We enjoyed ourselves in Boston but how can you not enjoy South Florida? It's pretty awesome.''


Horachek said Sunday that he hoped Aleksander Barkov (knee) would be able to meet the team in Boston and perhaps play Tuesday.

On Monday, Horachek said it's doubtful that his rookie center would play Thursday in Toronto. Horachek wouldn't rule out a Barkov return this weekend in Columbus.


When, Where: 7 p.m.; TD Garden, Boston

TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560

The series: Boston leads 38-32-6

Scouting report: The Bruins, who won four of six going into Monday's game at the Islanders, have beaten the Panthers five straight times.


January 26, 2014

SCRATCHED: Panthers Sit Erik Gudbranson, Activate Dylan Olsen

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

DETROIT -- Panthers coach Peter Horachek said the decision to sit Erik Gudbranson on Sunday after the team activated Dylan Olsen was based on performance.

Gudbranson's playing time has been diminished since he returned from having surgery on his orbital bone after being smacked in the face from a puck in December.

"The bottom line is he really hasn't played well,'' Horachek said. "He has played poorly since he's had that cage on. We've been going with six guys, now we have a healthy guy back. You have to make decisions. He has to learn from it. It's difficult for a player to wear that cage when he's not used to it. You're looking down all the time for the puck. I think it has effected his game. He hasn't been at the top of [his game]. It will come back. He's a good kid with a lot of character. He wants to win, he cares. He'll learn from it and move forward.''

Gudbranson said he wouldn't use wearing the full-metal cage on his helmet as an excuse.

"There's no issue with that,'' Gudbranson said. "I just need to get back to playing hockey.''

Gudbranson was unconfortable talking about being benched, saying that he was simply happy the Panthers won in Detroit.

"Getting two points here was the best thing that could happen,'' he said. "This is going to go a long way for us in the future.''

-- Florida put Tomas Kopecky on the injured list. Since it was done retroactively, Kopecky is eligible to come off Tuesday in Boston. Aleksander Barkov, Horachek said, could meet the team in Boston and play Tuesday against the Bruins.

-- The Panthers sent defenseman Alex Petrovic back to their AHL team in San Antonio. Petrovic had been working his way back from injury and hasn't played since Jan. 4.


MOTORING THROUGH: Panthers Rally in Third, Take Down Red Wings 5-4 in Shootout

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

DETROIT -- Things didn't look good for the Panthers on Sunday. Not down two goals in a hostile building, not late in the third period.

Somehow, Florida pulled one out.

Fueled by late goals from Drew Shore and Brad Boyes, the Panthers forced overtime before earning another shootout win, this one a 5-4 victory over the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena.

Shore's goal came less than a minute after Detroit made it 4-2; Boyes' goal came while Florida was killing a penalty with 3:46 remaining.

Both goals came in the final 5:32 of regulation.

"That was a crazy one. It looked like we were down-and-out a couple of times,'' goalie Tim Thomas said.

"We came back with some great individual efforts and hopefully it was a character-building win. It's hard coming back in this league.''

The Panthers think they can make a run to the playoffs despite thier current standing. On Sunday, they picked up a point on No. 8 Detroit as they won in the Motor City on both trips this season.

Florida, which has won three of four against the Red Wings, has three more games left on this trip as it handed Detroit its 19th home loss (eighth in overtime) of the season.

"The main thing is getting points,'' coach Peter Horachek said. "That's a character win when you find ways to get back in. We didn't handle a lot of things well, but we kept pushing and pushing.''

Florida trailed 3-1 going into the final period but cut into its deficit when Jesse Winchester continued his career-year by poking in his seventh of the year midway through the third.

Detroit then seemingly put the game away when Tomas Tartar scored with 6:27 remaining.

The Panthers battled back with Tomas Fleischmann working the puck deep in the Detroit zone and freezing goalie Jonas Gustavsson. Fleischmann then slipped a pass to Shore who scored his fourth of the year.

"There's no quit here,'' Winchester said. "We're finding ways to grind them out.''

With Marcel Goc going to the penalty box, Florida seemed to lose momentum. But it returned when Brad Boyes got a loose puck and took off on a breakaway. Boyes wasn't about to pass it to Sean Bergenheim (who made it 1-0 early in the first) and scored Florida's third shorthanded goal since its previous power play goal.

The Panthers extended their franchise-record for power play futility, by the way, by going 0-for-4. Florida hasn't scored in its past 42 power play opportunities (Dec. 28).

"I'm usually not even on the penalty kill,'' Boyes said.

Detroit went all-in against Thomas in overtime, with Thomas making two big stops before Danny DeKeyser hopped on a rebound and aimed for an empty net. Unfortunately for him, Tom Gilbert jumped in the way and swatted it to safety.

"That was the save of the game,'' Winchester said. "It kept us in it.''

In the shootout, Thomas stopped all three shots faced as Florida -- playing without Aleksander Barkov for the second straight night -- got all it needed from Nick Bjugstad on the opening shot.

"Obviously everyone is pitching in any way they can,'' said Thomas, who made 26 saves and is now 5-2 in shootouts for the Panthers. "Our problem hasn't been effort.''



January 22, 2014

ED JOVANOVSKI: The Long Road Back to the Panthers

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

BUFFALO -- When asked why he would go through the endless hours of rehabilitation to continue playing hockey at 37, Ed Jovanovski sat back in his locker stall and sighed.

If there was any question whether Jovanovski loves playing this game, it quickly disappears.

"I take every day as a win,'' Jovanovski said Tuesday night, not long after he had his biggest moment since returning to the Panthers earlier this month.

"I'm very fortunate.''

Jovanovski was the biggest story to come out of Florida's 4-3 victory over the Sabres as the Panthers' captain scored their third goal of the first period and assisted on the first.

The goal was Jovanovski's first since the end of the 2012 season. He played six games last season, one in which the pain in his hip got so bad he says he couldn't bend over to tie his shoes.

After traveling to Europe to try and find relief through Platelet Rich Plasma therapy, Jovanovski returned to the Panthers for a game on March 16. He lasted just two periods. For him to have any chance to continue playing, he needed surgery on the hip, needed to take the extreme measure of undergoing hip resurfacing. It's possible Jovanovski will eventually need a hip replacement.

"I had no options,'' he said during training camp.

It's believed no professional athlete has ever returned to such a high level of competition, but Jovanovski worked throughout the summer and early part of this season to come back.

Although many doubted he would ever come back -- or at least return at the level it takes to play his position in the NHL -- he played his first game of the season on Jan. 4 and had a plus-3 rating against Nashville.

"I'm getting a little up there,'' Jovanovski said, "but I think for me, being able to be in the locker room and do something that I love .-.-. to continue to do that is a privilege.''

Tuesday's game was his ninth of the year. He's yet to take a game off since returning.

"I think his pain has been relieved,'' said general manager Dale Tallon, who signed Jovanovski to a four-year deal worth $16.5 million in 2011.

"He's a leader and God bless him. What's he's doing is unbelievable. He's a tough SOB and I really like him. His teammates love him. If anyone would come back from this is Jovo. He's been terrific.''

Obviously the financial situation comes into play although Jovanovski's contract is guaranteed and he would be paid out whether he played or not.

It appears that Jovanovski's main motivation has been to not only keep playing the game, but to continue to stay around it as well.

The camaraderie of the locker room, continuing to be one of the boys is something he's not willing to give up just yet.

"He cares and wants to win, but he also wants to have fun and that's been important to us too,'' Brian Campbell said. "He loves being in this locker room. Time goes pretty fast and this can go away pretty quick. I think it's a good lesson for everyone. He loves what this is. This is him, where he strives.''

Tuesday's game was a big test for Jovanovski and his hip as it was the first time he played on consecutive nights. The Panthers have tried to manage his time but with Mike Mottau on the injured list, the team is carrying six defensemen. For Jovanovski to take a night off, a roster move would need to be made.

Coach Peter Horachek said that he didn't use Jovanovski in the latter stages of Monday's 5-1 win at Pittsburgh knowing that he would be needed the next night in Buffalo.

On Tuesday, Jovanovski not only got the Panthers going offensively, but logged big minutes in the latter stages when the Sabres were bringing everything they had in trying to tie the score.

Jovanovski played eight shifts in the third period including the final 46 seconds when Buffalo was up a skater after pulling goalie Ryan Miller.

"He's just a warrior,'' Horachek said. "His leadership is outstanding, he wants to win. What he's gone through to get here is just incredible.''

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


January 21, 2014

BARKOV LEAVES GAME: Horachek Says Rookie Should be Fine

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

BUFFALO -- Rookie center Aleksander Barkov left late in the first period with an undisclosed lower-body injury.

Coach Peter Horachek said the injury isn't considered serious adding that Barkov was lifted from the game for precautionary reasons.

Barkov, the second-overall pick of the 2013 draft, leads the Panthers in points.

"They said it would be safer .-.-. He probably could have gone back out,'' Horachek said afterward. "We were [winning] and on the road. We just want to be very careful with him.''


POWERFUL KILL: Panthers Hang On with Late Penalty Kill, Top Sabres 4-3 ... Jovo Has Goal as Panthers Win Second Straight

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

BUFFALO -- When it comes to killing penalties, a team's goalie is often your best defense.

With Tim Thomas, the Panthers feel pretty good about their chances regardless of the situation.

The Panthers needed a big penalty kill late Tuesday night and got it as Thomas stopped shot after shot in a 4-3 victory over the Sabres in which Florida hung on for dear life.

Buffalo had an extended power play -- which included a 4-on-3 chance for almost 90 seconds -- but failed to score. Florida may have given up a pair of power play goals earlier in the game, but its penalty kill worked wonders against the Sabres when it truly counted.

Tuesday's win was Florida's second in less than 24 hours after it thumped the Penguins 5-1 on Monday.

"There was a little bit of chaos there at the end but I bet it was entertaining for the fans,'' said Thomas, who stopped 28 of the final 29 shots he faced including 15 of 16 in the third period.

"I can laugh at it [now] since we came out on top.''

The Panthers hadn't surrendered a power play goal since Dec. 28 before Drew Stafford scored on Buffalo's first opportunity 2:23 in. Stafford's goal, his first of two, was the first Florida had allowed after stopping 27 straight.

"That was a hard-fought game,'' said Jesse Winchester, who scored the tying goal less than two minutes later. "We grinded it out and got the big PKs when we needed them. It's a really rewarding feeling to get two straight on the road. It feels pretty darned good.''

In the third with a 4-3 lead, Ed Jovanovski and Brad Boyes landed in the penalty box together. Boyes was given a four-minute infraction for a high stick giving the Sabres ample opportunity to tie the score.

They didn't. When Boyes came out of the box with two minutes left to play, Florida still had the lead.

"They came through; battled, blocked shots and did what they had to do,'' coach Peter Horachek said. "It's tough to win in anyone's barn these days. When you can learn to win, it's a valuable lesson.''

Florida, which took the season series against the Sabres, scored three goals in the opening period to take a 3-2 lead into the second.

Winchester, who has four points since coming off the injured list Monday, knocked in a long shot from Jovanovski to tie things.

After Stafford gave Buffalo a 2-1 lead with 13:44 left in the period, Florida scored twice within a 52 seconds late in the period.

Sean Bergenheim made it 2-2 by getting his stick on Tom Gilbert's long shot. Soon after, Jovanovski let a heavy wrister fly from just inside the blue line for a 3-2 lead and his first goal since 2012.

"Has it been that long?" said Jovanovski, playing in his 1,100th NHL game. "I was just trying to get a shot to the net and got lucky. .-.-. It was nice to see.''

The Panthers made it 4-2 in the second when Nick Bjugstad got loose on a breakaway and snapped a shot over Ryan Miller's shoulder.

With Florida holding the lead, Thomas -- back after missing Monday's game -- held down the fort as Florida was outshot 16-4 in the third and 35-22 overall.

"This was big for the whole team. We needed it,'' Thomas said.


January 20, 2014

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

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560

The series: Buffalo leads 34-29-4

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


January 18, 2014

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


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


January 16, 2014

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

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

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

It cost them again Thursday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


January 15, 2014

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

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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



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

TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560

The series: San Jose leads 9-8-7

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


January 14, 2014

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

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


January 13, 2014

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

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

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

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

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

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

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

SCOTTIE UPSHALL: Lots of Chances Not Translating into Goals

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560

The series: Panthers lead 39-34-8

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

January 12, 2014

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

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


January 11, 2014

TALLON: Florida Panthers Will Spend Money in Offseason

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"That puck had eyes.''

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

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

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

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

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

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

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