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16 posts from February 2014

February 27, 2014

ONE MOMENT IN TWINE: Ovechkin Scores Soon After Thomas' Big Save as Caps Top Panthers 5-4

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

In hockey, a game can be won or lost in a matter of seconds.

On Thursday, the Panthers were on the wrong side of that equation as Alex Ovechkin scored late to lift Washington to a 5-4 win at BB&T Center.

Ovechkin's goal came moments after Tim Thomas kept Florida in the game with a spectacular glove save he made on Mike Green while lying on his back.

Thomas made the save look a little tougher as he fell skating backward into position, but his snap reflex with his glove will be remembered.

"I got caught on the ice, caught on a rut,'' Thomas said. "It turned into a nice highlight-reel type of save. It was like, I have to make some way to make this save or I'll look like an idiot.''

The Panthers rallied from not one but a pair of two-goal deficits on Thursday yet fell a bit short as they tried to come out of the Olympic break with a win.

Florida, which has lost seven of nine, trailed 2-0 before tying things up only to see the Caps make it 4-2 by the end of the third.

The Panthers got back into the game when they scored a power play goal 8:01 into the third as 6-foot-6 Jimmy Hayes blocked goalie Braden Holtby's view as Drew Shore's point shot sailed through.

Just over a minute later, Brad Boyes tied the score by getting his second goal of the night by following up on his own rebound to make it 4-4.

Florida kept pushing but couldn't get that fifth goal. Washington, eventually, did.

"We've been able to come back in the past this season, come back in the third,'' said Boyes, whose wife gave birth to his second child on Monday. "But we talk about a 60-minute game. The resilience is there, but we give teams opportunities. We give them a lot. We gave up power plays, turnovers. If we cut those out, we're better off.''

Thomas, who made 30 saves, watched Green shoot out of the penalty box with 4:42 left and pick up a pass in the neutral zone unopposed. Thomas began working his way back to the cage when he caught his skate, falling to his back. Green couldn't get the puck high enough to avoid Thomas' leather, the save stunning Green and the Capitals.

Moments later, Ovechkin took a cross-ice pass from Brooks Laich and lit into it, scoring the winner. Ovechkin, fresh off his Russian Olympic disappointment, set up two other Washington goals.

"The last thing you want to give up .-.-. after that type of save is a 2-on-1 opportunity for them,'' Thomas said afterward.


Florida's AHL affiliate in San Antonio were forced into an almost month-long road trip because of the annual rodeo and stock show. It was quite the successful trip.

On Wednesday, the Rampage ended its 10-game sojourn with a seventh win -- a 3-0 win in Utica, N.Y. Goalie Jacob Markstrom recorded his second shootout of the trip.

"This year, I think, was the longest one because we never went home,'' said Panthers center Drew Shore, who spent the Olympic break on the road with the Rampage. "It was fun. We had a few days off, went to Niagara Falls, had some team dinners and won a lot of games. That makes things fun.''

The successful trip helped pull San Antonio within two points -- as of early Thursday -- of the AHL's final playoff spot in the Western Conference. San Antonio missed the postseason last year.

"A month out of your building but they knew it, it was planned,'' said Peter Horachek, who coached the Rampage before replacing Kevin Dineen in Florida. "They did a great job, bonded, came together.''

-- The Panthers' first goal Thursday came as Tomas Fleischmann broke his long drought by scoring his first goal in 23 games by one-timing a slick feed from Jesse Winchester with 4:33 left in the first.

Fleischmann has been Florida's leading scorer the past two seasons but hadn't scored since Dec. 17.


February 26, 2014

POWERED DOWN: Panthers Power Play Trying to Avoid History

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Panthers coach Peter Horachek spent a big portion of Wednesday's practice working on Florida's woeful power play.

The Panthers have scored on 9 percent of their power play chances this year; the NHL record for worst power play percentage belongs to the 1997-98 Lightning which scored on 9.35 percent of its chances.

The franchise record for power play futility is a comparatively robust 13 percent (2000-01).

"I don't know the stat, won't look it up and don't care about it,'' Horachek said. "Someone telling me a stat doesn't change anything.''

Well, wait, there's more.

Florida is also on pace to obliterate its franchise record for fewest power play goals.

The Panthers have scored 17 power play goals in 58 games this year; last year, despite playing just 48 games, the Panthers had 29. Florida is on track to score 24 this year. Florida's fewest power play goals in a full season: 35 (2010-11).

"It would certainly generate some confidence and get things jumping,'' Horachek said.


FLORIDA FIRE SALE?: Panthers Could Stay Largely Intact Moving Forward

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

When the Panthers take the ice Thursday against Washington, it could be the last home game for a number of players who have spent varying degrees of time in South Florida.

With the NHL's trade deadline less than a week away, the Panthers could undergo another massive roster overhaul.

For a team miles out of a playoff spot, that may not be a bad thing.

Yet general manager Dale Tallon hasn't given off the vibe of someone planning a major fire sale.

Do the Panthers have some assets available for the right price? Sure. Will the Panthers have a complete veteran purge? Probably not.

"We're going to do what's best for the Panthers to build a championship team,'' Tallon said during the recent Olympic break. "We're not blowing this thing up. If we can sell some assets to get better, we'll do that. It depends what happens in the next few weeks. We'll be aggressive either way.''

Although Tallon and and the Panthers have moved NHL players for prospects and draft picks in the past, they may not do that as much as in years past despite a similar spot in the standings.

Coach Peter Horachek said he hopes the Panthers don't ship off his key players with only draft picks returning.

He has a vested interest in this.

As the interim coach, Horachek knows the more wins that come in the final 24 games, the better his chances of returning next year are.

"I don't really want any draft picks. They don't do me any good,'' Horachek said. "I want to win these games, I want the guys to care about winning these games. I want the guys to put it on the line whether we have an opportunity or mathematically out. I want to make sure we care about winning these games.''

Of Florida's biggest 'available' pieces, Tallon he had interest in keeping all of them. Goalie Tim Thomas, winger Brad Boyes and defenseman Tom Gilbert all came to Florida during training camp on try-outs and signed one-year contracts.

Tallon said all three deserve to stick around if they so wish.

"Performance is important and desire [to stay] is as well,'' Tallon said, adding that Thomas -- perhaps Florida's biggest trade chip since Jay Bouwmeester -- has expressed an interest to return next year.

"Those guys have had good years and deserve the chance to stay. .-.-. I'm happy with the way they've played, happy with their professionalism.''

Other free agents the Panthers could offer other teams include center Marcel Goc, defenseman Mike Weaver and restricted free agent Dmitry Kulikov.

When the Panthers return to the BB&T Center next Friday, they could look drastically different than they do on Thursday.

Or not.

"Management is going to look to do what they think is right long-term,'' Horachek said.



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

TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560

The series: Washington leads 57-44-9

Scouting report: The two teams split the first two games with each winning at home in overtime/shootout. The Caps had won two straight heading into the break. Nicklas Backstrom returns after being banned from the Gold medal game in Sochi for taking allergy medicine.


February 25, 2014

SEAN BERGENHEIM: Feeling Good, Made Right Decision to Skip Sochi

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Sean Bergenheim said he has no regrets for turning down Finland's late offer to join its national team in Sochi. Bergenheim said before the break that he needed the additional time off after missing all of last year and part of this one due to numerous surgeries relating to his groin and abdomen.

Finland won Bronze by beating the U.S. national team 5-0.

"I feel really good, not a question in my mind that I made the right decision,'' said Bergenheim, who has 13 goals and six assists in 43 games.

"I want to play for the Florida Panthers down the stretch -- and I was thinking about last year. I'm really happy about the progress I've made.''


NICK BJUGSTAD: Center of Attention

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers' top line had a new look once again as Drew Shore -- recently recalled from the minors -- joined the fray for Tuesday's practice.

Brad Boyes, who along with Aleksander Barkov and Sean Bergenheim has served as Florida's top trio the past few months, was out as his wife Elissa was in labor with the couple's second child.

When the Panthers return from their Olympic hiatus Thursday against the visiting Capitals, Florida's top line will continue to have Boyes and Bergenheim -- only rookie Nick Bjugstad replaces the injured Barkov at center.

"It's unfortunate that we lost Barkov but this is a great opportunity,'' Bjugstad said. "It's a tough loss but we have to fill roles, step it up. I have to take this opportunity and see what happens.''

Barkov is out indefinitely after apparently re-injuring the knee that cost him four games with the Panthers before the break.

Barkov, 18, was hurt representing Finland in Sochi.

"It's always fun to play with great players and Barkov was there and it's fun to see how Bjugstad has evolved as a player,'' Bergenheim said. "It's going to be fun but things are going to change a bit. These are two different players. We have to find chemistry, do new things.''

Coach Peter Horachek said promoting Bjugstad to Florida's top line is a natural progression.

Bjugstad, 21, is enjoying a fine second rookie season of sorts as he played in 11 games at the end of last season following his departure from the University of Minnesota.

Florida didn't necessarily want to rush Bjugstad and play his at the NHL level so soon, yet that small window with the Panthers seems to be paying dividends now.

Bjugstad, who scored his first NHL goal in his final game of last season, has 13 goals and 10 assists in 52 games this season.

"You can't teach size,'' Horachek said. "His reach, his skating ability is so good, I've been surprised when he's come out of the corners with the puck. He has great strength, real ability. To do that against the best players in the world is a big thing. He really wants to get better.''

Horachek was the coach of Florida's AHL team in San Antonio at the beginning of the season and it was thought Bjugstad would start his season there.

After missing all of training camp and the first two weeks of the season because of a concussion, Bjugstad started with the Panthers as then-coach Kevin Dineen felt Florida would be better off using his offensive skill.

Bjugstad, who still lives at the 'vacation village' the team uses as temporary residence, never did end up in San Antonio. And although Horachek says he feels Bjugstad may have hit the so-called rookie wall a few weeks back, the nearly three week break has rejuvenated him.

"I missed a whole month and all I did was watch hockey,'' Bjugstad said. "I was fortunate to recover as quick as I did. It all worked out. I'm not glad I got the concussion, but it did make me realize what a privilege it is to play. It makes you realize how much you love the game.''

-- Horachek wasn't happy with his team's lackluster effort at practice on Tuesday -- the fifth workout of the Olympic break. Florida will practice in Coral Springs again on Wednesday.

According to a Panthers' spokesman, all practices at the IceDen in Coral Springs will start at 11 a.m. through the end of the season.

I always try to update the practice schedule on my Twitter feed so check it out.

Gameday skates -- and those off days sandwiched between home games -- are usually closed at the arena.

-- Aside from Barkov and Tomas Kopecky (concussion), the Panthers appear to be pretty healthy coming out of the break. Both of those aforementioned players were hurt at the Olympics.


TIM THOMAS: New Mask Post-Olympics

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Goalie Tim Thomas has a new mask, one that's been in the works for a few weeks. We first spotted Thomas' new 'We See Red' version last month, but now he's wearing it in practice and should be rocking his new look Thursday against the Capitals.

What y'all think?


February 15, 2014

THE INJURE GAMES: Barkov, Kopecky Hurt in Sochi

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers only had two players in the Olympics but that was probably two too many.

Both Aleksander Barkov and Tomas Kopecky were hurt over the weekend.

A report out of Finland states that Barkov -- who was the second overall pick of the 2013 draft -- will miss the next four to six weeks.

Barkov left a game in Buffalo last month with a knee injury and then missed the following four games. Barkov returned, I'm thinking to tune up for Finland's run to the Gold, and played in four games with the Panthers. He had no points in those games.

Kopecky, playing for Slovakia, took a shot to the head while playing down near the net. I do not know what his status is moving forward.

If you want to read the report on Barkov -- it's in Finnish so see if Olli Jokinen can translate it for you -- it's right here: http://yle.fi/urheilu/barkovin_vamma_heratti_epailykset__hatailtiinko_nhln_paassa/7091446


February 08, 2014

FRIENDS IN LOW PLACES: Panthers In a Familiar Position Heading into Break

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Panthers head into this Olympic break in a familiar place.

Hopes of making the playoffs this season are all but dead, with Florida needing a lot of wins and even more help.

So, there's really no reason to even talk about the postseason as Florida came into Saturday a healthy 13 points out of the final spot with 26 games remaining. Florida has lost six of eight.

A Detroit win in Tampa on Saturday will put the Panthers 15 points back.

"We're really disappointed. This was not the way we wanted to go on the break and I don't think anyone in this locker room is feeling too good,'' Sean Bergenheim said.

"But when we come back, we have to be positive and work harder than we have. I don't think we should look at how much we have to climb. Lets just win games, play the best we can every single night. That's something we all can do better.''

What the Panthers should expect once they return from this 20-day hiatus on Feb. 27 is more of the same.

The trade deadline is March 5 and the Panthers are expecting to be sellers once again. Florida has plenty of pending free agents, some of whom other teams may want for their playoff runs.

General manager Dale Tallon has been told by new owner Vinnie Viola that he has the "green light" to spend toward the salary cap ceiling this offseason, but that is months away.

Right now, Tallon is looking to take advantage of expiring contracts and continue this endless rebuild.

One of the biggest names Tallon has to dangle is forward Brad Boyes, who has a team-leading 15 goals (most for him since 2009) and would make any team's shootout better as points become harder and harder to get down the stretch.

Defenseman Tom Gilbert also came via the try-out route and is having a pretty solid season. He would also be a candidate to move.

Goalie Tim Thomas -- yes, he tried out in camp as well -- has a no-trade clause and has indicated that if Florida wants him back next season, it's something he would consider.

Thomas started out in Boston when things weren't going very well following the lockout season of 2004-05. The Bruins got better -- much, much better -- and Thomas says that helps his thought process today.

"If anything it is helpful because I’ve been there and seen the other side,'' Thomas said last week. "If anything it gives me a better perspective looking into the future because I know it can change. .-.-. It’s baby steps at times, but we have a lot of young talent here, and that’s obviously one very positive thing to look at.''

Florida could also move Marcel Goc, Mike Weaver, Scott Clemmensen, Krys Barch and Scott Gomez depending on the marketplace.

Moving players such as Scottie Upshall, Tomas Fleischmann and Tomas Kopecky would be tougher to do since they are all signed through next year. If a team wants them, however, they're available. Upshall has a no-trade clause as well.

Interim coach Peter Horachek says he's not going to worry about what Tallon has to do when the season restarts.

"Guys are playing for jobs, but should play for pride,'' said Horachek, whose status remains up in the air as well despite improved play under his watch.

"I think pride is the biggest, most important driving factor. If you don't feel that in your stomach, something is missing. Something is wrong.''

This isn't a strong class of free agents coming up although there are certainly some quality players whom Tallon is watching closely.

Some of the big name free agents Florida could target include Thomas Vanek, Ryan Miller, David Legwand and Matt Moulson.

The Panthers are expected to be active around draft time as Florida could improve its roster through trades. In 2011, Tallon started off his roster makeover by acquiring Brian Campbell from Chicago before trading for Kopecky.

Tallon's work that offseason led to Florida's first playoff appearance since 2000.

This year will most likely mark the 12th time in 13 seasons that Florida didn't make the playoffs.

-- The Panthers split up from Raleigh following Friday's 5-1 to the host Hurricanes with some heading back to their homes for a few days while others (Kopecky, Aleksander Barkov and broadcaster Steve Goldstein) took off for Russia.

Florida will have almost two full weeks away with the first practice scheduled for Feb. 21 in Coral Springs. The Panthers return to the ice Feb. 27 when they play host to the Capitals in Sunrise.


February 07, 2014

NO TO OLYMPICS: Bergenheim Regrets Turning Down Finnish Offer

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Sean Bergenheim declined to take advantage of all the injuries besetting Finland's national team as he turned down an invitation to play in the Olympics.

Bergenheim, who turns 30 on Saturday, missed all of last season and a chunk of this one after having numerous surgeries related to his abdominal core.

This would have been Bergenheim's first trip to the games.

"For any athlete, having to say no to the Olympics is disappointing,'' Bergenheim said Saturday night.

"I had to make a decision with my best interests in mind. I really feel I need to the break. I'm happy with how far I have come, but I could take a real step forward after the break.''

Had he traveled to Sochi, Bergenheim would have been Florida's third player in Russia.

Aleksander Barkov (Finland) and Tomas Kopecky (Slovakia) plan to fly to Russia together from New York on Saturday. Broadcaster Steve Goldstein will be flying to Russia out of Miami.

Bergenheim added that he is not only going to get some much-needed rest during the break, but he'll be able to continue doing some rehabilitation as well.


FAIR WARNING: Hurricanes Roll Panthers 5-1; Florida Goes Into Trip on Slide as Playoff Hopes Disappear

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Panthers took off for their Olympic break a few hours earlier than scheduled as they fell behind and never came back in Friday's 5-1 loss to the Hurricanes at PNC Arena.

The Panthers, who are trending to miss the playoffs for the second straight season and for the 12th time in the past 13, don't play again until Feb. 27.

Florida heads into its winter hiatus with losses in six of eight games -- a run that realistically ended any hopes of the postseason.


"It's really disappointing to see where our expectations are,'' said coach Peter Horachek, who pulled Tim Thomas from net when Carolina made it 4-1 early in the second.

"My expectations and everyone's expectations have to be on the same page. We have to raise them. We have to expect more from each other. That certainly wasn't desperate hockey.''

Carolina, which still has to face visiting Montreal Saturday before its break, took control midway through in the first by scoring twice within a span of 1:27.

Although the Panthers got a goal from Nick Bjugstad to make it 2-1 with 4:30 left in the period, Carolina went into the intermission up 3-1 as Florida again failed to get the puck out of its own zone.

All three of Carolina's first period goals came when the Panthers couldn't get rid of the puck and allowed the Hurricanes to continue to work it around.

Reilly Nash scored off a Dylan Olsen turnover, Alexander Semin scored when Jonathan Huberdeau and Scottie Upshall couldn't clear it, and Brett Bellemore scored when Upshall failed to control possession.

Horachek replaced Thomas with Scott Clemmensen after the Hurricanes pretty much ended things a mere 4:36 into the second when Jiri Tlusty.

At the pace Florida scores, and the way it played defense Friday, this game was over early.

The Panthers did get plenty of chances with Anton Khudobin -- Thomas' understudy in Boston -- playing exceptional in making 34 saves. Florida had two big scoring chances early in the third but couldn't finish.

"We wanted to finish on the right note, get win going into the break,'' Huberdeau said. "We need to reset things. Everyone needs to come back ready to go.''

-- Horachek put defenseman Dylan Olsen back in the lineup on Friday with Mike Weaver being a healthy scratch for the first time this season.

Olsen could play games for Florida's AHL team in San Antonio during the break.

"He's 30-something years old and hasn't had the best success in the back-to-backs,'' Horachek said of Weaver.


February 06, 2014

ANYONE HOME? Red Wings Take Charge, Drop Panthers 3-1 in Home Finale Before Olympic Break

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

A few nights after taking a season-high 48 shots in a win over Toronto, the Panthers apparently didn't have much left in the tank.

Florida took two shots on goal in the opening period and rarely challenged the visiting Red Wings in a 3-1 loss at BB&T Center.

The Panthers play their final game before a 20-day break for the Olympics on Friday at Carolina. Thursday's game was Florida's last one at home until Feb. 27.

"They outworked us, it's as simple as that,'' coach Peter Horachek said. "We weren't there for the whole game. We have to work harder than that. You can't play half a game or a period and expect to win.''

The Panthers didn't do much in the first period, getting a Erik Gudbranson shot on goal 1:05 in with Detroit doing the rest of the heavy lifting.

Florida went almost 18 1/2 minutes without a shot before Scottie Upshall charged out of the penalty box and took a perfect pass from Tomas Kopecky as he strode into the Detroit zone.

Upshall got Florida's second shot of the game with 25.4 seconds to play -- and it was a doozy. Upshall's shot between the skates of Jimmy Howard gave Florida a 1-0 lead going into the second despite being outshot 11-2. Florida would get six more in the second and ended with 24 total.

"We came into the locker room after the second and all I could think about was us having eight shots,'' Dmitry Kulikov said. "That's not enough. It's not even close to being enough. We got lucky to score at the end of the first after they outplayed us. They spent all that time in our zone.''

Detroit dominated play in the second as well, only not as pronounced as in the first.

The scoreboard, however, reflected it. The Wings put two pucks past Tim Thomas (30 saves) with Daniel Alfredsson getting his on a power play at 6:30 and Gustav Nyquist driving in unassisted at 13:22.

The Wings outshot Florida 12-6 in the second and went into the third holding a 23-8 advantage.

Florida had a few chances in the third period -- including a Sean Bergenheim breakout with 4:30 left -- but never put another puck past Howard. Detroit added its third goal when Brian Lashoff got out of the penalty box and scored into an empty net with 20 seconds left.

"It was great to have the 1-0 lead but we never built momentum from it,'' Thomas said. "We had a nice push in the third, but it was too little, too late.''

Detroit and Florida split the season series with six points each although the Panthers won three of the five games.


Jonathan Huberdeau said his first NHL fight didn't come out of frustration due to his recent struggles. Huberdeau, now in his second season, hadn't fought since his days of junior hockey until jumping all over Toronto's Jake Gardiner on Tuesday.

"They all made fun of me the next day 'oh, you're tough,','' said Huberdeau, who has one goal in his past 25 games after winning the league's rookie of the year honors last year.

Although Huberdeau doesn't do much fighting, neither do the Panthers these days. Huberdeau's bout was Florida's first since Krys Barch and Winnipeg's Chris Thorburn duked it out on Dec. 20.

"I think that is something from him working hard, be more competitive on the puck and in those situations,'' Horachek said. "You're not going to see that every night with him, that's not his thing. But the fact that he did it? He was fired up. He didn't back down.''

-- The Panthers unveiled banners honoring Olympians Aleksander Barkov (Finland) and Kopecky (Slovakia) during the first period.

-- Kopecky got slapped with a pair of minor penalties in the second -- one for hooking and another for unsportsmanlike conduct for flinging the puck at an official.

February 05, 2014

OFF TO RUSSIA: Steve Goldstein to Join Tomas Kopecky and Aleksander Barkov in Sochi

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

In a few days, two members of the Florida Panthers will pack up their equipment and fly thousands of miles from South Florida.

Although many of their teammates will spend the upcoming break on a beach or visiting family up north, Aleksander Barkov and Tomas Kopecky will continue playing hockey.

In Russia. At the Olympics.

"I'm enjoy to enjoy this as if it were my first Olympics,'' said Kopecky, making his second run with Slovakia after competing in the 2010 Vancouver Games. Slovakia lost to Canada in the semifinals and to Finland in the Bronze medal game.

"We have a great group of guys and I'm excited to see some other events if I have the time. You focus on hockey but you need to get your minds off things during the off time. I'm excited to go. It should be fun.''

Barkov is no stranger to international competition, but for the 18-year-old center, this will be his biggest stage yet.

A two-time member of Finland's world junior team, Barkov wasn't considered a favorite to land a spot on his national team until a hot streak just prior to the selection announcement.

Barkov, the second-overall pick of last year's draft, says he's been concentrating on the Panthers but he can't wait to go to the Olympics. Barkov grew up in Finland to Russian parents who hail from the Moscow area.

"These are my first Olympics, so I'm 100 percent excited no matter where they are,'' Barkov said. "I was happy to hear [about being selected] and a little surprised about it.''

Those two won't be the only ones with Florida ties in Sochi. Former Panthers captain Olli Jokinen and goalie Roberto Luongo, who both spend their offseasons in Broward, will represent Finland and Canada respectively.

Television voice Steve Goldstein is also making the trip as he will do radio play-by-play alongside former Florida defenseman Bret Hedican for Westwood One Radio.

Although local stations aren't picking up the hockey games, they can be heard on SiriusXM satellite radio.

"The games are going to be awesome,'' said Goldstein, who worked his first of four Olympics back in 1994 at Lillehammer.

"I'm really looking forward to Feb. 15 in particular when the United States plays Russia in Russia. That's something historical I get to do. There's so much history there. It'll be nice being somewhere I've never been.''

Although there has been well-publicized concerns about security and readiness of the games, Goldstein and Kopecky say they can't wait to get there. Goldstein said Westwood One already had staffers in Sochi and they were pleased with how things were running.

"Our hotel is done and within walking distance of the hockey arena and broadcast center,'' said Goldstein, who will make the 25-hour trip on Saturday.

"And the weather is the kind we love here in South Florida. It's 50, 55 degrees. You can wear shorts at the Winter Olympics.''

Kopecky said he's seen some of the images coming out of Sochi and smiled when he mentioned the infamous bathroom shot as well as the three single beds that some players from Team Canada will share.

The Ritz-Carlton, this isn't.

"Vancouver was nice because there was a language there you spoke,'' Kopecky said. "Sochi will be different. You see the picture of the two toilets together, that's something you've never seen. But we're going there to play hockey. Security is really high. That's good.''

-- The team has renamed and has plans on rebranding its training facility in Coral Springs at the Florida Panthers IceDen. The name change is effective immediately.


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

TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560

The series: Detroit leads 15-7-5

Scouting report: This is the final meeting between the two teams this season with Florida winning both games in Detroit and three of four overall. The Panthers rallied from a two-goal deficit to beat the Wings at Joe Louis Arena in a shootout last month.


February 04, 2014

WELCOME TO FORT LAUDERDALE: Panthers Dominate Leafs in 4-1 Rout (That Was Closer Than it Looked)

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Panthers captain Ed Jovanovski relayed a message through the media Tuesday morning: His team, he said, needs to played like they are ticked off.

Or something to that affect.

Florida certainly played with an intensity rarely seen in last week's embarrassing end to a road trip as it dominated play from start to finish of a 4-1 win over visiting Toronto on Tuesday night.

"It was collectively a great team effort, one of the better ones of our seasons,'' Jovanovski said afterward. "That's how we're effective. .-.-. That's how this team is made up. Everyone has to tug the same way. If not, it doesn't work.''

Said coach Peter Horachek: "I think it's good to have a leadership that believes that and pushes that message. You have to put things on the line every day.''

The Panthers coughed up a 2-0 lead in an eventual 6-3 loss to the Maple Leafs last Thursday in Ontario but completely turned the tide in Sunrise.

Had it not been for the outstanding play of an overworked goalie -- Jonathan Bernier made 44 saves -- those blue-clad snowbird fans from the Great White North would have left the building much earlier.

Tuesday's win snapped a three-game slide, one in which the Panthers were outscored 16-6 and outplayed far too much. Toronto had won nine of its past 11 heading into sunny South Florida.

The Panthers came out with plenty of jump as it looked as if the Maple Leafs spent too much time Monday night enjoying Fort Lauderdale's flora and fauna at Elbo Room.

Florida kept the puck in the Toronto zone for most of the opening period as the Leafs didn't get their first shot on Tim Thomas until 7:19 in. The Panthers had already taken nine shots on Bernier.

"It was just tight enough to be a little nerve-wracking,'' Thomas said. "But we took it to them. That was the best game we played all year.''

All told, the Panthers outshot the Leafs 19-4 in the first period and went into the third holding a 37-12 edge.

Unfortunately for Florida, the Panthers only had a 1-0 lead heading into the final period as Tom Gilbert's long power play shot was the only one to get past Bernier.

That power play goal was just Florida's second in 53 tries with the extra skater.

Florida padded its lead in the third period to give itself a little breathing room when Brian Campbell threw up a long shot. Jesse Winchester had Bernier completely screened as the puck clipped him on the way past.

A few moments later it looked like Florida had broken things wide open when Erik Gudbranson was given a goal he shouldn't have. Gudbranson's shot never broke the line and a review from Hockey Central confirmed it.

The Leafs finally woke up from their hangover midway through the period and made it 2-1 when Tomas Kopecky turned over the puck with David Clarkson wristing a shot past Thomas.

Florida finally all but ended things with 6:38 left when Shawn Matthias -- who hails from the area near Toronto's Pearson Airport -- picked off the puck from Cody Franson and charged in on Bernier.

Matthias' goal came on Florida's 46th shot of the evening.

Marcel Goc added the Panthers' fourth goal of the night one shot later as he deposited the puck into an empty net after Bernier left with 2:30 remaining.

"It was a good 60 minutes for us,'' Campbell said. "When we skate well, we're a good team. We need the energy from the top every night.''


February 02, 2014

DMITRY KULIKOV: I Don't Want to Play in KHL, Want to Help Turn Florida Panthers Around

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- With the trade deadline approaching, Dmitry Kulikov says he has heard his name mentioned as a possible candidate to leave the Panthers.

A first-round pick in 2009, Kulikov has spent his entire NHL career in Florida and says he doesn't want to go anywhere.

Those rumors about him wanting to go back to play in his native Russia? Kulikov says not only are they not true, but he has no idea where they started.

"I would like to face those people saying those things and ask them where they are getting their information,'' said Kulikov, who returned to Russia to play for the KHL's Yaroslavl Locomotiv during the lockout of 2012-13.

"Wanting to go back to Russia? Those words have never come out of my mouth. I think the people starting that are just trying to create more drama for the league or whatever. .-.-. I want to help turn things around here. I want to win here. The year we made the playoffs was like the best thing ever. It's a totally different feeling. I want to feel that again.''

Kulikov got a taste of Russian hockey during the lockout and some thought he might stay. Kulikov was a restricted free agent then and was holding out for a better deal. When the Panthers had a quick training camp once the lockout ended, Kulikov was still in Russia. A deal was struck before the season began, however, and Kulikov flew to New York before meeting the team before the season opener.

"I had a great experience in the KHL during the lockout,'' Kulikov said. "That was my first chance to play there. I left when I was 17. I wanted to play there and see how it is. But that experience was enough for me. I experienced it. My dream since I was a kid was playing here. I'm living the dream.''

Now that contract is about up. Still a restricted free agent, the Panthers hold his contractual rights for another two seasons.

"I try not to listen to those things because they are mostly negative,'' Kulikov said of the rumors. "You never know who is putting them out there or why. I don't focus on them. I'm just playing my game.''

Assistant general manager Mike Santos says the Panthers are still high on Kulikov and want to see him to continue to get better. Although he's in his fifth NHL season, Kulikov is only 23.

"The KHL offers so much money to players, so you're always going to hear those rumors,'' Santos said. "We're not worried about them. He came over here as a teenager, he's now in his fifth season with us. People think he's farther along in his development but he's still young.''

Kulikov had a rough start to the season, with mental errors clouding his game and forcing coach Peter Horachek to bench him for a game in December.

At the time, Horachek said the move would do Kulikov some good, give him a chance to slow things down and just go out and play hockey again.

It definitely seemed to have done the trick.

Kulikov has been much improved over the past few months and is becoming more of an offensive threat. The Panthers sure could use some of that.

In the past eight games, Kulikov has four of his six goals this season. Florida finally snapped its franchise-record power play drought last Tuesday courtesy of a Kulikov slapshot.

"I think when I wasn't playing good, I was getting ticked off at everything. At myself,'' Kulikov said.

"There was a lot of frustration. Everyone I talked to told me I had to change my mindset, be more positive. I think the coaches helped turn me around. I thought it was OK to be frustrated when things weren't going so well.''

-- The Panthers limped home Saturday night after a once-promising road trip turned sour quickly.

Florida was flying high heading into Boston after a rousing comeback victory in Detroit on Sunday. The Bruins came at the Panthers in waves, however, and blew the game open by the middle of the second period.

The Panthers' 6-2 loss to the host Bruins was just the start of a rough week, one that included losses to the Maple Leafs and Blue Jackets. All told, the Panthers were outscored 16-6. They haven't been the same since Boston.

"You would like to think we're moving forward in a positive way from the Detroit game,'' Horachek said. "The Boston game was different from the others. I didn't like that game at all -- any of the periods, any of the time. .-.-. All three games aren't the same, but the results are. We lost the games. Too many goals against.''

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


February 01, 2014

CANNON FODDER: Panthers Fall Behind, Rolled Again in 4-1 Loss to Blue Jackets

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- After beating Detroit, Panthers' coach Peter Horachek called the final games before the Olympic break a "seven-game series" in trying to get into the playoff mix.
By Horachek's theory, Florida is on the verge of elimination.

The Panthers' bad week continued Saturday night as the Blue Jackets handed Florida its third straight lopsided loss with a 4-1 rout at Nationwide Arena.

Florida entered Saturday 10 points back of the final playoff spot in the east. The Panthers have 26 games remaining so being eliminated mathematically is still a way off.

"This is not what we want,'' said Brad Boyes, who scored Florida's lone goal. "We pushed back, had a lot of chances. But they scored and we didn't. That's the difference. .-.-. We're getting to the point of the season where you need results. You need a point, have to find a way.''

Since beating the host Red Wings last Sunday in a shootout, the Panthers have just been hammered. Columbus followed up blowouts in Boston and Toronto as the Panthers have been outscored 16-6.

Since taking a 2-0 lead on the host Leafs, the Panthers have given up 10 goals while scoring only twice during that span.

That's not a good recipe for winning.

"Going 1-3 makes it tough, this is a results industry,'' Horachek said.

The Jackets, looking for their second playoff berth in franchise history, won for the 10th time in their past 13 games and did so by taking advantage of some empty nets.

The Panthers, however, were robbed by goalie Sergei Bobrovsky when they aimed toward the net -- and flat-out missed when he was out of position.

Columbus took its lead in the opening period after Tim Thomas (26 saves) came out of the net to play a puck but caught his glove on the lip of the cage and watched the puck slip away. Boone Jenner tapped the puck into the vacated space.

It became a 2-0 game with 1:58 left in the period when Jenner made a sweet move and backhanded a pass to Ryan Johansen who popped the puck in clean.

"The team needs me to keep us as close as possible,'' Thomas said. "We're a little fragile right now .-.-. From my end, I feel awful.''

Florida got its goal in a hard-fought second period, one in which the Panthers dictated the pace but couldn't find the net save for when Boyes sent a shot off Columbus defender David Savard past Bobrovsky.

Columbus all but ended things in the final minutes of the second when Nick Foligno walked in on Thomas and fired a shot at him. Thomas got a chunk of the puck but didn't stop it as it dribbled past him and into the net.

"I thought our chances were better but we didn't capitalize on ours and they did,'' Horachek said. "We didn't really get a save [Saturday] and that's the way it is. Playing catch-up hockey is difficult.''

BACK IN, BACK DOWN: Panthers Activate Barkov, Play Gudbranson ... Shore Sent to San Antonio

COLUMBUS, Ohio --Despite playing well, Drew Shore was a victim of the numbers game as he was assigned to AHL San Antonio following Saturday's morning skate.

With the Florida roster at 23, it needed to make some sort of move to get Barkov off the injured list. The only players who could go to San Antonio without clearing waivers first was Shore and second-line center Nick Bjugstad.

Shore flew home with the Panthers and plans to join his Rampage teammates Sunday.

By heading back now, Shore is eligible to play for the Rampage during the Olympic break.

"I think being a young guy, [playing] is a good thing,'' he said before the game, before knowing he was definitely headed back.

"I suspect that, just seeing how things are going. They want me to keep playing and I think it's a positive. It would be nice to have the break, don't get me wrong, but this game is all about rythym and flow. I don't think taking a few weeks off would do me some good.''

-- Defenseman Erik Gudbranson ditched his protective cage and returned to the lineup Saturday. Wearing just a traditional visor, Gudbranson played after being scratched in the previous three games.

Gudbranson had surgery to repair a broken orbital bone in December and had been wearing a restrictive full cage since returning on Jan. 6. Dylan Olsen sat in Gudbranson's place.

"I think the half visor will minimize the risk but not having the jaw piece is nice,'' Gudbranson said. "I'm very excitied. This past week hasn't exactly be easy but this is my chance to get back in the lineup and hopefully stay there.''