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33 posts from November 2014

November 30, 2014

LUONGO'S BACK: Roberto Luongo skates, on way to Columbus ... Dan Ellis returned to San Antonio ... Thornton doesn't skate, Jokinen does

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Roberto Luongo skated on Sunday and was all but cleared to play as the Panthers sent Dan Ellis back to AHL San Antonio.

Luongo suffered an apparent arm strain in the second period of Wednesday's win over Carolina and missed Friday's win against Ottawa.

Although coach Gerard Gallant was non-committal in whether Luongo would play in Florida's back-to-back set against Columbus and Detroit, it looks like he definitely will.

"He skated good today, everything looked good,'' Gallant said.

-- Shawn Thornton, who was struck in the face with a puck Friday, didn't skate on Sunday. Jussi Jokinen missed Friday's game with an illness but was back Sunday and traveled to Ohio.

-- San Antonio, Florida's AHL affiliate, had its franchise-best seven game winning streak ended with a 4-3 loss to visiting Oklahoma City on Saturday night.

Monday: Panthers at Blue Jackets

When, Where: 7 p.m.; Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio.

TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560

The series: Columbus leads 11-4-0

Of note: The Blue Jackets have owned the Panthers with Columbus winning the past seven between the two including all three last year. Florida hasn't beaten Columbus since 2007. The Jackets have struggled this year with just six wins.





OHIO HOMECOMING: Gerard Gallant, Derek MacKenzie back in Columbus ... Nathan Horton, unfortunately, won't face former team on Monday

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Gerard Gallant's final home game as head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets came on Nov. 10, 2006.

The Blue Jackets lost 4-1 to the visiting Oilers and then went on the road. Not long after Columbus lost in Chicago, Gallant was fired by longtime friend and Blue Jackets general manager Doug MacLean.

It took Gallant a while to get another chance at being a head coach in the NHL, but Monday, he returns to Nationwide Arena as bench boss of the Panthers.

Gallant said Sunday that coming back to work a game in Columbus holds no real special meaning even though his NHL coaching career started here as an assistant with the expansion Blue Jackets.

"I enjoy going back there and have been back [as an assistant] with Montreal and the Islanders,'' Gallant said.

"I have a lot of good friends there. I had seven great years there. It's a great city and I really enjoyed it. The organization treated us well. I like everything about Columbus. But aside from that, it's just coaching in another building. There's nothing special about it.''

Derek MacKenzie, however, said he's looking forward to playing his old team on Monday after leaving Columbus for Florida as a free agent in July.

MacKenzie spent seven seasons in the Blue Jackets organization after leaving the Atlanta Thrashers.

"I spent a long time there and it wasn't so long ago I was out there on that ice battling with those guys,'' MacKenzie said.

"I'm sure there will be a lot of emotions that day and in some ways it will tough. Lets not forget we have back-to-back games so these are crucial. It will be nice to see some friends, catch up with some of the guys, but we need to get some wins.''

One of MacKenzie's former teammates won't be n the ice Monday as Nathan Horton -- who spent six seasons with the Panthers -- has been sidelined with what may be a career-threatening back condition.

Horton, whom Florida picked third overall in the 2003 NHL draft, told the Columbus Dispatch that he is living in constant pain. If he decides to have surgery on his back, his career is likely over before the age of 30.

"I can’t stand up like a normal person; I can’t bend over," Horton, 29, told the Dispatch last month.

"I can’t run. I can’t play with my kids. To get in and out of the car, I’m like a 75-year-old man … so slow and stiff. I can’t sleep at night. I try to lay down and my back seizes up and I can’t move, so sleeping is out. I’m like a zombie in the daytime."

MacKenzie only played with Horton for one season and that was an abbreviated one at that. Horton was sidelined with various injuries and played in just 35 games after signing a seven-year deal worth $37 million.

"He's a Stanley Cup winner and I know how excited the team was when we signed him two summers ago,'' MacKenzie said. "We'll keep our fingers crossed and hope for a bit of a miracle for him.''

Horton was traded to the Bruins on the eve of the 2010 draft after scoring 142 goals with 153 assists in 422 games. He and his family still reside in South Florida during the offseason.


Monday: Panthers at Blue Jackets

When, Where: 7 p.m.; Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio.

TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560

The series: Columbus leads 11-4-0

Of note: The Blue Jackets have owned the Panthers with Columbus winning the past seven between the two including all three last year. Florida hasn't beaten Columbus since 2007. The Jackets have struggled this year with just six wins.







November 29, 2014

FIGHT STOPPER: Thornton, Neil surprised refs spoiled their showdown

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Shawn Thornton had a swollen, stitched up lip and some loose teeth following the Panthers' 3-2 win over Ottawa on Friday night.

Thornton's facial injuries, however, had nothing to do with his 'fight' against fellow heavyweight Chris Neil.

The two -- who have almost a combined 300 NHL fights between them -- circled before putting their hands on one another midway through the second period.

Thornton got in three warm-up punches; Neil's one shot glanced off.

And that was it.

The officials broke up the fight before it even really started bringing boos from the stands and incredulous -- and unprintable -- comments from both Thornton and Neil toward the refs.

"We're both pretty experienced guys,'' said Thornton, who was hit in the face by a puck not long after coming out of the penalty box. He returned in the third.

"We were both surprised by it.''

The reason the fight was stopped so quickly was because Thornton's helmet came off during the fracas.

Although it was common to pull off your helmet soon after the gloves were dropped, with safety in mind, the league instituted a rule last year that an additional two minutes would be added to the five minute penalty if a player removed his own helmet before fighting.

Players quickly figured out a loophole -- they would simply pull off the helmet of their opponent in the opening moments. Players apparently don't like the feel of plastic helmet against bare knuckle.

On Friday, Neil pushed off Thornton's helmet -- as was accepted practice -- only that's when when the fight was stopped.

"They said they were told to get in there,'' Thornton said. "I've been in a lot of fights and that's never happened before. If it's a new rule, it's a new rule, but no one told us about it. You could tell I wasn't happy but a lot of that was being in the moment. Your adrenaline kicks in.''

Florida coach Gerard Gallant was in his fair share of fights during his 11 seasons in the league.

On Friday, he said he understood what the league was trying to do as far as limiting the number of fights and seemed to agree with it.

"I know they are trying to protect the player and when the helmet comes off, they're going to stop it,'' said Gallant, who is credited with 106 fights during his career according to hockeyfights.com.

"It's a shame because everyone wanted to see it and the players wanted to do it. But the officials are there to protect the players. There are some serious injuries when guys hit their heads.''

Thornton hasn't fought much since signing with the Panthers as Friday's was his second of the year and first since taking on Bryce Salvadore during the home opener.

He and Neil have tangled a few times over the years and Thornton said there is mutual respect between them.

Fans were hoping the two would tangle the first time the two teams met last month but it never went down. On Friday, both were willing, but the law got in the way.

"I don't know how many people were there [Friday] but I think I saw them all stand up when we squared up,'' Thornton said. "Then I heard them all booing when we were going off. I understand the safety concerns and get both sides of it. But if it's a rule, let us know and I can tighten my helmet a little more.''

-- The Panthers will practice at BB&T Center before flying to Columbus on Sunday afternoon.



November 28, 2014

TAKING BACK HOME ICE: Panthers throw plenty of rubber at Anderson, top Senators 3-2 ... Olsen, Bergenheim and Hayes lead charge against former Florida goalie

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers played one of their most complete games of the year on Friday night, keeping the puck in the Ottawa zone and making goalie Craig Anderson earn everything he got.

Florida got a little something for the effort.

With two goals in the third, the Panthers topped the Senators 3-2 at BB&T Center to move up a spot in the Eastern Conference standings.

Ottawa, which was outshot 46-24 Friday, came into the night two points up on the Panthers.

"We had four breakaways in one period,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "[Anderson] was outstanding. We worked hard and persevered at the end. We kept pushing and pushing and a couple of pucks went by him. We played perhaps our best offensive game and competed hard.''

Anderson, the former Panthers goalie who has been terrific in Sunrise when not wearing in a Florida sweater, kept the Senators close by stoning the Panthers throughout the first and second period.

Florida tied the score at 2 just 34 seconds into the third when Sean Bergenheim hammered a shot from the right circle.

The puck clipped Anderson (4-5-4 in Sunrise while with the Panthers and 7-2-0 here as a visitor) and trickled behind him and into the net.

The Panthers got their first and final lead seven minutes later when Vincent Trocheck charged hard at the net and threaded a pass to Jimmy Hayes who buried it.

"We had a good complete all-around game,'' said Hayes, benched on Wednesday but who is now second on the team with five goals.

"It's nice to have that confidence heading out on the road.''

While Anderson was getting bombarded, Al Montoya was solid with 22 saves for his second win of the season and first on home ice.

Ottawa opened the scoring in the first when bruiser Chris Neal took a nice pass in front of the Florida defense and tapped it past Montoya.

Just 47 seconds later, defenseman Dylan Olsen whipped a 60 foot shot through traffic off a Vincent Trocheck rebound past Anderson. The Sens took a 2-1 advantage 2:41 into the second.

"It's easy to be frustrated when you see your guys dominating and [Anderson] is standing on his head,'' Montoya said. "I'm thinking it was going to be just a matter of time.''

-- Florida was without winger Jussi Jokinen -- who came into Saturday tied with Nick Bjugstad for the team lead with 12 points -- because of illness.

-- Forward Shawn Thornton left Friday's game in the second period after taking a puck off his face but returned after being stitched up. Thornton said he would likely be visiting a dentist on Saturday.



ON THE MEND: Luongo hopes to be back on the ice in the coming days

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Goalie Roberto Luongo called his apparent arm strain a "weird, freak injury" but says he's feeling much improved and hopes to be back on the ice next week.

It's not known yet whether Luongo will accompany the team on its next road trip as the team leaves Sunday and will only have one morning skate during its three day trip. Florida plays consecutive games in Columbus and Detroit on Monday and Tuesday.

"It's really progressed over the past 24 hours,'' said Luongo, who was hurt during the second period of Wednesday's 1-0 win over Carolina.

"I'm just hoping to be back on the ice in the next few days.''

Luongo said he was injured when he went to play a puck dumped in a few minutes before his spectacular sprawling save when he robbed Victor Rask.

"It was a nothing play, just a dump-in,'' Luongo said. "I pulled something. It was a weird play. I tried to play through it and there were some plays where I had to lunge out and it flared up.''




November 27, 2014

THE DAY AFTER: Luongo will miss Friday ... Montoya starts v. Sens, Ellis coming back up ... Bolland close, Upshall on IR

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Although the Panthers picked up a much needed victory Wednesday night, it cost them their starting goalie at least for the near future.

Roberto Luongo suffered what appears to be a minor arm injury during Wednesday's 1-0 victory over the visiting Hurricanes at BB&T Center.

Luongo was at the team training facility early Thursday for treatment but was unavailable for comment.

Coach Gerard Gallant said backup Al Montoya would start Friday against Ottawa with general manager Dale Tallon calling up Dan Ellis from the minors to back him up.

Winger Scottie Upshall was placed on injured reserve to make room for Ellis on the roster.

"He's day to day. It's not real serious,'' Gallant said of Luongo's injury. "I think he's better, he felt good [Friday]. It's not a big concern.''

The good news for Florida is it is deep in goal.

On Wednesday, Montoya came in after Luongo was forced to leave midway through the second and stopped 22 shots to pick up the save.

"He came in cold and came out hot,'' said Nick Bjugstad, who scored Florida's lone goal Wednesday 21 seconds into the game. "We have two really good goaltenders here.''

Well, three, now that Ellis is on his way back.

Acquired for Tim Thomas at last year's trade deadline, Ellis struggled with the Panthers to close the season but played well in the preseason and has been strong in San Antonio.

Florida is paying Ellis' NHL salary even though he's playing in the minors after signing Montoya to back up Luongo in July.

Ellis has helped the Rampage win a franchise-tying seven straight games (he's started six of them) and stopped 32 shots in a 3-0 shutout of the Texas Stars in his past start.

"We have options in San Antonio in which we won't miss a beat. That hasn't happened for us in a while,'' Tallon said. "We have depth in our organization and that's what it takes. It takes an army. [Ellis] is a good guy, a classy guy. He understands everyone needs to be ready.''

On Wednesday, Bjugstad gave Florida the only lead it would need 21 seconds into the game when he followed up a Brandon Pirri shot and slammed the puck past Cam Ward.

The Hurricanes, badly outplayed in the opening period, woke up in the second and Luongo was hurt making a poke save -- one of five in his 10:22 of work in the period.

Moments later, Luongo sprawled out and made perhaps his prettiest save of the season by robbing Victor Rask.

While on his back, Luongo stretched out and made a terrific glove save on a Rask shot.

Luongo played three-plus minutes after that but came out at the next timeout.

"That was an unbelievable save,'' Gallant said. "It was a highlight reel one for sure.''

The Hurricanes outshot Florida 17-5 in the final period and Montoya was named the game's top star.

Friday's game will be Montoya's fourth start -- first since Nov. 16 -- and seventh appearance of the season.

"Louie has been so good for us, it's hard to see him go down with an injury,'' said Montoya, who is 1-1-1 with a 1.99 GAA and a 93 percent save rate.

"For me, it was just believing in my game. I've been working hard, working with the goalie coach and it's knowing what I can do and contributing when I get the chance.''

Said Gallant: "He made a lot of great saves and I'm sure that's good for his confidence in the next game. You hate to lose your starting goaltender, but when your backup comes in and plays like that, you know he'll be ready to go the next time out. You're happy about that.''


Dave Bolland, Florida's highest-paid forward, was back on the ice Thursday with Tallon saying he should be back in the lineup next week.

Bolland, who signed a five-year deal with the Panthers worth $27.5 million on July 1, has missed the past 16 games with a groin injury. He came off the ice at the end of Florida's win at Buffalo on Oct. 17 and hasn't played since.

-- Upshall was placed on the injured list retroactive to Monday meaning he is eligible to return Tuesday in Detroit although that's not expected.

Gallant said that Upshall would not travel with the team on its upcoming trip and would likely miss two weeks. Upshall injured an ankle Monday against Minnesota.

Friday: Senators at Panthers

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

TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM-560

The series: Ottawa leads 47-30-3

Of note: The Sens have taken the season series six of the past eight years. Ottawa beat Florida 1-0 in the third game of the season after Clarke MacArthur scored midway through the second and former Panthers goalie Craig Anderson held on for the shutout.






PIERRE'S BACK: Panthers hire Groulx to work with young goalies at San Antonio and Cincinnati

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Pierre Groulx, Florida's goalie coach under Jacques Martin and Pete DeBoer, has rejoined the organization and will work with the Panthers' goalies at San Antonio (AHL) and Cincinnati (ECHL).

Groulx has also worked with the Senators and was goalie coach of the Canadiens for four seasons.

"It's a great opportunity for him to get back into the game he loves and it's a great opportunity for our goalies as well,'' San Antonio general manager Eric Joyce said.

"They get to learn from an experienced guy and you can already see a difference. His qualifications are outstanding and he's a true professional. He's excited to be with us and we're very excited to have him.''


November 26, 2014

MAKING A HOME IN SOUTH FLORIDA: Hayes and Olsen fitting in with Panthers nicely a year after big trade ... Thornton gets first goal, wants more

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
At this time last year, both Dylan Olsen and Jimmy Hayes were getting used to their new surroundings.
Living in a team-provided hotel in Coral Springs, the newest members of the Florida Panthers were playing in their first home games after coming over in a trade with Chicago.
"There's been a lot of change,'' Hayes said. "I'm a full-time NHL player now and not a guy walking on egg shells. I'm not complacent, but it's nice to have a role.''
Both players were shocked by the news that they were coming to the Panthers in exchange for winger Kris Versteeg. Both Olsen and Hayes were playing for Chicago's minor league team in Rockford, Illinois, and coming to the Panthers meant an opportunity to play hockey at the highest level.
The deal has worked out pretty well for both the Panthers and the players they acquired.
"I can't believe it has been a whole year already,'' said Olsen, who has played in 19 of 20 games for the Panthers this season.
"It's really helped this year being around and going through training camp and being part of the West Point trip. Last year, we had to come in and learn new systems, new coaches, new teammates in a short period of time. I obviously love being here in Florida, love being part of this team.''
Although both players have permanent residence in South Florida these days, they don't necessarily have safe haven in the lineup.
Olsen's missed game was on Monday when he was benched in favor of Colby Robak.
On Wednesday, Hayes -- who has four goals in 13 games this year -- was benched so Tomas Fleischmann could get back in the lineup.
"He has played hard and he has played well for us,'' coach Gerard Gallant said before Florida's home game against Carolina on Wednesday.
"We just have to keep on Jimmy. He's effective when he skates hard, moves his feet. That makes him an important guy for us.''
Hayes, although not playing Wednesday, has made a name for himself with the Panthers.
Last year, Hayes found plenty of playing time on Florida's third and fourth lines and used his big frame to camp out in front of the net and score a career-high 11 goals in 53 games.
Hayes has played in 13 of 20 games this season although Wednesday's benching was his first since last month as he had played in 11 straight.
"We both have a great opportunity here and need to capitalize,'' Hayes said. "We have to figure out a way to stay in the lineup every night. I just have to work hard, show up at the rink every day with a good attitude and develop my game.''
Shawn Thornton's first goal with the Panthers on Monday was originally called off as referee Ghislain Hebert waved off the goal thinking Thornton's stick came above the cross bar.
Thornton wasn't all too pleased.
"I don't think you want to know my thoughts,'' Thornton said not long after getting that puck on Tuesday morning. "I think the whole arena could read my lips.''
The four officials conferred and correctly ruled Thornton's stick was low enough as video review from Toronto confirmed the call.
Now that the goal counts, Thornton hopes to score a few more. In 576 NHL games coming into Wednesday, Thornton has scored 39 times.
"They come in bunches, they say,'' he said. "It's nice to score, especially when they come as spaced out as they do for me. The goal was nice, but I would rather win.''
-- Gallant said winger Scottie Upshall will miss at least a week after getting hurt on Monday. Upshall was seen in a walking boot as he apparently injured an ankle when run up against the back boards.
-- Because the Ottawa Senators previously reserved the ice at BB&T Center on Thursday, the Panthers will hold an open practice at the IceDen in Coral Springs starting at 11 a.m. The workout is free and open to the public.


QUICK GOAL, STRONG GOALTENDING: Panthers lose Luongo in second but Bjugstad's quick goal holds up as Panthers top Hurricanes 1-0 ... Montoya stands strong with 22 saves ... Luongo injury not considered serious

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Nick Bjugstad gave the Panthers a lead by scoring 21 seconds into Wednesday's game.

Thanks to some terrific goaltending from Roberto Luongo and backup Al Montoya, that goal stood up as Florida beat visiting Carolina 1-0 at BB&T Center.

Montoya was forced into service midway through the second period when Luongo left with what the team is calling an 'upper body' injury.

Montoya made 22 saves in picking up the save. Neither goalie gets credit for the shutout but Luongo gets the win.

"He came in cold and came out hot,'' Bjugstad said of Montoya's play. "We have two really good goaltenders here.''

According to general manager Dale Tallon and coach Gerard Gallant, Luongo's injury isn't considered serious although more will be known Thursday.

Tallon said he hadn't thought of calling up Dale Ellis from Florida's minor league affiliate in San Antonio.

"Louie's fine,'' Gallant said. "Everything the trainers told me is that it isn't serious.''

Florida took its quick lead on its first push up the ice when Bjugstad (six goals, three assists and a shootout winner in past six games) jumped on a loose puck and beat Cam Ward (27 saves).

The Panthers dominated play in the opening period but couldn't match Bjugstad's marker and went into the break up just one.

"We let up off the pedal,'' Bjugstad said. "We found a way to win and our goaltenders helped us. We have to find a way to gut games out. We found a way to win. That's the biggest thing.''

Carolina seemed to wake up in the second and Luongo was hurt making a poke save -- one of his five in the first 10:22 of work in the period.

Moments later, Luongo sprawled out and made perhaps his prettiest save of the season by robbing Victor Rask.

While on his back, Luongo stretched out and made a terrific glove save on a Rask shot. Luongo tried to continue and played three-plus minutes but came out at the next timeout.

"That was an unbelievable save,'' Gallant said. "It was a highlight reel one for sure.''

Carolina came hard at Montoya but couldn't put a puck through.

"It's a game of momentum,'' Bjugstad said. "When the backup comes in, you want to pepper him, want to see what he's got. Luckily I was able to answer the bell.''

The Hurricanes outshot Florida 17-5 in the final period and Montoya was named the game's top star. Bjugstad came in second and Ward finished third in the balloting.

"Louie has been so good for us, it's hard to see him go down with an injury,'' Montoya said.

"For me, it was just believing in my game. I've been working hard, working with the goalie coach and it's knowing what I can do and contributing when I get the chance.''

Said Gallant: "He made a lot of great saves and I'm sure that's good for his confidence in the next game. You hate to lose your starting goaltender, but when your backup comes in and plays like that, you know he'll be ready to go the next time out. You're happy about that.''




November 25, 2014

MAKING DO: Panthers missing Upshall, MacKenzie and Luongo on Tuesday ... Trocheck ready to get back in lineup

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers had a few players missing from Tuesday's practice at BB&T Center.
Winger Scottie Upshall was seen walking around the arena in a walking boot after apparently injuring an ankle after being driven into the boards during Monday's game.
Upshall was playing in his first game since missing two with an unrelated injury suffered at Los Angeles last Tuesday night.
"He felt OK after the game but [Tuesday] morning was pretty sore,'' coach Gerard Gallant said.
Also missing from Tuesday's practice was center Derek MacKenzie who was feeling ill. If MacKenzie is well enough to play, Gallant could scratch Tomas Fleischmann or Vincent Trocheck as he did Monday.
Trocheck, who centered Jokinen and Hayes on Tuesday, said he wasn't surprised to be on the bench after being told Gallant wasn't happy with his play Saturday in Nashville.
"I didn't think I played well in Nashville and Gerard told me the same,'' Trocheck said.
"It's understandable. But it's not fun. I want to be in the lineup. If I'm back there [Wednesday], I'm going to work twice as hard. You have to take advantage and not take anything for granted here.''
Roberto Luongo took a maintenance day Tuesday and didn't practice.

WINGING IT: Brandon Pirri back in the lineup although in unfamiliar position

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Brandon Pirri admits he was in a hurry to come back after his first concussion a few years ago and returned way too soon.
So when he was concussed after taking an elbow to the head on Oct. 30, Pirri listened to what team doctors had to say and made sure he was 100 percent ready upon his return.
"You don't want to rush things especially when you hear about other guys when they get their second one,'' Pirri said before Monday's game.
"You can just delay the whole process. I tried to stay in shape so I'm not hesitant. When I rushed it before, I was pretty bad when I came back. That's not going to help me or the team. Plus the team was winning, so there was no rush.''
Pirri ended up missing 10 games after being struck by Arizona's Keith Yandle.
On Tuesday, he says he felt good after returning to the lineup.
"I had to get my legs involved. It was kind of like playing the first game of the year again,'' said Pirri, who had three goals in the three games before getting knocked out.
"It's tough to prepare for. You can ride the bike for 10 miles and it's not going to do anything. I got the first one out of the way. I have to respond better, be a step faster and be an opportunistic player.''
Pirri started Monday's game centering Jussi Jokinen and Jimmy Hayes but things changed as Florida fell behind to the visiting Wild.
In the third period, coach Gerard Gallant moved Pirri onto the right side of center Nick Bjugstad.
On Tuesday, Pirri remained at right wing with Jonathan Huberdeau on the left.
Although Gallant wouldn't commit to it, expect that trio to be Florida's top line when the Panthers play host to Carolina on Tuesday night.
"We're all offensive guys so as long as we take care of the defense, everything will take care of itself,'' said Pirri, who said he doesn't mind moving over to wing although he's a natural center.
"We have to gel but we all think the same. We just have to find the consistency in all three zones and we have enough talent where that can happen.''
Pirri was a healthy scratch for Florida's first four games, initially jumping into the lineup when Dave Bolland injured his groin Oct. 17 at Buffalo.
Although Bolland has yet to return, moving Pirri over to wing -- even if it is temporary -- gives Gallant some flexibility with the lineup.
"Pirri is a good player and has scored some goals. We're just throwing different things out there,'' Gallant said. "He'll probably see some time there and we'll see how it goes. He can score, can shoot and was playing real well. He has confidence in his game and knows he can play.''
Said Pirri: "When you're playing, you don't think about it. There's not that much of an adjustment.''
Wednesday: Hurricanes at Panthers
When, Where:
7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560/ESPN 1210 (Spanish)
The series: Carolina leads 54-41-11
Of note: After winning five of six in 2011-12 and splitting the season series in 2013, the Panthers were handled by Carolina last year. The Hurricanes won all three meetings by a combined 11-3.


November 24, 2014

LOST IN THE WILD: Panthers slog through a 4-1 loss to visiting Minnesota ... Cats bring back Upshall, Pirri, Bergenheim and Robak; bench Fleischmann, Trocheck and Olsen

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers wanted to take advantage of their recent road success only fell flat at home Monday night.

Minnesota jumped all over the sluggish Panthers in the opening period and left BB&T Center with a 4-1 victory.

"They came out ready to play and we were lifeless in those first couple of periods,'' said Minneapolis native Nick Bjugstad, whose four-game scoring streak (five goals, three assist) was snapped.

"We showed a little but not enough. Those guys are too good for us not to bear down on them. We didn't play the way we wanted.''

Although the Wild haven't been very good on the road this season, Florida has been even worse in Sunrise.

The Wild came into the night ranked 23rd in the league with eight road points; the Panthers were tied for 29th with just seven points at home.

Monday, Minnesota apparently shook off its beach rust -- the Wild brought a large contingent of family members on this Florida swing -- and took control early.

Jason Zucker got the first of his two goals six minutes in when his soft shot trickled between Roberto Luongo's skates.

With 2:17 left in the period, Nino Niederreiter made it 2-0 when he broke free off a Willie Mitchell turnover at center ice and roofed a shot past Luongo.

"We had a 'C' performance and that's not good enough,'' coach Gerard Gallant said.

"We got outworked in the first two periods and that's disappointing. I know the guys are disappointed because we had a good road trip. This happens a lot when you come off the road, but no excuses for this. We have to be a lot better.''

Although the Panthers were finally able to get some of their injured forwards back in the lineup, they created little offensive push -- at least in the opening two periods.

Florida was held to just five shots on goal and 10 shots attempted (blocked, missed and shots on goal) in the first. The Panthers had 14 shots heading into the third.

The Panthers scored 5:34 into the second when Shawn Thornton knocked down a long shot from Dmitry Kulikov and deflected it past Nik Backstrom.

Referee Ghislain Hebert originally waved off the goal thinking Thornton's stick came above the cross bar. The officials conferred and ruled Thornton made a legal move and a long review from hockey central in Toronto confirmed the good goal.

The Wild took its two-goal lead back late in the second when Zucker -- who had nine shots on goal in the first two periods -- took advantage of a lax Florida defense and scored top shelf on Luongo.

The Panthers had a few good scoring chances -- including Brad Boyes with 90 seconds left -- after that but Backstrom picked up his second win this month with an easy-looking 29 save night.

Minnesota got its final goal from Zach Parise into an empty net.

"We're a young team and we're going to make mistakes,'' Luongo said. "It's my job to bail us out when that happens. I didn't in the first period and it cost us the game.''

-- Forwards Brandon Pirri, Scottie Upshall and Sean Bergenheim all rejoined the lineup after missing time with injury.

Florida benched Tomas Fleischmann and Vinny Trocheck to make room. Colby Robak also replaced Dylan Olsen on defense for the first time this season.

-- Jacques Martin, Florida's coach and/or general manager from 2005-09, attended Tuesday's game as a scout for the Penguins.



STREAK ENDS: Jay Bouwmeester's incredible run ends in Winnipeg

TWITTER: GeorgeRichards

St. Louis defenseman Jay Bouwmeester saw his NHL 'Iron Man' streak come to a close at 737 consecutive games Sunday as he wasn't in the Blues' lineup in Winnipeg.
Bouwmeester's streak started on March 6, 2004 with the Panthers and he ended up playing in nine consecutive full seasons -- including all 12 playoff games the past two seasons with the Blues -- before sitting out Sunday with an undisclosed lower body injury.
Bouwmeester's streak ends up being fifth-longest in NHL history. Doug Jarvis holds the record at 964 consecutive games played followed by Garry Unger (914), Steve Larmer (884) and former Panthers' assistant coach Craig Ramsay (776).
“It was pretty cut and dry, I knew I couldn’t play,” Bouwmeester told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
“Like I said the other day, I’ve been pretty lucky for a long time. Now it’s over — whatever, back to normal.”
Bouwmeester's rights were traded to Calgary after he refused to re-sign with the Panthers in 2009. He missed 21 games in Florida during the 2003-04 season with a broken foot before starting his streak. Bouwmeester played in all 82 games as a rookie with the Panthers in 2002-03.


November 23, 2014

RAMPAGE INSIDER: San Antonio rolls Texas Stars, set franchise record with seventh straight win

TWITTER: @tonyuminski

SAN ANTONIO -- There was no feel-you-out period at the start of this one, a 3-0 Rampage win over interstate rival Texas at the AT&T Center. The Rampage stomped the Stars Friday night in Cedar Park, a record-setting 7-1 win that totally embarrassed the defending Calder Cup champs in their own den. It was the largest margin of victory for the Rampage over Texas, which had won all but eight of 30 games played in the Austin suburb.

The Rampage tied a franchise record with their seventh straight win Sunday.

The Stars were ready to rebound Sunday afternoon. Fortunately for the Rampage, veteran goaltender Dan Ellis was ready as well.

Right off the opening faceoff Ellis slid across the crease to stop the Stars' Derek Hulak’s breakaway backhander just seconds into the game.

Couple of nice stops with seven minutes to go in the first on Scott Glennie kept it scoreless.

On a pretty hockey play, Connor Brickley, a Panthers second round pick in 2010, found Mark Mancari at the side of the net and the veteran tucked it in under Stars goaltender Jack Campbell at 18:55 of the first period. Drew Shore kept the puck alive in the corner, Brickley skated parallel to the goal line to the slot, drew Campbell with him and backhanded a pass to Mancari on the doorstep. It was Brickley’s first assist of the season.

"You got to go hard and beat their defenseman to the net," said the veteran Mancari. "I got a step on their D-man and (Brickley) made a great pass."

Brickley’s work ethic paid off in the second period on the power play. Defenseman Alex Petrovic’s blast from the point had just enough juice on it to trickle between Campbell’s pads. Brickley found the puck in the crease behind Campbell and jammed it into the open net.

"Petro made a great shot and coach just re-iterates (remember, he’s a college kid) always get inside players, try and go to the net," said the former University of Vermont standout. "Right when I see the D get ready to shoot the puck, I just get to the net, hopefully find loose pucks. It was just laying there for me so I was just able to put it in."

Brickley now has five goals on the season, including two Friday night against the Stars.

Seven straight wins for the third time in their history...the last time was in January 2012, and they’ve outscored opponents 26-11 during this run. They will try and break the record at home Friday night vs. Oklahoma City.

Ellis has been phenomenal during the streak, winning six of them. He’s allowed only eight goals in seven games, and nearly shutout OKC last Sunday, only to have the Barons score in the last two minutes of a 3-1 Rampage win.

"He stays on an even keel, even when things we’re going so great for him," said Rowe of Ellis. "They had their chances today. They took advantage of our misreads on the D and Dan came up big for us."

Ellis is also picking on his former organization, the Dallas Stars, who selected him in the second round in 2000 after his college career at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and re-acquired him last season before dealing the Saskatoon native to the Panthers last year for Tim Thomas. Ellis has allowed only seven goals in five games against the AHL Stars.

"You try and play your best, regardless of the team," said Ellis after the win. "If you have success against one team, it’s great. It’s better for our team. But most important it’s just about points."

Special teams play has also spurred success for the Rampage. The penalty killers have been successful on 28 of 32 power play attempts. Against the Stars, a perennial power point leader in the AHL and especially against the Rampage over the years, San Antonio skaters stopped all eight Stars chances.

On the power play, the Rampage began the streak near the bottom of the league in that category, but have gone 9 of 35, including a PP goal in each of the last five games.
Brickley has been the surprise of the season, however. The Everett, Massachusetts native and nephew of Boston Bruins TV announcer, Andy Brickley, scored five goals last season for the Catamounts. That was an improvement of two goals from his junior year. His best season was his sophomore year, when he tallied nine in 23 games.

"I don’t know what happened to him in college, but I don’t really care at this point. He’s been very consistent with us," said Rampage head coach Tom Rowe. "He’s probably a better pro. I think the pro game is more suited to his personality."

"I think it’s a reflection of the guys around me," said Brickley. "I’m playing with a lot of better players and I’m trying to feed off their energy, get in the right spots and the puck’s just been bouncing for me."

From his first shift last season when he signed his first pro contract and got eight games under his belt with a goal and an assist, Brickley has been a charger off the bench. His grind it down approach has paid dividends at this level.

"He’s a kid who can play for you anywhere from fourth line to first line," added Rowe. "He’s got skills, he’s got heart. He likes to bang around out there and is a little more reckless than some guys, which is an advantage. Our scouts did a great job, obviously, getting a kid like that to help you put points on the board. He’s a tough kid to play against."

Linemate Mancari, a veteran of 677 pro games and who was acquired last season from the Blues organization for Eric Selleck, said, "Connor’s playing great hockey. He works hard every shift and he made a great pass there."

At the beginning of the season, the Rampage were looking for big scoring seasons from Shore, Bobby Butler – who is tied for third in the AHL with 19 points – Garrett Wilson and Quentin Howden, who has been hurt most of the season.

Enter Brickley. Now, if he can just make a few more passes like today, his scoring line will fill in just nicely (5-1-6).

About the writer: Tony Uminski was born in Boston and settled in San Antonio after a 22-year Air Force career, where he served as a broadcasting and journalism specialist. He broadcast San Antonio Iguanas (CHL) and San Antonio Dragons (IHL) games, along with a year with the Indianapolis Ice. Following his return to San Antonio, Uminski has been covering the San Antonio Rampage since the team's inception in 2002 for the San Antonio Express-News, and is widely hailed as Mr. Hockey in the Alamo City. Currently, a high school teacher full-time, Uminski teaches speech and world geography at Incarnate Word High School.



TENNESSEE QUICK STEP: Panthers score twice in final minute, force OT in 3-2 shootout loss to Preds ... Grimaldi gets first NHL goal, sent back to minors ... Bjugstad remains red-hot heading into game v Wild

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers don't like losing but Saturday's shootout loss to the host Nashville Predators felt as close to a victory as it possibly could.

Down 2-0 in the final minute, Florida scored two goals within a 12 second span to force overtime and gain at least a point in the standings.

The Panthers had a chance to win it in the shootout but only rookie Filip Forsberg scored in the four-round session and the Predators escaped with a 3-2 win.

"Nice way to end a road trip,'' coach Gerard Gallant told reporters afterward. "We played against a really good hockey team. .-.-. The guys never quit. We're not happy with the performance, but to get a big point out of it here at the end of a trip is real good for us.''

The shootout loss gave the Panthers five of the available eight points on their four-game trip with wins at Anaheim and San Jose as well as a regulation loss at Los Angeles on Tuesday.

Florida kicks off its Thanksgiving three-game homestand Monday against the Minnesota Wild at 7-5-6 in its first 18 games.

The Panthers came into Sunday four points back of Toronto for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Rocco Grimaldi got the Panthers going by scoring his first NHL goal in his seventh game with 43 seconds remaining.

Grimaldi, who passed up a prime scoring chance in the second, didn't do any second guessing on this one as he teed off on a Brian Campbell rebound with a hard slapshot from the left circle.

"Well, obviously, it's good. It's a relief,'' said Grimaldi, who was sent back to the minors on Sunday.

"Obviously I wanted to win. We almost had it. We had a good comeback, just came up short.''

On Florida's next trip up the ice, the Panthers carried the puck deep in the Nashville zone with Nick Bjugstad throwing up a shot shot from the right circle.

Somehow, some way, the puck got past Pekka Rinne with 31 seconds left in regulation.

"We didn't play like we wanted to,'' said Bjugstad, who has seven goals in his past eight games going into Monday's game against his hometown Wild.

"We figured it out at the end and waited a while to score but [Roberto Luongo] kept us in it which was nice. [Grimaldi] had a big goal. I just kind of threw it on net. Didn't even know it went in.''

Tied 2-2, goalie Roberto Luongo returned to his post as both of Florida's goals came with Luongo on the bench and the Panthers going with the extra attacker.

According to Elias Sports, Saturday marked just the fourth time since 2006 that a team avoided a regulation loss while trailing by two in the final minute of a game.

Luongo was strong throughout Saturday's game with both of Nashville's regulation goals coming thanks to a bit of luck.

Nashville's initial goal, which came on its 31st shot of the game, bounced off a Florida defenseman as Colin Wilson tossed it from the back boards and hit Luongo in the mask before going in.

"You could try that 100 times and it wouldn't happen again,'' Luongo said.

The Predators made it 2-0 with 5:59 left when Matt Cullen's shot appeared to clip Dmitry Kulikov and get past Luongo.

Luongo ended with 48 saves in regulation and overtime and stopped three of four in the shootout.

"It's the kind of game I enjoy,'' Luongo told Fox Sports Florida after the game.

"They were throwing pucks from everywhere so I was able to get in the game early and get a good feeling going. Unfortunately both of their goals weren't even really shots on net, they both deflected off our guys. But we battled in the last minute and tied it up. That was good.''

Said Gallant: [Luongo] was the star of the game. He kept us in it.''

-- Florida's eight overtime games -- two wins -- are second-highest in the league just behind Anaheim with nine.

The Panthers are now 1-3 in shootouts with goals on four of 12 shots. Florida was 0-for-4 against Rinne on Saturday with Jonathan Huberdeau, Jussi Jokinen, Bjugstad and Brad Boyes all failing to score.

-- The Panthers sent Grimaldi back to San Antonio on Sunday as it appears a number of players are ready to come off the injured list.

Scottie Upshall (lower body), Sean Bergenheim (lower body), Dave Bolland (groin) and Brandon Pirri (concussion) all skated before Saturday's game.

-- The Panthers are adding four more Spanish-language broadcasts to their schedule and will do a total of seven games this season including Wednesday's game against the visiting Hurricanes.


Monday: Wild at Panthers

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

TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560

The series: Minnesota leads 10-4-1

Of note: The Wild had its four-game winning streak snapped in a 2-1 loss at Tampa on Saturday. Minnesota winger Thomas Vanek seems to like playing the Panthers, scoring 21 goals with 11 assists in 33 games against Florida.

November 21, 2014

MINNESOTA HEAT: Nick Bjugstad continues hot streak, leads Panthers to 3-2 shootout win in San Jose ... Panthers continue success over Sharks, now 2-5 in OT

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Nick Bjugstad has yet to score an NHL hat trick but he's sure come close this week.

In Sunday's win over Anaheim, Bjugstad had already scored twice when he banged what would have been his third goal off the goal post.

On Thursday, Bjugstad scored both of the Panthers' goals in regulation, then potted the game-winning shootout goal in Florida's 3-2 win over San Jose.

Bjugstad's shootout goal, however, doesn't count as an actual goal.

Four goals in two wins, however, is good enough for Bjugstad.

"Things are clicking a little bit with our line especially,'' Bjugstad said from his hotel in Nashville where the Panthers play the Predators on Saturday night.

"You can't really describe how it sometimes goes in. When it doesn't, you get frustrated but that's the way it works. Eventually if you're getting your chances and your shots, it'll find the back of the net.''

Bjugstad got the Panthers' first goal early on as he deflected a long shot from Dmitry Kulikov just 24 seconds into the game.

Florida held its 1-0 lead until the second when Logan Couture scored but Bjugstad gave the Panthers the lead back 11 minutes later when he scored on a power play.

Bjugstad now has a pair of two-goal games in Florida's past three games. Last year, he had one and it came in the 81st game of the season.

In nine games this month, Bjugstad has six goals, three assists and a shoootout-game winner.

In eight games during October, Bjugstad -- who led the Panthers in scoring last year -- had just one assist.

"I've been focused on getting the chances,'' said Bjugstad, who had four goals, three assists and a game-winning shootout goal in Florida's California road trip which ended Thursday.

"You need some puck luck and if you put your stick in the right place sometimes you get them through. I was fortunate on the first one and was pumped up about it.''

Although the Sharks tied the score with just 34 seconds left after Patrick Marleau scored, the Panthers went into overtime on a power play and had a few good scoring chances.

In the shootout, Bjugstad won it in the third round. Jussi Jokinen also scored for Florida.

"It's a great win against a good San Jose team after battling all night,'' coach Gerard Gallant said.

"We hung around although they tied it up late, we got a good shootout win at the end. This is very satisfying.''


The Panthers have had great success over the past few years against San Jose.

Thursday's win was Florida's seventh in the past eight games against the Sharks. The Panthers have won five straight in San Jose and haven't lost there since 2005.-- Florida improved to 2-5 in overtime this season with Thursday's win. The shootout victory was Florida's first in three tries.

In the shootout, Gallant switched up Florida's lineup. Although the first two shooters were the same as in the Panthers' first two shootouts, Bjugstad took over the third spot usually held by Brad Boyes -- who is tied among active players with 37 shootout goals.

Gallant said goalie coach Robb Tallas suggested Bjugstad get into the shootout lineup and since he had two goals, Gallant went with it.

"He was hot so we went with him,'' Gallant said. "Bjugstad was putting the puck in the net, hit a few posts as well. I thought he played a great game. It's good for our confidence to get a shootout win.''

-- Goalie Roberto Luongo was given the postgame West Point cadet jacket after making 28 saves and helping the Panthers get the win.

Although the Sharks scored late to tie the score, San Jose had other opportunities including a penalty shot from Marleau that Luongo stopped with 6:53 left in the third.

Luongo also stopped two of three shots in the shootout.

"He deserved it, that penalty shot saved the game for us,'' Bjugstad said.

-- The Panthers tweaked their lineup on Thursday with Aleksander Barkov moving back onto the top line (with Tomas Fleischmann and Rocco Grimaldi) after missing Tuesday's game with an illness.

Kulikov (knee) also returned after missing four games.

-- Because a conflict with the Miami Hurricanes football game at Virginia, Saturday's radio broadcast has been moved from 560-AM to 1470-AM.

Saturday: Panthers at Predators

When, where: 8 p.m.; Bridgestone Arena, Nashville

TV/Radio: FSFL; WWNN 1470

The series: Nashville leads 9-8-3

Of note: Florida has won just two of 10 games in Nashville -- with those wins coming in its first two trips to the Music City in 1998 and '99. This year, the Preds have won six of eight at home and came into Friday atop the Central Division.


November 19, 2014

TWO ON, ONE OFF COST PANTHERS: Kings score four in second, top Florida 5-2 in Los Angeles ... Rocco Grimaldi does double duty for Rampage, Panthers ... Willie Mitchell gets his ring

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers played two pretty good periods in Los Angeles on Tuesday night but one ugly one did them in.

The host Kings cashed in on two power plays and scored four times in the second to top Florida 5-2.

Florida had scored 17 goals in its previous four games but didn't get on the board Tuesday until Jimmy Hayes jumped on a rebound from a Jonathan Huberdeau shot and put the puck past Jonathan Quick two minutes into the third period.

Hayes' goal made it a 4-1 game.

"We really played well in the first period and obviously the second period was the difference in this game,'' coach Gerard Gallant told reporters afterward.

"We came out, we were flat and they were really coming at us. We just didn’t respond until we got upset in the third period and we started to play a better game.''

After a scoreless first, the Kings took a 1-0 lead on a Matt Greene goal 4:32 into the second.

Florida's Vinny Trocheck then took a four-minute penalty for high sticking and the Kings quickly added their second goal.

Los Angeles scored four in the second -- including one from Robyn Regehr with eight seconds left -- to pretty much end things for the Panthers.

Florida battled back in the third thanks to goals from Hayes and Jussi Jokinen in the first seven minutes of the third, but the Panthers couldn't get anything else past Jonathan Quick (30 saves).

The Kings iced the game on Dustin Brown's power play goal past Al Montoya -- who replaced Roberto Luongo to start the third -- with 3:11 left.

"They got three power play goals and that makes it tough,'' Gallant said. "They’re a good team, we played 40 minutes as good as you can play against them, but in that second period we got totally dominated.''


Rookie Rocco Grimaldi was asked to play in a rare double-header Tuesday. Grimaldi started the day playing in San Antonio's matinee against Oklahoma City.

Grimaldi was pulled in the second period and told to get going, the Panthers needed him in Los Angeles.

"All the years of playing roller hockey and being on two teams and playing two tournaments a day really helped,'' Grimaldi told reporters afterward.

With Aleksander Barkov sick and Florida's other recovering forwards not yet ready, Grimaldi was one of the Panthers' few options.

"This is one of the ones on the calendar that I really wanted to play and I obviously didn’t expect it coming into this morning,'' said Grimaldi, who grew up just south of Los Angeles in Orange County.

"I was just getting ready for OKC and then I get pulled off after the second period and told I was coming home. So I’m excited and glad to see family and friends coming out.''

After Tuesday's game -- Grimaldi played 16 shifts for 10:36 against the Kings -- he told reporters that after he was pulled from the Rampage's game, he raced home to pack a bag.

Although his flight was slightly delayed to Los Angeles and there was traffic from LAX to Staples Center, he made it in plenty of time.

"It was different, I had to rush out of the rink,'' said Grimaldi, who arrived at the arena about 90 minutes before the start of the game.

"The flight was delayed about half and hour and I wasn't sure I was going to make it here. Then I got stuck in L.A. traffic, which I'm pretty used to.''

-- Defenseman Willie Mitchell received his 2014 Stanley Cup championship ring before Tuesday's game.

Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter and captain Dustin Brown presented Mitchell with his ring and he was honored with a short video montage during the first period.

Mitchell told Fox Sports Florida during the first intermission he was happy just to get everything over with.

"It's better now that it's out of the way,'' Mitchell said. "As much as you prepare and get the nerves out, you're seeing old friends. Getting the ring was like unfinished business. It was a real cool moment. You try to enjoy it but also prepare the best you can for the game to help your teammates.''

-- Hayes continues to put up points for the Panthers as his goal Tuesday was his fourth in the past five games. In the past four contests, Hayes has four goals and two assists.

"He scores a lot of goals in the blue paint,'' Gallant said. "You have to pay a price to get there.''

Thursday: Panthers at Sharks

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

TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM 560

The series: Tied 10-10-7

Of note: This is the second meeting between the two is just over a week. Florida topped the visiting Sharks 4-1 last Tuesday with the Panthers getting goals from Jimmy Hayes, Aleksander Barkov, Derek MacKenzie and Tomas Fleischmann.



November 17, 2014

SCORING BINGE: Florida Panthers keep up high-scoring ways in 6-2 rout of Ducks ... Cats getting plenty of contributions ... Mitchell to get ring in LA ... Montoya plays well in spot start

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers put on quite an offensive show Sunday night, scoring as many goals in the second period as they have in a single game all season.

Add in goals in the first and third periods and the Panthers' 6-2 win over the host Ducks in Anaheim was Florida's biggest offensive night of the year.

For a team that scored two goals or fewer in 10 of its first 11 games, Florida's latest goal binge is a welcomed sight.

In the past four games, the Panthers have scored 17 times and have gone 2-1-1 in the process.

Florida's California road trip continues Tuesday against the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings in Los Angeles.

The Panthers wrap up their Golden State tour Thursday in San Jose.

"It's good to see,'' coach Gerard Gallant said before Monday's workout at the Toyota Sports Center.

"We talked about putting pucks to the net all year and now we're doing it. We had some puck luck [Sunday] as well, had some pucks bounce off their people and we needed some of that finally.''

The Panthers got contributions from throughout their lineup with 10 players appearing on the scoresheet.

The biggest game came from Nick Bjugstad who earned the West Point cadet jacket (which goes to the team's 'hero' of the night) after scoring two goals and registering a career-high four points.

"It was a good game, a good all-around game for everyone,'' said Bjugstad, who came into Sunday with three points in his first 14 games but now has four goals in five games.

"We played good defensively and the offensive stuff came from that. It was a good win and a fun game.''

Other big contributors in the win included Brad Boyes, who had two goals and an assist for the first time since the 2013-14 home opener against Pittsburgh.

Jonathan Huberdeau scored his first goal since the opener as five of Florida's six goals came from the Huberdeau-Bjugstad-Boyes line.

"We've played really well against good teams and this is one of the best teams in the league,'' said Boyes, who hadn't scored in eight games before Sunday.

"We're doing some things as a team, playing smart with the puck. We did a lot of things well. We're putting pucks to the net, had some lucky bounces. For us, we need to learn to do that and the coaches have been on us to do just that.''

Rookie defenseman Aaron Ekblad kept his scoring run going as he assisted on Huberdeau's goal and is now now second on the team with 10 points -- six coming in the past four games.

"I think he's getting more confident every game,'' Gallant said. "We look at from the first game on, he hasn't had a rough spot. He's played real well for us but every game he seems to get better. He's not cocky but he does have confidence. He's doing everything we expect him to. We're real happy with him.''


Panthers captain Willie Mitchell will receive his 2014 Stanley Cup championship ring prior to Tuesday night's game.

Kings' general manager Dean Lombardi, who signed Mitchell to a four-year deal in 2010, will present Mitchell with his hardware in a private ceremony at the arena.

"It's always nice to be able to win the Cup and then return to the place you did it,'' Gallant said. "It's going to be a great night for him I'm sure.''

-- Roberto Luongo will be back in net Tuesday after being given Sunday off. Al Montoya made 33 saves as he recorded his first win with the Panthers in his third start.

Montoya lost to the host Capitals in a shootout on Oct. 18 and lost at home to the Flames on Nov. 8.

"He was really solid [Sunday] and it was a good bounce-back game for him,'' Gallant said. "He wasn't happy with his last game against Calgary. He made some key saves at key points of the game.''

-- Florida's four injured players -- Dmitry Kulikov, Dave Bolland, Sean Bergenheim and Brandon Pirri -- are close to returning but Florida's recent success has Gallant hesitant to make any changes.

Bergenheim, Gallant said, is the closest to being ready to return and could play Tuesday.

Vinny Trocheck is likely to head back to the minors when Florida does make some roster moves even though he has a goal and four assists in the past four games.

"He's been awesome, has played really well for us,'' Gallant said. "He came up and fit in real well and is getting some points. He's doing everything we've asked.''

Tuesday: Panthers at Kings

When, Where: 10:30 p.m.; Staples Center, Los Angeles

TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM 560

The series: Los Angeles leads 14-9-3

Of note: The Kings, which are coming off Saturday's 3-2 overtime win over Anaheim, won both meetings against the Panthers last year by a combined 7-0. The Panthers haven't won in Los Angeles since Nov. 27, 2002.

November 15, 2014

THE RING IS THE THING: Willie Mitchell excited for west coast trip, chance to pick up his ring

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Willie Mitchell said he hadn't thought much about going back to the west coast until this past week.
The San Jose Sharks came to Sunrise and seeing some 'old friends' in those familiar teal jerseys definitely brought back some memories for the Panthers' captain.
"I've been so focused with things here,'' said Mitchell, who will play his first game in California since leaving the Stanley Cup champion Kings as a free agent on Sunday.
"You go through such a wonderful journey with basically the same nucleus of guys. It was the ultimate of ultimates and we did it twice. You share a special bond with those guys. It doesn't go away no matter where you play. I'm looking forward to it, but am a little bit nervous.''
Mitchell is, without a doubt, a west coast guy.
Born and raised in British Columbia, Mitchell has spent almost the entirity of his career out west.
Save for a brief run with the Devils, Mitchell has spent the past 12 seasons playing in the Western Conference be it with Minnesota, Dallas, Vancouver and the Kings.
Mitchell was part of two Stanley Cup championships in Los Angeles.
When the season started, Mitchell said he would be fine with the Kings packing up his 2014 championship ring and sending it south.
The Kings didn't like that idea.
"They are classy about things like this,'' Mitchell said.
Although the Panthers open this three-game California trip in Anaheim -- a place Mitchell isn't very well liked thanks to his run with the Kings -- Mitchell and the Panthers will make it to Los Angeles soon enough.
The Kings could present Mitchell with his ring on the ice before Tuesday night's game at Staples Center although it doesn't sound like Mitchell wants that.
Team president Dean Lombardi, who signed Mitchell back in 2010 and had to tell him the Kings had no room for him anymore last summer, is expected to do the honors.
"Everyone else has their ring and they could have sent it to me but Dean wants to give it to me,'' said Mitchell, who last saw the Ducks in last summer's west semifinals.
"I thought that was classy. I'm sure we'll meet up underneath [the arena] behind closed doors. We'll have a little chit-chat, share some laughs and reminisce a little bit. When you get your ring, it's time for reflection and closure of a great trip''
This is a big road trip for the Panthers, a team that has played 14 games -- fewest in the league.
Florida's schedule finally starts to look normal as the days of playing two games in a week are over.
This week, the Panthers will play three games in California from Sunday through Thursday and end the trip Saturday in Nashville.
If the Panthers want to start making their climb up the standings, now would be a good time to begin doing so.
"It's going to be a tough road trip for our guys,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "We have four tough games and we have to be ready. So far, we've been good and have competing. But we'll have to be good again.''
-- Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo wasn't happy with his performance in Friday's shootout loss to the Islanders.
Luongo gave up two goals on three shootout shots. Florida only got one from Jonathan Huberdeau.
"I have to find a way to make some saves in the shootout,'' Luongo said.
"It's not acceptable for me to let in two there. The most you want to give up is one. I've been working on it a lot and have felt good. I just need to be better.''
This was only the second shootout of the season for the Panthers. Backup Al Montoya played in the first, giving up goals to all three Washington shooters faced.
In six rounds of shootouts this season, Florida is being outscored 5-1.
"It's tough, a battle,'' Gallant said. "The three guys [New York] sent in all have great skill. Unfortunately for us, they got two and we got one.''

Sunday: Panthers at Ducks
When, Where:
8 p.m.; Honda Center, Anaheim
TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM 560
The series: Tied 11-11-3
Of note: The Panthers haven't won in Anaheim since David Booth recorded a hat trick in 2008. Florida has lost three of the past four meetings between the two.


November 14, 2014

BATTLING BACK: Panthers rally from two goals down before losing 4-3 in a shootout to Islanders ... Cats on the mend as Pirri, Kulikov skate ... Players on injury list headed west

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

As good as the Islanders goaltending has been lately, the Panthers looked dead on the ice once they fell behind two goals on Friday night.

Yet Florida scored twice in the final 10 minutes of the third period to force overtime and gain a point in the standings before losing 4-3 in a shootout at BB&T Center.

"It's never easy to climb back down two,'' said Brian Campbell, whose goal just before the midway point of the third gave Florida new life.

"It's good to get a point but we had a chance to get two. We knew what was at stake, knew we had to battle point-wise. You obviously always want more. Giving up the early goal in the third was tough but we showed some desperation and it was good to see us fight back.''

The red-hot Islanders have won five straight heading into Saturday's game across the state at Tampa Bay. Florida has lost four of the past five as it embarks on a four-game road trip with three stops in California before wrapping up in Nashville.

Friday, the Panthers got to Islanders' goalie Jaroslav Halak early.

Until Jimmy Hayes scored to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead in the opening period, the Islanders were about six minutes away from setting the franchise record for consecutive shutout minutes.

Hayes' third goal in as many games ended New York's shutout run at 193 minutes 48 seconds -- just shy of the franchise record of 199:13 set in 1998.

Hayes did what he did best on his goal as he crashed the net and hammered a pass from Vinny Trocheck past Halak 12:37 into the game.

"Trocheck and [Jussi] Jokinen are really making a lot of plays out there,'' Hayes said. "I'm going to the net and they're getting me the puck. They're easy to play with.''

The Islanders scored the next three goals, however, and it looked like they would wrap things up in regulation.

Midway though the period, the Panthers picked up a power play chance and Campbell cashed in with a 30-foot shot that eluded Halak.

Florida had a few more chances but it was Aaron Ekblad's 50-foot shot that tied the score to force overtime.

Ekblad, who now has two goals in his 14 game NHL career, wristed a shot that Halak stopped with his glove but couldn't control. The puck trickled behind him and into the cage.

"The kid has confidence, is playing well and has some real offensive instincts,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "Obviously he put a puck up in an area he knew there would be traffic. He made a great shot.''

In overtime, it looked like the Panthers were going to end things after Ryan Strome went to the penalty box with 1:03 left.

Florida couldn't take advantage of its 4-on-3 chance although it held the puck in the Islanders zone until the final seconds.

In the shootout, the Islanders scored twice with Florida only getting one from Jonathan Huberdeau.

The Panthers are now just 1-5 in overtime this season and 0-2 in the shootout.

"I thought we showed a lot of character after being down two goals late,'' said goalie Roberto Luongo. "It was a huge comeback for us but I have to find a way to make some saves in the shootout. It's not acceptable for me to let in two there. The most you want to give up is one. I've been working on it a lot and have felt good. I just need to be better.''


Brandon Pirri took another step forward on his return from a concussion Friday as he participated in the morning skate.

Pirri has played since being hit in the head by the elbow of Arizona's Keith Yandle on Oct. 30.

"He's getting closer and that's good,'' Gallant said.

The Panthers injury list appears to be getting smaller and smaller.

Although Sean Bergeneheim didn't play Friday, he's ready to return to the lineup after missing six games.

Pirri, Dmitry Kulikov (knee) and Dave Bolland (groin) are also on the mend. All five of Florida's inactive players were scheduled to fly with the team to Southern California following Friday night's game.

Florida currently had one opening on its roster but would have to start making some moves if more than one injured player comes back.

Trocheck continues to make a case to stick around as he set up Florida's first and third goal on Friday night and has four assists in six games.

-- Luongo ended with 31 saves Friday and passed former Florida goalie John Vanbiesbrouck for fifth on the all-time saves list.

Luongo currently has 22,214 saves, just 220 back of Ed Belfour for fourth place.

Belfour ended his NHL career with the Panthers after the 2006-07 season. Coincidentally, he was signed by the Panthers a few weeks after Luongo was traded to Vancouver in 2006.