« November 2014 | Main | January 2015 »

39 posts from December 2014

December 31, 2014

EARLY NEW YEAR'S HANGOVER: Rangers run around Panthers in 5-2 win in Sunrise ... Florida's home point streak snapped ... Nick Bjugstad, Dale Tallon talk about new contract

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers found out Wednesday that the New York Rangers probably aren't the ideal guests to invite to their New Year's Eve party.
Playing its third game in four nights, Florida looked flat and, well, partied out as the defending Eastern Conference champs got back on the winning track with a relatively easy 5-2 win at BB&T Center.
The Rangers had won eight straight before losing Monday in Dallas and went 9-3-0 in December. The Panthers had registered at least a point in their previous eight home games before losing in regulation Wednesday.
"They dominated pretty much most of the night,'' said coach Gerard Gallant, whose team mustered just 20 shots against one of the league's top goalies in Henrik Lundqvist.
"Most of the night the Rangers were all over us. They were fast and they dominated. .-.-. We weren't good enough and that was the best team we've seen all year.''
Wednesday, most of the traits that has brought the Panthers success so far this season wasn't there as they seldom hit anyone and didn't block a New York shot until late in the second.
Al Montoya started against the team that drafted him a decade ago and did a good job of keeping his new teammates in it.
Although the Rangers scored late in the first off a Chris Kreider goal for a 1-0 lead at the intermission, Montoya kept it from being much, much worse.
"He made some great saves for us,'' said Jimmy Hayes, who scored in his first game playing against younger brother Kevin.
"We need to be more aware on the ice defensively.''
The Rangers kept up the pressure in the second and scored the first two goals of the frame to take a 3-0 lead.
The Panthers showed a little life late in the second as Tomas Fleischmann broke out after picking up a long pass from Jonathan Huberdeau and beating Lundqvist to make it 3-1.
King Henrik didn't give the Panthers much more room after that, although Florida pulled within one after Hayes scored off a off-balanced pass from Aleksander Barkov on a power play chance.
Minutes later, Florida nemisis Martin St. Louis knocked in a loose puck -- it was reviewed as it appeared to be kicked in -- to make it 4-2.
With 4:25 left, Dominic Moore followed up a St. Louis shot to make it 5-2.
With the assist, St. Louis passed his old Tampa Bay teammate Vinny Lecavalier for most points scored against the Panthers with 73.
"Martin's a very good player and he's owned a lot of teams over the years,'' Gallant said. "It's disappointing. We got outworked, out-competed for much of the night. I guess we were due for one of those games.''
Nick Bjugstad had a pretty memorable night Tuesday.
Not long after scoring the game-tying goal in an eventual 2-1 shootout loss to the Canadiens, Bjugstad signed a six-year deal with the Panthers worth $24.6 million.
Bjugstad would have been a restricted free agent this summer so his new contract doesn't kick in until next season.
"Thankfully we could get the deal done halfway through the season rather than wait,'' Bjugstad said on Wednesday.
"I didn't want to deal with any of that."
The new deal locks up one of the Panthers' top young talents for the foreseeable future. Not only is Bjugstad committed to the Panthers during his restricted free agency, but also for the first few years when he could be unrestricted and sign anywhere else.
General manager Dale Tallon finalized the deal with Bjugstad's agent during the first intermission of Tuesday's game. Bjugstad signed the paperwork not long after the game ended with owner Vinny Viola.
"It's a great deal and sends a great message that we're committed to our young players,'' Tallon said.
"Not only is a he a really good hockey player, but he's a tremendous young man of character. That's important to us.''
-- Florida ended 2014 with a successful December despite the final outcome against the Rangers.
The Panthers went 7-4-3 in the last month of the year and had their eight-game home point streak (6-0-2) snapped on Wednesday.


December 30, 2014

BREAKING NEWS: Nick Bjugstad signs six-year deal with Panthers ... Third-year center will make $4.1 million per season

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Tuesday was one heck of a night for Nick Bjugstad.

Not long after scoring the game-tying goal in an eventual 2-1 shootout loss to Montreal, the Panthers' center was signing a six-year deal with the team sources told The Miami Herald.

Bjugstad, a restricted free agent following this season, will get $4.1 million annually.

"He's a cornerstone piece to the franchise,'' the source said.

Bjugstad's new deal will be announced by the team on Wednesday afternoon.

On Tuesday, the University of Minnesota graduate scored his team-leading 13th goal with under two minutes left to help the Panthers force overtime and at least get a point out of their game with the Canadiens.

Last year, Bjugstad led the Panthers in scoring with 38 points as a rookie.

Bjugstad left Minnesota in 2012 and signed with the Panthers, the 11 games he played burning a year off his entry level contract.


FIGHT TO THE END: Panthers tie up Canadiens late, lose 2-1 in shootout ... Fleischmann returns to lineup ... Familiar faces everywhere

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers haven't been able to put a three game winning streak together all season.
It's one of the few things this team just hasn't been good at.
Tuesday night, in front of the largest home crowd of since last year, the Panthers again failed to get an elusive victory although they sure gave it everything they had.
Montreal, playing its annual home-away-from-home game at BB&T Center, watched the Panthers force overtime with a late Nick Bjugstad goal before winning 2-1 in a shootout.
The Panthers are winless in four games following their second straight win but the Canadiens are currently riding a four-game winning streak and have won three-plus games five times this season.
"You go on those streaks but truthfully I take it one game at a time,'' coach Gerard Gallant said Tuesday morning.
"I know we won our last game, but that's in the past. I'm moving forward. I couldn't tell you what our record is in the past 10. I don't worry about that.''
The Panthers once again had plenty of chances offensively just couldn't solve backup Dustin Tokarski until the clock had almost run out.
Down 1-0 with under two minutes left, goalie Roberto Luongo looked at the bench as if to come out to add another attacker.
Instead, Bjugstad broke into the Montreal offensive zone and hung a shot that zipped past Tokarski with 1:49 remaining in regulation.
It was the first goal since Montreal took a 1-0 lead late in the second period.
"We kind of struggled the whole game but we had our chances,'' Bjugstad said.
"We didn't have momentum from the get-go. It was nice to force a shootout but we didn't capitalize and that's what happens when you don't play 60 minutes. It was nice to get a point though. That's one of the better teams in the league.''
The Canadiens won at Carolina on Monday night with All-Star Carey Price in net but getting Montreal's backup didn't bring Florida any breaks.
Tokarski, playing for the first time since last month, made 33 saves before Bjugstad scored.
"They're a good team, but were playing back to back,'' Jonathan Huberdeau said. "At least we got a goal at the end to get a point. It would have been nice to get a win though.''
The two were scoreless throughout the first and second periods with Florida almost taking the initial lead when Aleksander Barkov rang a shot off the goal cage.
Moments later, Brendan Gallagher gave Montreal a 1-0 lead when his 30-foot shot hit Roberto Luongo and snuck through his skates with 1:06 left in the period.
Luongo made 33 saves against his hometown team but couldn't keep Florida's home winning run going. Florida is 6-0-2 in its past eight games in Sunrise.
The Panthers' four-game shootout winning streak also ended as Florida went 0-for-3 while Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau scored on Montreal's third offering.
Florida had a nice chance to win but Jimmy Hayes misfired on an empty net in the closing seconds of overtime.
The Panthers (5-5 in shootouts) get a chance to get going quickly as the Rangers come to town Wednesday evening.
Tomas Fleischmann was back in the Florida lineup after being scratched the previous two games after Tomas Kopecky came up with a minor injury during Sunday's win over Toronto.
Gallant said Kopecky has an upper body injury and is day-to-day. Brandon Pirri missed his second straight game.
Fleischmann has been scratched four times this season after leading the Panthers in scoring in 2011-12 and in 2013.
"The team is playing well and getting points with a healthy lineup,'' Fleischmann said. "I haven't played for a week but I feel good. Rested. .-.-. It's always nice to play in the games. I'm excited.''
Said Gallant: "I'm not disappointed with him but we have 14 forwards and have to sit two. Hopefully it will give him a jolt. You don't want to sit players but it's part of the job.''
-- There were a few familiar faces in the building Tuesday.
Defenseman Tom Gilbert spent last season with the Panthers and was in the starting lineup.
Former Florida defensemen Bryan Allen (2006-11) and Mike Weaver (2010-14) were healthy scratches for the Canadiens.
Allen was part of the original trade between the Panthers and Vancouver for Luongo in 2006.
Gallant spent the past two seasons on the Montreal coaching staff before coming to Florida this past summer.
"There are wonderful people over there,'' Gallant said.
-- Jacques Martin, who was either the Panthers' coach or general manager from 2004-09, watched Tuesday's game from the press box. Martin left the Panthers in 2009 to coach the Canadiens before being let go in 2011.
-- Al Montoya, who was picked sixth overall by the Rangers in the 2004 draft, is expected to start against New York on Wednesday.
Wednesday's game is the finale of Florida's fourth back-to-back set this season. The Panthers are 1-0-2 in the second game of back-to-backs so far this year.
Florida also has consecutive games next week in Vancouver and Calgary.
-- The announced crowd of 19,614 was Florida's largest of the season and biggest since the team announced 19,891 last year when the Canadiens made their New Year's visit.
Wednesday: Rangers at Panthers
When/Where: 6 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560
Series: New York leads 43-34-6
Noteworthy: New York, the defending Eastern Conference champs, has won 12 of its past 16 contests games including 10 of 13. The Rangers won all three games against Florida last year. This is New York's only game in Sunrise this season.


December 29, 2014

OFFENSE COMING AROUND: Panthers getting plenty of chances, opportunities in offensive zone ... Family affair Tuesday night for Huberdeau clan

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Despite being one of the lowest scoring teams in the league, it's not very accurate to say the Panthers' offensive is struggling.
They may not be scoring many goals, but they are definitely putting the offensive pressure on opposing teams.
On Sunday, the Panthers scored six goals on Toronto, matching their season-high (Nov. 16 at Anaheim) for a single game.
Sunday's game was also the seventh time this month Florida has scored three goals or more.
For those who like positive trends, the Panthers have scored three-plus goals in their past two games -- both wins -- and have out-shot their opponent in the past five games.
The Panthers are 10-1-3 when scoring three-plus goals this season.
"It's coming, we're getting plenty of scoring chances and we're putting pucks at the net,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "I know we're playing very well and out-chancing the other team.''
Despite Sunday's goal avalanche -- Florida scored four times in the third period which is more than it has scored in 26 full games this year -- the Panthers don't expect to become a high-scoring team any time soon.
Florida's 2.24 goals this season, which do not include five team goals awarded by the league for shootout wins, ranks 26th in the 30-team NHL.
Among the 19 teams within five points of a playoff spot -- the Panthers came into Monday two points out -- Florida has the fewest goals by far and is the only team of the group with a negative goals for/against number.
"We're going in the right direction and we're going to win games differently,'' said Jonathan Huberdeau, who scored his fourth goal on Sunday.
"I think maybe the net needs to be a little bigger for us. No, we have two great goalies and they keep us in games. We don't want to get into 6-4 games every night. We're not going to win a lot of those.''
Over the past few weeks, the Panthers' offense has been outworking their opposition with Florida generating plenty of chances.
On Sunday, the Panthers outshot the Maple Leafs 34-22 with Florida getting 50 shot attempts (shots on goal, missed shots, blocked shots).
Since the start of the month, the Panthers have outshot their opponent in nine of 12 games.
On Sunday, the Panthers spread the scoring around as 12 of the 18 skaters made it to the scoresheet.
"The more shots you get, the more chances you get to score,'' Nick Bjugstad said.
"We need to create more top-notch chances. We have to create opportunities and guys have been doing that. Four lines have been contributing and when we're working hard, we're all over people.''
Huberdeau has a large group of family and friends in town from Quebec for the holidays and said he needed to get 80 tickets for Tuesday's game against Montreal.
One person who doesn't need a ticket is his 14-year-old sister Josiane.
On Tuesday, Josiane Huberdeau will sing 'O! Canada' in French and English before the game.
"It's going to be great with all the family here,'' Jonathan Huberdeau said. "She's sang the national anthem at junior games so I figured why not ask and see if she could do it here. It's cool that the organization is letting her do it.''
-- Defenseman Willie Mitchell and forward Tomas Kopecky were given the day off from Monday's practice.
"Everything is fine,'' Gallant said. "They both got a little banged up [Sunday] but its nothing serious.''
Shawn Thornton (groin) didn't practice either.
-- Sunday's comeback marked the first time the Panthers rallied to win a game in which they trailed by two since beating Dallas last season.
Tuesday: Canadiens at Panthers
When/Where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560
Series: Tied 36-36-8
Noteworthy: The Panthers have won four straight home games and are 6-0-1 in their past seven games in Sunrise. The Canadiens, who split last year's four-game set with Florida with Gerard Gallant as an assistant coach, played in Carolina on Monday night.

December 28, 2014

BIG THIRD FUELS PANTHERS WIN: Florida bounces back from two-goal deficit with four in third to top Toronto 6-4 in Sunrise ... Big crowd watches Panthers' win ... Familiar faces come back to Sunrise

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Despite dominating much of Sunday's game, the Panthers went into the second intermission down two goals.
A deficit like that sometimes can be insurmountable for the goal-challenged Panthers.
It wasn't on this day.
The Panthers stayed aggressive in the third and scored four goals in the final period en route to a rousing 6-4 win over Toronto at BB&T Center.
The Maple Leafs had been 14-0 when leading after two periods.
"We were upset and frustrated because we were outplaying them but they got four scoring chances and scored on all of them,'' said defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, who started Florida's goal assault in the third by scoring off a long slap shot 2:45 in.
"We were outplaying them and deserved to win. For the most part, we played better than them. But we gave them Grade-A chances. They are a team that will score if you give them room like that.''
Although the Panthers have been outshooting their opponents almost every night, they continue to struggle in putting the puck into the net.
Sunday, Florida outshot the Maple Leafs -- who lead the NHL with 122 goals -- by 13 in the first two periods and scored twice off those 29 shots.
In the third, the Panthers went more of the quality-not-quantity route and scored four goals off just six official shots.
"It was a great battle-back for us,'' said Scottie Upshall, who scored into an empty net to ice the game with 1:25 left.
"We played great for 55 minutes. When we compete and play our game we really don't have to adjust to anything. You hate to play against teams that play a hard, tight game. And that's what we are.''
The two teams played a scoreless game for more than 25 minutes before the goal gates came flying open.
The Leafs opened the scoring 6:39 into the second when Richard Panik scored.
Florida matched almost two minutes later with a Jonathan Huberdeau goal as Jimmy Hayes made it 2-1 a few minutes after that.
Toronto then scored three times -- off four shots within a span of 4:43 -- to close out the second and take a 4-2 lead into the third.
The Panthers would not go quietly.
"We had played well but gave them areas that were uncharacteristic for us,'' said Brad Boyes, who potted the game-winner off a power play chance with 3:15 remaining.
Said coach Gerard Gallant: "I was frustrated because we usually don't make those mistakes. We talked about it, we were down two goals and had been playing well. We just made a few mistakes that cost us some goals.''
In the third, the Panthers continued to come hard at backup James Reimer and tied the score midway through the period on a long shot from Mitchell.
Boyes gave the Panthers their first lead since the second after he knocked down a long shot from Kulikov and put it through.
Upshall was able to sink the empty net goal -- Florida's first third season -- as it won its first game not decided by a single goal since beating the Ducks in Anaheim 6-2 on Nov. 16.
"It was nice getting that empty-net goal because they were had 6-on-5 in our zone and were pretty good,'' Gallant said. "It was good to have a two-goal lead.''
The Panthers once again played in front of their biggest home crowd of the season Sunday as the team's announced attendance was 17,877.
Last Monday's announced crowd of 15,947 stood as Florida's largest of the season for just a few days.
And with Tuesday's game with Montreal close to selling out, Sunday's number is likely to be eclipsed as well.

"It was a good atmosphere and we enjoyed it,'' Mitchell said.
"You can feel South Florida starting to embrace the way and style we're playing. We give an honest game every night and we're competitive. I think people are seeing that.''
-- Reimer got the start for Toronto on Sunday after usual starter Jonathan Bernier fell ill.
Coach Randy Carlyle told reporters the Leafs' "medical staff feels he does have the mumps. It's the flu.''
-- There were quite a few familiar faces on both sides of the ice Sunday.
Florida center Dave Bolland spent last season with the Leafs before signing a five-year deal with the Panthers on July 1.
Toronto forwards David Booth (2006-11) and Mike Santorelli (2009-13) both spent time with the Panthers. Maple Leafs' assistant Peter Horachek was Florida's interim head coach last season.

December 27, 2014

BACK TO WORK: Panthers return to Coral Springs, still have plenty of depth ... Big homestand kicks off Sunday as Leafs come to town

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

For the first time in recent memory, the Panthers have legitimate forward depth on their roster.

Not only does Florida have a bunch of players -- Drew Shore, Rocco Grimaldi and Quinton Howden to name a few -- biding their time in the minor leagues but extra bodies on the big roster as well.

With just about everyone healthy now, Florida has a pair of extra forwards on the roster giving coach Gerard Gallant some options.

It also makes him have to make some decisions on who plays and who sits.

"It's the worst part of my job and I've told the guys that,'' Gallant said after Saturday's practice in Coral Springs.

"The last game we had two good, veteran hockey players sitting out. They don't like but have accepted and moved on. You try to win every game. I'm not sitting out guys because I don't like them. We have 22 healthy guys. It's a tough part of the job. As a coaching staff, you want to put your best lineup out there.''

In Saturday's loss to the Penguins, Jimmy Hayes and Brandon Pirri were scratched.

In Monday's rematch, those two were in; Fleischmann and Brad Boyes were out.

After Saturday's practice, it appears Fleischmann and Pirri will be the ones sitting Sunday against Toronto.

"There is definite in-house competition which makes everyone better,'' Pirri said last week.

"For me, I have to produce when I have the opportunity to be in the lineup. I haven't cashed in recently. I just have to do it.''

Hayes made sure Gallant has second thoughts about sitting him again as he scored twice on Monday to give him nine goals -- second on the team despite playing in 24 games.

The previous time Hayes was scratched in November, he followed that up with a goal in his next game.

"I don't know if sitting him gets him going,'' Gallant said afterward, "or if it's my stupidity in not playing him every game. He was big [Monday]. It was a big game for him. I'm real happy for him.''

Hayes, who hadn't been scratched in some time before last weekend, said sitting out missing out on being part of the team is the toughest part of sitting out.

"We have a lot of depth and that means there's competition for everyone,'' Hayes said. "It's not a bad situation; it's a good one. You have to stay focused at all times.''

Although the Panthers don't have any extra defensemen now after trading Colby Robak to Anaheim, Erik Gudbranson notices the extra competition in practice.

Playing time with the Panthers these days isn't just a foregone conclusion.

"It's a tough thing for the guys going through it but it's good for the team,'' Gudbranson said. "It makes our practices much more important, makes us sharper and helps us throughout the season. Inner competition is something you try to find anywhere you go.''


The Panthers kickoff a big three game series Sunday as Toronto is the first of three playoff teams to visit Sunrise in a four-day span.

Florida hosts the Maple Leafs on Sunday with Montreal in town Tuesday. The Panthers will then host the New York Rangers on New Year's Eve.

All three of those teams are currently holding a playoff position. Florida went into the Christmas break two points out of the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

"These are huge obviously,'' Roberto Luongo said. "The reality is we have to focus on [Sunday] because they are a team in our division that we're chasing. We have to pull all our energy into that. Then we'll move on.''

-- Forward Shawn Thornton was still missing from practice and will miss his eighth straight game Sunday with a groin injury.

"He's just not ready,'' Gallant said. "I expect to see him on the ice in the near future.''

Sunday: Maple Leafs at Panthers

When/Where: 5 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise

TV/Radio: FSFL; 560 AM

Series: Toronto leads 33-27-7

Noteworthy: The Panthers played the Leafs tough last year, winning three of four meetings. Toronto snapped a three-game losing streak with a 4-0 win at Dallas on Tuesday.


December 24, 2014

CHRISTMAS IN THE SUN: Jonathan Huberdeau continues family holiday tradition in South Florida ... Panthers have depth at forward creating competition ... Roberto Luongo just wants those wins

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

If you ever wanted to meet a professional hockey player, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood airport was the place to be on Tuesday.

With an extended Christmas break, a majority of the Florida Panthers took to the skies and headed north to see family and friends.

There were a few exceptions, of course, with some players deciding 85 degrees in South Florida works just fine for them.

"I may have to warm up my pool,'' Tomas Fleischmann joked. "Rough, eh?"

Jonathan Huberdeau is from Montreal but he had no reason to go back home.

Since he was a kid, the Huberdeau family packed up their RV and head to South Florida. The family sets up shop at a campground just west of Fort Lauderdale and celebrates the holidays in the sun.

"We would get out of school on Friday and my dad would pick us up and we would start driving,'' Huberdeau said. "We would get here on the 22nd or 23rd and set up at the campground with all my cousins and friends. We would rent a room so we could cook and eat Christmas dinner together. We would open gifts outside, have breakfast, go to the beach. A lot of fun.''

Now that Jonathan lives in South Florida and plays for the Panthers, the tradition not only continues but has grown.

Instead of going to the annual Panthers-Canadiens game to root on 'le bleu-blanc-rouge,' the Huberdeau clan heads to Sunrise to watch their new home team.

When Florida plays host to Montreal on Dec. 30, the Panthers will have quite a few French-speaking fans rooting for them.

"We used to make signs on those big boards trying to get onto French television,'' said Huberdeau, who only missed Christmas is South Florida because he was playing for Team Canada in the World Juniors.

"It was fun to come here and I, of course, was rooting for Montreal at the time. Now it's totally different. I had to get 80 tickets for that game. It should be a fun one.''

One tradition Huberdeau will miss with his family is their annual stop in Daytona Beach.

On the way south, Huberdeau's father would pull the rig off I-95 and head toward the Speedway.

Not far off the exit, they would see an orange sign and Christmas lights.

That meant chicken wings.

"We would always stop at Hooters, that was my dad's surprise,'' Huberdeau said smiling.

"We would have some chicken wings then get some sleep. Then we would get back on the road and head to Fort Lauderdale. That was always fun.''


With just about everyone on the Panthers healthy, Florida has a pair of extra forwards on the roster giving coach Gerard Gallant some options.

In Saturday's loss to the Penguins, Jimmy Hayes and Brandon Pirri were scratched. In Monday's rematch, those two were in; Fleischmann and Brad Boyes were out.

"There is definite in-house competition which makes everyone better,'' Pirri said before Saturday's game. "For me, I have to produce when I have the opportunity to be in the lineup. I haven't cashed in recently. I just have to do it.''

Hayes made sure Gallant has second thoughts about sitting him again as he scored twice on Monday to give him nine goals -- second on the team despite playing in 24 games.

The previous time Hayes was scratched in November, he followed that up with a goal in his next game.

"I don't know if sitting him gets him going,'' Gallant said, "or if it's my stupidity in not playing him every game. He was big [Monday]. It was a big game for him. I'm real happy for him.''

-- Goalie Roberto Luongo moved into 12th place on the NHL list for career victories Monday, his 386th win passing Mike Vernon (who preceded Luongo in Florida during the 1999-2000 season).

Luongo said these career milestones don't mean much in the heat of a season.

"The standings is what is important to me right now,'' Luongo said. "I just want to keep accumulating wins as a team, stay in the hunt and hopefully grab one of those [playoff] spots.''

-- The Panthers return from their break and will hold an open practice at the Coral Springs Iceden on Saturday at 11 a.m. The workout is free and open to the public.

Florida's next game is Sunday at 5 p.m. against the visiting Maple Leafs.


December 23, 2014

PROUD PAPA: Howard Schnellenberger thinks Boca Raton Bowl will continue to grow in his FAU Stadium

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Moments before stepping onto the field bearing his name for pregame ceremonies, Howard Schnellenberger proclaimed bigger and better things were in store for the Boca Raton Bowl.
"This is larger than life,'' Schnellenberger said as he kicked back in a leather chair steps from his field.
"This is much grander than I thought it would be in the first year. Obviously this stadium, this program and this town are exceptional. We've put our best foot forward and we're three years ahead of where we should be.''
The first installment of this made-for-TV bowl game -- it's owned and operated by ESPN -- pitted the champions of two mid-major conferences in Marshall (Conference USA) and Northern Illinois (MAC) in a stadium Schnellenberger fought to have built on the FAU campus.
The FAU Stadium, which opened in 2011, has Schnellenberger's touch all over it.
"Football in Paradise" was his selling card when he started the FAU football program from scratch in 2000 with the Owls finally hitting the field in 2001.
The 30,000-seat stadium -- which was declared sold out Tuesday although may have only been 50 percent filled -- has neon palm trees on the south end zone scoreboard and a view of the Atlantic Ocean from the press box.
A statue of Schnellenberger greets visitors at the main gate. His bronze likeness is, of course, surrounded by palm trees.
"A bowl game was always part of the plan,'' said Schnellenberger, who stepped down as FAU's coach following the Owls' first season in the new digs.
"And how could you not be excited for the matchup? This wasn't the luck of the draw, it was the magnetism of this community and stadium in a sub-tropical climate 1.2 miles from the beach with an ocean view. This reminds me of the Orange Bowl games back in the 50s and 60s when it was a community event. That's the beauty of this. They have brought the fathers of our community together to make this great.''
If anyone can rally a community around an event, it's Schnellenberger.
The stadium he built stays busy throughout the year, not only hosting FAU football games but All-Star games and other events such as soccer and lacrosse.
Building the stadium in Boca Raton wasn't his first foray into the construction business.
While coach at Miami in the early 1980s, Schnellenberger pushed for the school to build a stadium closer to campus -- something that never happened. The Hurricanes eventually left the Orange Bowl and now play in north Miami-Dade County at Sun Life Stadium.
"Now they're driving 60 miles to get to Dolphins Stadium,'' Schnellenberger said.
And it was Schnellenberger's work at Louisville (he was head coach there from 1985-94) that helped get his hometown Cardinals their own stadium.
The growth of the Louisville program -- and expansion of Papa John's Stadium -- helped get the Cardinals into the ACC.
"It's the same thing I've said here at FAU, 'I told you so','' Schnellenberger said. "If you build a stadium, things start to happen.''
-- With three catches in the first quarter, Miami Central's Tommy Shuler set the Marshall record for career receptions with 307. Shuler passed Josh Davis (2001-04).


TIME FOR A BREAK: Panthers go into Christmas with momentum

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers said their goodbyes Monday night as the team split up for the Christmas break.
They did so with smiles on their faces and momentum on their side.

With wins in four of their past six and eight in 13, the Panthers are in the thick of the playoff race closing in on the halfway point.

"I like where we're at,'' coach Gerard Gallant said, "but we have to keep going. But we have 50 games left. We have a long way to go.''

Victories haven't come easily, but they sure have been dramatic.

On Monday, Florida held a 3-1 lead on the battered Penguins yet watched Pittsburgh score two quick goals to force overtime.

In the shootout, Roberto Luongo and Marc-Andre Fleury battled through six scoreless rounds. Luongo made the seventh save, Fluery did not as Aleksander Barkov made a slick move by going forehand-to-backhand and fooling Pittsburgh's all-star goalie.

Barkov's goal gave Florida its fourth straight shootout victory. The Panthers have played in more overtime games (14) and more shootouts (nine) than any team in the league.

"I haven't seen anything like this. It's like a little miracle down here,'' Scottie Upshall said.

"This is really something to build off of and we've got some good vibes going. But it is a little exhausting doing this every night.''

The Panthers hope to enjoy this extended holiday break with Gallant saying it's a much needed one.

Florida has played three extended shootout games in its past four -- including an NHL-record 20-round marathon with Washington last week -- and has gone to overtime in five of its past six and six of nine.

"We've had a long stretch here,'' Gallant said. "To be honest, I'm a little tired myself. I could use the break. The guys are competing and playing hard. I think this is a good time for a break.''

Things probably won't get any easier.

The Panthers' next game back in Sunday against the visiting Maple Leafs with three games (Toronto, Montreal and the New York Rangers) coming to town in a four-day span.

All three of those teams currently hold a playoff spot.

"The confidence in the room is growing, we've shown we're a good team,'' said Jimmy Hayes, who scored twice Monday. "We're in the playoff pile and just need to get getting points, keep winning.''

SANTA THORNTON: Panthers forward on the mend, brings charitable works to South Florida

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Forward Shawn Thornton has missed the past seven games with a troublesome groin injury he said has been affecting him since the start of the season.
"It's been there basically since the first game of the year and it's gotten progressively worse,'' Thornton said. "I was going to take some time off there but we were short bodies and I played through it. Once guys got healthy, it would have been selfish for me to try and play through it. It's time to get it healed for the playoff push.''
Thornton didn't travel with the Panthers on recent road trip and watched with envy as Saturday's game in Pittsburgh turned into a slugfest.
"I was on the couch with a beer and was not a happy camper,'' Thornton said. "My wife was like 'are you going to be OK?' And I wasn't. I wanted to be out there. But the last seven or so games I was out there, I felt useless.''
Thornton's foundation will host 18 families whose children are being treated at the Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital to a movie and Christmas party at a Hollywood multiplex on Wednesday morning.
Earlier this season, Thornton said this is an event he often looked forward to in Boston and hoped to bring it to South Florida.
"It was my wife's idea a few years ago to host kids from local hospitals to a movie on Christmas Eve,'' Thornton said last month.
"It's pretty cool. We buy presents for the kids and see a show. For the kids who are able to leave the hospital, it's a real break to their everyday grind. I feel what they're going through and it's nice to see them smiling and enjoying themselves.''


December 22, 2014

TAKING THE LONG WAY: Panthers lose late lead, top Penguins in seven rounds 4-3 ... Cats get largest home crowd of season, another long shootout ... Marcel Goc back in Sunrise

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Penguins' injury list expanded Monday with three more players sent home to be tested for the mumps.

Pittsburgh was so short-handed coming into Monday's rematch with the Panthers they didn't even have a backup goalie for pregame warmups.

And yet the Panthers almost had more than they could handle.

Pittsburgh rallied from a two-goal deficit late in the third but Florida pulled out a 4-3 win in a seven-round shootout in front of the largest home crowd of the season.

Florida's announced crowd of 15,947 easily surpassed the previous high of 11,419 at the home opener in October.

The Panthers' lone shootout goal came on their final shot as Aleksander Barkov beat Marc-Andre Fleury to give Florida a third win in four games. Roberto Luongo stopped all seven shots Pittsburgh offered.

Florida has gone a total of 33 rounds in its past three shootout wins including last week's NHL-round 20 against Washington.

"This was a big win for us,'' Barkov said. "The past two games have been like playoff hockey.''

Said Luongo: "I thought we played well in Pittsburgh and didn't get the win. I like the way we're playing, we can get better, but we're taking steps in the right direction. We're in the hunt which is exciting this time of year.''

Florida led 3-1 early in the third after Jimmy Hayes scored off assists from Sean Bergenheim. The lead, however, wouldn't last.

"Whenever you get scratched, you want to bounce back and have a solid game,'' said Hayes, who sat out Saturday's 3-1 loss in Pittsburgh.

"I need to play a big man's game every night. We're a good team. We just need to play a simple north-south game and put pucks at the net.''

The Penguins got goals from Nick Spaling and Evgeni Malkin in the final five minutes of the third to force yet another overtime for the Panthers.

Florida ended up winning its fifth shootout of the season and fourth in the past few weeks as Luongo stopped the Penguins' stars in their seven rounds.

Pittsburgh, down 10 regulars and playing eight guys who started the season in the minors, picked up where it left off last weekend by taking a 1-0 lead less than five minutes in.

Jussi Jokinen put the Panthers on the board after a dominant second period by scoring with 36.4 seconds left.

Hayes didn't waste much time getting Florida its first lead in three days of play against the Penguins, scoring off a wrister that hit Fleury 22 seconds in.

Just before the five minute mark of the third, Hayes jammed in a loose puck off a Bergenheim shot to make it 3-1.

"Jimmy was big tonight,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "He took the puck to the net and that's exactly what we want him to do. When the big guy goes hard to the net, good things happen.''


Center Marcel Goc only spent parts of three seasons with the Panthers, but he says he enjoyed his time in Florida and was looking forward to seeing friends on his trip south.

Goc, traded to Pittsburgh at last season's trade deadline, went from a team playing out the string to one fighting for playoff position.

"It was a big jump in the standings,'' Goc said. "I went from one of the bottom teams toward the top. There's a different pressure here, more expectations. But Florida is feeling that now. They're playing well.''

-- The Panthers scratched veterans Tomas Fleischmann and Brad Boyes on Monday and replaced them with Hayes (nine goals) and Brandon Pirri (three).

-- The Panthers broke for the Christmas break following Monday's game.

The team returns to practice Saturday morning in Coral Springs with its next game coming Sunday against the visiting Maple Leafs.

-- The Penguins flew to South Florida with Brandon Sutter, Steve Downie and backup goalie Thomas Greiss but quickly sent them right back to Pittsburgh when they showed signs of illness.

Although not able to recall any forwards, the Penguins were able to get minor-league goalie Jeff Zatkoff to Sunrise just in time for the start of the game.


December 21, 2014

BAD BLOOD II: Panthers ready for Penguin invasion on Monday ... Fans hoping chippy play carries over to Sunrise

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

PITTSBURGH -- It's not all that rare to have consecutive games against the same opponent in the NHL but the so-called home-and-home series sure aren't the norm.

What rarely happens, however, is the first game being so good, fans are already anticipating the sequel before the first one is even done.

Yet that's what was going on Saturday as the Panthers battled the Penguins.

The host Penguins won a penalty-filled game 3-1 that was a one-goal game before Sidney Crosby scored seven minutes into the third.

Afterward, a number of players didn't have much good to say about the home team, with more than one insinuating Monday night couldn't come soon enough.

"We're lucky we get to play them again on Monday,'' said defenseman Erik Gudbranson, who fought Steve Downie in the second period.

"We have to find a way to win. If we want to be among the upper echelon in this league, conference and division, we have to find ways to grind out wins. All in all, we're leaving here with a pretty good mindset.''

The Panthers apparently don't like the Penguins, and by the looks of things on Saturday, the feeling is mutual.

Although Florida doesn't get into many fights nor play an overly physical game, it did on Saturday.

A number of fights broke out during the game with some odd names headed to the penalty box.

Jussi Jokinen, who has no registered NHL fights according to hockeyfights.com, got involved in a fracas with former teammate Evgeni Malkin and went off for roughing.

So too did Dave Bolland and Dylan Olsen.

Where did all of this come from? The two don't have much of a history although they have had their moments over the years.

"They started off pretty hard and were firing pucks and finishing every hit,'' said Crosby, who famously jumped Florida's Brett McLean in the face-off circle when the two teams played back in 2009.

"Both teams got into it pretty early but after that, everyone got back to hockey. It was funny because nothing really lead into it, but that's hockey some times.''

Captain Willie Mitchell took a five minute major for fighting with Kris Letang in a bout in which he swung Letang's own helmet at him.

Gudbranson also took five minutes while Downie spent an extra 10 in the locker room as some of the only punches he seemed to land came when officials had Gudbranson down on his back.

"It was kind of funny there in the first, it got wild with a little chippiness,'' said coach Gerard Gallant, himself a bit of a bruiser in his playing days. "It showed the two teams were ready to play. There wasn't a whole lot of dirt. For whatever reason, incidents happened.''

All of this bad blood is only good for the box office. Monday's game, without a doubt, will be Florida's biggest attended home game of the season eclipsing the 11,419 the Panthers announced on opening night.

The Penguins are already hockey's top draw around the league and throwing in a bit of vitriol only adds a little excitement to the matchup.

The Panthers have waited all season for a big crowd at home and it looks like they'll get it Monday. Of course, with all the Pittsburgh transplants in the area not everyone will be rooting for the home team.

"They're a great team, they lead our division and we want another crack at them,'' Gallant said. "Hopefully the results will be better. It's exciting, it's our last game before Christmas break. The guys are disappointed with the result, but happy with how we played.''

-- After going 0-for-5 on the power play Saturday, Pittsburgh now has goals in just two of its past 34 chances.

-- Despite being right in the playoff mix, the Panthers have yet to win three straight games this season and have only won two consecutive games three times.

On Saturday, the Panthers were looking for third straight win but were turned back by Pittsburgh.

Florida is 0-2-1 in such games this season.

-- Coming into Saturday, the Panthers had gone to overtime in their previous four games. Florida was 3-1 in those games with all three wins coming in shootouts.

Monday: Penguins at Panthers

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

TV/Radio: FSFL; 560 AM

Series: Pittsburgh leads 42-34-4

Noteworthy: Despite having eight players on the injured list including a number with the mumps, the Penguins keep rolling along and have won seven of their past 10 games.


December 20, 2014

CROSBY DOES IT: Panthers battle but Sidney Crosby's third period goal lifts Pens to 3-1 win ... Vincent Trocheck returns to lineup, scores lone goal

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

PITTSBURGH -- So far this season, the Panthers have been good at shutting down the best players the league has to offer.

On Saturday night, Florida's defense was asked to keep not only Sidney Crosby but Evgeni Malkin in check.

The Panthers did so -- for a while, anyway.

Crosby's deflection of a slick pass from Kris Letang in the third period proved to be the difference in Pittsburgh's 3-1 victory over Florida.

With lots of fighting and physical play, Part II of this meeting should be nothing short of entertaining as they renew their new-found rivalry Monday night in Sunrise.

"They're a good team but if we play like that every night, we're going to win more than we lose,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "I'm really happy with our group. We did a lot of real good things.''

Despite having eight players on the injury list for a variety of ailments including an outbreak of the mumps, the Penguins proved again they're a team to be reckoned with this season.

Pittsburgh, atop the Eastern Conference, jumped to a 2-0 lead.

Nick Spaling opened things with a knuckleball shot from 55 feet out that clipped Roberto Luongo's glove before trickling in before the two minute mark.

A few minutes later, rookie Derrick Pouliot scored on his first NHL shot as he fired high from the right circle.

Luongo was right on after that, stopping 27 straight shots on goal before Crosby's deflection and stopped Crosby and Malkin numerous times throughout the game.

"We battled hard,'' said Luongo, who got physical himself when Patric Hornqvist appeared pull off his mask.

"It felt like a playoff game out there. The first period did us in. I have to be better than that on the first goal. Even though it knuckled in, I have to stop it. I can't give that up right off the hop.''

During the first 30 minutes, Florida and Pittsburgh got up close and personal -- something the Panthers may not have wanted to do because of this mumps business.

Florida was hit with a season-high 12 penalties for 32 minutes; the Pens were flagged 15 times for 44.

Steve Downie took a game misconduct for getting his punches in during his fight with Erik Gudbranson while officials were on top of him trying to break things up.

The Panthers weren't very happy with some of the actions of the Penguins afterward.

"They were throwing punches after whistles and went hard to the net forcing us to protect our goalie,'' said Willie Mitchell, who got into one of Florida's five fights in the first half of the game.

"The linesmen would come in and their guys threw punches over the pile. We're not going to take them in the face so we pushed back. Some guys over there get a long leash from the league.''

As far as hockey went, Florida trailed 2-0 before getting a nice goal from Pittsburgh native Vincent Trocheck who returned to the lineup for the first time this week.

Trocheck broke Florida's six-game slide without a power play goal as he knocked in a shot from Jonathan Huberdeau with 12:29 left in the first.

Florida had numerous chances after that but couldn't solve the exceptional Marc-Andre Fleury as he made one great save after another.

"We threw a lot of pucks at the net,'' Luongo said after his team outshot the Pens 46-34.

"Their goalie made a lot of saves. It pretty much comes down to he made more saves than me tonight. That's about it.''


Even though Trocheck was back in the lineup Saturday against his hometown Penguins, Gallant said it was not because of where Trocheck grew up.

Trocheck had been a healthy scratch in the previous two games after Scottie Upshall and Aleksander Barkov came off the injured list and gave Florida two extra forwards.

"I'm trying to be a good guy and let him in but he deserves it, deserves to play,'' Gallant said. "If he wasn't a good player, he wouldn't be in there just because this is his hometown.''

Trocheck had a large group of family and friends watching his first game at Consol Center.

During the morning skate, members of the Penguins ice crew opened up the Zamboni doors when he skated by to make sure they said hello.

"I had like 80 family members in the stands and was very excited to score a goal at home,'' Trocheck said afterward. "It took the nerves out a little bit and set the tone for the rest of the game.''

-- Aaron Ekblad set the franchise record for rookie defenseman as he earned his 14th assist on Trocheck's goal.

-- Pittsburgh is 10-0-1 against the Atlantic Division.


December 19, 2014

MUMPS THE WORD: Panthers try to leave Penguins behind with wins and nothing else ... Dave Bolland nets winner in shootout ... Brad Boyes back at practice

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
PITTSBURGH -- After it became public that a number of players in Anaheim were afflicted with the mumps, the Panthers' medical team went on the offensive.
Players and staff members were tested and those who needed booster shots got them not long after Florida visited the Ducks on November 16.
So far, there are 16 NHL players who have been confirmed with having the mumps from a variety of teams -- many of whom the Panthers have played including New Jersey, Minnesota and Anaheim.
This week, a few players and coaches in the AHL (including former Florida center Joey Crabb) were diagnosed as well.
Florida plays the first of two games against Pittsburgh on Saturday night with a number of Penguins, including superstar Sidney Crosby, having been affected by the illness.
Because the Panthers were diligent in making sure they were taken care of medically, many players say they feel a little better about playing Pittsburgh.
Still, they don't want this outbreak to affect them.
"I just used extra precaution in Anaheim like using my own water bottle, having my own towels,'' captain Willie Mitchell said.
"I read up on it and obviously no one wants to go through with it. It's not something you want to roll the dice with. I would have liked to see the league do something earlier but I guess it took one of our star players getting it to raise the awareness. I guess that's how the world works.''
There is some worry in the unknown.
Crosby, who returned to the Pens' lineup Thursday, contracted mumps despite reportedly being immunized before going to the Olympics earlier this year.
The NHL says it has precautions in place which include sterilizing equipment and locker rooms.
The Panthers equipment and medical staff have made sure there is plenty of sanitizer around and will be extra cautious in Pittsburgh.
"Our team has taken the necessary precautions but guys are worried about it because you don't want to take it home with you,'' defenseman Erik Gudbranson said. "You can't control who you play against, don't know who has it. [Pittsburgh] is having a tough go of it and it can be worrisome. Everyone is paying attention to it now.''
Said coach Gerard Gallant: "Three weeks ago, we were ahead of the curve. We had our blood tested and those who needed the extra shots got it. We haven't paid much attention to it since. You cross your fingers nothing happens.''
Dave Bolland technically still hasn't scored his first goal since signing with the Panthers in July but his shootout winner Thursday in Philadelphia was still special.
Bolland, in his fifth game back since missing almost two months with a groin injury, has been a huge asset for the Panthers on both sides of the ice. In five games, he has two assists and Thursday, he helped Florida beat the Flyers in the sixth round of the shootout.
"I think once they come they're going to come,'' Bolland said. "But, I know that first one is always the tough one yet.”
-- Gallant said that Brad Boyes practiced Friday at Consol Center after missing Thursday's game. Whether Boyes returns to the lineup -- he was replaced by Brandon Pirri -- will be determined Saturday.

Saturday: Panthers at Penguins
When/Where: 7 p.m.; Consol Center, Pittsburgh
TV/Radio: FSFL; 560 AM
Series: Pittsburgh leads 41-34-4
Noteworthy: Despite finishing 29th in the league last year, Florida won two of three from the Penguins by a combined 12-9. This is the first of consecutive games between the two with the Pens visiting Sunrise on Monday.

December 17, 2014

SPOTLIGHT ON THE PANTHERS: Record-breaking shootout win gives Panthers some much-needed positive attention

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
A historic and extremely dramatic shootout victory over the Washington Capitals Tuesday night brought plenty of attention to a franchise not used to a whole lot of positive publicity.

The Florida Panthers' rousing 2-1 victory over the Capitals -- which came following an NHL record 20-round shootout -- brought the Panthers national recognition and league-wide praise for their unusual victory.

The longest shootout before Tuesday came months after the 2004-05 lockout ended with the Rangers topping Washington in 15 rounds.

"It was fun when it ended,'' coach Gerard Gallant told XM/Sirius Radio on Wednesday afternoon.

"It was pretty exciting to go 20 shooters in. It was a good game at 1-1 and I thought both teams played real well. There was a little bit of everything.''

The Capitals had five different chances to win the shootout but the Panthers -- who choose to shoot second -- held serve each time.

Tied at 5 going into Round 20, Roberto Luongo made a diving stop of an Alex Ovechkin shot.

That allowed Nick Bjugstad to become the hero. Bjugstad drove in on Braden Holtby, slammed on the brakes and got him to commit.

With Holtby heading toward the ice, Bjugstad roofed a shot that sent his teammates streaming onto the ice as rubber rats rained down from the crowd.

Florida's wild victory was featured prominently on ESPN's SportsCenter, Fox Sports 1 and the NHL Network in the U.S. as well as their Canadian counterparts.

"The pressure wasn’t really on me, which was nice, because I didn’t have to score,'' Bjugstad said. "I  don’t know, I  kind of relaxed, took a deep breath and tried going in there with confidence and it worked out.''

There were plenty of accolades to go around Tuesday.

After no one scored after the first three rounds, Washington took its first lead in Round 4 when Ovechkin scored on his first try.

Jussi Jokinen, historically one of the top shootout artists in the league, came up and made a terrific move on Holtby to get him to go to his left. Jokinen then poked the puck around to Holtby's right for the tying goal to earn ESPN's No. 3 top play of the night.

The score stayed tied at 1 until Round 7 when Brooks Laich scored only to be matched by Dave Bolland.

Florida also returned the honors in Round 11 (Derek MacKenzie), 12 (Sean Bergenheim) and 17 (Dylan Olsen).

"First-ever shootout,'' Olsen said, "little nervous, to be honest, especially when it came down to that and we needed a goal. I  really have only one or two moves, so I  had to stick with that one. And sure enough it worked.

Said Gallant: "Some clutch guys made some clutch goals.''

With 18 active skaters, each team hit the end of their rotation in Round 18. Florida had defenseman Willie Mitchell go and try and end it.

"We saved the captain for the end,'' Gallant said. "We thought he was going to win it for us.''

Only he was stopped and the shootout continued.

In Round 19, players were allowed to go a second time. Washington went with Nicklas Backstrom, Florida with Jokinen.

Neither scored, setting the stage for another showdown between Ovechkin and Luongo.

Luongo, although looking tired, made the big save to give Bjugstad his chance at another shootout winner.

"I  was OK,'' Luongo said. "We do it at morning skate every day. I was just trying to make the next save. Once you get into the later rounds, their guys are little bit less skilled and you want to make those saves. A couple went by, but the boys bailed me out.''

Even before going to the shootout, Tuesday's game had plenty of excitement to it.

Florida led 1-0 on a goal by Derek MacKenzie in the first period before Washington tied it up with a second period power play goal.

Tied at 1 late in the third, Washington looked to win it when Laich knocked in a puck. Laich kicked it in, however, and the goal was disallowed via video review in Toronto.

The game pressed on.

Bjugstad could have been the game's hero much earlier Tuesday.

In overtime, one of his shots hit the goal post. He also drilled a post in his first shootout attempt which would have given the Panthers a 1-0 lead in Round 2 and perhaps sent everyone home early.

Instead, South Florida became home to two of the longest games in professional sports history.

The Dolphins-Chiefs AFC title game in 1971 stands as the longest NFL game of all time.

Florida's win over the Capitals earns the NHL's honor for a regular season game as the shootout itself took over 20 minutes to complete. That was after 65 minutes of game time in regulation and overtime.

"Now I can go to bed!,'' radio voice Randy Moller yelled after Bjugstad scored in the 20th round.

Wrote Luongo on Twitter: "I blacked out what just happened?"

-- The Panthers sent defenseman Shane O'Brien back to their AHL affiliate in San Antonio. O'Brien was recalled last week but was a healthy scratch in the three games he was with Florida.


Thursday: Panthers at Flyers

When/Where: 7 p.m.; Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia

TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560

Series: Philadelphia leads 46-31-7

Noteworthy: The two teams have split the two-game series with the Flyers winning the previous meeting 4-1 in Philadelphia last month.




BREAKING IT DOWN: Florida Panthers' shootout win over Capitals is NHL's longest

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards


Florida outlasts Washington in longest shootout in NHL history, winning 6-5 in Round 20.

Round 1: Eric Fehr (Wsh) slapshot X; Jonathan Huberdeau (FL) snapshot wide X -- 0-0

Round 2: Nicklas Backstrom (Wsh) backhand X; Nick Bjugstad (FL) slapshot off goalpost X -- 0-0

Round 3: Evgeny Kuznetsov (Wsh) snapshot X; Brad Boyes (FL) backhand X -- 0-0

Round 4: Alex Ovechkin (Wsh) snapshot Y; Jussi Jokinen (FL) backhand Y -- 1-1.

Round 5: Troy Brouwer (Wsh) slapshot crossbar X; Tomas Kopecky (FL) backhand X -- 1-1.

Round 6: Michael Latta (Wsh) slapshot X; Aleksander Barkov (FL) puck off skate X -- 1-1.

Round 7: Brooks Laich (Wsh) backhand Y; Dave Bolland (FL) snapshot Y -- 2-2.

Round 8: Marcus Johansson (Wsh) slapshot X; Tomas Fleischmann (FL) backhand X -- 2-2

Round 9: Nate Schmidt (Wsh) snapshot wide of net X; Scottie Upshall (FL) slapshot X -- 2-2

Round 10: Joel Ward (Wsh) snapshot Y; Derek MacKenzie (FL) backhand Y -- 3-3

Round 11: John Carlson (Wsh) snapshot Y; Sean Bergenheim (FL) backhand Y -- 4-4

Round 12: Jay Beagle (Wsh) backhand X; Jimmy Hayes (FL) snapshot X -- 4-4

Round 13: Mike Green (Wsh) slapshot over net X; Brian Campbell (FL) snapshot X -- 4-4

Round 14: Jason Chimera (Wsh) slapshot wide of net X; Erik Gudbranson (FL) slapshot X -- 4-4

Round 15: Tom Wilson (Wsh) slapshot X; Aaron Ekblad (FL) slapshot X -- 4-4

Round 16: Matt Niskanen (Wsh) slapshot crossbar X; Dmitry Kulikov (FL) slapshot X -- 4-4

Round 17: Brooks Orpik (Wsh) slapshot Y; Dylan Olsen (FL) slapshot Y -- 5-5

Round 18: Karl Alzner (Wsh) slapshot X; Willie Mitchell (FL) backhand X -- 5-5

Round 19: Backstrom (Wsh) snapshot X; Jokinen (FL) slapshot X -- 5-5

Round 20: Ovechkin (Wsh) slapshot X; Bjugstad (FL) slapshot Y -- Florida wins 6-5


NHL -- Regular season: Florida Panthers 2, Washington Capitals 1 (20 rounds shootout) Dec. 16, 2014; Playoffs: Detroit Red Wings 1, Montreal Canadiens 0 (6 OT - 116:30) March 24, 1936.

NBA -- Indianapolis Olympians 75, Rochester Royals 73 (6 OT - 78:00) Jan. 6, 1951.

NFL -- Miami Dolphins 27, Kansas City Chiefs 24 (2 OT - 82:40 in 1971 AFC championship game) Dec. 25, 1971.

MLB -- Chicago White Sox 7, Milwaukee Brewers 6 (33 innings, 8:06) May 8, 1984.


December 16, 2014

SHOOTOUT AT THE BB&T CORRAL: Panthers and Capitals set NHL record w/ Cats winning in 20th round ... Florida nets six in shootout, earns 2-1 victory ... Upshall and Barkov return

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers made history on Tuesday night, and for once, the results were positive.

Florida and Washington went 20 rounds into a shootout -- longest in NHL history -- with the Panthers getting a goal from Nick Bjugstad to pull out a 2-1 victory at BB&T Center.

"There are some nights you just feel you deserve to win,'' said Derek MacKenzie, who scored Florida's only 'real' goal in the opening period.

"I was getting nervous.''

Before Tuesday night, the longest shootout in league history was a 15-round affair between the Rangers and Washington soon after the league implemented the shootout format to break ties in 2005.

"I've never seen anything like that,'' said goalie Roberto Luongo, who stopped 15 shots in the shootout after making 23 in 65 minutes of play.

"I don't know how many times our guys had to bail me out and score after they scored. But they did every time. It's amazing. .-.-. It's a huge win for our club. It's not the way you draw it up.''

Said coach Gerard Gallant: "That was exciting and everyone loved that one especially with Bjugstad winning it. Everyone got a chance to shoot and we got a huge two points. Everyone is happy.''

Florida doubled its previous franchise-long shootout run after going 10 rounds with these Capitals last season.

On Tuesday, for the first time since the NHL instituted the shootout, two teams ran through their 18 shooters and were able to give guys a second crack at it.

Tied 5-5 after 18 rounds, Florida went back to Jussi Jokinen -- who started this whole thing by matching Alex Ovechkin's goal in Round 4.

Jokinen didn't score in Round 19 but Ovechkin didn't in Round 20 either as Luongo made his 15th shootout save.

Bjugstad ended up setting off the victory celebration by roofing a shot past Braden Holtby.

It was just another one-goal victory for the Panthers, eh? Well, not quite.

"We've been in quite a few of them,'' Bjugstad said. "We just have to keep them close like that.''

Florida has now been in 21 one-goal games (of 30) and has secured a point in all but two of them.

The Panthers, now 11-2-8 in one-goal games, took a 1-0 lead when MacKenzie jumped all over a soft clearing pass from Washington's Mike Green and buried it.

Washington wouldn't answer until its top-ranked power play connected with Dylan Olsen sitting in the box off a questionable holding call.

Troy Brouwer made it 1-1 after he took a slick pass from Ovechkin and shot.

Willie Mitchell -- Florida's captain who was the final forward to shoot in the initial shootout lineup -- blocked the shot but Brouwer was able to corral it and put it past Luongo.

The two teams played scoreless hockey the rest of the way although it appeared Washington took a late lead -- and probably the victory -- when Brooks Laich scored with 3:08 left.

Only Laich kicked the goal in soccer-style which is a no-no in the NHL. The league reviewed it in Toronto and declared it a no goal.

The Panthers had new life and didn't squander it.

Florida has now won its past two shootout games and improve to 3-4 this season and 4-8 in overtime contests.

And Tuesday's showdown was pretty memorable.

"How exciting was that?,'' television analyst Denis Potvin yelled as he left the broadcast booth.


The Panthers activated forwards Scottie Upshall and Aleksander Barkov off the injury list prior to Tuesday's game.

Upshall missed nine games with a knee and ankle injury; Barkov missed six after blocking a shot with his hand in Columbus.

To make room on the roster, Florida placed Shawn Thornton (groin) on IR.

The Panthers also benched Brandon Pirri and Vincent Trocheck so Upshall and Barkov could get back into the lineup.

"I feel very good right now, I'm ready to go,'' Barkov said. "I'm very happy. I have a new stick too.''

-- In Florida's previous shootout win last week in Detroit, the Panthers only needed two rounds to win with Pirri and Trocheck both scoring. Tuesday, neither were available as they were scratched.

Barkov (Round 6) and Upshall (Round 9) both were stopped on their attempts with Barkov kicking his attempt off his skate.



December 15, 2014

CALLING IT QUITS: Tomas Vokoun retires, had four strong years with the Panthers

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Former Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun announced his retirement on Sunday after 14 seasons in the league.

Vokoun came to Florida when then-general manager Jacques Martin traded for him at the 2007 draft in Columbus.

Vokoun spent four seasons with the Panthers going 101-108-30 and making 92 percent of his saves after facing a whopping 7,902 shots. Vokoun never made it to the playoffs with Florida although he did come close in 2009.

After helping the Penguins to the Eastern Conference finals in 2013, another blood clot was discovered and he missed all of last season.

A free agent this summer, Vokoun didn't find the right fit and has remained in South Florida.

"He was a goalie who was very hard to score on even if we were just skating here during the summer or during the lockout,'' said Tomas Kopecky, who is Vokoun's neighbor in northwestern Broward County.

"There wasn't much room to score against him. He was very competitive.''

Kopecky said he's seen more of Vokoun lately as he's been helping coach goalies at North Broward Prep as well as working with the Junior Panther program in Coral Springs.





MAKING A POINT: Panthers lead league in overtime losses again this season ... Upshall, Barkov close to return

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Three seasons ago, no other team had as many overtime or shootout losses in the NHL as the Panthers.

Florida made the playoffs that year in partially because of the 18 points that came with those losses.

The Panthers' eight overtime losses lead the league again this season and has helped them stay in the postseason mix despite having just 12 victories.

"Points are big especially when you haven't played well and don't deserve a win,'' said Brad Boyes, who gave Florida its only non-shootout overtime victory with a goal in Colorado back on Oct. 21.

"They add up pretty quick. At the end of the season, you don't want to be looking back needing one or two points to make the playoffs.''

Although the Panthers have been stockpiling the so-called 'loser point,' they definitely need to start winning some more games as they cannot rely on simply making it to overtime.

When it comes to wins in regulation and overtime -- which is the first tie-breaker when it comes to the playoffs -- Florida doesn't stack up, at least right now, with the other contenders.

Even though the Panthers and Rangers have the same amount of points in the same amount of games, New York currently holds the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference because it has three more wins in regulation and overtime than the Panthers.

Florida is 3-8 in overtime this season, winning once in the five-minute overtime session and twice in the shootout.

The Panthers have lost four in overtime and four shootouts.

"We would obviously like to have a better record overtime but I like to look at the positives,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "I don't think we've played bad in overtime but we have had some bad luck. Those are big important points and we need to be focused on them.''

-- Scottie Upshall and Aleksander Barkov remain close to returning to the lineup.

Upshall said he still needs medical clearance to play but doesn't expect that to be a problem.

"I'll probably see the doctor before the game,'' Upshall said. "I feel good and have been skating hard this past week. I'm feeling pretty solid.''

Tuesday: Capitals at Panthers

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

TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560

Series: Washington leads 59-44-9

Noteworthy: Washington kicks off a three-game road trip after winning four of the past five -- including two over Tampa Bay. The Capitals have the league's most productive power play at 26.5 percent.


December 13, 2014

PANTHERS CAN'T HANG ON: Sabres tie score, win in OT to snap losing streak to Panthers 4-3 ... Shane O'Brien enjoying time with Florida

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

BUFFALO -- The Panthers will most definitely take any point in the standings they can get.

That doesn't mean they have to like it.

Players and coaches were disappointed in Saturday's 4-3 overtime loss to the host Sabres after Buffalo tied the score midway through the third period.

Buffalo won the game and took the second point when Nikita Zadorov scored 29 seconds into overtime.

"It wasn't good enough,'' said coach Gerard Gallant, whose team topped host Detroit in a shootout the night before. Florida took three of four available points in this Atlantic Division back-to-back set.

"We're happy with the point but we didn't deserve more than that. Buffalo was the better team.''

Florida fell behind 2-0 in the opening period after a lifeless start, but two goals on the first two shots of the second period from Sean Bergenheim and Jimmy Hayes tied it up.

The Panthers then scored on their first shot of the third period (Jussi Jokinen) to grab their first and only lead of the night.

Buffalo, which had lost five straight to Florida, controlled the rest of the game.

"We got off to another bad start -- we were down 2-0 in St. Louis -- and we can't let that happen,'' said Bergenheim, who put the Panthers on the board with a shot that hit the skates of Zadorov and bounced past Jhonas Enroth 1:08 into the second.

"We did a good job coming back again. You have to look at the positives. But we weren't good enough to get the two points.''

Goalie Al Montoya didn't get much help early on as the Panthers looked slow and uninterested. Buffalo's second goal which came from Marcus Foligno came on the Sabres' ninth shot on goal of the period. Florida had mustered only three at that point.

Montoya and the Panthers steadied things, although Buffalo -- which has won seven of its past eight games at First Niagara Center -- tied the score on a breakaway goal from Brian Gionta.

In overtime, the Panthers turned the puck over and Zadorov cashed in for his first NHL goal.

The Panthers dropped to 3-8 in overtime.

"It seems like the common ground lately is we wait and see and dig ourselves a hole in the first period,'' said Montoya, who made 28 saves.

"Once we figure that out and stop doing that to ourselves will put us in a better place. The ones that figure it out are in the playoffs at the end of the year.''


Shane O'Brien knows his latest NHL stint may not last long so he says he's savoring every moment.

O'Brien has played in 528 NHL games but his previous one came last January with Calgary. O'Brien had a falling out with Flames' coach Bob Hartley and ended up in the minors.

After a good training camp with Florida, the Panthers offered him a two-way contract and sent him to their minor league team in San Antonio. On Thursday, the Panthers called him up for their back-to-back set against Detroit and Buffalo.

Although O'Brien may be back in San Antonio as early as this week, he says he won't take playing in the NHL for granted again.

"Any time you can be in the NHL is great,'' said O'Brien, who didn't play on Friday or Saturday.

"Just going out for morning skate [Friday] brought back a lot of memories. You know special this is. I may have taken it for granted earlier in my career but going back to the minors gives you a taste of reality of how lucky you are to play in the NHL.''

-- Former Panthers center Stephen Weiss' shoulder injury doesn't appear to be serious although he missed Detroit's game in Toronto on Saturday.

Weiss was hurt in the second period of Florida's 3-2 shootout win on Friday after going into the boards off a hit from Bergenheim.