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28 posts from January 2016

January 31, 2016

A SURPRISING MVP: John Scott wins the All-Star day, earns MVP honors ... Atlantic team, led by three Florida Panthers and coach Gerard Gallant, loses 1-0 in final

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Midway through the championship period of Sunday's 61st annual NHL All-Star Game, fans began chanting John Scott's name.
Each time he stepped onto the ice, they roared 'M-V-P!'
And although the NHL didn't include him in their three nominees to vote for game MVP on Twitter, the social media site was flooded with write-in votes for him.
So, after taking the a long, strange road to the NHL All-Star Game, Scott, the most unlikeliest of candidates, won the day.
Although Scott didn't score in the Pacific Division's 1-0 win over the Atlantic to win the game and $1 million prize, the former Arizona enforcer who now toils for a minor league team in Canada was named the Most Valuable Player over all the millionaire superstars surrounding him.
"You can't put it into words,'' Scott said after being hoisted onto the shoulders of the likes of Brent Burns, Taylor Hall and Joe Pavelski.
"This has been a whirlwind. The best weekend of my life."
After winning an online vote to become captain of the Pacific team -- Florida's Jaromir Jagr was voted to captain the Atlantic -- Scott was suspiciously traded from the Coyotes to Montreal.
The Canadiens immediately demoted him to their minor league team in Newfoundland, the St. John's IceCaps.
Scott chronicled his journey in a story he penned on The Players' Tribune website, shedding light on how the NHL didn't want him playing in this new 3-on-3 format.
Commissioner Gary Bettman addressed Scott's selection on Saturday, saying "he wanted to be here and we're happy he is."
Bettman also met with Scott in Nashville to smooth things over.
Scott also got in a dig at NBC analyst and former NHL star Jeremy Roenick which sent his online stock even higher.
During an interview on the bench, Roenick apologized for comments he made about Scott not belonging to be at the game.
"It's not the first time you've been wrong, let's just say that," Scott told a stone-faced Roenick.
Bettman handed over the oversized check representing the winning team's haul.
Each player on the Pacific team will pocket close to $91,000 -- which works out to be about 15 percent of Scott's base NHL salary this season.
"You saw the fans but also his teammates and our team were so excited to see him win that,'' said Florida's Gerard Gallant, coach of the Atlantic team.
"He worked hard and has a lot of things going on in his life right now. But that was a real special moment."
As MVP, Scott also gets a new Honda minivan, something he said he asked his temporary teammates to donate to him if they won.
His wife Danielle, after all, is about to give birth to twins.
"I need it,'' he said. "I'm going to have four kids pretty soon."
Scott, who has five goals in 285 NHL games, scored twice in the Pacific's 9-6 victory over the Central team which set up a championship showdown against an Atlantic team featuring three members of the Florida Panthers.
In the championship period, Roberto Luongo stopped all 12 shots he faced in the opening 10 minutes before handing things over to Tampa Bay's Ben Bishop.
With 6:22 left, Anaheim's Corey Perry beat Bishop and, surprisingly based on the wide-open nature of the 3-on-3 session, that was it.
Although Perry scored later, Gallant and Jagr challenged it with a little help from celebrity coach Amy Grant and won, wiping the second goal off the books.
"I had to explain what we could get from the challenge,'' Gallant said. "It worked well, it was great. She really seemed to enjoy it. It was fun.''
The Atlantic, despite pulling Bishop and going 4-on-3 for the final 90 seconds, couldn't beat Anaheim's John Gibson and the All-Star win belonged to Scott and his Pacific teammates.It was a great moment, obviously, one not lost on the guys from the other side.
"As much as I hate to lose, if I ever wanted to lose a game, I'm glad we lost [Sunday],'' Jagr said.
"It's a great story. Everyone thought it would be bad for hockey and it turned out to be one of the best stories in hockey. He truly deserved it. The fans voted for him and he played good. The [NHL] probably doesn't know what good he did."
Said Luongo: "He deserves it, popped in a couple in the first game. I can't imagine what it means for him to be here. We're all happy for him that he got a chance to win this. It was a fairytale ending.''
The Panthers got into the championship period -- the All-Star Game was broken up into three, 20-minute periods with the league broken up into its four divisions -- by winning the opener 4-3 over the Metropolitan.
Of the four goals, two were scored by Florida players as Jagr tied the score at 2 before Aaron Ekblad tied it at 3.
Montreal's P.K. Subban, who impersonated Jagr in Saturday's Skills Competition, gave the Atlantic its first and final lead with 4:38 left.
"I thought it was outstanding, the guys worked hard," Gallant said. "I didn't think it was going to be that competitive but the guys didn't want to make any mistakes."
-- Luongo and Washington goalie Braden Holtby met Sunday but won't face each other Tuesday when the Panthers visit the Capitals.
Both Luongo and Holtby, favored to be Vezina Trophy contenders, will both take the night off.


January 30, 2016

#SpaceyInSpace All-Star Edition: Panthers' Aaron Ekblad breaks out sweatshirt ... P.K. Subban does best Jaromir Jagr impersonation

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The biggest winners at Saturday night's All-Star Skills Competition may just have been the Florida Panthers.
Not only did P.K. Subban win the Breakaway Challenge dressed as Jaromir Jagr -- complete with Florida's white road jersey with Jagr's No. 68 and a graying mullet wig -- but Florida's 'Spacey In Space' sweatshirt also made an appearance.
Defenseman Aaron Ekblad wore the lucky blue sweatshirt -- the one the Panthers give out to their game MVP after victories -- for his turn in the hardest shot competition.
"The team wanted to do it, get some good press for the Panthers,'' Ekblad said.
"A lot of guys around the league hadn't seen it yet. And no one knows the true story behind it, either."
Goalie Roberto Luongo got into the act, shoving former Vancouver teammate Cory Schneider out of the way so Brent Burns' young son could score in the breakaway.
Luongo then stopped all nine shots faced in the shootout event.
"We had a good time,'' Luongo said. "We had a lot of stuff going on. A lot of funny things happened, not just from our guys. I really enjoyed it; that was probably the most fun I've had at the skills competition. We were trying to give the fans a show.''
How the Panthers got the sweatshirt to Nashville without many getting wise was stealthy stuff.
First, the team had to borrow the royal blue sweatshirt from Alex Petrovic, who, as the previous winner of it last Tuesday, technically holds onto it until the next win.
Petrovic handed the sweatshirt over to team COO Matthew Caldwell, a 2002 West Point graduate who told the Miami Herald he hid the sweatshirt until bringing it to Bridgestone Arena Saturday afternoon "like the nuclear football" where he delivered it to Ekblad.
Doug Cifu, a co-owner of the Panthers, said Ekblad was more than happy to wear the sweatshirt yet everyone needed to keep the secret so not to tip off any potential NHL "fun police" who may have objected to the stunt.
"I was tucking it down in my jersey,'' said Ekblad, who left the ice to put it on. "It was a good surprise."
Caldwell was trusted with bringing it to the Music City. "He's protecting it like it's the Shroud of Turin," Cifu said.

Also a secret was Subban's tribute to Jagr. For his second shot in the breakaway, Subban raced out of the locker room dressed as Jagr to loud cheers.
Subban, Montreal's star defenseman, was warmly greeted by Jagr on the ice as the two posed for pictures although Jagr said the painted wig had too many gray hairs in it for his taste.
"I didn't know he was going to do that and it was funny,'' Jagr said. "I have the nine 'Traveling Jagrs' around the league. He can be the tenth. He said he was looking for the job. He'll do fine."
Said Subban: "This was just a tribute to Jagr and the great career he's had. He's got great hair and is a good looking guy. That's where it starts."
-- By winning the Skills Competition, the Eastern Conference teams will play the first period semifinal at 5 p.m.; the west teams will follow at 6 with the championship scheduled for 7.
"Hopefully we win then we can take a break and get ready for the third,'' Luongo said.
Said Jagr: "If we lose I can go home right away and rest"
-- The NHL announced Saturday that it was donating $200,000 to help Denna Laing in her recovery from an accident at the Winter Classic in Foxboro, Massachusetts.
Laing, playing in the Outdoor Women's Classic game for the Boston Pride on New Year's Eve, suffered a severe spinal cord injury.
The Bruins and Canadiens, who played in the Winter Classic, have also been raising money for Laing.
Saturday, the NHL also announced it arraigned to have a specially-equipped Honda minivan donated to Laing.


ROBERTO LUONGO'S VISION COMING TOGETHER IN FLORIDA: Panthers' goalie enjoying view from the top, ready for a Twitter-friendly All-Star Game


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
It was a happy time for Roberto Luongo as he was finally headed to his adopted home and a return to the Florida Panthers.
Yet when the blockbuster deal between Vancouver and Florida went down in 2014, some derided Luongo's decision to leave the Canucks -- a team he led to the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals -- for the sadsack Panthers.
"It means playing for a Florida Panthers franchise,'' one columnist wrote, "that always seems to be clinging to the edge of the cliff."
"Today is a rare victory for the Panthers," said another.
Luongo heard the dissenting voices, who assumed he was headed south to "ride into the sunset" and knew the only way to prove them wrong was to start winning -- with the Panthers.
"Anybody who knows me knows that is not in my nature," Luongo said from Nashville, where he will play in his fifth All-Star Game and second in as many year.
"What I'm all about, why I play the game is because I want to win. I want to have another crack at [the Stanley Cup]. One of the things that really upset me when this whole thing went down was people thought I was coming back to retire. That's not me. I'm competitive, I want to win badly. I want to go for it again."
Right now, things are looking up in Florida where the Panthers lead Tampa Bay and Detroit by five points atop the Atlantic Division.
Luongo is having fun with a easy to root for Florida squad. The team has plenty of characters to go with their talent.
"People are talking about us ,'' Luongo said. "When we were on that streak, it opened up a lot of eyes. The only thing we can do is keep winning. That will bring more attention to us. But we kind of like to keep it on the down low; keep it quiet. We don’t want to wake too many teams up regarding our team."
Luongo needed to get out of Vancouver, that much was obvious, only his long contract made things complicated.
So, too, was Luongo's insistence that he be dealt back to the Panthers.
Luckily for him, general manager Dale Tallon was interested in bringing him back and had the blessing of owners Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu to make a deal near the trade deadline.
Luongo was scheduled to play the Arizona Coyotes that evening and spoke to the Vancouver media before the big trade happened.
"My desire to compete, my desire to win is as high as it has ever been," Luongo said.
A few hours later, and he was headed back to the Panthers.
Although Luongo's first few months back in Florida were forgettable -- save for the shutout he pitched in his return against Buffalo -- the past two seasons have been pretty memorable.
Now 36, Luongo is playing as well as he ever has.
Last season, Luongo was considered Florida's MVP as he kept the team in the playoff race until the final games.
This season, Luongo is playing even better.
Over the course of the season, Luongo has won 22 games, which with 33 left, has him on pace to top his career-high of 38 wins with Vancouver in his best season in 2010-11.
How good has Luongo been this season?
Not only is he a likely Vezina Trophy finalist, he currently has the lowest goals-against average (2.08) of his illustrious career with his highest save percentage (93).
Since Thanksgiving, the Panthers have gone 21-6-1; Luongo is 16-5-1 in those games.
During Florida's impressive run, Luongo has three shutouts, and has surrendered two goals or fewer in 17 of those games.
"I think we surprised a lot of teams, a lot of media guys around the league," Jaromir Jagr said.
"I still don't think a lot of people believe in us and that doesn't matter. As long as we believe in ourselves and [Luongo] is playing in net the way he has, we have good enough players to compete in every game."
The Panthers have four representatives at this year's All-Star weekend, most in franchise history.
Through his popular Twitter account,
Luongo will make sure everyone knows the Panthers are in town.
Like last year, when he tweeted out amusing thoughts from the bench, Luongo expects to make great use of social media again this year.
In Sunday's 3-on-3 All-Star tournament -- which will last at least one period -- Luongo expects to play at least 10 minutes with Tampa Bay's Ben Bishop playing the other half.
That gives Luongo plenty of time to tweet.
Saturday, he sent out a tweet directed to Jagr of a Life Alert pager, writing "just picked up a little something for the 3-on-3 tomorrow. Hope you wear it."

Expect more of the same from Luongo as the All-Star weekend continues.
Luongo said he didn't get any backlash from the league last season so he'll keep his Twitter machine going.
"I'm sure I'll be able to fire off a few," said Luongo, who goes by the handle '@strombone1' and as of Saturday afternoon, had close to 608,000 followers.
"I had fun with it last year and if a couple of funny ones come to me, I'll fire something off."
When, where: Sunday, 5 p.m.; Bridgestone Arena, Nashville
Florida Panthers participating: Atlantic Division captain Jaromir Jagr, Roberto Luongo, Aaron Ekblad; coach Gerard Gallant
Format: This year, the All-Star Game is a tournament of sorts with the NHL's four divisions (Atlantic, Metropolitan, Central, Pacific) split up.
The Atlantic and Metropolitan will meet up in a 20-minute 3-on-3 session. The winner of that game will face the winner of the Central/Pacific period with the winner of the third and final championship period splitting a $1 million prize pool.


January 28, 2016

EKBLAD THE ALL-STAR: Florida Panthers defenseman continues to turn heads as he's set to make second All-Star appearance

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Aaron Ekblad went to the All-Star Game in Columbus last year a fresh-faced rookie who didn't seem in awe of all the assembled talent around him.
Originally selected for the skills competition, Ekblad gained a spot in the actual game due to another player backing out the day before.
"Hopefully I'll get another chance at this sometime later in my career,'' Ekblad said after notching four assists in the game.
Ekblad didn't have to wait long for his next shot at being an All-Star.
This year, Ekblad's play earned one of three defensemen spots on the Atlantic Division team alongside past Norris Award winners Montreal's P.K. Subban and Ottawa's Erik Karlsson.
For the second consecutive year, Ekblad will take part in the All-Star skills competition as well as the game.
This time, however, his inclusion in the game was based on his merits and not someone else dropping out of the festivities.
All-Star weekend kicks off Friday in Nashville with the Skills Competition Saturday and the new 3-on-3 tournament-style All-Star Game on Sunday.
"It's 100 percent more rewarding,'' Ekblad said. "I didn't feel like I was supposed to be there last year. It's not something you want to be involved in if you're not supposed to be there.
"I was a rookie, just taking it all in, and then I'm playing in the game. I think the experience will help me this year but this is much more rewarding. And it's rewarding for my team.''
Ekblad is the second-youngest All-Star, a few months older than Detroit rookie Dylan Larkin who was drafted 15th by the Red Wings last June in Sunrise.
"Maybe he's not 19,'' coach Gerard Galland said of Ekblad's maturity. "He could be 23. He's a young superstar."
The reigning Calder Trophy winner as the league's rookie of the year, Ekblad is opening eyes around the league.
Aside from Ekblad and Jonathan Huberdeau's Calder wins as well as a pair of Rocket Richard goal scoring trophies for Pavel Bure and Brian Campbell's Lady Bing, the Panthers don't have many NHL award winners in their trophy case.
With Ekblad, however, that could change in the coming years.
Already considered one of the top young defensemen in the league -- he's a lock for the North American 'young guns' team at the World Cup of Hockey this summer -- Ekblad is quickly making a name as one of the top players at his position throughout the NHL.
Ekblad said one of his goals growing up was to someday win the Norris Trophy for top defenseman in the league, and just two years into his NHL career, he's already being mentioned as a possible candidate for the prestigious award.
Another of his goals: "I want to win the Stanley Cup with my team here in Florida."
Ekblad's maturity makes him stand out and it has since he stepped onto the ice for the Panthers' season-opener in 2014 at Tampa.
"The way he plays such a complete game at his age is very rare,'' said Gallant, who will coach the Atlantic team in Nashville.
"When you see young defensemen, they have skill and move the puck but they have trouble in the defensive zone. Now, [Ekblad] makes mistakes like everyone, but not near as many as you would think. He has skill and composure. He doesn't get rattled. There's no doubt he's a great all-around player.''
When Ekblad is asked which players he grew up idolizing or hopes to emulate, he rattles off a who's who of top NHL defensemen such as Duncan Keith, Shea Weber, Roman Josi and Drew Doughty.
Ekblad doesn't claim to be at their level right now yet the gap between them appears to be closing by the day.
"The most important thing to remember is that I'm not 30 yet,'' Ekblad said. "I still have to take things a day at a time, keep working hard. I want to be a great player so I'll keep working on it. ... I haven't done really anything in my life yet. That's the way I feel."
Growing up across from Detroit in Windsor, Canada, Ekblad followed the Red Wings closely.
It's no surprise Nicklas Lidstrom was his favorite player.
"Of course,'' Ekblad said. "That's an obvious one for me.''
Gallant played for the Red Wings from 1984-93 and watched Lidstrom's first two NHL seasons as closely as one could.
Does Gallant see similarities in Ekblad's game?
"It has to be Lidstrom," Gallant said.
"It's not [just] me saying it, it's everyone saying it. Obviously Lidstrom is a Hall of Famer. Now if the kid keeps going the way he is, he's going to have a chance at that. We hope he continues that path and we don't see why he won't. He does it every night for us. It's hard to believe he's 19."
Ekblad's value to the Panthers was on display earlier this month.
After being boarded by Edmonton's Matt Hendricks on Jan. 10, Ekblad suffered a concussion and missed the next four games.
The Panthers watched their 12-game winning streak end in Vancouver in Ekblad's first game out of the lineup.
Florida ended up losing four consecutive games, not winning again until Ekblad returned last Friday against Chicago.
Coincidence or not, Ekblad hasn't been on the ice for a Florida loss since Dec. 10 in Boston -- a run of 15 consecutive victories.
"In the end, I'm part of this team,'' he said. "So when we lose, even if I'm not on the ice, it's a loss. It stings just as much and made me want to get back even more.''


January 27, 2016

THE RIGHT PICK: Florida Panthers happy they took Sasha Barkov in 2013

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
As NHL draft day approached in 2013, Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon was torn.
After losing the draft lottery to Colorado, the last-place Panthers dropped to second in the batting order.
The Avalanche were set to take Nathan McKinnon with the first pick, leaving top-ranked defenseman Seth Jones available to the Panthers.
As much as Tallon and the Florida scouts liked Jones -- a 6-4 blueliner with good puck moving skills who was the top-rated player in the draft -- they were intrigued by a Finnish center who, while just 17, was already playing professionally in Europe.
The Panthers also looked hard at forward Jonathan Drouin, the second-ranked North American skater behind Jones.
Yet Florida European scout Jari Kekalainen was absolutely in love with a kid who answered to the Russian nickname 'Sasha' and leaned hard on the Panthers to take him.
The Panthers' decision to select Finland's Aleksander Barkov turned out to be one of the best decisions the franchise has ever made.
"We feel very fortunate that he was there,'' Tallon said Tuesday, "and we made the right decision."
Drafting Barkov may have marked the true end of the franchise's dark days and should be considered a turning point in the resuscitation of a moribund organization.
"Great day for our franchise,'' Tallon said Tuesday as the team celebrated signing Barkov, now 20, to a six-year contract extension.
"I'm excited about this young man, not only for his hockey but for his ability to be such a class act. He's going to lead us to the promised land."
As much as Tallon liked Jones, the underlying truth was the Panthers really needed an NHL-ready center who would come cheap.
Unknown to the public, the team was for sale; spending was curtailed.
Free agent Stephen Weiss, considered by some to be the face of the franchise after playing in more games for them than anyone else, waited for an offer from the Panthers that never came.
With Weiss heading elsewhere -- he would sign for five years in Detroit -- Tallon decided Barkov was his guy.
For better or worse, the Panthers were going to build around young, talented players, most notably physical centers such as Barkov and 6-6 Nick Bjugstad.
"We like to be strong up the middle to be successful," Tallon said.
It hasn't even been three years since that draft day in Newark, New Jersey, yet the Panthers look like an absolutely transformed organization.

Months after Barkov was drafted, the team was sold to New York businessmen Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu.
Tallon, albeit late in the proceedings, was given some money to bring in a few unsigned free agents such as Brad Boyes and Boston Stanley Cup hero Tim Thomas.
Although the 2013-14 Florida team struggled again, it won the draft lottery this time and finally had the top pick.
One could see things starting to turn around.
Barkov, obviously, has been a big part it.
During his rookie season, Barkov showed his value as the team's fortunes headed south after he missed a month after a knee injury.
Barkov was lost for the remainder of the season after reinjuring the knee playing for Finland at the Olympics as an 18-year-old.
The Panthers finished 29th in the 30 team league that year.
Barkov's star really took off last year when the Panthers traded for Jaromir Jagr in February.
Barkov said he initially didn't believe reports Jagr was going to join his team yet has been Jagr's centerman ever since he arrived.
The trio of Barkov, Jagr and Jonathan Huberdeau seemed to have instant chemistry and the three continue to lead the Panthers -- a team headed into the All-Star break with a comfortable lead atop the Atlantic Division and ranked second in the entire Eastern Conference.
When asked if he thought the Panthers would get to this point so quickly, Barkov smiled.
"To be honest, maybe not this good,'' said Barkov, who scored his 13th goal in the second period of Tuesday's 5-1 win over Toronto.
"But I believed in this team and that we would be in the playoffs this year and get our chances. We're in a good spot, but we have to keep looking at the next day, the next game. We're not satisfied yet. We're not where we want to be and that's the playoffs.''
As for Weiss, he was bought out by the Red Wings this past summer after two injury-plagued seasons in Detroit.
Weiss, Florida's all-time leader in games played (654) and assists (249), is currently out of hockey.
Drouin, drafted right after Barkov by Tampa Bay, is also out of hockey -- sort of.
After being sent to the AHL, Drouin made his trade demands public causing a rift between him and the organization. That chasm was only made wider when he left the AHL team to await a trade which may be a long way off.
Also, had Florida taken Jones in 2013, they probably wouldn't have selected another defenseman the following year.
That means the Panthers may not have rising star Aaron Ekblad around if they didn't take Barkov.
"I see a really bright future in this team and this organization,'' Barkov said. "I'm really happy to be here."


January 26, 2016

BLOWN AWAY: Panthers get big second, roll past Leafs and into the All-Star break ... Sasha Barkov's big day continues in the second; Jussi Jokinen, Reilly Smith, Vincent Trocheck and Alex Petrovic also score

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers signed Sasha Barkov to a six year contract extension Tuesday afternoon and it paid immediate dividends.
About eight hours after Barkov put ink to paper, he put puck to the back of the net in helping lead the Panthers to a 5-1 win over Toronto in Sunrise.
"Nick Bjugstad told me every time someone signs a contract they score in their next game,'' said Barkov, who tied the score at 1 in the second period.
"So that was mine. It was because of that.''
Florida heads into the All-Star break riding a three-game winning streak and currently has a five-point lead on either Detroit atop the Atlantic Division.
Since losing four consecutive games, the Panthers' have outscored Chicago, Tampa Bay and Toronto 14-3 during their most recent winning streak.
The Panthers' first game back after the break is at Eastern Conference leading Washington on Tuesday.
"I think we're playing some good hockey,'' said Roberto Luongo, who extended his franchise-record home winning streak to eight with 22 saves and tied Tony Esposito for seventh all-time with 423 wins.
"We're getting some goals which is really nice. It's not going to happen all year round. When it happens, we'll take them.''
The Panthers got off to a quick start against the Leafs and were outshooting Toronto 7-0 before things got stale quickly.
Florida was held without a shot for the final 11 minutes of the first period and went into the break down 1-0 after Nazem Kadri took advantage of a downed Erik Gudbranson and waltzed in on Roberto Luongo.
The Panthers awoke with a flurry of goals in the second, scoring three times to give Luongo a little bit of breathing room.
Barkov tied it 3:49 into the period after weaving through center ice after taking a Brian Campbell pass.
Barkov walked in on James Reimer and beat him with a slick backhanded roof shot.
"This was a big day for a kid like that," coach Gerard Gallant said. "I'm sure he didn't sleep all night. I know I wouldn't have."
The Panthers took the lead for good minutes late when Vincent Trocheck and Jussi Jokinen played a little give-and-go with Jokinen sliding the puck to a hard-braking Trocheck in front of the net.
Jokinen got a goal of his own to make it 3-1 with 5:47 remaining in the period as his snap shot off a Reilly Smith pass zipped past Reimer.
"This is great. We had a great weekend and didn't want a let down,'' Gallant said.
The Panthers kept the onslaught going as they scored two more times in the third.
Smith got his goal to make it 4-1 as he took advantage of Reimer being stuck on the ice and Toronto defenseman Martin Marincin trying to fill the void.
Minutes later, Alex Petrovic fired off a shot from 50 feet away that somehow found its way home with 12:17 remaining.
That puck will remain with Petrovic for some time as it was his first NHL goal.
"It's a good feeling, nice to have that going into the break,'' Petrovic said. "We have something special here. We just need to keep that going."
-- Barkov was the center of attention at BB&T Center Tuesday afternoon as his six-year extension which will pay him around $6 million annually became official.
The second-overall pick of the 2013 NHL draft played in his 164th game with the Panthers over the course of the past three years and recorded his 91st point with his second period goal.
Barkov's contract runs through 2022 as the Panthers say they're committed to locking up their young stars.
"In the past, this organization has drafted players, developed them and off they've gone," general manager Dale Tallon said.
"It was a cycle that wasn't very effective. The commitment [from owners Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu] is to build a winning team and win the Stanley Cup. You can't do that unless you lock up your core guys for a long time and be committed to them."
-- Petrovic was the proud recipient of the team's 'Spacey In Space' sweatshirt -- which goes to the most deserving player following a victory -- after scoring his first NHL goal.
Now, fans can get their own -- well, once the team orders more.
The team sold all 150 replicas after intially putting them up for sale before Tuesday's game.
The sweatshirts were $40 with the team saying proceeds go to the Florida Panther Foundation as well as the Kevin Spacey Foundation.
"Yeah, but the original one is ours and it's in our locker room,'' Barkov said.


#SpaceyInSpace For Sale: Florida Panthers now selling the popular if mysterious hoodies at arena

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Last month, a strange looking sweatshirt was spotted hanging in the equipment room inside the Florida Panthers arena in Sunrise.
The royal blue hoodie, for some odd reason, had a picture of actor Kevin Spacey's face -- apparently floating in space -- ironed onto the front.
A day later, center Sasha Barkov was wearing the sweatshirt in the locker room after scoring twice in a win over Montreal.
A Miami Herald reporter took a picture of Barkov in the strange looking garb, came up with the Twitter hashtag 'SpaceyInSpace' and a legend was born.
Spacey in Space went viral across the social landscape with the actor even chiming in by writing "only I know what #SpaceyInSpace means."
The team is tight-lipped about what the sweatshirt means and a different player gets possession of it only following wins.
Now, anyone can wear one.

Tuesday night, before the red-hot Panthers played host to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the team put replicas of the sweatshirts on sale to the public.
For $40, fans can now wear the same silly looking sweatshirt Florida winger Shawn Thornton apparently brought into his team's locker room after finding it during a road trip to New York.
The team says all proceeds from the sales of the sweatshirt -- and they were brisk as the team's Pantherland store at BB&T Center opened -- benefit their team foundation as well as the Kevin Spacey Foundation.
"The mystery is killing me. I have no idea what it means, but it looks cool,'' said Jim Ball as he purchased two of the sweatshirts, a well-worn 1996 Florida Panthers baseball cap with rats embroidered on it atop his head.
Barkov, it should be noted, thanked Spacey in the twitter post in which he broke the news he would be signing a six-year contract extension with the team on Monday night.
At his press conference Tuesday, Barkov admitted he knew the meaning of the sweatshirt but wasn't about to inform the media of it.
"When we got the Spacey jersey we won 12 in a row right away," Barkov said. "I can't tell you why we got that jersey, but it's a pretty funny thing."


January 25, 2016

PANTHERS LOCK UP BARKOV: Sasha Barkov gets six years, average of $5.9 million per season

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Sasha Barkov broke the news of his six-year contract extension on Twitter Monday night and thanked actor Kevin Spacey “for the good luck,” refering to the blue sweatshirt he was awarded after a big game last month.

The Panthers expect many more big games from the 20-year-old center as he will a cornerstone piece for the franchise for some time.

Barkov, the second overall pick of the 2013 NHL draft, signed what appears to be a team-friendly deal which the Miami Herald has learned will pay him an average of $5.9 million per season.

Barkov will get $4.25 million when the contract kicks in next season and will peak at $7.75 million during the final year of it in 2021-22.

The contract is expected to officially be announced Tuesday at a press conference before the Panthers play host to Toronto at BB&T Center.

Centering Florida’s top line alongside Jaromir Jagr and Jonathan Huberdeau, Barkov has 12 goals with 18 assists despite missing 10 games with a broken bone in his hand. Florida suffered through its season-long five-game losing streak without Barkov in the lineup.

“Not many guys play like he does,” Jagr said not long after Barkov returned on Nov. 16 in a victory over Tampa Bay. “He has no limits.”

Florida has also locked up center Nick Bjugstad to a six-year contract which began this season and will now look to sign defenseman Aaron Ekblad to a long-term pact as well.


Ekblad, 19, is in his second season with the Panthers and isn’t eligible for an extension until this season concludes.

Florida reportedly had tried to get Barkov to sign for the NHL maximum of eight years but was rebuffed, as expected, by his agent.

For the Panthers, six years of not having to deal with Barkov’s contract is a win in itself. Barkov would have been a restricted free agent this summer and the six-year deal buys Barkov’s first two years of being eligible for unrestricted free agency.

“He's a horse and just gets better every game,” coach Gerard Gallant said after Barkov returned from his injury.

“He brings a lot of offense, brings great defense and is the exact kind of player a coach wants. You can trust him in all situations.'”

HERE COME THE LEAFS: Panthers hope to avoid pitfall -- and goalie injuries -- like last year ... Roberto Luongo gets start in rematch with Leafs ... Willie Mitchell is out

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Last spring, the Panthers were trying to make a push for a playoff spot when the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs came to town.

Florida ended up getting both of its goalies hurt in a crazy game in which goalie coach Robb Tallas as well as center Derek MacKenzie were both ready to jump in and play the position.

A win on March 3 would have pulled Florida into a tie with Boston for the final playoff spot.

Instead, the Panthers lost 3-2 and never seemed to recover, missing the playoffs for the 13th time in 14 seasons.

Florida never got that close to the Bruins again.

“We had the goalie incident the last time we played them and that was a tough deal,” Nick Bjugstad said. “That was a game we thought we had, should have had, and it was weird. Toronto is better this year. Every team in this league is good.”


Tuesday, the Leafs return to the scene of the crime in not much of a different spot than they were last year.

Toronto remains way out of the playoff race, but under new coach Mike Babcock — who left Detroit for an eight-year, $50 million deal in May — the Leafs have played better despite losing seven of their past eight.

“We don’t overlook anyone. We’re the Florida Panthers,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “We’re in first place because we play well most nights. But any team in the league can beat you. Toronto is a good team.”

Yes, the Panthers are clear favorites to win Tuesday night and head into the All-Star break riding a three-game winning streak.

Yet after beating Chicago and Tampa Bay on consecutive nights this weekend, the Panthers insist they aren’t taking the Maple Leafs lightly.

“We had a great weekend, but hey, that’s over with,” Gallant said. “It’s going to be a battle and we have to be ready to take that game. Don’t pack your bags for vacation just yet.”

Said Jonathan Huberdeau: “We want to go into the break with a win. The last stretch of the season is going to be very important but we’re not looking ahead. We lost a crazy game to them last year. We would like to start another long winning streak.’’

Tuesday marks the first of four meetings between the Panthers and Leafs, with Florida needing to get the lion’s share of the available points.

The Panthers came into Monday holding a five-point lead on Tampa Bay and Detroit with one final game remaining against the Lightning and two against the Red Wings, including one in Detroit soon after the break ends.

Florida has done a good job beating teams below it in the standings this season and, as one of the top two teams in the Eastern Conference, that has new meaning for the Panthers.

Now everyone aside for Washington is looking up at them in the standings.

The Panthers are enjoying the view.

“Here we go; we have 34 games left and every game is big starting Tuesday night,” MacKenzie said. “Simply put, we want to keep this going into the break and then roll with it coming out of it.

“We’re not looking ahead to Washington because we know Toronto is tough. We were ready for Chicago and Tuesday can be no different.”


-- Defenseman Willie Mitchell didn’t practice Monday and will miss his third consecutive game Tuesday. Mitchell, 38, has been dealing with lingering injuries and the Panthers hope the extended rest and time off will benefit their captain.

-- Roberto Luongo, who started last year’s game before being injured and then had to come back and replace Al Montoya, gets another shot at the Leafs on Tuesday. Luongo’s seven consecutive home wins is a franchise record as he hasn’t lost at BB&T Center since Dec. 8.

-- Defenseman Aaron Ekblad was injured during Florida’s four-game losing streak and has a personal 14-game winning streak going. Ekblad hasn’t been on the ice for a Florida loss since Dec. 12 in Boston. “In the end, I’m part of this team and when we lose, even if I’m not out there, it stings just as much,” he said.

Tuesday: Maple Leafs at Panthers

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

TV/radio: FSFL; 560 WQAM, 640 WMEN, WNMA 1210.

Series: Toronto leads 34-30-7.

Scouting report: Florida has won six of the past eight meetings with Toronto and have posted a winning record against the Leafs in six of the previous nine seasons.

January 24, 2016

FUN IN FLORIDA: Panthers back to winning ways after sweep of Chicago and Tampa Bay

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers bandwagon was filling up quite nicely earlier this month as they set a franchise record with 12 consecutive wins.
Some fell off during the four-game losing streak which followed, of course, but after this weekend, the Panthers may have picked up a few more believers.
That will happen when you become the first team in over 25 years to beat the Stanley Cup finalists in consecutive nights.
The Panthers did so in impressive fashion, too, beating Chicago and Tampa Bay by a combined 9-2 score.
"We know we cane beat any team in the league,'' said Jonathan Huberdeau, who opened the scoring and assisted on Florida's second goal in Saturday's 5-2 thrashing of visiting Tampa Bay.
"We’re a really good team and we can show we’ve had a struggle lately and we came out this weekend and showed the league that we’re a good team against a really good team, too.”
Said Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos: "I don't know how they can be underrated; they're leading the division. They had a 12 game winning streak so whoever is underrating them hasn't been watching them play. They’re in first place for a reason."
The Panthers are not only the first team to beat the previous year's finalists in consecutive games since the 2013 Islanders but are the first to win such a matchup on back-to-back nights since Calgary dropped Boston and Edmonton during a two-day span in 1990.
"We had to play great hockey to beat those two teams,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "It was a good challenge because we hadn't played very good in the games prior even though we won a few of them. ... They played their tails off."
Regardless of what happens Tuesday night against visiting Toronto, the Panthers will head into the All-Star break atop the Atlantic Division.
On Sunday, Florida held a five-point lead on both Tampa Bay and Detroit, but things are tightening up as New Jersey -- which holds the final playoff spot -- is just six points back.
According to sportsclubstats.com, the Panthers have a 97.8 percent chance of making the playoffs which is ranked fifth in the league.
This season, the Panthers have backed up Huberdeau's words by beating just about every top team in the league.
The Panthers have won three of four from Tampa Bay, beat the defending Cup champion Blackhawks 4-0 and also have wins against every team holding a playoff spot in the east save for nemesis Boston.
"I like their team," Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said Saturday night.
"They've got a mix of veterans and young guys. Their young guys have come into their own ... They have a big strong defense, and they have a goaltender back there that can keep them in every single game. They're big, strong they can skate, and [Gallant] did a hell of a job coaching those guys. They play hard and they're a good team."
The Panthers will get some time off this week as the team takes off for the All-Star break following Tuesday's game against the Maple Leafs.
Due to their success, some won't be getting a beachside vacation as three players (Jaromir Jagr, Roberto Luongo and Aaron Ekblad) as well as Gallant are headed to Nashville for the All-Star Game.
This year marks the most representatives at an All-Star Game the team has ever had as Gallant becomes Florida's first All-Star coach since Doug MacLean -- Gallant's old high school teacher and coach in Canada -- did it twice in 1996-97.
Florida's three players are the most of any team matching the host Predators and conference-leading Washington.
Since Thanksgiving, when the Panthers had lost nine of 12, Florida has gone 20-6-1.
"I don’t know if we are still the making statements-type team,'' Luongo said after winning his franchise-record seventh consecutive home start Saturday.
"People are aware we’re a pretty good club. More than anything, we had lost four in a row before that, so we wanted to get back on the right track, get back in the winning column, get some points and keep climbing."
-- Brandon Pirri sat out his second consecutive game Saturday.
Pirri said he heard from friends regarding various trade rumors floating around on Friday but said he wants to remain with the Panthers.
"The team played great so there's a silver lining in that,'' Pirri said. "We're trying to put wins together and we needed a change. My number got called.''
-- The Panthers will hold an open practice Monday at the IceDen in Coral Springs at 11 a.m.

AP Photo/Wifredo Lee


January 23, 2016

OFF TO NASHVEGAS: Jaromir Jagr says he'll head to All-Star Weekend

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Jaromir Jagr politely asked fans not to use their All-Star Game votes on him through his Twitter account.
Jagr wound up getting the most votes in the Atlantic Division and was named a captain for the revamped All-Star Game this coming weekend in Nashville.
Jagr was serious about not wanting to go but said Saturday night he will not skip the event.
Earlier in the day, Jagr reiterated his distain for the time commitment to the event explaining he doesn't want his daily workout and skating routine to be interrupted - "When am I going to skate?" he asked -- as he needs to prepare himself mentally and physically for Florida's final 33 games after the break.
"We have 30 games left," Jagr said, "and I need to be ready for them."
If Jagr were to skip the All-Star weekend, he would have to sit out a game -- something he doesn't sound too keen on doing.
The Panthers have three players -- Jagr, Roberto Luongo and Aaron Ekblad -- as well as coach Gerard Gallant selected for the event.
The All-Star Game will be held Sunday with the skills competition on Saturday.


PANTHERS BRING THE THUNDER: Panthers complete terrific back-to-back set with 5-2 win over Lightning ... Panthers beat Chicago, Tampa Bay by combined 9-2 score ... Florida scores four in second to roll

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
No team had beaten the reigning Stanley Cup finalists in consecutive games in three years until Saturday night.
The Panthers made it look a little too easy.
A night after thumping the defending champion Blackhawks, the Panthers ended Tampa Bay's winning streak with a resounding 5-1 victory in front of 19,626 at BB&T Center.
Florida came into Friday's game riding a four-game losing streak yet outscored the Blackhawks and Lightning -- the two hottest teams in the league -- 9-1.
The Lightning had won seven consecutive games, including a 3-1 victory over the Panthers last week in Tampa, before Florida scored four in the second period and rolled to its third victory over its cross-state rivals this season.
"It's not too often you can say the two Florida teams are first and second in the division,'' coach Gerard Gallant said Saturday morning, "We're both good teams and I think that makes it a lot of fun.''
Gallant stuck with his plan to roll out goalie Roberto Luongo for a second consecutive night and that worked out just fine.
Luongo, who recorded his 72nd career shutout Friday, made 38 saves Saturday as Tampa didn't connect on him until the third and the game result was all but decided.
After a scoreless first period slowed by five penalties, the Panthers came out jumping in the second.
Florida peppered goalie Ben Bishop with Logan Shaw, Jonathan Huberdeau and Sasha Barkov getting great chances before Huberdeau finally broke through midway through to make it 1-0.
Florida's power play drought ended minutes later as Nick Bjugstad scored off a Huberdeau feed with one second left on Florida's third try with the advantage.
The Panthers hadn't scored a power play goal since Jan. 2 -- a run of 28 chances without a score.
"It was a good period for everyone,'' Bjugstad said.
Florida broke things open with 4:04 left in the second after Reilly Smith's shot ricocheted off Tampa's Victor Hedman and slid past Bishop.
With 2:27 left, Vincent Trocheck chopped at a loose puck and his sand wedge shot floated over Bishop's head and into the back of the net for a 4-0 lead.
Brian Campbell's empty net goal with 4:08 remaining closed things out.
The Panthers' victory gives them a little more breathing room atop the Atlantic Division. Tampa Bay closed to within a point of the Panthers after beating Chicago on Thursday, but wins on consecutive nights now gives Florida a five-point lead on the Lightning.
The Panthers play host to Toronto on Tuesday before going into the weeklong All-Star break.


January 22, 2016

TAKING IT TO CHICAGO: Florida Panthers snap four-game slide in style, top Blackhawks 4-0 ... Roberto Luongo gets shutout, looks ahead to Tampa Bay on Saturday ... Brandon Pirri subject of trade rumors, scratched

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Gerard Gallant hoped the challenge of playing the defending Stanley Cup champions would be magic elixir in helping his team out of a four-game funk.
The Panthers certainly responded.
Thanks in part to a three-goal opening period, Florida's losing streak is history as the Panthers beat the Western Conference leading Blackhawks 4-0 in front of 19,343 at BB&T Center.
"They brought the best out of us," said Gallant, who was coaching Jonathan Huberdeau in the Canadian junior leagues when Florida last beat Chicago back in 2011.
The shutout of the Blackhawks was the first by a Florida goalie since John Vanbiesbrouck did so near the end of his South Florida run in 1998.
Roberto Luongo made 27 saves for his 72nd career shutout which puts him 10th all time.
"We knew if we had a good start, we could set the tempo and the pace,'' said Luongo, who is scheduled to get a rare start on consecutive nights Saturday against visiting Tampa Bay.
"Our start [Friday] was more important than in any other game this season I thought. ... Once we took the lead, we didn't try and sit on it."
The Panthers and Blackhawks both hold the distinction of the having the longest winning streaks in the NHL this season at 12. Chicago's run was snapped Thursday in Tampa as the Lightning pulled within a point of the Panthers in the Atlantic Division.
So, with Tampa Bay in Sunrise for a big game Saturday night, the challenge for the Panthers isn't close to being over.
"Tampa beat us pretty good up there so we have to get back,'' said Brian Campbell, who beat the Blackhawks for the first time since being traded from Chicgao in 2011.
"We know how the standings look, where everyone is. There are no excuses. We have to keep going."
Florida took its first lead since its 12-game winning ended in Vancouver on Jan. 11 when Reilly Smith took a Jussi Jokinen feed and beat Chicago backup Scott Darling midway through the first.
The Panthers continued coming hard at Darling and the Hawks, making it 2-0 when former Chicago defenseman Brian Campbell drove in a scored from the left circle.
With 2.2 seconds left in the period, Quinton Howden made it 3-0 as he scored his second goal in as many games.
"We played a full 60 minutes which is what we were doing our win streak,'' Campbell said.
Darling stayed in and Ekblad -- who hasn't played in a losing game since Dec. 12 -- picked off the puck and scored less than three minutes into the frame.
"The whole team should be happy, we were firing on all cylinders for sure,'' said Aaron Ekblad, who gave Florida a 4-0 lead early in the second after missing the past four games with a concussion.
The Blackhawks pulled Darling and decided to play with an empty net with 8:30 left in a desperate attempt to get something going, but as was the case for the Panthers in Calgary after their long streak was snapped, nothing happened.
Florida lost 6-0 to the Flames on the night after its 12-game streak came to a close.
"We talked about how our streak ended and they played a pretty strong game,'' Gallant said. "But we came out and got a pretty big lead and that helped us.''
-- The Panthers sat the slumping Brandon Pirri on Friday amid rumors the team was looking to trade the winger to another team.
A source told the Miami Herald on Friday that Pirri wasn't being shopped and the team was not inclined to trade him although a different source said the Panthers received numerous offers.
Pirri, who hasn't scored in the past six games, has nine goals this season after scoring a career-high 22 last year in three more games than he's currently played.
Pirri could be back in the lineup Saturday.
-- The Panthers not only had Ekblad back in the lineup for the first time since the Vancouver game, but Erik Gudbranson returned after leaving Monday's game with a minor injury.
Gudbranson made his presence felt in the second period when he drilled Teuvo Teravainen along the boards.
-- Willie Mitchell was put on the injured list Friday with what is called a lingering lower body issue. "He's been limping around the past two weeks," Gallant said.
Mitchell would be eligible to return Tuesday against Toronto.
-- The only active member of the Panthers who was on the team when they last defeated the Blackhawks is Dmitry Kulikov.
Kulikov's first NHL regular season experience came in Florida's two-game set against the Blackhawks in Helsinki, Finland, to kick off the 2009-10 season.
-- The past three head coaches of the Panthers were in Sunrise Friday as Kevin Dineen (2011-13) is an assistant coach for the Blackhawks.
Peter Horachek (2013-14) lives in Fort Lauderdale and watched the game from the press box with Gallant (2014-present) behind the bench.
Saturday: Lightning at Panthers
When, where: 7 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; 560 WQAM, 640 WMEN, WNMA 1210
Series: Florida leads 60-50-10
Scouting report: The Lightning, which snapped Chicago's franchise-record 12-game winning streak on Thursday, has a won seven in a row. Included in that is a 3-1 victory over the Panthers in Tampa on Sunday. Florida is 2-1 against the Lightning this season.


January 21, 2016

DAVE BOLLAND: Panthers allowing former Chicago Cup hero time to work back from lingering injuries ... Bolland hasn't played nor skated in a month ... Erik Gudbranson back at practice, Willie Mitchell out ... Dylan Olsen returns

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
It hasn't been three full years since Dave Bolland's last-minute goal in Game 6 won the Stanley Cup for the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013.
Yet, when the Blackhawks visit the Panthers on Friday, Bolland won't be anywhere near the ice.
No one has any idea when he will be back on it, either.
Bolland -- Florida's highest-paid forward at $5.5 million per season -- hasn't played nor practiced in over a month since a short stay in the minors.
Bolland, 29, is apparently afflicted by numerous lingering injuries including an ankle problem which stems from a severed tendon suffered while with Toronto in 2013.
General manager Dale Tallon said the team is giving Bolland time to heal up and be 100 percent to help the team make a playoff push.
After all, Bolland has plenty of postseason experience -- he won the Stanley Cup with Chicago in 2010 and '13 -- and could be an asset for the Panthers down the line.
"He can't skate right now, so we're just trying to get him healthy so he can help us in a playoff run,'' Tallon said.
"We just want to get him healthy, get him right. He has missed a lot of hockey so it's going to take some time. But the goal is to get him where he was. He's won championships before, that's why we brought him here. We want to get him back to that level."
According to his agent Anton Thun, Bolland is frustrated the injuries have kept him from being the kind of player he has been in the past.
"He hates this,'' Thun said.
Bolland hasn't spoken to the media since returning from the minors before the Christmas break but Thun said Bolland is in a good mental state and is committed to taking all the time necessary to getting healthy and helping the Panthers.
"The goal is for him to be able to help the Panthers not only make the playoffs, but be successful in them,'' Thun said.
"He wants to be the player he was for the Chicago Blackhawks before these injuries took place. He's a very competitive athlete. He's disappointed he can't help right now."
Although his equipment still hangs in his locker and he remained on the active roster as of Thursday, the Panthers have been forced to move on without Bolland.
Coincidental or not, once Bolland was taken out of the lineup and replaced by younger players, the Panthers began their franchise-record 12-game winning streak.
Bolland, in the second year of a five-year deal worth $27.5 million, started this season good enough but his play slipped in November leading coach Gerard Gallant to bench him for three games and demote him to wing on Florida's fourth line.
In December, after his ice time slipped to under nine minutes per game, Bolland was sent to Florida's minor league team in Portland, Maine, for what was called a conditioning assignment.
After playing in two games, Bolland was brought back to Florida before the Christmas break and he hasn't skated since.
"He's a competitive guy who works hard, but I don't think things have gone real well for him the past few years,'' Gallant said.
"Hey, he's won the Stanley Cup and is a battler. Sometimes you get a mindset when you look at things and say things have to be better. He's had to do that a few times this season. He's a professional."
Brian Campbell, Bolland's teammate in Chicago before coming to Florida in 2011, says he sees Bolland in the mornings at the team facility and says he's working toward a return.
"We all believe he can help us,'' Campbell said. "I'm sure it's not easy for him right now.''
The Panthers signed Bolland to a much-criticized contract in 2014 for money usually spent on top-line scorers not defensive pests like Bolland.
Bolland spent one season in Toronto after his run with the Blackhawks and his current rash of injuries all go back to when a tendon in his left ankle was severed by a skate blade in 2013.
After missing four months, Bolland returned to the Maple Leafs and played eight games to close the season.
Bolland didn't get the eight-year deal he sought to stay in Toronto and became a free agent.
Florida and the Leafs engaged in a slight bidding war for his services, with the Panthers getting the deal done by offering an reported $500,000 more per year as well as a fifth-year on the contract.
Tallon defended the signing by saying the Panthers needed Bolland's defensive toughness -- he was nicknamed 'The Rat' for his tenacity and ability to get under the skin of his opponents.
Bolland, it was said, would solidify Florida's penalty kill, match up against the other team's top line and be on the ice to protect late leads.
Yes, the Panthers admitted to paying a third-line defensive-minded forward as if he was a top-six scorer but felt the overpayment was necessary to get a piece they felt they couldn't develop internally. With the Panthers last year, Bolland filled the role he was expected to when healthy.
After missing two months with a groin injury thought to be linked to his ankle, Bolland played well at times centering the Panthers' third line.
This year, however, was a different story. Although Bolland came into camp in terrific shape, after a good first month, he began to look a step slow and, at times, uninterested.
Questions began whether Bolland could keep up anymore.
Now, the Panthers have to look longterm.
When this season is over, the Panthers will consider buying out Bolland's remaining three years and pay him $1.8 million over the next six seasons in order to save almost $6 million.
If Bolland doesn't return from his injuries, he could look to pick up the entirety of the $16.5 million owed to him.
"He has a couple of injuries limiting his ability to play," Thun said. "He's receiving medical advice from the team and they are trying to take steps to allow him to get back to NHL conditioning so he can play at the level he knows he can play at. He can be better than he has been.
"At the end of the day, the injuries he has sustained aren't career ending. But until you go though the process of rehabilitation, you don't know how they will respond."
Bolland's career highlight, of course, was helping the Blackhawks win their second Stanley Cup title in three years in 2012.
Chicago trailed Boston 2-1 late in Game 6 before Bryan Bickell tied the score with 1:16 remaining.
A mere 17 seconds later, Bolland followed up a rebound of a deflection from former Panthers' winger Michael Frolik and beat Bruins' goalie Tuukka Rask to give the Blackhawks a 3-2 lead with 59 seconds remaining and a Stanley Cup victory.

"We all dream about scoring that Stanley Cup winner to hoist the Cup,'' Bolland said then. "So, check that one off the bucket list."

-- Defenseman Willie Mitchell didn't practice again Thursday and will likely miss the next two games.
Erik Gudbranson returned Thursday after leaving Monday's game in the second period.
With the Panthers playing Chicago and Tampa Bay on consecutive nights, Dylan Olsen was recalled from Portland.
Friday: Blackhawks at Panthers
When, where:
7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640, WMNA 1210
Series: Chicago leads 20-9-3
Scouting report: Chicago put its 12-game winning streak on the line Thursday in Tampa. Florida, which has lost its past four, is looking for its first win against the Blackhawks since 2011 and hasn't won in Chicago since 2008 after losing there 3-2 in October.




January 20, 2016

AARON EKBLAD READY TO RETURN: Florida Panthers appear to have star defenseman back for Friday against Chicago ... Gerard Gallant gets vocal in power play work ... Jaromir Jagr knows Blackhawks bring stiff challenge

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
When the Panthers' franchise-record 12-game winning streak came to an end last week, Aaron Ekblad shaved the thick beard he had been cultivating since last summer.
"I thought I should change things up,'' he said.
If Florida ends its recent four-game slide Friday, Ekblad will likely have a say in it as he was medically cleared to return from a concussion suffered Jan. 10 on Wednesday.
When the Panthers play host to the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks on Friday, Ekblad is expected to be back on the ice.
Coincidentally or not, the Panthers haven't won since Ekblad played as their victory in Edmonton was the final win in Florida's 12-game run.
The Panthers are 0-3-1 with Ekblad out of the lineup.
"I didn't think we were going to miss him that much but we did,'' Jaromir Jagr said.
"Not only is he great defensively, but he helps offensively. That's what you need when you're losing a game, everyone needs to help offensively. And he's one of those guys can do it.''
Ekblad, who turns 20 next month, was cleared Wednesday morning and took part in the full practice including taking over as point man on Florida's top power play unit.
The Panthers have obviously missed all facets of Ekblad's game in the week he missed from his strong defensive play to his offensive push.
"We've missed everything,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "He's a 19-year-old kid but means a lot to our team obviously."
Florida was without defensemen Willie Mitchell and Erik Gudbranson on Wednesday so having Ekblad ready to play comes at a good time.
Gudbranson, who suffered what is being called a minor lower back/rib injury Monday, is expected to practice Thursday and be in the lineup against Chicago.
Mitchell, however, is apparently suffering from some lingering issues and may not play against the Blackhawks.
"It's possible, but I'll know more after practice and meetings,'' Gallant said. "That's part of hockey; you have guys banged up and other guys step in who are fresh."
Ekblad, the reigning rookie of the year, was boarded by Edmonton's Matt Hendricks early in the third period as he was driven face-first into the glass.
It was a a cheap hit apparently aimed at retribution for the open-ice hit Gudbranson put on Edmonton star Taylor Hall late in the second period.
Hendricks was suspended three games for the hit and fought Gudbranson in the early stages of Monday's 4-2 victory over the Panthers in Sunrise.
"The department of player safety takes care of what they take care of,'' Ekblad said of Hendricks' suspension. "My job is to play hockey; if they felt that was necessary, that's their job not mine.''
Ekblad said after leaving the ice in Edmonton, he passed all concussion tests and was allowed to come back and finish the game. Ekblad surprisingly played three shifts after heading into the locker room.
It was on the bus ride to the Edmonton airport after the game where Ekblad started feeling the effects of the hit.
"That's very typical," he said.
Ekblad started working out later in the week and began skating last Saturday.
"I feel good right now, a lot of people have been helping me,'' Ekblad said. "I feel prepared to play at any time. The biggest thing to focus on is I'm better and I'm ready to play.''
-- Gallant hasn't been happy with Florida's slumping power play and demonstrated that verbally during Wednesday's practice as he yelled at both units when they did things he didn't like.


"He always looks like he's ticked off,'' Jagr said. "Look at him on the bench. He's an emotional guy."
The Panthers haven't scored a power play goal since Brandon Pirri did so against the Rangers on Jan. 2 and have gone 0-23 since.
"We're trying out some new things and I wanted to get through to them,'' Gallant said. "You give them the message. Details are a big part of it."
Said Jonathan Huberdeau: "We have to come back to our game. It's his job to push us, it's our job to respond.''
-- Gallant said having Stanley Cup finalists Chicago and Tampa Bay on consecutive nights "should be fun" and "should be awesome" as he hopes the challenge really gets his team's attention as they aim to break their losing streak.
"I think I would rather play someone else than the Stanley Cup champions,'' Jagr said with a grin to a large media gathering which included a pair of ESPN reporters.
"But if coach said that, I guess he knows more than I do. They're a very good team. Of course, it's going to be a big challenge. But I don't think we overlook anyone.''
-- Gallant said his team isn't getting down on itself because of the recent losing streak.
The team remains atop the Atlantic Division and although Detroit and Tampa Bay are rapidly gaining ground, Florida is still in front.
"We're in a great spot today even if we're disappointed with the past four games,'' he said.
"I was a little ticked with the way we played the last number of games, but in hindsight, we're in a pretty good spot. No one predicted we would be in first in the division, no one predicted us to be sixth in the entire league. We just need to press the reset button and get back at it."


January 18, 2016

COVERED IN OIL: Panthers fall behind by three, come back comes up short in 3-2 loss ... Florida hasn't beaten Oilers at home since 2002 ... Erik Gudbranson fights Matt Hendricks, leaves after check in second period

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
After skipping through life for a month without much of a care, it's now time for the Panthers to start worrying.
Although flaws in their game were buried under a 12-game winning streak, Florida wasn't able to hide its weaknesses in Monday's 4-2 loss to the visiting Oilers -- its fourth consecutive defeat.
"When we had the streak we felt like we were scoring on every chance,'' said Sasha Barkov, whose team scored two quick goals to open the third period to give itself hope.
"We weren't playing great, but we were scoring when we needed. Now, we're not. You have confidence when you're winning. Everything works. It's not going that way right now. We'll work harder and start playing 60 minute games.''
Last season, Florida lost six consecutive games after its long road trip to western Canada and won't get a chance to end this slide until Friday -- when the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks come to town.
Oh yeah, Chicago has an 11-game winning streak of its own right now. The Blackhawks will be followed up Saturday by Tampa Bay.
"They were the Stanley Cup finalists last year,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "Hopefully they will get us back and we'll play well and get some points. It's a big challenge.''
The simple act of scoring goals, especially on the power play with an additional skater, has been problematic lately and was again Monday against Cam Talbot for the first two periods.
Florida, which beat the Oilers in Edmonton 2-1 just last week, had been outscored 14-1 since grabbing a 2-0 first-period lead in Vancouver before scoring twice in the third period Monday after trailing 3-0.
In Florida's three consecutive regulation losses, it has just three goals.
"We have to find ways to get going earlier,'' Nick Bjugstad said. "I don't know if it's energy issues or mental lapses. Maybe it's both. We have to figure this out.''
Matt Hendricks was back in the Edmonton lineup for the first time since being suspended for boarding -- and concussing -- Florida's rising star Aaron Ekblad.
As expected, Hendricks had to answer for his hit on Ekblad and was taken down by Erik Gudbranson's fists 4:16 in.
The loud cheers from the home crowd turned to groans moments later as Teddy Purcell grabbed a Vincent Trocheck turnover along the boards, and sprung Taylor Hall who walked in on Al Montoya and buried his shot to make it 1-0.
Later in the period, Shawn Thornton coughed up the puck as he tried to clear it out of the Florida zone and watched Jordan Eberle score to make it 2-0 with 1:18 left before intermission.
"We gave them a couple of goals, four or five breakaways,'' Gallant said. "It wasn't a fun game to coach. They were complete giveaways, and those happen sometimes, but they're happening more lately.''
The Panthers' power play -- which hasn't scored since Jan. 2 -- was again without tangible result as Florida (0-4) failed to take advantage of its advantage on 23 consecutive occasions.
After stopping Florida's fourth power play early in the second period, Edmonton made it 3-0 when Hall snapped a shot from the high slot just 4:19 in.
The Panthers made things interesting in the third with Reilly Smith scoring 2:45 in with Quinton Howden tapping in a beautiful feed from Thornton three minutes later.
Florida came no closer, with Purcell finishing things with an empty-netter with 1:28 left.
"We didn't come out in the first two periods and knew we needed a good start in the third,'' Howden said.
"We have to find a way to capitalize on our chances. We have to get back on track. The streak was fun, but we have to regroup. We haven't done that."
-- Gudbranson left Monday's game with 11:58 left in the second period after being run into the boards by Darnell Nurse.
Gudbranson didn't return with what is said to be a minor back strain.
The Panthers are off Tuesday and return to practice in Coral Springs Wednesday.
-- Florida hasn't scored a power play goal since Brandon Pirri scored in the Panthers' 3-0 win over the Rangers on Jan. 2.
"I didn't know it was that long ago,'' Bjugstad said, "but it does feel that long.''
-- Montoya had his personal five-game winning streak snapped as he hadn't been on the losing end of a game since giving up four goals in a 5-2 loss at San Jose on Nov. 5.
Montoya had also given up just a single goal in his previous six starts although he did surrender two in relief of Roberto Luongo in last week's 6-0 loss at Calgary.


TIME TO COME HOME: Panthers' slide at three after 3-1 loss to Tampa Bay Lightning ... Edmonton comes to town Monday, kicks off four-game homestand

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
TAMPA -- Nick Bjugstad has been in possession of the Panthers' famed 'Spacey In Space' sweatshirt the past three games.
That means the sweatshirt -- which goes to a team MVP after a victory -- hangs in his locker stall and travels with him in his equipment bag.
Bjugstad can't wait to get rid of the darned thing.
Because the Panthers lost their third straight Sunday evening -- this one 3-1 to the host Lightning -- the royal blue hoodie made its way back to South Florida in Bjugstad's bag.
When the Panthers win again, Bjugstad is in charge of awarding it to the next guy.
"I've had it for three games now,'' Bjugstad said after scoring Florida's lone goal on Sunday. "It's been in my stall too much. I have to get rid of it Monday night.''
The Panthers aim to end their losing streak Monday when the Edmonton Oilers come to the BB&T Center in Sunrise.
Coincidentally, Edmonton is the last team Florida has defeated and it's where Bjugstad was given the sweatshirt in the first place.
If the Panthers play Monday the way they did in the third period of Sunday's game, they could get back to their winning ways.
If Florida repeats the style it played in the first and second, however, Bjugstad may be stuck with the Kevin Spacey sweatshirt a little longer.
The Panthers end their six-game road trip 3-2-1.
"The third period was a real good period for us, we got within a goal,'' said coach Gerard Gallant, whose team went 0-5 on the power play in the loss.
"I thought we played well in the third, but the first two, there wasn't much offense from either team. Tampa took it to us a little in the second and we didn't get much from out power play.''
Florida's power play has struggled lately as the Panthers haven't scored with the man-advantage since Jan. 2.
After striking out on all five of their power play chances Sunday, the Panthers have gone scoreless on their past 19.
"We need to compete harder, put pucks at the net,'' Gallant said. "We had some great looks, changed things up in the third. When it's not going good, it gives the other team momentum.''
The Lightning survived two Florida power play chances in a scoreless first period which bled into the second.
After Tampa Bay killed off its second penalty, it took a 1-0 lead when Nikita Kucherov teed off from the right circle and beat Roberto Luongo top shelf.
Later in the second, the Lightning made it 2-0 leading the Panthers to go into the third down two goals.
Florida played a much better third and cut Tampa Bay's lead when Bjugstad followed up his own rebound and scored his first goal since Nov. 21.
Bjugstad missed a month dealing with painful migraines and his goal Sunday was his first point in his seven games since returning.
"We have to keep going, keep trying,'' Bjugstad said. "We knew their game plan, we just didn't execute the way we wanted to. They're a fast team.''
Florida and Tampa Bay -- which both hold playoff positions -- battled through the final half of the third period with no one giving up an inch.
With 1:32 left, Luongo skated off the ice to give Florida and extra attacker and the Lightning made the Panthers pay.
Just eight seconds left, Kucherov slid the puck into an empty net for his second of the night.
"We have to stop this as soon as possible,'' Jaromir Jagr said. "When you're on a winning streak, everything looks easy. When you're losing, it's the other way around. You have to stop it. Hopefully [the third period play] carries over on Monday. If it doesn't, it doesn't matter.''
-- The Panthers scratched Shawn Thornton Sunday although it's expected he'll be back Monday against Edmonton.
Defenseman Aaron Ekblad missed his third consecutive game after being boarded by Edmonton's Matt Hendricks last week. Hendricks wasn't penalized for the hit but was suspended three games. Hendricks' suspension ended and he's eligible to return against the Panthers.
-- Count Lightning coach Jon Cooper as one who thinks having both the Panthers and Tampa Bay being relevant is good for the rivalry.
"I think it's good for hockey, for everything in the state of Florida,'' Cooper said, adding the rivalry would get very heated if the two were paired up in the postseason.
"It's good for us to both do well."
Said Gallant: "It's good when both teams in the state are good and battle each other."
Monday: Oilers at Panthers
When, where:
7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640, WMNA 1210
Series: Edmonton leads 14-10-3
Scouting report: The Panthers beat the Oilers 2-1 last Sunday night before going on a three-game slide. Al Montoya will start in net for the Panthers, who haven't beaten Edmonton in Sunrise since 2002.



January 16, 2016

PANTHERS HEAD TO TAMPA: Rare meeting between in-state rivals when both hold playoff position ... Aaron Ekblad out against Lightning and Oilers, could return against Chicago

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Rare is the matchup in which both of Florida's NHL teams hold playoff positioning at the same time.
Yet when the Lightning play host to the Panthers on Sunday evening, that's exactly the scenario.
For the Panthers, Sunday's game marks the end of a long road trip -- which was interrupted by a few days back home in South Florida -- which started in Buffalo on Jan. 5.
"It was nice to get a couple days off and recharge the batteries a little bit,'' goalie Roberto Luongo said following Saturday's practice in Coral Springs.
"We have a big game in Tampa and are looking at it as one game. We have to get back on the winning track as soon as possible. We have some distance in our division and don't want that gap to close. We need to get back to getting some points."
Atop the Atlantic Division since late December, the Panthers have lost their past two games but their 18-3-1 run since Thanksgiving have put them in good position in their division as well as the Eastern Conference.
Tampa Bay, meanwhile, has bounced back from a slow start and has won five of its past six including its past four.
"They went to the [Stanley Cup] Finals last year, so they know what it takes to win,'' Luongo said. "There are a lot of good teams in our division and we can't take anything for granted. It's going to be a battle, a dogfight until the end of the year."
The Lightning came home from a similar western Canadian road trip on Friday and beat Pittsburgh 5-4 in overtime to put it in third place in the division -- seven points back of the Panthers -- coming into Saturday's games.
"Tampa has been playing better, have crawled back and have a playoff spot right now,'' Brian Campbell said.
"It's important for us to get some distance, keep this going with five games left before the All-Star break. We have to get back on track most importantly, get back to playing our style. We've been off the past four, five games. It'll be interesting to see how we react."
Said coach Gerard Gallant: "They are playing like they did last year. They're a good, solid group. It'll be a good test for us."
The Panthers and Lightning have never met in the playoffs, a prerequisite for taking this cross-state rivalry to the next level.
Neither team has been very good when the other one has been save, perhaps, for the 2011-12 season when the Panthers won the Southeast Division as the Lightning finished third and out of the playoffs.
Florida won the previous two meetings against Tampa Bay back in November with second-year defenseman Aaron Ekblad tying the first in the dying moments before winning the second with a goal in the final seconds.
The Panthers won't have Ekblad to do the damage Sunday as he remains out because of a suspected concussion suffered last Sunday in Edmonton but the Panthers plan on winning their third consecutive game against the Lightning without him.
"Teams are trying to catch us now,'' Campbell said. "Now we're the team being chased and we have to establish some distance and win some big games. This is the place we want to be and where we're capable of being.''
-- Gallant was back on the ice Saturday after missing Wednesday's 6-0 loss in Calgary to attend the funeral of his mother Rosie in the Canadian province of Prince Edward Island.
Gallant said he wasn't too upset with the loss to the Flames, joking his absence was the reason.
"That game was coming,'' Gallant said. "You could see it coming for the past week or so. We have a good group and sometime a good kicking is good for your team.''
-- Ekblad skated before Saturday's practice and took part in the early session before leaving.
After missing the past two games since being boarded by Edmonton's Matt Hendricks last week, Ekblad will also be out for Florida's upcoming two games on Sunday and Monday against the visiting Oilers.
The Panthers hope to have Ekblad back for Friday's game against the visiting Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks.
-- Steven Kampfer has filled in for Ekblad the past two games after missing a month with a knee injury suffered against the Capitals.
Kampfer said the timing worked out because he probably wouldn't have been ready earlier than he was.
"Edmonton may have been the first game so everything just worked out,'' he said. "I had a lot of treatment, lot of rehab. Everything's good now. I got my legs under me.''
Sunday: Panthers at Lightning
When, where: 5 p.m.; Amalie Arena, Tampa
TV/Radio: FSFL; 560 WQAM, 640 WMEN
Series: Florida leads 60-49-10
Scouting report: Florida won its first game in Tampa since the final game of the 2013 lockout-shortened season 5-4 in a shootout on Nov. 14. That snapped a four-game losing streak in Tampa.


January 14, 2016

SWEET HOME, FLORIDA: Panthers lick wounds, return home after 6-0 thrashing in Calgary ... Panthers get a few days off, visit Tampa on Sunday ... Sam Bennett lights up Luongo, Montoya with four goals

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Just two days after their franchise-record winning streak was snapped in Vancouver, the Panthers crashed back to earth late Wednesday night in Calgary.
The good news after the Flames' 6-0 victory? Calgary's airport was only a short bus ride away from the Saddledome.
"There’s no reason to hit the panic button,'' Erik Gudbranson told reporters.
"It’s just two games. We got a point in the last game we played. Sometimes, you just get it handed to you."
The Panthers, after 10 days in western New York and Canada, will be back home at least for a few days.
Florida, which is now riding a two-game losing streak after winning 12 consecutive, visits Tampa Bay on Sunday afternoon.
The team took Thursday off after an early morning arrival and won't practice until Saturday.
After this past trip, one in which the Panthers won in Buffalo, Ottawa and Edmonton before losing in overtime at Vancouver, they look like they could use the rest.
Florida goes into Tampa 3-1-1 on this current road trip and will follow its game with the Lightning with a four-game homestand before the All-Star break.
"We have a couple days off now we have to regroup and be positive,'' Jonathan Huberdeau said.
"We’re still a good team; it's just one game. We have to erase it out of our memories and just move onto Tampa next. It’s a division game so it’s going to be important. The game, our identity, that’s not how we play. We’ve gotta forget about it and regroup as a team and worry about the next game."
Wednesday's game was a nightmare from the start.
Florida fell behind 1-0 just 56 seconds in as Calgary's Sam Bennett beat Roberto Luongo on the first shot of the night.
The Panthers trailed 3-0 with 7:59 left in the first period after Bennett scored his second. Florida was being outshot 10-3 at the time.
With 2:59 left in the period, Bennett got his third of the night to bring a barrage of baseball caps onto the Saddledome ice.
Luongo (11 saves on 15 shots) stayed in net through the end of the first period but was on the bench to start the second as Al Montoya came on in relief.
Bennett scored his fourth goal of the game with 25 seconds remaining to put the end to a miserable night for the Panthers who were outshot 36-15 and really challenged goalie Jonas Hiller only once or twice.
"I don’t think we we were ready. That’s about it,'' Huberdeau said. "I think we let Luongo alone in the net tonight. Fortunately, Montoya came in the net for us. But we can’t let our goalie be in the net by themselves. We’re a good team. We just have to show it."
As for the loss, the Panthers aren't worried about people calling their 12-game winning streak a fluke -- and nor they should.
Although the Panthers were outshot in many of their games over the past month, they came into Wednesday's game either tied or holding a lead for of 88 percent of their previous 22 games (18-3-1).
And before Wednesday, the Panthers had not trailed at an intermission in 13 games.
"It’s always easier when you play with a lead and teams are pushing,'' Willie Mitchell said. "We really haven’t had games, to be honest, where we’ve gotten down early, where it’s been that hard-fought game.
"I think, the whole streak for us was good because you get on a roll like that and you want to keep it going.”
Florida, which came into Thursday continuing to hold a six-point lead on Detroit (the Red Wings played at Arizona late Thursday) atop the Atlantic Division, beat five teams which currently hold or are tied for a playoff spot during its winning streak.
Speaking of playoff positioning, Florida not only holds an automatic spot by being in the top three of its division, it came into Thursday 10 points ahead of Boston which held the final postseason slot.
The Panthers, who lost 8-2 at Winnipeg a year ago Wednesday in a similar position at the end of a long yet successful road trip, hope to get back on track against a Lightning team they beat twice in consecutive games in November.
Last year, the Winnipeg loss was the start of what ended up being a five-game losing streak.
The Panthers figure they're a much different team this year.
"It’s not back to the drawing board,'' Gudbranson said. "We’re a good hockey team, we just have to figure out a way to get back to our game. It just wasn’t good enough. ... At the end of the day, it’s a good thing; We needed a good spanking like that."
-- Assistant coach Mike Kelly coached the team Wednesday in place of Gerard Gallant who was back home in the Canadian province of Prince Edward Island for the funeral of his mother Rosie.
With Gallant away, goalie coach Robb Tallas wasn't in his usual spot in the coaches' booth above the ice but behind the bench helping run Florida's forward lines.
"Everyone goes through something like that," Kelly said of the thorough defeat Wednesday.
"You just have to suck it up, go home and we'll get a couple days of rest and get ready for the next one."
Gallant is expected to be back in time for Florida's 11 a.m. practice Saturday at the Coral Springs IceDen.
That practice is open to the public. The Panthers will then fly to Tampa for Sunday's 5 p.m. game against the Lightning.
Miami Herald corespondent Kristen Odland contributed to this report.


January 12, 2016

LATE NIGHT FIGHTS WITH THE PANTHERS: Florida's 12-game winning streak ends in overtime to Canucks but not before some shenanigans ... Aaron Ekblad misses game, day-to-day after Edmonton hit ... Gerard Gallant heads home for mother's funeral in PEI


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers' franchise-record 12-game winning streak came to an end late Monday night in Vancouver -- but it didn't come without a fight.
Moments after Daniel Sedin snapped Florida's run with an overtime goal in Vancouver's 3-2 win, a scrum broke out along the Florida bench.
According to reports from the Vancouver locker room, Florida's Shawn Thornton -- who helped Boston beat Roberto Luongo and the Canucks in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals -- had some choice words for Sedin and twin brother Henrik before overtime started.
Video shows Thornton on the ice before overtime saying something in the direction of the Sedins with a smile on his face.
The Sedins were not smiling.
"We have a lot of respect for their team,'' Daniel Sedin said after the game, refusing to identify the Florida player or the comment in question.
"It was just one guy and he knows who he is. He acted very inappropriate. It's something we hear every day but that was crossing the line."
After Daniel Sedin scored, captain Henrik Sedin skated toward the Panthers' bench waging his finger.
According to Vancouver's Derek Dorsett, defenseman Alex Petrovic squirted Henrik Sedin with water from the bench leading Dorsett to come over to confront Petrovic.
Instead, backup goalie Al Montoya gave Dorsett a shove with his glove hand, leading Dorsett to punch Montoya back.
"[The Sedins] were pretty mad,” Dorsett told reporters. "I saw Montoya and Petrovic jawing with them and trying to squirt them with water so I skated over to intervene. Montoya took a cut at me so I took a cut at him."
The Dorsett-Montoya incident started a series of events in which a number of Florida players piled out of the tunnel and back toward the ice.
Luongo was among them, jabbing his stick toward Dorsett from behind the bench.
Montoya was also seen hopping the wall and onto the ice to confront Vancouver backup goalie Ryan Miller. Brandon Prust had a hold of Steven Kampfer before Thornton grabbed him. Skirmishes broke out all over the ice.

"One of their guys came over to our bench and tried to punch one of our guys,'' Luongo said afterward. "He had 60 minutes to fight anyone on our team who was willing and able but he wants to do it after the game.''
Coach Gerard Gallant was in the middle of the mix and was seen being held back by officials and staff as he yelled at Vancouver assistant coach Glen Gulutzan as well as game officials and Dorsett.
Florida lost in great part to a late penalty on Jaromir Jagr which led to the Canucks having a 4-on-3 power play advantage in overtime.
No disciplinary actions are expected from the league since the game was over and no real damage was done.
The scrum did make for fun television, however, and was a big conversation piece on Canadian sports talk radio on Tuesday.
"It was much ado about nothing,'' general manager Dale Tallon said on Tuesday. "It was like a baseball fight. These don't happen anymore so people go crazy when they do.''
As for the game, even though the Panthers held a 2-0 lead at the first intermission, they didn't look to be in control as the Canucks had numerous prime scoring chances against Luongo.
Florida took the initial lead 1:20 in on Jussi Jokinen's eight goal, with Jonathan Huberdeau making it 2-0 by scoring with 33 seconds left in the period.
Vancouver cut its deficit to 2-1 in the second, with rookie Jake Virtanen tying it and forcing overtime by scoring with 2:38 remaining.
That came moments after Florida had a 3-on-1 breakaway with former Panthers' goalie Jacob Markstrom -- who came to Vancouver in the 2013 deal which brought Luongo back to Florida -- stopping Kampfer's slap shot.
In overtime, the Panthers had a number of chances but when Jagr was called for hooking with 2:53 left, Florida's fate was just about sealed. It only took 14 seconds for Sedin to find the back of the net.
The Panthers still have a franchise-record 13-game point streak going (12-0-1) and lead Detroit by six points in the Atlantic Division race after going 18-3-1 since Thanksgiving.
Florida will try to extend things Wednesday in Calgary.
"We played a better game Monday night than we did in the two previous games, but that's the way it goes,'' Tallon said.
"Sometimes a streak becomes a burden, but the guys weren't happy how it ended. That's a good thing. We're going to try and start a new one."
-- Gallant's mother Rosie passed away after a long illness last week.
Gallant left the Vancouver arena immediately without speaking to reporters to catch a red-eye flight home to the eastern Canadian province of Prince Edward Island for Tuesday's wake and Wednesday's funeral.
Assistant coach Mike Kelly will coach the team Wednesday.
Gallant -- named as a favorite for the NHL's coach of the year award by NHL.com on Tuesday -- is expected to be back for Saturday's practice in South Florida before the team travels for Sunday's game in Tampa.
Gallant travelled to Canada for a few days when the team was in Boston last month to visit his mother one final time.
-- Tallon said defenseman Aaron Ekblad is day-to-day after being boarded by Edmonton's Matt Hendricks in Sunday's win.
Ekblad sat out Monday's game with what is thought to be concussion-like symptoms. Tallon said Tuesday afternoon it was too soon to tell whether Ekblad could play Wednesday. The Panthers had Tuesday off.
Late Monday night, Hendricks was suspended three games by the NHL for the hit on Ekblad even though no penalty was called on the ice.
Hendricks is eligible to return for Edmonton's game in Sunrise on Monday.
Wednesday: Panthers at Flames
When, where: 9:30 p.m.; Scotiabank Saddledome, Calgary, Alberta
TV/Radio: FSFL; 560 WQAM, 640 WMEN
Series: Calgary leads 13-10-3
Scouting report: Florida is 3-0-1 in its past four visits to Calgary including last year's wild 6-5 win as the lead changed hands six times. The Flames have lost their past two after opening the homestand by beating Tampa Bay last week.