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4 posts from March 2016

March 20, 2016

LOST IN SPACE: Kevin Spacey's appearance doesn't help as Florida Panthers lose 5-3 to visiting Red Wings

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Florida Panthers' living and breathing "good luck charm" was in the building Saturday night.
They had hoped Kevin Spacey would award the sweatshirt he was the inspiration to the game MVP, yet, despite things looking good in the second period, it wasn't to be.
Although Spacey met with the Panthers following their 5-3 loss to the visiting Red Wings, there was no 'Spacey In Space' hoodie to hand out to a deserving player.
The sweatshirt is a prize given out after wins, and this most definitely was not one of those.
"We said hello to him, but it wasn't as fun as if we had won,'' said Nick Bjugstad, who gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead in the first. "We were down a little bit but we appreciate him coming down, supporting the team. It was cool seeing him on the JumboTron. The fans really loved it.''
Playing in front of a franchise-record regular season home crowd of 20,817, the Panthers built to a 3-1 lead soon after Spacey revealed himself to fans during a break in the second period.
Spacey, who flew to South Florida after visiting patients at a children's hospital in Atlanta earlier in the day, tried to be inconspicuous by blending into the crowd by donning the now famous sweatshirt with his face on it all while covering his face with a cardboard cutout of, well, his face.
The Panthers wouldn't hold onto that 3-1 lead as the Red Wings came charging back.
As was the case last Monday in Brooklyn, Florida lost a game in regulation in which it held a two-goal cushion.
"It was a lousy start to the game and a lousy ending,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "We have to play 60 minutes and we didn't do that.''
Detroit tied the score 3:52 into the third when rookie Dylan Larkin scored his fourth against the Panthers this season.
Midway through the period, the Red Wings took their first lead of the night when Luke Glendening batted down a shot from Larkin and got the puck past Roberto Luongo.
Detroit closed things out with an empty net goal in the final seconds.
"It's always bad to lose but we were leading 3-1, had the game in our hands,'' Sasha Barkov said. "We let them score a couple and they got the momentum back. Both teams played good, had a lot of chances. We just didn't play a good defensive game. That had been our strength. We fell asleep a couple of times."
Despite the loss, the Panthers have been on quite a tear since Spacey allegedly came into their lives.
Although players are extremely tight-lipped on the meaning of the sweatshirt, it all seems to stem from a chance encounter between the 'House of Cards' star and some players while the team was in New York back in December.

Florida ended up going on a 12-game winning streak soon afterward and has gone 26-11-5 since.
Saturday, Florida -- which was out of the playoff race before the Spacey sighting in New York -- tried to pad its lead atop the Atlantic Division and led 3-1 on goals from Bjugstad, Vincent Trocheck and Teddy Purcell.
Yet Detroit battled back, and trailed by one at the second intermission after Pavel Datsyuk's scored with 11 seconds remaining in the second period.
Despite the loss, Florida remained in first in the Atlantic Division regardless of what happened in Tampa Bay or Boston's late games out west.
"We should have taken care of business,'' Gallant said, "but we didn't."
The Red Wings extended their lead on Philadelphia for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference to three points.
Detroit is trying to extend its postseason streak to 25 consecutive seasons -- the longest such active run in North American professional sports.
-- Florida defenseman Jakub Kindl played against the Red Wings for the first time in his career. The Panthers acquired the 29-year-old in a deal with Detroit on Feb. 27.
Kindl was a first-round pick of the Red Wings in 2005 and played 273 games for Detroit before heading to the Panthers before the trade deadline.
"I've only been in one organization all my career," Kindl told reporters following Florida's morning skate.
-- Gallant said Saturday morning that Derek MacKenzie and Erik Gudbranson would not travel with the team on its upcoming road trip.
Both are thought to have a fractured foot after blocking shots in different games over the past week.
-- Justin Abdelkader, who concussed Barkov with an unpenalized hit last month in Detroit, was hit hard by Dmitry Kulikov in the second period and then fought Jonathan Huberdeau in the third.
The fight was Huberdeau's second in his NHL career; Abdelkader has been in 18 per hockeyfights.com.


March 13, 2016

WELCOME BACK: Florida Panthers celebrate 1996 with 20th reunion in Sunrise

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
At first glance, Saturday night looked like hockey's version of a 20th high school reunion.
Folks mingled around the bar, munching on hors d'oeuvres while a DJ spun some tunes.
Only this was the 20th anniversary reunion of the Florida Panthers team which surprised hockey -- and South Florida -- by beating Boston, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in the playoffs en route to the Stanley Cup Finals in just the team's third year of existence.
"The buzz was real," Ed Jovanovski said of the experience. "We put hockey on the map down here. We were rock stars."
The story of the 1996 Panthers may not have the happiest of endings -- Florida was swept out of the Finals by Colorado -- yet that has never tempered the fondness fans have for this team.
Nor has losing to the Patrick Roy-led Avalanche challenged the closeness of this group.
"We built a real identity with the fans, a bunch of guys who laid it out on the ice every night,'' said goalie John Vanbiesbrouck, who stopped 93 percent of shots faced in 22 playoff games that year.
"We didn't win the Stanley Cup but we won the hearts of the fans and that's what matters most."
Said Doug MacLean, coach of the Panthers from 1996-98: "You think back and it's nothing but great memories. There isn't a bad one. It's hard to believe. To see all these guys back here is really special. What a team that was. You talk about character and team, that's what they were all about.''
Most of the players from Florida's 1996 Eastern Conference championship team made it to South Florida from general manager Bryan Murray to equipment manager Scott Tinkler.
Not only was captain Brian Skrudland back after being surprisingly let go by the team as its director of player personnel this past summer -- "I wouldn't miss this, but I miss this," Skrudland said -- so, too, was Scott Mellanby now assistant GM of the Montreal Canadiens.
It was Vanbiesbrouck's quick thinking when talking to reporters after Florida's 4-3 win over Calgary in the home opener that eventually sparked a rubber rat tossing craze which was the talk of the playoffs and still done 20 years later.
"It was a 'Rat Trick','' Vanbiesbrouck said in 1995 after Mellanby killed a lost rat in Florida's pregame locker room at Miami Arena then scored twice on the ice against the Flames.

"I had no idea that night it would turn into what it did," Mellanby said Saturday night. "John really got it out there with his quote in the paper. It's amazing and cool that people still embrace it. It's great to be part of this history and is something I'll never forget.''
The 1996 Panthers did more than just win three playoff rounds -- the organization hasn't won a postseason series since -- but may have saved hockey in South Florida.
Before going on their run, the Panthers were rumored to be in relocation talks with Nashville.
As the Panthers picked up momentum and rabid followers -- you could buy cakes in the shape of a giant rat at Publix -- Broward County agreed to build an arena for the team with the Sunrise location settled on during the Cup Finals.
The BB&T Center will celebrate its 20th anniversary during Florida's 2018-19 season.
The Panthers, now with an infusion of tourist tax money and a solid young core of players, expect to be here way past that season.
"A lot of people have criticized this fan base, but look around, it's alive and well,'' Vanbiesbrouck said.
"We're getting to the promisedland here. They're strong in goal, strong on defense, great coaching staff. It's fun and makes us watch more closely. I think this team can go deep in the playoffs.''
-- Jaromir Jagr, 44, lost to the Panthers in the 1996 Eastern Conference finals as a member of the Penguins.
Friday, he joked that the Panthers had an edge when all the rats would hit the ice because "they were out of shape so when the fans threw the rats, they got five minutes off to rest. The rats saved them.''
Skrudland said Jagr was just jealous the practice doesn't continue today. The NHL outlawed the practice starting in the 1996-97 season because of the delay caused to clean the ice after goals. Fans now toss 'victory rats' after wins.
"He would know about needing that [break] today,'' Skrudland said with a smile.
-- Based on the reaction when his name was announced during a pregame video, Philadelphia rookie defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere had quite a following Saturday night.
The first South Florida born-and-bred NHL player, Gostisbehere was playing in his first game against his hometown Panthers.
Ray Sheppard, part of the Panthers' 1996 reunion, coached Gostisbehere during his formative years in Coral Springs and was beaming Saturday when the topic was brought up.
Gostisbehere, despite not being called up from the minors until a month into the season, is now considered a leading candidate for the NHL's rookie of the year honors.
"I was fortunate to coach him at a young ages and I said then that this kid had something special,'' Sheppard said. "I thought he might get a crack at it, even then. I'm so proud of him. He's a great kid who worked hard and deserves everything he gets. It's fantastic and I'm so happy to be here to see him.''
-- The Flyers selected Gostisbehere in the third round with the 78th overall pick of the 2012 draft held in Pittsburgh with a selection it had acquired from the Panthers in 2011 for winger Kris Versteeg.
Even if Florida wanted to take Gostisbehere in the second round, it didn't have a pick that year as it had also gone to Philadelphia (and later to Tampa Bay) in the Versteeg deal.
"We knew all about him," Bill Torrey said with a grin.
-- Rookie Kyle Rau was back in the lineup Saturday after being scratched Thursday against Ottawa. Florida sat Shawn Thornton Saturday and Quinton Howden for the second consecutive game. Rau was sent back to AHL Portland on Sunday.


March 02, 2016

JAGR CLOSE TO ANOTHER MILESTONE: Florida Panthers winger Jaromir Jagr now a point away from tying Gordie Howe for points ... Al Montoya returns to practice in Denver ... Jiri Hudler, Teddy Purcell questionable v Avs on Thursday

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Jaromir Jagr was awarded a secondary assist on Vincent Trocheck's second period goal in Columbus on Saturday pulling him within one point of tying Gordie Howe for third all-time.
Jagr could tie, and obviously surpass, Howe on Thursday against the Avs.
"Seriously, every game they seem to announce another milestone for him,'' Trocheck said. "It's awesome, hopefully he gets it [Thursday].
Said Sasha Barkov: "It's a big thing for me to be on his team and play on the same line. It's like living a dream.''
Garrett Wilson originally was given credit for the second assist but apparently knew it would be taken away eventually.
"He said he never touched it, Jagr passed it right to the point,'' Trocheck said. "[Wilson] wanted to make sure Jagr got credit because every one of those at this point is pretty special."
-- Newly acquired forwards Jiri Hudler and Teddy Purcell didn't travel with the team to Colorado from Winnipeg after Tuesday's game and they are questionable to play Thursday.
Both need to get U.S. visas to come into the country as employees of an American team.
Coach Gerard Gallant said he didn't have an update on either player but both would play against the Avs if everything gets worked out and they can make it to Denver in time for the game.
Quinton Howden worked with Jagr and Barkov in Hudler's place at Wednesday's practice; defenseman Steven Kampfer filled in for Purcell on Florida's third line.
-- Al Montoya took part in Wednesday's practice after being knocked out of Sunday's game in Minnesota after being hit in the head by Marco Scandella.
Mike McKenna, called up from the AHL on an emergency basis, backed up Roberto Luongo on Tuesday.
All three goalies took part in Wednesday's workout.
Thursday: Panthers at Avalanche
When, where:
9 p.m.; Pepsi Center, Denver
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640
Series: Colorado leads 20-11-3
Scouting report: This is the 20th anniversary season of the Panthers advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals and being swept by the Avs. Florida won the first meeting 4-1 in October as Roberto Luongo made 31 saves and was in line for a shutout before the Avs scored in the final minute.


WORLD CUP FOR PANTHERS: Four Florida Panthers named to World Cup of Hockey teams ... Jaromir Jagr still debating whether to play ... Roberto Luongo not one of three Team Canada goalie selections

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
When the NHL's World Cup of Hockey kicks off in Toronto later this year, the Florida Panthers will be well represented.
Four players -- not counting Jaromir Jagr, who hasn't committed to playing for the Czech Republic -- were named to some of the eight teams who will battle it out in September.
The various teams announced their first round of roster players on Wednesday with more to come before the tournament begins.
A total of six countries -- as well as a 'young star' team made up of the best under-23 players from Canada and the United States and a European team -- will participate in a tournament the NHL has committed to putting on every four years.
Florida players who were initially named to teams are: Aaron Ekblad (North America under-23), Jussi Jokinen (Finland), Dmitry Kulikov (Russia) and Sasha Barkov (Finland).
Coach Gerard Gallant will also serve as an assistant coach on the North American under-23 squad.
"It's a big thing for me, I always want to represent my country and it's a big deal," said Barkov, who got hurt at the 2014 Olympics as a rookie with the Panthers.
"I'm going to try and win the cup. It's a pretty big tournament, a pretty big honor.''
Aside from Jagr and goalie Roberto Luongo, Jokinen is Florida's most experienced international player winning two Olympic medals (Silver in 2006 and Bronze in 2014) as well as participating in numerous World Championships.
"It's really exciting, playing for a national team is always big,'' Jokinen said after Florida's practice in Denver before Thursday's game against the host Avalanche.
"All of the best players in the world will be in Toronto. It's going to be a great tournament.''
Kulikov has represented Russia a number of times, including in world juniors and three times at the World Championships. The World Cup will be Kulikov's biggest international stage.
"I couldn't have dreamed as a little kid of playing in the World Cup or any sort of big tournament,'' Kulikov said. "Now it's reality and I'm very happy, very pleased."
Aside from Jagr, a few Florida players who were in contention for a spot in the tournament weren't named Wednesday but could be later on.
Vincent Trocheck, 22, has a career-high 19 goals and could find himself on the North American team eventually.
"I would love to play for them, it would be an extreme honor," Trocheck said. "Being mentioned at all would be pretty special."
Luongo was also left off Team Canada's initial roster after being part of Canada's Olympic team the past three times. Canada went with Braden Holtby, Corey Crawford and Carey Price.
"I called him today and told him the direction we're going and he wished us well," St. Louis and Team Canada general manager Doug Armstrong said.
"He's been very important to Team Canada. I said 'The way you're playing, we would like to keep you on the reserve list'.''
Tweeted Luongo: "Is there a team Canada over 35 I can sign up for anywhere?"
As for Jagr, well, the Czech team is holding his spot. Jagr didn't speak to the media Wednesday but is said to be mulling over whether he'll play in the tournament or not.
Jagr said he was retiring from international play after last summer's World Championships in Prague in which he was named tournament MVP.
Jagr has played in five Olympics -- winning Gold in 1998 medals -- and participated in the previous World Cup of Hockey in 2004.
Kulikov, for one, figures Jagr will make it to Toronto even if it's really late.
"Just bring him up for the championship game," Kulikov said. "Against Russia.''


Sasha Barkov:


Jussi Jokinen:


Dmitry Kulikov