August 25, 2016

BOLLAND CAP RELIEF: Panthers dump big contract on Coyotes, but cost isn't cheap



The Panthers were finally able to find a taker on the remainder of Dave Bolland's contract Thursday with the Arizona Coyotes taking on three years of $5.5 million per.

Of course, the Panthers had to give something up: top prospect Lawson Crouse.

Florida's top pick (11th) in the 2015 draft held in Sunrise, Crouse was expected to make a run at a roster spot in the coming weeks once training camp opens.

His chances seem better to stick with the Coyotes than they did to stay with the Panthers; because of his age, Crouse can either play in the NHL or go back to his junior team.

Here's my story on the deal...



August 19, 2016

KEEPING IT LOCAL: Jokinen, Vokoun and Dvorak remain on ice in South Florida


As you may have noticed, a lot of the local hockey news coming out of South Florida this summer has come out of the South Florida Hockey Academy in Lighthouse Point.

Well, what exactly is the South Florida Hockey Academy in Lighthouse Point?

I wrote a piece on Olli Jokinen's new venture and you can check out their website right here.

Jokinen is joined by a number of hockey folks from all over, including Radek Dvorak, Tomas Vokoun and Petr Sykora. 

Current NHL players like Keith Yandle, Erik Gudbranson, Steven Kampfer and Dmitry Kulikov have been working out with Olli & Co. for much of the summer.

They've been working alongside younger players such as Randy Hernandez and recent South Florida draftees Andrew Peeke (second-round, Columbus) and Brandon Duhaime (fourth, Minnesota).

It's a pretty cool setup and something that looks like it has been needed here for a long time.

As always, thanks for reading!



KEITH YANDLE: Hard at work in South Florida


Keith Yandle was out at the South Florida Hockey Academy on Thursday when, by coincidence, both myself and Sr. Harvey showed up.

So we talked to him.

Yandle seemed very excited to get going and has settled into his new digs near Fort Lauderdale beach with his wife and two small children.

Yandle said Florida being very aggressive as well as having a good, young team helped sway him to sign before becoming a free agent on July 1. I'm sure the seven-year deal didn't hurt either.

Anyway, check out the story.

The video interview is below.


August 17, 2016

SAYING GOODBYE: Both Erik Gudbranson and Dmitry Kulikov surprised by trades


In case you missed it, I ran into Erik Gudbranson and Dmitry Kulikov (as well as Olli Jokinen, Steven Kampfer and Tomas Vokoun) at Jokinen's South Florida Hockey Academy held at Glacier in Lighthouse Point.

Both Gudbranson and Kulikov told me they were surprised to be traded after years with the Florida Panthers. With time, however, both are over the shock and seem ready to move on with their new teams.

Here's the link to my story with some key quotes pulled out. 


“I had heard some rumors but was really surprised because I hadn’t heard that Buffalo was one of the teams that wanted me,’’ said Kulikov, who was sent to Buffalo for fellow defenseman Mark Pysyk and a swap of draft picks on the second day of the NHL draft in June.

“I’m excited to change the scenery a little bit, go on to a new team. It felt right for some reason. After being here so many years … There were times I wanted Florida to trade me, then we drafted some good players and the team started to turn around and it was fun, so, at that point, I wanted to stay. But when the trade came, it felt like a good opportunity for me to step up my game.”


“There’s a buzz around hockey here now and I’d like to think that, as part of the Panthers the past few years, we created it,’’ he said. “It’s sort of sad to leave, but hopefully this thing continues to grow and hockey becomes the prominent sport down here.”

“I was surprised about the trade, but Vancouver is a huge hockey market and I’m excited to be going there,” said Gudbranson, sent west for forward Jared McCann.

“This is a team held in pretty high regard. On an individual level you have to be ready to make a difference. I’m excited to keep going this summer, step right in there. It was a shock to be traded, I didn’t see it coming. But it’s a business. I’ll keep going.”

I also have two videos -- one from Gudbranson, the other from Kulikov -- that I think are worth checking out. I did the interview and edited it myself!

July 27, 2016

AIR TRUMP: Florida Panthers plane has a new look, now flying for Donald Trump campaign

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Florida Panthers will have a new plane next year, the CEO of Eastern Airlines said Tuesday, which is a good thing.

The Panthers' plane is a bit busy these days.


After a historic season of ferrying South Florida’s hockey team across North America, the Florida Panthers’ jet has a new look — and a new captain.

Now dubbed ‘Air Trump Two,’ the Eastern Airlines 737 has been stripped of its hockey logos and re-branded as the second aircraft in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

With ‘Trump Pence’ and ‘Make America Great Again’ painted on its fuselage and a large American flag on the tail (where Florida’s leaping cat logo once resided), the plane is expected to be used exclusively by vice presidential candidate Mike Pence, his staff and media covering his side of the Republican presidential campaign as he travels from coast to coast.

The aircraft had previously been christened the ‘Spirit of the American Soldier.’

In a story on the plane, wrote that Pence will take over the aircraft Wednesday as he and Trump split up with separate itineraries. 

Trump is scheduled to speak in Doral on Wednesday morning; Pence tweeted he would be in Wisconsin.

The Panthers took ownership of their own aircraft last season, one in which the team set franchise records for wins (47) and points (103) as it won the NHL’s Atlantic Division title. 

The team plane made a special trip to Nashville this season as it carried a team-record three players (Jaromir Jagr, Roberto Luongo and Aaron Ekblad) and coach Gerard Gallant to the 2016 NHL All-Star Game.

According to Eastern CEO Ed Wegel, the Panthers will not be using this plane next season but will be taking over another currently being used by baseball’s San Francisco Giants.

The new Eastern Airlines, which Florida Panthers’ owner Vinnie Viola has a controlling interest in, is a fledgling air charter company based in Miami.

The old Eastern went bankrupt and folded in 1991 after over 60 years in business. 

The new company owns not only the Eastern name, but its intellectual property as well — including the logos, color scheme and old slogans such as “Number One to the Sun” and “Wings of Man.”

This past season, when the Panthers were at home or had a few days between road games, Eastern would use the hockey team’s plane for other teams such as college basketball and baseball teams. 

Eastern recently signed on to be the official airlines of FIU athletics and flew University of Miami teams around the country last school year.

Before being re-purposed for the Trump campaign, this Eastern jet sported a slick Star Trek paint scheme and hauled top Hollywood execs as well as the stars of the new Star Trek movie to its premier at Comic-Con in San Diego last week.

And this isn’t the first time Eastern Airlines — and the Panthers’ plane in particular — has hosted a high-level politician. 

When the Panthers were home for an extended stay in April, Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders took ownership of the plane for a while.

He’s not using it anymore, obviously.



Welcome Back to the Pond

Good morning everyone, hope your summer is going well.

First off, I would like to welcome you back to On Frozen Pond, a spot I have neglected a bit over the past few months.

Well, I've decided to come back to my roots and keep this site as updated as I can as we head into the 2016-17 NHL season.

As many of you know, I also keep up a Twitter feed ( @GeorgeRichards ) as well as a Facebook page I've re-branded 'OnePantherParkway.'

Both are free to follow and if breaking news is your thing, I suggest you give it a follow. It's much easier to post things there -- which is why I sort of forgot to post things here.

But that's neither here nor there. Today is a new day and, moving forward, 'On Frozen Pond' is back.

Thanks for sticking around.

See you in a bit - 

April 24, 2016

WILLIE MITCHELL: Florida's captain talks about the pain of not playing and his responsibility to his teammates

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards


NEW YORK -- Florida Panthers defenseman and captain Willie Mitchell spoke on the record with the South Florida media (and Canada's Sportsnet) for the first time in months Sunday afternoon in Brooklyn.

Sidelined after suffering what he told Sportsnet was his seventh concussion in January, Mitchell has been working on and off the ice with his teammates for the past month or so.

Doctors have warned Mitchell of the long-term affects of another concussion but the Panthers have said it's his decision whether or not he returns to the ice.

It appears he has chosen his long-term health over playing hockey.

That doesn't mean he's not involved with this Florida team.

Far from it.

Here is what Mitchell -- who celebrated his 39th birthday with his teammates in New York on Saturday -- had to say in a very candid and pointed interview.

It must be noted, Mitchell didn't want to talk about his current situation (although he did, at length) and didn't come out and say he wasn't coming back. He said that talk would come at the end of the season -- which he hopes is "around June 20th or so."



-- On being with his teammates, participating in practices and all on-ice activities save for playing in games:


"I don't want to be rude, but I don't totally want to talk about my situation out of respect for these guys. I don't want to be a distraction before such an important game tonight.


"I leave it at this: Obviously I haven't been able to get out there and it's really, really [expletive] hard to be honest with you -- and I'll use that term, I don't care. It's quite emotional. I'm just trying to keep myself busy and ... I'm not a quitter and have never quit on anything in my life. So, with my situation, I'm just trying to see it through I guess you could say. I'm trying to be a good teammate behind the scenes. Take some pressure off these guys, do things they may have to do themselves.


"This organization, some of these guys have never been here before and there are some hockey ops, day-to-day things this time of year I try to take care of to take the pressure off them to play a game for the real deal, Lord Stanley's Cup.


"We all grew up playing road hockey, front sidewalk or street; this is what it's all about. It's the reward for all the hard work, all the summers. It's hard. Lots of ups-and-downs, getting cut from teams, whatever. This is the reward, enjoying this time of year. I'm trying to help that way. Guys who aren't playing work hard, they push. I'm not a passenger out there, I'm trying to bust my ass and push them to get better and talk about my experiences a little bit. I've played a lot of playoff hockey and some pretty big damned games and I talk about that.


"I feel that way, it takes my mind off not being out there. The more I stay busy ...


-- On whether he'll give an impassioned speech before Game 6


"No, this is not the time. When you're down 3-2, you don't push the panic button and start giving speeches and stuff. Individually, when you give speeches like that, it is a panic button. Have a lunch, have a dinner and talk to guys about not only teams you've been on, but team's you've seen. It's not about that team, it's about this team. You chat about those things.


"I talk to guys on the penalty kill a lot because that's a specialty of mine over the years., talk about what it takes this time of year. The last two games we have done that. It's a seven-game series. The first few games were run-and-gun and that's not us. We're one of the better defensive teams in the league. ...


"The rest of the [BS] I'll get into with you guys hopefully around June 20th. Who knows, right? Who knows, who knows. Things change. Now is now and I'm on the outside looking in. Things change in life."


-- On the challenge of playing until June 20th


"This time of year is kind of my time of year. That part kind of eats you up a bit. I've been lucky; I've had the big skate, had the big summer -- twice. There's a couple of guys .. Roberto, I look in his eyes every day and know how much he wants that. I'm a good friend of his and that's my motivation, to see that guy win. That guy wants nothing more than to win the Stanley Cup.


"I try to make the guys aware of the moment they are in, the opportunity. We have a really good hockey team here, we're getting healthy, Trocheck is back.


"Don't leave anything on the table. We've played hard, but I think we have one more gear. I think you're going to see that tonight. It's going to take that. Long Island knows that, knows that you have to get [win] four. You get nothing for three. My old coach used to say that out west, 'you get nothing for three.' And it's true, right? You get nothing. It takes four, right? We have to stay in the moment because we're a young team and it's this; when you win, that's what you're supposed to do."


-- The feeling of seeing young guys like Matheson and Petrovic stepping up


"Those guys have played really strong games. Petrovic has an up-and-down year at times, but he's 23-24, whatever. He's young. I remember cracking into the league when I was 22 and forwards make mistakes and no one notices. It's 3-on-2 and if Petrovic doesn't have his skate down, it's Petro's fault. No. But his heavy game suits this time of year. I couldn't be more proud of him. We were sitting around the house talking about the playoffs and I told him he was going to score a big goal. He's got a great shot. He was tickled pink. Hopefully he scores a few more although that's not his game. This time of year you need guys who score at the right time.


-- On his love for this team


"Yeah, yeah I do. I've enjoyed my time. You guys don't know me that well but ... I remember shaking hands with our owner at West Point Academy and talking about being captain of this team. He looked at me in the eye and I looked him in the eye. He just said 'I know you're going to do the right thing with his bunch' and that's what I pride myself on, my integrity and my word.


"That's why I try to do everything possible -- I'm sure I've done a lot of things wrong -- but I'm trying to make sure I pass on some knowledge I've had from some great teachers whether it's Lemaire or Robinson, Suter is a pretty darned good coach over there, Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer. I could go on and on. ...


"I'm passing it on to these guys like it was passed on to me. I'm trying to do that.


"And learning. I learned so much from an 18-year-old [Aaron Ekblad] who lived with me on how to play the game. Not how to eat, he has a sweet tooth. But on how to shoot the puck and things like that. I try to stay engaged with these guys and win. It's kind of nice being the underdog. I remember last year, 'the mighty Florida Panthers.' Well, we haven't accomplished anything but we've gotten to this next season. It's hard. Fourteen good teams went home. But we're stepping, stepping, stepping. Here we've run into another good team trying to do the same thing, take that next step. We have two teams trying to make their own identity, get their own identity back.


"It's been tough, but that's how I've been trying to help out in any way I can. We're marching forward."






















April 23, 2016


Late quotes following Florida's 2-1 double-overtime loss to the Islanders on Saturday morning in Sunrise:


Florida coach Gerard Gallant


--Do you need to do anything different Sunday to get some goals?

“That’s exactly what it is. I mean I think we’re playing great hockey, I think we’ve worked hard, competed hard, great scoring chances. Just, the kid [Thomas Greiss] in there is playing real well.”


--On Nick Bjugstad

“He got some stitches in his head there, I know that. But besides that I don’t know anything more. All I know is he got stitches in his head and he didn’t come back. I don’t think it’s that serious but we’ll see tomorrow.”


--On Vincent Trocheck

“I thought he was great. First game back in roughly a month and I thought he competed hard, battled hard, and played a real good, solid hockey game. So it was great to have him back in our lineup.”


--What was going through your head when they called the penalty shot?

“Score a goal. No I mean, like I said I guess the guy gloved the puck in the goal crease and they had to call a penalty shot. Like I said, I didn’t see it I couldn’t tell but they called the penalty shot. Barky was the guy, he was on the ice, it was a good opportunity, it didn’t work out.”


Sasha Barkov

--How difficult is it to play 100 minutes and come up short?

“It’s very tough, but we have a very good chance just have to win two more games and that’s it but right now we don’t feel good but I think it is going to be a good thing and we will be ready for the next game.”

--Does winning game 4 in Brooklyn give you any confidence going in there for game 6?

“I think we have been playing great this series and have had a lot of chances. We have been playing good defensive game and offensive game so we have a pretty good chance to win.”


Brian Campbell

--How difficult is it to play 100 minutes and come up short?

“Yeah, it’s a good battle, it’s obviously frustrating how it ends . We had our chances and are going to continue to have chances, so it’s just a tough break trying to kill off a couple of penalties in overtime there, it’s not fun.

--On Nick Bjugstad

“I haven’t seen him yet so obviously for the people that know Nick around here he is a great kid and everybody loves him so hopefully everything is alright and hopefully I can get a word on him and see how he is doing, but it is definitely a little scary seeing that for the second time.”

--How good is Thomas Greiss and how has he affected the series?

“Yeah you know she has mostly been a backup in his career and he is getting a shot now and he’s playing great hockey, you know we got to find a way of not hitting him as much and [getting] rebounds. We are doing a lot of good things right so we have to keep at it.”


Islanders' coach Jack Capuano

--On Thomas Greiss

“He made some big saves. We had a couple breakdowns there and then the penalty shot obviously…It was an exciting hockey game. It was going to come down right til the end, fortunately we got the bounce on the power play by a guy, who a month ago was in the American Hockey League.”


--On taking the lead in the series

“Well I just think it just builds a little bit of confidence. We didn’t have too much success against them in the three games that we played this year. [We] probably should have lost the last one at home, we scored three consecutive goals and had 17 shots in the third period, but they’re a good team. They had some chances, this game could’ve gone either way, but I thought Thomas Greiss really stood tall for us tonight.”


--On Alan Quine

“Well for me, when you watch a player and you watch the video you see habits. You see the speed and the tenacity that he brings. Fighting for loose pucks and winning his battles. I think that anyone who plays with 91 [John Tavares] and 21 [Kyle Okposo] has got to be able to hunt people down and hunt pucks down for them…I like the fact that he’s a reserve guy, he’s a confident guy, he’s not nervous at all and he’s playing like he should be here, he’s not playing safe and that’s big for me. I just like his speed and deception, he can create a lot there.”



Alan Quine

--On atmosphere in the locker room between overtimes

“The guys were positive, they were rallying around each other and we knew that however long it was going to take we were going to make sure we didn’t let up. It was a total team effort and Greisser (Thomas Greiss) was unbelievable for us today.”


--On Thomas Greiss

“He’s been great all series and he showed it again tonight. He’s given us every chance to win.”


--On energy level at the end of the game

“It was low and then it was high…we wanted to definitely score before the end of the second overtime but we weren’t worried. If we had to go longer we were okay, but when it went in I had an extra little jolt of energy.”


--On the goal

“It was opening up for a one-timer, and Hicks (Thomas Hickey) made a good play to (Marek) Zidlicky and Zidlicky put a nice fake on it and put it right in my wheelhouse and I just kind of ripped it.”




April 22, 2016

PANTHERS PLAYOFF EXTRA, GAME 5: Jakub Kindl and Greg McKegg talk about odd lineup change in Game 4; More from Jaromir Jagr, Gerard Gallant, Jussi Jokinen and Jack Capuano

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards



-- On late change to being in the lineup for Wednesday's Game 4
"I was already on my way up to the press box to watch the game and then I got a phone call saying I had to play because of [Dmitry Kulikov] obviously. He did a great job. But I found out five minutes before the game that I needed to get dressed.
"That hasn't happened before. I'm on the way to the press box and I get a phone call."
-- On being scratched, staying prepared
"I don't think I'm playing tonight, but I have to be ready to play, the team has done well since there's been some changes. I just have to stay patient, do my work off the ice and stay positive and wait for my chance. This is a good group, whoever steps in does a great job. I'm staying positive. When the chance comes, I need to take advantage. This is nothing new. Of course I want to play, but if you don't make the lineup you want to support the team and help your teammates and make them feel good about themselves. I just have to wait for my chance."
-- Watch the Detroit series on your off day?
"No, I just kept checking my app and saw [Tampa Bay] got a goal there at the end. It's too bad. The playoffs are a different series and I wished them luck, for sure."
-- On Pavel Datsyuk
"That's sad, of course. He's been around so long, led by example every day how he worked on and off the ice. He was just incredible to be part of being his teammate all these years. I really learned a lot from him and wish him the best. It's too bad for the sport of hockey, for the NHL, to have a guy like that -- who could still play for a long time -- leave. Again, it's his choice if he decides to go back. He's had a great career here."
After warming up for Game 4, McKegg was told in the locker room by assistant coach John Madden that the Panthers were going with seven defensemen and he was out of the lineup.
-- On being the late scratch on Wednesday
"That's playoff hockey. Things change pretty quickly. You have to be prepared to play whenever you get the call. Fluky things happen in the playoffs. You need to make sure you're good to go."
-- Tough being told you're out after warmups?
"It is what it is. Obviously anytime you think you're playing, you get excited and are ready to go. But at the same time, we got the win and that's the best thing."
-- On the possibility of Vincent Trocheck playing:
“There’s a possibility for tonight, actually. I’m not saying he’s playing tonight but it’s going to be a game time decision. He’s skating well, he feels real good so we’ll make a decision tonight.”
-- On Trocheck being out:
“It’s pretty close to four [weeks]. He’s been missed, he’s a big part of our hockey team and he was playing great hockey before he got injured. He’ll be a big help to our lineup but again he’s missed four weeks now so it’ll be tough. But like I said, we’re going to get him back soon whether it’s tonight or Sunday or game seven, we’ll see.”
-- Have the Panthers controlled the flow of the game:
“I thought we’ve played real good, but again this series has been like we talked about, it’s two evenly matched teams. It’s real close hockey. I mean I don’t know if anyone has had a two-goal lead for very long in this series. It’s been one goal leads and ties most of the series and it’s been a battle. You just got to go out there and you got to be focused and you got to play your game and if you let up a little bit, if you take some bad penalties then the other team might get some opportunities. Just have to keep being consistent, playing hard and staying with their program.”
-- On the series:
“Yeah it’s been a great series, it’s been very fun to play. This time of year it’s fun to play these games and you know it’s two really even teams. Huge game for both teams tonight.”
-- What makes playoff games so different?
“Yeah I think you get chills every time you go out on the ice, and every game is so huge, every play is so huge. It’s like I said, every play can make a difference whether you win that game or win that series or not. It’s so fun to be a part of these games.”
-- What do you need to do better?
“I like how we’ve been playing pretty much all four games. Obviously there’s always something to do a little better, but overall I like how we’ve been playing, playing all these four games. Just keep playing the same way and I like our chances.”

-- On Florida carrying the flow:
“If we had it would be over right now, but we know they are a very good team. They have more experience than us, at least some guys. Tavares is very dangerous.”
-- On Vincent Trocheck being close to return:
“Well it would be huge, there’s no question about it. The way he played all season, he was a great player for us and probably the biggest surprise on our team. On the other side don’t forget he missed a lot of games, so it’s not easy just to… he couldn’t do anything, he couldn’t even practice. You know, it’s not easy to just jump in and start playing again.”
-- On the energy from Florida's home crowd:
“You could see it all over the league when you watch the games. It’s crazy, nobody really understands. If you’ve never ever been involved in an NHL playoff game, you don’t really understand how great it is. That’s the reason I came back from Europe. Just missing that kind of part of the game, it cannot compare to anything else. Just the playoffs in the NHL with the fans and the media and everything around it, it’s exciting.”

-- On Marek Zidlicky joining the lineup in Pulock’s absence:
“Z (Marek Zidlicky) is an experienced guy. Like I said, I think him and Hicks (Thomas Hickey) have some experience together. It’s tough to lose another guy. I thought (Pulock) was really playing well for us as a young guy, coming into his own. He really helped us on the power play as well, so hopefully he can get better soon.
“Z is an experienced guy he’s been in this situation before. He can add to our power play with the shot he creates from the point.”
-- What do you need to see from your team tonight in game five with the series tied 2-2?
“I think this group at this point in time knows what they have to do again. I don’t think there’s any thing or a formula that we need to reinvent the wheel here. We know what Islander hockey is all about, we know the way we need to play. We have certain guys that have to player better there’s no question, I think guys know that. But at the end of the day Florida’s a good team, we know what they are going to do. I just want to make sure we concentrate on what we do and the effort that some guys put forth here.”
-- On Game 5:
“In a 2-2 series, it’s a big game and its one we want to step up in. We want to be effective and obviously we’re relied upon to be physical and provide energy and we just need to do a little bit more. I think tonight is a very good opportunity for us to provide that.”
-- On plaing Florida
“I think they’re a good team and I think we obviously knew it was going to be hard, it wasn’t going to be easy. We expect a lot of ourselves and we want to provide offensively. Most importantly we want to bring energy and be reliable, really set the tone. I think tonight is a good chance for us to get back on track.”
-- On controlling the start of the game:
“I think we need to get off to a better start. We haven’t had a good start in any of the four games so far this series, but yeah it’s going to be loud in here, that’s what home ice advantage is. We have to get pucks deep early on and be physical and really limit their chances. We have to try to take the crowd out of it as early as possible.”


April 14, 2016

PANTHERS PLAYOFF EXTRA, GAME 1: Rocco Grimaldi making most of opportunity; Garrett Wilson's role; Panthers redecorate rafters; Jagr says he's 50; Rats are fun and more!

DAY FOUR, GAME 1 -- Thursday, April 14
TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
With so many players making their postseason debut for the Panthers (eight of the 20 players dressed tonight are in their first playoff game), there's bound to be some jitters.
For third-line center Rocco Grimaldi, being in these playoffs must feel a little like playing with house money.
He wasn't supposed to be here, yet here he is.
And he's making the most of it.
Just a few weeks ago, the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs couldn't have been on his mind.
The AHL Calder Cup playoffs, sure; the NHL postseason, no.
"I was focused on being in the starting lineup in the 'A'," Grimaldi said. "We were in a playoff chase there and I get here and we're in a division chase. I didn't expect this. It's pretty cool."
When Vincent Trocheck got hurt, however, Grimaldi got the call. He's centered postseason veterans Teddy Purcell and Jiri Hudler since and three have played pretty well.
"I think those three have been playing very well," coach Gerard Gallant said. "Rocco has played a handful of games, but the past three or four games they've played together, they've shown great chemistry together. They mix well, have some offensive ability and are quick. We really like that combination."
It appeared Grimaldi was out of the Panthers plans this season as he was sent back to AHL Portland before Christmas and never cam back up. It's not like the Panthers weren't recalling forwards, either.
When he did get the call last month, Grimaldi has taken the opportunity and taken off with it. When Trocheck comes back, this run may be over but only because there doesn't seem to be anywhere else to play him.
"I can only focus on one shift at a time, one game at a time," Grimaldi said. "I don't know what could happen as far a lineup changes go, so, I'm not worried about it. I know I'm going to play tonight and that's all I can control. It's an opportunity for me to help our team win."
So far, Grimaldi has made his best case that he is valuable to the Panthers and deserves to be a part of this.
"I've had numerous opportunities here this year and last year and I think this one has been my best,'' he said. "I feel more confident, more comfortable. Obviously playing with [Hudler and Purcell] has helped me out, make me feel comfortable which is great. I can't be satisfied with the few games I've played; I have to move forward in the playoffs.''
-- Garrett Wilson gets the call tonight on the fourth line with Derek MacKenzie and Shawn Thornton as Greg McKegg and Quinton Howden are scratched.

Many times we've seen surprise heroes pop up in the postseason. Wilson would be the biggest surprise hero if he were to pop in a goal or two at the right time in these playoffs.
It sure would be cool if Wilson -- the veteran of a grand total of 34 NHL games -- got his first NHL goal (or even his first NHL point) in the playoffs.
"This is what you play for, this is the real season,'' Wilson said. "I probably won't get my pregame nap in today. I'm just ready to go. On the fourth line, we try to play playoff-style hockey all season so this shouldn't be anything new to us. We have to do what we've been doing all year; get in on the forecheck, finish our checks and be physical. That's our gameplan. We have a job to do and be physical.''
-- Injured defenseman Steven Kampfer skated before the morning workout then joined in during the later stages. Kampfer injured his ankle in Ottawa last week and was thought to be out for at least the first four games.
Depending on how things go, however, it's believed Kampfer may be available for Game 3 on Sunday.
"It's too early; he's still day-to-day," Gallant said. "He won't play today or tomorrow, but after that, we'll see where he is. Today was the first day on the ice so that's a good thing for him."
-- No news on Vincent Trocheck today and I did not see him skate.
-- The Panthers get Erik Gudbranson back after he missed the final three games of the season.
"He's a big, physical guy who plays a shutdown role for us," Gallant said. "He plays against the top players on the other team, blocks a lot of shots, kills a lot of penalties, does a real good job for us. Guddy has taken a big step for our team this year. He's very confident, moves the puck real well and is a big part of our blueline."
Said Gudbranson: "It’s fun, it’s what you work hard for all season long. This is where we want to be. This is what hockey really is. You’re going for the Cup right now, we have a shot at it. We’ve worked so hard to get here and it’s a very fun feeling to be here but obviously our level of focus needs to be there and it is there in our group and that will get us through these next couple games."

-- The BB&T Center looked more red than usual this morning as every seat was decorated with a commemorative t-shirt.
If you have a ticket today, go ahead and take it home with you. That's what it's there for.
-- Speaking of decorating, the Panthers changed up some things in the rafters.
Not only did they move the US, Canadian and Florida flags to the opposite side of the arena, but they brought back original banners from the 1993-94 expansion season, the 1996 Eastern Conference championship banner as well as the Bill Torrey '93' banner which first went up a few years back.
A few years back, the Panthers brought in new banners which all looked the same. Now there's a little color and character back in the rafters.

"We have to celebrate the history of the team,'' Peter Luukko said. "I was there [with the 1996 Flyers] and was a victim of the rats. Lets bring that stuff back; it's really cool to celebrate and hang those banners.
"There were some really good players who came through here and some really lean years, too. It was tough. But we'll put that behind us and lets celebrate this team that has been here, had some success, and embrace it.''
Wrote Doug Cifu (@dougielarge) on Twitter: "Our guys found them in a storage room! Working on team banners next...."
-- One guy who isn't growing a playoff beard is Gallant. He had some gruff going yesterday, but it was gone this morning.
"Not for the coach," he said. "As a player, I liked the playoff beard but now it itches too much and I don't like it. That's a player thing."
-- Jaromir Jagr was told he had the option to speak before or after the game today. He took the early session. "I don't know how bad I'm going to feel after this one," he joked.
Here are some Jagr excerpts:
(*) On the youth: "We have a lot of young guys who have never been to the playoffs so we'll see how we handle it. On one side, we have experience; on the other, we don't. We'll have to wait and see."
(*) Can you share your experiences?: "No matter what you say, they have to go through it. Everyone knows."
(*) Worried about the Islanders zeroing in on you?: "I don't know why they should look at me. I'm 50 years old, so ... "
-- Roberto Luongo is big into daily fantasy games but said he didn't select Kobe Bryant last night because he's done with basketball.
"It's baseball season," Luongo said.
-- Gallant had a lengthy pregame press conference in the newly spiffed up media room at the arena.
Here are some excerpts of that:
(*) On their youth: "We've talked about our team being young for the past few years. We know what we've got with our hockey team. Our young players have a lot of experience -- not playoff experience -- but experience on the power play, penalty kill and playing big minutes for this team. It's not an issue for me at all."
(*) On the compressed schedule: "We had a lot of back-to-backs the past few years and I really like them, to be honest. Our team has had good success in them, we play good hockey back-to-back. Obviously you wonder about Jagr in back-to-back games, playing three in four days, but he's had no issues. He's played great games in back-to-backs. I like it; in four days, we'll have three games played in this series and hopefully we play well and we'll be on top. But it's going to be a battle. For me it's no issue."
(*) On the goalies: "I don't look at the other team's goalies. We worry about our goalies and our goaltending has been strong all season long. Louie is a real experienced guy and has played well; Monty, when called upon, has 12 big wins for us as the backup. They are strong in net as well, but Louie and Monty, to me, are a very strong pair."
-- Peter Luukko on the rat giveaway which ended up leading to a pair of delay of game penalties on the Panthers:
"We're here to have fun,'' he said. "Yeah, we probably shouldn't be giving out 10,000 rats, but, wasn't that a ball? Thank God we won the game or the big guy would have killed me. It's a fun league here; we can't take ourselves too seriously. Are we going to do it again? No. We'll find something else to do.''
-- Islanders coach Jack Capuano spoke on a variety of subjects as well.
(*) On why Jagr is so dangerous:
“Well number one, it’s experience. He’s played with some great players he’s won a lot of hockey games. Number two, he brings great leadership to that hockey club, they’ve got good young talented players. Number three, is his size. When you play against a player like Jaromir Jagr you know he’s going to have the puck on his stick. It’s how you defend him, that’s the big thing. As good as he protects the puck, we just have to make sure we limit his time and space, the best we can. He’s got a long stick, a great shot, he does a lot of good things and he’s a player that our guys will obviously be well aware of when he’s on the ice.”
(*) On the schedule of the series
“I don’t think it has too much of an impact, we play a lot of back-to-backs throughout [the season]. I don’t look at the schedule, you never want to look ahead, obviously just try to focus on tonight. I think the only impact for us as we move forward if you play a lot of back-to-backs, is your lineup and your goaltending situation and that’s something we’ll address as we move forward.”
-- Isles' forward Matt Martin said although the Panthers winning the Atlantic may have been a surprise, this is a strong team they're facing in the opening round.
"I think they’re very talented especially with Tampa being as strong as they were last year, with the teams on that side, I’m sure a lot of people didn’t think they would win the division," Martin said.
"They’re a strong team; they’ve got great goaltending, great defensemen and really good forwards. There’s no weakness to their team. It’s going to be a big battle, they’re at the top of the standings for a reason and they belong there."


April 13, 2016

PANTHERS PLAYOFF EXTRA, VOL. III: Roberto Luongo is ready to emerge as postseason leader ... Denis Potvin can't go home again (at least not during this series) ... Aaron Ekblad ready to roll

DAY THREE -- Wednesday, April 13
TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Goalie Roberto Luongo's biggest postseason moment came five years ago when the Vancouver Canucks held a 3-2 lead going into Boston for Game 6.
The Canucks were on the verge of winning the Stanley Cup yet didn't win another game.
Since Game 5 of that series, Luongo hasn't won a playoff game personally.
When the Panthers kick off their series Thursday against the Islanders, all eyes will be on Luongo. He's looking forward to the challenge.
"It’s fun, it’s exciting," Luongo said. "This is my first go around with the Panthers, so it’s something that I have been waiting for, for quite some time and I am excited to be back playing in the post season and trying to have another go at it here."
Many people chided Luongo when he accepted the deal back to Florida in 2014 with some saying he simply came back to the Sunshine State to retire.
Both he and Dale Tallon refuted that kind of talk at the time and Luongo's work on the ice spoke volumes to his dedication to his craft and hunger to win.
“I’m glad we are at the point we are right now, but that being said, there is still a lot of work to be done so right now I don’t really want to reflect on anything but tomorrow night," Luongo said.
"That’s where my focus is at and if you talk to any guy in this locker room we are all pretty much on the same page, we want to put all of our energy into coming into the rink tomorrow and playing a full 60 minutes if not more to try to get that first win.”
Laser focus. That's what Luongo says he needs and appears to have.
"I’m really just focused on what I need to do to be at the top of my game going into tomorrow night," he said. "I don’t try to read into all the narratives that people throw out there, but for me I’m just excited and want to have fun and enjoy it.”
When I asked if he felt like he was at his best right now -- he looked pretty darned sharp against Carolina -- he said. "I have been feeling really good the last few games and I have had a good week of practice.
"Obviously there is good energy going around right now with knowing what is right around the corner and it’s a matter of making sure it all comes together for tomorrow night."
Said coach Gerard Gallant: "Obviously, Lou wants to win the Cup like everyone wants to win a Cup, so getting in the playoffs was a big goal of ours and we accomplished that.
"Now it’s about winning and knowing you got a chance to beat any team in the league if you play well, I think is the biggest thing. He’s not getting any younger and he wants to play as well as he can, but that’s all the guys. All those guys want to win a Cup, but first they have to win a playoff game and then a playoff series. You can’t look down the road and say, ‘well in two months we are going to be Stanley Cup champions’."

-- Tuesday we spoke with Islanders and Panthers architect Bill Torrey and Wednesday I cornered their former captain Denis Potvin to talk a little bit about conflicted feelings.
Potvin, of course, captained the Islanders to four Stanley Cup championships back in the 1980s, but has pretty much worked for the Panthers on the television side of things since 1993.
With the team moving to Brooklyn, Potvin says things just don't feel the same if this series had been played on Long Island at the Coliseum.
"It's just not going to be the same," Potvin said. "I am in a way very happy this is going to be in Brooklyn and not in the old Coliseum -- Fort Neverlose.
"I think the emotional strain would have been too much on me, just seeing the banners, feeling the building, having the fans all there. The Coliseum would have made things more difficult on me.
"Brooklyn just isn't the same as the Coliseum."
Potvin also had this to say about Brooklyn:
"Well, you can't ask me the question 'what's it like to go home, Denis?' I'm not going home. I'm going to New York to cover the modern-day New York Islanders. It will make this a little easier on Bill and myself because we both love the Islanders, we lived our whole lives through that organization. That doesn't change. If it wasn't for this, I would probably want the Islanders to win. But I don't. I want the Panthers to win. That's just the way we are."

-- All attending Thusday's Game 1 will receive a red commemorative t-shirt. Here's a picture of it. That's it.
-- Gallant on the unknown of starting a series and what the future may hold:
“They are a good hockey team and it should be a good battle out there and they got some top players and have played a real good brand of hockey all season long. Like I said before, any team that makes the playoffs, anybody can win and beat anybody and it’s a matter of who can execute and who is going to play well.”
-- Aaron Ekblad is one of eight players expected to make their NHL postseason debut on Thursday. Nervous?
"Every night you kind of go to bed thinking about it, you wake up in the morning and think about it, you come to the rink and think about it," Ekblad said Wednesday.
"It’s really exciting and an anxious time for everyone and we obviously don’t want to grip our sticks too tight and kind of be relaxed and be ready and prepared."
-- Ekblad used to joke about all the milestones reached during his rookie year, but this is definitely a milestone moment. And he knows it.
"It’s every players dream to win a Stanley Cup," he said, "so obviously we are here to do everything we can to win hockey games and through all the things we have gone through this year and the milestones you talk about, it’s really exciting to be here in this moment."


April 12, 2016

PANTHERS PLAYOFF EXTRA, VOL. II: Bill Torrey is a Panthers guy, don't forget about that ... Jaromir Jagr, Erik Gudbranson talk playoffs ... Rocco Grimaldi easing loss of Vincent Trocheck

DAY TWO -- Tuesday, April 12
TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Bill Torrey, the founding father of the Panthers and Islanders, spoke for a bit today and once again reiterated his rooting interest remains with the Panthers.
Sure, Torrey -- who built the Islanders from an expansion team to four-time Stanley Cup champ before being run off Long Island in the early 1990s -- still cares about the Islanders but "that's ancient history," he said.
He has plenty of friends and family members and probably follows them as closely as anyone.
"I still have three sons who live or work on the Island and I have 10 grandchildren and some of them root for the Islanders and some of them root for me," Torrey said. "But I haven't taken a poll so I don't know where I stand."
The Panthers, no doubt, are a bit closer to his heart these days and have been for a long, long time.
"Let's make it clear,'' Torrey said. "I know where my allegiances are and have been for a good many years. No doubt about that.''

And what about the Islanders move from Long Island this year to Barclays Center?
"Brooklyn means nothing to me," Torrey said, "other than I used to be a Dodger fan."
Torrey went on to say he would rather see the Islanders and Panthers in the east finals meaning both won a few series before facing each other.
Florida hasn't won a playoff series since 1996; the Islanders haven't advanced since 1993.
"I want to win a series and that's the most important thing," he said. "They've had some rough times; we both have. But, once the puck drops and this series starts, you don't think about what has been. You think about today and tomorrow."
-- Jaromir Jagr was mostly business today -- and not just 'business in the front and party in the back' -- as his hair continues to grow out, wild and free.
Although Jagr joked to reporters about how good he was killing penalties "the last time I did it in 1996" he was mostly in an analytical mood as he sat down at his locker stall and did about 10 minutes with the large media throng at the IceDen.

Here are some excerpts (video will be up online later):
(*) "We've worked all year to get the playoffs here. Now we have a chance to do something."
(*) On losing to Isles in 1993: "I remember that series; it was a long time ago but I saw some highlights lately. That's what the playoffs are about. People, the media, thinks it's easy but it's not. It can go the other way. That's why it's so exciting."
(*) On comparing playoff run with Boston to being with Florida all season: "It is different, no question about it. We made two, three trades before the season ended to make our team stronger. But I was here the whole season, all 80 games or something. We were playing to make the playoffs and now a new season starts."
(*) On winning the Cup with Pens as a youngster: "I don'r really remember it. When I was with Pittsburgh, we made the playoffs every year. I played a lot of playoff games. It's a different season, it's 0-0. When it's the top seed playing the eighth seed, it's still very close."
(*) On the cramped schedule: "It gives an advantage to the team which wins the first one. It always gives you the confidence when you win the first one, especially when you don't have a day to rest and think about it. The momentum helps the team that wins."
(*) On home ice: "We'll have to see. That's why you play for all year long but we'll see how we handle it especially guys who haven't played in the playoffs. They may be a little nervous for whatever reason. We should just play the same way, not make a big deal about it."
(*) On playing Thursday: "After Thursday, things are going to go by real quick. We're not going to have much time to think about it or react if something goes wrong. We just need to relax and if something goes wrong, forget about it."
(*) On Barkov's confidence: "He's always been like that since I've been here. He's never too high or too low. We just have to wait and see. There are a lot of first playoff games for a lot of players. We'll just wait and see."
-- Nice plane, Bernie Sanders...

-- Erik Gudbranson was back at practice for a second consecutive day and is a go for Thursday.
-- Gudbranson, whom many think is being groomed to be the Panthers' captain one day, handled his media day as well as he ever had today as he espoused on a number of topics.
(*) "Any playoff atmosphere is pretty incredible but obviously with the struggles we've had over the past couple of years, this is going to be a lot of fun. We all appreciate it, but especially those of us who have been here for all those years. To see that building full .. There's going to be a lot of excitement."
(*) On differences from 2012 to 2016 team: "I think this is a better team, I really do. We had a great team then, but we can come at you in waves with this group. We're really solid defensively, our goaltending is phenomenal. Obviously, on the attack, we're playing the right way. Generally, we're a better team and there's so much character here. That's going to have to come out in the playoffs. ...
"There's a different confidence we have. We wanted to break the streak of not making the playoffs back then and we did. And we felt that was a successful season, a step in the right direction.
"This year, guys want to win it all. It's that simple. Guys want to go to the end. That's the biggest focus."
(*) On the intensity of coming back after missing past three games: "It's all muscle memory. At this time of year, you rely on your teammates to make you feel comfortable on the ice. That's the beauty of our team. We have a good group for that."
-- Vincent Trocheck and Stephen Kampfer were both spotted again today in walking boots -- with Kampfer having some extra contraption wrapped around his ankle. Neither are expected to be ready for the start of the series.
-- The play of Rocco Grimaldi has definitely softened the blow of losing Trocheck for an extended period of time as Grimaldi has taken this latest opportunity with the Panthers and flat out sprinted with it.
Passed over the past few call-ups, it appeared Grimaldi may have fallen out of favor with the Florida brass. That doesn't appear to be true any more.
"Every time we bring one of those guys up they help us a lot and Rocco has played real well,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "He's getting chances and playing well.''
-- Gallant said he's gearing up to watch the start of the playoffs Wednesday, especially the Tampa Bay-Detroit series.
The start of the playoffs do seem a little more exciting this year what with the Panthers in them and all.
"Definitely," Gallant said.
-- "We've been able to heal up a few bumps and bruises like any other team," Gallant said regarding this little break before things break loose. "Overall, the guys feel good. We had a real good practice, the guys had a lot of jump. They're getting excited."
-- Gallant on 'newcomers' to following the Panthers: "We're a different team, we've really built something here the past two years. We have a chance to beat anyone; if we play well, we can beat anyone. We'll play our best hockey. We have an exciting team, a hard-working team."
-- Derek MacKenzie said "it's been nice getting a few extra days of rest we're not used to having. But we're anxious for Thursday night. We're ready to go."
-- Video from Jagr and Gallant will be up on the Miami Herald video player and embedded in today's main story.
I will link both later either through my Twitter feed -- it's free to follow -- and my On Frozen Pond Facebook page (which is free to like).
My sincere appreciation goes out to all of you who already follow and/or like me on those platforms if not personally.
It's nice to be liked.
And thanks to those who also check out all the stories and watch the videos.


April 11, 2016

FLORIDA PANTHERS PLAYOFF EXTRA, DAY ONE: Gerard Gallant enjoying the extra attention ... Dale Tallon excited for playoffs, thanks fans for "sticking with us" ... Roberto Luongo likely for Games 1 & 2 ... Shawn Thornton cool with jammed up schedule ... Tro

DAY ONE -- Monday, April 11

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Florida Panthers coach Gerard Gallant seemed to be taken aback a bit by all the media coverage at Monday's morning practice although he wasn't shying away from it.
With the Panthers and the Miami Heat both heading into the postseason, this is a fun time to be a sports fan in South Florida.
"It's a little different, yeah," Gallant said as he glanced at the numerous television cameras and microphones shoved in his general direction.
"I think our team has taken big steps and there's a lot more excitement around and that's a lot of fun. When you talk about two years ago, the start of this season, it's about getting more fans in our building, more media, more publicity for our team. This has been outstanding. The guys have worked hard and created what they have today.
"Hopefully we'll go into the playoffs, relax and have fun and just go about it as another game. Everything we've talked about for the past two years is starting to happen. It has been fun.
"We weren't lying, weren't kidding people about how good our young players are and how good a team we thought we were. This season we played well all season long. I didn't think we'd win the Atlantic when the season started but I thought we would be in a playoff spot."
-- Dale Tallon: "We have a lot of pieces still coming. I like the foundation of our team; the depth chart is very balanced and as a result we were able to get 103 points and win our division against some tough competition.
"We're headed in the right direction. I like the present and I like our future as well. These are great times for the Florida Panthers."
-- Tallon on his excitement level for the playoffs: "I'm pumped. I'm ready to go. I'm hitting the ball about 15 yards farther right now."
-- Roberto Luongo's first playoff game in Vancouver back in 2007 went four overtimes. As long as that doesn't happen Thursday, expect him to be back in net for Game 2 on Friday.
Luongo pointed to playing back-to-back home games against Chicago and Tampa Bay in January as good preparation for this upcoming challenge.

-- Gallant said having the experience of players such as Jaromir Jagr and Shawn Thornton -- as well as the continued presence of captain Willie Mitchell -- helps Florida's young players out.
As I will report in tomorrow's Miami Herald, eight of the 20 players Florida is expected to line up Thursday are making their playoff debut.
"I think it helps your room, for sure," Gallant said. "The experience is there but it's all about getting ready to play. Our young guys will work hard and our leadership has been good these two years. That's why we're at today."
-- A number of Florida players already started growing out their playoff beards -- Rocco Grimaldi isn't cheating and shaved on Sunday -- although some are struggling with the facial hair.
"I'm not a big playoff beard guy," Tallon said. "I think it looks like crap, personally. But whatever it takes. If I have to grow one, I'll grow one."
-- The Panthers don't seem too upset with the compressed schedule.
Because of a concert in Sunrise on Wednesday and a two-day boxing event in Brooklyn, the two teams will play back-to-back games at BB&T Center with a third game in four days on Sunday.
"Both teams have to play the same schedule,'' Thornton said.
"I'm OK with it. It doesn't matter. It's not like back-to-backs during the regular season when one team is rested. We both have to do this. I embrace it, not bitch about it."
-- With Vincent Trocheck apparently out for at least the start of this series, Grimaldi will likely continue centering the third line. Grimaldi is definitely making the most of his recent chance and has played well.
"He's confident and is playing center like he likes to do," Gallant said. "That's his natural position and he's fitting in well. That line is playing very well. Hopefully he can keep doing what he's doing because he's playing well."
-- As far as the Islanders tanking to get to the Panthers instead of the Islanders:
"I've been around many times and there are no easy series in the NHL," Luongo said. "It doesn't matter who we play, every series is a grind. It's going to be a tough series no matter who we play. Vise versa for them. It doesn't matter what they did or who they want to play. Once the puck drops, it's going to be a battle."
-- Gallant says he's not changing the way he goes about his business.
"I'm not changing my approach at all," he said. "We're going to do a little more preparation to get ready, but we're going to play a team from four-to-seven games so there aren't many adjustments you can make. Maybe in the first or second game you make som adjustments, but it's mostly about playing your game and executing your game and playing well."
-- Tallon on the satisfaction of this season's success: "It's been gratifying but we're not anywhere where we need to be yet or where we want to be. Last year we were the most improved team in the league and we continued down that path this year despite some key injuries.
"I'm really proud of our coaches, our whole organization and especially our players. They really are a good group and I really want the best for them. .. And I'm really happy for our fans who have been patient and have put up with us for a long time."
-- Center Dave Bolland remains on the injured list and isn't expected to return to the Panthers.
Bolland, who signed a five-year deal worth $5.5 million per season in 2014, hasn't skated since December because of chronic back and ankle issues.

Thursday, Game 1: Islanders at Panthers, 8 (FSFL, CNBC)
Friday, Game 2: Islanders at Panthers, 7:30 (Sun, NHL Network)
Sunday, Game 3: Panthers at Islanders, 8 (FSFL, NBCSN)
Wednesday, April 20, Game 4: Panthers at Islanders, 8 (Sun, USA)
Friday, April 22, Game 5*: Islanders at Panthers, TBD
Sunday, April 24, Game 6*: Panthers at Islanders, TBD
Tuesday, April 26, Game 7*: Islanders at Panthers, TBD
(*) -- If neccessary



April 03, 2016

PANTHERS OFFICIALLY IN PLAYOFFS: Boston's loss in Chicago punches Florida Panthers postseason ticket

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
When the Panthers' Eastern Airlines charter took off from Fort Lauderdale on Sunday afternoon headed on the final road trip of the regular season, the team was sitting in first place in the Atlantic Division.
By the time they landed in chilly Toronto, the Panthers were officially a playoff team.
By virtue of Boston's 6-4 loss in Chicago on Sunday afternoon, the Panthers clinched their fifth postseason appearance in franchise history.
This is Florida's first trip to the playoffs since winning the Southeast Division in 2012 and just their third postseason appearance since 1997.
With four games left, the Panthers can now focus on winning the Atlantic Division title.
"The first goal is to make the playoffs and the second goal is tto finish as high as you can,'' coach Gerard Gallant said late Saturday night.
"We're still in a battle with Tampa Bay so we have to keep battling, keep going. When you're close, you have to set goals. We want to make the playoffs and the next goal is to finish in first place."
As is usually the case for the Panthers, even clinching a playoff spot didn't come without just a little stress.
Florida could have clinched on Saturday night only Detroit beat the host Maple Leafs to keep the Panthers outside of the postseason for another day.
When the Panthers left South Florida on Sunday, the Boston-Chicago game had just gotten underway.
The Panthers were in the air as the Blackhawks jumped to a 6-0 lead only to see the Bruins rally and make it a game with 10 minutes remaining.
Of course, the Panthers knew after rallying to beat the Canadiens on Saturday that they were a virtual lock for the playoffs.

With four games remaining in the regular season -- three in Canada this week -- Florida's focus is now staying atop its division and winning just the second divisional title in franchise history.
The Panthers continue to lead Tampa Bay by two points in the Atlantic and both have four games (eight points) remaining. Although the Lightning hold the tiebreaker if the two teams end the season tied, Tampa Bay has a more challenging schedule and is now without leading scorer Steven Stamkos due and top defenseman Anton Stralman due to injury.
Florida visits Toronto, which upset the Panthers in Sunrise last week, as well as Montreal and Ottawa this week before returning home for its regular season finale Saturday against Carolina.
Regardless of what happens in the battle with the Lightning for the top spot in the division, Florida will likely hold a top seed when the playoffs start next week.
The Panthers are expected to open their first-round series at BB&T Center next Thursday against an opponent to be determined.
How Florida will fare -- the Panthers haven't won a playoff series since beating Jaromir Jagr's Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1996 Eastern Conference finals -- is also to be determined.
"There are so many doubters when it comes to our team, and that's fine with us,'' Jagr said Saturday night.
-- The Panthers expect quite a challenge on this final road trip of the regular season with Toronto and Montreal both showing the Panthers they haven't cashed things in just yet.
Last week, Toronto beat the Panthers 5-2 at BB&T Center while the Canadiens held a 3-0 lead midway through the second period before the Panthers came back to win 4-3.
"We're going to play a very dangerous team in Toronto," Jagr said. "They may not have a lot of points, but they're a different team with all their young guys. They play well and have nothing to lose. All the young guys want to show their coaches they want to play next year. Plus, they are fresh and excited. ... I would rather play a team with a lot of older guys who know they're not making the playoffs."
-- The Panthers set a franchise record with their 44th win of the season on Saturday. With a win Monday in Toronto, Florida would get its 99th point which would also set the franchise mark.
"It's great but again, you look at that in the summertime when we're done," Gallant said. "Right now it's just about getting ready for Toronto and trying to get another two points."
Monday: Panthers at Maple Leafs
When, where:
7:30 p.m.; Air Canada Center, Toronto
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WFTL 850
Series: Toronto leads 35-32-7
Scouting report: The Panthers are 2-1 against Toronto this season and have won eight of their past 11 against the Leafs after losing 5-2 at home last week. The Leafs lost to Buffalo and Detroit since beating the Panthers.




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