November 23, 2015

MOVING ON DOWN: Al Montoya leaves game as Kings roll to 3-1 win ... Cats have won just three of past 12 ... Dave Bolland scratched

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Los Angeles Kings continued to beat up on the Panthers Monday and knocked Florida's goalie out in the process.
Al Montoya, making his first start in almost three weeks, left Monday's 3-1 loss to the Kings after apparently being hit in the head while trying to stop Nick Shore from scoring.
Roberto Luongo came in to play facing a 1-0 deficit with 11:19 left in the period and made 20 saves in relief.
"All I know is he left the game,'' coach Gerard Gallant said of Montoya. "There was no intention, they were driving the net trying to score and something caught him in the neck or the head. He was pretty sore, obviously couldn't come back."
Monday's loss was Florida's third straight as the Panthers have won just three of 12 since beating Colorado on Oct. 27.
Florida remains within shouting distance of a playoff spot but needs to start winning fast.
"I'm not frustrated, we just need to figure out what the problem is and fix it,'' Jaromir Jagr said. "We still have a lot of time, more than 60 games left, we just have to figure it out. I don't know.''
Said Gallant: "It's disappointing.''
Los Angeles opened the scoring when Tyler Toffoli one-timed a shot past Montoya.
A few minutes later, the Kings tried to make it 2-0 as Shore came down hard on Montoya with Nick Bjugstad in tow. Shore went down for the puck and slammed into a downed Montoya.
Montoya lay facedown on the ice for a few moments as team trainer Dave Zenobi raced onto the ice to assist him. After a few moments, Montoya got to his feet and gingerly skated off to the locker room.
When passing reporters on the way to the team parking lot, Montoya said "yeah, yeah" when asked if he was OK.
Luongo came in and held down the fort as the Florida offense did little against the Kings (four shots in the first) until coming out hard in the second.
The Panthers tied it on Sasha Barkov's third goal in as many games 5:07 into the period but the Kings answered and led 2-1 on Alec Martinez's backhanded shot with 2:44 left.
Early in the third, the Kings took a two-goal lead when Marian Gaborik slipped a puck through Luongo's skates.
The Kings have won nine of their past 11 against the Panthers and outscored Florida 7-2 in two wins this month.
"We didn't play good in the first period, no question,'' Jagr said. "But in the second we played good but didn't score enough to get it done. One mistake we made in the second, and it's 1-1. When they were better, they had the lead. When we were better, we didn't.''
-- With one goal this season and just a single point in his past seven games, center Dave Bolland was a healthy scratch Monday.
Bolland, 29, signed a five-year deal with the Panthers in 2014 worth $5.5 million annually to be Florida's primary third-line center.
Over the past two games, however, Bolland was dropped to the fourth line and had been moved to wing for a time.
"We're going to give him a night off and see what comes of it,'' Gallant said.
Bolland has seven goals and 21 points in 71 games with the Panthers but just one goal with five points in 18 games this season.
"When you get frustrated, the game doesn't go the way you want,'' Bolland said after an extended morning skate Monday. "You get the snowball affect.''

November 22, 2015

NATURAL CHEMISTRY: Sasha Barkov and Jaromir Jagr have something special going on with Florida Panthers

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Sasha Barkov has been back in the Panthers' lineup for a week now and his presence has definitely been felt.
Barkov, who missed 10 games with a broken bone in his hand, returned to his slot centering Florida's top line and it has created numerous scoring chances.
"It's too bad he got injured,'' Jaromir Jagr said Sunday, "because I think we would have a better record for sure. And, personally, I think I would have scored more goals."
Saturday, with the Panthers trailing by two goals late, Barkov hopped on a loose puck provided by an Aaron Ekblad shot and beat New York's Henrik Lundqvist to give Florida a chance.
Just 39 seconds later, Jagr hammered a shot that zipped over Lundqvist's shoulder to tie the score and help force overtime.
"He does everything, is great defensively -- sometimes too much so,'' Jagr said of playing with the 20-year-old Barkov. "Not many guys play like he does. He has no limits. He's a big guy, likes to work a lot. If I was him, I would work on his shot a little more. He has a quick release and a good shot.''
In Barkov's three games back, the trio of Barkov, Jagr and Jonathan Huberdeau have combined for three goals, five assists and 23 shots on goal.
Those three aim to keep things going Monday night as the Los Angeles Kings come to Sunrise.
"It's been great being back, playing is much more fun than riding the bike,'' said Barkov, the second-overall pick of the 2013 draft who played in his 135th NHL game with the Panthers on Saturday.
Jagr and Barkov developed instant chemistry when they were paired together last February after the Panthers acquired the now 43-year-old Jagr in a trade with New Jersey.
Of Jagr's eight goals in 18 games with the Panthers this season, Barkov has the primary assist on three of them and the secondary assist on a fourth.
Last year, Huberdeau had the primary assist on four of Jagr's six goals in 20 games with the Panthers, with Barkov having a hand on two of them.
"I love playing with him, I always seem to know where he is on the ice and he's always helping me,'' Barkov said. "He plays an all-around game and I just fill in the holes. I think we can do a lot better, I don't think we have played as good as we can. That's the nice thing about this game; you can always be better.''
Coach Gerard Gallant had to mix things up when Barkov went down Oct. 22 after blocking a shot in Chicago.
Once Barkov was cleared to play, he did not hesitate in putting his top guys back together.
"Barkov is a two-way player and that's what you need,'' Gallant said. "He's a horse and just gets better every game. 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.''
-- Both the Panthers and Rangers had penalty shot opportunities Saturday night. New York's Chris Kreider had a chance to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead with 6:15 into the game but was stopped by Roberto Luongo.
Florida could have taken its first lead of the night after Reilly Smith was awarded his shot seven seconds after Jagr's tying goal late in the third but couldn't connect against Lundqvist.
-- Although the Panthers had six power play chances, Jagr wasn't happy with officials missing Derick Brassard grabbing Erik Gudbranson's stick on the breakout that led to Rick Nash's second goal of the game nor the bench minor called on the Panthers for having too many men on the ice in overtime.
Florida was forced to play 3-on-4 in overtime after Huberdeau was caught coming off the ice as Jussi Jokinen was going on from opposite sides of the bench.
Derek MacKenzie also has a beef as he took an obvious high stick to the face in the first period -- and apparently lost a tooth because of it -- yet no call was made.
"What kind of calls were made all night long? On the second goal they hold Guddy's stick; it's a joke,'' Jagr said after the game.
Monday: Kings at Panthers
When, where:
7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; 560 WQAM, 640 WMEN, WMNA 1210.
Series: Los Angeles leads 15-9-3
Scouting report: The Kings, which beat the Panthers 4-1 in Los Angeles two weeks ago, had their three-game winning streak snapped Friday in Detroit and lost 4-3 Sunday at Carolina. The Kings are 2-0 in the second game of a back-to-back set this year.


November 21, 2015

LATE HEROICS SPOILED BY RANGERS: Florida gets two late goals to force OT, watch Rick Nash complete hat trick in 5-4 loss

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers were well on their way to yet another loss to the Rangers and goalie Henrik Lundqvist Saturday night before Sasha Barkov and Jaromir Jagr stepped in.
Those two scored within a span of 39 seconds in the final minutes to tie the score and force overtime.
The Panthers couldn't overcome a penalty in extra time, however, as Rick Nash's third of the night ended it as the Rangers left BB&T Center with a 5-4 win.
"We played, in my opinion, one of the best team in the NHL and we took it to them a little bit,'' said coach Gerard Gallant, whose team outshot the Rangers 43-31. "I liked a lot of things we did. We had some great chances, there was no quit.''
Florida, which has now lost seven straight to the Rangers and 11 of 13, was less than three minutes away from a regulation loss -- and no points in the standings -- before Barkov gave the Panthers life with 2:28 left.
Jagr then whipped a heavy wrist shot over Lundqvist with 1:49 remaining to tie it.
"Those were big goals,'' Barkov said. "This is a big point for us; of course, we wanted two points but we're proud of the way we played."
Florida, unbelievably, had a chance to tie the score seven seconds after Jagr's goal when Reilly Smith had a penalty shot which Lundqvist blocked.
"Even when we were down two goals, I thought we played a great game,'' Jagr said. "That's the way we should play and we have good enough players to do it all the time. That's our game and we proved that even though that's a good team, we can cycle the puck, work the boards.''
In overtime, the Rangers got the benefit of a close bench minor on the Panthers for having too many men on the ice.
The Rangers had a 4-on-3 man advantage and cashed in when Nash worked his way around the defense and sent a shot past Luongo with 3:59 still on the clock.
Instead of Florida victory rats crashing the ice after the game, some transplanted New York fans sent their baseball caps onto the surface to celebrate.
"This is a tough way to lose,'' said Nick Bjugstad, who scored Florida's first goal to make it 1-1 in the second.
"We gave them some opportunities we shouldn't have.''
Luongo was far from perfect on Saturday and wasn't on the ice when Florida got its two late goals as Gallant pulled him from net for the extra skater.
Barkov's goal came on a power play so the Panthers' had a 6-to-4 advantage when he pounced on a loose puck off a Jonathan Huberdeau shot.
On Jagr's goal, Luongo was again on the bench giving Florida an extra attacker.
"You're down two, we're having scoring and they have one of the best goalies in the league,'' Gallant said. "When they got the penalty, why not? We put a lot of pressure on them, put some shots through."
New York broke a 2-2 tie in the third when Mats Zuccarello broke free and beat Luongo. Less than two minutes later, Viktor Stalberg scored, seemingly putting the Panthers out of their misery.
That, however, was not the case as Florida fought back and salvaged a point out of the night.
"We know we are a pretty good team and we can beat any team in the league,'' Barkov said. "The Rangers are one of the best teams but we showed up and played a pretty good game. It's unfortunate they scored in overtime.''


November 20, 2015

GETTING BACK ON THE RIGHT TRACK: Panthers offense hasn't created much this week, need to fix with Rangers in town ... Roberto Luongo gets deserved day off, expected to start Saturday

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers go into the weekend ranked 18th in the league in goals scored per game, a drastic improvement over the past decade when they've usually been near or at the bottom in scoring.
Yet over the past few games, the Florida offense can't seem to get out of its own way.
The Panthers have scored a single goal in each of their past two games, taking advantage of a 39-save shutout by Roberto Luongo to beat Tampa Bay 1-0 on Monday.
On Thursday, however, the Panthers created very little in the Anaheim zone and couldn't survive a pair of goals against Luongo in a 3-1 loss.
With games against the Rangers, Kings and Islanders coming before a big five-game road trip, the Panthers need to get their offense fixed pronto.
"It all starts from our defense, we have a great goalie, we just need to use that and attack,'' said Sasha Barkov, who scored Florida's lone goal late in the third on Thursday.
"We need to get the puck in their zone, play in their zone. Right now, we're spending too much time in our zone. We need to stay on the puck, put it deep and forecheck. All of us need to do that. That will create chances.''
The past two games haven't started off well for the Florida offense with the Panthers being outshot 29-11 in the first period against Tampa Bay and Anaheim.
In those two games, Florida was outshot 80-45 with the Panthers opponents taking aim at the net 30 more times when missed and blocked shots are factored in.
Taking more shots toward the net is something the Panthers -- especially early in the game -- need to rectify.
"We know we have it in us, we just haven't shown it much the past two games,'' Nick Bjugstad said. "We have to play smarter defensively, win puck battles. We were very fortunate to beat Tampa late the other night but when you're being outshot two-to-one, the chances of winning are low. We need more chances.''
Coach Gerard Gallant wasn't happy with the way the Panthers played Thursday but after watching the game again, had his team with two more scoring chances than the Ducks.
"I don't put a lot on the shots, I really don't,'' Gallant said. "[Thursday] I was frustrated but then you watch the game; we still weren't good, but the chances were a lot closer than I thought they were. When you're coaching, all you see is the negative stuff. I still didn't like the way we played, don't get me wrong, but there was a lot more positives than I initially thought."
Gallant mixed up all four of his forward lines coming into the third period Thursday but put most of them back together for Thursday's practice.
Against the fast Rangers, Rocco Grimaldi and Quinton Howden -- who were scratched Thursday -- could return to the lineup.
"The Rangers are really quick, good on the forecheck and very smooth,'' Gallant said Friday. "They move the puck real good, are a talented team who may be the best in the league right now. We have to play well. For me, it's about being more aggressive.''
-- After making 77 saves this week and starting the past five games, Luongo was given the day off from Friday's practice at BB&T Center.
Luongo took a puck to the right side of his face early in the second period Thursday but played on with Gallant saying he was fine.
"It was just a maintenance day,'' Gallant said. "He's 100 percent."
If Luongo doesn't play Saturday -- although he is expected to -- Florida would turn to former New York draftee Al Montoya.
Montoya was the sixth overall pick of the Rangers in 2004 and spent three seasons in the organization but never played a game with the Rangers.
Montoya has faced New York four times and beaten them just once.
Luongo is 7-13-2 in 23 starts against the Rangers and hasn't beaten them since Nov. 19, 2008 while with the Canucks.
Alain Vigneault, currently the Rangers coach, was behind the Vancouver bench at that time.
Saturday: Rangers at Panthers
FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640, WMNA 1210.
The series: New York leads 48-32-6
Scouting report: The Rangers had their nine-game winning streak snapped with a 2-1 loss in Tampa on Thursday but have won 11 of 13. New York outscored Florida 13-6 in its three wins last year and has beaten the Panthers in six straight games and 10 of the past 12.



November 19, 2015

ANAHEIM DOES IT AGAIN: Panthers get tables turned, watch Ducks dominate play in 3-1 win in Sunrise ... Anaheim wins both meetings between the two this month

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
In its previous two games, Florida got some last-second heroics from Aaron Ekblad to stun the Tampa Bay Lightning.
There were no late night dramatics for the Panthers on Thursday.
No, Florida was dominated for much of the night in what ended up a 3-1 loss to Anaheim at BB&T Center.
The only reason the score was as close as it was, really, was another standout job in net from Roberto Luongo.
It was a wasted start for Luongo who was peppered with 40 shots and surrendered two goals.
"We had some chances, we just didn't do anything with them,'' said Jaromir Jagr, whose team mustered just 14 shots on goal in the first two periods and 24 overall.
"They're a big team, they play hard. We didn't match it. We had some odd-man rushes but we never spent time in their zone. We should have played our game, cycle the puck, make them tired. But we didn't do it.''
Anaheim, which took all four available points from the Panthers in the two meetings this month, played big up front and clogged things up for a Florida team coach Gerard Gallant said "wanted no part" of the Ducks' physical style.
Luongo faced 30 shots in a scoreless game before Anaheim's Cam Fowler sent a shot that squeezed its way through Luongo's skates for a 1-0 lead with 3:21 left in the second.
Desperate to get anything going, Gallant changed up all four of his lines to put a little pressure on Anaheim goalie Frederik Andersen -- who was pulled from his previous start after giving up three goals in 10 minutes.
"We didn't play real well,'' Gallant said. "They were a big, physical team and we didn't respond. Our guys didn't want the puck enough. You can't win a game with your goalie standing on his head ... [Luongo] did enough. We can't keep playing like that against physical teams."
Gallant's changes worked at times but Florida still looked slow and lifeless as Anaheim tried to put things away when Andrew Cogliano scored on a 2-on-1 shorthanded chance with 5:19 left.
Florida's Sasha Barkov gave the Panthers for a chance at some more late-minute heroics when he cut the deficit in half by driving in and firing a wrist shot that clipped Andersen and found its way to the back of the net.
"We didn't play a good game,'' Barkov said. "We have a great goalie, Luongo keeps us in the game all the time. We need to step up, shoot more, create scoring chances."
Barkov's goal wasn't near enough as Luongo came out of the net to allow Florida an extra attacker yet the Ducks ended it with an empty net goal.
"I had chances, we had chances, but it was a tough one -- and we can't play like that,'' Jonathan Huberdeau said. "We have to be better offensively, shoot the puck more and stop looking for the fancy play."
The Ducks, who stole victory from the Panthers on Nov. 4 with a last-second goal to force overtime, had lost four of their previous five.
With the Rangers coming to town Saturday, the Panthers sure could have used this one.
"We didn't play well enough to deserve the game,'' Gallant said. "They have to be the ones who want to pay the price."
-- Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov will not require surgery on his injured knee and should only be out of the lineup for the next few weeks.
Kulikov was injured Saturday in Tampa when he was boarded by the Lightning's J.T. Brown.
-- Luongo had gone 111:43 between goals before the Ducks scored late in the second on Thursday.
Luongo had not surrendered a goal since midway through the third period Saturday in Tampa and stopped 74 consecutive shots during that time.

November 18, 2015

KAMPFER GETS HIS CHANCE: Florida defenseman Steven Kampfer relishes chance to help Florida Panthers ... Florida has won three of four, plays host to Anaheim Thursday ... Team hosts food, frozen turkey drive

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Steven Kampfer played in just his second game of the season Monday against Tampa Bay.
The Florida defenseman has yet to complain about it.
After spending much of his career in the minors -- and not playing in the NHL for three years until the Panthers brought him up last year -- Kampfer knows things could be worse.
"You have to treat your practices as if they're your games and if you do that, it makes things easier,'' said Kampfer, who is back in the lineup after Dmitry Kulikov got hurt Saturday against the Lightning.
"You can only be told 'stick with it' so many times. You have to tell yourself you're in the NHL. Other guys are working 9-to-5. I appreciate what I have, try to take advantage of the opportunities when they come. You can't sulk, no one wants to be around a guy like that. I just want to become a better player.''
Kampfer was one of the Panthers' biggest surprises last year. Kampfer, who last played in the NHL in 2012 for Minnesota, came to Florida in a minor league deal for Joey Crabb before the season started.
After starting with Florida's AHL team in San Antonio, Kampfer impressed the Panthers' front office yet he stayed in Texas as Florida's blueline stayed healthy.
When Willie Mitchell suffered a concussion on Feb. 3, Kampfer was called up, played in 21 consecutive games and signed a two-year contract extension.
Kampfer then only played in three of the final 12 games last season.
This year, Kampfer was a healthy scratch for six consecutive games before getting in against Chicago on Oct. 22.
Kampfer then sat for the next 10 before playing Monday night.
"It was an easy game to get into with the rivalry and all,'' he said. "It felt like a playoff game. You get into the action early, throw the body around a little bit and everything feels good. I thought we played well.''
Coach Gerard Gallant has often said how much faith the Panthers have in Kampfer and appreciate the work he puts in when he's not playing.
Even though Kampfer was playing on a two-way contract since last year, the Panthers are reticent to send him back to the minors to get playing time because they don't want to risk losing him through the waiver process.
Kampfer will be on a one-way NHL contract next season.
"He played real good," Gallant said. "He hasn't played much but was fresh, he was excited. He played a real solid game.
"Lets face it, he's played a lot in the minors during his career. It doesn't stink to be the seventh defenseman in the NHL. But he's worked hard every day and that's why he played the way he did the other night. We expect him to play good. He opens eyes when he's out there. He's a good hockey player."
-- Defenseman Aaron Ekblad became the first NHL player to record a game-tying and a game-winning goal in consecutive games since Dany Heatley did it for Atlanta in 2003 when he helped Florida sweep the home-and-home series against the Lightning.
"He's getting pucks through, playing with some confidence,'' Gallant said.
-- Goalie Roberto Luongo got his first shutout of the season Monday and 69th of his career (he's the NHL active leader) on Monday. Luongo's 39 saves were his most in a shutout since he made 44 in Florida's 5-0 win at Washington in 2006.

-- The Panthers are hosting a food drive this week to benefit Harvest Drive.
Fans who bring non-perishable food items to the arena Thursday will receive a free poster.
On Friday, players and coaches will be among those at BB&T Center collecting frozen turkeys from 4-7 p.m. Fans who donate a frozen turkey will receive a pair of tickets to a future game.
Thursday: Ducks at Panthers
When, where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640, WMNA 1210.
The series: Florida leads 13-12-3
Scouting report: The Ducks, in the middle of a four-game road trip, have lost four of their past five games. Anaheim beat the visiting Panthers 3-2 in a shootout on Nov. 4 in a game Florida led until the final seconds of regulation


November 17, 2015

LEAVE IT TO BEEZER: John Vanbiesbrouck returns, inducted into Florida Sports Hall of Fame ... Vanbiesbrouck helped sell hockey here early, hope it returns to past glory

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
John Vanbiesbrouck's first taste of South Florida hockey came on Dec. 9, 1992, when he made 31 saves as his New York Rangers beat Tampa Bay 6-5 at Miami Arena.
The next day, the NHL made a surprise announcement and awarded both H. Wayne Huizenga and the Disney corporation NHL expansion teams which would take the ice just 10 months later.
Vanbiesbrouck could not have imagined how that day would affect him.
The Rangers traded Vanbiesbrouck to Vancouver following the 1992-93 season and the Canucks made him available in the 1993 expansion draft.
The new Florida Panthers snapped him up with the first pick.


'The Beezer' quickly became of the most popular athletes in all of South Florida, his exploits in net keeping the Panthers competitive during their formative years before leading them to the Stanley Cup Finals in just their third season.
Like Dan Marino's No. 13 in the stands at Sun Life Stadium, many fans still wear Vanbiesbrouck's No. 34 to games.
"Twenty years go by so fast,'' Vanbiesbrouck said. "I have grandkids now. ... I love it, a part of me is always here because we did some special things. When you're playing, you don't know how far things will go, how lasting it will be. It's really cool. I hope my grandkids get to see that sometime."
Tuesday, the grandfather who coined the term 'Rat Trick' and helped create a rat-tossing sensation was inducted into the Florida Sports Hall of Fame at a luncheon at the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood.
Just the second hockey player in the Florida Hall -- Tampa Bay's 2004 Stanley Cup captain Dave Andreychuk is the other -- Vanbiesbrouck says those five years he spent with the Panthers are ones he'll always remember.
"It's special to be remembered,'' said Vanbiesbrouck, now general manager of the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the USHL junior league in Michigan.


"When we made our run in 1996, people threw rats. We didn't win the Cup, but we won the fans over. That's what counts.''
Vanbiesbrouck, who was inducted into the Hall with eight others including Zach Thomas, Tony Dungy, Jeff Conine and Bennie Blades, helped sell South Florida on hockey from the start.
Bill Torrey, the team's first president, brought a small group of veteran players such as Vanbiesbrouck, Scott Mellanby and Brian Skrudland to town after the expansion draft to help introduce the game to the locals.
Selling the foreign sport of hockey during a South Florida August wasn't the easiest thing to do.
"We went into the streets of Miami and played street hockey just to introduce the game,'' Torrey said.
"We drove around from South Miami to West Palm Beach. It's 90-something degrees and these veteran NHL players are playing street hockey. It kind of brought them together. They had fun with it. They never complained.''
Vanbiesbrouck sees the problem the Panthers have drawing fans to the team's second home -- one he never played in as a member of the Panthers -- in suburban Sunrise.
With not much success on the ice since the first few years, the franchise has foundered and lost its standing in the South Florida pecking order.
One reason Huizenga wanted a 20,000 seat arena was because the Panthers had a long waiting list for tickets at the always sold-out Miami Arena.
The Panthers were once as popular as any team in the region and Vanbiesbrouck hopes they get there once more.
The team and Broward County are currently negotiating a financial package which will guarantee the Panthers stay in Sunrise for the foreseeable future.
"This is a wonderful game and I'm so happy they're maintaining it here in South Florida,'' Vanbiesbrouck said. "You have to keep it here. It's growing the game. In the USHL, we have 12 players in our league from the state of Florida. ... The roots being laid here are going a lot farther than people know. It's really taking hold."
Vanbiesbrouck continues to follow the Panthers from afar, especially keeping an eye on Roberto Luongo, whom he described as a "hall of fame goalie."
"I'm fond of the way they put this team together, think they have an exciting team to watch,'' said Vanbiesbrouck, whose No. 34 is featured on billboards around town with Luongo's No. 1.
"I think they have an exciting team to watch, play an exciting brand of hockey. I love the game right now, but as far as this team goes, they're scaring a lot of people right now. Give it some time after Christmas and we'll see how it goes in January, but I think they have a real shot at doing some special things.''
The Panthers and Vanbiesbrouck went their separate ways after the final season at Miami Arena in 1998 with Luongo coming to town in 2000.
Now in his second stint with the Panthers after being traded away in 2006, Luongo owns every major goaltending record in franchise history and continues moving up the all-time NHL lists as well.
"Jagr and Luongo; A milestone every night,'' Luongo joked with Jagr after Monday's win.
Later, Luongo said he remembered watching Vanbiesbrouck and that run to the Cup in 1996.
"Everyone remembers the rats and how he put a team of grinders on his back and took them to the Finals,'' Luongo said. "It's always nice to see a goalie go on a run like that in the playoffs. Hopefully that's me this year. I think he's still one of the most popular figures here. People remember the kind of runs like the one he made."
Vanbiesbrouck and seven of the other Florida Hall of Fame inductees were hosted at the Panthers' 1-0 victory over Tampa Bay on Monday (Dungee was the only one not there).
The other inductees are: Thomas (Dolphins), Conine (Marlins), Blades (Piper High/UM/Lions), Randy Ableman (UM diving coach), Paula Carter (bowling), Joey Cornblit (Jai-Alai) and late UM radio voice Sonny Hirsch.
"I know I'm grateful to be able to play the game that long and go in with this group,'' Thomas said. "It's a great group. I'm grateful to be honored.''


November 16, 2015

EKBLAD THE LIGHTNING KILLER: Aaron Ekblad scores late goal on Tampa Bay again, this time to win it in 1-0 victory ... Roberto Luongo terrific in 69th career shutout ... Panthers take all four points away from Lightning series

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
You can't blame the Tampa Bay Lightning if it's starting to despise Aaron Ekblad.
For the second straight game, Ekblad scored a goal off a Tampa Bay player in the final moments -- Monday's goal with 20.2 seconds left the difference in Florida's 1-0 win at BB&T Center.
"It's unbelievable. I don't know how to explain it,'' Ekblad said. "The hockey gods are on your side sometimes. You just want to keep doing the right things."
On Saturday, Ekblad fired a shot that hit Tampa Bay's Erik Condra with 37.9 seconds left to steal victory away from the Lightning and force overtime.
Monday, Ekblad's shot clipped Victor Hedman and ricocheted over backup goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy and into the back of the net.
"It sucks," Vasilevskiy said, "but [things] happen."
The victory gave the Panthers an important four-point sweep of their rivals; the Lightning took one of four points based on Saturday's 5-4 shootout loss.
"We're happy to have those points, happy to move up a bit in the standings,'' Ekblad said. "We don't want to get too high. We have to get back after it Thursday."
Ekblad's goal was a Florida highlight in a game all but devoid of them.
The Panthers took three shots on goal in the opening two minutes of the game then stopped shooting the puck and didn't get credited with another shot on goal until the final two minutes of the period.
Vasilevskiy only faced 13 shots in the opening 40 minutes (four in the first) and ended with 18 saves.
Roberto Luongo, who joked his main rival Saturday was the puck itself, saved the Panthers from ruin time and again Monday.
Luongo, who made 39 saves for his first shutout of the year, was terrific throughout the night as he played arguably his best game of the season.
"I haven't been too happy with the way I've played the past few games so it's nice to give the boys a good performance after they bailed me out Saturday,'' said Luongo, who has 69 career shutouts.
"They got a lot of shots but the boys did a good job keeping them on the outside. A game like this is good for me.''
Although Florida played a sluggish game against a struggling Tampa Bay team with four regulars out of its lineup, the Panthers saved their best for late.
After a prime scoring chance was stopped by Luongo with two minutes left, the Panthers charged into the Tampa zone and had a prime scoring chance when Jonathan Huberdeau found a wide-open Jaromir Jagr all alone on the right side of the cage.
Jagr doesn't miss much, but he missed this empty net and the game rolled on. Instead of another overtime affair, however, Ekblad ended it rather quickly.
"It wasn't pretty but I'll feel better tomorrow when I see those two points in the standings,'' said coach Gerard Gallant, a winner in his 100th game with the Panthers.
-- Dmitry Kulikov had an MRI on his injured knee done Monday with general manager Dale Tallon saying there was no serious damage.
Kulikov was hurt during the second period after a pair of collisions with Tampa Bay's Jonathan Drouin and J.T. Brown.
-- Sasha Barkov returned to the lineup for the first time in almost a month after breaking a bone in his hand in Chicago on Oct. 22.
With Barkov back, fourth-line center Derek MacKenzie was moved to wing with Vincent Trocheck becoming the third line center. Dave Bolland centered Florida's fourth line.
"It was good to get a few more days to get the hand better and get some more conditioning,'' Barkov said before the game. "I feel good; the trainers did a very good job. I'm happy to be out there shooting a lot of pucks.''


November 15, 2015

KULIKOV OUT: Florida defenseman Dmitry Kulikov to have MRI, will miss Lightning rematch

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

TAMPA -- One player who won't be in the lineup Monday is defenseman Dmitry Kulikov who apparently suffered a lower body injury after being run into the side boards by Brown.
Coach Gerard Gallant said Kulikov was getting an MRI and would probably miss at least a few games.
Moments after Kulikov ran Jonathan Drouin into the backboards, he was boarded by J.T. Brown and had a noticeable limp as he skated off the ice and didn't return.
Steven Kampfer, who has played just one game this season, is expected to replace him Monday.


TWO FOR TAMPA: Panthers get Sasha Barkov back for Lightning rematch

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
TAMPA -- Panthers' coach Gerard Gallant said top-line center Sasha Barkov is ready to play and is expected to return to the lineup for Monday's rematch with the Lightning.
Barkov broke a bone in his hand while blocking a shot during Florida's loss in Chicago on Oct. 22.
"He looks great, ready to go,'' Gallant said Sunday afternoon. "Unless something happens Monday, he'll be playing."
With Barkov back in, the Panthers will have a little different look in their second game against the Lightning in a span of three days.
Gallant is expected to put his top line of Barkov, Jaromir Jagr and Jonathan Huberdeau back together on Monday.
Nick Bjugstad, who slid up to play on the top line, will go back to centering the second. Which player moves from center is in question, however, as Vincent Trocheck has been playing well but could go back to being a winger.
Florida will also have to sit an additional forward once Barkov is activated off the injured list.
Garrett Wilson sat out Saturday and Shawn Thornton, who went after Tampa's J.T. Brown after he leveled Dmitry Kulikov in the second period, could be an option to sit out.
Thornton and Brown had a few skirmishes in Florida's 5-4 shootout win with both sent to the locker room in the third period after receiving game misconducts.
Saturday's game was filled with little altercations as it's apparent these two teams do not like each other a whole lot.
"They are a close rival,'' Thornton said afterward.
-- Saturday's win was Florida's first in overtime this season as it improves to 1-3. The Panthers are 1-1 in shootouts.
Brandon Pirri, who scored on a penalty shot in the second, netted the only goal of the shootout.
-- Roberto Luongo is expected to be back in net after giving up four goals to the Lightning on Saturday.
Luongo joked about the second goal allowed in which his skate caught a rut in the ice as he was sliding into position, lost his footing and plopped on his backside just before Vladislav Namestnikov took a shot into what was now an empty net.
"It's obviously easier to digest after a win,'' Luongo said. "I thought the rivalry out there was between me and the puck."
Monday: Lightning at Panthers
When, where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; 560 WQAM, 640 WMEN, 1210 WMNA
Series: Florida leads 59-49-10
Scouting report: Florida won its first game in Tampa since the final game of the 2013 lockout-shortened season, snapping a four-game losing streak in Tampa. Florida was 1-1 against the Lightning in Sunrise last year.




November 14, 2015

WILD NIGHT IN TAMPA: Panthers tie up Lightning late, top Bolts 5-4 in shootout ... Aaron Ekblad ties it with 37.9 left ... Brandon Pirri beats Ben Bishop twice (PK, SO) ... Roberto Luongo stands tall at the end

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
TAMPA -- It looked like the Panthers were going to lose another game on Tampa Bay ice Saturday night before Aaron Ekblad changed the dynamic.
Florida, which trailed for big chunks of final period, tied the score on a 55-foot blast from Ekblad with just 37.9 seconds left before beating the Lightning 5-4 in a shootout.
The Panthers hadn't won in Tampa since 2013 -- a run of four consecutive losses.
The two rivals, who had their fair share of skirmishes during the 65-plus minute game, square off again Monday in Sunrise.
"That was just awesome,'' Ekblad said. "Guys are excited after a win like that. Confidence is what it's all about. It's a good rivalry, the Battle of Florida. Sometimes that gets overlooked.''
The two teams were tied at 3 after a wild session early in the second period when they both alternated goals on two occasions.
The first one, which gave the Lightning a 2-1 lead 1:02 into the period, came when Roberto Luongo caught something on his skate trying to slide into position.
Luongo landed on his backside and watched helplessly as Vladislav Namestinikov put the puck in the back of the net.
"I caught an edge, and couldn't really recover,'' Luongo said. "As I was going down, I saw the guy with the puck. I've had a lot of [embarassing] goals but this one is right up there. You guys are going to see it a lot.''
While Luongo didn't have his best night in making 24 saves, he did make some great ones in keeping the Panthers in it.
"This was definitely one of the craziest games I've ever played,'' Luongo said. "It was a good character win for the boys. We stuck with it, tied it at the end. It's nice to be rewarded.''
In overtime, Steven Stamkos was pulled down driving the net by Dave Bolland and was awarded a penalty shot. Luongo stopped that and gave the Panthers another shot.
Brandon Pirri led off the shootout with a goal on old pal Ben Bishop and that was all Florida needed as Luongo stopped three Tampa Bay shooters to send the Panthers south with a victory.
"I played Bishop a lot in the minors so it was kind of a thinking match,'' said Pirri, who beat Bishop in the second period on a penalty shot of his own to give Florida a 3-2 lead.
"We practice these all the time. When I got here, Luongo told me he was bad at this. But since I've been here, he stops more than he lets in. He gives us a chance every night.''
The Panthers took a 1-0 lead on a Jussi Jokinen goal as he tapped in a loose puck off a Vincent Trocheck shot.
Florida tied the score at 2 when Nick Bjugstad blew through the Tampa Bay defense and beat Bishop with a sharp wrister.
After Pirri's goal, the Panthers didn't get another until Ekblad wound up and fired off a power play face off.
Moments before, Pirri was robbed by an improbable blind kicksave by Bishop which would have tied things.
"It was exciting, a lot of open ice, a lot of chances,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "We battled hard, very happy with the win obviously.''
-- The Panthers played down a defenseman for much of Saturday's game as Dmitry Kulikov was hurt after being hit along the boards by J.T. Brown.
Kulikov left the game after his lone shift of the second and didn't come back. Kulikov had been nursing a sore ankle.
-- Sasha Barkov once again skated with the Panthers before Saturday's game but didn't play.
Barkov, who broke a bone in his hand Oct. 22, could return Monday.


November 13, 2015

BACK TO TAMPA: Panthers aren't panicking as they open home-and-home series with Lightning ... Sasha Barkov could return against Bolts

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
It was hard to tell the Panthers have lost six of their past seven games based on the end of practice Friday afternoon.
The team laughed and seemed to enjoy their final moments on the ice before heading back to the locker room to pack their gear and head to the airport for a quick flight to Tampa.
"We're a game under .500, we're not happy about losing [Thursday] but it was a good, hard game and sometimes you don't win those,'' said coach Gerard Gallant, whose team is coming off a 3-2 loss to Buffalo.
"You have to wake up the next morning and start working it back up. You can't stay down, you have to have some fun and work hard."
Florida has a pair of games against the rival Lightning coming up with a home-and-home series starting Saturday at Amalie Arena and concluding Monday night in Sunrise.
The Panthers' recent rough patch is no reason for panic, players and coaches say, although they are well aware this is a pivotal stretch to their season.
"There's a difference between panic and a sense of urgency,'' goalie Roberto Luongo said.
"There's a lot of hockey left, but every game is important. You want to fall too far back because it's hard to come back. We have a good stretch of games against good teams, but we're at home. We need to get some swagger back into our game. We know we can beat anyone on any night.''
Gallant switched up some of his line combinations after a lethargic first period.
The move seemed to work as Florida dominated the second period on the ice, although a late Buffalo goal gave them a 2-1 lead heading into the third.
"We had a very good practice and I think we played good [Thursday] even though we lost,'' Jaromir Jagr said. "We did a lot of good things, cycled the puck, had a lot of scoring chances. We just didn't score. We just need to start winning. We need to regroup.''
On Friday, Gallant's line changes were back in effect as Jagr remains on the second line with Vincent Trocheck and Jussi Jokinen. Reilly Smith took Jagr's slot beside Nick Bjugstad and Jonathan Huberdeau.
"I just wanted to switch it up, we were just a little blah,'' Gallant said. "I thought we played a little better. Sometimes you have to change things up to change momentum. I thought it worked.''
The Panthers came into Friday four points back of the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference but only three points behind Tampa Bay and third place (and a playoff spot) in the Atlantic Division.
Expect quite a battle for the four points available to both Tampa Bay and Florida in the coming days.
"We're not happy with the results the past few games,'' Gallant said. "You have to keep playing, get back in the race. Do what you can do."
-- Center Sasha Barkov apparently met with the team doctor Thursday as Gallant was told he was cleared for full practice Friday.
Barkov worked as an extra on Florida's third line and could be back in the coming days.
There is a chance Barkov could return from a hand injury suffered Oct. 22 in one of the games against Tampa Bay.
"I'm not expecting him Saturday,'' Gallant said, adding Barkov would likely go back to centering Jagr and Huberdeau.
"We're looking at Monday, although I can't say he's not playing Saturday because I don't know.''
-- Gallant has been very successful on his coach's challenges this season and won Thursday's video review in which Tyler Ennis's goal was taken off the board after it was determined he was offside coming into the Florida zone.
"We get the information from our video coach Tommy Cruz and he relays it to our goalie coach Robb Tallas,'' Gallant said. "They look at it quickly and give you the best opinion they have. They've been pretty good with it. It's not easy because it happens real quick. We're confident they'll make the right calls.''
Saturday: Panthers at Lightning
When, where: 7 p.m.; Amalie Arena, Tampa
TV/Radio: FSFL; 1490 WMBM, 640 WMEN
Series: Florida leads 58-49-10
Scouting report: This is the first of five meetings between the cross-state, divisional rivals with two games in a span of three days. Florida is trying to win its first in Tampa since 2013. The Lightning has won seven of the past 10 against the Panthers on home ice.




November 12, 2015

BUFFALO SWEEP: The Sabres continue winning ways, end slide against Roberto Luongo and Florida Panthers ... Jonathan Huberdeau nets first of the season ... Sasha Barkov returns to practice

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
After years at the bottom of the NHL standings, the Buffalo Sabres appear ready to start moving up.
Thursday, the youthful and improving Sabres completed a rare (for them) Sunshine State sweep by finally beating Roberto Luongo and the Panthers 3-2 at BB&T Center.
"This one is one me, the guys worked hard in front of me and I need to be better,'' Luongo said. "The boys deserved a better fate. I didn't do my job. It's disappointing for me."
Buffalo, fresh off Tuesday's 4-1 win in Tampa, hadn't put a loss beside Luongo's name in quite some time as he came into the night riding a seven-game personal winning streak against Buffalo.
The Sabres had not handed Luongo a loss since Feb. 11, 2006 -- during Luongo's first stint with the Panthers. Buffalo did score three on Luongo in a no-decision back in 2012.
"It's going to happen, you can't have a team's number forever,'' said Luongo, who made 15 saves. "This was an important game for our team.''
Florida, meanwhile, won four of five against Buffalo last season and had gleaned at least a point out of the Sabres in nine consecutive matchups before Thursday.
The Sabres, with the two points taken from Sunrise, hopped Florida and Boston in the standings with 16 points and sit three points back of the final wild card spot.
The Panthers head to Tampa with losses in six of the past seven.
"I didn't like losing but we outshot them 2-to-1 so there wasn't a lot I didn't like,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "We played pretty well, just didn't put the puck in the net. It is disappointing to lose. We gave up some bad goals at the wrong time."
Florida trailed 1-0 going into the second before Jonathan Huberdeau tied the score with his first goal of the season in game No. 16.
Huberdeau, Florida's leading scorer last season, celebrated by looking straight into the sky and sending his palms skyward although the Sabres tried dousing his celebration by challenging the goal.
Florida, after all, got Tyler Ennis' goal (which would have made it 2-0) overturned as Ennis was offside as he came into the Florida zone.
Huberdeau's goal stood as it appeared he was shoved into rookie goalie Linus Ullmark -- who was terrific for much of the night and ended with 36 saves.
"We had a lot of shots and lots of missed opportunities,'' Huberdeau said.
Buffalo finally got its second goal in the final 1:07 of the second after a marathon shift in which Cody Franson scored.
Down 3-1 in the third, Florida pulled within one when Vincent Trocheck deflected an Aaron Ekblad shot with four minutes remaining.
A last-ditch effort by the Panthers in the final minute came up without a goal, however.
-- Center Sasha Barkov returned to team activities Thursday as he took part in the morning skate.
Barkov, who broke a bone in his hand Oct. 22, took a number of shots and appeared to take in the full workout.
"I've tried to learn watching the games and be ready as soon as possible,'' Barkov said. "It's getting better every day; I can shoot more, shoot harder. I just need to get get into game shape.''
-- Jaromir Jagr, who had the secondary assist on Huberdeau's goal, played in his 1,564th NHL game tying him with Nicklas Lidstrom for 10th all time.


November 11, 2015

CLOSE TO RETURN: Sasha Barkov to resume practicing Thursday

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Vincent Trocheck has been centering Florida's second line with Reilly Smith and Jussi Jokinen but he could be going back on the wing soon.
Coach Gerard Gallant said center Sasha Barkov is expected to return to practice Thursday after missing the past three weeks with a broken bone in his hand.
Barkov could return to center Florida's top line of Jagr and Jonathan Huberdeau in the coming week or so.
"He's real good,'' Gallant said. "Not to get too far ahead, but everything is on schedule. They said 3-4 weeks and it will be three weeks [Thursday]. It will be day-to-day after that. I can't say he'll play this weekend or next weekend, but things are looking good. It will be nice to have him out there.''


CELEBRATE TONIGHT: Vincent Trocheck enjoying true breakout season with Florida Panthers ... Roberto Luongo digs Buffalo

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Vincent Trocheck got more attention from a goal he didn't score Tuesday than the one he did.
Trocheck gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead in an eventual 4-3 win over Calgary yet that was overshadowed by a premature goal celebration that almost came back to bite the Panthers.
With 6:25 left in the game, Trocheck backhanded a shot through the legs of Calgary goalie Karri Ramo.
Trocheck lifted his stick high in the air with his right arm as he celebrated with the crowd, only the puck careened off the post and back into play.
By the time Trocheck realized what happened, Calgary's Johnny Gaudreau was rushing up the ice, his breakaway thwarted by an Erik Gudbranson pokecheck.
Trocheck got back in the play with goalie Roberto Luongo making a terrific glove save on Kris Russell's slap shot to help save Florida's lead and prevent a Calgary comeback.
Although because of the timing of it, Nick Bjugstad said the Panthers couldn't give Trocheck too much grief at the time, they have definitely joked about it since.
"They haven't given it to me too bad, but I've heard a little,'' Trocheck said.
"I've given it to my self after that. Not much you can do. I thought it was in the net, the light was on. Little did I know by the time I turned around the puck was at the red line. I just busted my butt to get back. They had a couple good chances right there."
Trocheck figured he scored based on Ramo's reaction (he sprawled on the ice and cursed very loudly) as well as the goal light going off and the reaction from fans behind the net.
By the time he realized he was the only one not back in the Florida end of the ice, it was almost too late.
Trocheck got going as fast as he could and desperately got back on defense, diving to try and block Russell's shot.
"He likes to celebrate, doesn't he?'' coach Gerard Gallant said with a smile.
"It would have been on every highlight if they would have scored, that's for sure. He thought it was in, what do you do? It's one of those funny situations but fortunately Louie made the glove save."
Added Luongo: "Thank God it didn't end up in the back of our net. That would have been a pretty tough way to get scored on.''
Trocheck's play this season has been getting plenty of attention around the Panthers.
Now a full-time NHL player, Trocheck has solidified his spot on the roster and after his goal Tuesday, briefly led the Panthers in scoring with 11 points.
Jaromir Jagr, Florida's leading scorer since the second game of the season, retook his spot with a goal and assist on Tuesday.
"Playing a full season last year, getting 20 games before that, means I'm inching my way forward and gives me more confidence,'' Trocheck said.
Thursday: Sabres at Panthers
When, where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; 560 WQAM, 640 WMEN, 1210 WNMA
Series: Buffalo leads 45-36-4
Scouting report: Roberto Luongo seems to love playing Buffalo. Luongo, who beat the Sabres here 3-2 last month, has won eight of nine against the Sabres and seven straight. Buffalo has just seven goals in the past five games against Luongo as he has shutout the Sabres four times since 2013.