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Posted On Monday, 04.09.2012 / 3:10 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Panthers vs. Devils series blog

Practice, rest on tap for Florida until series starts

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. -- Florida coach Kevin Dineen ended up changing his practice schedule on the fly after he found out his team would be among the last two to play its first playoff game.

The Panthers will open their Eastern Conference quarterfinal against the New Jersey Devils on Friday at the BankAtlantic Center. That announcement came after Dineen said he was told the Panthers would begin play Thursday and later was told that it would be Wednesday.

Dineen held a practice Monday that lasted about 90 minutes and decided to give his team Tuesday off before getting back on the ice the next day.

"For us, the rest is really important right now," Dineen said. "I'm going to give them a day off tomorrow, which is not an easy thing to do in the playoffs. But I feel that day off, they're going to come in nice and fresh on Wednesday, we'll get a good skate Wednesday, Thursday and I think that'll be beneficial in the long run.

"Unfortunately, in the playoffs things are going to happen pretty fast and furious. But we feel it's a worthy day off. It has been a very tough month of March and April. We worked hard and there's been a lot of scratching and clawing and the mental break, as much as the physical break, will make a difference."

As much as they want to get started in the playoffs, Panthers players didn't seem to mind the delay.

"When you finish preseason games and you have a week of practices, that's where you're able to get sharp," goalie Jose Theodore said. "We played so many games lately, we hardly practiced. It's kind of hard to stay sharp when you don't practice. Having a full week of practice, you can work on details, you can work on technical stuff, so it's actually easier to stay sharp when you practice every day like we're going to have this week."

Veteran forward Marco Sturm and rookie defenseman Erik Gudbranson didn't take part in Monday’s practice. Dineen called their absence a "maintenance day."

Sturm didn't play in the third period of Saturday's 4-1 division-clinching victory against Carolina after getting 7:19 of ice time in the first 40 minutes. Gudbranson played 14:10 against the Hurricanes.

Dineen said both players would be re-evaluated Wednesday.
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Posted On Monday, 04.09.2012 / 2:44 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Panthers vs. Devils series blog

Dineen mum on which Panthers goalie starts Game 1

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. -- Florida coach Kevin Dineen was talking about his philosophy on dealing with the media Monday when he used a hot topic with his team to make a point.

"I've got goaltending decisions to make, and I want to give it a couple of days and I'll give it a gut check," Dineen said. "I haven't talked to my belly yet."

That means Dineen still hasn't decided whether Jose Theodore or Scott Clemmensen will be starting in net for the Panthers when they open their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the New Jersey Devils on Friday.

And Dineen says he won't have an answer until Friday.

"You know what, for me I've got a really exciting decision to make," Dineen said after the Panthers went through a 90-minute practice at the Saveology.com Iceplex. "I don't look at it as a burden. I look at it as something that I can't go wrong either way and it'll be something that we'll wait for a few days.

"I don't think I've changed my stance on that all year. I certainly haven't tried to play coy, but certainly our goalies have been excellent for the most part and that makes for a quality choice when we do get going."

Theodore started 51 games in the regular season for the Panthers, while Clemmensen had 25 starts.

But it's Clemmensen who has been the better goaltender of late, going 3-0-1 with a .962 save percentage in his last four starts.

It was Clemmensen who was in net Saturday when the Panthers clinched their first-ever division title with a 4-1 victory against Carolina.

Theodore, meanwhile, allowed a combined nine goals in his last two starts and was pulled for 91 seconds after giving up a third goal in a 4-2 loss at Washington Thursday.

The former Hart Trophy winner, who signed with the Panthers as a free agent last July, said he would take the same approach in terms of preparation as he did during the regular season.

"It's nothing really new," Theodore said. "Usually, we know the day before or so. Pretty much it was like that all season and we had success like that. There's nothing new or nothing to adapt to for me or Clem. It's pretty much the same we've been doing all season and it worked for us."

Theodore finished with better overall numbers than Clemmensen during the regular season. He had a 2.46 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage, compared to Clemmensen's 2.57 GAA and .913 save percentage.

Veteran defenseman Ed Jovanovski, for one, said Theodore was the Panthers' MVP during the regular season.

Should he get the start, Theodore can start erasing some bitter playoff memories from his two seasons with the Washington Capitals. Theodore was replaced by Semyon Varlamov both years as the Capitals failed to advance past the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

After going 30-7-7 in 2009-10, Theodore was pulled after giving up two goals on the first two shots he faced in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against Montreal in 2010 and didn't play again while the Capitals lost the series in seven games.

"What happened in Washington, I'll say it again, it's out of your control," Theodore said. "The first year I played one game, then I don't play. It's really not something that I look [at] like I didn't achieve or I didn't get the job done, I just didn't have the chance to play. So I really don't think about Washington too much at this point. It's a totally different group, different situation. I'm just going to prepare myself to play and take it from there."

For Clemmensen, getting the start against New Jersey would represent an opportunity to face his former team.

Clemmensen, who spent parts of five seasons with the Devils and recorded a 25-13-1 record in 2008-09 subbing for an injured Martin Brodeur, has had great success against New Jersey, with a 3-0-1 record in five starts.

That includes a 3-1 victory at New Jersey on Feb. 11. That could be one factor that might influence Dineen.

"I feel good about my game," Clemmensen said after the division-clinching victory against Carolina. "Regardless if I start that game on [Friday] or not, I'm going to be ready to play, whether it's that game or Game 2 or whatever the case is. I'm going to be ready to play every minute, every game. I don't know what the situation is going to be or who's going to start, but I'm going to be ready, that's it."
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Posted On Saturday, 04.07.2012 / 2:00 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Panthers' Dineen mum on goaltender for Saturday, Game 1

SUNRISE, Fla. — Florida coach Kevin Dineen often said this year he was facing tough goalie decisions, but he might now be dealing with his toughest yet.

Dineen said after the morning skate he had not decided whether Jose Theodore or Scott Clemmensen would be in net for the regular-season finale Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes. He also said he hadn’t determined who would start in the playoffs.

Theodore has been Florida’s No. 1 goalie all season, appearing in 59 games to Clemmensen’s 23.

But Theodore is coming off a shaky performance in a 4-2 loss Thursday at Washington. Dineen pulled Theodore after the Capitals scored in the second period to go up 3-0, but reinserted him 91 seconds later.

Clemmensen, meanwhile, has been outstanding lately. He is 2-0-1 in his last three starts, including a 35-save performance in a 2-1 victory at Philadelphia on March 20.

There’s also this factor this consider: If the Panthers clinch the Southeast Division title Saturday, they will face the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. In five career games against the Devils, his former team, Clemmensen is 4-0-0 with a 2.05 GAA and a .937 save percentage, including a 3-1 victory at New Jersey this season. Theodore is 8-14-3 in his career against the Devils with a 2.64 GAA and a .907 save percentage.

The combination of factors coming into play has left Dineen with that difficult decision.

“It sure is,” Dineen said. “It’s one that we’ll discuss quite a bit before we make the final call for tonight and next week.”

At the other end of the ice Saturday, the Carolina goalie will be Brian Boucher, who has appeared in only nine games this season as the backup to Cam Ward.

The Hurricanes lineup against Florida also will feature forward Jeremy Welsh, who will make his NHL debut after signing a one-year contract Thursday night after Union lost to Ferris State in the NCAA Frozen Four in Tampa.

Here are the projected lineups for the Panthers-Hurricanes matchup:

HURRICANES

Jiri Tlusty - Eric Staal - Chad LaRose
Jussi Jokinen - Jeff Skinner - Tuomo Ruutu
Jeremy Welsh - Brandon Sutter - Patrick Dwyer
Andreas Nodl - Tim Brent - Anthony Stewart

Jay Harrison - Justin Faulk
Joni Pitkanen - Jamie McBain
Bryan Allen - Tim Gleason

Brian Boucher
Cam Ward

PANTHERS

Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Scottie Upshall - Shawn Matthias - Wojtek Wolski
Marco Sturm - John Madden - Tomas Kopecky

Jason Garrison - Brian Campbell
Dmitry Kulikov - Mike Weaver
Ed Jovanovski - Erik Gudbranson

Jose Theodore
Scott Clemmensen
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Posted On Saturday, 04.07.2012 / 1:40 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Panthers hope to secure first division title

SUNRISE, Fla. — The Florida Panthers accomplished their primary goal of finally ending their long playoff drought just two nights ago, but there’s still a lot at stake in Saturday night in the regular season finale  against the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Panthers need only one point to clinch the first division title in franchise history and secure the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, which would mean a first-round matchup against the New Jersey Devils.

Florida also would clinch the Southeast Division if the Washington Capitals lose against the New York Rangers in a game that will start at 6:30 p.m., one hour before the opening faceoff of the Panthers- Hurricanes matchup.

So the Panthers could find out they’re division winners during the third period of their game, just like they found out they had clinched a playoff berth during the third period of their 4-2 loss at Washington Thursday with the scoreboard announcement that Buffalo had lost at Philadelphia.

The Panthers don’t really care that they have backed into the playoffs, losing their last five games and eight of their last nine, but they also would like to go into the playoffs on a winning note.

“Right now we’re focused on trying to give our fans and our players a good, strong feeling moving into the playoffs,” coach Kevin Dineen said after the morning skate. “A lot of work went into where we are right now, but now we have to take it to the next level and finish strong. That’s the first step. We look at tonight as a beginning of next week.”

If the Panthers lose in regulation against Carolina and Washington wins at Madison Square Garden, Florida would drop to the No. 8 seed and have to face the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

“The division title would be the main thing,” said center Stephen Weiss, who will be playing in his 637th career game Saturday but will be appearing in the postseason for the first time. “It’s accumulation of all the hard work throughout the season and it would be nice to finish it off. Our fans deserve it, I think we deserve it in here, now we’ve got to go out and get it. Home ice is important, too. It’d be nice to start here at home. Anytime you have the ability to play a seventh game at home, it’s huge.”

The Panthers have been on the verge of ending Washington’s four-year run as Southeast Division champion since the Capitals’ 4-2 loss at Tampa Bay on Monday put their magic number at two.

But Florida was unable to hang on to a 3-0 lead against Winnipeg at home Tuesday, losing 5-4 in overtime.

Dineen said that was the one game where his players showed some tightness. But Weiss said the pressure of finally ending the Panthers’ 10-season playoff drought has shown in the team’s play the last few games.

“When you look back on the last couple of weeks, I think it has been weighing on us,” Weiss said. “We wouldn’t say it is, but you just can tell with some of our play at spurts in games. We seemed to tighten up here and there. It’s a lot of pressure having this 10, 12 years of not being in the playoffs riding on everyone’s shoulders. It’s nice to know that we’re in no matter what and now we can relax and hopefully have a crisp game tonight.”

The Panthers last faced Carolina on March 21, and the Hurricanes’ 3-1 victory snapped their season-long five-game winning streak.

It also began the Panthers’ current 1-3-5 slide.

“You wind up the regular season you want to win the last game,” forward Tomas Kopecky said. “We put ourselves in a spot where the last couple of games we needed one point. Obviously everybody is looking at the standings right now and where we can be if we get the one point. It’s very important to us. In the playoffs, it’s very important to start at home. If you have that home-ice advantage, if you go to Game 7, you’ve got that home crowd behind you. That’s something we’ve been looking for since the beginning of the year.”

Scoring has been the biggest problem lately for the Panthers, who have tallied more than two goals in regulation only once in their last 11 games.

But the Panthers’ best efforts in recent weeks have come against playoff-bound teams, including a 2-1 shootout loss Sunday at Detroit and the Washington game Thursday.

“In spurts we’ve been really good,” Weiss said. “Our game in Detroit was really good, I liked our game in Washington even though we didn’t get the result we wanted. But we play that hard, that type of style, we’re going to be all right. We’ll get the results we want. We’ve just got to make sure we do it for 60 minutes of the hockey game.”

For defenseman Brian Campbell, one of five players on the Panthers roster to have played on a Stanley Cup-winning team, a victory Saturday won’t mean much once the playoffs start.

Winning the division and starting the playoffs at home, though, would be big.

“It never hurts to go on a good note, but I don’t think it’s the be-all, end-all of all things,” Campbell said. “Obviously, you want to be playing good, but the playoffs are the playoffs. You’re in and then anything can happen from there. We need to win to get home-ice, and that’s important in that aspect.

“Having home-ice advantage in the first round is huge. That’s the biggest key for us and I expect a big effort.”
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.03.2012 / 3:00 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Versteeg starting to rediscover his offensive game

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Kris Versteeg is still looking to end his scoring drought, but he's been creating chances in recent games and his overall play has picked up.

The Florida Panthers right wing clearly is not "brutal" anymore.

Versteeg has used that term to describe his play a couple of times this season, most recently after a 3-2 shootout loss to Edmonton on March 23.

That was one of the nine scoreless games Versteeg has played since returning from a lower-body injury that caused him to miss nine games. Versteeg also went scoreless the six games before the injury, meaning he's on a 15-game goal-less streak.

But after going eight games without even a point, Versteeg picked up an assist in each of Florida's last two games and he's also come close to scoring on a couple of occasions.

"Last four games it's been a lot better and feeling better out there, too," he said. "You come back and you want to be a big part right away and everyone is firing on all cylinders. You've got to, I guess, get back in the game and get back into the swing of things. When you're hard on yourself, it's tough, but I definitely feel the last four games it's been going better, and I expect better every game."

Versteeg led the Panthers in scoring most of the season before just recently being overtaken by both Tomas Fleischmann and Stephen Weiss.

There's no question the Panthers could use some more offense from Versteeg, starting with Tuesday's game against Winnipeg.

"Steeger is a guy that cares a lot and when things don't work out ... he's not a guy that hides his emotions," coach Kevin Dineen said. "When things are not going the right way, he is extremely hard on himself. When you take a breath and you regroup and you go out and start doing little things, even if the points aren't coming, you still feel like you're contributing. He realizes his importance to the team and, as always, when his focus is in the right place, he's a top-end player for us."

Versteeg, acquired last summer in a trade with Philadelphia, said he may have been trying to do too much after returning from his injury.

His last goal came Feb. 12 in a 4-1 road victory against the New York Islanders, but he's not concerned about the goal-less streak.

"I'm not worried about it," he said. "It was more so frustration about trying to do stuff when maybe my body couldn't at the time or my mind couldn't at the time because you're trying to get back into it. Now, I'm starting to feel [better] and these last four games are a good step."
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.03.2012 / 2:48 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Jets give Cormier another look with Wellwood out

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Forward Patrice Cormier, one of the players acquired from New Jersey in the Ilya Kovalchuk trade, is getting another look with the Winnipeg Jets.

Cormier has been recalled from the St. John's IceCaps to replace Kyle Wellwood, who will miss the rest of the season with a broken ankle.

It's the fourth call-up this season for Cormier, who didn't record a point in his first six games. Cormier had 17 goals and 14 assists in 54 games with St. John's.

Wellwood, for his part, ended his season with a career-high 47 points (18 goals, 29 assists). Wellwood, who is fourth on the team in scoring, was injured in Saturday’s 3-2 overtime loss at Tampa Bay when he was hit by a slapshot from teammate Grant Clitsome.

The Jets' third-leading scorer, defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, will remain in the lineup despite being hampered by a lower-body bone bruise. There had been some thought he might be shut down because Winnipeg is out of playoff contention, but coach Claude Noel said Byfuglien would be in the lineup Tuesday night against Florida.

"Buff is going to play the games," Noel said. "Nothing has changed with him. He still has the same issue and he'll have it the rest of the year. It's something we deal with. He'll be in the lineup."

The Panthers, for their part, have no apparent injury issues beyond their two players on injured reserve -- forwards Matt Bradley and Jack Skille.

Based on the lines at the morning skate, it appears forwards Jerred Smithson, Krystofer Barch and Mike Santorelli will be healthy scratches.

Here are the projected lines:

JETS
Andrew Ladd - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane - Alexander Burmistrov - Antti Miettinen
Chris Thorburn - Jim Slater - Spencer Machacek
Patrice Cormier - Tim Stapleton - Nik Antropov

Tobias Enstrom - Dustin Byfuglien
Ron Hainsey - Zach Bogosian
Mark Stuart - Grant Clitsome

Ondrej Pavelec
Chris Mason

PANTHERS

Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Scottie Upshall - Shawn Matthias - Wojtek Wolski
Marco Sturm - John Madden - Tomas Kopecky

Jason Garrison - Brian Campbell
Dmitry Kulikov - Mike Weaver
Ed Jovanovski - Erik Gudbranson

Jose Theodore
Scott Clemmensen

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Posted On Tuesday, 04.03.2012 / 2:28 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Spoiler role aside, Jets just want to finish strong

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Winnipeg Jets are back in action Tuesday night for the first time since being mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.

But they say they're not concerning themselves with playing the role of spoilers against the Florida Panthers.

"We look at it more as a situation where we want to try to play well and win," coach Claude Noel said after the morning skate. "With our road record being what it is, we'd like to continue getting points and hopefully getting two points and getting a win out of here would be good for us. We talked about finishing out on a positive note and that's what we want to do."

In their first year in Winnipeg after moving from Atlanta, the Jets saw their playoff hopes officially terminated in a 3-2 overtime loss at Tampa Bay on Saturday night.

The Jets found themselves only two points out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference after beating Washington 4-3 in overtime on March 23, but have gone 2-5-1 since.

"Obviously, we're disappointed with how our season ended up and being on the outside of the playoff picture," captain Andrew Ladd said. "It's something that as a player, it's the time of year you want to be playing. It's where the fun starts. We've still got some work to do to make sure it doesn't happen next year."

It was fitting that the Jets' playoff hopes would end on the road because that's where the team really struggled this season.

Winnipeg has only 31 points in 39 road games to rank 28th in the League. The Jets' last road game will be Thursday against the New York Islanders before they close the season at home against Tampa Bay on Saturday.

That means the Jets will play a game with playoff implications for the last time Tuesday.

"We should be on the same page, everybody, to finish hard, to finish the season with three wins," goalie Ondrej Pavelec said. "Of course, it's disappointing we didn't make the playoffs, but that doesn't mean we're going to stop playing. The fans, everybody deserves for us to play as hard as we can and we'll see how everything is going to go.

"I think it's going to be pretty exciting tonight. Florida is battling for a playoff spot. It should be a great game. It's going to be a big chance. We expect the three wins and finishing strong and having fun."

The Panthers certainly don't expect the Jets to let them clinch the division title without a fight.

"We know Winnipeg is a well-coached team," defenseman Ed Jovanovski said. "They respect the game, so they're going to play hard. We've got to be on our toes early."

Ladd is familiar with several Panthers players, having played in Chicago with Brian Campbell, Kris Versteeg, Tomas Kopecky and John Madden when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010.

After being traded to Atlanta last season, Ladd once again is playing out the end of the regular season with nothing at stake.

"It's tough," he said. "They mean pretty much absolutely nothing now. At the same time, we owe it to ourselves and to our fans to show up and work and see where the chips fall. It's all part of creating a culture where you show up and you work every day. This is part of it."
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.03.2012 / 2:02 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Panthers' Weiss chasing very special birthday gift

SUNRISE, Fla. -- It's almost like deja vu for Stephen Weiss.

Ten years ago on this day, Weiss celebrated his 19th birthday by playing in his first NHL game and scoring his first goal in a 3-2 victory over Pittsburgh.

The Florida Panthers center turned 29 on Tuesday, with the possibility of clinching his first NHL playoff berth looming as an even better birthday present.

"I think [I'm] more excited today, more nervous back then," Weiss said when asked to compare the emotions of both days. "But it's cool that it falls on the same day. My mom's in town, so it's nice. Hopefully we'll have something fun to talk about after the game."

Earlier this season, Weiss became Florida's all-time leader in games played. But he has yet to play a game in the postseason.

That's likely to change this year, with Florida's magic number down to two to clinch a playoff berth and the Southeast Division title. That means a victory over Winnipeg on Tuesday will give the Panthers the first division title in franchise history.

"We've got to win," Weiss said. "We know what's at stake. The key is not to think about it, just go through your normal routine that you usually do. Saying that, we've got to have a little extra bite tonight, for sure. We don't want to keep this thing going. We want to finish it off tonight, and we're playing a good hockey club, so we'll have our hands full."

Weiss actually got an early birthday present Monday night from Steven Stamkos, a fellow Ontario native with whom he often trains in the summer.

It was Stamkos' two late goals, including the game-winner with 1:03 left in regulation, that gave Tampa Bay a 4-2 victory over Washington on Monday night and put the Panthers on the brink of clinching the division title.

"Stammer came through for us at the end," Weiss said. "Gave Stammer a little text there, told him I love him, there at the end of the game. It was big for us, obviously.

"I'm rooting for him to get 60 [goals] obviously. That was a big goal for him and for us, so I thought I'd just give him a little text."

With Stamkos having done his part, Weiss and his teammates now have the chance to make it a truly memorable birthday.

"It's got the makings to be a good day," Weiss said. "We'll put all that aside for now and just focus on going through our routine and our process and playing hard for 60 minutes, and see what happens."
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.03.2012 / 1:42 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Playoffs, division title within Panthers' grasp Tuesday

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers are doing their best to remain focused, but they're also well aware what's at stake Tuesday night.

With a victory over the Winnipeg Jets at the BankAtlantic Center, the Panthers not only will secure the organization's first playoff berth since 2000, they also will clinch the first division title in franchise history.

"We're excited as a group," veteran defenseman Ed Jovanovski said. "We've worked all year for games like this. We obviously know the importance of it, what it means to this group of guys, this franchise."

The Panthers can extend their lead over Washington in the Southeast Division to five points with a victory Tuesday, and the Capitals have only two games left -- including one Thursday at home against Florida.

When they picked up a point in a 2-1 shootout loss at Detroit on Sunday, the Panthers already knew they could clinch a playoff spot Tuesday. But Washington's 4-2 loss at Tampa Bay on Monday night, when Steve Stamkos scored the game-winner with 1:03 left in regulation, set up the division-clinching scenario.

Coach Kevin Dineen said he didn't watch the game, instead waiting for the start of the NCAA Tournament championship game between Kentucky and Kansas. Dineen did say he was made aware of the score by family members.

All Panthers players interviewed after the morning skate Tuesday, on the other hand, saw Stamkos' late-game heroics.

"I kind of let out a good jump on the couch when he scored with around a minute left," defenseman Brian Campbell said. "We want to get in and work hard by doing what we need to do. But definitely you're always scoreboard-watching at this time of the season. But now we need to take care of our business."

The Panthers, whose playoff drought is the longest in NHL history, have held first place in the Southeast for 123 days this season, including the last 38.

They've managed to hold off Washington despite winning only once in their last seven games, largely because of their ability to pick up points most outings.

But after going 1-2-4 during that stretch, Florida needs a victory Tuesday to make the playoffs a reality.

"It's an exciting time for us, for sure," Dineen said. "We're confident, but also we understand there's still lots of hockey to be played in this season. It's quiet confidence with the understanding that, as always, work has to come before any kind of carrots. Certainly our players are ready to go in and put in a solid effort tonight."

In Winnipeg, the Panthers will be facing a team that saw its playoff hopes disappear in its last game.

But the Panthers aren't about to take the Jets lightly. Florida has won three of the first five meetings, but was shut out 7-0 the last time it faced the Jets, March 1 at Winnipeg.

After Tuesday, the Panthers have games remaining -- at Washington on Thursday, and at home against Carolina on Saturday. But they want those two points right away.

"You want to take anything the first opportunity you get," Campbell said. "We know what our schedule is like. It's been grueling over the last couple of weeks. It's a good challenge. If we play like we played in Detroit, we're going to have a lot of success.

"We're just trying to lock up a playoff spot here, and it's a great opportunity tonight. We've got a great challenge with Winnipeg and being at home is pretty exciting."

Dineen has spoken several times in recent weeks of being happy his team was relevant late in the season. With a victory Tuesday night, the Panthers will be relevant in the postseason.

"Obviously, there's a lot of clarity that we can do things here at home," Dineen said. "There's still some work to do, and we need to go out and take care of our business. It's right there in front of us."


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Posted On Saturday, 03.17.2012 / 2:43 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Sabres add new twist to "dad's trip" - moms

SUNRISE, Fla. — The Buffalo Sabres’ traveling party to Florida for a two-game swing against the Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning was a little larger than usual because it’s the team’s annual parent trip.

But there’s a new twist this year: Instead of players being limited to inviting their father to come along, this year they were given the option of inviting their mother.

The reason was simple, said Coach Lindy Ruff.

“Well, we had too many upset mothers who didn’t get to go in the past,” Ruff said with a smile. “So we had to level the playing field eventually. If you keep doing it the same, it loses some of the spark. We’ve thought about bringing a brother, bringing maybe your best friend along, we’ve thought about different things.

“There’s different ways you can go. If you had a childhood friend you grew up and you were able to share that experience with him, chance of a lifetime. I know that the mothers are really excited. It was a great option for guys.”

Captain Jason Pominville brought along his father, but that was only after his mother changed her mind after first saying she wanted to travel south.

“It’s fun,” Pominville said. “It’s a great experience for him. I know they’ll have a lot of activities and they’ll be all over the place throughout the course of the day. It’s just fun to be able to have him with us and see what we basically do every day and our traveling and the way we’re treated in every city. It’s a pretty unique opportunity for all the dads or the moms that are here.”

Along with mothers and fathers, Tyler Myers brought along his grandmother. She won’t get to see him play, however, as he will serve the second game of his three-game suspension Saturday night against the Panthers and the third Monday night against the Lightning.

The practice of bringing parents on trips is spread throughout the NHL, although it’s usually done early in the season and not in March when teams are involved in playoff races.

“It’s a little bit more intense,” Ruff admitted, “but when we looked at it, the ideal time and how we wanted to work it, if you look at what they’re doing on game days, they’re staying busy, it really is no 
big hassle.”

Ruff said having mothers and fathers around actually might bring out the best in his players.

“I think some of the moms would be harder on them than I am,” he said. “It’s a good thing because you want to perform. You’ve got one of your parents there and you don’t’ want to let them down at the same time. It cuts both ways.”

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I was surprised. I knew I got it. It's tough. You never know how hard it is until it registers on the gun. I got pretty much all I could into and you just hope for the best.

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