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Posted On Thursday, 03.15.2012 / 2:08 PM

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

Banged-up Bergeron still expects to play for Bruins

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Patrice Bergeron is one of four Boston Bruins to not miss a game this season, and it appears his streak will continue Thursday night against Florida despite two leg injuries in the last two games.

After being the only player on Boston's active roster not to practice Wednesday, one night after he was hit in the back of the leg by a slap shot from teammate Johnny Boychuk, Bergeron skated Thursday morning.

Coach Claude Julien said Bergeron would be a game-time decision, but the Bruins center sounded optimistic he would be ready to go against the Panthers.

"I felt OK," Bergeron said. "I'd like to be 100 percent, but that's part of the game and I'll be alright for tonight, hopefully. I've got to play through it. I'm no different than anyone else. It's part of the game. It shouldn't be an excuse."

Bergeron played only one shift in the third period of Sunday's 5-2 loss at Pittsburgh because of a lower-body injury, but that's unrelated to the injury sustained in the 6-1 loss at Tampa Bay Tuesday.

In that game, Bergeron was able to come back after missing only one shift. The center said there's no danger of aggravating the injury, that it's just a matter of pain tolerance.

Bergeron added he did see the shot from Boychuk.

"I just couldn't get out of the way," Bergeron said. "It's just one of those things where you're there, but you hope it's not going to hit you. But it did. Johnny's got a pretty good shot."

Among the other small group of Bruins players who skated Thursday morning was forward Benoit Pouliot, who has missed the last three games because of a lower-body injury.

He also will be a game-time decision.

Tim Thomas, who was pulled after one period against Pittsburgh in his last start before replacing Marty Turco Tuesday, is expected to start in net.

For the Panthers, Jose Theodore is expected to make his sixth consecutive start. Since a 5-0 loss at Philadelphia last Thursday, Theodore has allowed only three goals on 96 shots in his last three outings.

Up front, veteran Marco Sturm is expected to be back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch four of the last six games. Sturm, who spent four-plus seasons with Boston before being traded to Los Angeles in December 2010, is expected to replace Mike Santorelli on the third line alongside Shawn Matthias and Tomas Kopecky.

Here are the projected lineups for the Bruins and Panthers:

BRUINS
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Jordan Caron
Milan Lucic - David Krejci - Tyler Seguin
Daniel Paille - Chris Kelly - Brian Rolston
Trent Whitfield - Gregory Campbell - Shawn Thornton

Zdeno Chara - Dennis Seidenberg
Andrew Ference - Johnny Boychuk
Greg Zanon - Joe Corvo

Tim Thomas
Marty Turco

PANTHERS
Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Wojtek Wolski
Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Marco Sturm - Shawn Matthias - Tomas Kopecky
Krystofer Barch - John Madden - Jerred Smithson

Jason Garrison - Brian Campbell
Ed Jovanovski - Erik Gudbranson
Keaton Ellerby - Mike Weaver

Jose Theodore
Scott Clemmensen
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.13.2012 / 3:22 PM

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

Panthers' roster has distinct Ontario flavor

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers' roster features eight players born in Ontario, so they've looked forward to games against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The whole team has had another reason to look forward to Tuesday night's fourth and final meeting of the season at the BankAtlantic Center: Florida's dominance over the Leafs in 2011-12.

The Panthers took the first three games, winning by scores of 5-1, 5-3 and 5-3.

To put Florida's offensive output in perspective, consider that the Panthers have scored five goals or more only eight times in 68 games.

Taking it a step further, the Panthers have played 41 games since beating Washington 5-4 at home on Dec. 5. They've reached five goals in two of those 41 games -- you guessed it, both times against Toronto.

"I don't know, sometimes there's just those teams you just have your way with some nights," said Panthers center Shawn Matthias, a native of Mississauga, Ontario. "Don't want to jinx it right now. With the games that we played against the Leafs, we had a lot of goals where we were driving wide and just shooting and keeping things simple and just playing hard. That's what we've got to do every night to be successful. Some nights the puck is just not going in. You just stick to the basics, and hopefully we can start scoring every night."

Goals have been hard to come by for the Panthers in March. They have been shut out twice this month, scored one goal twice and were held to one goal by Carolina on Sunday before they scored an empty-netter to make it 2-0.

That's what coach Kevin Dineen was focused on as he prepared for Tuesday's game, not the earlier offensive success against the Leafs.

"That's one stat I don't buy too much into," Dineen said. "You feel where your team is, the ebbs and flows of a season and where we're at right now, there's a large sense of desperation in our game, as well as the Leafs. It has the mixture of a pretty good hockey game.

"You look at your previous games against a team, but you also look at your most recent production and our production recently probably is where the focus is, because we haven't been that strong. Obviously, we've had a couple of strong games in Toronto. Might be the amount of representation our team has from Ontario that guys are certainly up for it, but it's been a good matchup thus far."

Florida's offense against Toronto has been well spread out, with 13 different players scoring the 15 goals.

In the first two meetings, the Panthers chased the Maple Leafs' starting goalie -- Jonas Gustavsson at Toronto on Nov. 8 and James Reimer at Florida on Dec. 27.

"They've got a good team over there that moves the puck very well, a good power play," Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf said. "We've got to be a little bit tighter from the three previous games. They've gotten a little bit too much on us. We haven't played tight enough against them, but to their credit they've got a highly offensive team that's got a lot of speed and they've got a good back end. We know that it's going to be a challenge for us to shut them down, but we've got to play a little bit tighter."

Toronto's first visit to the BankAtlantic Center this season during the Christmas holidays drew 20,406, the Panthers' largest home crowd this season. There should be another big crowd Tuesday night.

That only added to the anticipation for Matthias and the Panthers' other Ontario natives -- Stephen Weiss, Brian Campbell, Ed Jovanovski, Mike Weaver, Erik Gudbranson, Krystofer Barch and John Madden.

"Being a Canadian kid, you get jacked up against all the Canadian cities," Matthias said. "Especially the Leafs, being from Mississauga, a Toronto-area native. You know everyone back home is watching you play, it's just exciting, and there's quite a few people I know in the stands tonight. So it should be fun."
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.13.2012 / 2:44 PM

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

Maple Leafs seek solutions to scoring woes

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Toronto Maple Leafs are looking to snap out of a funk that has seen them lose 14 of their last 16 games, and the first step would be finding a way to score.

The Leafs will go into Tuesday night's game at Florida coming off back-to-back shutout losses -- 1-0 in a shootout at home against Philadelphia, and 2-0 at Washington.

Toronto has gone 157:24 since its last goal, a deflection by defenseman Carl Gunnarsson that gave the Maple Leafs a 2-0 second-period lead at Pittsburgh in a game they would lose 3-2.

"We've just got to keep getting to the net and keep getting in front of the goalies and getting rebounds and getting some dirty goals," forward Joey Crabb said. "When you're in a slump a little bit, then you've just got to do the dirty things that get you goals and maybe not so much the pretty tic-tac-toe plays."

Randy Carlyle, who replaced Ron Wilson as Leafs coach on March 2, said his team needs more control of the puck in the offensive zone as well as creating more traffic in front of the net.

"The new term in hockey is take the goaltender's eyes away with the middle-net drive, the net presence," he said. "You've got to create more offensive zone time, which in turn usually wears down the opposition, creates more chances and draws penalties. Instead of playing the one-and-out game, if we can play more of an offensive zone control game and move off the puck, cycle the puck, do all of those things, then it should increase the chances to score.

"The offensive zone time that you are able to create gives your team a lift because it's a lot more fun to play in the offensive zone than it is in the defensive zone. That's what we're trying to sell."

Of course, it doesn't help Toronto's cause that wing Joffrey Lupul has missed the last three games with a shoulder injury that's expected to keep him out until the end of the month.

Lupul is second on the team behind Phil Kessel and tied for eighth in the League with Chicago's Marian Hossa with 67 points, and his speed created some space for Kessel.

"Lups' speed has opened up the ice for both (Tyler) Bozak and Kessel," Carlyle said. "I don't think they have that same element with a Tim Connolly, but I think Tim Connolly's playmaking ability when he gets the puck should be able to create time and space for them."

The Leafs have lost four in a row since beating Montreal in Carlyle's debut on March 3, but the four losses have been by a combined five goals.

Their current 2-12-2 skid has dropped the Maple Leafs to 12th in the Eastern Conference standings, and they're eight points behind eighth-place Washington with 13 games left.

If nothing else, Toronto put together respectable performances in its recent losses to the Bruins, Penguins, Flyers and Capitals.

The Maple Leafs are looking to do the same against Florida and hoping to finally find the back of the net.

"We've got to focus on both ends of the ice," Crabb said. "We've had a couple of good defensive games and we can't let that go just because we haven't scored in a couple of games. The goals will come. As long as we stay stingy defensively like we have been, then we'll be set."
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.13.2012 / 2:15 PM

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

Injured Panthers not yet ready to return

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers might have forward Kris Versteeg and defenseman Dmitry Kulikov back in the lineup sometime during their current four-game homestand, but it won't be Tuesday night against Toronto.

Coach Kevin Dineen said both Versteeg, who is tied with Tomas Fleischmann for the team lead in goals (22) and points (49), and Kulikov also were doubtful for Thursday's game against Boston but wouldn't rule out the possibility they’d return for the last game of the homestand, Saturday against Buffalo.

Versteeg has missed the last seven games because of a lower-body injury, while Kulikov has missed 21 after undergoing knee surgery in January.

Forward Jack Skille, meanwhile, definitely won't play during the homestand and there's a possibility he might be done for the season.

Skille sustained an upper-body injury in Friday night’s 2-1 shootout loss at Pittsburgh when he collided with teammate Sean Bergenheim.

Earlier this season, Skille sat out 20 games with a shoulder injury that occurred when he slammed into the boards while attempting to throw a body check.

"I know it's going to be a while, certainly long term," Dineen said. "Until I hear the actual words that he's done for the season, that hasn't been told to me yet, but I would not expect to see him certainly for quite a while."

Dineen didn't indicate who would start in net for the Panthers on Tuesday, but it seems likely Jose Theodore will make his fifth consecutive start.

After allowing five goals on 35 shots during Thursday's 5-0 loss at Philadelphia, Theodore stopped 67 of 68 shots in the last two games -- the shootout loss at Pittsburgh and a 2-0 victory against Carolina on Sunday.

For the Leafs, Jonas Gustavsson has started the last six games, but coach Randy Carlyle also declined to say who would be in the net Tuesday night.

Instead of Gustavsson, Carlyle could choose to go with James Reimer, whose last start came Feb. 28 against those same Florida Panthers when he gave up five goals on 23 shots in a 5-3 loss.

Here are Tuesday's projected lineups for the Maple Leafs and Panthers.

MAPLE LEAFS
Tim Connolly - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur - Mikhail Grabovski - Nikolai Kulemin
Carter Ashton - David Steckel - Joey Crabb
Colby Armstrong - Matthew Lombardi - Matt Frattin

Carl Gunnarsson - Dion Phaneuf
John-Michael Liles - Mike Komisarek
Jake Gardiner - Luke Schenn

James Reimer
Jonas Gustavsson

PANTHERS
Wojtek Wolski - Stephen Weiss - Tomas Fleischmann
Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Tomas Kopecky - Shawn Matthias - Mike Santorelli
Marco Sturm - John Madden - Jerred Smithson

Jason Garrison - Brian Campbell
Ed Jovanovski - Erik Gudbranson
Keaton Ellerby - Mike Weaver

Jose Theodore
Scott Clemmensen
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.06.2012 / 1:37 PM

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

Panthers says Versteeg won't play next two games

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. — The Florida Panthers have been without leading scorer Kris Versteeg for their past four games, and they’ll almost certainly be without him for their back-to-back set at Philadelphia and Pittsburgh Thursday and Friday.

Versteeg has been out with a lower-body injury, with The Miami Herald reporting that it’s a hip problem.

“I don’t think we’re very confident that we’ll have him back this week,” Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said after practice Tuesday. “I hate being so vague, but that’s really where we are. It’s a little beyond day-to-day, but it’s certainly not considered a long-term injury. We don’t expect him for our next couple of games and then we’ll re-evaluate at that time. We’re kind of in that stage right now. We’re looking at it in three- and four-day increments.”

Following the two games in Pennsylvania, the Panthers return home to face the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday.

Versteeg leads the Southeast Division-leading Panthers with 49 points, including a team-high 22 goals.

Prior to sitting out Florida’s 5-3 victory at Toronto on Feb. 28, Versteeg had gone six games without a goal.
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Posted On Sunday, 03.04.2012 / 1:12 PM

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

Projected lineups for Senators-Panthers

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Kaspars Daugavins had a season-high two points in Ottawa's last visit to the BankAtlantic Center, but he won't get the chance to duplicate that performance against the Florida Panthers Sunday.

Senators coach Paul MacLean said after the optional morning skate that Daugavins would be a healthy scratch for a third consecutive game. Center Zack Smith, meanwhile, will be scratched for the first time this season.

"We can only play 20 and you have to play well to play," MacLean said. "At this point in the season, people are playing better and that's why they're not playing. You have to earn the right to play in the league and you have to play well on a game-by-game basis. We evaluate on a game-by-game basis and at this point the other 12 forwards are playing better."

MacLean also said that rookie Robin Lehner would make his fourth consecutive start in net. Lehner is 3-1 with a 1.50 GAA, his only defeat coming Friday night when he stopped 37 of 39 shots in a 2-1 loss against Chicago.

For the Panthers, defenseman Ed Jovanovski is expected to return to the lineup after being given what Coach Kevin Dineen called a "maintenance day" Saturday and sitting out the 3-1 loss against Nashville.

With Florida carrying seven defensemen, Dineen will have a decision to make when it comes to who to sit. Rookie Erik Gudbranson didn't play in the last 13 minutes of Saturday's game after he was involved in a bad line change that led to the final goal.

OTTAWA SENATORS

Forwards
Rob Klinkhammer - Kyle Turris - Daniel Alfredsson
Milan Michalek - Jason Spezza - Bobby Butler
Nick Foligno - Jim O'Brien - Chris Neil
Colin Greening - Zenon Konopka - Erik Condra

Defensemen
Filip Kuba - Erik Karlsson
Jared Cowen - Sergei Gonchar
Chris Phillips - Matt Gilroy

Goalie
Robin Lehner

FLORIDA PANTHERS

Forwards
Sean Bergenheim - Stephen Weiss - Mikael Samuelsson
Tomas Fleischmann - Marcel Goc - Wojtek Wolski
Tomas Kopecky - Shawn Matthias - Jack Skille
Marco Sturm - Jerred Smithson - Mike Santorelli

Defensemen
Jason Garrison - Mike Weaver
Ed Jovanovski - Brian Campbell
Keaton Ellerby - Tyson Strachan

Goalies
Jose Theodore
Scott Clemmensen
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Posted On Sunday, 03.04.2012 / 12:35 PM

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

Klinkhammer gets into Sens lineup for the first time

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Three months after being acquired in a trade with Chicago, forward Rob Klinkhammer will play his first game for the Ottawa Senators Sunday at Florida.

It will be the second NHL game overall for Klinkhammer, who was called up from Binghamton of the AHL on Saturday.

Klinkhammer, acquired Dec. 3 for a conditional seventh-round pick in 2013, made his NHL debut on Dec. 8, 2010 with the Blackhawks.

"I'm just super excited," Klinkhammer said after Ottawa's optional morning skate. "I'm just glad to be here, so thankful to get an opportunity and I'm just going to try to make the most of it and have some fun and try not to be too nervous."

Klinkhammer, who will start off playing on a line with Daniel Alfredsson and Kyle Turris against Florida, had 35 points (12 goals, 23 assists) in 35 games with Binghamton. Prior to the trade, he had only six points in 18 games for Chicago's AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs.

"He's worked real hard, can really skate, can make plays, and his work ethic is probably his best attribute," Senators coach Paul MacLean said. "We like that. We're still looking for depth on our team and we're going to give him the opportunity to be a part of it."

Another Binghamton player soon will be joining Klinkhammer in Ottawa, with MacLean saying goalie Ben Bishop would get a start for the Senators before too long.

Bishop was acquired from St. Louis on Feb. 26 in exchange for a second-round pick. In his first two starts in Binghamton, Bishop stopped 82 of 85 shots for an exceptional .965 save percentage.

With Craig Anderson out with a hand injury, rookie Robin Lehner has started the last three games for Ottawa and he'll again get the call against Florida Sunday.

"We do have plans for Ben Bishop that we want to see him play in some games," MacLean said. "Obviously it's not tonight. That could change after that or moving forward next week. With this injury to Craig Anderson, we fully plan to take a look at Ben Bishop. We want to make sure he's comfortable and he's ready to come up and play a game before we do anything. He's playing well down there, Robin is playing well up here, so we're going to monitor it and evaluate it on a daily basis."
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Posted On Saturday, 03.03.2012 / 3:51 PM

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

Nashville influence sprinkled throughout Florida roster

SUNRISE, Fla. — Because of Dale Tallon, Brian Campbell, Kris Versteeg and Tomas Kopecky, much has been made of the influence the Chicago Blackhawks have had on the success of the Florida Panthers.

To a lesser degree, the Panthers can also thank Saturday night's opponents, the Nashville Predators.

Tallon's right-hand man is Assistant GM Mike Santos, who spent four seasons as Nashville's director of hockey operations before joining the Panthers in 2010.

The Florida roster also includes four former Predators players — Mike Santorelli, Marcel Goc, Scottie Upshall and Jerred Smithson, who was obtained Feb. 24.

Asked about the Panthers' surprising run to the top of the Southeast Division this season, Nashville coach Barry Trotz mentioned the role of his organization.

"There's a lot of Chicago parts, there's a lot of Nashville parts sprinkled all over the Panthers roster," Trotz said after Saturday's morning skate. "Those are two pretty good organizations that you want to get people from. We've been a pretty diligent organization, we've been a competitive team, we've got good growth, good culture and I think Chicago does. They won a Stanley Cup. Dale was very familiar with the parts they brought from Chicago and Mike's very familiar with the parts they got from Nashville. Getting good people, which they have, gives them a real good chance to do what they've done so far."

First-year Panthers coach Kevin Dineen expressed his admiration for the Nashville organization, which has never had a head coach other than Trotz.

Dineen can appreciate that kind of stability, having worked for the Sabres organization before joining Florida. The only coach in the League with a longer tenure than Trotz is Buffalo's Lindy Ruff.

"(GM) David Poile and Barry Trotz have really been a good tandem," Dineen said. "Coming from the stability of a Buffalo organization where Lindy and (GM) Darcy (Regier) have been in the same situation for that length, I think what it does is it takes away a lot of outside excuses, it gives people a chance to go out and do their work.

"It's not a feeling of comfort, but there's this feeling of trust. You know the San Antonio Spurs are the same way. They're
organizations that are built where you bring in quality people and you let them go do their job. Things don't happen overnight, and we're certainly in that stage now. Nashville certainly is an organization that you can pick up some things from."

While the Panthers are trying this season to return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2000, Nashville appears headed for its seventh postseason trip in the past eight seasons.

The Predators haven't experienced a lot of postseason success, but they're shooting for a deep playoff run after acquiring veterans Hal Gill, Andrei Kostitsyn and Paul Gaustad at or around this year's trade deadline.

"They're trying to make a statement on and off the ice," Dineen said. "They've been consistently a good hockey team, they go out, they play a very well-structured style of game and they are a hard-working team. You know those expectations are there and in addition to that at the trade deadline they brought in a few players. Paul Gaustad, I was associated with him in the Buffalo organization, so I certainly know what he can bring to the table. I think it's a statement to their fan base and their players that they're serious about being a contender."

Saturday's game will be the only meeting between Florida and Nashville this season.

With the teams in different conferences, Trotz said he wanted to see the Panthers do well, given the former members of the 
organization on the team.

"There's a real good connection with the Preds here," he said. "Other than tonight, I wish them a lot of good luck.

"They want our people, people that have been in our organization. I do take pride in that. Tonight I have no friends on the Panthers side. We have friends, but we want to get the two points."
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Posted On Saturday, 03.03.2012 / 3:24 PM

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

Florida's Smithson excited to face former team

SUNRISE, Fla. — Jerred Smithson admitted he began thinking about Saturday's game almost immediately after being traded by Nashville to Florida eight days ago.

After spending 6-1/2 seasons with Nashville, Smithson was traded to the Panthers on Feb. 24 in exchange for a sixth-round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, and he will face his former team for the first time Saturday night at the BankAtlantic Center.

"I looked right away, actually," Smithson said. "I knew we were coming to Florida fairly soon. That's kind of one game there I had circled in my head that I was looking forward to. Once I get that first shift out of the way, it'll feel a lot better and it's just a hockey game."

Smithson never recorded more than 16 points in a season after signing with Nashville in the first season after the lockout, but he was considered a big part of the Predators nonetheless because of his faceoff prowess, his work ethic and his locker-room presence.

Coach Barry Trotz thought enough of him that he called him after the trade.

"He was one of those guys who helped develop a pretty good culture," Trotz said Saturday. "He was a Predator. He was a guy who was discarded by L.A., signed by Nashville and sort of worked his way as an American League player to the NHL as a role player to a real diligent checker with our team, and he was a big part of the culture. He brings professional, he brings honesty to his game and a work ethic. Smitty made himself a player."

Smithson and Trotz chatted at the morning skate Saturday.

The 33-year-old center called Saturday's game "tough."

"At the end of the day, it's just a hockey game," he said. "They're all buddies over there, but they're going out there to win a hockey game, as are we. We'll go out there and play hard and do my usual thing and hopefully come out with two points."

Smithson is one of three former Nashville players on the Panthers along with Marcel Goc and Mike Santorelli.

His familiarity with the Predators came into play in preparation for this game.

"I've told them what I know and what I can help them out with," Smithson said. "At the end of the day, it's just us going out there and executing and going out there and working hard. We had a long day yesterday, so it's important for us to get a good stretch in and good sweat and just go out there and execute our game plan. That's going to be work ethic. It's going to be a tough game. Both teams can really wheel and deal and have a lot of speed, so it should be exciting."

In four games with the Panthers, Smithson has yet to record a point, but he's won 57.2 percent of his faceoffs. One of the few bright spots in Thursday's 7-0 loss at Winnipeg was Smithson's 7-for-9 performance on draws.

"Jerred Smithson has come in and done a good job for us," Florida coach Kevin Dineen said. "He's given us some great options."

Smithson didn't get the chance to visit with some of his former teammates Friday night because the Panthers didn't return from Winnipeg until close to midnight.

"I text the guys here and there, but I'm not quite sure on that end what's going on," he said. "I've gotten a lot of text messages and phone calls from the guys wishing me luck and thanking me and vice versa. They'll always be good friends and I'll stay in contact with them. Just another chapter."

Saturday night, though, it's all business.

Smithson did joke when he was asked whether there was any Nashville player in particular he wanted to hit.

"I'll just go out there and play hard, there's a few guys," he said. "No, I'm just kidding. It should be fun. I'm excited."
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Posted On Saturday, 03.03.2012 / 3:00 PM

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

Panthers insist travel issues home are no excuse

SUNRISE, Fla. — The Florida Panthers were back on their home ice Saturday morning, looking to put behind what became a nightmarish trip to Winnipeg.

As if their 7-0 loss Thursday night weren't bad enough, the Panthers then had to wait more than nine hours at the airport before they finally were able to fly home Friday night.

Coach Kevin Dineen, however, said the travel ordeal should have no effect on Saturday night's home game against the Nashville Predators.

"It makes for a little bit of a tougher today when you come off a pretty good beating in Winnipeg in more than one way," he said after the morning skate. "We had some travel issues as well. You know what? That's part of our business.

"That's an excuse. We haven't used excuses at all this year. We feel that the game is on schedule, it was a tough day for us getting home yesterday but that, by far, doesn't factor into today's game or tonight's performance."

The Panthers were stuck in Winnipeg because of plane issues.

After arriving at the airport around 8:30 a.m., they had to wait until about 6 p.m. before the flight departed. It landed in Fort Lauderdale around 11:15 p.m.

Some players read, others spent time on their computers, others walked around the terminal.

"A lot of cards, a lot of talking," said defenseman Erik Gudbranson. "A couple of guys fell asleep on the plane and passed the time there. I watched a couple movies myself.

"I watched ‘Last King of Scotland,' ‘Defiance,'  what else did I watch? I watched another one, I forget what it was. Read a little bit, too. Passed the time well."

For new Panthers center Jerred Smithson, the long delay provided an opportunity to get better acquainted with some of his new teammates.

"Boy, what didn't I do?" said Smithson, acquired Feb. 24 in a trade with Nashville. "There's only so much you can do in the Winnipeg airport. You walk around, you go for lunch. It actually gave me a good chance to talk to some of the other guys that I haven't really talked to too much.

"Just tried to stay loose. It was such a long time, especially mentally, too. Physically, it was tough, but mentally you just wanted to get home and kind of relax. No big deal. It's part of the game, I guess. It doesn't happen every day, thank God."

Also on the agenda was a quick review of Thursday night's game, one which didn't feature many highlights for the Southeast Division-leading Panthers.

"Obviously we went over some video and some clips and we took the time necessary to review what happened and we thought about it, let it sink in," Gudbranson said. "But that's over with, we forget about it. Those games happen. It's happened a couple of times this year, not just us, to other teams. We know that and we're just going to continue."

Gudbranson, the Panthers' 20-year-old rookie, tried to put a positive spin on the long travel day.

"Those kind of events, as much as it (stunk) while we were doing it, that's the kind of stuff that brings a team together and we laugh about it later," he said. "We made our own fun and enjoyed ourselves as much as we could and ended up getting home safely."
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Quote of the Day

He scores 50 goals, they go in, they go in, and they go in. And I think, 'Why can't I do that?'

— Capitals forward Brooks Laich on teammate Alex Ovechkin, who scored his 50th goal of the season Tuesday in a 4-2 win vs. the Hurricanes
AMP No Bull Moment of the Week