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Posted On Tuesday, 01.24.2012 / 12:45 PM

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

Knee surgery to sideline Kulikov 6-8 weeks

SUNRISE, Fla. -- After dealing with a rash of injuries among their forwards and then at the goalie position, the Florida Panthers are now hurting on defense.

A week after veteran Ed Jovanovski was sidelined with a broken hand, Dmitry Kulikov underwent knee surgery on Monday to address a meniscus injury.

Coach Kevin Dineen revealed the news after the Panthers' optional morning skate Tuesday morning and said Kulikov would be out 6-8 weeks.

"That's obviously a big loss for us," Dineen said. "I wish his knee felt as good as his attitude. He's such an enthusiastic young man and he's been such a big part of what we've done this year. It's a tough loss for us, but we've got some resiliency and we'll need that right now without him in the lineup."

Kulikov was at the BankAtlantic Center Tuesday morning walking on crutches and wearing a wrap around his knee.

The defenseman told NHL.com the injury was one he's been playing with for about five years.

"I wasn't planning on this, obviously, but it happens," Kulikov said. "As long as it didn't bother me, I didn't want to do the surgery. I was hoping I could wait until the end of the season and then have it done, but unfortunately it happened, it got worse. So I had the surgery. Now I'm going to try to get back as fast as possible and we'll go from there."

Kulikov said he aggravated his knee injury when he checked the Jets' Jim Slater behind the Florida net in the first period of Saturday night's 4-3 shootout victory at Winnipeg.

The Panthers' 2009 first-round pick finished the game and ended up getting 22:07 of ice time.

"I think I just twisted it or hit it against the boards," Kulikov said. "That aggravated it, made it worse. I was able to finish the game. I was getting worse and worse throughout the game. Afterwards, on the plane, it was getting worse and worse. The next day I couldn't even get downstairs at my house. I had to get it done."

In 46 games this season, Kulikov has 4 goals and 20 assists to rank fifth on the team with 24 points -- two shy of his career high of 26, which he accomplished in 72 games last season.

Kulikov also is third on the team in average ice time behind fellow defensemen Brian Campbell and Jason Garrison.

With Kulikov out, the Panthers will need even bigger contributions from their other two former first-round picks on defense, Erik Gudbranson (2011) and Keaton Ellerby (2007).

"It (stinks) that Kuli's out," Gudbranson said. "He's such a big part of our defensive corps. He's probably one of the better defensemen we've had all year. It's tough to see him out and for the period that he's out.

"That makes us step up. We know that everybody has to step up. I'm excited about the opportunity. It was unfortunate for him, but I've got to step up. Everyone does."
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Posted On Monday, 01.16.2012 / 3:35 PM

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

Playing better, not division lead, is Panthers' concern

SUNRISE, Fla. -- For the first time in almost two months, the Florida Panthers woke up Monday morning to find themselves out of first place in the Southeast Division.

Their run of 57 consecutive days at the top of the division ended on Sunday when the Washington Capitals beat Carolina 2-1 to match Florida's 50 points and take over first by virtue of their 24 victories to the Panthers' 21.

"Obviously, you're aware of what's going on around the League, but more importantly is you take care of the areas that you've got to strengthen and you keep on encouraging what our strengths are as a team and keep emphasizing those," coach Kevin Dineen said.

After a 3-2 overtime victory over Carolina on Dec. 18, the Panthers found themselves nine points ahead of the Capitals, winners of the division the last four seasons.

But Florida has won only three times in its last 10 games (3-5-2), while Washington is on a run of seven victories in nine games.

Kris Versteeg, who scored the game-winner in that Dec. 18 victory, says the Panthers are more concerned about regaining their earlier form than who's where in the standings.

"I don't think you think about that at all," he said. "They've had games in hand on us all season. We've always talked about it. It's hard to get on top and it's harder to stay. We're still learning that here."

With Washington idle before wrapping up a four-game homestand Tuesday with a game against the New York Islanders, the Panthers can quickly regain first place in the Southeast.

But to do so, they'll have to beat the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins on Monday night.

The Panthers are hoping the impending return of goalie Jose Theodore and four injured forwards -- Sean Bergenheim, Scottie Upshall, Marco Sturm and Jack Skille -- can get them back in the right direction.

Florida has gone a month without winning two in a row, and Versteeg knows that's not the way to get into the playoffs -- something the Panthers haven't done since the 1999-2000 season.

"We want to be better than we have as of late," Versteeg said, "but with the healthy bodies we're getting back a lot of things start to change and I think we're starting to get accustomed to that, too, and get used to the guys coming back.

"The last few games, you win one, you lose one, you win one, you lose one; we can't be a .500 team and expect to make the playoffs. We've got to find a way to string a few here together and be a little more consistent in our winning streaks."
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Posted On Monday, 01.16.2012 / 1:38 PM

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

Panthers, Bruins have played two very different games

SUNRISE, Fla. -- In their first two meetings with Boston, the Florida Panthers had perhaps their biggest victory of the season and unquestionably their most embarrassing loss.

The teams meet for Round 3 on Monday night at the BankAtlantic Center, and don't think the Panthers have forgotten the 8-0 drubbing they absorbed at TD Garden on Dec. 23.

That game came 15 days after the Panthers recorded a 2-0 shutout at Boston on a night when Jose Theodore stopped 40 shots.

"Obviously we're not looking for the little Christmas coal we got last time against them," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "That was a pretty lopsided game, and deservedly so. We didn't play very well vs. the Bruins. I like the way, for the majority of the games, we've played on home ice and we're certainly going to need a strong effort to beat and compete with the Stanley Cup champions."

In that last matchup, the Panthers were coming off a 4-3 overtime loss at Ottawa the night before, but worse were playing without seven injured forwards.

Florida was so shorthanded up front, in fact, that rookie defenseman Erik Gudbranson was used as a right wing.

"We had a really rough go," Gudbranson said. "We played as individuals, we didn't play as a five-man unit. We hear it from our coaches, we hear it from everybody and we know inside this room if we play as a unit that we're a very good team, we're one of the best teams in the League. It's going to be key to do that tonight."

As if the revenge factor didn't provide enough motivation for tonight's game, the Panthers also are coming off a lackluster performance Friday night in a 4-1 loss against a Pittsburgh team that came in on a six-game losing streak and missing several key players.

The Bruins also are coming off a disappointing performance, a 4-2 loss at Carolina on Saturday. Since a seven-game winning streak that began on Dec. 10 and included the rout of the Panthers, Boston has gone 4-3.

Coach Claude Julien says his team needs to battle harder and take pucks at the net. That's where his focus is, and not on the Panthers having extra motivation to avenge an ugly loss.

"Basically, our whole game has just kind of slipped a little bit, not to the point of being a bad team but to the point of being a very mediocre team right now," he said. "We've got to bring it back to the level that is expected of our group.

"I don't know what kind of game we can expect from them. I would look more at, what kind of game do we expect to play tonight? We've just got to be better. When your team isn't playing at the level it should be, you like to focus on your team a lot more than worrying about what the other team is going to do."

For his part, Bruins captain Zdeno Chara expects a tough battle on Monday.

"They're really good at home," Chara said of the Panthers. "They play a very hard style. We just have to be ready to do our thing and make sure we work extremely hard and don't take anything for granted.

"We played really well that game (on Dec. 23) and they had not a great night. That's going to happen. I'm sure they're going to be way better tonight."
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Posted On Monday, 01.16.2012 / 1:10 PM

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

Injured Panthers getting closer to returning

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers are close to having their full complement of players, but they're not quite there yet.

The Panthers again will be without goalie Jose Theodore and four forwards -- Scottie Upshall, Sean Bergenheim, Jack Skille and Marco Sturm -- when they face the Boston Bruins on Monday night, but all five players are expected to join the team on a three-game road trip that begins Wednesday night in Colorado.

They all  took part in the morning skate, although the four forwards were wearing green jerseys.

"Just depending on our medical reports, I'd like to think that we're no longer considering injured guys and now it's going to be to options that I'll have," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "That's a good place for us to be, to have some healthy options."

As for Theodore, he has been practicing with the Panthers for several days, but Dineen says he wants to be extra cautious with the veteran goalie.

Theodore sustained a knee injury during a 3-2 victory over Montreal on New Year's Eve.

Said Dineen: "I think he has made good strides every day and we feel that he is close to being ready, but when I have expectations for a player to come and play a lot of hockey down the stretch, we want to make sure that he is doing that in a healthy body and frame of mind."

Against Boston, the Panthers power play should have a different look. Forward Mikael Samuelsson was working at the point instead of defenseman Dmitry Kulikov with the first power-play unit at the morning skate.

The Panthers converted only 2 of 17 power-play opportunities in the last six games.

One of those was the game-winner by Marcel Goc in last Monday's 2-1 victory over Vancouver. Samuelsson was at the point with the second power-play unit and started the play with a cross-ice pass to Kris Versteeg.

Here is the projected lineup:

PANTHERS

Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Tomas Kopecky - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Shawn Matthias - John Madden - Michal Repik
Krystofer Barch - Mike Santorelli - Matt Bradley

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

Scott Clemmensen
Brian Foster
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Posted On Monday, 01.16.2012 / 12:56 PM

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

Peverley to miss two games due to personal reasons

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Bruins center Rich Peverley will miss the team's next two games after flying back to Boston to attend to a personal matter.

Peverley accompanied the team as it flew to Florida following Saturday's 4-2 loss at Carolina, but returned home on Sunday.

The Bruins will be without Peverley on Monday night against the Panthers and Tuesday when they take on the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Coach Claude Julien said Peverley is expected to rejoin the Bruins in time for Thursday's game at New Jersey. Peverley is tied for sixth on the team with 29 points and is fourth in average ice time among the forwards at 16:46.

Zach Hamill will take Peverley's place in the lineup against Florida. Hamill has 2 assists in 10 games for Boston this season and has been recalled from the minors twice. He was stratched five of the last seven games.

Here is the projected lineup:

BRUINS

Milan Lucic - David Krejci - Nathan Horton
Benoit Pouliot - Patrice Bergeron - Tyler Seguin
Jordan Caron - Chris Kelly - Zach Hamill
Daniel Paille - Gregory Campbell - Shawn Thornton

Zdeno Chara - Johnny Boychuk
Dennis Seidenberg - Joe Corvo
Andrew Ference - Adam McQuaid

Tim Thomas
Tuukka Rask
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Posted On Friday, 01.13.2012 / 2:06 PM

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

Panthers wary of injury-riddled Penguins

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers will face a reeling and wounded Pittsburgh team Friday night at the BankAtlantic Center, but they're not about to take the Penguins lightly.

Pittsburgh comes into the game on a six-game losing streak and without the services of stars Sidney Crosby, Jordan Staal and Kris Letang.

When asked about facing a struggling Pittsburgh team, Dineen quickly replied, "It's a dangerous team, too. I have a lot of respect (for them). I coached against Danny Bylsma in the American League and watched how his team played so well last year under similar circumstances. They are definitely a little bit wounded, but that's an animal you always beware of."

That sentiment was echoed by Panthers center Stephen Weiss.

"Even a team like that, as good as they are, when injuries creep up to those type of players, it's tough to sustain that and they've had to do it for almost two years now," Weiss said. "It's starting to catch up a little bit, but that's a good hockey club. They play so well as a team, their systems. They're having a tough time putting it in, but they don't give up much a game. So we'll have to be ready."

For the Panthers, the game represents an opportunity to solidify their hold on first place in the Southeast Division and build off one of their most impressive victories of the season.

After going 0-1-1 on a trip to face the Rangers and Devils, the Panthers came home Monday night and handed the defending Western Conference champion Vancouver Canucks a 2-1 defeat.

"We felt that was a really important game against the Canucks, one of the top teams in the League, a Stanley Cup finalist last year," Dineen said. "That was a really important game and in review I think (we were) very strong from the goaltending on out."

Pittsburgh won the Stanley Cup in 2009, but the team the Panthers will face Friday night will look vastly different. The biggest reason, of course, is that the Penguins will be without Crosby.

"Certainly it's different when he's not in the lineup," Weiss said. "You come to the rink with a bit of a smile on your face when he's not playing because he's that good, but that team has a lot of weapons. Just the way they play as a unit is tough enough, so we'll have to be ready. With them losing a few in a row, they'll be even a little bit more ready to go, so it'll be a good hockey game."
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Posted On Friday, 01.13.2012 / 1:44 PM

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

Theodore skates, but Clemmensen to start vs. Pens

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Goalie Jose Theodore took part in Florida's morning skate Friday, but he will not dress when the Panthers take on the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight.

This will be the fourth consecutive game Theodore has missed since sustaining a knee injury in a 3-2 victory over Montreal on New Year's Eve.

Veteran Scott Clemmensen, who is coming off a strong performance in Monday's 2-1 victory over Vancouver, will be in net against Pittsburgh, with recent AHL call-up Brian Foster again serving as his backup.

Theodore could be ready to return Monday night when the Panthers face Boston before heading out for three road games in four nights.

The Panthers also could be close to getting three of their four injured forwards back in the lineup.

Jack Skille (shoulder), Sean Bergenheim (groin) and Scottie Upshall (lower body) all took part in Friday's morning skate, albeit wearing non-contact jerseys.

Here are tonight's projected lineups:

PENGUINS

Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Pascal Dupuis - Dustin Jeffrey - Tyler Kennedy
Steve Sullivan - Matt Cooke - Richard Park
Eric Tangradi - Craig Adams - Arron Asham

Brooks Orpik - Deryk Engelland
Matt Niskanen - Ben Lovejoy
Paul Martin - Zbynek Michalek

Marc-Andre Fleury
Brent Johnson

PANTHERS
Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Tomas Kopecky - John Madden - Mikael Samuelsson
Marcel Goc - Shawn Matthias - Michal Repik
Krystofer Barch - Mike Santorelli - Matt Bradley

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

Scott Clemmensen
Brian Foster
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Posted On Monday, 01.09.2012 / 2:46 PM

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

Booth will watch as Canucks play his old mates

SUNRISE, Fla. -- As frustrating as it is, this is nothing new for David Booth.

Once the face of the Florida Panthers, Booth had been looking forward to going up against his former team ever since he was traded to Vancouver on Oct. 22. Instead, Booth will be watching from the press box as he continues to work his way back from a knee injury.

It's the continuation of a pattern for Booth, one he could do without.

The speedy 27-year-old forward has had his share of injuries since making his NHL debut on Nov. 20, 2006. He missed the chance to play in his native Detroit when he was out in 2007-08 and in 2009-10, and he also lost a chance to make the U.S. Olympic team in 2010 because of a concussion that wiped out most of his season.

And now this.

"It seems like throughout my career the games I look forward to the most are the games that I miss," Booth said after joining five other Canucks players and goalies Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider for a workout at the BankAtlantic Center Monday morning. "It happened with the Olympics, it happens when we go to Detroit -- I still haven't played in Detroit yet and I think this is my seventh year. This is a game that ever since I got traded I was looking forward to. It's frustrating, but there's plenty more hockey to be played."

Booth has been out of action since Dec. 6 when he was the victim of a knee-on-knee hit by Colorado forward Kevin Porter, who was suspended four games for the incident.

Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault indicated Sunday that Booth has been medically cleared to play and it's now up to the player to tell his coach when he’s ready to go.

As much as he would have liked to have faced his former team, Booth said Monday he's not at that point yet.

"It's all a matter of time," Booth said. "I've only practiced twice with the team after being off the ice for a month. That's tough. You don't want to put yourself in a situation where you get further injured. I've got to take my time and know when I'm ready.

"I thought I would be back in time, but you have to put your career first. If I go out there and I'm not stable on that knee and get hit again, that's not good for me. I know the Panthers play a hard game. I know they play the body, they get on the forecheck, so that's going to be a tough game. I don't want to be a negative to our team out there if I'm not playing the best I can play."

The Panthers traded Booth along with veteran center Steven Reinprecht for forwards Mikael Samuelsson and Marco Sturm. Booth was informed of the trade while the team was going through pregame warmups with the Islanders at the BankAtlantic Center and reports indicated he was in tears upon being told the news.

"It was tough at the time, and coming back down here brings back a lot of good memories," he said. "But I'm happy to be a Canuck now. Everything works itself out. It was tough for the first month or so, but I got over that and just realized that this is my new home and I've got to make the most of the opportunity I've been given."

Booth had only one assist in six games with Florida this season and he also got off to a slow start in Vancouver. But he had 3 goals and 2 assists in the five games preceding his December injury.

"It took a good month to get acquainted," Booth said, "but the chemistry with my linemates started coming around and I thought I was playing some of my best hockey there before I got hurt."

Booth says he keeps tabs on the Panthers and watches their games whenever possible. With Monday night's game being the only meeting between Florida and Vancouver this season, Booth will have to wait until next year to face his former team.

Hopefully for him, he'll be healthy and ready to go on Feb. 23 when the Canucks travel to Detroit so he can end his curse and play an NHL game in his hometown for the first time.



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Posted On Monday, 01.09.2012 / 2:00 PM

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

Luongo enjoying being back in Florida

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Roberto Luongo still enjoys getting back to the BankAtlantic Center, but it's not so much because he's facing his former team.

Rather, it's because he gets to play in front of family and friends in the place he calls home in the offseason.

That includes the family of his wife, who he met while he played for the Panthers. Luongo's father-in-law, in fact, owns a pizza place in South Florida and the goalie took his teammates to eat there Sunday after the Canucks practiced at the BankAtlantic Center.

"My wife's side of the family is here, so there's a lot of people coming to the game," Luongo said. "It's always nice to come back here and play."

Luongo has had great success against the Panthers, who shipped him to Vancouver in a five-player trade in June of 2006. He has a 4-0-1 record with a 1.74 GAA, a .951 save percentage and one shutout. That includes a 3-2 victory during Luongo's rookie season with the New York Islanders in 1999-2000.

In his last visit to the BankAtlantic Center on Feb. 11, 2010, Luongo posted a 3-0 shutout.

But the goalie says facing his former team isn't as significant as it once was.

"Not as much as at the beginning, obviously," Luongo said. "It's more the excitement of playing in front of family and friends more than anything else that's exciting for me now."
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Posted On Monday, 01.09.2012 / 1:34 PM

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

With Markstrom ailing, Panthers recall goalie

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Panthers found themselves shorthanded in the nets when they held an optional morning skate Monday, so they called on a local college goalie to help out.

Jose Theodore, out since New Year's Eve with a knee injury, has been joined on the sidelines by Jacob Markstrom, who is nursing a knee injury of his own.

So the Panthers recalled Brian Foster from San Antonio of the AHL to back up Scott Clemmensen on Monday night against Vancouver.

Foster caught a flight out of Texas on Monday morning, so he wasn't present at the morning skate.

It's not clear exactly when Markstrom, who underwent knee surgery last season, hurt the knee. He was in net Friday night when the Panthers dropped a 5-2 decision at New Jersey in a game where the Devils scored two empty-net goals.

Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said Markstrom would meet with team medical director Dr. John Uribe on Monday night to get feedback.

"He had an MRI yesterday, which was encouraging," Dineen said. "Certainly we're leaning more toward the positive than otherwise."

In addition to Theodore and Markstrom, the Panthers will be facing the Canucks without the services of forwards Sean Bergenheim (groin), Scottie Upshall (lower body), Jack Skille (shoulder) and Marco Sturm (concussion).

CANUCKS
Alexandre Burrows - Henrik Sedin - Daniel Sedin
Mason Raymond - Ryan Kesler - Chris Higgins
Cody Hodgson - Maxim Lapierre - Jannik Hansen
Mike Duco - Manny Malhotra - Dale Weise

Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Alexander Edler - Alexander Sulzer
Keith Ballard - Andrew Alberts

Roberto Luongo
Cory Schneider

PANTHERS
Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Tomas Kopecky - Shawn Matthias - Michal Repik
Mikael Samuelsson - Marcel Goc - Matt Bradley
Krystofer Barch - John Madden - Mike Santorelli

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

Scott Clemmensen
Brian Foster
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