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Panthers insist travel issues home are no excuse

by Alain Poupart
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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