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Southeast: Sexton says no Panther is off limits

by Mike G. Morreale
Florida General Manager Randy Sexton said last weekend that the Panthers would be "buyers" at the March 3 trade deadline.

But after watching five-straight losses and a fall to 12th in the Eastern Conference standings -- the Panthers are 0-for-February -- he is rethinking that strategy.

Sexton pulled the trigger on the first of what could be several deals Thursday, sending Dominic Moore to Montreal for a 2011 second-round draft pick.

Rumors are also surfacing that even goalie Tomas Vokoun could be dealt for the right price.

"There's no player off limits," Sexton said. "There are players we'd like to keep, but at the end of the day Wayne Gretzky was traded. We have to get better and get our team to the point where we want it to be. Sometimes you have to make hard decisions."

Following a 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday, Panthers coach Peter DeBoer and Sexton were livid over the team's play.

"Your best players have to be your best players," DeBoer said. "You can't have five or six of your top eight or nine forwards go 10, 15, 20 games with only a goal or two. You're not going to win in this league with that."

Said Sexton: "We have too many guys who don't compete. You can't win in this game unless you're ready to show up and go to war every night. We don't have enough of them. This is not the type of team we want. We're going to keep making changes until we get that. It takes time. It's like turning around the Titanic and not a rowboat."

Among those players struggling mightily right now are forwards Steven Reinprecht (18 games without of goal), Michael Frolik (14 games), Rostislav Olesz (11) and David Booth, who hasn't scored in six games since returning from a concussion. Their leading scorer, Stephen Weiss, has just one goal in 12 games and Nathan Horton (17 goals, 46 points in 52 games) has missed the last nine games with a fractured tibia and won't return until after the Olympics.

The Panthers, shutout by Vancouver's Roberto Luongo (31 saves) on Thursday, have scored only four goals during their five-game losing skid.

"We're in a tough stretch," DeBoer said. "You have to keep working until you get it. That's the key to this League -- the lows can't be low, and the highs can't be too high. We're in a low part and we have to fight our way out of it."

Adjustment in Atlanta -- Atlanta Thrashers coach John Anderson knows things will be different without Ilya Kovalchuk around. But he's liked what he's seen since the big trade of a week ago.

In fact, he expects the team chemistry to mold quickly and productively.

"It has to (change)," Anderson said. "You lose a guy who's arguably between 40 and 50 goals a year and it will change the direction of your team. Everybody needs to chip in to score goals and we have to be better defensively, so it's a whole dynamic change for us and hopefully we can do it sooner than later."

While the newest Atlanta members -- forward Niclas Bergfors and defenseman Johnny Oduya  -- may need time to adjust, Anderson knows one thing that won't change for either player.

"The one thing that doesn't change, no matter what system or team you play for, is hard work and making the simple play," Anderson said. "Oduya has been tremendous for us and Bergfors has already scored a big goal."

Oduya has averaged over 20 minutes in three games since his trade from New Jersey -- notching one assist and a minus-2 rating. Bergfors has averaged just under 12 minutes and has 2 goals and 1 assist and a plus-2 rating in three games. He scored his first goal in 18 games in a 4-2 victory over the Panthers on Feb. 6.

"It's a little warmer than in New Jersey, so that's always nice," Oduya said. "It's a quick turnaround, but I think it's going to be good. The guys are great and the atmosphere is great. It's trying to do what we do best and have fun and work hard -- that's what we'll bring."

"It's a nice city and a nice group of guys -- a good mix of young guys, old guys and lots of Europeans," Bergfors said. "So far, it's been good and now we just have to win games and get into the playoffs."

Thrashers forward Bryan Little, who has already seen plenty of minutes alongside Bergfors since the trade, feels both players are fitting in very well.

"It's not easy switching teams and cities and it's hard moving to a different place but I think we're making them feel at home," Little said. "If anything, they're bringing some energy to the team. We're seeing how we can play with them and how they play and they've energized the team."

'Canes are coming -- Where have we seen this before? A team fighting for their playoff lives over the first half of the season makes a second-half surge to qualify and then stuns the hockey world by reaching Eastern Conference Final. Oh yeah, that would be the 2009 Carolina Hurricanes.

Well, they're at it again. Carolina has won eight of its last 10 games and five in a row at RBC Center in Raleigh, where they'll meet the New Jersey Devils Saturday in their final game before the Olympic break.

They've also won their last two games that have gone into overtime, including a 4-3 OT decision over the slumping Sabres Thursday as Sergei Samsonov connected 1:47 into the extra session and Brandon Sutter earned the first three-point game of his career (1 goal, 2 assists). The 'Canes overcame a 2-0 deficit.

The victory was also the 400th in the career of coach Paul Maurice. It was the 324th victory in his 10-plus seasons as coach of the Hurricanes. If you'll recall, Maurice took over a team with a record of 12-11-2 in 2008-09 and finished 33-19-5 the remainder of the season to score a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It was there, he directed the club to consecutive Game 7 road victories over New Jersey and Boston to reach the Conference Final before bowing to Pittsburgh in four-straight games.

"It's nice for things to go our way," Samsonov said.

"The tables have really turned," Brandon Sutter said.

The Hurricanes might still be 10 points out of the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but it doesn't mean their throwing in the towel. Still, rumors continue to swirl. Matt Cullen was dealt to Ottawa Friday and Ray Whitney is said to be available.

"It's a long season, and you can never count yourself out until you are mathematically counted out," goalie Manny Legace said. "We struggled through Christmas, but I really do think it was just a jelling period. Now the guys are starting to come together, and we're playing like a team, every single night, for the past month and a half, two months. That's the way we can play."

All aboard! -- Tampa Bay Lightning defensemen Mattias Ohlund and Victor Hedman received a rare treat on Feb. 5 when the pair boarded Sweden's largest sailing vessel to hold a casual conversation with high school students and crew members.

Ohlund and Hedman joined more than 40 students from the Swedish Upper Secondary School, along with 10 crew members, aboard the T/S Gunilla -- a 165-foot three-mast sailing ship that embarked from Sweden at the end of August and arrived in Tampa Bay on Feb. 1.

The ship remained at the Tampa Port Authority for about a week while its members participated in a unique educational experience.

"Being from Sweden, I know what it is like for these students to come here, but it is a great thing they're doing and it was a pleasure to share our experiences and hear their stories," Ohlund told

The sailing classroom educates students interested in oceanography, marine biology and other fields. While the students explained to the players what life was like aboard a ship for ten months, they also received special privileges.

"It was a great experience for both Mattias and I and the students. We talked with them and found out we have a lot in common," Hedman said. "The students did a great job of showing us the ship and what they do, and we were glad to sign autographs for them too in return."

Ohlund and Hedman were given a tour of the ship by the students before posing for pictures with them.

"I was a little surprised to see them," student Emanuel Gunjarsson told Tampa's web site. "You don't expect to see two hockey players on a boat, but it was very welcoming and nice to see what the town has to offer."

Contact Mike Morreale at

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