#FlaPanthers Rough Up #Blackhawks

By Bill Whitehead

SUNRISE — In a battle of first-place teams Friday night at BB&T Center, the Florida Panthers, atop the Atlantic Division by a single point before the puck dropped, decided on an interesting approach in facing the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.

They decided to get physical.  “Let’s get physical” ala Olivia Newton-John. The “Pow!”, “Bam!” and “Zow!” of the old Batman series from the 1960s starring the incredibly great, talented Adam West.

A 4-0 thorough whipping of Chicago later, spurred on by a pair of goals by the defense, 27 saves by Roberto Luongo, strong play on all four lines and a complete team effort, and the Florida Panthers (27-15-5) suddenly don’t look like the team that lost to a mediocre Edmonton club on Monday.

Much of it came from the physical nature of Florida, who will never be mistaken for the punishing L.A. Kings, but who can bring the lumber and lay the wood when they need to.

Such as defenseman Erik Gudbranson’s smash of Finnish forward Teuvo Teravainen in the second and oversleeping left winger Richard Panik in the third. Plus Alex Petrovic’s bout with edgy Blackhawk Andrew Desjardins.

Florida outhit and bruised the Blackhawks 27-18, including a game-high five each by Gudbranson and Petrovic.

“Yeah, that (Gudranson hit) was a good hit, that was a good hit,” said Shawn Thornton, whose blind backhander in the third period nearly beat Chicago’s Scott Darling for a goal that would surely have brought the house down.

“Petro stepping up. We’re not an overly physical team, but we genuinely really like each other in this locker room and we have each other’s back. That stuff’s never been a concern in here, win or lose.”

After his post-game treatment, I caught Gudbranson, who ranked his hit right up there with his blow on Taylor Hall in Edmonton in terms of being his season’s best. As Teravainen entered the offensive end with the puck from the right side in front of Chicago’s bench, Gudbranson leveled the 5-foot-11 No. 86, who went head over heels covered in a swirl of curvy 8s and 6s on his white sweater.

“That’s kind of what I mold my game after,” said Gudbranson when I made the reference to the Kings. “I really enjoy hitting, almost as much as scoring, and I haven’t done much of that. I make my name known that way.

“The ref came up to me afterward and said it was absolutely textbook. I got him through the shoulders, and his head was down and I caught him off-guard. (That hit) or Hall right now. The Hall one was definitely harder. This one was a little more exciting to see him flying through the air.

“We’ve got a lot of skill on this team, but I don’t think at any point we’ve let ourselves get pushed around. If the game gets physical, that’s fine. That’s hockey, and guys are ready to step up.”

Even Luongo joined the fray in the second, roughing Desjardins after the Blackhawks’ left winger ventured into the crease following Luongo’s 14th save.

“There was a little bit of a spear after the whistle and I wasn’t too happy about it,” said Luongo, who authored his 72nd career shutout. “That’s stuff that happens during the game. I really don’t want to go down 4-on-4 in that situation, but I was a little upset with myself there and lost control.”

It’s a skill game at times, but on a night when Florida did almost everything right, was clearly by far the better team through 60 minutes and caught the champs on the second game of a back-to-back, the Panthers brought the hits and let the Blackhawks know they were there.

Old-time hockey style.

**Follow Bill on Twitter @BillWhiteheadFL and in newspapers at TCPalm.com

 

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#FlaPanthers Jimmy Hayes Has to Move Those Feet

By Bill Whitehead

SUNRISE – Wednesday morning – and perhaps it was really Monday night – could have been better for Florida Panthers forward Jimmy Hayes.

Hayes, tied for fourth in team scoring with nine points, was one of the last Panthers to head off the ice at BB&T Center, strolling in hot and sweaty along with defenseman Colby Robak, as Florida wrapped up morning skate in preparation for its game against former Southeastern Division rival Carolina.

The extra skating meant the pair would likely be scratched for the 7:30 game against the Hurricanes (6-11-3). Coach Gerard Gallant said Scottie Upshall (lower body) would likely be out “a week for sure” due to his hard hit into the boards Monday night. Upshall was wearing a walking boot Tuesday. Derek MacKenzie, who felt flu-like Tuesday, was expected to play.

Gallant suggested Hayes’ potential scratch stemmed from effort.

“He’s a guy who sat in the stands the first few games, and he’s played hard for us,” said Gallant. “But we’ve got to keep on Jimmy and make sure he’s working. He’s a big guy. When he’s effective, he skates hard and moves his feet and is an important guy for us.”

And when he’s not moving those feet anchoring his mammoth frame?

“Everybody’s different. Some guys you have to push them a little harder,” Gallant said. “For me, I talk to Jimmy quite a bit and say, ‘When you’re playing well you’re moving your feet.’ These big guys look lazy out there at times…We keep telling him, ‘You’re a good hockey player and a goal scorer. Get to the net, move to the net and make sure you’re working hard.’

“He’s working hard, and he’s a good kid. We like what we’re seeing from him. Goals are scored around the blue paint. When you work hard to get there and you’re a big-bodied guy and tough to move, you’ve got to pay a price to score goals.”

Hayes is tied with Brad Boyes in points (9) despite having played in only 13 of the 19 games for the Panthers (7-6-6). Jussi Jokinen leads with 12 points, followed by Nick Bjugstad and rookie Aaron Ekblad with 11 each.

Hayes, originally drafted by Toronto, and teammate Dylan Olsen, were traded to Florida last Nov. 14 in a deal that sent Kris Versteeg back to Chicago. Hayes was playing in Rockford (AHL) at the time but saw the opportunity in Florida.

“It was a new team and a chance to establish myself. I’m grateful and happy for that opportunity. I feel like I’m a full-time NHLer now and starting to contribute the way I want to. It’s good not to be the guy walking around on eggshells not sure where he’s going to be every day. I never say I’m complacent, but it’s good to have a role on an NHL team,” said Hayes, who missed six of Florida’s first eight games in October.

The Boston College alum said he knows he has to play near the blue paint.

“It’s where I’ve been my whole career being 6-foot-5, so I just had to take hold of (the spot) as a pro. Not many guys go there and stuff, so I was able to establish a spot there,” he said.

Vincent Trocheck and Tomas Fleischmann, both scratched Monday, are expected to be in the lineup in place of Hayes and Upshall, while Olsen replaces Robak.

Follow Bill Whitehead on Twitter @BillWhiteheadFL and in Scripps newspapers online at TCPalm.com

Cats’ GM Tallon Looks to Blackhawks in First Trade

By Bill Whitehead

The last 24 hours have not been the status quo for the Florida Panthers and their fans. The blockbuster transaction that came over on Tuesday, of course, was the club re-acquiring former star goalie Roberto Luongo and minor leaguer Steve Anthony from the Vancouver Canucks for Shawn Matthias and Jacob Markstrom.

Briefly on the latter two.

First, Matthias, while hot the last few games, has been a disappointment for most of this season after re-signing with the Panthers. Matty is an effort-over-skill guy, and he’s at his best playing a high-energy type game. That has been lacking this season. As for Markstrom, the Swede had more than his fair set of chances to earn playing time, and he simply hasn’t developed. He routinely seems out of position, and his mechanics appear to have slipped. I’ll recall fondly his 40-save effort in his second career win in early 2011 in a 2-1 win at Montreal, but that’s about it. Time just expired on Marky—at least his time in Sunrise.

Monday’s first trade involving Florida, though, brought over offensively skilled center Brandon Pirri from Chicago for a couple of future picks and is an intriguing deal put together by current Florida and former Chicago GM Dale Tallon. Pirri is a former AHL scoring champ and gifted shooter, and he’ll get the chance to contribute right away.

Skating on a line with Jonathan Huberdeau and Jimmy Hayes, Pirri made his Florida debut just under five minutes into Tuesday’s game against Boston. He made an immediate impact by drawing a penalty on just his second shift of the game against Boston. Pirri, 22, looked like he belonged and mixed it up.

Pirri chose to wear No. 73 for Florida, saying he just switched around his former No. 37. Here are some of the highlights from 1973, the number that corresponds to Pirri’s new number:

  • Aerosmith released their debut album, while Pink Floyd dropped Dark Side of the Moon
  • The Dolphins defeated the Redskins 14-7 in Super Bowl VII to complete the only undefeated season
  • George Foreman pounded Joe Frazier in Jamaica to win the heavyweight title. Remember Howard Cosell’s “Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!” call?
  • The World Trade Center officially opened. The Sears Tower was finished, too.
  • The Knicks defeated the Lakers in five games to claim the NBA title.
  • Yankee Stadium closed for a two-year, $160 million renovation, with the club playing at Shea Stadium the following two seasons.
  • The A’s beat the Mets in the World Series in seven games
  • OJ Simpson became the first running back to rush for over 2,000 yards
  • I turned eight and watched all those sporting events (OK, that’s really a personal achievement)

Those are just some of the highlights from the year closely related to that odd hockey number. No. 79 would have been a decent choice because the Cats could fire up “1979” by the Smashing Pumpkins, but hey, we’ll go with 73. And Pirri should score or be in the middle of goals or offensive highlights somehow, regardless of the number he’s wearing or goal call by the announcer at BB&T Center.

That’s the plan, right?

Huberdeau Named Calder Trophy Finalist

By Bill Whitehead

In the closing minutes of that slugfest in Ottawa Sunday night — and slugfest might be too tame of a description — Brandon Prust crosschecked Cory Conacher. The former Tampa Bay Lightning fan favorite skated away, but Montreal’s Brendan Gallagher, likely angry as his team was on the receiving end of a 6-1 beatdown by the Senators, took the opportunity to fight with the former Canisius forward.

It was a three-second clash between two high-profile rookies, both Calder Memorial Trophy candidates all year, and the battle for the top first-year player was far more intense. Is it as intense as the 232 minutes produced in Game 3 of the Montreal-Ottawa series? Maybe.

The NHL announced its three finalists for the Calder on Monday, and Florida Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau was among the trio who made the cut. Huberdeau, 19, being a finalist is no surprise. After all, we all saw him set the tone early by scoring against Carolina on the first shot of his NHL career.

Huby

Huberdeau’s numbers stack up well with the rest of the Calder competition, which just so happens to be Gallagher and Chicago Blackhawk forward Brandon Saad. Huberdeau was durable, playing in all 48 games for the injury-riddled Panthers. He was productive, too — tallying 14 goals and 17 assists, which tied him as the league’s top scoring rookie with Edmonton’s Nail Yakupov, last year’s first overall pick. The Quebec native, along with Kid Line teammates Drew Shore and Peter Mueller, gave Florida an offensive spark that was its best weapon on most nights. Huberdeau, the only NHLer to score on two penalty shots, also had three assists in the season finale in Tampa and created a few highlight-reel moments that should help him in the voting. Just ask Ilya Bryzgalov.

HubyPS

As for Huberdeau’s competition, both have benefited from playing on far better teams and surrounded by better talent. Gallagher, a 21-year-old winger, had 15 goals and 13 assists in 44 games on a Montreal club that was very good for most of the regular season, though they struggled on defense at the end and are currently being manhandled by Ottawa through three games of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal. Saad, 20, had the good fortune of playing on a stacked team that was the best in the NHL during  the regular season. A native of Pittsburgh, Saad had 10 goals and 17 assists in 46 games.

Gallagher

Saad

The Calder choice will be a close fight and discussed much longer than the brief bout between Conacher and Gallagher, but perhaps native son Huberdeau can garner some of the Quebec media votes away from Gallagher to claim the prize as the league’s top rookie. It would be a nice reward, along with the No. 2 overall pick next month, to cap off a Florida season that was downright wretched.

With what’s on the horizon for the Panthers in terms of young talent — names like Bjugstad, Petrovic, Trocheck, Rau, Grimaldi and whoever gets chosen June 30 in Newark —  Huberdeau might just be starting a new Florida tradition over the next few years.