|Forward Eric Selleck scores the game-winner with 3:12 left in the third period.
Trailing by two not even 10 minutes into the game and coming off a road trip in which they picked up one out of a possible six points, the Rampage were staring at another tough situation.
Instead of packing it in, they fought back and took it to the Grand Rapids Griffins with a gutty effort that found them come back with three unanswered to earn a 3-2 victory.
For head coach Chuck Weber, it was nice to see his team respond to the pressure as his squad challenged themselves to be better prior to the game.
"We've been talking about work ethic all week. We made some tweaks to some system stuff," said Weber following the game. "We just talked about winning more races to pucks in our zone, the neutral zone and the offensive zone. We have to be a team that outworks other teams and I think the guys showed that tonight."
Looking for a response from his team, and his veterans especially, everyone seemed to step up their games. All four lines attacked the Griffins after getting down by two and Jon Rheault netted two (one in the first and a shorthanded beauty in the second) to tie it at two before Eric Selleck netted the game-winner with less than four minutes to play in the game, giving the home fans something to cheer about.
"Our mindset was no matter what happened to stick to the course. It's a long 60 minute game so we knew if we get down two, we can still battle back," said Selleck. "We had some good efforts from a lot of guys...We just took it to them."
"I think that's exactly what we needed," echoed Rheault to Selleck's comments. "Obviously we were all pretty upset with the way we played last weekend and to show that we could come back against a team like that, down 2-0, I think that's a great confidence boost for us and something to build off of in the next couple of games here."
While Weber was happy with his squad's performance, he was impressed with the way his starting netminder kept his composure after giving up two early goals. Jacob Markstrom picked up his second win of the season by stopping 24 shots along the way.
"I was really happy for Marky tonight. He really struggled in Chicago and it was a really gutty bounceback effort," said Weber. "(I) couldn't blame him on the two goals early, and I was really proud of the way he responded tonight. I thought he showed a lot of maturity in his game and I thought he stuck to it. He could have had a blow up or whatever thinking it was bad luck but I thought he showed a lot of maturity in his game tonight and battled through it."
The Rampage look to build on their momentum from the game when they take on Oklahoma City on Sunday.
"Obviously we lost our last four (heading into the game)," said Selleck. "We need to get the points. We got off to a bad start last year and we couldn't do it again. This was a huge win to get us back on track."
|Rampage players go through their morning skate on Friday at the AT&T Center.|
Attending the morning skate Friday, head coach Chuck Weber put the team through a quick fast paced skate before sending the team off the ice. Heading into the game, San Antonio starts a four-game home stand in which they look to improve on their 2-4-0-1 record.
It's a battle of two different styles Friday night as the Rampage's focus is more on defense (netminder Dov Grumet-Morris has been great in four games of action, posting a 1.49 goals against average and .953 SV%) while the Griffins love to score at will (almost 3.5 goals a game in first seven). It will be interesting to see if it opens up or stays a low scoring game.
Spoke to a couple of players already for future stuff including former first rounder Quinton Howden who is adjusting in his first full pro season.
If the Panthers hope to win their second straight division crown next year, they'll certainly be in for some extremely tough sledding when it comes to facing the rest of their rivals.
A little over an hour into the draft and two of their division foes improved themselves immensely, especially along the forward ranks, as they made blockbuster trades.
First the team that finished second in 2011-12 got things started as the Washington Capitals sent forward Cody Eakin and a 2012 second round pick to Dallas for center Mike Ribeiro. The play-making forward has sick hands as evidence by his almost 400 assists over his 12-year NHL career. He has 560 points (173-387-560) in 737 career games.
The first stone was cast in the battle for Southeast Division supremacy.
The Carolina Hurricanes would not be outdone as they made a trade with the draft hosts, acquiring versatile center Jordan Staal, team captain's Eric's younger brother. Stuck playing third fiddle behind superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Jordan still provided offensive punch while shutting down opposing teams offenses as he has posted 248 points (120-128-248) in 431 games over six NHL seasons.
Talk about saying game on to the competition. 2012-13 just got all the more difficult.
It's been a pretty consistent schedule for the Panthers over the last several years: beginning of the season play mostly on the road and end of the season play mostly at home.
The Panthers play 20 games at the BankAtlantic Center in the final two and a half months of the 2012-13 season. Released today by the league, the schedule sets up nicely for Panthers fans as long as the team can continue it's success from last season.
To get there though, they'll have to go through several difficult parts of the schedule early on.
Two of those stretches come within a three week span as Florida makes two cross-country treks to play two three games in four nights stretches.
The first begins with a trip to Western Canada. Beginning on November 13, they'll be in Vancouver to take on the President's trophy winning Canucks. Two days later they'll slide over to Calgary before taking on the Oilers the following night. Edmonton, poised to make the first overall selection for the third year in a row, should be a tough young team this season. The road trip actually finishes up two days later on the 18th with a battle against Division rivals the Washington Capitals.
Florida will then have their annual "holiday feast" which will see them play the Rangers, Red Wings, Lightning, Capitals and Flyers but then it's back out west.
The Panthers will be in Anaheim on December 5 to drop the puck against the Ducks and then travel to take on the reigning Stanley Cup champs Los Angeles Kings two days later before playing their third game in four nights against the Western Conference runners up Phoenix Coyotes.
Six games, eight nights against teams they rarely face after not playing in that time zone for the majority of the year. A tough stretch indeed.
On Wednesday night, the Panthers had two finalists for individual NHL awards for their work during the 2011-12 season.
While Dale Tallon failed to pick up the General Manager of the Year award, finishing second to St Louis GM Doug Armstrong, defenseman Brian Campbell did have more luck as he became the first Panthers award winner with regards to voting in franchise history.
As you know Campbell edged out Edmonton Oilers forward Jordan Eberle and NY Islanders foward Matt Moulson to become the third defenseman all-time to take home the Lady Byng trophy. The award is given to the player that adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.
In becoming the first defenseman since 1954 to take home that prestigious award, Campbell bucked the trend.
"It definitely is a great honor," said Campbell to nhl.com following the Awards ceremony in Las Vegas. "There's a lot of people that I looked up to and there's elite, elite level players that could have had a chance and maybe at some point should have won the award, but I'm glad that we broke the trend as a defenseman and we'll see where it goes from here."
While Campbell was the big winner, other Panthers were showed some respect from the voters for strong seasons. Tallon's 88 points were 31 less than the award winner Armstrong. Head coach Kevin Dineen also almost made the trip to Vegas, finishing eight points short of topping third place finisher Paul MacLean of Ottawa (89 points). The top three finishers in each category are invited to the awards ceremony. Campbell did receive a vote in the Hart Trophy voting which ended up going to Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin.
And while it's unknown about the Masterton Trophy final tally in which Montreal's Max Pacioretty picked up the award, one has to think that Florida Tomas Fleischmann received support from the hockey writers association.
|Goaltender Jose Theodore (left) missed morning skate leading many to believe that Scott Clemmensen will get the Game 6 start although head coach Kevin Dineen won't rule out Theodore.
Shutting out the Devils in Game 5 to give the Panthers 3-2 series lead, netminder Jose Theodore was missing between one of the two nets for morning skate. Florida called up Jacob Markstrom from San Antonio as a precaution for tonight's big game as Theodore might not be able to suit up.
"Right now (it's) no different than Tomas Fleischmann that's taken off every morning skate. We decided to give Theo the morning off and see where he's at tonight," said head coach Kevin Dineen following morning skate. "He's a little bit tender right now so we'll evaluate as the day moves on to see if he's ready to play or not."
"He's a big part of our team and he's a big piece of where we've gotten today," said defenseman Brian Campbell on Theodore. "We'll see what happens. Hopefully he can go tonight and play but if not, we know we have great goaltending with Scott here."
For Clemmensen, the netminder is excited about the possibility of getting back into the game, having won Game 3 prior to taking the loss in Game 4 of the Series. Having played recently, Clemmensen will be ready and feels there won't be any rust if called upon.
"It's not like I've been on the bench for three weeks," said Clemmensen. I've been playing pretty regularly through the course of the end of the season and the playoffs here. My game is still right there. I don't anticipate there being any rust from the beginning that you have when you stretches without playing games.
"As he should," said Dineen of Clemmensen's excitement for possibly getting back in there. "He's played a couple of games in the series and he's done a good job for us.
"It's no different than what we done up front. We made a few adjustments. We're going to need the whole organization to help us win the series."
That win, which the Panthers hope to get in New Jersey, will be the hardest one of the series. With a Devils team looking to stave off elimination and force a Game 7.
"Playing every other day in this series. Obviously it was good for us to get that third win at home coming into tonight's game," said Clemmensen. "But as it is, I still have to win one more and it's not going to be easy."
|Defenseman Tyson Strachan
The first recall of the post-season, blueliner Tyson Strachan was recalled from the Rampage with defenseman Keaton Ellerby definitely out (lower body) for a pivotal game against the Devils. While a part of St Louis for a post-season, Strachan would make his Stanley Cup Playoffs debut if fellow blueliner Jason Garrison (lower body) is not able to go after testing out the injury in warmups. Garrison has already missed one game due to his injury (Game 4).
"I've spent four games with St Louis but I actually didn't play in any of them," said Strachan following the Panthers morning skate. "We got swept by Vancouver so I've been in the atmosphere but haven't been on the ice. If I get the chance tonight, I'm looking forward to it."
The 27-year old has spent time with the Panthers this season, playing in 15 games while registering three points (1-2-3) so if he does suit up, he should be just fine.
"He's played a regular shift in the NHL," said Cats head coach Kevin Dineen. "If he can do it during the regular season, he can do it in the playoffs."
"I've been playing in a playoff atmosphere down there and obviously it's a step up here but at the same time it's the best time of year," said Strachan. "It's the time of the year we all want to be playing. Just excited."
Strachan and the Rampage just started their first-round on Thursday. The blueliner registered three shots and was a plus-1 as San Antonio edged Chicago 5-4 in overtime.
"There's mixed emotions about that," said Strachan about going from one playoff team to another. "Obviously you want them to be winning down there but at the same time, the chance to be up here and in the Stanley Cup playoffs is a hard one to pass up.
"I'm just excited to be here and help out if they need me."
|Center Stephen Weiss watches Tomas Fleischmann's shot cross the line for one of the Panthers two goals in a 2-1 victory at Bell Centre on Oct. 24th (Getty Images)
"Well seven games left. That equals a playoff series so we still have some work to do," said head coach Kevin Dineen. "All year long we've really kept things as a short term focus and we really haven't looked too far ahead."
With another big two points on the table, Dineen had his focus on the last time the Panthers were in Montreal. It was a gutsy 2-1 win at the end of October. The road trip which also included a last second loss to Ottawa and then another big win in Buffalo helped start a six-game point streak to put the team on the right path.
"We came in here earlier in the year. We had a good solid game, very emotional game. Then we went into Ottawa, lost a real tough one in the last couple of seconds," said Dineen. "We just felt like that really wasn't our defining moment on either side."
Bouncing back from the Ottawa loss and having strung together a good season to date does have the team certainly excited to play the final seven games. Florida looks to end a three-game losing streak with a victory against the Habs.
"There's been a little bit of resilency to our team all year and now that we're down to those final strokes, it's exciting," said Dineen. "I think our guys are really enthused about this last stretch. We've got a tough little swing on the road but certainly an exciting time to be a Florida Panther player and fan."
|Both Kris Versteeg (left) and Dmitry Kulikov (second from left) should be in the lineup as the Panthers host the Sabres for the fourth and final meeting between the two clubs.|
Finally after working out to get back healthy and countless questions by the media on their return, it seems that the Panthers will get two of their charges back for a big contest at the BankAtlantic Center with the Buffalo Sabres.
Asked once again following morning skate, head coach Kevin Dineen announced that both forward Kris Versteeg and defenseman Dmitry Kulikov should be back as long as there are no unseen complications.
"Yeah. They're positive (to go)," said Dineen. "We expect to see both those guys in the swing of things unless things change in the next couple of hours."
Both players couldn't hold back how excited they were to return to the ice following the skate after being told by the media that Dineen said they were a go.
"It's been a long time. I've been looking forward to this to this night," said Kulikov who has missed the last 23 games dating back to January 24th. "I've been looking forward to coming back and help out the team."
"I'm excited to go here," said Versteeg who has missed the last nine games, starting Febraury 28th. "It's been a little while now. I'm definitely ready, more than ready."
With the Panthers winning their last three games and looking to make it a perfect four for four on the homestand, both players are nervous about messing up the flow. They've put a lot of pressure on themselves to not only fit in but to be better than when they left.
"It's a tough time of the year. Every game is like a playoff game," said Kulikov who was fifth on the team in scoring with 24 points at the time of his injury. "You don't want to go into the game and get used to the game. You don't have time for that. You just have to go out there, pick up from where you left off and play even better."
"It's just about going out there and getting a job done on the ice and preparing for the two points and not worrying about easing into the game," said Versteeg. "Getting into the game and trying to be a factor."
Dineen doesn't think the missed time will be a factor, especially in Versteeg's case as the coach compared him to one of tonight's opposition who also missed time with an injury.
"You take a guy like Tyler Ennis who had a long stretch off and he's come back and he's played so well," said Dineen. "I think what happens is there's frustration when you're not able to get into the lineup and you come back with enthusiasm. I think Kris will really add some quality to our lineup."
Adding two more players to the lineup gives the coaching staff plenty of ammo to get the best out of their players. If you want to stay in the lineup, you have to have production.
"When you get a coveted spot in the lineup, your job is to make sure that you make the coaches have a tough decision making every day and how they're going to put their lineup together," said Dineen.
"You want enthusiasm and some kind of production. It may not be on the scoresheet but there has to be a positive effect for every player in the lineup for us to be successful."
That has been going on the past few games and will continue against a Sabres team that has been on a roll of late, going 9-2-3 in their last 14 games to climb into the playoff picture. Currently tenth in the Conference, Buffalo can climb to within one point of idle Washington for eighth place in the East with a win.
"We looked at this as a key stretch and we're still right in the middle of it," said Dineen. "We have to respect our opponent, know we have a team that's coming in that's playing a good stretch of hockey right now and they are surging. It has a great implications in the lineup for us as well as them. It will make for a very exciting game."
|Center John Madden scores his first goal as a Panther against Boston on Thursday night in the second period.
Stealing the puck from former Panther Gregory Campbell just inside the Bruins blue line while keeping the puck in, John Madden started the play and would end it later as he flipped the puck over Tim Thomas, giving Florida a 4-1 lead.
A relieved Madden punched the glass in celebration. The Panthers center finally netted his elusive first goal with the club in his 20th game.
"It felt great. It was a big game but just to score finally," said Madden. "I had a lot of good chances previously in games leading up so it's good to get it off the back and move forward."
"Actually I told him it was about time he scored," quipped forward Stephen Weiss following the game on Madden's goal.
The players and staff could joke about how long it took Madden to score his first goal with the club, but for Madden the goal was a huge. The 38-year old, who signed with the team back on January 4th, has been in and out of the lineup as he has gotten himself back in playing shape after last playing with Minnesota in April.
"I was happy to see Mads get one there," said head coach Kevin Dineen. "I think he's put a lot of effort in to getting back into playing condition right now and that was certainly a big goal and I think there was a lot of happy teammates for him as well."
"It's awesome," said Weiss. "To see a guy like that come in and practice hard the way he's been practicing, in and out of the lineup, a guy that's done what he's done in this league.
"Great to see."
Madden was signed to bring a veteran presence as the Panthers were riddled with injuries. And now with the regular season winding down, he's looked at for his playoff success. The 38-year old has three Stanley Cup championships to his credit and appeared in ten consecutive postseasons prior to last season. He has recorded 43 points in 134 postseason games.
The center thrives on hockey down the stretch as the games mean more.
"These games are so crucial to everybody for that matter," said Madden. "It's not going to change. It doesn't matter if you're the New York Rangers at the top right now, you want to stay there so you have to consistency going or you're us or you're Buffalo climbing your way back up.
"All of the games are big. We have to keep building and looking towards playoff hockey and we have got to start now."
The second period goal will hopefully help get the Panthers fourth-line center going (346 points in 887 career games) as well as the rest of the team onto their ultimate goal: the playoffs. But as the Panthers make their push hopefully up the standings, they know they have to take it one game at a time, starting against Buffalo on Saturday.
"We're just believing in ourselves and moving forward," said Madden. "Regardless of what the rest of the league does. If we get some help here or there that's great but for the most part we're concentrating on what we can control and that's our next game."