Panthers Find Their Game Again on Road Trip

There haven’t been too many negative aspects of this Panthers season — largely because of how consistent their game has been over the past few months.


So when they began to stray away from their usual course two weeks ago, there was some slight cause for concern as the playoffs are just a month away. 


Last Thursday’s 3-0 loss at home to Nashville was another night of disappointment for the Panthers. They had dropped three consecutive games in regulation for the first time all season — and trailed at least 3-0 in each of their last four games. 


The team who was so good at locking teams down from mid January to early March had everything going for them.


From Jan. 22 to March 9, the Panthers gave up two or fewer goals in 18 of 20 games and did not concede more than three in any of those — going 17-3-0 over that span. 


They were playing elite hockey — until they hit a bump in the road. 


Before we get into the skid, it’s important to note that the Panthers lost Aaron Ekblad, their top-line defenseman, to a lower-body injury in their 5-1 win against the Flames on March 9 and haven’t had him back since. 


March 12 in Dallas, the Panthers were in unfamiliar territory, trailing 3-0 to the Stars in just the second period. They were able to rally with four unanswered and win the game. 


They slacked at the start but picked up the two points, don’t panic.


It happened again.


Two nights later in Carolina, they were dominated.


The Hurricanes beat the Panthers 4-0 and handed them their first multi-goal loss in nearly two months.


It continued. 


The following game, Tampa put four straight goals past Florida before the Panthers clawed back to make it a 4-3 game. The Lightning sealed away an empty netter and Andrei Vasilevskiy had 47 saves in a 5-3 win, but the second half of this game wasn’t bad at all — they just ran into a goalie who was from another planet.


Nashville would be the next thorn in Florida’s side. 


Looking for a stronger performance on home ice, the Panthers were already in a hole as they were without their Aleksander Barkov (lower-body injury) and defenseman Dmitry Kulikov (serving two-game suspension).


The red hot Predators, who had points in 15 straight games when they arrived in Sunrise (13-0-2), weren’t going to be an easy out and they proved it. Nashville scored three goals, locked down the Panthers offense,and had a top performance in net from Kevin Lankinen — who picked up his first shutout in three years.


“We’re not close to our game now,” Panthers head coach Paul Maurice said following the loss to Nashville. “Right now we’re a rush team with no speed, which wouldn’t relate at all to the team that you’ve seen in the past… I got lots of faith in them, I’m going to have to find a way to get it out of them.”


Four full days off between the Tampa and Nashville games wasn’t enough to get the Panthers out of their mini funk — and a few tough road games were ahead. 


On Saturday, the Panthers went into Madison Square Garden to face the Rangers, a team who, like them, were still sniffing for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. 


Still without Ekblad, Barkov and Kulikov, the Panthers had even more bad luck on the horizon, losing the service of their other top-pair defenseman, Gustav Forsling, to an illness. 


Florida had to shuffle some things around. Uvis Balinskis was called up from AHL Charlotte for the Nashville game and 22-year-old Tobias Bjornfot made his Panthers debut in place of Forsling against the Rangers. 


Kyle Okposo and Steven Lorentz reentered the forward lineup while Ryan Lomberg was a healthy scratch for the first time since the 2021-22 season.


Missing three of their top players, on a losing streak, against undoubtedly one of the best teams in the NHL was a disaster waiting to happen. 


But it wasn’t.


Florida came out strong against the Rangers. They forechecked hard, put pressure on the opposition and most importantly, they didn’t get dominated. 


The Panthers scored the first two goals on Saturday night before the Rangers scored two unanswered of their own. 


Each side would exchange goals late in the third before the game entered the overtime period. 


Florida ended up losing 4-3 in the shootout, but they picked up their first points in 11 days and fought to the end against a team who now sits one point ahead of them in the standings. 


“I liked our game tonight.  I’m really happy with it,” Maurice said after the loss to New York. “It’s been a little bit of a grinder for us. The element that we haven’t been able to grab hold of in our games was in it tonight. I was very happy with it.”


The Rangers game was a step in the right direction and they had an opportunity to build off that less than 24 hours later in Philadelphia. 


On Sunday night, the Panthers had the second half of their back-to-back, this time against the Flyers. 


Anthony Stolarz got the call after Sergei Bobrovsky started five consecutive games and Dmitry Kulikov returned from his suspension. Ryan Lomberg also got back into the lineup.


The Panthers continued where they left off in New York.


Sam Reinhart got the ball rolling with his 49th goal of the season to open the scoring 10:34 into the first period. Vladimir Tarasenko doubled the Panthers lead in the second period with his 20th goal of the season (third with Florida). 


Carter Verhaeghe put the Panthers up 3-0 in the third with his 32nd goal of the season and that just about wrapped things up.


The Flyers would make it a 3-1 game but Sam Reinhart put a cherry on top of his historic offensive season with his 50th goal of the season — becoming just the second player in Panthers history to do so (Pavel Bure did it twice).  


After losing four straight (0-3-1), the Panthers finally got back into the win column with a 4-1 win against the Flyers, doing so without Barkov, Forsling and Ekblad.


“I think we built off last game (in New York),” Brandon Montour said in Philadelphia. “Last two weeks we haven’t liked the way we’ve been playing… It’s gonna happen with long seasons. So we want to get back to what made us successful this year. I thought the guys did a good job today.”


There’s only 11 games left in the Panthers regular season and they stopped the bleeding at an opportune time. 


They are first in the Atlantic Division and trail the Rangers by just one point for first in the East. 


With a three-game home stand coming up, the Panthers will see the Bruins on Tuesday, in what will be a huge four-point swing with the top two teams in the division playing for first as the season dwindles down. 


The Panthers may get Barkov back for that game and would hope Forsling can return too. Aaron Ekblad isn’t too far off either. 


In less than a month, the two week slump would be all but forgotten as the Panthers will be playing in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 


The race to the finish line will see multiple teams battle for the top seed in the East and the Panthers should be right there in the mix as the post season approaches.  

‘We Know What It Takes in the Playoffs’: The Panthers Are Taking the League by Storm as the Postseason Approaches

The Florida Panthers are rolling and the league is taking notice.


Last season’s run to the Stanley Cup Final was an unlikely one for the Panthers.


They got in as an eighth seed, by one point and had to upset the Presidents’ Trophy winning Bruins in Game 7 of the first-round. Everyone knows that story, yet, the Panthers weren’t really garnering as much national attention ahead of the 2023-24 season as you’d expect for the defending Eastern Conference champions.


That’s certainly not the case anymore. 


On Monday night, the Panthers won another statement game, defeating the New York Rangers — a cup contender in their own right — 4-2 at Madison Square Garden. 


With 20 games left in the regular season, the attention of the league is once again swinging towards Sunrise as the Panthers sit atop the NHL. 


It’s quite evident that last year’s playoff run, specifically losing in the finals, has had an effect on the current Panthers team. 


“We know what it takes in the playoffs, how hard you need to play. Every shift, every game,” Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said after Monday night’s win in New York. “That’s what we’re trying to replicate in these games.”


They play hard, fast, aggressive, on the edge. Some have called them “villains” — which isn’t a bad thing. Others have called them “dirty”. None of those outside comments have mattered much to the team. The one thing that’s constant for the Panthers has been their style of play — playoff brand hockey.


It’s extremely hard to win in the playoffs whilst playing a run and gun game, which was the story of the 2021-22 Presidents’ Trophy Panthers who were swept in round 2 by the Lightning.  


When head coach Paul Maurice took over the reins ahead of last season in Sunrise, it took some time before the team could really buy into a defensive first approach to the game. Once they did, Florida began their miracle run to just sneak into the postseason.


The present day’s edition of the Florida Panthers has a lot of the cup final team’s style, sprinkled in with the offense from two years ago.


Defensive mindset first, the Panthers have been a scary team for opposing offenses to play. 


They have allowed two or fewer goals in 16 of their last 17 games — holding a 15-2-0 record across that span.


Goaltending has been elite all season. With 2.35 goals allowed per game, Florida is the No. 1 in the league in that category. 


The defense has also done a spectacular job at decreasing the workload for Sergei Bobrovsky and Anthony Stolarz, allowing 27.6 shots allowed per game — second fewest in the league. 


Two games into their current road trip, the Panthers have outscored their opponents 8-2, defeating the Rangers and Red Wings — both of whom are trending for the postseason.


As for offense, they’ve been rolling in that category as well, in large part because of Sam Reinhart’s contributions. 


Reinhart has been lighting up the NHL all season, his 44 goals is second most in the league — third most in Panthers history. Reinhart, 28, has five goals in his past three games.


“Sam’s been brilliant. He’s a fantastic player for us,” Maurice said. 


Like Reinhart, Carter Verhaeghe has been pushing the offense as well with 30 goals on the season. Matthew Tkachuk has been phenomenal since the end of December, scoring 46 of his 68 points since Dec. 23 (29 games).


Then there’s Barkov. 


Florida’s captain has had yet another standout year defensively and should have his name in the Selke conversation once the season is done. The offensive numbers don’t necessarily jump out, but he’s still over a point-per-game with 62 points in 56 appearances. 


On Monday night, under the bright lights of MSG, Barkov had the hockey world in awe after pulling off one of the craziest moves leading to a goal you’ll ever see.


He juggled the puck in the air, flicked it around Rangers defenseman K’Andre Miller, then corralled the puck once more while falling down before laying a perfect pass to Sam Reinhart who buried away the perfect assist. 


“[I’m] still shocked. It’s crazy, he doesn’t even understand how sick it was,” Ryan Lomberg said of Barkov’s play. “He’s so nonchalant that to him, it’s just another assist because that’s how he carries himself. Being able to watch that live and seeing the team’s reaction, it was a pretty sweet goal.”


As Barkov went viral around the league for that play, the Panthers latest swing — with a 4-0 win on national television over Detroit and 4-2 win over the powerhouse Rangers — the attention is once again swarming towards the guys in South Florida.


The goal, as Lomberg said, was “pretty sweet”. The same could be said about the Panthers season. There’s been a lot of trending upwards and team’s have people have taken notice with the playoffs are just a month away.

With the best record in the NHL, a top offense, defense and two goalies who can’t stop winning, Florida is in the driver’s seat and they don’t look like they’ll be slowing down anytime soon.

Leading the Country in Goals: Panthers’ Prospect Jack Devine Continues Dominating Season with Denver

The Florida Panthers have a hidden gem in their prospect pool and he’s lighting the lamp all across the country 


University of Denver forward and Florida Panthers prospect Jack Devine is tearing up college hockey.


The Pioneers’ junior forward leads the NCAA in goals (21) and is second in scoring (39 points), just behind his teammate Massimo Rizzo. 


Devine entered college as a 17-year-old after accelerating his senior year of high school. Now in his third season at Denver, the Panthers’ 2022 seventh-round draft pick continues to improve his game and offensive production.


The 20-year-old is one of the hottest talents in the country right now, but he remains humble — crediting much of his individual success to his teammates. 


“I think I’ve been really fortunate to play with two amazing teammates this year — Massimo [Rizzo] and McKade Webster,” Devine told Five Reasons Sports. “They’ve done a great job setting me up and putting me in great positions and I’m super thankful for the other teammates that I’ve been fortunate to play with.”


The Panthers are sure to be more than happy with the way Devine is developing at Denver, but looking back to his draft year, he was very close to going undrafted. 


Florida selected Devine with their final pick of the 2022 NHL Draft — taking the American forward 221st overall. If Devine didn’t go to the Panthers, there were just four picks remaining in the draft. 


Rather than wanting to show teams who passed on him what they could’ve had, Devine said he’s focused on representing both the Panthers and the Pioneers.


“I think in the moment I was just super lucky to be drafted by Florida and happy that they took a chance and opportunity on me,” Devine said. “I just want to be able to go out there and represent them well.”


He added. “When I’m here with the University of Denver it’s focusing on being a Pioneer and being a player here. I’ve been fortunate enough to develop with our coaches and our staff. I definitely give a lot of credit to them as they’ve helped me improve my game drastically.”


Over the summer, Devine was one of the biggest standouts at the Panthers’ Development Camp in Coral Springs. Between the explosiveness in his skating and his rapidly quick shot release — Devine turned some heads at the Panthers IceDen.


“It’s a great experience to come in, meet the staff and some other players, start to build those relationships,” Devine said. “It’s definitely a competitive week. You kind of get to assess you against some of the other guys in Europe and the CHL… The coaching there’s also elite and if I could take two or three things from there and put that into my season, I think it’s a successful week of camp.”


Jack Devine at Florida’s 2023 Development Camp dodgeball tournament (Photo courtesy of the Florida Panthers)


The current Panthers front office has done a fantastic job at finding NHL players who have flown under the radar and turning them into important pieces for the organization. Led by general manager Bill Zito, Florida has found diamonds in the rough at the pro level, like Gustav Forsling and Carter Verhaeghe — both of whom are top-minute players for the Panthers.


A late-round pick himself, Devine may just be another stealthy find by the staff in Sunrise.  


“That’s something you look at. I think they’ve done a great job with the talent they have on their team and the talent in their system,” Devine said regarding the Panthers’ player development. “It kind of shows how they were able to make it to the Stanley Cup Final last year. That’s obviously something you pay attention to and watch because they have such tremendous players.”


The goal for any athlete, no matter the sport, is to win championships. The University of Denver men’s hockey program is no stranger to that. Their nine NCAA National Hockey Championships are tied for the most all-time with the Michigan Wolverines.


Devine already has one national championship under his belt — winning the 2022 title in his freshman year. 


This season, Devine and the Pioneers have a great chance to get back to that stage. With the nation’s top-two leading scorers and the fourth ranked team in the country, the vibes are good in Denver. 


“I think it’s been a lot of fun. When you have such a tight group like we have, you go out there and you play with some of your best friends,” Devine said. “I think it’s also enjoyable when you’re winning, I think hockey’s a lot of fun when you’re doing that. The more success we have as a team, the more it would be fun for me.” 


The Pioneers are just about two-thirds of the way through the regular season. With the final stretch of the year approaching, playoffs are just around the corner and with that, the end of Devine’s junior year. 


“As you come in as a freshman, people say it flies by. I think it really has so far into my junior year,”  Devine said. “These last 20 games, just enjoy it, take it one game at a time and hopefully at the end of the year, win another national championship.”

Panthers’ Stars Shine During Eight-Game Winning Streak

The Florida Panthers keep on rolling.


Since the end of December, the Panthers have played their best hockey of the season.


After Tuesday night’s commanding 5-1 win in St. Louis, Florida extended their season best winning streak to eight games — with the past four coming on the road against Western Conference opponents. 


The Panthers last loss came on Dec. 21, ironically, it was to the St. Louis Blues. That 4-1 defeat in Sunrise was Florida’s fourth loss in their last five games. To make matters worse, they had scored just two goals over those four losses. 

Sitting at 18-12-2, with a decent string of losses under their belt, the schedule ahead didn’t look to be any more forgiving for the Panthers. The defending Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights return to Sunrise was next on the skid. 


But the Panthers didn’t waver when the guys who “ruined their summer” came to town — defeating them 4-2 in what could be looked back on as a statement win for the Cats.


Back to the present, the Panthers picked up seven straight wins after Vegas, defeating many of the league’s better teams like the Avalanche, Rangers, Lightning, and Knights again.


“I think we were struggling a bit, both mentally and physically through the grind. Getting back from those two long road trips in December,” Sam Reinhart said last weekend. “It was nice to be able to regroup over Christmas and come out strong.”


Florida now has 54 points, with a 26-12-2 record. They are just one game back of Boston for first in the East.


They are in a spectacular position at this point of the season, and there should be even more satisfaction considering last season they were 11th in the East on January 9th last season, with just 40 points in 41 games. They’d still end up making it to the Stanley Cup Final despite the bad start. 


So what’s clicked over the win streak? 


Well, a huge jolt has come from Matthew Tkachuk, who completely flipped the switch since the streak began.


Tkachuk had a slower start than what was initially expected of the superstar who was coming off a 109 point regular season and an unbelievable playoff run. But, it would be a disservice to Tkachuk if we didn’t acknowledge that he had broken his sternum, and played through it, back in June during the Stanley Cup Final. 


Prior to the Dec. 23 contest against the Knights, Tkachuk had just 22 points in 32 games — a bit alarming for last season’s Hart Trophy Finalist. Since that night, which began Florida’s winning streak, Tkachuk leads the Panthers in scoring with 17 points over the last eight games. 


“I haven’t changed anything. Maybe they’re just going in a little bit more,” Tkachuk told Bally Sports’ Katie Engelson.  “I haven’t changed one thing with my routine or how I prepare for games. I guess I was just waiting to get to 2024.”


He quickly clawed up to 39 points in 40 games — picking up a natural hat trick in his latest outing against his hometown Blues. But, Tkachuk is not the only Panther to shine of late.


While Tkachuk has been stacking points, Sam Reinhart has continued to fill the net with pucks.


Reinhart has led the Panthers in goals virtually the entire season and the 28-year-old forward has shown no signs of slowing down.


During the eight-game win streak, Reinhart scored 11 goals, putting him at 29 on the season — second most in the NHL. 


Reinhart is on pace to shatter his previous career high of 33 goals — whilst in the middle of a contract year. 


Aleksander Barkov and Carter Verhaeghe have both had great offensive numbers as well. They both grabbed 14 points in their last eight, with Verhaeghe riding a six game point streak. 


Now just one game shy of the halfway mark of the season, the Panthers are currently tied for the longest active winning streak in hockey (Edmonton, 8). 


Everything is clicking for Florida at the moment. Their stars are performing at an elite level, both goaltenders have been more than solid and they have picked up five of their last eight wins on the road. 


The Panthers will return to Sunrise for the first time since the new year and they’ll be more than happy as nine of their next 12 games are at home.

Panthers Prospect Marek Alscher Ready for Second Chance With Czechia at the World Juniors

Last January in Halifax, while Czechia played for World Junior gold, Marek Alscher cheered on his teammates from the crowd.


Alscher, then 18, was part of the 2023 Czech World Junior team — but the Florida Panthers’ 2022 draft pick did not play in any of the games for the eventual silver medalists.   


One year later, Alscher is back with the Czech national junior team. This time, he’s expected to play a larger role as one of the few returning players at the tournament in Gothenburg. 


“I’m super excited,” Alscher told Five Reasons Sports ahead of the tournament. “Last year I was able to be part of the team. Not really playing but that’s maybe some extra motivation for me personally. I know how it was, I want to feel that again.”


The Czechs surprised a lot of people at the 2023 tournament — topping their group en route to the gold medal game — their first since the 2001 tournament. 


Despite not playing, Alscher didn’t feel as if he was left out of the journey.


“It was incredible, I wasn’t playing but still, I was in the locker room, the guys did include me in the team and I really felt like I was playing,” Alscher said. “After every game we actually felt like our heart rate was similar to playing. When we scored, we jumped with the fans. It was a really good experience.”


After the Czechs went home with their first medal in 18 years, Alscher’s schedule didn’t get any easier. 


He returned to Portland and played in the WHL Playoffs with the Winterhawks. Then, he joined Florida’s AHL affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers, for their Calder Cup playoff run on an ATO — skating and training with the team.


Later in the summer, Alscher was back in Coral Springs for the Florida Panthers Development Camp, Rookie Camp, and eventually, his second NHL Training Camp. 


Alscher got to experience another year of Paul Maurice’s infamous training camp skates in South Florida and play in a preseason game before being returned to his junior club. 


“This year I felt much more comfortable [at camp],” Alscher said. “I knew more guys and was comfortable talking in the locker room.”


Reflecting on his camp with the Panthers, Alscher mentioned that there was one notable player that really stood out to him in the locker room. It was fellow European defensemen and newly acquired Panther, Oliver Ekman-Larsson. 


“I had a chance to talk with Ekman-Larsson who was sitting next to me. I just remember how friendly he was,” Alscher said. “He really made me even more comfortable before the game. We talked like 10-15 minutes. I just remember how nice he was. On the bench. In the locker room. He really helped me a lot.”


When Ekman-Larsson learned that Alscher was moved by his actions, it took the veteran defenseman back to when he was learning the ropes as teenager in the NHL.


“[I] just try to go back to when I got into the league, my first training camp,” Ekman-Larsson said. “Just trying to be a good person and try to help other people out… People around cared about me when I first got into the league and I have a lot of thanks for those kinds of people. I think it goes a long way.”


Ekman-Larsson, 32, has had quite the NHL career before he joined the Panthers in the offseason. 


He has over 900 NHL games played, captained an NHL franchise and won a plethora of medals representing Sweden across international tournaments such as the Olympics and 

World Championships. But, before any of that happened — like Alscher — Ekman-Larsson played in the World Juniors.


“That tournament is a great experience. It was for me,” Ekman-Larsson said. “We came up a little bit short but it was still an unbelievable tournament.” Ekman-Larsson and Sweden took home the bronze medal back at the 2010 tournament in Saskatoon — Alscher was five at the time.


Alscher said that seeing how Ekman-Larsson carried himself has helped him take a leadership approach to younger players, both at his club team in Portland and with the Czech national team.


“It matters what you do on the ice, but also off the ice. What person are you in the locker room,” Alscher added. “ “That’s something that I’d take from him.”


The World Juniors is an extremely intriguing tournament. It’s the highest level of junior hockey you can find anywhere in the world. Games are played in front of thousands, with millions watching on television globally. Don’t forget, these players who are representing their countries on the highest stage  are all teenagers.  


Obviously every team at the tournament has their eyes set on a medal. That should be no different for the defending silver medalists, Czechia.


 “We are always looking for the best, we want to get the furthest. Whether it’s bronze, silver or gold, the sky’s the limit in here,” Alscher said. “Our goal is just to work as hard as we can and get as far as we can.”


As a 19-year-old, Alscher will age out following this year’s World Juniors in Gothenburg. When asked what he wants to take away from the tournament, the young defenseman took a page out of Ekman-Larsson’s book of leadership.


“We were struggling a bit before I left in Portland. If we are going to have a good tournament, that’s what I would love to bring to the team,” Alscher said. “It’s hard to say now before the tournament… but yea it’s probably what I would say. Just a winning mentality.”

Panthers celebrate the career of Patric Hornqvist

SUNRISE — When Bill Zito took over the keys to the Panthers’ ship in the summer of 2020, the first move he made was bringing in Patric Hornqvist from Pittsburgh. 


Fast forward three years, the culture is different in South Florida compared to that of pre Zito’s arrival.. The Panthers brought in high-profile players, won the Presidents’ Trophy and most recently, went to the Stanley Cup Final.


Why has that culture changed, what caused a shift? When you talk to those within the organization today, they aren’t shy about giving Patric Hornqvist his share of the flowers. 


“He kind of makes you want to be a better person,” Bill Zito said when talking about Hornqvist on Friday. “Did I give as much to whatever it is I’m doing, to the Panthers, as that guy did? And you’re probably going to fall short.”


Last season, Hornqvist would end up playing the last game of his career on Dec. 3, 2022 after suffering a concussion in Seattle. While that would be his last game, it wouldn’t be the last time we saw Hornqvist on the ice. 


Hornqvist still joined in on practices with the team, skated with the injured players and was with them every step of the way as they made it to the Stanley Cup Final. Knowing he probably wouldn’t play again, he still put in the extra effort to work hard alongside his teammates. 


“He forces you to be better,” Zito continued. “He forces all of us to be better at what we do.”


Hornqvist, 36, decided to hang up the skates over the summer. Despite stepping away from the ice, he stayed near the game and the team, joining the Panthers hockey operations department as a scouting and development consultant. 


Even in his hockey ops role, Hornqvist still gets on the ice here and there to skate with the injured players, or give a few warm up shots to his buddy Sergeie Bobrovsky.


“He set the bar,” is how fellow Swede and Panthers defenseman Gustav Forsling described Hornqvist’s work ethic.


This past Friday, with the Penguins in town, the Panthers honored Hornqvist before the game. Video tributes played throughout the game, with messages from former teammates such as Shea Weber, Marc-Andre Fleury, Evgeni Malkin, Radko Gudas and more.


Hornqvist’s former captains, Aleksander Barkov and Sidney Crosby, lined up alongside him and his family for the ceremonial puck drop. 


“He just worked so hard and he brought out the best in everybody,” Sidney Crosby said in the video tribute dedicated to Hornqvist. “He would expect a lot of himself. But also, he earned every single thing he accomplished in his career.”


The Swedish forward’s career began as the 230th and final pick of the 2005 NHL Draft. It ended as one that many could only dream to replicate. 15 seasons in the NHL. Two-time Stanley Cup champion — scoring the cup winning goal in 2017. He won a World Championship with Sweden in 2018, while also representing them in the Olympics and World Cup of Hockey.


Both Panthers coach Paul Maurice and Penguins coach Mike Sullivan had similar comments regarding Hornqvist this week — he was someone you wanted to be around.


“He had an energy about him that was contagious,” Sullivan said.  


“He brought an energy and a communication level,” Maurice smiled. “He never shut up.” 


A joyful Hornqvist approached the podium at Amerant Bank Arena during the first intermission on Friday to address both Panthers and Penguins media, many of whom covered the career of his that was being honored that night.


“It means alot for me and my family, and it says alot about the Panthers organization to really celebrate my timeline,” Hornqvist said. “I’ve only been there three years.” 


The love from not only the two organizations, but from his former teammates was on full display for Hornqvist’s special night. 


“It was the perfect night to have your retirement,” Hornqvist mentioned. “I got to see Sid and Marcus (Pettersson) last night, and Haggy’s here (Carl Hagelin)… obviously a lot of emotion, and it’s fun to look back. Now it’s over for real and I can take the next step.”


Three years ago, before any memories could be made in South Florida, Bill Zito first needed to convince Hornqvist to waive his no-trade clause to facilitate a move to the Panthers.


“Right then, I was not so happy,” Hornqvist smiled looking back. “Obviously I’m super thankful for Bill to trade me here, and to have been through these last three years.”

‘South Florida’s always going to have a special place in my heart’: Anthony Duclair returns to Sunrise to face Panthers

SUNRISE — Less than a month after playing in the Stanley Cup Final, Panthers fan favorite Anthony Duclair was on his way out of South Florida.  


After three seasons in Florida, the now 28-year-old’s time in Sunrise came to an abrupt end — on July 1, he was traded to San Jose.


“Obviously there were rumors before [the trade happened],” Duclair said on Monday when addressing Florida media for the first time since the trade. “Sometimes it’s inevitable… obviously being traded isn’t the best feeling because I’ve built so many relationships down here.”


Going from a team just weeks removed from a Stanley Cup Final appearance to the team who finished fourth from last in the standings isn’t an ideal situation, but Duclair expressed his contendness on the new challenge that awaited him in San Jose.   


“It’s tough to leave but at the same time I think I went to a great opportunity,” Duclair said. “Mike [Grier] called me right away and explained to me how big the opportunity is for me here. A chance to continue to grow as a player and step into kind of a leadership role here.”


When Duclair gets onto the ice later tonight in Sunrise, there’s sure to be a loud array of cheers raining down from the stands of Amerant Bank Arena.


He was loved by a lot of people in South Florida — whether that was from his teammates, staff, fans or members of the local community.


“Oh man, big smile, we loved having him around,” Panthers head coach Paul Maurice said when asked about Duclair off the ice. “What a wonderful joy for the game, and laughter, that part we certainly miss.”


Over the course of three seasons with the Panthers, Duclair played in 137 regular season games, picking up 99 points (43,56,99)  — including a career-high 31 goal season in 2021-2022. Duclair appeared in 34 Stanley Cup Playoff Games with the Panthers over that span, 20 of which came last season.


The Sharks forward is sure to receive a good reception in his return to Sunrise tonight. In his time with the Panthers, the arena was always filled with ‘Duclair’ jerseys — and the crowd even created a chant for him — 19,000+ shouting “Duuuke” in unison as he flew down the wing.     


His return will be a bittersweet. He’ll skate in front of the Florida faithful once again, only this time he’ll be in teal and white, not red and blue. 


“It’s going to be special for sure,” Duclair said. “I just want to approach this game like any other, but it’s going to be pretty cool, especially with the run we had last year… those kinds of runs you build relationships for a lifetime.”


While reminiscing on his time with the Panthers, Duclair said the biggest standout for him was the teammates he had in Florida.


“I got to play with some unbelievable players. I mean guys like Barkov, who’s arguably on of the best defensive forwards in the game, just the opportunity to learn from him,” Duclair said. “Huberdeau, Bennett, Tkachuk, guys who make an impact game in and game out. You learn from guys like that.”


As for reuniting with those teammates, Duclair was more than happy he’d be able to do that. 


“I know it’s going to be cool to see those guys again.”


As a franchise, Florida really flipped the script three years ago beginning in the 2020-2021 season. From getting into the postseason, to winning the President’s Trophy, and then making it to the Stanley Cup Finals over the course of three years — Anthony Duclair was there for all of it. 


“South Florida’s always going to have a special place in my heart. I had a great three years here and I’m just looking forward to tomorrow (Tuesday night).”

Panthers’ rookie Uvis Balinskis cherishing his NHL opportunity

SUNRISE — At 27-years-old, Uvis Balinskis didn’t think the chance to play in the NHL would come to light — that was until the Florida Panthers came calling. 


Born in Ventspils, Latvia, Balinskis played youth hockey in his home country before moving to Germany in 2013  — joining the Augsburger EV junior program. 


Balinskis would spend two years in Germany before he returned to Latvia to play with KHL side Dinamo Riga, and their then farm team HK Riga.  


After playing five years for Riga in the Russian leagues, Balinskis made the switch to the Czech ExtraLiga in 2020 — joining HC Litvínov.


Three years in Czechia went by, and Balinskis, now with Czech side Bílí Tygři Liberec, entered the summer of 2023 with his 27th birthday on the horizon.


At this point in his career, it didn’t seem like Balisnkis would leave Europe. 


 “I didn’t really think I was gonna make the NHL or sign in the NHL in my life anymore,” Balinskis told Five Reasons. 


Despite this feeling, the NHL dream wasn’t over just yet. 


Over the summer, Balinskis’ fate changed  — he would sign a one-year NHL contract with the Panthers.


This past September, Balinskis attended Panthers training camp as a 27-year-old rookie — well, rookie in North America. 


The blueline battle at camp had a lot of guys competing for limited open spots, but nonetheless there were jobs to be earned during the preseason. 


The first few games of the preseason went by and Balinskis survived the first waves of cuts.


He didn’t necessarily stand out from the pack at the start, but he continued to improve as the camp went on.


Multiple players who were with the organization, and had NHL experience started getting sent down. Yet, the newcomer Balinskis started to climb up the depth chart.


“He built through his camp,” head coach Paul Maurice said about Balinskis after training camp.


Balinskis kept chipping away and eventually got word that he did it. On Oct. 12 he would be making his NHL debut on opening night in Minnesota.


Alongside fellow rookie Mackie Samoskevich, Balinskis hit the ice for the infamous rookie lap — at 27, he made his NHL debut. 


“[The] first game was really exciting, fun, I really enjoyed that day,” Balinskis said smiling.


In the early stages of this season Balinskis grabbed his chance on the Panthers’ blueline and ran with it. The coaching staff had high praise for him after his first few games.


“He has not looked remotely out of  place in his game… some of the things he tries, he’s  got a little risk to his game and I’m not talking about foolish risks,” Maurice said. “He would be the biggest surprise of camp for us.” 


The Latvian defenseman plays a fast, and physical game. He’ll throw the body, jump up into the play and as Maurice said, he’s not afraid to take risks.


Balinskis is enjoying his time as Panther, an opportunity that he didn’t think would be there at this stage in his hockey career. 


He’s living every hockey player’s dream — the NHL dream.


“Everyday I just feel better and I think my game is also getting better,” he said. “Just being here and making the NHL, [my] first game, everything is exciting about this.”

Takeaways from Panthers’ 2-0 loss to Wild

The Florida Panthers were back for another NHL season tonight in Saint Paul, opening the year on the road against the Minnesota Wild.


Despite having a plethora of chances with over 40 shots on goal tonight, the Panthers couldn’t find the back of the net. They were shutout by the Wild in a 2-0 loss.


Here’s some takeaways from tonight’s game.


Filip Gustavsson stood on his head for Minnesota

Florida was peppering the Wild net for pretty much the entirety of the game, nearly doubling Minnesota’s shot total by the end of the night.


The final shot total leaned heavily in Florida’s favor at 41-21, but that wasn’t reflected in the final score. 


Despite the onslaught of chances, Minnesota’s goaltender Filip Gustavsson slammed the door shut — stopping all 41 shots he faced.


Gustavsson faced a ton of shots tonight and stopped them all for the shutout. What was even more impressive was his rebound control. Florida didn’t have many second chance looks at goal because Gustavsson killed the play instantly. 


The Panthers were only shut out once all of last season. This year it happened in game number one.


Rookie Mackie Samoskevich looked solid in his NHL debut

We’ve probably talked more about Mackie Samoskevich this preseason than anyone else on the Panthers’ roster — and for good reason. 


The 20-year-old was one of two Panthers to make their NHL debut tonight — Uvis Balinskis being the other. 


The rookie forward got up to NHL speed quickly, not looking out of place whatsoever on a line with Anton Lundell, and Sam Reinhart. 


Samoskevich had more than one quality chance tonight to score his first career NHL goal, with the best look off a shot that beat Wild goalie Filip Gustavsson before ringing off the crossbar. 


His speed, and puck carrying ability was extremely noticeable tonight — and his shot release is already looking elite. 


For his first game in the NHL, Samoskevich put together a quality performance, and showed flashes of what he can bring to this Panthers team. 


New Panthers fit in well in Game 1

I already mentioned Samoskevich and his fairly good first NHL game. However, he wasn’t the only Panther that looked comfortable in their first appearance with the team.


Florida had eight skaters in the lineup tonight who weren’t on the team last season. Of those eight, I thought Oliver Ekman-Larsson (OEL) looked like he’s been here for years.


OEL led all Panthers skaters in ice-time with 26:32 tonight. The defenseman was also in on the offense, getting four shots on goal. 


Tonight Ekman-Larsson, 32, played on the Panthers’ top power-play unit while also appearing on the penalty kill.


The Panthers will continue to rely upon Ekman-Larsson this season — especially with Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour out of the lineup for the start of the year.

OEL paired up with his fellow Swede Gustav Forsling tonight on the Panthers’ top d-line. Those two will easily eat up the most minutes on the blueline to start the season.


Looking at the forwards, Evan Rodrigues was another noticeable new face. 


Rodrigues played just under 20 minutes tonight, drawing in on the top power play unit and the Panthers’ first-line alongside Aleksander Barkov and Carter Verhaeghe. 


He had 5 shots on goal tonight, and was very active in the offensive zone. The pucks didn’t find the back of the net tonight, but the opportunities were there, and Rodrigues will continue to get those chances. 


He’s a fast, smart player, that fits in well with Florida’s play style.

Next Game

The Panthers will be back on the ice Saturday in Winnipeg for a 4 PM (ET) start against the Jets.

Takeaways from Panthers’ final preseason game

SUNRISE — The Florida Panthers wrapped up their eighth and final preseason game Saturday night at Amerant Bank Arena, losing 4-2 to the Tampa Bay Lightning.


With preseason play now over, the Panthers will have to get their active roster down to 23 before the the regular season opener.

Here’s some Panthers’ takeaways from the last tune up game.


Eetu Luostarinen continued a strong preseason 

Eetu Luostarinen’s value to the Panthers is a high one. He plays up and down the lineup, on special teams, on the wing or at center — he’s everywhere.


With Sam Bennett now out with an injury, Luostarinen jumped back up to center, playing on line 2 with Matthew Tkachuk tonight. Depending on how long Bennett is out, he may be getting an extended stint down the middle.

Luostarinen was the best forward tonight in the Panthers’ loss, grabbing a goal and an assist to end off his preseason with four goals. 


Like the rest of the team, Luostarinen is ready to get the 2023-2024 campaign started.


“We’re really excited,” Luostarinen said postgame. “There’s still some things we can do better but I think overall we’re just ready to go.”



Depth forwards pushing the offense

Both tonight and Thursday’s game saw quality offensive contributions from players in the bottom-six. 


Florida’s first goal of the game was scored off the rush, and shorthanded by Ryan Lomberg. 

In back-to-back games, Florida’s favorite hard hitting winger got on the scoresheet with a nice shot past the Lightning netminder.  


Later in the game Florida had another quality chance to get on the board off a rush from Nick Cousins and Zac Dalpe.



When the final roster comes out, the winners of 12-14 forward spots will be interesting to see. Zac Dalpe, Kevin Stenlund, Steven Lorentz, and Justin Sourdif have all had good showings this preseason.

As for what happens with the final roster, Florida has a few days to sort things out.

“The three days before opening night there’s still a whole lot of things that are involved in the cap and the injury situation,” head coach Paul Maurice said postgame. “The numbers will get back down to one room and we can get back to work.”



Still no “clear cut” winner for the seventh defenseman spot

The first five names on the blueline to start the year will probably look like this: Gustav Forsling, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Josh Mahura, Dmitry Kulikov and Niko Mikkola. 


As for the sixth defenseman, Mike Reilly’s play during camp and preseason should have been enough to win him that job. So who gets the seventh spot?


After Lucas Carlsson and Matt Kiersted were sent down to the AHL, the two in the running are Casey Fitzgerald and Uvis Balinskis. 


Neither of them really stood out in tonight’s game, however Fitzgerald has stepped his physicality up this preseason, compared to what we saw in his limited games last year with the Panthers.



In this competition for the extra defenseman, Fitzgerald had the “head start” in familiarity, being with the Panthers from mid January through the playoffs. Balinskis on the other hand joined the Panthers organization this offseason after spending his entire career in Europe.


If sent down to the AHL Balinskis would be exempt from waivers, Fitzgerald would not.