Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Two Legendary Class Acts!

 BY SCOTT MORGANROTH 

During My 41 years in Sports Media, I’ve had the privilege of working with some unbelievable Communications/Media Relations Professionals.

To list them all would be virtually impossible and defeats the purpose of what I’m attempting to accomplish with this story.

But the two individuals I’m going to talk about, I met through some close colleagues and were extremely helpful when I launched the South Florida Tribune two years ago. 

I would highly doubt it that they’ll ever meet because they’re in different sports. But you never know.

Early this year, they decided to step aside from their current roles after many years of dedication to their respective employers.

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The first person I want to talk about is former Sebring International Raceway legendary Media Director and Track Historian Ken Breslauer. He served in this role for 35 years. Breslauer graduated from the University of West Florida and was a Sports Writer for the Pensacola News-Journal.

After serving as editor of the largest trade magazine in the beer distribution industry for five years, he began his career at Sebring. His 1996 book on the history of Sebring’s 12-Hour race earned the Auto Racing Writers & Broadcasters Association Book of the Year Award.

He recently wrote a book “Sebring” which is The Record Book of America’s Legendary 12 Hour Sports Car Endurance Race.

When I was working at the Tampa Tribune from 1984-86, a staff led by Editor Tom McEwen always sent multiple writers to this race that’s scheduled during the third week of March. Being from the Midwest, I had never heard of it.

I always knew about the Rolex 24 Hour Race at Daytona International Raceway. One of the main people who always covered the Sebring Race is a former Tribune Colleague, Herb Branham, who worked for the Daytona International Raceway’s History Department. I worked extensively with Herb during our time together at the Tribune.

We’ve stayed in touch throughout the years but when I got the itch to cover Sebring’s 12 Hour Race, I contacted Herb and he gave me Breslauer’s email address and phone number.

I contacted Ken and he wasted no time getting back to me. 

At the time, I had an Internet Radio Show for the WEIN Network called the Sports Exchange with Peter Wein and had formed The South Florida Tribune.

I invited Ken on the show to promote the race then covered the event on site with Wein and Candy Ebling in the studio.

Initially, I was supposed to cover the Gatornationals in Gainesville, FL, working with the Lex Joon Crew, but that situation fell apart at the last minute. 

Breslauer credentialed us on short notice. 

This credential from Ken was the first one ever for the South Florida Tribune.

But when I got to Sebring, I commuted the 2.5 Hour Drive each way for thee days in a row. I did live reports and interviews with the drivers and we worked out of a loud tent.

Mind you, I knew nothing about Endurance Racing but Breslauer and his successor Kelsi Miller took the time to educate me about the dynamics of this sport. 

Unlike NASCAR, Indy Cars and Formula One where you know the winner in a matter of hours, this race is more about the manufacturer’s than the drivers. The drivers are certainly a huge part of this. But IMSA Racing is just a totally different animal.

Breslauer has been a great teacher and more importantly, he’s become an even better friend! 

Now I’ve covered three races and when Ken retired in March, Sebring named the Media Center after Breslauer and gave him a Rolex Watch for all of his years of dedication. This year’s race weekend occurred from March 18-20, Thursday-Saturday. 

Our coverage of Sebring dating back to 2019, has been predicated around doing broadcasts to preview the race with editorial to follow, along with being on their Media Distribution List. 

My three races have been interesting because in 2020, COVID-19 forced the Sebring Race to be run later in the fall and this event decided the championship.

When you have a 12 hour race, there is no telling how much you can learn about Motor Sports from a person that has been to over 30 Indianapolis 500’s. He even joked to me that you’ve become a good student and are dangerous now that you know about this, then we both smiled. And to survive a race, Sebring had plenty of complimentary caffeine drinks and candy products for that sweet tooth.

While I’ve covered my fair share of other races as a writer and attended them as a fan, I’ve come to the realization that I’m hooked on Road, Endurance Racing and thanks to Breslauer, I talk about it all the time.

If you haven’t been to Sebring then put it on your bucket list because it’s an incredible race track build around an airport.

Very few people know that Auto Racing is My Passion! I have paid for ride alongs on other tracks going at fast speeds and plan to do more down the road.

Although I always cover the major sports, we exist in life through automobiles and there is always the speed element especially when we’re on the interstates. 

When I drive on the interstates or highways at higher speeds and change lanes, it drives my wife nuts and she plays with her tablet and phone.

Besides, being from the Motor City, I’ve been around automobiles my entire life covering races and having family members working in the industry keeps me in that automobile mindset.

Thanks for everything Ken! 

I look forward to seeing you again especially now that you’ve got me hooked with Endurance Racing! In some ways, I do endurance driving when I constantly take trips by vehicle around the country.

Anybody that meets Ken Breslauer is a better person!

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The next person I want to talk about is former Jacksonville Jaguars Senior Vice President of Communications Dan Edwards. 

Edwards, an original Jaguars executive who has exclusively led the Jaguars communications department throughout the existence of the franchise has taken on a new role as Senior Vice President of Jacksonville Tradition and Alumni.

Edwards is a 27-year veteran of the Jaguars, who arrived in Jacksonville in 1994, shortly after the NFL granted the city an expansion franchise in 1993. Edwards has spent 37 years in the league. He spent 10 years working with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Miami Dolphins and the league office.

Edwards began his NFL Career as a public relations intern in the NFL Office in New York after receiving a scholarship from NFL Charities. 

He spent the 1984 football season working in publicity for the Miami Dolphins, who played in Super Bowl XIX that year before joining the Steelers.

During Edward’s nine years with the Steelers, the last seven as public relations director, the team’s public relations staff received the Pete Rozelle Award from the Pro Football Writers of America. Edwards has worked with the NFL staff at 27 Super Bowls and one Pro Bowl.

How did I meet Edwards? 

My best friend and adopted older brother Chip Namias was Edwards mentor with the Miami Dolphins in 1984. 

I met Namias in 1982 working with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers and followed him to the Miami Dolphins. As Edwards arrived in 1984, I actually moved to Tampa to continue my education at the University of South Florida, so Dan and I actually missed each other by about a month.

I have remained in touch with Namias through the years, and then got to know Edwards a little covering the Detroit Lions when they made their rare appearances in Jacksonville. We talked a little bit and I enjoyed speaking with Dan. Edwards also knew another close colleague of mine and that’s Bill Keenist of the Detroit Lions.

In 2015, I attempted to cover a Miami Dolphins vs Green Bay Packers Game for the Detroit Monitor, but my contact Harvey Greene moved to a different department, therefore I was denied.

Harvey is another person that I enjoyed working with through the years.

The following year, the Packers played in Jacksonville on September 11, 2016 and I reached out to Dan because I wanted to cover this game and bring a photographer. 

Dan found a way to accommodate this double request and then told me that whenever you want to cover us, I’ll find a way to make room for you. 

He did in a big way because I had an opportunity to cover the Jaguars 10-3 Wild Card Win over the Buffalo Bills on January 7, 2018 at EverBank Field. 

This is the year that the Jaguars advanced all the way to the AFC Championship and were just minutes away from defeating eventual champion New England, led by Tom Brady.

You talk about a Man Of His Word, Dan Edwards is a Man of His Word and Much More!

In 2016, a good friendship was formed.

I would cover a lot of games making the five hour trek from the Fort Lauderdale area to Jacksonville. I enjoyed the drive because it was not only an opportunity for me to continue doing what I love doing covering the NFL, but more importantly I was working with a class act!

During this period covering the Jaguars, the team experienced it’s fair share of ups and downs, but more importantly I achieved a milestone. 

When I covered a Houston Texans game, I went up to Dan, shook his hand and gave him a hug. I said, thanks to you, I’ve now covered every NFL Team! 

He smiled and we enjoyed a few good moments.

When the situation presented itself, I made sure that we had a chance to take a few photos together and he was totally fine with it.

There isn’t a PR/Communications Department that I would drive five hours and commute it each way to see a training camp practice. I covered one draft with the Jags and stayed three days.

For the first three years, I was covering the Jaguars for the Detroit Monitor. 

But during the draft, as the newspaper industry was declining, I informed Dan that I formed the South Florida Tribune and told him about the change which took place in 2019.

As he has through the years, I was always on the team’s Media Distribution List and we remained there. 

I told him that I undertook this challenge and my plan was to market the team in South Florida.

Dan appreciated where I was coming from and supported me and the change. The plan has worked out well because we’re going real strong and gaining more momentum. 

When the situation presented itself, I would go cover road games with the Jaguars. Dan made sure I was taken care of. 

Ironically, I have covered some Jaguars and Dolphins games at Hard Rock Stadium and we joked around about my shorter 30 minute drive down the Florida Turnpike.

Dan always thanked me for coming up to Jacksonville to cover his team and my response to him was thanks for giving me the opportunity to do so. 

I actually enjoyed taking the trips because it got me out of the rat race of South Florida. The drives gave me tons of time to meditate. I feel like I have lived out of hotels my entire life.

When Namias came to town, we would go out to dinner and talk about the Dolphins and Jaguars. I told him that as it stands, I’d rather cover the Jaguars over the Dolphins because Dan and his entire staff always treated me great! 

Chip looked at me and said that I’m glad things are working out and can see where you’re coming from. 

Nobody knows what the future holds so I wouldn’t begin to speculate in terms of working with the Dolphins covering games.

Last season, COVID-19 threw everything a loop, therefore, the press box capacity in all sports was reduced.

The 2020 NFL Season was tough because I couldn’t attempt to cover much more than three games because My mother was terminally ill and passed away two days after Thanksgiving on November 28. 

I was staying in Michigan for two weeks in an Extended Stay Hotel up until her death and days after her funeral. 

It was tough living out of a suitcase and with the restaurants doing only carry outs, going grocery shopping and cooking meals in the room. That was all my wife and I could do to get through this situation.

Through it all, Dan still accommodated me three times and one of those games was against the Detroit Lions. What was weird about the Lions game was now I was credentialed by the home team and on this day, felt more distance towards the Lions which suited me just fine!

The last game I covered was on December 27, 2020 against the Chicago Bears. 

The Jaguars lost to the Bears 41-17 and it was interesting that this game occurred against a team that I covered plenty working with the Lions in the NFC North.

At the moment, I haven’t reached out to Dan’s successor Amy Palcic yet, though I will in the coming weeks. 

Amazingly enough, TIAA Bank Field is now the NFL Stadium that I’ve been to the most! I owe that to Dan Edwards.  

You can rest assure, game or no game, I plan to return there to see Dan!

Like Ken Breslauer, Dan Edwards are “Two Legendary Class Acts” and thanks to Herb Branham and Chip Namias, I’ve had the privilege to work with them and they are both lifelong friends!

Scott Morganroth can be reached at southfloridatribune@gmail.com and you can follow him on Twitter @TribuneSouth.

You can subscribe for free to see his broadcasts on The South Florida Tribune You Tube Channel.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Panthers Somewhat Solve Carolina Hurricanes

 BY SCOTT MORGANROTH 

I have to tell you that I had a lot of great vibes on my way to the BB&T Center Saturday Night when the Florida Panthers hosted the Carolina Hurricanes for the final regular season meeting.

First of all, it was “Hockey Fights Cancer Night” as everybody was asked to wear purple. I proudly wore my purple shirt since I have lost family members and close friends to this dreaded disease. The Panthers wore purple pregame jerseys to commemorate the cause.

When the puck dropped, and Keith Yandle skated on his first shift, he moved past Gary Unger for second on the all-time iron-man list playing in 915 consecutive games. 

Doug Jarvis holds the all-time record at 964 which if Yandle continues to play, he can eclipse that mark during the 2021-22 season. Yandle has not missed a game since March 22, 2009, when he was a member of the Arizona Coyotes. 

I had the good fortune of watching Unger play when he was a member of the Detroit Red Wings and then was traded to the St. Louis Blues.

When I use the adjective, “Somewhat” I meant exactly just that as the Panthers needed 60:24 minutes to defeat the Hurricanes 4-3 in overtime. 

Carolina won the season series 6-0-2. 

If you’re looking for a four digit lottery number, then take 6024.

There is no doubt that this game had a playoff feel to it. 

The Hurricanes have given the Panthers fits all-season long. Thursday Night, the Panthers inept 1-9 showing on the power play led to a 4-2 defeat.

During this game, Florida trailed 1-0 and 3-1. The Panthers power play continued to have issues as they went 0-4. But the play on special teams wasn’t a total loss as Florida did score a short-handed goal.

The Hurricanes started quickly as Dougie Hamilton scored 3:25 into the game. This was the first of two goals for Hamilton who was named the game’s second star. He would score his eight goal of the year at 1:35 in the second period coming on a power play that gave the Hurricanes a 2-1 advantage.

Carolina took a 3-1 lead as Brett Pesce scored his fourth goal of the year.

At that point, it seemed like the Panthers were reeling and the question remained, what will it take to finally beat their division nemesis?

That question was answered very quickly as Florida scored an even strength goal by Gustav Forsling at 15:12 in the third period. The assists went to MacKenzie Weegar and Jonathan Huberdeau and the deficit was trimmed to 3-2.

This goal seemed to energize everyone in the building!

The Cardiac Cats continued to press then at 13:40 left in the final frame, Alex Wennberg scored his 12 goal of the season and did it short-handed tying the game at 3-3. Anthony Duclair and Weegar got the assists. Wennberg’ s short-handed goal was his second of his career and Florida’s third of the season.

There is no secret that the heart of this team is captain Aleksander Barkov. He led Florida in time on the ice playing 23:58 minutes.

He made every second count because he scored the game winning goal 24 seconds into overtime to give the Panthers a 4-3 win. This goal was a beauty as Weegar passed the puck to Goaltender Chris Driedger who then passed it to Barkov. Barkov skated the length of the ice and as his head was looking away from Hurricanes goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic shot the puck and it tricked under the net minders legs and into the back of the net.

It was Barkov’s fifth career overtime game-winning goal, extending his goal streak to three games (4-0-4). He now his 22 goals this season and has amassed nine goals and 12 points (9-3-12) over his past 12 contests. With Barkov’s fifth OT goal, he joins Olli Jokinen (10), Aaron Ekblad (5) and Stephen Weiss (5) as the only players in franchise history to score five goals in OT.

Weegar had a tremendous evening as he recorded a career-high four points (1-3-1) tied for the most points by a Panthers defenseman in a regular season game in franchise history. He is the second Panthers defenseman to do so this season (Aaron Ekblad, 2-2-4, March 4 vs Nashville). He was the game’s No. 3 Star.

Weegar is the seventh defenseman in franchise history to have registered four points in a game joining Jay Bouwmeester, Brian Campbell, Aaron Ekblad, Bret Hedican, Bryan McCabe and Keith Yandle.

Weegar also tied his career-high with four shots on goal, blocked seven shots and registered seven hits. Weegar’s seven blocked shots are the most by a Panther this season and tied for the fifth most blocked shots in a game by a Panther since the NHL began tracking blocked shots in 2005-06.

As for Driedger, he reminded me of a pitcher helping his own cause. When a pitcher gets a win then contributes offensively, then this is what I mean as he recorded the assist on the game winning goal  by Barkov. 

He is the fourth goaltender in club history joining some excellent company to record an assist on an overtime goal. Ed Balfour, March 1, 2007, Roberto Luongo, March 11, 2004 and Jon Vanbiesbrouk , November 22, 1996 pulled the trick.

Driedger stopped 16 shots but made the big saves when he had to improving his record to 13-5-2. 

The Panthers out shot the Hurricanes 36-19 and they weren’t phased by the physical play of the Hurricanes, who out hit them 34-27.

The main thing is that the Panthers got a win and improved to 31-13-5 with 67 points in 49 games to remain in second place in the Central Division behind the first place Hurricanes. Carolina’s record stands at 31-10-6 with 68 points in 47 games.

When the game was over, there was a lot of relief that the Panthers were able to finally get a win again as the Hurricanes. There was a lot of praise to go around.

Coach Joel Quenneville said to us that he was glad to get the win and while the two points was great, he wanted to win this game in regulation time so that Carolina didn’t get a point. 

Nevertheless, he talked about Weegar’s evening. 

“I thought Weegs (defenseman MacKenzie Weegar) was special tonight. He did a lot of good things...scoring goals, defending the net well, going into the puck areas. I think he’s had a very strong year. He keeps adding to the success of our team by his contributions.”

As for the game, Quenneville added, “I felt a lot of passion, a lot of emotion on the bench. It was very intense...I think that determination and that perseverance found its way in the right place. I thought tonight was as high as we had it. It was one of those situations where we can’t beat the team in regulation and we’ll take two points. You can tell that the playoffs are just around the corner.”

The Coach was gleaming about Barkov’s climactic ending and what he’s meant to the club all year.

“Barky has been very productive for us as the season has progressed. I think Barky has had a tremendous year, whether it’s controlling shifts or dominating possession. I know he’s had some different line mates over the last three weeks and he still finds a way to be productive and scoring big goals. He’s competitive and he does all the things you’re looking for. Can’t say enough about the contribution we are getting from Barky.”

Wennberg knew that his short-handed goal gave the Panthers some life but his main focus directed on the Carolina Hurricanes.

“At this point of the season, we’ve got to win these games, especially against Carolina which is a team we’re battling for position with. I feel like we got some momentum there scoring that goal, and then we just took over the third period. All that matters is the win, and we got it tonight.

“They’re a really good team, and it’s good to get some confidence winning against them.It just shows that you can win against every team. If we seem them in the future, we’re excited for that opportunity.”

As for Weegar, the guy contributed in every way possible as the numbers listed above reflect. On a night where the team flipped the switch being down 3-1 and prevailed, he knew this team needed a triumph in the worst way.

“Huge win for us. Lots of emotions coming in before the game. We really wanted to win this one. Credit to everybody that played tonight. I think we battled hard. I’m very happy with the way the boys played tonight.

“I think (Alex Wennberg’s ) short-handed goal gave us a lot of momentum. Q (Head Coach Joel Quenneville) talked about it last game, it was the opposite on us. It really changed the momentum of a game and I think after that we just kept rolling shift by shift. I think that really helped us.

“I felt good tonight. I just felt really determined. (Carolina) is a top team in the league and they’ve had out number all year. I just didn’t want to lose, I wanted to make a statement. If we see them in the playoffs, I just want them to know that we can beat you. I’m happy that we won.”

The game’s No. 1 Star, Barkov said this game was a good preparation for the playoffs and he was extremely pleased with the way Weegar performed.

“(Tonight’s win) does a lot. We were battling with this challenge all year, trying to find ways to stick with it, to win the games. We never gave up, even in the games where we didn’t come up the points. Finally, got the result, but this is only the regular season and if you want to go all the way, there’s going to be games like this so you have to be ready. This one was good practice for that.

“Weegs is a really smart player. He’s doing all the right things all the time. It was just a matter of time that he was going to step up to this level. He’s been really good, he has everything that a great defenseman needs. He’s been great for us and we’re really happy to have him playing for us and playing those big minutes.”

The Panthers can enjoy this win until at least Monday Night as they travel to Nashville and face the Predators. They’ll play a two game series that ends Tuesday, April 27th. Nashville has played 49 games and is in fourth place in the Central Division with a 26-21-2 mark with 54 points,

Florida’s final road series matchup takes them to the Windy City as they face the Chicago Blackhawks, who defeated them twice during their last visit to the United Center. Those games take place on Thursday, April 29 and Saturday, May 1st.

Florida returns home on Monday May, 3 for a 7 PM contest with the Dallas Stars who are currently battling for a playoff spot, sitting in fifth place with a 20-15-12 record with 52 points in 47 games.

It will be an interesting stretch run and the Panthers know they’ll be facing teams hungry to get into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

But on a Night where Hockey Fight’s Cancer, the “Panthers Somewhat Solved the Carolina Panthers” by winning in OT. But at this time of the year, all wins and points matter!

Scott Morganroth can be reached at at southfloridatribune@gmail.com and you can follow him on Twitter @TribuneSouth. 

To see all of his broadcasts, subscribe to The South Florida Tribune You Tube Channel for free.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Panthers Continue to Struggle vs Carolina Hurricanes

 BY SCOTT MORGANROTH 

What a difference 48 hours make.

On Tuesday Night, Panthers rookie goaltender Spencer Knight notched his first NHL win as the Florida Panthers cruised to a 5-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The stage was set for Thursday Night as Florida had a chance to take sole possession of first place in the Central Division by defeating rival Carolina. 

There was plenty of hype leading into this game and the Panthers were looking to snap a five game winless streak against the Hurricanes 0-3-2. 

Each of Florida’s two home games against Carolina 0-0-2 were decided in a shootout or overtime.

Ah yes, the makings of a heavyweight fight at the BB&T Center.

At the beginning of the game, that’s exactly what we had as at 14:43 in the first period, Ryan Lomberg drew a five minute fighting penalty vs Cedric Paquette. 

You could feel the energy in the building as he skated into the penalty box. I did see a fan wear a Lomberg jersey. 

Lomberg registered his fourth fighting penalty of the season, and third in his past six games.

The Panthers fed off the energy and took the lead at 13:38 in the first period on a goal by Aleksander Barkov, who notched his 20th goal of the season. The Panthers led 1-0 at the end of the first period but were outshot 9-6.

The Hurricanes regrouped in the second period and wasted no time getting on the scoreboard as Jordan Marlinook scored his fourth goal of the year just 14 seconds in the second period. Jordan Staal picked up his 19th assist of the year.

At the 9:39 mark of the second period, Lomberg went back to the penalty box, this time for slashing. 

The Hurricanes made the Panthers pay on the power play as Nino Niederreiter scored his 17th goal of the year with assists coming from Brett Pesce (19) and Martin Necas (24). At this point the Hurricanes were up 2-1.

When you go to a sporting event, you always see something new and this night was no exception!

Carolina’s third goal of the game was short-handed as Sebastian Aho registered his 19th of the campaign. The Hurricanes had a 2-1 breakaway and found themselves up 3-1 at the end of the third period. 

Aho would pick up an empty net goal in the third period for his 20th of the season and that was also a short-handed tally.

The something new that I’m referring to is the ineptness of the Florida power-play as the Panthers were 1-9 with the man advantage and gave up two short-handed goals. 

The Panthers only power-play goal was on a 5-3, two man advantage, as Barkov got his second of the night for his 21st of the year.

The Panthers came out and played a physical hockey game! You could tell they wanted to run the Hurricanes out of the building!

They out-hit the Hurricanes 28-18. 

The other statistical battles Florida won were the face-off battle 35-29 and they out-shot Carolina 34-29.

The only area Florida didn’t win was on the scoreboard which matters the most, a 4-2 defeat.

Sergei Bobrovsky looked solid between the pipes for Florida making 25 saves.

But there is no doubt that the Panthers needed to win this game in the worst way. 

Florida fell to 30-13-5 and remained at 65 points, while Carolina improved to 31-10-5 and is in sole possession of first place. The Panthers have played 48 games.

The second place Panthers lead third place Tampa Bay which is 31-14-2, 64 points. The Lightning have played 47 games.

What’s worse about this loss for Florida is even with a win on Saturday Night against the Hurricanes at 7 PM at the BB&T Center is, Carolina has two games in hand, having played 46. 

The last thing Florida wants to do is fall deeper in the division and lose home ice advantage during the playoffs.

After the contest, there was little doubt that the Panthers knew they let this one get away and were ready to move on.

Coach Joel Quenneville said that giving up the two short-handed goals was very deflating and knows his special teams play needs some work before Saturday Night.

“You’ve got to be better and more resilient than were were tonight to get it effective, and we’ve got the game on Saturday to correct it (power play). We would like to win a game in regulation against them. Their special teams are great and we have to play a perfect game against them to win.”

Lomberg was definitely ready to put this game behind him.

“We’re definitely looking forward to next game and getting some redemption for sure. It had that (playoff) feel from puck drop to the final buzzer. We knew it was going to be an intense game, you’ve got to tip your cap to them, they played well. We welcome the challenge, we know we can beat this team so we’re looking ahead looking forward to the next game.”

Barkov echoed those sentiments.

“We’ve got to keep our cool and play as hard as we can. We’ve just got to battle and work all 60 minutes, no shifts off. Every shift, you’ve got to work. 

“This is not the result we wanted. The third  period was good for us and that’s how we need to play all 60 minutes.”

The Panthers had a practice at 11 AM on Friday at the BB&T Center and I wouldn’t be surprised if Quenneville was looking for different power play combinations to throw at the Hurricanes Saturday Night.

Saturday’s game is the final regular season meeting for these squads, who could see one another in the playoffs. 

The last thing Panthers fans want to see is the Hurricanes celebrating on their home ice as they have three times this season.

Right now when the Panthers face off against the Hurricanes is to win “A” regulation time contest as Quenneville said.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at Scottbm33@gmail.com and you can follow him on Twitter @TribuneSouth. You can listen and watch his broadcasts by subscribing to The South Florida Tribune You Tube Channel free.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Breaking In A Young Goaltender

 BY SCOTT MORGANROTH 

How do you break in a young goaltender to get his career started on the right foot?

Tuesday Night at the BB&T Center, the first place Florida Panthers (30-12-5, 65 points) did it very nicely in their 5-1 victory over the last place Columbus Blue Jackets (15-24-9, 39 points).

Despite the absence of Sergei Bobrovsky, Carter  Verhaeghe, Eetu Luostarinen, MacKenzie Weegar, Noel Acciari, Noah Juulsen, Patric Hornqvist and Lucas Wallmark, the Panthers had plenty of good players. These absences were mainly due to rest and maintenance purposes.

Let’s talk about the debut of Spencer Knight.

1. The Panthers gave Knight a 2-0 lead by the 12:54 mark in the first period as Aleksander Barkov and Sam Bennett lit the lamp.

2. Holding a 2-1 lead, the Panthers successfully challenged an offsides call with 57 seconds left in the first period and led by that margin at the intermission.

3. On Monday Night, Bennett nearly got a Gordie Howe Hat Trick with a fight and a goal missing an assist. Tuesday night, Bennett scored two goals and stayed out of the penalty box.

4. Ryan Lomberg took a page out of Bennett’s book as he scored a goal and pummeled Blue Jackets right wing Kole Sherwood in the second period and rode a smile all the way to the penalty box. Lomberg’s goal was a thing of beauty as Frank Vatrano took a shot on the net and Lomberg deflected it passed Joonas Korpisalo. The Panthers led 4-1 at this point. Lomberg’s fight was his third of the season.

5. Jonathan Huberdeau scored his 16th goal of the campaign at the 16:38 mark of the second period as Anthony Duclair and Radco Gudas got assists. The Panthers out scored Columbus 3-0 in the middle frame and led 5-1 at the end of the second period.

6. Anthony Duclair produced three assists, tying his career high for most assists in a game. He has recorded at least a point in each of his past seven games played, amassing 10 points (3-7-10) in that span. Duclair’s assist on Bennett’s second goal was the 100th of his NHL career.

7. Ten different Panthers recorded at least one point.

8. The Panthers were in cruise control in the third period and went on to coast to an easy win.

Knight did his part by stopping 33 of the 34 shots he faced. In my eyes, the kid didn’t look overly spectacular as his team supported him well with a comfortable lead against a team that simply can’t compete against the elite Panthers.

Knight became the first Panthers goaltender to record a win in their NHL debut. He is also the youngest goalie to earn a victory for the team in franchise history besting Roberto Luongo’s win on November 25, 2000 (21 years, 265 days). Knight turned 20 a couple days ago and isn’t even old enough to drink. 

The Panthers simply dominated Columbus all season finishing with a 7-0-1 mark against the Blue Jackets.

The Panthers have extended their home winning streak to seven games, their longest since winning eight games in a row at BB&T Center Feb 22-March 10, 2018.

Since the Panthers signed Knight to his entry level contract earlier this month, Coach Joel Quenneville has said he would find a way to get the youngster some playing time and gave him a perfect landing spot vs the lowly Blue Jackets. This is a team that has traded its top three players at the trade deadline.

Quenneville’s was quite pleased that this was the night to give Knight his debut.

“He (goaltender Spencer Knight) looked very cool and calm in the net. The way he came out and handled pucks and assessed all his options, you could see his understanding of where everybody is around the game. He tracks the puck extremely well. It was a great start for his career.”

Knight described his first night.

“I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I would be. The guys did a good job of just keeping it light, just telling me to go out and play hockey. That’s what I tried to do and at the end of the day, it’s just hockey.”

Huberdeau added, “He (goaltender Spencer Knight) was solid, he’s a great goalie. We picked him up in the first round so we knew he was going to be great. (He) might have been nervous but it didn’t show out there.”

What Knight is, is 1-0 and he got off to a solid start. It will be interesting to see where his career is headed.

But don’t expect his next appearance to be against the Carolina Panthers, who are tied with the Panthers for first place in the Central Division with 65 points. The Panthers still have two games in hand as they’ve played 45 and Florida has skated in 47.

They’ll meet at 7 pm Thursday Night at the BB&T Center.

Quenneville is looking forward to the challenge of facing a team that’s given the Panthers fits all year.

“They (Carolina Hurricanes) are a good hockey team. It’s going to be very meaningful for us to know that one game at a time, Thursday is going to be our biggest game of the year. It’s our crack at them because they seem to be on quite a roll right now.”

The Hurricanes record stands at 30-10-5 and this is a team that Florida knows it has to have momentum against as they could indeed meet in the playoffs.

But on Tuesday Night, at least the Panthers got a glimpse of the future with Knight and Luongo, whose No.1 is retired looked on from a suite.

Nice first act, Spencer.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at southfloridatribune@gmail.com. You can follow him on Twitter @TribuneSouth and subscribe to his The South Florida Tribune Channel for free. 

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Great First Home Act For Sam Bennett

 BY SCOTT MORGANROTH 

The last time the Florida Panthers faced the Columbus Blue Jackets was over Easter Weekend. The dates were April 3-4 with a Saturday Night and early Sunday Afternoon.

When the Blue Jackets and Panthers played on back-to-back days, Nick Foligno, David Savard and Riley Nash were on the Columbus Roster. The Panthers defeated the Blue Jackets 5-2 and 3-0 as Sergei Bobrovsky and Chris Driedger earned wins.

The Blue Jackets returned to Sunrise, FL to face the Panthers Monday Night but without Foligno, Savard and Nash. Savard is now with the Tampa Bay Lightning while Foligno and Nash took their talent to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Blue Jackets could have used the trio Monday Night as the Florida Panthers took care of business and defeated Columbus 4-2.

The Panthers made numerous moves in the past two weeks and had to find ways to make up for the loss of Aaron Ekblad.

You could tell that Florida was energized being back on home ice as going into the game, the Panthers were 14-4-3 at the BB&T Center.

Elvis was also in the building but not the one you’re thinking of, Presley. 

The Blue Jackets goaltender was Elvis Merzlikins and he was solid all night stopping 33 shots despite falling to 6-11-2.

What we saw were contributions from the new and the old.

The Panthers opened the scoring at 8:20 of the first period as Alex Wennberg battled behind the net and the puck popped out to Frank Vatrano who was waiting in the slot then slapped it past Merzlikins to give Florida a 1-0 lead. Vatrano would later score an empty net goal and had a chance at a Hat Trick but was unable to convert on a penalty shot. Vatrano now has 17 goals this season.

Now with the new. 

The Panthers acquired Sam Bennett (24) along with a 2022 sixth round pick before the trade deadline from the Calgary Flames for a 2022 second round draft choice and prospect and prospect Emil Heineman.

If first impressions mean anything which we know they do, then Bennett made some good ones. 

It took him just 59 seconds into the second period to score his first goal as a Panther on a wrist shot to give Florida a 2-0 lead. Jonathan Huberdeau and Anthony Duclair assisted on the tally.

But on this night, the goal was just the appetizer for Bennett as Duclair was leveled in front of the penalty box as Gavin Bayreuther sent him to the ice. 

Bennett took exception to this and he was assessed an instigator, fighting and misconduct penalty for sticking up for his teammate at the 12:27 mark. He would return to play in the third period.

That didn’t go unnoticed after the game. Bennett was two thirds of the way from getting a Gordie Howe Hat Trick by getting a goal, a fight but not the assist.

Columbus trimmed the Panthers lead to 2-1 as Oliver Bjorkstrand got his team leading 15th goal of the season at the 13:22 mark in the second. 

Before the PA Announcer could mention this, the Panthers wasted no time by regaining a two goal lead as Radko Gudas notched his second goal of the campaign with assists going to Duclair and Gustav Forsling. The Panthers were up 3-1.

The Blue Jackets added a third period goal from Zac Dale with Eric Robinson and Andrew Peeke getting assists to close the deficit to 3-2.

I have been watching Hockey my entire life and if there is a player that could have played during the good old days where fighting was the norm and not the exception, there is no doubt that Bennett could have fit in nicely! 

I wouldn’t be surprised to see him become a fan favorite very quickly and his jersey sales become a hot commodity.

The era I’m referring to was the 1970’s and 1980’s when the NHL had 12 teams.

This guy is truly a spark plug and the way he came to the defense of his teammate was impressive! 

And the guy can score. 

In his first two games as a Panther, he’s produced three points, with a goal and two assists. He has recorded a point in each of his last six games, amassing a goal, seven assists for eight points.

There was nobody more appreciative about Bennett’s presence than Duclair.

“The acquisition of (Sam) was huge for us. He’s a big force down the middle, obviously with Huby(forward Jonathan Huberdeau) one of the best playmakers in the league. I appreciate that much. He’s (Sam) is a great teammate and we’re lucky to have him. It’s awesome to see him have a fresh start from Calgary.”

Coach Joel Quenneville added, “Benny (forward Sam Bennett) has come in here from Calgary and he’s had a couple nice games for us. He gave us some presence physically and does what he has to do. Bennett will be more valuable during playoff time and I really like his competitiveness.”

Gudas was also singing the praises of Bennett.

“He uses his body really well, he’s a great presence on the ice, he does little things right. It was awesome to see him come in and make sure guys don’t take advantage of us. Great response from him and the team.

“We try to make the new guys feel as welcome as we can and we’re trying to play as one big unit, one man. We have each other’s backs and the guys feel that.”

Meanwhile, Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky improved his record to 17-7-2. He is 5-0 against the Blue Jackets and 34 of 36 Blue Jackets shots. He was solid all night.

But make no bones about it that as Bobrovsky said the Panthers weren’t going to take the Blue Jackets lightly.

“It was a good game. Sometimes, it’s not easy to play those games where an opponent has nothing to lose. I thought the guys were strong and played solid, solid offensively and defensively when it’s needed. We’ve got some new guys and we just keep building our game. Everybody keeps delivering and everybody brings energy to the table.”

Bobrovsky said he enjoys facing his old team.

“It’s always fun to win and definitely against the former team. It definitely gives you a little more of an edge. I’m happy to have those numbers against Columbus but when every game is so important, every game is fighting for two points, you just focus and don’t think too much about the outside.”

With the win, the Panthers improved to 29-12-5 and have earned at least a point in each of their past four games (3-0-1). The Panthers are tied for first place in the Central Division with the Carolina Hurricanes with 63 points. 

Florida is now 6-0-1 vs the Blue Jackets this season.

The loss dropped Columbus to 15-23-9 and they slipped to eighth place in the Central behind the Detroit Red Wings, who are 16-24-7 but own the tiebreaker with more wins. Both teams have 39 points.

So tonight at the BB&T Center, the Panthers enter a crucial contest and it’s highly likely that heralded 20-year old goaltender Spencer Knight will make his NHL Debut according to Coach Quenneville.

As if there wasn’t enough energy on display Monday Night with Bennett’s home debut, I’ll be looking forward to seeing the goaltender of the future play in a real meaningful game as we head down the stretch and the Panthers attempting to win the Central Division.

Tonight’s game starts at 7 pm at the BB&T Center.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at southfloridatribune@gmail.com. You can follow him on Twitter @TribuneSouth and subscribe to The SouthFloridaTribune You Tube Channel for free.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Reliving Marlins Vs San Francisco Giants

 BY SCOTT MORGANROTH

When you talk about the cliché time flies, it definitely applies to what I'll be reflecting on today.

On Saturday, October 4, 2003, I got a call from My Editor from the Detroit Monitor that I was covering the Florida Marlins vs the San Francisco Giants at Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami Gardens. 

It was just 30 minutes before game time. I actually asked him if he was kidding, but he said he wasn't. I'm thinking great, will I actually be able to make this game? 

This was Game 4 of the National League Division Series.

My editor credentialed me on October 3, 2003 but I didn't know about that.

At any rate, the mad dash to get to the stadium was on. 

I got my work bag and then used the Florida Turnpike as my racetrack. 

My Jeep Cherokee looked like a sports car and I hit speeds in the 80's and changed lanes quite a bit weaving in and out of traffic.

If that's what it took to see Barry Bonds, Ivan Rodriguez and Miguel Cabrera then so be it.

I'm not going to get into too many specifics about this game.

Dontrelle Willis and the Marlins blew a 5-1 advantage before Cabrera, a rookie, helped them regain the lead in the eighth with an RBI single. 

Rodriguez scored the go-ahead run, jarring the ball loose from Catcher Yorvit Torrealba. When it scooted away, another run scored. 

But the defending NL Champion Giants weren't done. They scored once in the ninth against closer Ugueth Urbina and had runners at first and second with two out when Jeffrey Hammonds singled to left.

A charging Jeff Conine fielded the ball on one bounce and threw to Rodriguez. Bearing down on Rodriguez was J.T. Snow, son of a former NFL receiver. 

Snow bowled over the catcher nicknamed "Pudge" but Rodriguez held the ball.

The Marlins won the game 7-6 and Rodriguez rose and was tackled again by a jubilant Urbina. The scene accompanied by the roar of 65,464 was unforgettable! 

Carl Pavano was the winning pitcher and he went 2-0 in the Giants series. Dusty Baker was skipper for San Francisco.

After the game, I had a decision to make. 

Do I listen and try to get a question for Bonds press conference or go into the Marlins clubhouse? 

This was a no brainer. 

I have never been able to stomach Bonds arrogant attitude. Forget the steroid allegations. This guy is a complete jerk. 

I'm actually glad that he never won a World Series Ring. The Giants went on to win three titles without him. 

I’m also glad that this cheater hasn’t been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame and feel that the all-time HR Record (762), previously held by Hank Aaron should have an asterisk. 

I made the smart and obvious choice. I went into the Marlins clubhouse. I celebrated with the team and got soaked with champagne. I also spent time with an old friend, who was the Marlins pitching coach.

When I worked with the Texas Rangers Class A Affiliate in Gastonia, NC in the South Atlantic League, one of our best pitchers on a 90 loss team which produced 12 major league players, was Wayne Rosenthal. We hung out, celebrated and talked about the past.

The Marlins would go on and win the 2003 World Series defeating the New York Yankees in six games, 4-2. Jack McKeon was the skipper for the Marlins while Joe Torre piloted the Yankees.

After that last World Series title, the Marlins returned to the playoffs last year ending a 17-year drought.

When I looked at games to cover this year, the Giants vs the Marlins was my top priority. 

Thankfully, I got my first Covid-19 vaccine two weeks ago so I felt more comfortable coming down here, though I probably would have covered the game anyways. 

I've covered my fair share of sporting events and the teams have been great with all the prescreening and social distancing.

Only this time, the situation would be much different.

Instead of writing for the Detroit Monitor with George Eichorn handling the credential request, I took care of it myself working representing my own publication, The South Florida Tribune.

Instead of a multi-purpose football stadium, I'm sitting in a beatutiful ballpark, loanDepot (Marlins Park) on the site of the former Orange Bowl. The Marlins changed their name to Miami and replacing Florida.

There would be no race down a highway to get here on time. My credential request was approved 48 hours in advance. 

The only mistake that I made getting here was taking the airport exit not 836 West. 

But I gave myself plenty of time to get here and joked around with the Marlins Media Relations staff and my colleagues, who quipped that it's happened to them. 

With minimal traffic, from Deerfield Beach to the ballpark is about 50 minutes using I-95 South and taking the tolls express lanes.

The extra time gave me a chance to figure out where the proper Parking Garage is as well as the Media Entrance.

To add a little intrigue to this game, former Marlins President David Samson appeared on the Dan LeBatard Show with Stugotz Thursday and said Bonds hire as a hitting coach “was a complete disaster.”

The managerial matchup was Gabe Kapler for the Giants and Don Mattingly for the Marlins.

Since I talked about the pitchers and catcher for the Marlins in the playoffs, it's worth mentioning them here for Miami. Sandy Alcantara was on the hill and Jorje Alfaro was behind the plate.

How would this Saturday, April 17, game end up? 

It would be decided by the quirky extra inning rule which has a man on second base that was unimaginable in 2003. This is the first time I've seen it in person.

By the same 7-6 score in 2003 and the Marlins won it in unbelievable walk-off fashion as Alfaro doubled to deep left field. Jazz Chisholm and Adam Duvall scored. Alfaro had three RBI's on the evening. 

You couldn't have scripted this out any better as Rodriguez was the catcher who was the hero against the Giants.

Alcantara gave the Marlins six strong innings, but the seventh inning is where he ran into trouble yielding four runs in a Giants five run outburst to take a 5-3 lead. 

He would get a no decision and closer Yimi Garcia earned the win in the 10th inning improving his record to 2-1.

The Marlins scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game at 5-5. One of those RBI came from Alfaro while Starling Marte had the other.

Corey Dickerson had a four hit evening.

For two teams that don’t play in the same division, you could easily see the intense nature of this game. 

The Marlins had three players that were hit by pitches. Jazz Chisholm was hit in the first inning.

But the seventh inning got even more intense has Giants Catcher Buster Posey was hit and walked slowly to first base.

In the bottom of the seventh inning, Miguel Rojas and Garrett Cooper had painful complimentary passes to first base. But there would be no bench clearing brawls. Cooler heads prevailed.

The Marlins improved their record to 7-7 while the Giants dropped to 8-6. The game produced a combine 13 runs and 25 hits. A crowd of 6,014 was on hand and there was a tremendous amount of energy in the building. This was a good crowd since the capacity is limited because of Covid-19.

It’s hard to believe that at one point that Miami began the season at 1-6, but as their character has shown, they’re no stranger to overcoming adversity.

But what an unbelievable night at a stadium where I have witnessed a no-hitter, went to the 2017 All-Star Weekend and saw one opening day vs The Detroit Tigers.

The Baseball Gods came out this evening and it had a Hollywood, CA, feel to it as both games were decided by identical 7-6 scores, had a catcher as a hero and ended on the last play of the game. Also, both games were played on a Saturday.

As I took the drive home that night, I heard the words of Jack Buck when he was calling a World Series that said, “I can’t believe what I just saw.” I better believe it because each of these scores are in the record books so it’s not my imagination.

Scott Morganroth can can be reached at southfloridatribune@gmail.com. You can follow him on Twitter @TribuneSouth and subscribe to the South Florida Tribune You Tube Channel for free.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Florida Panthers Are Red Hot!

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH 

Before the Florida Panthers stepped onto the ice on Easter Sunday, they had help from the Detroit Red Wings. 

Detroit snapped a 17-game regular season losing streak that dated back to February 17, 2011 hammering the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-1.

Entering the day, the two state rivals were atop of the NHL Central Division with 54 points.

Going into Sunday’s game versus the Columbus Blue Jackets, Florida had a five-game winning streak. The Panthers have overcome injuries, and knock on wood, have done a nice job following COVID-19 protocols to stay on a normal schedule.

Sergei Bobrovsky should get consideration for the Vezina Trophy which is awarded annually to the best goaltender. 

At the end of the season, 31 NHL general managers vote to determine the winner. 

Bobrovsky’s record is 15-5-2 with a 2.79 goals against average.

Championship teams have great goaltending tandems and Florida’s backup Chris Driedger is as good as they come. In his last five starts, he has allowed only six goals.

On Sunday, Driedger posted his third career shutout as the Panthers defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-0. He has earned wins in four of his last five appearances stopping all 32 shots he faced for his second shutout of the season.

For the second straight night, the Panthers and Blue Jackets were tied at the end of the first period.

In the second period, Aleksander Barkov scored at the 1:52 mark with assists coming from MacKenzie Weegar and Patric Hornqvist to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead. 

Barkov had two points on the night and his goal was his 116th career even-strength goal, surpassing Olli Jokinen (115) for second most even strength goals in franchise history.

The Panthers added two goals in the third period to take a 3-0 lead. 

The goals came from Frank Vatrano and Gustav Forsling. Vatrano’s goal was his 13th of the season. Weegar had two assists on the night, his fifth multi-point game of the season.

But without a doubt, the story of the night was the performance of Driedger, who was the No.1 Star of the contest. 

Driedger improved his record to 11-4-2 and has a 2.05 goals against average.

After the game, he downplayed his performance and had high praise for his teammates.

“We were incredible defensively. In the first two periods we really locked things down. I didn’t see a whole lot until the final push at the end there. Shout out to the guys, Forsy (defenseman Gustav Forsling) and Weegs (defenseman MacKenzie Weegar) rock solid back there.

“Getting those goals in the third is always huge, it gives us more confidence. Makes me smile because I know we’re likely coming away with the (win), so great job.

“Honestly, I think our team is playing fantastic. I try and just do the same stuff every game. Tonight, for instance I felt good. It’s been good, the guys have been locking it down defensively.”

Quenneville said the key to the Panthers success is the team is just having a lot of fun.

“I think the more fun you have is when you work hard. The harder you work, the more fun you have. I think playing the right way is basically a result of working hard.

“I think we’re getting basic contributions across the board. Our back end’s been real solid, goaltending’s been very consistent. Whether they’re making big saves, just stopping everything they’re supposed to, and enhanced saves on top of that as well.

“It’s not just one guy, everyone is sharing the responsibility of getting the job done.”

With the win, the Panthers leaped past the Lightning for first place with a 26-9-4 record and 56 points. They now have a season long win streak at six games.

In addition, Florida is the No.1 team overall in the NHL.

The Colorado Avalanche (25-8-4, 54 points) and Lightning (26-10-2, 54 points) are ranked second and third. The Washington Capitals are fourth with a 25-9-4 record with 54 points.

Florida’s next opponent the Carolina Hurricanes are fifth in the league overall with a 25-9-3 mark with 53 points.

These two teams begin a two game series on Tuesday Night at 7 pm in Raleigh, NC.

Florida has a tough road ahead down the stretch as they travel to play six road games against division playoff contenders. 

It begins with the Hurricanes, the Dallas Stars and concludes with the Lightning. 

They know they have a lot of work to do before returning home to face then Columbus Blue Jackets on  Monday, April 19, 2021 at 7 pm at the BB&T Center.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at southfloridatribune@gmail.com. You can follow him on Twitter @TribuneSouth.

Also, you can hear his broadcasts on The South Florida Tribune You Tube Channel which is free to subscribe.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Bobrovsky’s Festive Night

 BY SCOTT MORGANROTH 

Early this year, the Florida Panthers celebrated Keith Yandle playing in his 1000th NHL game by doing a video tribute and giving him some gifts. During the pre-game the Panthers wore a jersey with Yandle’s name and the No. 1000.

The Panthers went on to defeat the Chicago Blackhawks 4-2 on Saturday, March 13, 2021.

Last Night it was Sergei Bobrovsky’s turn to be honored.

He reached his 500th NHL game on February 10, 2020 at Philadelphia, just prior to the NHL’s pause to the 2019-20 season. 

He became the 75th goaltender in NHL history to reach the 500-game mark. 

Upon reaching the milestone, Bobrovsky became just the third Russian born goaltender to play 500 NHL games.

Before the Columbus Blue Jackets game on Saturday night, Bobrovsky was given a video tribute and some gifts. While he was talking, he seemed humbled by this ceremony.

But when the puck dropped, Bobrovsky let his play do the talking. 

He stopped 44 of 46 Columbus shots with a .957 save percentage, the most saves by a Panthers goaltender this season. 

His performance earned him the No.1 Star of the game and the Panthers defeated the Blue Jackets 5-2. 

Florida was outshot 46-39 in this contest. 

His play was huge after making one big save after another and his teammates clearly fed off of him. There are nights when your goaltender has to use his play to create energy and Bobrovsky did exactly that.

Bobrovsky improved his record to 15-5-2.

The Panthers earned the victory by scoring three goals in a 4:50 span in the second period and added two more goals in the third to improve to 25-9-4 and 4-0-1 against Columbus.

Alexander Wennberg registered his first career hat trick (3-0-3) his third multi-goal game, and led Florida in time on the ice playing 22:28. He has tallied four goals over his past two games.

MacKenzie Weegar produced two points (1-1-2), his fourth multi-point game of the season.

Patric Hornqvist and Aleksander Barkov both posted an assist in their first game back from injuries.

The Panthers winning streak reached five in the triumph over Columbus.

Coach Joel Quenneville was pleased and said prior to the streak, “We did face a little adversity (during the three-game losing streak) even though I still didn’t mind how we were playing in those games. Every single game we were finding a way to be competitive and getting points.”

Bobrovsky said he was honored with the Panthers gesture.

“It was a special night, since I stepped into the locker room before the game and seeing all the jerseys with last names in Russian, and how the boys were trying to figure it out was great.

“It was great to be in action. As the season goes on, sometimes there are 20 shots or 40 shots. You’re just there for your teammates, trying to step up and do your best when they need you. I’m always happy to help and it was a pleasure to play.

“I tried to enjoy every moment, every second of this. I didn’t think about the pressure or the distractions. I just go out there and have fun and enjoy the win after with my teammates.”

With a quick turnaround for the Easter Sunday contest at 5 pm at the BB&T Center, Bobrovsky got the day off and Chris Driedger was in the pipes.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at southfloridatribune@gmail.com.

You can follow him on Twitter @TribuneSouth and see his broadcasts on The South Florida Tribune You Tube Channel. You can subscribe for free.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Cardiac Cats Live Up To Their Name

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH 

The Florida Panthers have a lot of things that they should be grateful for Thursday Night at the BB&T Center as they wrapped up their season series with the Detroit Red Wings.

The injury depleted team faced a game visitor as the Red Wings kept them on their heels most of the night.

The three stars selections were exactly how I would have chosen them: 1. Alex Wennberg 2. Chris Driedger and 3. Detroit Goaltender Thomas Greiss.

Wennberg scored the game winning goal in overtime to give the Panthers a hard earned 3-2 triumph. 

The Panthers pressure during the three on three was so relentless that the Red Wings were unable to clear the zone and get the puck out of their own territory. 

Wennberg’s goal was his eighth of the campaign.

If you were looking for an entertaining hockey game, then this was it. 

There were fights, roughing penalties and excellent goaltending.

Red Wings left-wing Givani Smith was involved in two separate fights. 

One was in the first period against fellow left-wing Ryan Lombard while the other occurred at the 49 second mark of the third against defenseman Riley Stillman. 

Smith was also assessed with a roughing penalty at the 16:06 mark in the second period.

Driedger stopped 25 of the 27 shots he faced and improved his record to 10-4-2 and was very steady all evening. 

Greiss was equally as impressive stopping 33 of the 36 shots fired in his direction. 

The tough luck goaltender saw his record drop to 2-14-5. 

Greiss played well for the second consecutive game after coming in during the first period of Tuesday’s game with the Red Wings trailing 3-0. Detroit lost the game 4-1 and if it wasn’t for his performance the score would have been much worse.

But as it has all year, mistakes were costly for the Red Wings as they let the Panthers come from behind in this game. 

In the third period, defenseman Jon Merrill was sent to the penalty box committing a slashing penalty at the 8:26 mark. Detroit successfully killed off the penalty. 

But when Merrill got out of the penalty box, he flipped the puck out of play and the Detroit was called for delay of game at the 10:33 mark.

This is when Detroit’s fortunes turned for the worse as Florida got another power play and as the announcer called it over the PA System, Frank Vatrano cashed in at the 10:39 mark. It took six seconds to tie the game at 2-2. You could feel the momentum of the game swinging in Florida’s favor.

But to the Panthers credit, there are games during the course of the season where you’re going to win ugly. This was one of those by taking a 2-1 deficit and turning it into a 3-2 win. 

Florida outshot Detroit 36-27 and out-hit the Red Wings 32-21. They also killed off both of Detroit’s power plays.

During their last road trip that had stops in Tampa Bay, Chicago and Dallas, the Panthers lost three-games in a row. They went to Texas and won two straight then added two more and now have a four-game winning streak.

The word that stands out to during this stretch is RESILIENCE because that’s what they’ve been.

Wennberg’s goal represented Florida’s sixth overtime game-winner of the season, tied for the most among NHL teams. The Cats have won each of their past three games that have required overtime.

The Panthers completed their season series with the Red Wings by winning it 6-2 but Detroit gave them their money’s worth all year and Coach Joel Quenneville gave credit where it was due.

“They played hard, played well and they’re a better team than what we saw earlier in the year. We had to work hard for everything we got tonight. They always play us tough games and they get points against us. It was a hard game, they played physical and had big hits.”

The coach likes the character of his squad and said, “it’s been a very important stretch here for us. I like how we competed in the games, we’re sticking with it. Games have been close for the most part. Tonight, coming back in the third period, it was a hard game.”

Wennberg knows what’s at stake for his team.

“Every game we have is really important. You’ve got to keep the same mindset for every team you play against. Detroit is a really good team, they showed they have a lot of speed. For us we have to stay focused. We have a strong (team) character that it doesn’t matter who we’re playing against or what the score is, you just keep going and we got rewarded. That’s four really good games from us, and there’s no stopping us right now.”

One of the biggest things going for the Panthers is they have two excellent goaltenders! 

Driedger, who will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season has a 2.18 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage in 16 games.

He’s one of the main reasons that the Panthers are 24-9-4 and are tied with the Tampa Bay Lightning for first in the eight team Central Division with 52 points.

Driedger is well aware of what he means to this team.

“These are big wins for us, we have a lot of key pieces out and I think it says a lot about our team, that we’re a hard working group and nothing gets us down.

“We have a good dynamic here. The schedule is extremely packed, it’s nice to be able to take some pressure off of Bob (goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky) and we have a good 1-2 punch here.”

Talk about a packed schedule, the Panthers will be busy over this Easter Weekend. They face the Columbus Blue Jackets Saturday at 7 pm then have a quick turnaround at 5 pm on Sunday.

There is good news on the injury front. 

Following Thursday’s morning skate, Quenneville mentioned that both Aleksander Barkov and Patric Hornqvist, who have a combined 25 goals this season could both potentially be back in the lineup this weekend against Columbus.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at southfloridatribune@gmail.com. 

You can follow him on Twitter @TribuneSouth and subscribe to The South Florida Tribune You Tube Channel for free to get his broadcasts.

Inter-Miami, Recap Before International Break

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH This is the time of the year in sports where we begin to hit that slower period where the NBA Finals are complete, the N...