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Injured Panthers close to returning

The Sports Xchange
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--With the games winding down, the Panthers could use all the help they can get. It appears that help may be on the way.

Florida held an optional skate on Saturday afternoon with three of their four injured players jumping on the ice. Scottie Upshall (sports hernia) stayed out on the ice the longest, although he isn't expected back for another few weeks or so -- at the earliest.

Kris Versteeg (lower body) and Dmitry Kulikov (knee) also skated and are hopeful to return to the Panthers during this four-game homestand.

The opener of the homestand was Sunday evening against Carolina.

Versteeg has been out since being hit against Montreal on Feb. 26; Kulikov injured his knee on Jan. 21 against Winnipeg, although he said it was a problem that had bothered him for some time.

Fortunately, Panthers GM Dale Tallon has supplied Dineen with solid replacements, particularly forward Jerred Smithson.

"Dale has given me a lot of options to work with here, especially when you're in a tight game," Dineen said. "Toward the end of the season, they're all going to be tight.

"When you have guys like John Madden and Jerred Smithson in your lineup who can play both wing and center, you've got options.

"I'm not a big fan of the prevent defense. We want to be a forceful team and ending up with the puck on our stick. That means winning faceoffs (is) a big deal. I look down to the bench, I see who has some jump and (try) to ride that."

--Tallon said he wasn't too upset when Miami Heat stars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade slighted the Panthers in tweets and comments regarding the Dolphins trying to sign former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.

The two players mentioned other teams in South Florida -- including the University of Miami -- without acknowledging the Panthers.

"I wish everyone in South Florida well because I'm a sports fan too," Tallon told the Miami Herald. "It will be a good thing when everyone down here is winning. We want to have success as well. When we do, we'll be in those conversations. It takes time."

--D Mike Weaver has 16 points -- all on assists -- to surpass his career high of 11 set with the Panthers last season.

Weaver and fellow defenseman Keaton Ellerby are the only Florida regulars who have yet to register a goal. Ellerby was a healthy scratch against Pittsburgh last Friday night.

--Florida outshot Carolina 14-5 in the first period. It was the fewest shots allowed by the Panthers in the first since limiting the Stars to four shots on Nov. 15 in a 6-0 win in Dallas.

--Carolina's 19 shots in the second period were the most allowed by the Panthers in any period this year.

--The Panthers scored the first goal and are now 20-2-8 when doing so, and 20-1-5 with a lead after the second period.

QUOTE TO NOTE
"Our goal was to be relevant going into the end of March and into April. That's right where we're at. There's still a lot of work to do, but it will make for a nice Sunday evening here after a hard-fought win." -- Coach Kevin Dineen.

Copyright (C) 2012 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.

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