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Best U.S. goalie might be watching Games at home

1/3/2006 - NHL


CAUGHT IN THE NETS
COMING OR GOING?


Less than a month ago, there was rampant speculation that Florida GM Mike Keenan would start to dismantle his sad-sack Panthers. Captain Olli Jokinen and netminder Roberto Luongo were both said to be trade fodder as the Panthers won just once in the month of November. But following a 6-2-1 stretch that includes Sunday's 2-1 win in Buffalo, the Panthers have pulled to within four points of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

The team finally seems to have jelled under new coach Jacques Martin, while Luongo has rediscovered his focus after an uncharacteristic period of lackluster play. Veterans Joe Nieuwendyk (pictured), Jozef Stumpel and Gary Roberts, dormant or injured for most of the year, have come alive. Roberts has been matched with Jokinen and Chris Gratton to form a potent offensive unit. Even with Sunday's win in Buffalo, the Panthers remain one of the worst road teams in the league (4-14-3). But if they can emerge from stops in New Jersey, Long Island, New York and Washington, there will be a new set of questions popping up around South Florida, like who Keenan will bring into the fold for a surprise playoff push. Stay tuned.