Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers taking precaution with mumps outbreak

Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) warms up before an NHL hockey game against the Colorado Avalance in Pittsburgh on Dec. 18, 2014.
Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) warms up before an NHL hockey game against the Colorado Avalance in Pittsburgh on Dec. 18, 2014. AP

After it became public that a number of players in Anaheim, California, were afflicted with the mumps, the Panthers’ medical team went on the offensive.

Players and staff members were tested, and those who needed booster shots got them not long after Florida visited the Ducks on Nov.16.

So far, there are 16 NHL players who have been confirmed with having the mumps from a variety of teams — many of whom the Panthers have played against, including New Jersey, Minnesota and Anaheim.

This week, a few players and coaches in the AHL (including former Florida center Joey Crabb) were diagnosed as well.

Florida plays the first of two games against Pittsburgh on Saturday night, with a number of Penguins, including superstar Sidney Crosby, having been affected by the illness.

Because the Panthers were diligent in making sure they were taken care of medically, many players said they feel a little better about playing Pittsburgh.

Still, they don’t want this outbreak to affect them.

“I just used extra precaution in Anaheim, like using my own water bottle, having my own towels,” captain Willie Mitchell said.

“I read up on it and, obviously, no one wants to go through with it. It’s not something you want to roll the dice with. I would have liked to see the league do something earlier, but I guess it took one of our star players getting it to raise the awareness. I guess that’s how the world works.”

There is some worry in the unknown.

Crosby, who returned to the Penguins’ lineup on Thursday, contracted the mumps despite reportedly being immunized before going to the Olympics earlier this year.

The NHL said it has precautions in place, which include sterilizing equipment and locker rooms.

The Panthers’ equipment and medical staff have made sure there is plenty of sanitizer around, and they will be extra cautious in Pittsburgh.

“Our team has taken the necessary precautions, but guys are worried about it because you don’t want to take it home with you,” defenseman Erik Gudbranson said. “You can’t control who you play against, don’t know who has it. [Pittsburgh] is having a tough go of it, and it can be worrisome. Everyone is paying attention to it now.”

Said Panthers coach Gerard Gallant: “Three weeks ago, we were ahead of the curve. We had our blood tested, and those who needed the extra shots got it. We haven’t paid much attention to it since. You cross your fingers [that] nothing happens.”

▪ Dave Bolland technically still hasn’t scored his first goal since signing with the Panthers in July, but his shootout winner Thursday night in Philadelphia was still special.

Bolland, in his fifth game back since missing almost two months with a groin injury, has been a huge asset for the Panthers on both sides of the ice. In those five games he has two assists, and Thursday he helped the Panthers beat the Flyers in the sixth round of the shootout.

“I think once they come they’re going to come,” said Bolland about the goals. “But I know that first one is always the tough one.”

▪ Gallant said that Brad Boyes practiced Friday in Pittsburgh after missing Thursday’s game. Whether Boyes returns to the lineup — he was replaced by Brandon Pirri — will be determined Saturday.

Saturday: Panthers at Penguins

When/Where: 7 p.m.; Consol Center, Pittsburgh

TV/Radio: FSFL; 560 AM

Series: Pittsburgh leads 41-34-4

Noteworthy: Despite finishing 29th in the league last year, Florida won two of three from the Penguins by a combined 12-9. This is the first of consecutive games between the two with the Pens visiting Sunrise on Monday.

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