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Top 5 Florida Panthers Playoff Moments

It doesn’t take a totally inexperienced hockey writer to inform you of the Florida Panthers’ general ineptitude for the sport; serving as a punching bag for the better part of its 20-year existence, the Cats generally spend more time prowling the fairways of local country clubs than they do stalking opposing forwards on postseason ice. It’s a hard-knock life, rooting for a team in seemingly constant rebuild, doing all in your power to spur on a squad that has made the playoffs in four of its 20 seasons of life, and only once in its past 13 seasons. It’s the epitome of The Struggle. It’s what makes Yung Lean so emotional.

That being said, for all of the futility of 16 barren seasons, those fertile four provided barely enough fruit to sustain a fanbase ranked sixth in Sports Illustrated’s NHL Fan Misery Rankings through years and years of famine. How four (pretty much only one) postseasons managed to produce enough fond memories to keep a jaded group of fans basking in the glow of nostalgia never ceases to amaze, but I digress. In my wholly uninformed opinion, I present to you my FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH-FLORIDA PANTHERS PLAYOFF EDITION.

 

5. Jovanovski Lays Out Lindros

EEEEEEEEEVERYBODY knows Eric Lindros. The tags, the hype, the skill, the concussions. Most everybody hates his guts, to; forcing a trade to the Philadelphia Flyers in what may be the greatest bitch-fit in NHL history, one could argue that his absolute refusal to join the Quebec Nordiques-following their use of the top selection in the 1991 NHL Draft to take the player-served as a total rejection of Quebecois culture. It was a selfish move that buried a floundering franchise, with his season-long hold-out dooming the Nordiques to a 20-win season. Following said season, Nordique management caved, and succeeded in absolutely pilfering the Flyers in a deal that would set up success for years to come (check out this nifty-neato trade tree!); though the franchise would eventually be relocated to Denver, the move shaped a roster that would reach the postseason in two of its final three seasons in the francophone Canadian province, and would reach the zenith of the hockey world in its first year as the Avalanche of Colorado.

Lindros would never win a Stanley Cup. And I’m pretty sure I’ve heard him talk about himself in the third-person. Would you like sugar and cream with your Instant Karma, Captain Asshat?

Anyhow, “The Next One” would play a part in the Panthers’ miracle run to the 1995-96 Stanley Cup Finals, where he attracted the irk of then-rookie Ed Jovanovski. Much like Lindros, he was drafted first overall; unlike Lindros, he signed with the team that drafted him. The two would square off in the Eastern Conference semifinals, where the upstart Florida Panthers-postseason neophytes in their third year of existence-would do battle with the Lindros-lead Broadstreet Bullies. The two had a bit of a feud brewing; Lindros cross-checked Jovo at the end of Game 3, sparking a brouhaha as the tilt winded down and adding to a growing list of chirps and pleasantries between the two. Jovo and the Cats however, would have the last laugh; the mean rookie would deck Captain Complain-o and ignore his feeble attempts at retaliation, as the Panthers would shock the favored Flyers en-route to their Only Stanley Cup Finals appearance.

Note-they were swept by the Avalanche. It’s funny how things work sometimes.

 

4. The Goal

Billy Lindsay is just a nice dude; a veteran of 777 NHL contests and the relatively unbiased yin to Steve Goldstein’s homer yang on the Panthers’ TV commentating squad, the 103rd overall pick of the 1991 NHL draft (BY THE QUEBEC NORDIQUES) would go on to be selected by the Panthers with the 38th pick of the 1993 NHL expansion draft. He’s pretty much as OG as you’re going to get in South Florida hockey. I met the guy once, too. Super buena gente. I’d let my future daughter date a dude like him (lolnotreally).

Anyhow, as do most nostalgia-packed trips down memory lane with the team go, the ’96 Panthers were slated to face the 5th seeded Boston Bruins in the opening round of the postseason. Entering a decisive Game Five, Lindsay-a player of 83 career goals-scored the goal above, clinching the series for the Panthers. The playoff victory over the B’s became the Cats’ first playoff series win, and sparked a playoff run that blahblahblahyouknowwhathappensnext.

 

3. THE ACTUAL PLAYOFF RUN.

Remember that one time we won a Conference championship? Remember when we’d actually hit people and actually fight and ACTUALLY PLAY HOCKEY?

Yeah, me neither. I was barely a human the last time we did that. The Macarena and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony were in the Billboard 100 the last time that happened. Now, maybe if Bone Thugs played at Jovo’s birthday party

 

2. Return to the Promised Land (Sorta…)

Look at that…rats falling from the sky like a demonic hailstorm, actual people filling the seats. Hockey was alive in South Florida for the first time in a decade, snapping the longest playoff drought in the history of professional hockey. Ten long years of sporting impotence amounted to the single biggest catharsis that the BB&T Center has ever seen; competing in the postseason for the first time since the 1999-2000 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Dale Tallon’s free-agent Frankenstein roster-fresh off of gaining the franchise’s first Southeast Division pennant-went head-to-head against the Zach Parise-led New Jersey Devils, the same team that swept them out of the playoffs and into the dustbin of hockey purgatory back in 2000.

Holding home-ice advantage, the Cats would take the favored Devils to within a goal of the Conference semis; erasing an early 2-0 deficit on home-ice, the Cats’ heroics plunged the game into overtime.  The first 20 minutes passed; it all came crashing to a close following an additional 3:47. In double-overtime of the conclusive Game Seven, Adam Henrique would scoop up a loose puck from the left face-off circle, skate towards the slot and unleash a wrister that would beat Jose Theodore five-hole.

I was there. I almost cried. Beer rained down to the ice surface from the rafters, as the shocking realization dawned-I had school the next day. I got home at 2:00 AM, and promptly failed a Chemistry quiz hours later.

 

1. RATS ON RATS ON RATS ON RATS

The story’s been engraved into the psyche of the Panther fan over the course of decades; prior to the squad’s home opener, forward Scott Mellanby was alerted to the presence of a rat in the locker room. As good hockey players tend to do, Mellanby wound up and cranked a one-timer, stepping into a shot that rifled the rodent against the wall, killing the furry bastard instantly. Using that same stick, Mellanby scored two goals, prompting goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck to dub the occurrence “the Rat Trick”. The following game, a lone fan threw a fake rat onto the ice following a Panther goal.

It all snowballed from there.

Fellow fans keyed in on the action of a solitary fan; what began as a singular raindrop culminated into a bonafide thunderstorm of plastic rodents each time the Panthers dented the twine. Defining the Cats’ Cinderella run to the ’96 Stanley Cup Finals (AGAIN WITH THIS), each Panther goal on home-ice was met with a plasticized barrage of the creature, often forcing opposing netminders to seek shelter in their net-mouths. The tradition, though increasingly rare, has become a symbol of playoff hockey in South Florida, and one of the more unique exhibitions of audience participation in the realm of professional sports.

Dante Alighieri once said that “There is no greater sorrow than to recall a happy time when miserable”. I don’t know Mr. Inferno, have you seen us play lately?

Alex Lopez

Alex Lopez

Ridiculously injury-prone Business Administration major who tries to row, enjoys writing, digs rap, appreciates Chance The Rapper a tad bit too much, and loves the Florida Panthers. Spirit animal-Left Shark. Once set a food challenge record at some diner in High Springs, Florida. "Nice beard, dude"-Chadwick Stokes, Dispatch. Also enjoys long walks on the beach, guacamole and doing everything "for the bois".
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