Florida played five games on this date through their 18 seasons of history, including one season opener, in New Jersey. How did our Cats play? The recaps start now.
Fresh off their inaugural matchup, a 4-4 tie with the Chicago Blackhawks the prior night, the Panthers visited the Blues at the Joe Louis Arena in St. Louis, for their home opener. The breakdown, courtesy of the NY Times.
Brendan Shanahan scored three goals, including the tie breaker early in the third period, as St. Louis opened its season by beating Florida.
Shanahan scored once on the power play, once while both teams were a man short and finished his third career hat trick with an empty-net goal from his knees with 1:11 to play.
It wasn't such a night to remember for two other Blues' stars, though.
Brett Hull injured his spleen and was taken to a hospital for precautionary tests. Goalie Curtis Joseph survived getting run over by Bill Lindsay after Lindsay's backhand shot with 28 seconds to go in the second period. There was no penalty on the play.
Scott Mellanby scored a goal and an assist, while Gord Murphy and Scott Levins added a goal apiece. Jesse Belanger, Brian Benning, Evgeny Davydov, and Alexander Godynyuk each earned one assist. Mark Fitzpatrick took the loss, allowing four goals on 31 shots. Craig Janney and Phil Housley added goals for the Blues.
Florida opened their third season on the road in New Jersey against the defending Stanley Cup Champions. It was also the night that the Devils raised the Stanley Cup banner before the contest. The Panthers were owners of a dreadful 1-5-2 all-time record against New Jersey. The NY Times recap:
The memory of the Stanley Cup triumph was fresh for the Devils and their fans. Just three months and 13 days after they paraded the coveted trophy around the ice amid pandemonium at the Byrne Meadowlands Arena, the Devils raised their first Stanley Cup banner in the south end of the arena here this afternoon.
"I had water in my eyes," Coach Jacques Lemaire said of the Stanley Cup banner-raising ceremony that took place before a sellout crowd of 19,040. "Certain times you have things that you just can't describe."
The electrifying atmosphere seemed to inspire the Devils, who opened the new season in grand fashion with a 4-0 triumph over the Florida Panthers. The Devils played solid defense all around and presented Martin Brodeur with a shutout, something the young goaltender didn't accomplish last year until the 20th game of the season.
In the excitement, it was difficult to remember that only a few short months ago the Devils had threatened to leave the state for Nashville.
The crowd started to gather around the sports complex early today despite the light drizzle. There were tailgate parties and roller hockey games in the parking lots surrounding the arena. Unlike years past, this crowd was a Devils crowd, with the bright red jerseys of the home team decorating the stands.
Moments after the banner was raised, Patrick Warburton, the actor who portrayed a fanatic Devils' fan in a segment of the "Seinfeld" television show, was called upon to drop the puck. With his face painted in Devils red and black, the native of nearby Paterson dropped the puck, then stripped the Brodeur jersey he was wearing to display the letter D on his chest. It was an instant and popular replay of his "Seinfeld" segment, which is often shown on the scoreboard screen over center ice.
John MacLean escalated the crowd's frenzy by scoring 5 minutes 47 seconds into the game, and Bobby Holik scored 29 seconds later.
MacLean later added another goal and Stephane Richer scored an empty-netter for the Devils, who took 32 shots against John Vanbiesbrouck. They allowed just 17 shots and Brodeur, who made an unexpected start, was never seriously threatened in earning his seventh career shutout.
"I was a little surprised," Brodeur said of getting the start after reporting to camp only a week ago following a contract dispute. "All my game action was scrimmage for 10 minutes last week. But my teammates played a good game in front of me."
Indeed, they allowed only seven shots in the last two periods, making it a rather easy day for Brodeur, who won three games against the Panthers last season, one reason Lemaire decided to start him instead of Chris Terreri today.
"There were a lot of things I looked through before I made the decision," Lemaire said. "The first thing was to win the game with the best players possible."
Brodeur said: "I felt a little scared that I'd be tired in the third. I was a little pumped, though, because the banner went up. When you know you're part of it, it's special."
But Lemaire wasn't going to let his team dwell on the celebration. Asked to compare this season's start with last season's, when the Devils were winless until the fifth game, Lemaire said: "I don't remember last year. It's over."
Florida would head to home ice (still Miami Arena at the time) to host the Calgary Flames the following night. The Devils would have to wait until October 12th for their second game, a home matchup against the Winnipeg Jets.
The 0-2 Panthers, fresh off a home opener they'd rather have forgotten (a 3-0 loss to the New York Islanders) the prior night, visited the 0-1 Tampa Bay Lightning (also losers to the Islanders). Florida was looking for a bright spot, and they found it in the form of a shutout by goaltender Roberto Luongo. Florida had a 24-9-7 all-time advantage over their closest geographic rival. The recap, again courtesy of the NY Times:
Roberto Luongo recorded his seventh career shutout, and Jason Wiemer had two goals and an assist as Florida beat host Tampa Bay.
Luongo had 28 saves, including one on an in-close chance by Fredrik Modin during a four-minute power play in the second period.
Goals by Valeri Bure, at 3:35, and Wiemer, at 9:10, gave Florida a 2-0 lead in the first period.
Dan Boyle and Ivan Novoseltsev also scored for the Panthers, while Viktor Kozlov and Paul Laus pitched in with two assists each. Nikolai Khabibulin allowed all five goals on 37 shots in defeat. Florida would return home to face the Ottawa Senators on October 10th, while the Bolts hit the road, next facing the San Jose Sharks on October 11th.
The Panthers, 1-0 behind Roberto Luongo's 24th career shutout, a 2-0 win over the Atlanta Thrashers, hosted the 1-0 Tampa Bay Lightning two nights later. At this point, Florida had earned a 28-17-11 record against Tampa Bay. The NHL.COM recap:
After two games, Roberto Luongo and the Florida Panthers are perfect.
Luongo made 27 saves for his second straight shutout and Juraj Kolnik broke up a scoreless game with 2:27 left Friday night, leading Florida to a 2-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Luongo hasn't been dented yet this season, having shut out Atlanta on 34 shots in the season opener on Wednesday. He is picking up right where he left off before the lockout.
``In both games, we had clutch goals in the third period,'' Luongo said. ``We were able to hang on and play well defensively. That makes my job a lot easier.''
During the 2003-04 season, Luongo set NHL records for most saves (2,303) and most shots faced (2,475). No goalie with more than 50 starts had a better save percentage than Luongo's .931, and he was fifth in the league with seven shutouts.
It was the 25th career shutout for Luongo, who has gone 127 minutes, 11 seconds since allowing a goal.
``This is the way we went to keep playing. We want to keep getting the key goals and put the points on the board. That's how we're going to make the playoffs,'' Luongo said.
The defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning were facing Luongo for the first time, but they will see him seven more times this season including Saturday at home.
``He's one of the top goalies in the league, no doubt,'' Tampa Bay center Vincent Lecavalier said. ``I don't think he's surprising anyone with how good he is.''
John Grahame was nearly as good as Luongo. He made 30 saves but couldn't deny Kolnik, who helped send the Lightning to their first loss of the young season.
Jozef Stumpel sent a shot from the left point that kicked off the boards and floated to the right circle where Kolnik was waiting. Kolnik's one-timer went over the top of Grahame's shoulder and into the net.
Panthers captain Olli Jokinen finished the scoring with an empty-net goal with 1:27 left.
``It was a good hockey game, an exciting hockey game,'' Panthers coach Jacques Martin said. ``It went back and forth and we had some good chances at the end. We are using the depth of our bench, and it seems that everyone is contributing.''
Lightning coach John Tortorella didn't pin the loss on Grahame, who has been solid in two games. Instead, he pointed to too many chances given up defensively, and some sloppy play while handling the puck.
``The top two lines for us not only didn't create anything, but they gave up a lot of rushes, and that's a problem,'' Tortorella said. ``Overall, the chances were pretty even, but when you have chances being taken by your third and fourth lines, and your top two lines are giving up chances, that's not good.''
The Lightning had decent scoring opportunities but couldn't solve Luongo.
``Some of the times we didn't get the puck deep enough, and then we got caught,'' captain Dave Andreychuk said. ``They had some 3-on-2s, and that's something we need to cut down on. But it was a 0-0 game until the end, so we had as many chances as they did.''
Florida's defense was superb, and even when there were a few lapses Luongo held his ground.
``We played tight defense, and Louie's on the net making saves,'' Jokinen said. ``I knew we'd get a couple chances. Kolnik's goal was the same kind Nathan (Horton) scored in the first game. You have to shoot the puck quickly, and you never know. That was kind of a lucky goal but we'll take those.''
The two teams would face off again the following night in Tampa Bay.
Florida was hot on the heels of an 8-3 home opening victory over the Boston Bruins the prior night, while the Thrashers were 0-0-1 after a shootout loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on October 5th. Florida was 11-14-9 against Atlanta. The NHL.COM recap:
Slava Kozlov added a goal and two assists for the Thrashers, who lost a 3-2 shootout to Tampa Bay in their season opener on Thursday night.
"The first game we played good in the first period, but we did not in the other two," Hossa said of the opener in which the Thrashers scored two first-period goals then went scoreless.
"Tonight we knew we had to play a full 60 minutes. We did everything right tonight and Kari was awesome."
Lehtonen, in his second season, earned his fourth career shutout.
"That's always great (getting a shutout)," he said. "The hard thing is to get this out of my head and focus on the next game."
Atlanta opened the scoring on a goal by Jon Sim only 6:54 into the game, beating Florida goalie Ed Belfour on a 30-foot blast from the right circle. Bobby Holik made it 2-0 on short-handed goal when he put a shot between Belfour's legs at the 13:39 mark.
Hossa and Kozlov then took over the scoring in the second period.
Kozlov scored front up close on a perfect pass from Hossa only 1:33 into the period. Hossa then made it 4-0 on a power play at 6:45 when he tipped in a nice pass from Ilya Kovalchuk in front of the net.
Panthers coach Jacques Martin replaced Belfour with Alex Auld, who was in goal for Florida's 8-3 season-opening victory over Boston on Friday night. Belfour had only five saves against the Thrashers, missing both shots in the second period before being lifted.
"I have no excuses. I just have to play better," said Belfour, a 41-year-old free agent who played with Toronto last season. "I thought I had a good warmup, but obviously that didn't carry over to the game."
Hossa then added his third goal of the season and second of the night on another power play with a wraparound goal, sneaking it past Auld at 14:27.
Andy Sutton scored 5:44 into the third period to give the Thrashers a 6-0 lead.
Lehtonen, limited by injuries to only 39 games last season as a rookie, made his toughest save with an outstanding stop on a shot from Todd Bertuzzi at point-blank range in the opening period. He's 6-1 against Florida with two shutouts.
Atlanta, which led the league with 58 power-play goals last season, had two against Florida.
The verdict? Florida has posted a 2-3-0 record on this date through history, with two Luongo shutouts and two opposition blankings. Make sure to keep checking back here for all your Cats news, and stop by tomorrow for another dose of Panthers history.