Florida has played two games on this date through their history. Let's get right to it.
Our defending Eastern Conference Champions opened the 1996-97 season on the road against their 1996 Eastern Conference Semifinals victim the Philadelphia Flyers. In their fourth season, the Panthers were still looking for their first ever opening night victory (0-2-1). Florida was 4-7-3 all-time against the Flyers in the regular season. Recap courtesy of Beaver County Times:
John Vanbiesbrouck made 31 saves as Florida christened Philadelphia's new arena with a victory.
Brad Smyth gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead just 3:51 into the game when he was left all alone in front of Hextall on a rebound, Philadelphia's heralded rookie defenseman, Janne Niinimaa, missed tying up the Panthers' forward.
Johan Garpenlov and Scott Mellanby also scored for the Panthers, while Bill Lindsay dished out two assists. Ron Hextall only faced 19 shots, but allowed two goals to take the loss (Florida added an empty-netter late). Florida claimed that elusive first opening day win on their fourth try, taking a 3-1 Panthers victory. Florida would stay on the road, facing the New York Rangers in Madison Square Garden the very next night, while Philadelphia would remain at home, hosting the New Jersey Devils two nights later.
Florida came out of the extended offseason with Roberto Luongo steady in net. Having missed the playoffs by a full 16 points during the 2003-04 season, Florida hoped to erase the four season playoff drought. They opened the season at home against the Atlanta Thrashers, against whom Florida had a 8-10-8 lifetime record. The Thrashers were an expansion club, founded in 1999 (just in case you forgot them already).
SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) - Roberto Luongo's long break from hockey clearly didn't hurt his form.
Luongo made 34 saves for his 24th career shutout, and Nathan Horton and Lucas Krajicek scored in the third period to lift the Florida Panthers to a 2-0 season-opening victory over the Atlanta Thrashers on Wednesday night.
Luongo, who had seven shutouts and a league-record 2,303 saves during the NHL's pre-lockout season of 2003-04, made 10 stops during a 5-minute shorthanded stretch during the third period, holding up a 1-0 lead and ensuring coach Jacques Martin's debut on the Panthers' bench was a winning one.
``He's the best goalie in the league right now,'' Panthers captain Olli Jokinen said. ``He's been top three in the past few years and he showed everyone tonight that he's the top one. With a goalie like him, we have a chance to win every night. And finally, he's got a team in front of him that can win the games.''
Martin became the seventh straight Panthers' coach to win his debut; four of the last five new Florida coaches have been greeted with a shutout.
``Goaltending is a key in this business,'' Martin said. ``And a lot of times you're going to win with goaltending and specialty teams. If you win the specialty team part of a game, you really give yourself a great chance.''
The Thrashers - who lost starting goaltender Kari Lehtonen after one period with a groin injury, a different one than what bothered him for much of training camp - were without their best sniper. Ilya Kovalchuk, who shared the NHL lead with 41 goals in 2003-04, remains a holdout and is threatening to play in his native Russia.
``We have a lot of great players, but he's not here right now,'' Thrashers captain Scott Mellanby said. ``We believe we have a good team with what we have.''
Horton intercepted Mike Dunham's clearing pass along the right wing boards, then sent a quick shot deflecting off the Thrashers' goalie and into the net to break a scoreless tie 1:08 into the third.
``It hit the inside of my glove and squeaked through,'' Dunham said. ``That's a goal I have to have. No question about it.''
But the Panthers gave Atlanta a great opportunity to tie the game; defenseman Branislav Mezei drew a 5-minute major and a game misconduct for boarding with 15:26 left, and Sean Hill was called for hooking 15 seconds later to give the Thrashers a two-man advantage.
``It was huge. We had just taken the lead and we had to come up with a big kill,'' Luongo said. ``And the boys did a good job.''
With 3:34 left, Krajicek took a cross-ice pass from Kristian Huselius and sent a wrist shot past Dunham for a power-play goal.
Hockey's new scoring friendly rules - including bigger offensive zones and allowing two-line breakout passes over the center line - were in effect. But teams were scoreless for the first 41 minutes, combining for only 34 shots and few quality scoring chances through the first two periods.
And when Atlanta tried to get rolling, Luongo was at his best.
``He was the dominant factor in this game, no doubt,'' Atlanta coach Bob Hartley said. ``The one thing we could have done was get in front of him better. But we moved the puck well, made some great decisions. But we couldn't finish.''
So, Florida has posted a 2-0-0 record on October 5th, with one shutout. Not too shabby. Make sure you stay tuned to Litter Box Cats through the lockout for all your pertinent NHL news.