Tonight, the Panthers open their 19th NHL season at home against the Carolina Hurricanes. Florida hits the road soon after to face the Ottawa Senators Monday and the Montreal Canadiens a day later. The Canes will go on to host the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday and the Buffalo Sabres Thursday evening.
The last time these two met was April 7th in Sunrise. The Panthers finally clinched their first-ever Southeast Division title by jumping out to a three-goal lead and holding on for a 4-1 victory. Partial recap courtesy of NHL.COM:
The crowd of 19,057 at the BankAtlantic Center started doing the wave about midway through the third period.
The celebration had just begun.
As the clock reached :00, it was time for the plastic rats to start raining from the stands as the Florida Panthers congregated at their net to congratulate one another. The message on the scoreboard -- "Southeast Division Champions" -- said it all.
Marcel Goc and John Madden scored 2:45 apart in the first period and the Panthers wrapped up the first division title in franchise history by beating the Carolina Hurricanes 4-1 on Saturday night.
The Panthers have seemed destined for the division title for a while, having led the Southeast for 128 days, including the last 43. But it took them three tries after their magic number was cut to two points following Washington's 4-2 loss at Tampa Bay on Monday.
None of the players cared that it went to the last day after Florida blew a 3-0 lead at home against Winnipeg on Tuesday before losing 4-2 at Washington two days later.
The Panthers again built a 3-0 lead at home against Carolina, but didn't let it slip this time.
Afterward, Stephen Weiss talked about the title, the crowd, and finally making the playoffs:
"Pretty awesome. It's a surreal feeling. It hasn't been easy all year, and it wasn't easy tonight. That team pushed hard, but we found a way to win -- and win the division, which is what we wanted."
For more, check out our good pals at Canes Country.
Florida's last action was at home in the second overtime session of Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the New Jersey Devils. Here's NHL.COM with the recap:
The Panthers, showing the same kind of grit as they had through the entire series, clawed their way back from a 2-0 hole in the third period with a pair of power-play goals to square the contest and send the crowd of 19,313 into a state of delirium.
Florida pulled within 2-1 at 5:02 of the third when Weiss connected off a blast from the right circle with his team skating 4-on-3. The goal ignited the team and the fans and set the tone for a scintillating final 15 minutes of regulation.
"We've battled back all year," Weiss said. "It wasn't the prettiest start to the hockey game that we wanted, but we hung in there, drew some penalties, found a way to get back in the hockey game."
The Panthers, who held a 19-6 shot advantage in the third, evened the score when Marcel Goc pounced on a power-play rebound and snapped a shot over a fallen Brodeur at 16:32 -- 20 seconds after Marek Zidlicky was called for delay of game for flipping the puck over the glass. Sean Bergenheim took the initial shot from the top of the circle, and Goc hit a wide-open net after Brodeur made the first stop.
Florida netminder Jose Theodore spoke about it afterward:
"Always in overtime it's one shot away. We had our chances. We missed a couple, they missed a couple. But they capitalized on their last one."
Game Time: 7:30 P.M. EST
Odds: Cats by 1 1/2
All time Series: The Panthers have gone 39-38-22 throughout their history against the Carolina Hurricanes/Hartford Whalers franchise. The teams meet for the 100th time this evening.
Season Series: 0-0-0, first of four contests.
Florida Panthers: 0-0-0, .000, 0 points, tied for first in division, conference, and league. Last five: N/A, on pace for: N/A, Playoff chances: 53.3%
Carolina Panthers: 0-0-0, .000, 0 points, tied for first in division, conference, and league. Last five: N/A, on pace for: N/A, Playoff chances: 53.3%
LBC's Game Thread goes live at 7 p.m. (for you newbs, this is what we do when not at the game. Then again those actually at the game can chime in too via mobile).