Cats vs. Pens: A History Lesson (Inception-1997)
After the Panthers visit to Steel City, you'd think these two have been locked in bloodsport for 20 years - and you'd be right.
In the Panthers' inaugural season of 1993-94, they faced the Penguins four times, going 0-3-1. In their first ever matchup, on October 12th, the 1-1-1 Panthers dropped a 2-1 decision to the 2-2-0 Pens. Marty McSorley and Scott Levins squared off for the first fight between the two clubs, each earning a five-minute major. Joe Mullen and Martin Straka lit the lamp for Pittsburgh, who earned the win in front of 23 saves from Ken Wregget. The only Panther who solved him was Scott Mellanby. John Vanbiesbrouck stopped 27 shots in the loss. * Box Score
Each of Florida's three losses to Pittsburgh that year were by one goal. The Cats finished the season with an expansion record 83 points on a 33-34-17 record.
For the shortened 1994-95 campaign, the Penguins faced Florida four times, splitting the series with two games each. The Panthers earned their first win ever against Pittsburgh in their seventh try, with a 2-0 win in Miami Arena on March 26th. Stu Barnes and Jesse Belanger beat Wendell Young, and Vanbiesbrouck stopped all 24 Pittsburgh shot attempts in the win. Paul Laus and Francois Leroux each earned a game misconduct for a scrap in the second period. * Box Score
In Florida's next try, they earned another win. They had their last game of the season visiting Pittsburgh on May 3rd, and took a 4-3 result into the offseason. Jason Woolley had a goal and an assist, while Gaetan Duchesne, Bill Lindsay, and Scott Mellanby also lit the lamp for the Panthers. Beezer made 30 saves. * Box Score
Florida faced the Penguins another four times in the 1995-96 regular season, taking one win against three losses. They tasted success only on January 29th, as Rob Niedermayer had a goal and an assist on a Gord Murphy marker. Mark Fitzpatrick earned the win by turning aside 23 shots in the 2-1 triumph. * Box Score
So, going into their first ever postseason, the Panthers had a 3-8-1 record against the mighty Penguins. As fate would have it, the two ended up squaring off in the Eastern Conference Finals. And if you haven't already, do yourself a favor and watch the following biopic.
Dave Lowry ended up leading the Panthers with three goals and seven points through the series, while Vanbiesbrouck started and finished every game, going 4-3 with a .938 save percentage and a 2.01 GAA.
1996-97 would see the Panthers again split the four game series with Pittsburgh. Florida (9-1-4) won their first match against the Pens (4-9-1), 4-2 on November 9th. Johan Garpenlov and Scott Mellanby each posted a goal with two assists in front of Fitzpatrick, who stopped 22 Penguins shots. Radek Dvorak and Rob Niedermayer also potted markers for the Cats. * Box Score
The regular season would close for the Panthers with their second win against the Penguins. Kirk Muller and Ray Sheppard each had a goal and an assist, Robert Svehla dished out two helpers, and Jody Hull and Rob Niedermayer also lit the lamp in a 4-2 victory. Vanbiesbrouck turned aside 31 shots, allowing markers to only Mario Lemieux and Petr Nedved. * Box Score
The Panthers earned their second postseason berth in a row, but lost in five games to the New York Rangers in the first round.
Florida regressed to 24-43-15 in 1997-98. Even though it was their worst season to date, for the first time they won the season series with the Penguins, 2-1-1. On October 4th, the 0-1-0 Panthers faced off in Pittsburgh against the 1-0-1 Penguins, and took a 5-3 victory. Dave Gagner scored a hat trick, Paul Laus and Gord Murphy each had two assists, and Jody Hull and Bill Lindsey each also scored goals. Vanbiesbrouck made 27 saves on the night. * Box Score
By the time April rolled around, the Panthers were well out of the playoff hunt. On the 5th, the 22-40-12 Panthers hosted the very much alive 37-21-17 Penguins, escaping with a 3-1 victory. Johan Garpenlov, Kirk Muller, and Robert Svehla had goals for the Panthers, Radek Dvorak had two assists, and Kirk McLean earned his third win for the Panthers by making 33 saves. McLean was only the third Panthers goaltender to earn a win for the franchise. * Box Score
The Panthers will face off against the Penguins for the second time in three days tomorrow, and will travel back to Pittsburgh for the series closer on February 22nd. For now, though, keep it here at LBC for updates on tonight's action.