Back-and-forth action, a little adversity, maybe even an unexpected surprise. A little back story does not hurt either.
The Florida Panthers have played 1,558 regular season and playoff games to this point, and although few have been high-stakes contests, the Panthers have had their share of memorable ones.
There have been major triumphs, such as Florida capturing the Eastern Conference championship; amazing individual performances such as Olli Jokinen’s six-point game; even personal triumphs such as Ed Jovanovski’s comeback following major hip surgery.
Florida has had its share of quirky incidents, too, including Keith Ballard taking out goaltender Tomas Vokoun with an errant stick to the head, or Ed Belfour mocking the Carolina Hurricanes with his dramatic diving performance directed at referees.
We narrowed the list of five Florida Panthers games that stand out for their excitement and result. These five cannot be missed.
5. NOV. 10, 1993 — FLORIDA 3, MONTREAL 1
For an expansion team still trying to find its way, the Panthers’ first trip to Montreal could not have been more intimidating.
Playing at the hallowed Montreal Forum, simply looking up at the rafters had to be humbling. The championship banners alone outnumbered the Panthers on the ice. But in the present, Florida was set to face future Hall of Famer Patrick Roy and the defending Stanley Cup champions. Montreal entered the contest one game removed from a seven-game unbeaten streak.
The Panthers played even with the Canadiens through the first period. Rookie Rob Niedermayer put Florida on the board with three minutes to play in the opening 20.
Quebec native Jesse Belanger would give Florida a two-goal cushion midway through the second, but Montreal’s Brian Bellows would erase that just 30 seconds later. Randy Gilhen restored the two-goal lead 49 seconds into the third.
But it was John Vanbiesbrouck who protected the lead, stopping 26 shots during the final two periods. He finished with 37 saves.
For a team initially not expected to be much of a threat during its inaugural year, Florida ended up dominating the defending champs that season. The Panthers would go on to capture the season series, finishing 3-0-1 against the Habs while outscoring them 19-9.
4. APRIL 17, 2012 — FLORIDA 4, NEW JERSEY 3
Florida’s return to the postseason in 2012 was, to say the least, a roller coaster. The Panthers found themselves overwhelmed in the first period of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, outscored 3-0 and outshot 26-9. Florida regained its composure in Game 2, building a three-goal lead and hanging on to a 4-2 win for its first playoff win since 1997.
The Panthers found themselves in disarray again when the series shifted to Newark for Game 3. New Jersey scored three goals in the first 6:16 of the contest and chased Jose Theodore from the net.
During a regular season game against New Jersey, Florida found itself in a near-identical situation. The Panthers rallied from a three-goal deficit and won in regulation — a first in team history. So why not repeat the feat in the playoffs?
Florida did exactly that, responding with four unanswered goals in a span of 10:23 stretching the first and second periods.
The Panthers’ comeback began with goals by Sean Bergenheim and Jason Garrison in the final four minutes of the first. Florida carried the momentum into the second. Mike Weaver’s goal 2:18 into the middle stanza led to Devils coach Pete DeBoer to lift future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur from the crease in favor of Johan Hedberg.
Brian Campbell put Florida ahead for good just over three minutes later.
Scott Clemmensen, who had just one playoff appearance — backing up Brodeur six years earlier — before this night, shut down New Jersey with 19 saves.
The victory gave Florida a 2-1 series lead. Florida would go on to lose the series following a 3-2 double overtime loss in Game 7.
3. FEB. 1, 2008 — FLORIDA 4, VANCOUVER 3 (SO)
Brett McLean tries to score against Roberto Luongo.
With so many players having come and gone through many rebuilding years, first visits back to South Florida often drum up interest. But none was anticipated than the return of Roberto Luongo.
Florida dealt the goaltender with Lukas Krajicek and a draft pick to Vancouver on June 23, 2006 for Todd Bertuzzi, Alex Auld and Bryan Allen in what many consider the worst trade in franchise history. By the time the teams met in Florida, Auld and Bertuzzi were no longer with the franchise.
The teams met the season following the trade in Vancouver — a 4-3 Canucks win — but due to NHL scheduling policy, it took a full year for Luongo to return to Sunrise.
When they finally did meet, a persistent Florida squad peppered Luongo with 43 shots. The Panthers overcame three one-goal deficits during the contest and forced overtime on Stephen Weiss’ goal with 6:14 left in regulation.
Nathan Horton, who scored earlier in the contest, provided the game-deciding goal in the shootout, while Tomas Vokoun stopped all three Canucks attempts.
Following the contest, Luongo expressed displeasure in the result, telling the Associated Press, "It’s an unacceptable loss."
2. FEB. 10, 2009 — FLORIDA 5, TORONTO 4 (OT)
The date sticks the minds of Panthers fans, not for what happened on this night, but what happened one year earlier.
During a game against the Buffalo Sabres on February 10, 2008, Richard Zednik suffered a life-threatening injury when the skate blade of Olli Jokinen came up high and slashed the winger’s throat. A terrified Zednik, clutching his throat, hustled to the bench. He required emergency surgery and lost five pints of blood. A matter of millimeters could have ended his life, but he survived with a distinct scar and returned to the ice the following season.
On the first anniversary of the day when Zednik relied on the heroics others, the winger stepped into the role for his teammates on ice.
Florida, which had never overcome a three-goal deficit and go on to win — in regulation or overtime — in its history, trailed Toronto 4-1 midway through the third period. Nathan Horton and Ville Peltonen started a rally with goals 2:35 apart. Zednik forced overtime by scoring on a rebound with 5:29 left in regulation.
That might have been enough for any Hollywood script, but Zednik did one better. He gave the Panthers the win by converting on a one-timer 62 seconds into the extra period.
A triumphant Zednik stood at the high slot, arms raised, to cap an incredible comeback for both the Panthers and the survivor.
1. APRIL 27, 1996 — FLORIDA 4, BOSTON 3
The goal that gave the Panthers the victory in this contest stands as the team’s greatest all-time after 20 years, so it is only fitting that the game in which it occurred tops our list.
The contest will always be remembered for Bill Lindsay’s game winner, but in fact it was a back-and-forth contest that could have swung the momentum against Florida in its Eastern Conference quarterfinals series against the Boston Bruins.
Florida entered Game 5 with a 3-1 series lead. But the Bruins slaughtered the Panthers 6-2 in their previous meeting on the road, and Boston was not keen on letting a third-year franchise slide past them in the postseason.
The Panthers took the a 2-0 in the first period lead thanks to goals by Brian Skrudland and Paul Laus. The Bruins rallied to square it midway through the second period. Florida retook the lead on Dave Lowry’s power play tally with less than four minutes to play in the second. But even that lead would not hold.
With five minutes left in regulation, Lindsay took a pass off the right boards and streaked up ice. He sped past Hall of Fame defenseman Ray Bourque and cut toward the net. In a last-ditch effort to break up the play, Bourque tripped the Panthers winger, sending Lindsay flying into the air. But No. 11 somehow managed to get one last whack at the puck while airborne and put it between goaltender Bill Ranford’s pads.
The highlight-reel effort stood, giving Florida the win and its first playoff series victory.
No one knew at that point Florida would advance to the Stanley Cup Finals that postseason. But it was Lindsay’s spectacular game-winner that capped an incredible game and added to Florida’s magical "Year of the Rat."