Panthers Begin New Era With Win

Sixteen years to the day after Scott Mellenby’s famous “rat trick” helped propel the Florida Panthers toward their most memorable season in team history, the Panthers looked to make new history. José Théodore stepped up to the challenge, shutting out the New York Islanders 2-0 in front of a sellout crowd at the Nassau Coliseum.

After allowing 12 goals in two preseason starts, Théodore earned his 31st career shutout by stopping all 27 shots he faced in his Panthers regular season debut.

Offensively, the Panthers were strong in the first period, and kept the pressure on the entire game, putting 29 shots on Islanders netminder Al Montoya, who is still fighting with Rick DiPietro to be the team’s full-time starter in net. After Mike Mottau tripped David Booth 13 minutes into the game, the Panthers were stopped on their first power play.

Minutes later, Brian Campbell came in with a hard shot on Montoya just inside the point. The save was made but the rebound went right to Stephen Weiss, who scored the Panthers’ first goal of the season. Campbell and Tomáš Fleischmann were credited with assists on the play. It turned out to be all the Cats needed.

Late in the period,Tomáš Kopecký found himself bowling into the Islanders net, pinned down under Montoya. While two Isles were rushing in the Panthers end, the defensemen held Kopecký down and Travis Hamonic knocked his helmet off. This prompted Scottie Upshall, who was hovering around the net, to drop the gloves. Both offenders earned fighting majors, and Hamonic was tagged with a roughing penalty, putting the Panthers up two men. Upshall saw his Panther debut end early. He was caught without a fight strap, which he said was hooked away from his girdle. The referees showed no mercy and Upshall was handed a game misconduct.

Florida kept the pressure on up two men, and scored their first power-play goal of the season just 26 seconds later at 19:45. Defenseman Jason Garrison let go a hard slap shot that found its way in the net. Campbell and Kris Versteeg earned assists on the goal.

The win comes 16 years after the Panthers won their 1995-96 home opener. According to Panther lore, a rat scurried across the Florida locker room. Mellanby reacted by “one-timing” the rat against the wall, killing it. Mellanby scored two goals that night, with goalie John Vanbiesbrouck calling it a “rat trick”. Florida won that game 4-3 over the Calgary Flames. They advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals that season for the first and only time in franchise history.

This offseason, the Panthers tried to recreate the magic of that season, bringing back fan favorite Ed Jovanovski, who was a rookie that season. They also brought back the popular red jerseys, which can be seen in may photos from the 1995-96 season.

It may be a while until the Panthers start talking playoffs again, but this win is a big step in the right direction. Florida will play one more road game before the revamped roster makes its home debut on October 15.

CAT BYTES

  • Florida named their assistant captains Thursday. Weiss, Campbell, Jovanovski and Kopecký wore the A on their sweaters on opening night. As of now, Kevin Dineen has not named a captain.

THREE STARS

1) Jose Théodore

2) Brian Campbell

3) Stephen Weiss

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