It took 901 games, and 4,395 calendar days, but the Florida Panthers playoff drought is finally over, as they clinched their first playoff spot since Bill Clinton was President Thursday night.
Florida last played in late April during the 1999-2000 season, where they were swept in the first round. by the New Jersey Devils, who were en route to a Stanley Cup. At the time, gas was $1.60 per gallon, the world was still getting over the Y2K scare, and the nation was locked into the Elian Gonzalez saga.
Even the Panthers arena had a different name at the time, the National Car Rental Center. It would later become the Office Depot Center before turning into the BankAtlantic Center that fans know it as today.
Yes, a lot has changed over the past 10 years, including the Panthers team, which has not one single player from their last playoff appearance on it.
Even more amazing, the Panthers didn’t even have to win the game in order to clinch. They got a little help from their friends in the City of Brotherly Love.
Panthers players, staff, and fans all owe Matt Read a hand for his efforts, as he scored the game winning goal for the Philadelphia Flyers in their 2-1 defeat of the Buffalo Sabres. Since Buffalo lost in regulation, they were officially eliminated, and both the Capitals and Panthers saw the good news flash on the scoreboard as with that outcome both teams clinched their spots in the playoffs.
Everyone was a winner tonight in Washington.
“I don’t care (about the loss),” forward Stephen Weiss said. “I couldn’t care how it happened. All you got to do is get in, and anything can happen.”
Weiss was selected fourth overall by the Panthers in 2001, and played in 636 regular season games before clinching his first playoff spot Thursday.
“We got some help, but we put ourselves in that position,” General Manager Dale Tallon said. “I’m so proud of our players and staff for sticking with it. They gave their hearts and soul to this. This came from within. The character of this group is second to none. It’s been a real eventful year. They all believe in one another. They deserve this.”
Tallon helped mold this team together. Last season, he dismantled the team at the trade deadline, only to bring in veterans like Brian Campbell, Kris Versteeg, Tomas Fleischmann, and Jose Theodore this offseason.
“It’s been a long 10 years,” Weiss said. “You wonder if you’re doing the right thing [staying in Florida]. At the end of the day, it’s worth staying. It’s worth trusting [Tallon]. There’s a lot of good years to come here.”
Florida still has work to do. If they get a point on Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes, they will clinch the Southeast Division for the first time in franchise history. While the banner would be a nice addition to the rafters at the BankAtlantic Center, it is still a good consolation that the Panthers finally have an X by their name, and will not be making their tee times for at least the next couple of weeks.
INSIDE HOCKEY WILL HAVE RECAPS ON EVERY FLORIDA PANTHERS PLAYOFF GAME DURING THE 2012 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS