Today Florida takes to the ice to play their final game of the 2014-2015 season. In honor of their much improved year we have been counting down the top five moments from this campaign. From a night honoring a 43 year old legend to the first NHL goal of a 19 year old’s career, this season has been full of memorable moments. While all the events on the top five list were impressive none of them come close to the historical 20 round shootout that took place against the Washington Capitals on December 16th, 2014.
#1 – A Shootout For The Ages
The Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers entered the game on December 16th thinking it was going to be just another typical contest against former SouthEast Division foes, boy were they wrong. After regulation ended tied 1-1, with goals from forwards Troy Brouwer and Darek MacKenzie, the teams would head to overtime and eventually the shootout. Florida sent out their SO regulars, Jonathan Huberdeau, Nick Bjugstad, and Brad Boyes, while Washington used Eric Fehr, Nicklas Backstrom, and Evgeny Kuznetsov. The first three shooters for each team could not get the job done, so the shootout went to sudden death, for a record breaking 20 rounds.
Panthers forward Nick Bjugstad would get his second chance in the SO after both teams used all of their players. With the game on his stick Bjugstad came in and fired the puck past Washington goaltender Braden Holtby, giving Florida a win in the longest shootout in National Hockey League history. Don’t take our word for it though, just click the video below and enjoy the full length SO, courtesy of the NHL YouTube channel.
We cannot wait to see what memorable moments the Panthers create during the 2015-2016 season. How about a 30 round shootout? Florida is game if Washington is.
Making a statement against top tier clubs is important in the development process of any young team. The Florida Panthers made many of the NHL’s elite clubs take notice to the fact that they are a group on the rise. Florida beat plenty of the league’s top teams this season, but moment number two on the countdown focuses on two identical victories against the same organization.
#2 – Panthers Roast The Ducks x2
The Anahiem Ducks will finish 2015 as one of the top teams in the National Hockey League heading into the Stanley Cup playoffs. While their regular season was a successful one they have two large blemishes on their record, thanks to the Florida Panthers. Anahiem was defeated by Florida 6-2 at home on November 16th and 6-2 at the BB&T Center on February 10th. Two identical scores against one of the best clubs in the West.
Nick Bjugstad stole the show in Anahiem, registering two goals and two assists for his first career four point game. At home in February it was Jonathan Huberdeau’s time to shine, picking up three assists in the second 6-2 victory against the Ducks. The more glaring stat is that Florida as a team outscored Anaheim 12-4 in these two games. As long as the Panthers continue to improve and can build off their success they will start to be mentioned in the conversation of elite clubs.
Moves like Jagr
Maybe the fountain of youth is in Florida after all. Jaromir Jagr, The 43 year-old “Kid from Klando” has gone above and beyond the expectations that many set for him when he first arrived in south Florida just days before the NHL trade deadline. Though he was held of the score sheet in his Panther debut on February 28th against Buffalo, Jagr immediately made a tangible impact on Florida’s young core. He hasn’t looked back. In the 14 games he has played so far, he has 12 points. More importantly, in those same 14 games, his young line mates have benefited from his wisdom both on and off the ice. Jonathan Huberdeau (4G, 12A – 16P) and Alexander Barkov (5G,5A – 10P) both look like completely different players, and most of that is due to the sheer presence that a player of Jagr’s caliber brings.
399 and counting….
Roberto Luongo returned to the ice last week after a six game absence due to an upper body injury. He has picked up points in four out of his five starts (going 3-1-1) and has looked solid throughout most of those games. His most recent outing against Toronto earned him his 399th career victory, putting him one shy of the 400 mark. Roberto would like nothing more than to hit the 400 mark, and he couldn’t have picked a better time to do it, as what many are calling the single most important game of the season (thus far) looms large in Boston tomorrow night.
Nick Bjugstad has been a workhorse this season for the Florida Panthers; spending time on the top 2 lines and seeing regular shifts on the power play. He’s matched up against top-tier talent a nightly basis and has posted career highs in goals (24 – team high) and points (43 – second on team). Unfortunately, those numbers will both stay where they are at as it was announced earlier this week that Bjugstad underwent successful season-ending surgery to repair a nagging lower back injury. His presence will be sorely missed as Florida makes its final push to the playoffs with just six games remaining in the regular season.
The Road Ahead
As the season winds down, the points only become more valuable. Losing in overtime or the shootout, and beating teams you are chasing in extra time no longer suffice. Florida (85 points, 10th place) picked up a big win on Sunday against Ottawa (86 points, 9th place), winning in regulation 4-2. It will need to carry that same momentum into this week against division rival Boston (89 points, 8th place). Though the Panthers clawed their way to a 2-1 shootout victory over the Bruins in a thriller at the BB&T Center in Sunrise last week, they will need to take both points home in regulation if they want to gain any ground in the frenetic race for the final wild card spot. The puck drops tomorrow night at 7:00.
I am not going to bother writing a game recap or summary because we all know what happened. The Florida Panthers, a team that was suppose to finish dead last in the Eastern Conference based off opinions of the NHL media, forced game seven into double overtime before losing to New Jersey. That same National Hockey League media also called the Panthers a bunch of outcasts. Well those outcasts, the 2012 SouthEast Division Champions, certainly did well for themselves, right Mike Milbury?
This article is not intended to be all about how the talking heads were completely wrong abut this team, even though they were. This post is being made to personally thank each and every member of the Florida Panthers organization, except for Michael Yormark, for making this the best season of hockey I have ever witnessed. I have been around this team for a very long time, since 2001 to be exact, and have seen just how poorly they used to play. Dale Tallon, Kevin Dineen, and the rest of the management and coaching staff built a team that, win or lose, worked hard every single night. Tallon and Co. put together a team built around character and we witnessed that during every game, practice, and event that the players were involved in.
The most important thing to remember after tonight Panthers fans is that this is just the beginning. Florida has one of the best prospect groups in all of the National Hockey League with youngsters like Jonathan Huberdeau, Jacob Markstrom, and Nick Bjugstad fine tuning their skills in the minors while waiting for their shot to crack the lineup. The Cats will also welcome back the majority of this year’s SouthEast Division winning team for the 2012-2013 NHL season. Barring any major trades that means players like Tomas Fleischmann, Erik Gudbranson, and “Mr. Panther” Stephen Weiss will be on the roster when the puck drops for game one of next season.
Finally I would like to thank everyone, even the bandwagoners, for coming out to the BankAtlantic Center and making our house rock for games one, two, five, and seven. The atmosphere inside the BAC was absolutely electric, especially in game seven, and it is all because South Florida believed in their hockey team again. Now remember, those of us who have been there for years expect each and every one of you to come back for the 2012-2013 season, so do not let us down.
Be sure to keep coming back to Sunshine State Hockey throughout the rest of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs and during the off-season. We will continue to share our opinions and report the latest news about the National Hockey League and more importantly the Florida Panthers.
It’s that time once again where we stop and take a look at what all of the other great hockey sites out there have to offer. Being that it’s August the news isn’t really that exciting but we are sure there is something decent to read. Also do not forget that there is less than five days remaining before the sign up period for the SSHL ends, so be sure to register before it’s too late.
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