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2021 NHL Playoffs: An Exciting Matchup In The Year Of The Rat

Both Florida Hockey Teams And The NHL Playoffs

It’s still hard for me to except the fact that the Florida panthers and the Tampa Bay lightning are both NHL hockey teams residing in the state of Florida. We are known as “the sunshine state“ and it just doesn’t seem right that we have not one, but two ice hockey teams. That said, the Tampa Bay Lightning are now the two-time NHL Stanley Cup champions and are currently working on their third. The Florida panthers were the winningest expansion team in NHL history? Explain that.

Florida Hockey Back In The Day

I was there back when the Florida Panthers fans used to throw rubber rats on the ice (see explanation later in the story) and the Tampa Bay Lightning had to figure out how to keep their ice frozen because it would melt during the latter part of games during their inaugural season. I watched the upstart Florida panthers get all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals and the Tampa Bay Lightning win their 1st cup against Calgary. As I said before, it’s still hard to believe they’re both franchises in Florida.

A 2021 Florida Playoffs Matchup

Steven Stamkos (91) of the Lightning celebrates the first goal for Tampa Bay scored by Valtteri Filppula (51) NHL Hockey: 2015 Stanley Cup Final – Chicago Blackhawks vs. Tampa Bay Lightning Game 5 Amalie Arena/Tampa, FL 6/13/2015 X159705 TK1 Credit: Marc Serota

I had the opportunity to attend game two of the first round of the Eastern conference Stanley Cup playoffs between the Florida Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Panthers were down 10 after losing in a thrilling overtime game 5 to 4. The game began with a lot of defense and then a couple of quick goals towards the end of the first period.

After a non-scoring second period, the Panthers came out with a fury and relentlessly attacked Tampa’s goalie as he appeared to stand on his head making one save after another. Eventually, the Panthers snuck one past and made it to 1 goal game. The Panthers had several opportunities in the third period to score, but it ended 3 to 1 after an empty netter. The Panthers were unable to get the equalizer even thought the pressure was on.

Rats On Ice In 1996

So here is my explanation of the rats on the ice. In 1996 when the Florida panthers made it all the way to the Stanley Cup finals, they were playing in a very old building in downtown Miami (they currently play in a relatively new building in Sunrise, Florida.) Their team captain, Scott Mellanby, had had several opportunities to get a hat trick during the season.

After a close 2-1 victory, he spotted a rat in the locker room, during a press conference. Mellanby quickly slap shot the rat into a locker, killing it. Then Panthers goalie, John Vanbiesbrouck, said “he scored a rat trick“ and the legend was born. For the rest of that season every time a goal was scored, the fans would throw down rubber rats onto the ice.

It got so bad that the Orkin pest control company became a sponsor. They started handing out white hardhats to all the photographers, cameramen and workers around the glass who could potential he be hit in the head with these heavy rubber rats coming from the upper deck. During the NHL playoffs that year, vendors could be seen outside the arena selling rubber rats in a scene that could best be described as war of the worlds.

NHL Games And COVID-19 In 2021

The one major take away I had from the game was that the NHL has dealt with COVID-19 very similar to the NBA but seem to have much better results when it comes to fan participation and attendance. The NHL arena was a lot smaller but had a much better vibe. There were many more fans and these fans also seem to have much better knowledge of the teams, the game and the situation they were in.

nhl playoffs

Both buildings required facial coverings, social distancing and plenty of mask police. Along with the social distancing efforts, there was an abundance of hand washing signage. It did appear that the NHL venue was a lot more trusting of the fans but still cautious. In other words, I didn’t feel like I had to be constantly afraid of something about COVID every step of attending the game/event. This was much different than my 2021 NBA experience.

Either way it’s great to have sports back, and I hope as the COVID-19 conditions across the country and the world improve, so will the efforts to make live sports get back to normal.

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About The Author
Marc Serota
Marc Serota
As a Portrait photographer Marc Serota has lensed iconic athletes and celebrities for CORBIS and GETTY as well as major brands such as Sports Illustrated, ESPN, the NBA, NHL and the NFL. Serota is a renowned award winning photographer having logged 25+ years with news agencies such as REUTERS, Getty Images, The Associated Press and UPI shooting the biggest entertainment, news and sports stories from the early 1990’s to the present. Marc has covered numerous Super Bowls, Olympic games, NHL Stanley Cup’s, NASCAR races, ATP and PGA events. Visit Marc's website: marcserota.com
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