Bank Atlantic Center the site of NHL Playoff hockey? Yes you heard right. For the first time since 2000, the Florida Panthers made it to the postseason and playoff hockey returned to South Florida! It got off to a rocking start Friday night when the New Jersey Devils came to town for Game 1. This was my first playoff game ever so I was very excited to see what the atmosphere would be like. Would it be better or the same as regular season games? No contest.
Just walking onto the tarmac outside the BAC, there were a lot of people and a host of activities to participate in. People were antsy to get inside, some getting in line an hour and half early. Each fan received a red rally towel as they entered. As a fan who always watches warm-ups, I can say on Friday night there were many more people surrounding the glass watching them. Not only were there tons of signs in support of the team but some fans were already waving the red rally towels. As soon as the players hit the ice for warm-ups, it struck me that we’re actually in the playoffs and this is all really happening.
I can honestly say the attendance for both Friday and Sunday night’s game was incredible. The upper level sections were basically filled and certain sections in the lower bowl were full as well. As soon as the pre-game video began, it became even more real. The crowd rose to their feet as the Panthers came out onto the ice. The BAC has never been this loud. Cheering, cowbells, vuvuzelas, rally towels and all. The building was electric and a “Let’s Go Panthers” chant broke out right at puck drop.
On Friday night’s game the officiating was, well, below average. The most obvious blown call was a high sticking double minor 4 minute penalty on Shawn Matthias. Watching the replay, it is more than obvious, that it was not high sticking whatsoever nor did it call for 4 minutes. The fans reacted quick as a “Ref you suck” chant broke out. That chant would repeat itself throughout the night along with booing on some other questionable calls.
While the Panthers lost Friday night, they knew they needed to come away with a win on Sunday night. Again, the BAC was packed with an attendance over 19,000. The energy level of the fans was up– right from the beginning. The Panthers scored 3 goals to go up 3-0, but New Jersey would make it tight as they scored 2 early in the third making it a 3-2 nail biter. However, the Panthers would remain strong and Tomas Fleischmann would get an empty netter ending the game 4-2. The most amazing moment was right at the end when rats poured down on the ice. There were triple the amount of rats on the ice that are normally thrown after regular season home victories. That moment gave me chills. Yeah, I was only 3-4 years old when the rat tradition began, but knowing the history of it and now being able to throw my own rat, was special. The players have also all come to love the tradition and even take a few into the locker room after victories.
So regular season home game vs playoff home game. HUGE difference. You don’t feel awkward being the only one in your row screaming “let’s go Panthers” because everyone participates. You feel the intensity, excitement, passion and pure enjoyment of the game. To all the people who have made comments about the Panthers not having real fans, I invite you to come to a playoff game and see for yourself the dedicated and passionate fans we have here in South Florida.
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