Over the coming days, The Rat Trick will take a look back at the 10 regular season wins that played the biggest part in shaping the 2011-12 Florida Panthers season. There were many moments over 82 regular season games that stand out but, in our estimation, these wins played the biggest part in reviving a franchise that had been given up for dead by many. And if you agree or disagree with the choices, one thing the entire Panthers fanbase can agree that it is much more fun looking back on a season that ended with a playoff berth than the past 11 years without one.
Even before the reworking of the franchise on July 1, the Panthers had already announced that the slogan for the 2011-12 season would be “We See Red”. Included in the campaign was a plan to redecorate the Bank Atlantic Center with the color red being the central theme. The green seats in the lower bowl were removed and replaced with red ones. Walls and poles inside the arena that were once painted green or beige were given a few heavy duty coats of red. Even the card stock on season tickets were bathed in the color. But the centerpiece of the campaign was a return to the red sweaters which disappeared completely after the 2007 season (even at that time, they were the team’s alternate jersey after being replaced by the navy blue dominated sweater). Despite a glimpse of it on the back of first round pick Jonathan Huberdeau at the NHL Entry Draft in June (and in person at the team’s official draft watch parties in Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach Gardens), the club did their best to keep it out of site until the home opener against the Tampa Bay Lightning on October 15. During the preseason, the alternate “Jet Blue” sweaters were worn at home and, on this night, even during pregame warm ups it was kept somewhat of a mystery as the team took to the ice for pregame warmups in white sweaters and socks. It wasn’t until the opening night video had played and Dmitry Kulikov strolled onto the ice during the full team introductions did fans get a full look at the revamped uniforms head to toe.
One of the footnotes of this game was the regular season return of Ed Jovanovski to the Panther lineup and he wasted little time reintroducing himself to the home folks with a power play goal midway through the first. It was Jovo’s first goal as a Panther since New Year’s Day 1999. While it was a homecoming for Jovanovski, it was the home debut for his season-long defense partner, rookie Erik Gudbranson. It took a little more than 30 minutes of hockey for the 2010 first round pick to endear himself to the home crowd as the took on Bolts pest Steve Downie, who was initially looking for a dance with Jovocop but instead got the kid (credit to Downie for not going down after taking some big shots). Not only did Gudbranson collect his first NHL fight but also his first 19 minutes in penalties.
Tampa’s Marc-Andre Bergeron seemed destined to ruin the night for the Panthers. Both of his goals tied the game in the third period, including one that erased some late-game heroics from Kris Versteeg.
This game would also be the first of many that ended in a shootout. Marcel Goc scored the only goal in the skills competition to give the home side the 3-2 win. Both of those facts are important to remember as the Panthers wouldn’t score another shootout goal or win a shootout until 12/16/11 against Calgary.
Like in our #10 game, it’s difficult to say that game number three of the season was a big win but, in addition to beating their in-state rival (who came within one goal of the Stanley Cup Final the previous season), they served notice to the home fans that the changes promised in the offseason weren’t just lip-service.
This was the my recap the following day.
The countdown so far:
Game #10: 10/8/11 vs NY Islanders
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