As the Florida Panthers take on the Philadelphia Flyers Saturday, the organization and the city is celebrating and looking back at the team’s 1996 playoff run that took them all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.
Alumni and former coaches — Sportsnet’s Doug Maclean, for one — and staff are in town to commemorate the 20-year anniversary.
It was only the third season for the expansion Panthers who were led by Maclean, a first-year head coach at the time. He took over for the legendary Roger Neilson who had instilled a strict, defensive system. Maclean added a touch of offence and the team was off to the races.
The closer you look at the run, the more and more improbable it seems. The competition was staggering. First, the Panthers had to go through Ray Bourque, Adam Oates and the Boston Bruins — which they did in five games. That series was capped off by what’s known as “The goal”, scored by Bill Lindsay who had been claimed by the Panthers from the Quebec Nordiques in the 1993 expansion draft.
That was Hall of Famer Bourque sprawled out in desperation.
Next, it was the heavily-favoured Flyers who boasted the Legion of Doom line in their prime, led by Eric Lindros. Enter first-overall pick Ed Jovanovski, or JovoCop. The young heavyweight tailed Lindros for most of the series, pasting Lindros to the boards or the ice. The Flyers would make the Cup final themselves in 1997, the following season.
Then, in the Eastern Conference final, the Panthers faced several more Hall of Famers in a Pittsburgh Penguins squad that featured Mario Lemieux and, that’s right, one Jaromir Jagr — now a Panther himself.
Colorado Avalanche in the Stanley Cup finals. (AP Photo / George Widman)” width=”100%” height=”3000″ /> Florida Panthers goalie John Vanbiesbrouck, right, shakes hands with Pittsburgh Penguins Jaromir Jagr after game 7 of their Eastern Conference playoff series in Pittsburgh, Saturday June 1, 1996. (AP Photo / George Widman)
Lemieux and Jagr finished first and second in league scoring that season with, wait for it, 161 and 149 points repsectively. Yeah.
It took seven games to topple the Pens but it may have been the high point for the Panthers that season. Next were the Colorado Avalanche and the Stanley Cup final, a series Florida lost in four straight.
Count the Hall of Famers again: Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Patrick Roy. The odds were against the Panthers once more, and while the Avs crushed them 8-1 in Game 2, the last two games were one-goal contests. The final game, a triple overtime tilt knotted at 0-0, ended with goaltenders Roy and John Vanbiesbrouck combining for 118 saves.
A third-year club built in an expansion draft did all of this. Captain Brian Skrudland, veterans Scott Mellanby, Dave Lowry, Rob Niedermayer, Stu Barnes, Tom Fitzgerald and more. Oh, and an assistant coach by the name of Lindy Ruff.
Colorado Avalance goalie Patrick Roy is resigned to a barrage of rats thrown by fans after the Florida Panthers scored a goal in the first period of the 3rd game of the Stanley Cup Finals in Miami Saturday, June 8, 1996. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
What a run.