Currently sitting in 2nd to last place in the Eastern Conference with a ticket to the draft lottery in their near future, I understand that it can be hard for even the most rabid Panthers fans to stay interested at these times.
Your team is losing, your parking spots are being taken by snowbirds, and McDonalds stopped serving breakfast five minutes after you arrived. All of these things and more can add up to giving you an overall sense of disinterest in things that once brought you joy – including hockey.
While things may look grim now, I urge you to please take a moment to listen to reason as to why it’s too early to jump ship.
However, if you’ve already given up on Panther programming in favor of a “Toddlers and Tiara’s” marathon on TLC, then please stop reading now and jump out of the nearest window.
Now before you think I am terrible, please realize that there are very few tall buildings in Florida, so hopefully our jumpers will walk away with nothing more than few bruises and a lesson learned.
For those of you left standing, here are five reasons to stay tuned into the Florida Panthers for the remainder of the 2013-14 season.
What Can Bobby-Lou Do For You?
An amazing twitter personality off the ice and an even better goaltender on it, veteran netminder Roberto Luongo can steal a game for the Panthers on any given night.
Although the team has lost two of his three starts since returning home to South Florida, Luongo has still shown flashes of brilliance even in defeat. If you need an idea of just what Luongo can do for the Panthers, check out the highlights from his 2-0 shutout victory over the Buffalo Sabres on March 7.
Stopping all 25 shots he faced that night, Luongo was able to give the Cats their first shutout in nearly two years and bolster his already franchise-leading total to 28 career shutouts while wearing a Panthers sweater.
While a shutout cannot be expected from Bobby Lou every night (I mean he’s not Jesus, right?), he does always put the team in a position to win, no matter the opponent.
However, if quality goaltending isn’t enough to keep you entertained, then just chug a few beers and let the “Louu” chants rip. I promise you that you will have a good time.
Speaking of stealing games, the Panthers find themselves in the unique position to play the role of spoiler in almost every game they play down the stretch.
In fact, over the last month of the season the team takes on a bevy of playoff bubble teams that includes the Vancouver Canucks, Phoenix Coyotes, New Jersey Devils, Ottawa Senators, Dallas Stars and many more. While the Panthers may no longer be able to punch their own ticket to the playoffs, they can however have a direct effect on who will and will not be playing hockey come June.
While these games will mean nothing for the Panthers in the standings, a majority of their opponents will be fighting for their playoff lives.
What could be more satisfying than watching the Panthers knock the Devils out of a playoff spot only to hear the trite, but inevitable question of “did you overlook the Panthers?” posed to Devils coach Pete DeBoer after a loss in Sunrise.
The Bjug-Start of a Great Career
There’s nothing like your first time – especially in hockey.
After a two point performance last night, Panthers rookie center Nick Bjugstad now has nine points (2-7-9) over his last nine games played and shows no signs of cooling off. While some might say (wasn’t going for an Oasis quote there but I’ll take it) that one player isn’t a big enough reason to hold their attention, take a moment to think about your favorite NHL veterans.
No matter how great a player becomes, or how long their NHL career drags on, we never seem to forget their firsts. First goals, first hat-tricks, first games, these moments seem to stick in our memories as if they were our own personal achievements.
Although Bjugstad has already had his fair share of NHL first’s already, moments like his first hat-trick and game-winning goal are still yet to happen.
When you look back 10 years from now as a grizzled 32-year-old Bjugstad is carrying the Panthers through a playoff run, do you really want to say you missed these moments?
Tro-Check Him Out
The Panthers biggest chance at another Calder Trophy next season, rookie Vincent Trocheck is already making waves in Sunrise as he gets his first taste of the NHL.
A former OHL MVP and gold medal winner at the 2013 World Junior Championships, Trocheck has brought a stellar resume and even better work ethic to a young Panthers team looking to make noise down the stretch.
Earning abundant amounts of ice-time through is first four games with the club, Trocheck is being given every opportunity to lock up one of the team’s four coveted center spots heading into next season.
Although he has yet to tally a point, Trocheck’s greatest contribution thus far has been his outstanding play in the face-off circle where he has won over 50% of his draws in three of his four games played.
“Face-offs are one of the things that I’ve been big on my entire life,” said Trocheck. “To be able to come to the NHL level and continue to produce in the face-off circle it kind of gives me a sense of confidence to go out there and have that in the back of my head that I’m going to win this draw and that definitely helps.”
With several talented young centers already on the roster, the question of where Trocheck will line-up next season will certainly be a hot topic of discussion throughout the summer as fans meticulously piece together their ideal lines for the 2014-15 season.
Learning up on Trocheck now and watching his development game-by-game will certainly give you an edge in this discussion over “that guy from work” who swears he knows more about hockey than you.
Beat The Bandwagon
As someone whose lived in South Florida for the past 10 years, I can honestly say that the only automobile you see more than a white BMW is a bandwagon. A symbolic vehicle that chases athletic success around South Beach with as much fervor as the paparazzi chase Kanye West.
Currently parked right outside of the American Airlines Center where the NBA’s Miami Heat have won back-to-back championships, the bandwagon will soon make its way to Sunrise as the Panthers’ rebuild comes to fruition in the near future.
Soon, the BB&T Center will be packed with people who think Stephen Weiss is a type of foreign cheese and Scott Mellanby is just “that guy from that thing”.
Ticket prices on Stubhub will go up as fan’s hockey knowledge in the building goes down.
Now more than ever, passionate Panthers fans need to stake their claim to the team that they love so dearly before the bandwagon rolls into Broward County.
Thanks for reading and we welcome your thoughts in the comments section below!
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