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Radek Dvorak: Still Bringing It For Florida Panthers

Dvo96 Radek Dvorak never wanted to leave the Panthers, and had the team not needed a goalie so desperately, it's possible he may not have been moved all those years ago.

Dvorak was drafted by the Panthers in 1995, was part of the team that went to the Stanley Cup Finals and spent parts of five seasons with Florida before he was sent to the Rangers during the 1999-2000 season. The Panthers had just lost goalie Trevor Kidd to a shoulder injury, and to get veteran netminder Mike Vernon, Florida general manager Bryan Murray had to give up Dvorak.

Even though he spent seven years away from the Panthers, he always had a soft spot for the team. So, when then-general manager Jacques Martin called with an offer to the free agent in the summer of 2007, Dvorak jumped at the chance to come home. Dvorak signed another two-year deal in 2009.

On Tuesday in Toronto, Dvorak will tie Olli Jokinen for second on the franchise all-time list when he plays in his 567th game as a Panther. Dvorak will then be seven games away from passing Robert Svehla (1994-2002) to become the all-time leader.

Aside from playing with the Panthers and Rangers, Dvorak also spent time in Edmonton and St. Louis. He helped the Oilers reach the Cup Finals in 2006.

“Nine years, right? Time flies,'' Dvorak said. “There have been some ups and downs, but this year has been good so far. We've been playing hard, lets hope it continues. When I was traded for the first time, I hoped right then I could come back. The first few months after I left, I really wanted to come back. Then you just deal with it.''

Of the current players with playoff experience, Dvorak is the only one to experience the postseason with the Panthers.

“Making the playoffs here was unbelievable. We really did own this place,'' Dvorak said, smiling widely. “The fans, the attention. We were playing good hockey and it was great. We made it the next year and the same thing. It was special. It's something I'll never forget. This town can go crazy for hockey. This was the best place in hockey during the playoffs. I loved those rats. They gave us so much energy.''

Dvorak has shown he's a lot more than a living history lesson of Panthers hockey. Dvorak seems to be recharged this season, his three goals tied for the team lead. Two of those goals were the difference-makers in wins against Calgary and the Islanders.

In his previous three seasons with the Panthers, Dvorak has hit five game-winning goals in 224 games. Dvorak's career-high in game-winning goals is five. That came in his rookie season in 1995-96 when he helped the Panthers advance to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

“He's a consummate professional,'' coach Pete DeBoer said. “Like Bryan McCabe, he still loves the game, comes to the rink with a smile on his face. After that many years in the league, he understands his role and is accepting of it. To me, he's still one of the best third line guys in the league. He has the wheels, kills penalties, scores some big goals.''