UNIONDALE, N.Y. – Saturday marked the 16th anniversary of one of the most storied moments in Panthers history. On Oct. 8, 1995, Scott Mellanby scored a pair of goals in an opening night win against the Flames at Miami Arena. He also one-timed a rodent into a wall.
And so the 'Rat Trick' was born, a starting point for the young franchise's magical season.
The Panthers are much older now, the rubber rat throwing craze of the 1996 playoffs a fading memory to those old enough to even remember it. But after how the Panthers dominated the Islanders in a 2-0 victory in the season opener Saturday, one wouldn't be surprised to find out one of the furry inhabitants of the Nassau Coliseum ended up on the business end of a hockey stick this night as well.
“It was a good team win,'' said defenseman Ed Jovanovski, a rookie on the 1995-96 team. “It was real good.''
The new -- and they hope drastically improved – Panthers closed out a strong first period with goals from Stephen Weiss and Jason Garrison to grab a two lead.
That was all new goalie Jose Theodore needed.
The Panthers, with 14 different players in the 20-man lineup from last year's opener, clicked on all levels. Florida's defense was strong, keeping the Islanders from driving inside for much of the night and allowing Theodore to take it easy for long stretches. When Theodore was challenged, the 35-year-old who looked shaky during the preseason was solid.
Florida's new offensive scheme, which allows for more creativity as opposed to keeping/dumping the puck in the offensive zone, looked crisp. The Panthers kept pressure on goalie Max Montoya for much of the night.
“We have a new feel, a new season and a new look,'' said coach Kevin Dineen, a winner in his NHL coaching debut. “You have transition and you want a good feel coming in. The outcome of the game is important, but I liked the way these guys played. There was a real commitment throughout the lineup. Everyone had to participate.''
After a feeling out process in the first half of the opening period, the Panthers got down to business later in the period as the game grew chippy.
Florida took a 1-0 lead when Campbell rifled off a hard shot that hit Montoya and slipped behind him. Weiss charged in and popped the still puck into the empty net.
David Booth drew a pair of penalties on Mike Mottau in the period, the second of which helped the Panthers get the second goal. With Mottau in the box, Kopecky was driven into the Islanders net, Montoya landing on top of the Florida center.
After a few moments of no movement, a few Islanders tried forcibly removing Kopecky. Upshall didn't take kindly to that and fought Travis Hamonic.
The Islanders defenseman was charged for fighting and roughing, giving Florida a 5-on-3 opportunity.
Even though Upshall was kicked out of the game after being given a game misconduct for not strapping down his jersey – which flew off during the fight although he said it ripped off the hook – the Panthers came out on the better end of the deal.
With two extra attackers, defenseman Jason Garrison ripped off a shot from 30 feet out, the puck striking the top of the net as Booth served as blocker.
Garrison's shot gave Florida a 2-0 lead and a power play goal in the second opportunity of the season. It took the Panthers four games to get such a goal last season as Florida's power play was historically bad.
Not only was the Panthers 13.1 percent success rate last in the league, the 35 goals were a franchise low for a full season.
“We had a good couple weeks of practice and were all on the same page,'' Theodore said.
-- The shutout was Theodore's 31st of his career. Theodore has shutout the Islanders six times, more than any other opponent. He has blanked Pittsburgh and Carolina four times apiece.
-- The Panthers are now 8-7-3 in season-openers – but won for just the third time in 11 tries when opening outside South Florida. Florida, 4-3 in openers in the post-lockout era, tries for its first 2-0 start since 2005 when they visit Pittsburgh on Tuesday.