The Florida Panthers are an NHL franchise in the Southeast Division of the Eastern Conference. Florida joined the NHL in 1993.
Florida was one of the most successful expansion teams in NHL history. In their first season, they barely missed the playoffs and were a single win away from finishing over .500. While the Panthers would miss the playoffs again in the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season, they continued to play solid hockey, behind the goaltending of John Vanbiesbrouck.
In 1995-96, they made the playoffs, and earned home-ice advantage in the first round, where they quickly defeated Boston. In the second round, they faced the 1st place Philadelphia Flyers, and eliminated them in 6 games. After a thrilling seven game series win over Pittsburgh in the Conference Finals, Florida advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals in only their third year of existence. The magic ran out for the Panthers, however, and they were swept by Colorado. Florida would return to the playoffs the following year but were eliminated in the first round.
During the amazing 1995-96 season, fans would often throw rubber rats onto the ice. This tradition began when star center Scott Mellanby killed a rat in the locker room before a home game, and went on to score two goals in that game. During the playoff run, the ice surface was often littered with literally thousands of rubber rats.
After two poor seasons, Florida acquired superstar Pavel Bure in 1999. Bure would help the Panthers reach the playoffs again in 2000, but they were again knocked out in the first round. Bure began to fade towards the end of his career and was dealt to the New York Rangers in 2002. Florida had picked up a few more stars in the meantime, however. Canadian Roberto Luongo was one of the best at his position, before he was traded to Vancouver in 2006. The Panthers also drafted star defenseman Jay Bouwmeester in 2003, and he remains on the team today. Finnish center Olli Jokinen was the team captain and leading scorer for a number of years, but was traded to Phoenix in the 2008 offseason. Florida has not made the playoffs since 2000.
The Panthers currently play out of the Bank Atlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida.
Stanley Cups won: none
Notable Players: Todd Bertuzzi, Jay Bouwmeester, Pavel Bure, Valeri Bure, Nathan Horton, Olli Jokinen, Ed Jovanoski, Viktor Kozlov, Roberto Luongo, Scott Mellanby, Rob Niedermayer, John Vanbiesbrouck, Tomas Vokoun, Ray Whitney, Richard Zednik