It was raining rats in Florida on Thursday night.
Ask and you shall receive has to be the lesson learned from the Florida Panthers’ fan giveaway on Thursday.
Prior to the team’s game against the New Jersey Devils at BB&T Center, the Panthers were just asking for trouble by distributing 10,000 rubber rats out as a fan giveaway. And boy did they get it.
The quirky marriage between the Panthers and rats, both living and of the rubber variety, was popularized during the 1995–96 season. That year, the Panthers made a Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup Final in just their third year of existence, using an early-season run-in with a rat as a rallying cry. The story goes that before the team’s home opener on October 8, 1995, the team’s leading scorer at the time, Scott Mellanby, used his hockey stick and struck a rat that had invaded the team’s dressing room at the since-demolished Miami Arena. After the incident received national media attention, Panthers fans began littering the ice with hundreds of rubber rats in celebration, with an especially memorable outpouring during Game 3 of the 1996 Stanley Cup Final.
Back in the 1990s, the appearance of rats eventually became so prevalent after Panthers goals that the NHL eventually began instituting a minor penalty on the home team if even a single rat was thrown on the ice. The same rule was issued to regards to Red Wings fans throwing octopus on the ice at home games. The ruling largely killed the tradition, although the legend of the rat has remained an integral part of Panthers lore.
History repeated itself on Thursday, when after Jonathan Huberdeau scored to give the Panthers a 2–1 lead 3:13 into the third period, as the giveaway rats came raining down on the ice, just like they used to in 1996. The Panthers were given a penalty, with fans ignoring an earlier warning to not throw rats, that was issued after Huberdeau scored Florida’s first goal of the night a period earlier.
Jaromir Jagr very upset in Panthers locker room about officials and NHL penalizing team b/c fans threw rats on ice— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) April 1, 2016
The Devils didn’t score on the power play and Florida went on to win 3–2, moving past the Tampa Bay Lightning for sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Division.
Although when it comes to the rats, there’s an interesting stat to consider.
The original rule banning rats from being thrown on the ice at Florida Panthers games came following the 1996–97 season. At the time, the Panthers had won three playoff series in their first four years of existence, a very large amount for an expansion team.
Florida has not advanced in the playoffs once in 19 years since the rat-ban rule was instituted.
Do rats equal playoff success for the Panthers? Perhaps we’ll find out this spring.