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We could state how long its been since the Panthers last won a playoff series — almost 26 years on the calendar, 25 NHL seasons played plus one lost to the 2004-05 lockout by NHL owners.
But, let’s show you by skating by some of the changes in South Florida life since June 1, 1996, the night of the Panthers’ 1996 Eastern Conference Final’s Game 7 victory over Pittsburgh, and Friday night.
Names and places
The Panthers played in Miami, but not in Miami-Dade County. You read that correctly.
Miami-Dade County was just “Dade County” until November 1997. People in unincorporated Dade County called “Metro-Dade” police or fire rescue.
And unincorporated Dade County covered more land than unincorporated Miami-Dade County does now. Municipalities that have incorporated since the Panthers won the right to go to the 1996 Stanley Cup Final: Cutler Bay (2005), Doral (2003), Miami Gardens (2003), Miami Lakes (2000), Palmetto Bay (2002), Sunny Isles Beach (1997).
Unincorporated Broward included the current cities of Southwest Ranches (2000), West Park(2005) and Weston (September 1996).
We’re talking not including private schools, charters or schools that require you apply for admission. We’re talking about you-live-in-the-area, walk-in-and-learn-something-for-free public schools that weren’t open when Tom Fitzgerald’s blue line, line change slapshot nicked off defenseman Neil Wilkinson and beat Pittsburgh goalie Tom Barrasso for the Game 7 game-winning goal.
Added to Miami-Dade high schools lineup since then have been Cutler Bay (2012); Ferguson (2003); Varela (2000); Hialeah Gardens (2008); Krop (1998); Mourning (2009); Doral Reagan (2006); Hialeah Westland (2008);
In Broward, Pembroke Pines Flanagan was two months from opening. Since then, Coral Springs Coral Glades (2004), Weston Cypress Bay (2002), Miramar Everglades (2003), Coconut Creek Monarch (2003) and Pembroke Pines West Broward (2008) have opened.
Sports arenas, stadiums, teams
Between the moment Johan Garpenlov’s 2-on-1 shot plopped behind Barrasso to clinch the Panthers 3-1 Game 7 win on June 1, 1996 and Carter Verhaeghe’s overtime goal Friday night, buildings and stadiums have appeared, disappeared and so have franchises.
Major League Soccer’s first try in South Florida that played in Broward, the Miami Fusion (1998-2001) and the WNBA’s Miami Sol (2000-2002) came and went. Serious puckheads remember the single season of the East Coast Hockey League’s Miami Matadors (1998).
As for home venues, the Panthers, Heat and University of Miami men’s basketball played at Miami Arena, the Dolphins and Marlins at what was called Pro Player Stadium, UM football at the Orange Bowl and FIU men’s and women’s basketball at Golden Panther Arena.
The Dolphins and the FIU basketballs are in the same places, albeit with different names and some renovation done.
Otherwise, the groundbreaking for FLA Live Arena was still four months into the future, the day of the Panthers 1996-97 season home opener, and the Panthers moved there in September 1998. The Heat moved a few blocks east to what’s now FTX Arena in January 2000. UM men’s and women’s basketball got their on-campus home in January 2003.
Where stood the Orange Bowl until 2008 now stands Marlins Park, where the Marlins moved in 2012.
FIU football didn’t play anywhere except the dreams of a few FIU students and alumni. FIU’s football program didn’t exist. Neither did Florida Atlantic’s football program. Nor, for that matter, did the University of South Florida’s, up in Tampa. UCF was months away from its debut as a Division 1-A program after years as a 1-AA program.
The Panthers won that Game 7 in Pittsburgh Civic Arena, “The Igloo,” one of five arenas in which the Panthers played in those 1996 playoffs. Only Boston’s TD Garden, then called the FleetCenter, remains and it was in its first season of operation as the home of the Bruins.
The other arenas, Miami Arena (2008), Philadelphia’s The Spectrum (2010-2011), The Igloo (2011-2012) and Denver’s McNichols Arena (2000) aren’t only out of use, but out of existence, demolished in the years above.
In the NHL, three franchises have moved, two with roots in the World Hockey Association, the same as the Colorado Avalanche nee Quebec Nordiques. The Winnipeg Jets moved to Arizona and renamed themselves the Coyotes (perhaps a nod to the “Roadrunners” nickname carried for decades by Phoenix teams in the WHA and minor leagues). And, the Hartford Whalers moved to Carolina, where they were renamed the “Hurricanes.”
The third franchise that’s changed addresses is among the six that had yet to drop their first puck the last time the Panthers won a playoff series. The current Winnipeg Jets began life in 1999 as the Atlanta Thrashers.
The year before, 1998, the Panthers beat the Nashville Predators, 1-0, in the Preds’ franchise premiere. The Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets joined the NHL in 2000. After the longest stretch without expansion since the Original Six era, the league added the Las Vegas Golden Knights in 2017 (and they broke all of the Panthers’ first season success records) and the Seattle Kraken this season.