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2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs

The Florida Panthers Have a Strange History in Carolina

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Gerard Gallant gets into a cab outside PNC Arena on Nov. 27, 2016, after getting fired as coach of the Florida Panthers following a 3-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes and replaced by general manager Tom Rowe. Assistant coach Mike Kelly, to Gallant’s left, was also fired by the Panthers. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker, File)

The Carolina Hurricanes moved into a new arena in 2000 and, for the most part, it has been a House of Horrors for the Florida Panthers.

From Gerard Gallant and the infamous taxi cab to Keith Yandle losing a mouthful of teeth, some strange things have gone down in Raleigh for the Panthers over the years.

Oh, and the Panthers have not won too many games there.

Carolina plays host to Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals on Thursday night and will be looking to continue holding a nice home ice advantage on the Panthers.

Since PNC Arena opened in 2000 — it was then called Raleigh Entertainment & Sports Arena before being renamed the RBC Center in 2003 — the Panthers have won just 16 out of their 57 games played there.

None of the Panthers on this team were around during the dark days of Florida-at-Carolina hockey so a lot of this is ancient history.

Florida, it should be noted, is 6-1 on the road in these playoffs; Carolina is 5-1 in Raleigh.

“I don’t feel that because I am new,” said Florida coach Paul Maurice, who coached the Hurricanes from 1997-03 and again from 2008-11.

“I don’t have that expectation or experience. You have a really good team and a loud building. That’s what I know of them.”

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Florida and Carolina were both in the Southeast Division from 1998-2013 and played as many as eight times per seasons.

Carolina won a lot of those games, especially during the 2000s.

The Hurricanes struggled upon arriving in North Carolina from Hartford in 1997 and played their first seasons in Greensboro which was 90 miles away from Raleigh.

The franchise started to turn around upon moving into its permanent home.

From 2000-13, the Panthers went 9-26-2 with 2 ties in Raleigh and had at one point lost 13 straight games there.

The end of the Panthers’ drought is one Eric Staal remembers very well. And for good reason.

On March 4, 2008, Florida played in Carolina’s regular-season finale. By beating the Panthers, Carolina would win the Southeast Division and advance to the playoffs.

The Panthers lost goalie Tomas Vokoun to back spasms after the first period but Craig Anderson stopped 26 of 28 shots in the final 40 minutes and Florida held on for a 4-3 upset win.

Carolina could have still won the division had Florida won in Washington the following night, but the Panthers felt their work was done and lost 3-1 to the Capitals.

Washington won the division and took the final spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs; Carolina’s season was over.

Staal scored one of Carolina’s goals as it outshot the Panthers 46-17 but never could get the lead back after Florida led 2-1 after the first period.

“That one stung,’’ Staal recalled on Monday. “So, there are some good memories for the Florida Panthers in that one. It was the opposite for me being on the other side. It was win-and-in, we took 50 shots and Anderson was outstanding.”

That was one of the rare good memories the Panthers had during that era.

Even though Florida ended up winning some games in Raleigh over the years, Carolina was still a strange trip for the Panthers.

In 2008, before Florida ended its season with the win against the Hurricanes, coach and general manager Jacques Martin and Olli Jokinen got into a disagreement leading to a closed door meeting.

At the end of that season, Martin was fired as coach — but retained as GM — and traded Jokinen at the draft.

Randy Sexton, who replaced Martin as team GM in 2009, ripped into his team following a disjointed 4-1 loss in Raleigh and promised big changes at the trade deadline.

“It’s brutal, (expletive) brutal,” Sexton said.

Sexton then compared his team to the ‘Titanic.’

Never a good comparison.

The most memorable Florida moment in Raleigh, of course, came in 2016.

Gallant had upset team management the week of Thanksgiving as he made it clear he did not like the direction of the team. The Panthers made wholesale changes after winning the Atlantic Division and Gallant was less than thrilled with a few of them.

The Panthers beat the Blue Jackets in a shootout on a Saturday in Sunrise, then left for a long road trip which started in Carolina the following night.

Florida took a 2-0 lead in the first period but Carolina scored three times within a span of 3:28 in the second and held on for a 3-2 win. Florida dropped to 11-10-1.

Gallant spoke to the media following the loss then headed to the coaches’ room where general manager Tom Rowe was waiting. He had owner Vinnie Viola on the phone.

“You know I love ya,’’ Viola reportedly said. He then continued on.

Everyone knows what happened next.

Gallant and assistant coach Mike Kelly were fired, their luggage quickly taken off the team bus which was delayed in headed to the airport. As players murmured and tapped on their phones to find out what had happened, the bus left without their coach.

The Panthers have always maintained a private car service was called to take Gallant and Kelly to the airport but it did not arrive very quickly.

The Carolina equipment staff apparently called a local taxi service and that showed up first. They helped Gallant and Kelly load their gear into the yellow mini van as a photographer from the Associated Press and a local reporter took in the scene.

Almost three years to the day later, Yandle took a puck to the face that left a trail of blood and teeth as he skated off the ice and to the room.

“They were just stitching everything up inside and outside my mouth to try and stop the bleeding,’’ Yandle texted a reporter at The Athletic the following day.

Yandle ended up losing nine teeth due to the shot and missed the remainder of the second period.

But he was back for the third.

The Panthers still ended up losing 4-2 to the Hurricanes.

Florida is 0-1 in Raleigh this season.

“It is a great environment to play hockey in,’’ Staal said, “and you have to love that as a visiting player. We’re all pretty new here so any history there does not matter. It is all about this moment and these guys. They would say the same about coming down here. It is going to be a great atmosphere in Raleigh and here in Sunrise. Just looking forward to this.”

FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
PANTHERS (WC2) AT CAROLINA HURRICANES (MET1)
GAME 1
  • When: Thursday, 8 p.m.
  • Where: PNC Arena, Raleigh
  • TV: TNT
  • Radio: WQAM 560-AM, WPOW 95.6 FM2, WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
  • Series Schedule — Game 1: Thursday at Carolina, 8 (TNT); Game 2:Saturday at Carolina, 8 (TNT); Game 3: Monday at Florida, 8 (TNT); Game 4: Wednesday, May 24 at Florida, 8 (TNT); Game 5*: Friday, May 26 at Carolina, 8 (TNT); Game 6*: Sunday, May 28 at Florida, 8 (TNT); Game 7*: Tuesday, May 30 at Carolina, 8 (TNT). *If Necessary
  • Season Series: (Carolina won 2-1): @Florida 3, Carolina 0 (Nov.9); @Carolina 4, Florida 0 (Dec. 30); Carolina 6, @Florida 4 (April 13)
  • All-Time Regular Season Series: Carolina/Hartford leads 71-46-10, 11 ties
  • Postseason History: First Meeting
  • How They Got Here — Carolina: d. New York Islanders in 6; d. New Jersey Devils in 5. Florida: d. Boston Bruins in 7; d. Toronto Maple Leafs in 5.

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