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Panthers, Senators Ready to Rumble Once More

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Sergei Bobrovsky goes after Brady Tkachuk when the Florida Panthers last played host to the Ottawa Senators in February. The two play again tonight. // Roger Lee Photographer (561) 866-2000

FORT LAUDERDALE — WrestleMania may have wrapped up Sunday in Philadelphia, but Sunrise may get hockey’s  version of a cage match when the Ottawa Senators visit the Florida Panthers. 

Although tonight’s game does not mean much in the standings, that has not stopped these two before.

Over the past couple of seasons, games between the Senators and the Panthers have meant very little, at least for Ottawa. 

The team was going nowhere. 

Ottawa is out of the playoffs for the seventh consecutive year; The Panthers are all but mathematically eliminated for a divisional first-place finish.

Still, these two do not like each other — and do not care who knows it.

Florida is 3-0 over Ottawa this year, including two decisive shutout wins for Sergei Bobrovsky.

Ah, but the snarl factor remains. 

The battles with Ottawa have ranked high on the nastiness meter, right with the Boston Bruins.

Any team with a player named Tkachuk is guaranteed to supply sandpaper, except when the brothers face off against each other. 

Shades of the legendary and infamous Plager brothers of an era gone by.

In the stock market, the disclaimer that past performance is no guarantee of future performance is valid. 

Not so in hockey.

Hockey players remember, and these two teams have plenty of bad blood.

Coincidentally, a year ago this week, all hell broke loose right here in sunny Florida, where love is never in the air in Sunrise.

Florida’s 7-2 victory over the Senators, en route to their dramatic run to the playoffs, resulted in 166 minutes of penalties. 

That included six fighting majors, ten roughing minors, four 10-minute misconducts, and three game misconducts (including one to then-Ottawa coach D.J. Smith).

High-sticking and slashing were also involved. Curiously, tripping and holding accounted for only eight minutes of the total, and there was not a single hooking penalty.

Among the strange sights to see were Ottawa’s Brady Tkachuk duking it out with the Panthers’ Marc Staal alongside his big brother Matthew fighting Drake Batherson.

The very next meeting of these gladiators came on November 27. 

After a summer off, reason did not prevail.

The penalty totals of 167 minutes topped the previous high set last April.

The first two periods were relatively quiet, save for a minor tussle between the peaceful Matthew Tkachuk and Ottawa’s Travis Hamonic.

Early in the third period, after Zack MacEwen could take no more of Matthew’s irritability, he earned a match penalty for attempting to injure Tkachuk with a flying elbow.

The hullaballoo went full blast at 10:18 of the third period when Matthew was at it again, this time with Jake Sanderson.

Two minutes later, Brady Tkachuk decided it was a good time to run into Panthers’ goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who was holding a 4-0 lead.

The person to come to his aid was none other than resident enforcer Jonah Gadjovich

The ice then resembled a wrestling ring, with gloves, sticks, and flailing bodies everywhere.

The consulting officials were so overwhelmed in dishing out punishment that referee Garrett Rank ordered every player on the ice except the goaltenders to their dressing room with misconduct penalties.

There were two more ejections before the game ended, leaving plenty of elbow room on the benches. 

Paul Maurice chuckled about the whole thing, calling it “mild.”

“We only got to 160-some minutes,” he said. “It’s got to get into the two-fifties before it gets too squirrelly. Sometimes hockey can get like that. That’s part of why the game’s so darn great. It’s graceful and beautiful and physical and angry; All at the same time.”

The most recent contest, the 6-0 Panthers blowout last week, was relatively calm, save for some extra elbows at goalmouth scrums and a minor tussle between Ryan Lomberg and pal Parker Kelly.

Lomberg has the perfect reason for the frequent mayhem between the two teams. 

“It starts and ends with one word. It’s a last name. It’s ‘Tkachuk.’ Brady is their leader; Matthew is one of our leaders,” Lomberg said Monday. 

“They both play the game with a lot of passion—the right way. They mean a little bit more just because we know there are leaders on each team who are related and care about it a little bit more. For us, it’s about playing our game and attacking it like any other game, but I would imagine for them individually, it means a little bit more.”

What will happen tonight? 

Anybody’s guess. 

Late season games are often for playoff tune-ups or future contracts. 

There is also the macho factor in hockey.

Tuesday, Maurice predicted, “I think tomorrow’s game is going to be very physical, just because it always is with us and Ottawa. So that’s the expectation.”

Yes, hockey players have long memories.

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