The Florida Panthers infatuation with rubber rats is well known. Since the team’s magical run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1996, fans have been bringing the toy rodents.
But fans are asked not to throw them onto the ice when the team scores anymore. It can actually cost the Panthers if the on-ice officials decide to penalize the team.
in Sunday night’s opening game of the playoffs against the Tampa Bay Lightning, some fans tossed the rubber rats onto the playing surface following goals by the Panthers — and when fights broke out between the two teams.
The Panthers, being the home team, can be charged with a two-minute delay of game if the officials choose to call it.
While the delay of game call wasn’t a thing in 1996 (who can forget seeing Penguins goalie Tom Barasso taking refuge in the cage as the rats rained down at Miami Arena?) it is now.
The NHL made the ruling that all objects, like rubber rats, cannot be thrown onto the ice during a game.
The exception is ballcaps when a player scores three goals and gets a hat trick. That is fine. Feel free to toss your cap onto the ice if you see one of those. No penalty there.
Rats are different — although if they’re mixed in with the baseball caps, no harm and no foul.
In a game against New Jersey in 2016, the team actually handed out rubber rats to the first 10,000 fans coming into the building to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the 1996 run to the Finals,
It went exactly as one would have imagined.
Fans started chucking those giveaway rats when Jonathan Huberdeau scored Florida’s first goal of the game.
The officials told the PA announcer to warn fans not to do it again. When Huberdeau scored his second goal to make it 2-1 in the third, here came the rats again.
— George Richards (@GeorgeRichards) April 1, 2016
This time, Florida got hit with the penalty.
Sasha Barkov also saw the rats come down when he scored later in the period leading to a second delay of game call.
Florida ended up winning 3-2.
“It was a good night but we can’t have rats after every goal or there’s going to be penalties,” said Huberdeau. “But it was a cool atmosphere and was a big win for us. I had never seen [the rats] live, but now they have penalties and it’s tough to go on the penalty kill in a close game.”
Said Jaromir Jagr: “I don’t agree with the penalties; it could have been New Jersey fans throwing them in an important game.I think the league should do something about it. If they give us a penalty when someone throws a rat, who are we going to play in the playoffs? They’ll hire guys to get them power plays all game.”
Word was the league was not happy for making it so easy for fans to be armed with rubber rats.
“They called it like they’re supposed to call it,” Florida coach Gerard Gallant said. “There’s nothing they can do. When we throw stuff on the ice, it has been a rule for a long time, we’ve got to know better than that.
“I sure hope it doesn’t happen again because we’re battling for a playoff spot and we’re trying to kill penalties and working hard and when we’re throwing stuff on the ice and we know we’re going to get a penalty. We’ve got to be smarter than that.”
On Tuesday morning, Joel Quenneville talked about that taking penalties is part of the game. The Panthers, he said, have to make sure they aren’t taking dumb penalties.
Can you imagine Quenneville if the Panthers get a delay of game due to rats and Florida has to face that Lightning power play?
“Their power play is lethal,’’ Quenneville said. “They have so many different options and looks and some of the great playmakers and deceiving playmakers as well.”
Back in 2012, when the Panthers made the playoffs for the first time in over a decade, the NHL actually ordered the team to stop selling the rubber rats in their gift shop.
Florida was selling what we all assumed were “recycled” rats for $5 each or free with a minimum purchase.
The team blamed visiting Devils fans from throwing them and causing all the havoc. In 2016, Devils fans in the building were blamed as well.
Perhaps it was Lightning fans tossing them on Sunday night as well.
So when, exactly, can you throw your rubber rats?
Basically, when the game is over.
Fans have been tossing rats following a win — either at home or on the road — for years. No penalty is going to be called when the game is over.
You do not need to sneak in the rats — again, the team sells them in their store or has in the past — and the players love them.
Keith Yandle has been known to flip them back up into the stands (again, recycling) and players get them as gifts from the team’s booster club complete with their name and number painted on them.
Rubber rats are cool.
Just toss them with caution. After the game.