When the postseason started, the Florida Panthers were not considering playing rookie goalie Spencer Knight against the Lightning.
Things have most definitely changed.
Knight will be Florida’s starter Monday night in Game 5 after the Panthers’ tandem of Sergei Bobrovsky and Chris Dreidger have provided mixed results in the first four games.
Bobrovsky started the opener, relieved Dridger in Game 3 and was pulled after giving up five goals on 12 shots in Saturday’s 6-2 loss to the Lightning.
With the Panthers down 3-1 in the best-of-7 series and facing elimination Monday night, playing the 20-year-old rookie out of Boston College has a “why not?’’ feel to it.
Coach Joel Quenneville would not say who would start on Sunday after Knight worked with goalie coach Robb Tallas in the traditional ‘starter’s net’ in practice at BB&T Center.
“I don’t want to talk too much about an option,’’ Quenneville said. “He’s one of two other options and we like them, as well.’’
On Monday, Quenneville again refused to name a starter instead allowing Knight to lead the team onto the ice for warm-ups as he announcement.
Chris Driedger will back up Knight; Sergei Bobrovsky will be a healthy scratch.
The Panthers are looking for a spark — and some saves from their goalies — as they play for their season tonight at 8.
One more loss and it’s time to pack up for the summer.
Florida selected Knight with the 13th overall pick of the 2019 NHL Draft just a few days before signing Bobrovsky to the largest contract in franchise history (seven years, $70 million).
Knight left Boston College after two seasons following the Eagles’ ouster from the NCAA tournament and ended up playing in four games for the Panthers down the stretch.
He become the youngest goalie to start his career 4-0 after he beat Dallas in overtime on May 3.
Playing Knight is a desperate move by a desperate team trying to keep its season alive.
But, Knight has always shown a maturity beyond his years and has drawn praise from coaches and teammates alike for his calm demeanor and professionalism.
MacKenzie Weegar said he and some teammates commented after Knight’s debut that he looked like a guy destined for the Hall of Fame and compared him to Montreal’s Carey Price.
Let’s not jump too far ahead. A good start Monday is all the Panthers need from Knight right this second.
“Just watching Spencer, when he’s not looking, he just seems like a professional already at a young age,’’ Weegar said.
“He already has the routine down, everything is already at such an elite level that when he gets into the net you trust him. … I can’t wait for the chance to play in front of him. He’s a great goalie and a great guy. He’s already a professional with a bright, bright future in front of him.”
This winter, he led Team USA to gold at the World Juniors and Quenneville said one reason Knight became an option, aside from the play of his two veterans, is he has “been on the big stages before.”
During the season, Quenneville said the thing that impressed him the most was that nothing seems to faze Knight as he remains calm and cool under pressure.
“Man, the kid’s got some composure,” Quenneville said after Knight made 24 saves in an overtime win at Chicago last month. “We like what we’re seeing.”
PANTHERS ON DECK
STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS, ROUND 1
GAME 5: LIGHTNING AT PANTHERS
TAMPA BAY LEADS BEST-OF-7 SERIES 3-1
- When: Monday, 8 p.m.
- Where: BB&T Center, Sunrise
- Tickets: AVAILABLE HERE
- Regular season series: Florida won 5-2-1
- The series so far — Sunday Game 1: Tampa Bay 5, Florida 4; Tuesday Game 2: Tampa Bay 3, Florida 1; Thursday Game 3: Florida 6, Tampa Bay 5 (OT). Saturday Game 4: Tampa Bay 6, Florida 2.
- TV: CNBC, BS-FLA
- Radio: WQAM 560-AM