BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
During My 41 years in Sports Media, I’ve been fortunate enough to see Championship Banners raised and players get their much deserved rings as well as jerseys retired.
In many cases, the energy of the fans fueled the players leading to wins.
The latest ceremony I attended was the one the Florida Panthers had for Keith Yandle on Saturday Night for reaching his 1,000th game on March 7th on the road against the Carolina Panthers.
The Panthers lost that game 4-2 to the Hurricanes, but Florida did conclude its recent road trip 4-1.
On Saturday Night, the Panthers had a video tribute with his family and his teammates. He received a silver stick and a golf cart. It was a great sight to see.
Hall of Fame defenseman Ray Bourque, whose career spanned 22 seasons and 1,612 games was among those congratulating Yandle.
All the Panthers wore jerseys with Yandle’s name and 1000 on the back.
Upon reaching his 1,000th NHL Game, Yandle became the 12th player in history to play their 1,000th game with the Panthers.
Because of COVID-19, there would be no large crowd Saturday Night at the BB&T Center.
But by no means did it taint the occasion.
For those in attendance, it was definitely a memorable evening.
The ceremony was classy for Yandle, who is the owner of the third longest “Ironman” streak in NHL history (892).
Yes folks, there are players that play every game and don’t let minor injuries or load management stop them from playing.
As far as I’m concerned, Yandle could play in any era because he has an old school mentality.
After a scoreless first period, Brandon Hager gave the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead into the second period. After killing off a penalty early in the frame, as the Panthers have done all-season, Florida started prowling in the period as it out shot Chicago 13-7 in the second, by scoring three unanswered goals to take a 3-1 lead.
Aleksander Barkov, Carter Verhaeghe and Frank Vatrano scored and ironically each of them recorded their 10th goals of the season.
At this point, the Blackhawks looked outclassed while Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky watched the offensive clinic from a distance.
Barkov would add his 11th goal of the season in the third period for good measure.
Barkov played in his 506th NHL game, tying Bill Lindsey for ninth most games played in Panthers history.
The three stars of the game were 1. Barkov, 2. Anthony Duclair and 3. Bobrovsky.
Barkov had two goals for the Panthers, who improved to 18-5-4 with 40 points. Florida improved its home record to 8-3-3.
Bobrovsky improved his record to 11-2-2. Bobrovsky stopped 30 of 32 shots to win his fifth straight game.
Coach Joel Quenneville had high praise for his goaltender, who has really been hitting his stride.
“They (Chicago) had several plays around the net. I thought he (Bobrovsky) was very quick and closed it quick. He was finding pucks, looked really solid, and really sharp. He continued to do what he has to do which is be consistent and give us a chance to win every night.”
If you’re going to win in the postseason then you better have a goaltender that can get you there.
During the post-game media session, it looked like Bobrovsky is having a great deal of fun as the team’s No.1 net minder.
He talked about his key to success.
“I just stay focused with the moment and do my thing. I came up with the big save and the guys took care of it. It was a great penalty kill to start the game to give us confidence and a boost of energy.
“It’s a process that’s gone on from game one. You’re mind becomes more and more relaxed, you see the game better, and you feel more and more comfortable the more and more you play. I feel great physically and mentally.”
Bobrovsky had more praise for his teammates.
“We have great skilled guys up front and it’s fun to see how they create scoring chances and how they play there. I feel like we have a good chemistry and support for each other.”
Despite not being one of the three stars, make no bones about it, the evening belonged to Yandle.
And it should be because to play 1,000 games in a physical and faster league is an incredible accomplishment in its own right.
If you think he was emotional before the game started, his body language and voice said it all with us after the contest.
“It’s been a very humbling week, to see how excited my teammates were, the coaches, the GMs, the owners, everyone involved. Super, super humbling week for me. You expect the silver stick, which is an amazing thing, but when I saw that golf cart, it’s something that everyday when you see it, you’ll be reminded of it.
“It’s an amazing thing the amount of love that the guys have to think of me like that and my family. It was special.”
As I mentioned earlier and I’ll say it again, there is nothing better than to have a big night end with a victory.
And it was as the Panthers have a 3-0 record against a Blackhawks team that is definitely trying to get in the playoffs.
The Blackhawks are 14-10-5 and are in fourth place in the Central Division.
Saturday Night, one statistic I very rarely talk about is one worth mentioning.
The Panthers won the face-off battle 47-24. They converted 66.7% to Chicago’s 33.3%.
That’s what made this contest even more impressive for Florida, and Yandle was thrilled that the evening ended the way it did on the scoreboard.
“Against a great team, to get that win is huge. Bob (Bobrovsky) played amazing, we had some timely goals. Barky (Barkov) every night does it. It was a great team win and definitely means a lot more when you get that when and be able to smile in the locker room to put the icing on the cake for the day.”
Nowadays, in Panther Land, Florida always seems to be setting records for success.
We’ll only get into one more.
Florida’s 40 points in 27 games matches the franchise record for fewest games to collect 40 points (also 27 GP in 1996-1997).
But there is a lot more work to do and they know it!
On Monday Night at 7 PM, there will be no ceremonies to celebrate.
Instead, Florida has a chance to defeat Chicago for the final time at the BB&T Center and go 4-0 on home ice.
But for me, “Ceremonies Never Get Old!”
And everyone in this area can only look for will be the opportunity to celebrate a Stanley Cup Championship.
Scott Morganroth can be reached at southfloridatribune@Gmail.com.
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