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Florida Panthers' defensman Paul Laus (R) fights for control of the puck with New York Rangers' center Wayne Gretzky (99) during action in the third period of their NHL playoff game, April 23 at New York's Madison Square Garden. (Jeff Christensen/REUTERS)
Florida Panthers' defensman Paul Laus (R) fights for control of the puck with New York Rangers' center Wayne Gretzky (99) during action in the third period of their NHL playoff game, April 23 at New York's Madison Square Garden. (Jeff Christensen/REUTERS)

Will the Panthers end <br>a 15-year playoff win drought? </br> Add to ...

By now, everyone has heard that it's been 12 years since the Florida Panthers last played in the playoffs, an NHL record drought that will end Friday night in Sunrise, Fla.

What has received a little less attention is that this is a franchise that hasn't won a playoff game in 15 years, going back to April 17, 1997, in a first round series against the New York Rangers.

It's been so long since the Panthers beat another team in a postseason game that they were worrying about shutting down Wayne Gretzky in that series.

And The Great One has been retired for 13 years.

The Panthers were actually the favourites in the series, but after winning Game 1 with a 3-0 shutout at home, they lost the next four in a row (including two in overtime) to bow out in five games.

Looking back at that Florida team is a real blast from the past, as they were coached by current Sportsnet personality Doug MacLean and had Lindy Ruff behind the bench as an assistant (he became the Buffalo Sabres head coach that summer).

And current Ottawa Senators GM Bryan Murray was the general manager.

The team's leading scorers were Ray Sheppard, Scott Mellanby and Robert Svehla with John Vanbiesbrouck in goal and Kirk Muller, Bill Lindsay, Ed Jovanovski and Martin Straka all also on the team.

That motley crew somehow had the seventh best record in the NHL that year and home-ice advantage in the first round.

That year was also Gretzky's last in the playoffs, and his Game 4 hat trick (in the game pictured above) ranked among the top 50 moments at Madison Square Gardens when they put together that list a few year ago.

There's probably not going to be that kind of interest level in Florida's series with the New Jersey Devils this year, a series that many expect to be a short one.

With a negative goal differential and 18 of their 94 points from overtime or shootout losses, the Panthers are likely the weakest team to make the playoffs this season, and it's not out of the question they'll be swept.

(At minus-19, Florida has the worst goal differential for a playoff team since the 1996-97 Montreal Canadiens.)

Here's hoping they win at least once, so they can end the drought and also so we can see some plastic rats fly again.



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