As it turns out, giving away 10,000 plastic rats at a place that offers alcohol may not be the best idea.
The Florida Panthers defeated the New Jersey Devils 3-2 at home, Thursday, but their fans didn’t make it easy on them. Twice in the final period, the Panthers were penalized after fans in the arena would not stop throwing plastic rats, which had been given away for free by the organization prior to the game. The game was put on hold while staff members attempted to clear the ice, and when it resumed, both times the Devils were granted power plays.
The promotion of free plastic rats may seem a bit odd, but the story behind the promotion helps make sense of things — until you realize the organization should have known all along how this would end.
The legend goes that in 1996, former Panthers player Scott Mellanby killed a rat in the locker room before a game and then went out and netted two goals. The incident was played up and talked about by Mellanby’s teammates and eventually left the locker room. Once fans caught wind of the story, they decided it was too good not to capitalize on — from that point on, as the Panthers made their famous run to the Stanley Cup Finals, fans would toss fake rats onto the ice following every time the team scored.
Following the season, which ended with the Colorado Avalanche sweeping the Panthers and winning the Stanley Cup, the NHL tweaked a few rules that resulted in minor penalties being assessed to teams if their fans interrupted play.
That rule nearly came back to hurt the Panthers Thursday, and they were none to pleased about the situation. Following the game, Panthers Coach Gerard Gallant said that he understood the rule and knew it had been in place for years. His disappointment was not with the NHL, but rather with the fans for throwing the rats before the end of the game. When asked about whether the team should discontinue the giveaway, Gallant offered the following comments, per ESPN:
“That’s not my department,” Gallant said. “But like I said, I hope the fans understand that these are important games and points for us. I hope they understand that you can’t throw these rats until the end of the game. It almost cost us tonight. Our guys battled hard and we love our fans and we love the rats, but I hope that doesn’t happen again.”
Right winger Jaromir Jagr was particularly upset with the two penalties, which were assessed when the game was tied, and voiced his grievances to the media after the game.
Jagr was concerned with opposing fans attempting to have an effect on the game, and when confronted with the fact that the rats were a promotional item, he said that even still, the team should not be punished for something that is out of their control.
”We can always say, ‘Hey, it was New Jersey fans throwing them, we should have the power play.’ It’s too important a game and it’s going to be more important in the playoffs,” Jagr said. “I don’t think we should get 2 minutes for that. I think the league should do something about it.”
The obvious response here is that the league did do something about it — 19 years ago. With the issue arising once again, now from the opposite side, the NHL will again have the final say on how it punishes its teams for fan conduct. The league has not yet offered any comment on the incident.
The Panthers are currently in first place of the Eastern Conference, up two points on the second-place Tampa Bay Lightning with Thursday’s win. The team is on pace to have one of the best regular seasons in its history and will compete for a top seed in the upcoming Stanley Cup Playoffs.