On Winning: How the Panthers are all of us

NEWARK, NJ - APRIL 17: (L-R) Marcel Goc #57, Jason Garrison #52, Sean Bergenheim #20 and Dmitry Kulikov #7 of the Florida Panthers skate back to the bench after Sean Bergenheim #20 scored a goal in the first period against the New Jersey Devils in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Prudential Center on April 17, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Some of you may have noticed a tinge of bitterness coming from my quarter recently. I admit it. I get emotionally involved and competitive enough that the end of the Lightning's season has been hard for me to deal with. I've ranted; I've moped; I've cheered on the boys from Norfolk and watched a little playoff hockey from various series, never getting invested in much of anything (except the boys from Norfolk. I'm highly invested there.)

And then something amazing happened. Something that might have escaped your notice amidst all of the shenanigans in Nashville and New York and Pennsylvania and Glendale and Chicago and Vancouver. (Geez, that's a lot of shenanigans.) It was something that restored my faith in my sport and my fellow hockey fans and I wasn't even looking directly at it.

The Florida Panthers, very quietly and without a lot of people taking notice, took control of their destiny and gave their fans a playoff win on home ice. And it was beautiful.

As the video shows...

This reaction, this wonder and elation so strong it moves you to tears--this, my friends, is what the playoffs are all about. This is one of those moments you want to carry with you forever. This is the reward for all the work and the suffering and the waiting and the hoping. This is why you hang on to your team for dear life when the powers that be try to take it away. This is what hockey means to me.

And then...

Then the Panthers went to New Jersey and did it again. Against the odds, despite what the experts had to say, in spite of all the reasons that it ought to have been impossible, the Panthers came from behind, chased a living legend from the net, and scored 4 unanswered goals to win the game. They lead the series 2-1 as I write this.

I can't see the future, and I can't say that the Cats will go on to win again and bring the series home to Sunrise with a lead. I can't say that they will make it out of the first round. All I know is that at this point, I'm no longer foolish enough to count them out of it.

And my wish for hockey fans everywhere is that they "get" this moment. I hope that there's still that part of you that can look away from all the nonsense elsewhere and realize just how incredible this moment is--how time stops, just for a second, and everyone stops breathing, just for a moment. This moment is what it's really all about.

The Panthers take on the Devils tonight at 7:00pm ET on NHLN. Visit Litter Box Cats to lend your support.

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