The Florida Panthers are no stranger to overcoming adversity — after all, the battle between the Panthers and the rest of the league to prove they belong where they are is practically a daily occurrence.
On Tuesday night, though, the team underwent a different kind of controversy — one that involved the players on the ice, rather than the fans sitting in the stands.
The Panthers are close to a playoff spot; they’re two points out of the second Wild Card slot, sitting a single win behind the Boston Bruins and only getting better. What would have been a ‘must-win’ game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, though, went awry in the third period when both goaltenders went down injured.
Both Roberto Luongo — who managed to hold the Leafs to zero shots against, despite the situation he found himself in — and backup Al Montoya were injured late in the game, forcing the team’s 41-year old goaltending coach Rob Tallas to suit up for the first time since 2001. He wasn’t given the opportunity to play — both Montoya and Luongo ended up returning to the net for part of the third period, playing through their respective injuries to keep the Panthers in the game — but the scenario unfolded with the league watching on intently.
While the injuries to Luongo (reportedly a shoulder injury) and Montoya (a bad groin pull issue) could potentially affect the team’s playoff chances, though, the situation presented the Panthers with a unique opportunity to show the league exactly what they’re made of — and the resounding conclusion is that they’re made of some pretty tough stuff. No one would have faulted either Montoya or Luongo for staying out of the game had they chosen to go that route — after all, the team still hasn’t confirmed how seriously either of them is hurt — but the fact that they chose to stay in and back their team speaks volumes about the commitment both goaltenders have to the future of the team. Fans of the Panthers were left with a sense of pride over the athletes representing their franchise, but fans around the league were left with a lingering air of respect for a franchise that’s been unfairly denied that in years past.
For now, it’s unclear who will stand in net for the Panthers; 34-year-old netminder Dan Ellis has been recalled from the San Antonio Rampage of the AHL, but there’s been no word on who whether either Luongo or Montoya will be available to play in the next few games. If anything good can come of the situation, though, it’s the resounding support a team short on such received from fans across the league.