With my 15 hours in Tampa at an end and one more game remaining on my East Coast road trip, I headed out for a quick, safe, luxurious flight.
The only thing smaller than that plane was the offensive output of the LA Kings in the first three games of this trip!
Having passed out from sheer terror, I slept through the entire 60 minute flight and arrived ready for the kind of cosmopolitan culture and sophisticated atmosphere that distinguishes Miami from places like Tampa, Orlando or Jacksonville.
Of course, I wasn't in Miami. I was in Fort Lauderdale.
Every NHL arena has its own vibe and eccentricities. As I arrived at the BB&T Center, it really did feel like "hockey in Florida."
Manny Chang, the producer of The Alex Donno Show, is a huge Kings fan. So I found myself on the air for the second time in my four game trip.
Alex couldn't have been more accommodating. While it was a thrill to represent the Kings in enemy territory, the real thrill was getting to meet former Panther and current analyst Bill Lindsay.
Much has been made in recent seasons of the Panthers inability to draw a crowd. It would seem somewhat hypocritical of me to accept their gracious invitation and hospitality by turning around and mocking them for a small turnout…
But here we are.
The only thing smaller than the crowd at that game was the plane I flew in on!
To be fair, the fans who showed up were just as passionate and devoted as the fans in any of the other cities. From yelling out "RED" during the National Anthem (like they do in D.C.) to participating in every jumbotron activity, the crowd did their best.
... I suppose there's such a thing as trying TOO hard.
They even had a designated hype man to dance on the big screen and whip the crowd into a frenzy.
While I admire this kid's enthusiasm, he's no Chris Sutter.
Whether it was the lack of crowd support or the fact that they were coming off their own bye week, the Panthers seemed unprepared and incapable of stopping a suddenly potent Kings offense. Almost immediately - as if sensing all of our dread - the Kings leapt out to a 1-0 lead.
Jeff Carter and Tanner Pearson reminded us you can only keep them off the score sheet for so long.
Tanner Pearson, Dustin Brown and Jeff Carter combined for 4 goals, 9 points and another possible line combination to look forward to in the future.
Tyler Toffoli scored the type of goal that earned him his nickname.
Even Dwight King scored! Although, I'm not sure anyone actually saw it happen.
It was the kind of night where everything was clicking. Even the rookies wound up with their 1st NHL points.
AND THEN OF COURSE JEFF CARTER
It couldn't have been a better night for Jiggs McDonald, original Kings broadcaster, to be filling in for Bob Miller.
For such a small crowd, there was a surprisingly large contingent of Kings fans on hand to watch the offensive explosion.
Whether it was the continued good fortune of the LA Kings Production crew on hand to film Jiggs McDonald, or the influx of Kings fans in Sunrise, I choose to believe that the Kings decided to deliver that performance for one great fan in attendance.
It seems contradictory to suggest that a man in a Montreal Canadiens jersey is a great Kings fan. But that man is my father, and he's been a Kings fan since before the Wayne Gretzky trade. The Canadiens jersey was a present from me - he grew up a Habs fan. Make no mistake, even after moving to the East Coast in 2012, he watches every Kings game on TV and I was thrilled that he and my sister could be there live for this one.
So how do I feel now that my road trip following the Kings is over? Do I have any parting thoughts or pearls of wisdom to share?
In the words of Darryl Sutter, so perfectly memorialized in pin form (as seen on our favorite fan below)…
Fly at 11.