He did when he first arrived in this town as an 18-year-kid in the ‘Year of the Rat,’ and he does today as a 12-year NHL veteran. But there isn’t anyone in this league who would argue with Dvorak’s work ethic, or what he has meant to this Panther team since returning in the summer as an unrestricted free agent.
“He may not have a lot of points to show, but he’s been one of our key performers in the last couple weeks,” said GM and coach Jacques Martin.
Dvorak’s reply: “I try to play hard every night.”
Call it the Radek Dvorak work ethic. Play hard, and play hard no matter what your role.
Watch him his use speed down the wing to assist on a Brett McLean goal against the Blackhawks. Watch him push his way to the front of the net and get credited with a goal against the Hurricanes. Watch him kill penalties, play both wings, get knocked down and back up again.
“His play has been a big part of our success,” Martin said.
And it’s all been fun for Dvorak, who was traded from Florida to San Jose on December 30 of 1999 for goalie Mike Vernon and a draft choice. After stops with the Rangers, Oilers and Blues, Dvorak’s return to South Florida has been a huge boost to the Panthers and their fans.
“I know this team is hungry for the playoffs,” Dvorak said. “I knew that from the first moment I came back to Florida. And you can sense that if we play like we have the last couple weeks, we have a great chance to get there.
“And that would be great for everyone. It’s been nice to see the way we’ve played. It’s been nice for the fans. To see all the fans standing up (after beating Carolina), giving us an ovation? It was so nice to see.”
Dvorak, who has two goals and an assist the past four games and eight points on the season, has stabilized the Panthers penalty kill and seems to make an impact every time he’s on the ice.
“He’s done a great job,” Martin added. “He’s done a great job on the penalty kill. He has played the right side, the left side. He’s been on different lines.
“I showed a clip in Montreal of him from the game in Chicago. We turned the puck over in the offensive blue line and he came back and nullified a great scoring chance for the Blackhawks.”
While Dvorak admits it’s been nice to pitch in with some points lately, he adds in the same breath he just wants to keep helping the team improve and, eventually, get to the playoffs.
“I’ve always known we can do this stuff,” he said. “We had kind of a rough start, and we seemed to always find ourselves two games or a game below .500 and when it was time to get over .500, we lost. Beating Carolina (Thursday) was a big step, but taking the next step is always tough.
“Now we just have to keep playing the way we’ve been playing. Every game in this league is so huge. When you look at the standings, it’s just a few points separating everyone. But with the team winning it’s more fun. You see all the guys on the team skating, playing hard. And coming back from the (four game) road trip we took was a good experience for our club. We had a good game (in St. Louis), had a bad game in Detroit, but we learned from it and played well in Chicago and Montreal.”
Dvorak says there’s 46 games left. “We’re looking forward to it,” he added.