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Top 10 Moments of the 2015-16 Season

by Jameson Olive / Florida Panthers

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers 2015-16 season has come and gone, but the memories it produced will certainly last well beyond the upcoming weeks, months, and even years.

From a unique friendship with an Oscar-winning actor to the numerous franchise records set along their way to an Atlantic Division title, the Panthers were not only one of the most successful teams in the NHL this season, but also one of the most discussed.

With that in mind, here are the Top 10 moments from an unforgettable season…

10. Trocheck leads Panthers to victory on Opening Night

The Panthers wasted little time in announcing themselves to the hockey world this season, defeating the Philadelphia Flyers 7-1 in front of a sellout crowd at BB&T Center on Oct. 11.

The Panthers set an NHL modern-day record for the fastest four goals to start a season, with Vincent Trocheck, Nick Bjugstad, Reilly Smith and Jussi Jokinen each scoring in the game's first 6:46 to give Florida a 4-0 lead.

Trocheck, who opened the scoring at 1:23 with the fastest Panthers goal to start a season, had three assists to set a new career high with four points.

"We've got a powerful offensive team," said Trocheck, who would finish the season with 25 goals and 53 points in 76 games. "That's going to be huge moving forward. We've got to focus on defense first this year. That's one of our goals and that's what we've talked about a lot and the offense will come."

9. Panthers beat Stanley Cup Finalists on back-to-back nights

The Panthers became the first team in more than 25 years to defeat the Stanley Cup finalists from the previous season on consecutive days after a 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning at the BB&T Center on Jan. 24.

Florida, which defeated the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks 4-0 the night before, scored four times in the second period to snap the Lightning’s seven-game winning streak.

“We know we can beat any team in the league,” Panthers winger Jonathan Huberdeau said after the victory. “That just means that we’re a really good team and we can just show we’ve had a struggle lately and we came out this weekend and showed the League that we’re a good team against a really good team too.”

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, no team had defeated the previous Cup finalists on consecutive days since the 1990-91 Calgary Flames.

8. Panthers celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the “Year of the Rat”

The Panthers celebrated the 20th anniversary of their miracle run to the 1996 Stanley Cup Final, as well as the “Year of the Rat” legend it spawned, with a pre-game ceremony before hosting the Philadelphia Flyers on March 12.

In only their third season of existence, the Panthers seemingly came out of nowhere to reach the 1996 Stanley Cup Final, the fastest post-1967 expansion team to make a run that deep in the postseason. From the tale of “The Rat Trick” to videos of “The Goal”, fans were given the opportunity to relive some of the biggest moments in Panthers history, while also hearing new insights from the players that lived it.

Among the players, coaches and staff in attendance at the event were Scott Mellanby, John Vanbiesbrouck, Ed Jovanovski, Bill Torrey, Doug Maclean, Bill Lindsay, Johan Garpenlov, Tom Fitzgerald, Brian Skrudland, Jason Woolley, Radek Dvorak, Terry Carkner, Mike Hough, Ray Sheppard, Chuck Fletcher, Bryan Murray, Duane Sutter, Gord Murphy, Dave Smith and Scott Tinkler.

“It was so special,” said Skrudland, who was the Panthers' first captain, from 1993-97. “It was an opportunity for us to give a little something back to the community, in a sense that those fans were really behind us 110 percent. There were a lot of new hockey fans and a lot of snowbirds from areas like Boston and Pittsburgh that, I think, changed their allegiances once they saw us play. It was a great time for hockey and a great time in our lives.”

7. Brian Campbell skates in 1,000th NHL game

Panthers defenseman Brian Campbell skated in his 1,000th NHL game during a 4-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on April 6. It was his 384th consecutive game, including 374 straight with Florida, breaking the Panthers record set by Olli Jokinen from Dec. 12, 2002 to April 5, 2008.

Campbell, 36, has yet to miss a game in his five seasons with the Panthers, notching 28 goals and 147 assists in 376 regular-season contests.

"I didn't see that coming early in my career, but I'm pretty proud of the fact that I stuck with it," Campbell said after the game. "It's pretty special. I've worked my tail off to get to where I am. Nobody gave me anything to begin with.”

In honor of the milestone, Campbell received a commemorative silver stick and framed photograph from the Panthers organization, a crystal award from the NHL and a Rolex watch from his teammates during a lengthy pre-game ceremony before their regular-season finale against the Carolina Hurricanes on April 9.

6. Panthers set regular-season attendance record vs. Red Wings

The BB&T Center shook like never before thanks to the deafening cheers of 20,817 fans when the Panthers set a new regular-season record for attendance in a game against the Detroit Red Wings on March 19.

The Panthers, who drew an average of 11,265 fans per game during their 2014-15 campaign, sold out eight of their home contests during the regular season, averaging a 15,384 fans per home game for an overall 36-percent spike in attendance – the highest increase in the NHL.

Thank you, fans!

5. Panthers send four to All-Star Game in Nashville

The Panthers sent a franchise-record four representatives to 2016 NHL All-Star Game in Nashville, with ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr, whom fans voted in as one of four captains, joining defenseman Aaron Ekblad and goaltender Roberto Luongo on an Atlantic Division team coached by Gerard Gallant.

“It’s a huge honor,” said Gallant, who never appeared in an All-Star Game during his 11 seasons as a player. “We have three of our players there and we’re representing the first-place Florida Panthers. It’s a lot of fun and we’re certainly looking forward to it. It’s great for the franchise.”

Of all the teams present, it’s safe to say that the Panthers were easily one of the biggest winners at the annual event, shining in both the skills competition and the newly unveiled 3-on-3 tournament.

Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban dressed up as Jagr – mullet wig included, of course – for his attempt in the breakaway challenge, and Ekblad, who donned the “Spacey in Space” sweatshirt for his attempt in the hardest shot competition, let the hockey world know that things were definitely getting a little weird down in South Florida.

“The team wanted to do it, get some good press for the Panthers,” Ekblad said. “A lot of guys around the league hadn’t seen [the sweatshirt] yet. And no one truly knows the story behind it, either.”

4. Jagr scores twice to pass Brett Hull for 3rd all-time

Jaromir Jagr scored twice in a 3-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Feb. 20 to overtake Brett Hull for third place on the NHL’s all-time list with the 742nd goal of his legendary career.

“I don’t really think about it, to be honest with you,” Jagr said of the milestone. “I don’t feel I played real well the last few games, so I wanted to make sure I played a little bit better today. I had a little bit more jump.”

Jagr moved into a tie with Hull at 4:53 of the second period after redirecting a centering pass from defenseman Dmitry Kulikov over the right shoulder of Jets goaltender Michael Hutchinson to tie the game at 1.

Not long after that, Jagr took sole possession of third place, scoring No. 742 for his career on a wrist shot from close range at 13:37 of the third period to make it 3-1, securing both a victory as well as his place in history.

Jagr, 44, began the season in fifth place all-time with 722 goals, but has since passed Marcel Dionne (731) and Hull (741). Wayne Gretzky is the all-time leader with 894 goals, followed by Gordie Howe with 801.

3. Kevin Spacey lands at BB&T Center

As Shawn Thornton once said, “Who has more fun than the Cats?”

Florida’s excellent on-ice play collided with its whacky off-ice antics when actor Kevin Spacey made a surprise appearance at the BB&T Center during a March 19 contest against the Detroit Red Wings.

The Panthers, who handed out 10,000 cardboard cutouts of the Spacey’s face at the door, encouraged fans to show their “Spacey Facey” throughout the game, building up a playful sense of anticipation before the actor eventually stood up and revealed himself amid a sea of rowdy lookalikes.

Spacey, a two-time Oscar winner, had become somewhat of an unofficial mascot for the Panthers during their record-setting season, a playful obsession that spawned the team’s now-infamous “Spacey in Space” sweatshirt, which was handed out to the team-appointed player of the game after each victory.

And although the origins of the sweatshirt, which shows the actor’s face floating in outer space, still remain a mystery to anyone outside Florida’s locker room, the glee from that night was certainly shared by all.

After the game, Spacey, wearing his own “Spacey in Space” sweatshirt, of course, met with Panthers players to congratulate them on their spectacular season, further confusing the general public, but nevertheless bringing smiles to their faces.

2. Panthers win Atlantic Division

With 4-1 win against the Montreal Canadiens and the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers, the Panthers clinched first place in the Atlantic Division on April 5.

The Panthers had previously captured a division title only once in their 22-year history, winning the now-defunct Southeast Division in 2011-12.

"It was special for us. We wanted to do that all year. We fulfilled that dream,'' said Panthers center Nick Bjugstad, who scored the game-winning goal on the power play that night. “We made the playoffs and won the division, and now we keep going.”

Florida would go on to finish the regular season with a franchise-record 103 points.

1. Panthers set franchise record with 12-game winning streak

The Panthers went from feel-good story to legit contender when they extended their franchise-record winning streak to 12 games with a 2-1 victory over the Edmonton Oilers on Jan. 10.

The Panthers, who won despite putting just 14 shots on goal, hadn’t lost since Dec. 12, climbing to the top of the Atlantic Division and into the mid-season playoff picture with 56 points.

Florida's winning streak was tied with the Chicago Blackhawks for the longest of any team in the NHL this season and longest since the Boston Bruins won 12 in a row from March 2 to 22, 2014.

“We couldn’t lose,” Panthers defenseman Dmitry Kulikov said of the streak. “It didn’t matter if we didn’t have our best game. We played some great teams that were also on winning streaks and we just felt like we couldn’t lose.”

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