Sunrise, FL – Nothing brings a community together like sports. Everyone remembers The Mets-Braves game at Shea Stadium on September 21, following 9/11. It was the first major sporting event held in New York following the attack. The whole country watched as Americans lifted themselves and each other up, and began the long road back to normalcy, that in many ways we still haven’t reached.

Today we face a new tragedy. Last week, a shooter opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland. It’s only the latest in a series of school and public shootings that have increased in volume in recent years. The school is located only 11 minutes from the BB&T Center, so it hits home to Panthers fans and the team, I’m sure. The Panthers put on a heartfelt tribute to the victims. It was difficult holding back tears, and I had to clear my throat a few times. I won’t describe the entire tribute. If you’re interested in watching it, and I recommend it, we have it available in it’s entirety on our IG story. The part that stuck out to me was when Roberto Luongo spoke. He said “It’s time for us as a community to take action. Enough is enough… I live in Parkland. My wife was born and raised there. My kids go to school there, and when I retire from hockey, I want to spend the rest of my life in Parkland…To the teachers at the schools, you guys are heroes.”

Like I said before, nothing brings a community together like sports, and these players are part of our community. Today, the Panthers welcomed the Washington Capitals. Before the game, the Panthers held a blood drive for the victims of the shooting. The arena was stripped of all sponsorships, and was decked out in #MSDStrong banners and the LED rings all read “Stoneman Douglas”. Even with all the Washington fans in the building, the atmosphere was that of togetherness.

If it weren’t for the tribute, and also the fundraising efforts the Panthers put together for the victims, the big reason to come to this game today would’ve been to see Alex Ovechkin. The guy is a bona fide hockey superstar. He leads the NHL in goals scored this season, coming into this match with 36. He’s also the 61st player in NHL history to reach the 1,100-point milestone, doing it in 978 games. I don’t know what the hockey version of being “on your toes” is, but I guarantee guys ramp up their level of focus when playing anyone at the caliber of Ovechkin.

Winning seven of their last ten, but losing their last two, the Panthers knew what was up, and whom they were facing. The Capitals have earned a point in 17 of their last 21 games against Florida. Knowing this, the Cats came out as the aggressors, and scored first. It was Maxim Mamin’s 1st NHL goal! Panther’s Head Coach, Bob Boughner (The Boogieman), said they needed “fresh legs” after their five-day road trip, and that he could tell Maxim “had some jump early”. He also said that it was a “huge goal” for the Panthers, as it allowed them to play with the lead for a bit. Washington would come back and tie it up before the first period ended off a nice play by Andre Burakovsky to Brett Connolly, who fed Lars Eller for his 13th goal of the season.

In the second period, the Panthers dominated possession, but it didn’t translate into shots on goal. Florida had three power plays, and only took seven shots. You have to do better than that, right? On the other hand, Washington had two power plays, and attempted 11 shots, scoring one off an Ovechkin assist to Burakovsky in minute 9:56.

The Cats went into the 3rd period down 1-2, but would stand up to the challenge of scoring on a Washington defense that are, themselves, ranked 11th in offensive scoring. With less than four minutes to go, the Cats evened it up with a through pass from Aleksander Barkov to Nick Bjugstad. Three minutes later, with seconds remaining in the game, and on a power play, the Panthers stole the win. Jonathan Huberdeau hit up Vincent Trocheck for the game winner, and that’s all she wrote, folks! Panthers win 3-2!

It’s easy to see how much this community needed a reason to feel good. In a post-game interview, Luongo said “If we have the chance to provide any sort of comfort, or get people’s minds off of things for a few hours, then that’s what we’re here for.” As a community, it’s up to each and every one of us to help each other and push forward, because as painful as a reminder as the Stoneman Douglas tragedy is, tomorrow isn’t promised. All we have in this life is our contribution to society, because that is the only part of our lives that lives on after we are gone. We have to learn from this, and make a change. Whatever you think that change is, fight for it. Much love to everyone out there dealing with this nightmare.

Photo credit Eliot J Schechter//Florida Panthers

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Gustavo Chacon
Born and raised in the 305! I find it pointless to memorize every sports stat since the beginning of time when I can just look it up. I'm not afraid to tell you why your opinion is 100% wrong. Wanna get into it? Argue with me @OnaPsiH. It'll be fun!

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