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Panthers Do the Ducks One Better

It continues to be an irrefutable law of physics:

For every action taken by the Mighty Ducks, there is a reaction of equal or greater force produced by the Florida Panthers.

The Ducks win 33 games in their inaugural season to break the old expansion record.

The Panthers win 33 the same season, but tie a dozen more games and out-point the Ducks, 83 to 71.

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The Ducks manage 37 points in a lockout-shortened second season and remain in playoff contention until the final week.

The Panthers compile 46 points the same season and take the defending Stanley Cup champion New York Rangers to the final day before losing the race for the Eastern Conference’s last playoff berth in a photo finish.

The Ducks win eight of 10 to bring a .500 record (10-10-0) into Sunday evening’s game at The Pond.

The Panthers win seven of nine to bring a 14-5-1 record--and the most points in the National Hockey League--into the same game.

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The Ducks score three goals in an eight-minute span to take a 3-1 first-period lead.

The Panthers score three goals in a three-minute span to erase that 3-1 lead and take a 4-3 victory back with them to Miami.

It is starting to become annoying, if you ask the Ducks. The blunt message the Panthers keep hammering into the heads of their expansion brethren: Everything you can do, we can do better. Born the same day, back in the summer of ’93, the Ducks and the Panthers have now played three times and the record today stands, predictably: Panthers 3, Ducks 0.

The Ducks’ evil twin?

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Not quite.

Overbearing and highly obnoxious twin is probably closer to the point.

The Panthers are even closing the gap in the one department the Ducks have dominated since their inception: the toy department. Duck dolls, duck calls, duck masks, duck pajamas--the Panthers were out of their league, trying to chase Disney, until one of their wingers, Scott Mellanby, flattened a rat with a vicious slap shot as the rodent picked the wrong time to crash a Florida pregame meeting in early October.

The cold-blooded extermination now holds a special place in the heart of every Panther fan--a rat kill passes for rich hockey lore when your hockey team owns only 28 months’ worth of lore--and the club has attempted to cash in (imagine that) by selling rubber rats with glowering red eyes that youngsters can hold, hug, pet or throw at Mellanby whenever he flattens a puck into the back of the opposition net.

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(There were a couple of these toy rats on display in The Pond press box Sunday, and they are indeed vile-looking, but in a place where a guy in a smelly duck suit is considered the pinnacle of haute fashion, one ought not pass judgment.)

Rat scratch fever took hold again as Mellanby scored the Panthers’ first goal and waited nearly two entire periods for a teammate to match it.

Brian Skrudland did, finally, at the 8:07 mark of the third period, followed in short order by Jody Hull (10:03) and Skrudland again (11:14). Three goals in 3:07. The Ducks weren’t counting, but that was time enough to come up short against their sibling rivals once more.

Contrast and compare?

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It’s hard not to when you’re on the short end of the measuring stick, Duck winger Garry Valk had to admit.

“I think, invariably, because of the competitive nature of hockey players, [Florida’s success] gets brought up in our dressing room,” Valk said. “A lot of the guys could have been picked by either team [in the expansion draft]. We have five or six guys who could have gone to either team. So, yeah, we’re interested in what [the Panthers] do . . .

“It was more intense the first year, when we were both chasing the victory record. I don’t think we follow the standings that closely now--maybe management does--but I do know both teams are playing well right now.

“The difference is: We’ve played well the last 10 games and they’ve played well all year.”

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It’s always something, isn’t it?

“It’s kind of interesting,” Valk allowed. “Both teams play the same type of game. Simple, disciplined, patient hockey.”

Only one plays it a little better than the other.

“Both of our teams, we don’t have a lot of talent,” Duck defenseman Oleg Tverdovsky said. “They don’t. We don’t. Both teams win games by playing hard, taking care of our own end and scoring when we get the opportunity.

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“Tonight, they just worked harder and took care of their end better than we did.”

In other words, the Panthers played better Mighty Duck hockey than the Mighty Ducks.

That hasn’t changed, not from the first meeting. Only now, when they meet, the place is infested with rubber rodents.


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