Florida Panthers' Ed Jovanovski (55) and goalie Jose Theodore (60) celebrate after the third period of Game 5 in a first-round NHL Stanley Cup playoff hockey series against the New Jersey Devils in Sunrise, Fla., Saturday, April 21, 2012. The Panthers won 3-0. Fans were throwing plastic rats onto the ice in celebration. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. - The rats can still fly—when appropriate—at Florida Panthers hockey games. They just won't be for sale there anymore.
And the team says opposing fans are to blame.
Florida announced Monday it will no longer sell the plastic toys for $5 apiece at BankAtlantic Center, starting immediately. The reason: Fans are throwing them at the wrong times.
"This is a result of visiting fans throwing rats on the ice during the game," Panthers President Michael Yormark wrote on Twitter.
By the way, the plastic rats aren't facing extinction. They're still for sale at the team's practice facility, a few miles from where they play home games.
"It's a tradition here," Panthers centre Stephen Weiss said.
It's all a nod to the 1995-96 season, when Florida went to the Stanley Cup finals. The Panthers encourage fans to toss the toys after victories, and hundreds of them dotted the ice surface after the Panthers' most recent win.
The so-called "Rat Trick" started when Scott Mellanby used his stick to exterminate one in the Panthers' dressing room before a game nearly two decades ago, then went out and scored two goals that night. It fast became part of Panthers' lore.
A couple dozen rats usually hit the ice after goals in Florida's building during the series with the Devils, which the Panthers lead 3-2 heading into Game 6 in Newark on Tuesday. Workers scoop them up and play has restarted quickly each time—followed by reminders that the Panthers could be subjected to a two-minute penalty for delay of game, and that the rat-tossers may be ejected.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has reached out to the Panthers to discuss pace of play, and some Devils were upset when at least one of the toys was on the ice in the final minute of Florida's 3-0 win in Game 5 on Saturday night.
"During the play, it's got to stop, definitely," Weiss said. "At the same time, it could be New Jersey fans doing it as well. So it is what it is. It takes two seconds, you clean them up. But I like it."
Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said he has been worried at times throughout the series about the possibility of the after-goal celebrations resulting in Florida being assessed a penalty.
At the same time, he has lauded Florida's crowds of late for their exuberance. This playoff run is Florida's first in 12 years.
"I think a lot of Devil fans have been buying those rats and they throw them on the ice trying to get us that two-minute penalty," Dineen said. "So it's unfortunate. I think it's a great part of our identity and something that our fans thoroughly enjoy. In saying that, we don't want to put the team in a situation or the league in a situation where they have to make a decision during a game that could affect the actual outcome."
Follow Tim Reynolds on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ByTimReynolds
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