Shayne Gostisbehere grew up a huge Florida Panthers fan in Broward County yet was just 3 years old when the team honored Saturday night made its run to the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals.
So excuse him for almost ruining the party for the 1996 Panthers team that celebrated the Year of the Rat.
Gostisbehere, the first South Florida born-and-bred NHL player, scored yet another clutch goal to force overtime in his first game at BB&T Center.
Florida survived “the Ghost,” however, beating the Flyers 5-4 in a shootout to at least cool off the red-hot Flyers for a moment.
“Yeah, it was awesome,” said Gostisbehere, playing not only his first game against the Panthers but in his hometown arena as well. “Of course we want a better result there at the end, but it was a dream come true. You grow up watching all the games in this building and to go out and score a goal is pretty cool.”
Philadelphia, fighting for its postseason life, had won six of its past seven games coming into Saturday — including a pair of wins over Tampa Bay last week.
“That’s a tough team to play and it’s hard to describe,” Jaromir Jagr said. “It’s tough, up-and-down hockey. We both felt we could come back. It looked like overtime all night long. It was just a matter of time before one of us tied it.”
The victory put the Panthers in sole possession of second place in the Atlantic Division, two points up on Tampa Bay. Florida kept pace with Boston and continues to trail the Bruins by a point.
Philadelphia is now two points behind Pittsburgh for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
“I thought we played a good game, and they’re a great team with players you have to be aware of,’’ said Sasha Barkov, who scored in the second period and potted the second shootout goal.
The Panthers came out firing early only to watch the Flyers match them and eventually take the lead.
Florida led 1-0 yet the Flyers led 2-1 and again at 3-2.
The Flyers took their final lead of the night early in the third when Michael Raffl — whom the Panthers tried to acquire at the trade deadline last month — got a chunk of Evgeny Medvedev’s shot and deflected it past goalie Roberto Luongo.
Florida came right back as it cashed in on Barkov’s power-play chance. Less than a minute later, Reilly Smith scored his second goal of the night after playing a little tic-tac-toe with Jussi Jokinen and beating Steve Mason to make it 4-3.
Philadelphia tied the score when Gostisbehere fired a long, fluttering shot through traffic and somehow snuck the puck past Luongo.
Of Gostisbehere’s 15 goals this season, all of them have either tied the score or given the Flyers a lead.
“I was screened, and I don’t know what he was doing at the blue line,” Luongo said. “I saw him release it and tried to slide into it. And it went off my glove and in. Obviously, I’m not too happy about that one.’’
The Panthers had to survive a Philadelphia power play in overtime and won when Luongo stopped both Philadelphia offerings — including one from Sam Gagner, who began skating in Coral Springs when his dad Dave played for the Panthers — in the shootout.
“Great job on that penalty kill,” Luongo said. “Huge blocked shots, sacrificing the body. It was great to see, in a time like that, guys going down and blocking shots.”
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Florida scored on both of its two shootout chances with Nick Bjugstad and Barkov scoring. The Panthers are now 7-3 in shootouts and snapped a two-game skid in such games.
Smith gave Florida its initial lead midway through the first period when he drove in on Mason and whipped a shot over his glove.
Down 2-1, Jonathan Huberdeau tied the score in the second after Jagr worked the puck in deep and sent a nice pass to Huberdeau, who was trailing. “That’s my new move,” Jagr said.
Jagr had another two-point night (he has 13 points off six goals in his past 11 games) as he was credited with the secondary assist on Barkov’s goal.
▪ Based on the reaction when his name was announced during a pregame video, Gostisbehere had quite a following Saturday night. Ray Sheppard, part of the Panthers’ 1996 reunion, coached Gostisbehere during his formative years in Coral Springs and was beaming Saturday when the topic was brought up.