Stephen Weiss has been with the Florida Panthers for a decade, through both good times and bad. Unfortunately, most have been bad. Through his career, he had yet to taste the post-season, but when Florida clinched a spot just days before the season finale in which they would win the South East Division, he finally got his chance. Florida would drop game one to the eventual Eastern Conference Champion New Jersey Devils, but would come storming back in game two in front of the largest crowd ever to attend a hockey game in South Florida. Weiss scored just 23 seconds into the game on a power play to put Florida ahead and they wouldn’t look back from there.
The unofficial captain of the team seemed to be on a mission to not allow his team to go into New Jersey down two games. With a strong defensive game he took key face-offs in the defensive zone, and was first on the ice for the power play and for offensive zone face-offs. Not even two minutes into the second period Weiss would score his second power play goal of the game which seemed to kill any momentum New Jersey hoped to have after the previous victory. It was the first playoff game Florida had won in 15 years , and the return of the rats in Florida. Tomas Fleischmann scored an empty net goal just as time expired to send the arena into a frenzy as rats rained down from the seats, some even parachuting in.
Florida needed a leader to step up in this game and with several Stanley Cup winners on the roster, one was bound to emerge. However, Weiss was the one to answer the call, the man who has made a solid career in Florida and who has expressed interest in staying and seeing things turn around had put his money where his mouth was. I believe this game is what powered Florida further into the playoffs than anyone expected them to go, as well as opening the eyes to fans in Florida that they are for real. Eventually, Florida would move on to game 7 against New Jersey and lose in double overtime, but I challenge anyone to watch that game and not be impressed by the energy in the arena.
With one year remaining on Stephen Weiss’ contract his future is uncertain until a new deal is worked out. But for the time being he has emerged as a true leader on this team and I look forward to seeing where he takes it in the future, however long that may be.