Florida coach Kevin Dineen was fretting on the bench as the Panthers were trying to protect a two-goal lead, a mere minute away from taking a 3-2 lead over New Jersey in an Eastern Conference first-round playoff matchup.
At that moment, Dineen wasn't only worried about the outcome.
No, he was also fixated on the toy plastic rat sitting on the ice. The ''Rat Trick'' - an odd South Florida hockey tradition - is going strong once again.
It dates back in Florida to the 1995-96 season, when fan favorite Scott Mellanby used his stick to exterminate one of the critters in the Panthers' dressing room before a game, then went out and scored two goals that night. Mellanby's actions soon became part of the team's lore, and fans are now encouraged to litter the ice with plastic rats after every home win.
Except, well, many don't wait that long.
''A lot of premature rats out there,'' Panthers forward Kris Versteeg noted after Florida beat ...