SUNRISE, Fla. – The Florida Panthers have their backs against the wall, and an infusion of youth might be just what the team needs to help get them back on track.
The Panthers are trailing the Tampa Bay Lightning three games to one in their best-of-seven opening round playoff series, with Game Five coming up Monday night.
The team held a practice at the BB&T Center on Sunday, and something that raised more than a few eyebrows was rookie goaltender Spencer Knight taking shots in the goal generally designated for whoever is starting the next game.
After practice, Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville wouldn’t commit to a starter for Game Five, only saying an announcement would come the day of the game.
Fast forward to Monday’s morning skate, and there was Knight, once again taking the ‘starter’s’ crease.
For the second day in a row, Quenneville refused to confirm what many of us had been suspecting.
“We’re going to announce it tonight,” Quenneville said when asked who was starting in goal for Florida.
Asked specifically if Knight would be playing, Q responded, “Could be.”
So there you have it.
Knight, one of the best goaltending prospects in all of hockey, ‘could be’ in goal for the Panthers when they take the ice for Monday night’s do or die contest against Tampa.
The potential move comes on the heels of Quenneville having to pull his starting goalie in each of the past two games.
Chris Driedger started Game Three and was removed after allowing five goals during a whirlwind second period. Sergei Bobrovsky came on in relief and stopped all nine shots he faced during the third period and overtime, helping Florida claim its only win of the series thanks to Ryan Lomberg’s game-winner during the extra session.
Bobrovsky was given the start in Game Four, but he was yanked after surrendering five goals on 14 shots through the game’s first 27 minutes and change. Bob also allowed five goals on 40 shots during the Panthers 5-4 loss in Game One.
Knight won all four of his appearances during the regular season, becoming the youngest player in NHL history to do so.
The 20-year-old carries a 2.32 goals against average and .919 save percentage into his first postseason start.
“With Spencer, just watching him a bit when he’s not looking, he just seems like a professional already at a young age,” Panthers defenseman MacKenzie Weegar said after Sunday’s practice. “He’s already got the routine down. Everything is already so elite and so high level that when he gets in the net, it’s almost like you trust him already.
“If he does get a chance to play, I can’t wait to play in front of him.”
Florida selected Knight with the 13th overall selection in the 2019 NHL Draft. He excelled during two seasons at Boston College while also backstopping Team USA to a gold medal at the 2021 IIHF World Junior tournament.
Knight signed his three-year entry level contract with Florida in March.
“He’s already a professional at a young age, and he’s got a bright, bright future ahead of him,” Weegar said. “I remember talking to (Keith Yandle) and (Aaron Ekblad) when he first got in here and got his first game, we all looked at each other and it was almost like, ‘he’s going to be a Hall of Famer.’”