Panthers Open New Arena With Win


The Florida Panthers showcased their new home Friday night and perhaps a new star.

Mark Parrish's first two NHL goals broke a tie in the third period as the

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  • Panthers christened their new arena with a 4-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    Parrish, who tied for the league lead with six preseason goals, scored his first career goal at 2:34 of the period to break a 1-1 tie, then gave the Panthers a cushion with another goal at 8:24.

    "It's nice to see a young player like that break in the way he did," said Florida coach Terry Murray, who was making his debut behind the Panthers' bench.

    Viktor Kozlov assisted on both goals and scored two of his own as Florida sent the crowd of 19,200 home happy from the National Car Rental Center. The Panthers moved into their spacious $185 million home in Fort Lauderdale's western suburbs after five seasons in the cramped Miami Arena.

    "It was very noisy. I love to play here," Kozlov said.

    Jassen Cullimore scored the Lightning's lone goal.

    The game also marked the debut of Tampa Bay's Vincent Lecavalier, the first pick in June's entry draft. The 18-year-old center nearly scored late in the first period, but otherwise was held in check by the Florida defense.

    Instead, it was Parrish who put on the coming-out party.

    The 21-year-old wing showed his finishing touch when he teamed with fellow rookie Oleg Kvasha and Kozlov to put the Panthers ahead 2-1. Kozlov freed Kvasha along the left wing, and Parrish skated onto the centering pass to one-time a shot past Bill Ranford.

    Nearly six minutes later, Parrish struck again with some keen individual work. He collected the puck off the stck of Tampa Bay's Enrico Ciccone and went in alone to beat Ranford from the right circle.

    Not bad for somebody who was so nervous he feared he would trip on the ice during pregame introductions.

    "I was nervous. I was just sitting here shaking," Parrish said. "Dave (Gagner) turned to me and said, `Hey, only 80 more (games) to go.' It was pretty bad."

    Murray said Parrish "had a great training camp. You just try to put him in a position to be successful."

    Kozlov capped the scoring with 3:15 left when he scored on a pass from behind the net by Kvasha.

    "It's disappointing because we have to learn to be more patient," Tampa Bay coach Jacques Demers said. "It's not last year's team. It's a better team."

    Tampa Bay, which finished with the NHL's worst record last season, upgraded their roster by adding such established names as Ranford, Wendel Clark, Craig Janney and Benoit Hogue.

    The game ended with more bad blood stemming from accusations by Panthers officials that two Tampa Bay players used racial slurs in an exhibition game.

    Florida's Ed Jovanovski and Darcy Tucker of the Lightning fought with 2½ minutes left, and Tampa Bay's Sandy McCarthy battled Paul Laus seconds later. McCarthy and Tucker were the targets of an investigation for allegedly using racial slurs against Florida's Peter Worrell, who is black.

    "I don't think they were necessarily defending me," Worrell said. "Laus and McCarthy have been fighting for years."

    Cullimore gave Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead with the first goal of the new arena, finding space between goalie Sean Burke and the left post at 17:29 of the first period. Kozlov tied it at 5:43 of the second period with a shot from the left circle.

    Before the game, the Panthers showcased their spiffy new home with a 30-minute fireworks and light show, set to a "Mission: Impossible" theme.

    The crowd cheered loudest when the Panthers unfurled banners for the best record by an expansion team from 1994 and the Eastern Conference crown in 1996. Famed ring announcer Michael Buffer introduced the players before bellowing his trademark "Let's get ready to rumbllllllle!"

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