MIAMI (CBSMiami) – For rookie goaltender Spencer Knight, things could not have started much worse.

In the first minute of his playoff debut Monday night at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, he got struck by Tampa Bay Lightning.  The team scored on its first shot, when the game was just 53 seconds old.

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“You can’t do anything about it,” the young goalie coolly reflected. “I just told myself to forget about it, move on, just settle in, and above all, have fun. ”

That’s what he did. Knight became a wall the defending Stanley Cup champs could not penetrate.

No 20-year-old had ever made his playoff debut in an elimination game. But after seeing his two veteran goalies struggle during the first four games of the series, Coach Joel Quennville rolled the dice.

“We’re in a situation where we’ve got nothing to lose,” the veteran coach said. “So we decided to give him a shot to just go in and have some fun and he did. ”

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That’s an understatement. Knight made 36 saves, and was the clear hero of a 4-1 victory that kept the Panthers’ season alive. When the final horn sounded, his teammates and the playoff capacity crowd of about 14,000 fans let him know it. The 20-year-old rookie heard a thunderous ovation while doing his post-game interview. He thanked the crowd and told them they were awesome.

Knight, a native of Darien, Connecticut, didn’t report to the Panthers until his college season was done. Right away, his team mates were impressed with his work ethic and calm demeanor. The pandemic made Knight grateful to be on the ice again.

“It’s hockey. Last year at this time, I was in quarantine. So any ice time, whether it’s in practice, regular season or playoffs, is great. I just appreciate that I get to play,” he said.

After his stellar performance, Quennville was asked if there was any doubt which goalie would start game six Wednesday night in Tampa. Quennville at first said he wouldn’t talk about it, but then quickly added, “I think we all know now what’s going on. “

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Knight’s game five performance makes that an easy call.

Jim Berry