SUNRISE — The Florida Panthers come into tonight’s playoff matchup with the Toronto Maple Leafs in a very nice position.
Florida holds a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series after winning the opening two games in Toronto last week.
Those celebrating and thinking this series is over, however, are in for a rude awakening.
There is a long way to go before anything gets decided.
“We just want to keep and even keel and keep battling,’’ Radko Gudas said. “I don’t think we have changed or adjusted too much, we have been playing this style of hockey for a couple of months now. It worked to get us in and so far, we’re happy with the results.
“But we have a long road ahead of us. We’re trying to keep our heads down and just work more and more each game.”
In the history of the NHL playoffs, 398 teams have taken a 2-0 series lead and the odds definitely favor Florida when it comes to moving on.
Of teams with a 2-0 lead, 343 (86.2 percent) have advanced; 230 of them either in a sweep or in 5 games.
But there have been 55 teams (13.8 percent) which have rallied and pulled off the upset.
It already happened once this postseason as the New Jersey Devils lost at home in the first two games before going to Madison Square Garden and winning the next two to even things up against the Rangers.
The Devils ended up winning that series in 7 and now find themselves down 2-0 again, this time to Carolina.
In 2018, the Columbus Blue Jackets stunned the Capitals by taking the first two games in Washington.
Then the Capitals won Game 3 in double-overtime on a goal from Lars Eller and ended up winning the series in 6. Washington went on to beat Pittsburgh in the second round and ended up winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history.
Sergei Bobrovsky knows that story a little too well.
“This is hockey and anything can happen,’’ said Bobrovsky, who comes into tonight’s Game 3 riding a five-game winning streak after giving up four goals on 73 shots to the Maple Leafs in the first two games of this series.
“Tomorrow is a new game and everything starts at 0-0. We’re not looking at the score, we’re just looking one game at a time, one shift at a time. Our opponent is really good and it is going to be a good game.”
Florida would really help their chances of advancing to its first Eastern Conference finals since 1996 with a win tonight.
Of the 203 teams which took a 3-0 series lead in NHL history, all but four moved on.
Florida, of course, took its 2-0 lead on the road. Only 11 teams since 1992 have lost the first two games of a series at home and rallied to win it.
This year’s Devils and the 2018 Capitals are two of them.
The Panthers know this thing isn’t over and so do the Leafs.
Toronto is 3-0 away from home in these playoffs, winning all three road games in Tampa in the first round including the Game 6 clincher in overtime.
With players like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and noted Panther-killer John Tavares, the Leafs are not out of this thing.
Not by a long shot.
“The challenge is pretty obvious, of course,” Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe said on Saturday before his team flew to South Florida.
“The group feels good, remains confident and optimistic. We’re excited to get back on the road, that’s a place we have developed some confidence. It doesn’t make it easier. The puck will drop and the game will be hard and competitive again. We just have to stay with it as a group, stay with the attack and keep shooting.”
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS (ATL2) AT FLORIDA PANTHERS (WC2)
GAME 3 (Panthers Lead 2-0)
- When: Sunday, 6:30 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV: TBS
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- First Round Schedule — Game 1: Florida 4, @Toronto 2; Game 2: Florida 3, @Toronto 2; Game 3: Sunday at Florida, 6:30 (TBS); Game 4: Wednesday at Florida, 7 (ESPN); Game 5*:Friday, May 12 at Toronto (TNT); Game 6*: Sunday, May 14 at Florida (TBA); Game 7*:May 16 at Toronto (TNT). (*) – If Necessary
- How They Got Here: Toronto d. Tampa Bay 4-2; Florida d. Boston 4-3
- Season Series (Toronto won 3-1): Maple Leafs 5, @Panthers 4 OT (Jan. 17); @Maple Leafs 6, Panthers 2 (Mar. 23); Panthers 3, @Maple Leafs 2 OT (March 29); Maple Leafs 2, @Panthers 1 OT (April 10)
- Last season: Florida won 2-1
- All-time Regular Season Series: Toronto leads 48-36-7, 7 ties
- Postseason History: First Meeting