The Florida Panthers will open their second-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs as the underdog.
After taking down the record-breaking Boston Bruins, the Panthers are +140 underdogs to defeat the Maple Leafs and move onto the Conference Final.
But they do not care.
“There are a lot of people out there who do not think we will be able to pull this one off just like they didn’t think we would be able to pull the last one off,” Matthew Tkachuk said.
“I don’t think it fuels us, I don’t think we necessarily care. The one thing that did bring us together last series was that we knew we were the crazy underdog story and that doesn’t change this series.”
The challenge ahead for Florida is very similar.
Toronto features a four-headed monster up front in Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and John Tavares.
Four forwards who are capable of putting up 80+ points a season and, in Matthews’ and Nylander’s case, 40-plus goals.
It took a while for the Maple Leafs to make it over the hump to the second round — six years for this particular group and 19 years in total for the franchise — but they were able to do so by acquiring the right pieces to surround their core at the deadline.
Their big swing was acquiring 2019 Conn Smythe winner Ryan O’Reilly and ex-Panther Noel Acciari in a package from the St. Louis Blues in mid-February while they slowly built up their bottom six afterward.
Add in rookie Matthew Knies, who proved to be a solid addition to the team in the postseason after finishing up his career with the University of Minnesota, and the Panthers have a tough task ahead of them.
Especially with a rabid Toronto crowd that spent 19 years desperate for second-round playoff hockey going against them to kick off the series.
“I want them to take it in,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “I know all of the really smart guys do wonderful things to relieve the pressure on their team but we’ve been in it, so it’s not a new experience.
“This will be a wild building and that’s a lot of fun, too. The energy goes to the home team, obviously, but the energy is there for the road team to experience as well.”
Alex Lyon was the first goalie off for the Panthers after morning skate.
Maurice did not confirm his starting goaltender after Sergei Bobrovsky won Florida’s final three games to help them take down the Boston Bruins. The Panthers, it should be noted, have had Lyon come off first before in the Boston series with Bobrovsky starting.
— Ryan Lomberg skated in full gear for the first time since being pulled from the Panthers lineup in Game 4 against Boston due to a hand injury he sustained in Game 1.
Maurice said Lomberg needs “two-to-three more days to rebuild and one-or-two more heavy push days on the ice” before he returns to the lineup, putting his projected return at Game 4 or 5.
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS (ATL2) VS. FLORIDA PANTHERS (WC2)
- When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
- Where: Scotiabank Arena, Toronto
- TV/Streaming: ESPN, ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- DraftKings odds — Maple Leafs Favored: Money Line (-170); Puck line (-1.5, +150); Over/Under 6.5 (-120/+100). Series: Toronto -170/Florida +145.
- First Round Schedule — Game 1: Tuesday at Toronto, 7 (ESPN); Game 2: Thursday at Toronto, 7 (TNT); 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
PROJECTED FLORIDA PANTHERS LINEUP
23 Carter Verhaeghe // 16 Sasha Barkov // 10 Anthony Duclair
21 Nick Cousins // 9 Sam Bennett // 19 Matthew Tkachuk
27 Eetu Luostarinen // 15 Anton Lundell // 13 Sam Reinhart
22 Zac Dalpe // 12 Eric Staal // 6 Colin White
42 Gus Forsling // 5 Aaron Ekblad
18 Marc Staal // 62 Brandon Montour
28 Josh Mahura // 7 Radko Gudas
72 Sergei Bobrovsky
34 Alex Lyon
Scratched: Mike Benning, Evan Fitzpatrick, Givani Smith, Casey Fitzgerald
Injured: Patric Hornqvist (LTIR-concussion), Ryan Lomberg (hand)
PROJECTED TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS LINEUP
23 Matthew Knies // 34 Auston Matthews // 88 William Nylander
19 Calle Jarnkrok // 91 John Tavares // 16 Mitch Marner
58 Michael Bunting // Ryan O’Reilly // 52 Noel Acciari
12 Zach Aston-Reese // 64 David Kampf // 15 Alexander Kerfoot
22 Jake McCabe // 78 T.J. Brodie
44 Morgan Reilly // 2 Luke Schenn
55 Mark Giordano // 37 Timothy Liljegren
35 Ilya Samsonov
60 Joseph Woll