SUNRISE — The Florida Panthers know the Carolina Hurricanes and the style of play they want to bring to the upcoming Eastern Conference finals.
And vice versa.
While much has been made about the personal links between the Panthers and Hurricanes, the way these two teams play the game is also quite familiar.
It certainly was not always that way.
Both teams are very strong up the middle with centers who play a hard-nosed two-way game. Florida goes from Sasha Barkov to Sam Bennett, Anton Lundell and Eric Staal.
Carolina counters with Sebastian Aho, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Jordan Staal and Paul Stastny.
Now, Both teams like to bring the puck up the ice, dump in it in up the half wall or backboards and go and get it.
The Panthers did not always play this way. They do now.
“I think I know their game,’’ said Paul Maurice, the first-year coach who spent parts of 11 seasons in the Carolina organization. “They have been consistent with that for years. That is their strength and that is their advantage.”
Florida is relatively new to this line of thinking but after struggling to put it all together during the regular season, appear to have it down pat now.
Carolina, as Maurice said, has been playing this way for years.
They know the situations without thinking about it.
The Panthers are getting there, but are not where the Hurricanes — a team which a terrific set of defensemen to make things even tougher on their opponents — are right now and have been building toward.
Maurice installed this new way of playing during training camp in an effort to make the Panthers more successful in the postseason when time and space are at a premium.
The Panthers struggled in the playoffs last year when they could not bring the puck into the offensive zone, set up and find passing lanes and clear shots as they did during the regular season.
It took a while for the Panthers to completely buy in as they would sometimes play both styles, but once it clicked, this has been a different team entirely.
“It was never difficult when it came to intent, I never had an argument with a player about the style of play,” Maurice said. “But it was a challenge in that this game is so fast and you almost always revert back to what you know.
“For scorers, if you’re not scoring, you revert back. I don’t know if you want to say ‘get it out of your system’ but we needed a run of very difficult games where you could not open up your game up. In January, with that schedule and with injuries, we had to scratch-and-claw to win games. We were fatigued. We had to keep things tight, had to grind to have success. We won some close games and they saw we could win those games. It was not a hard sell, we just had to go through some adversity to cement it.”
Maurice mentioned watching other playoff games over the past few weeks and seeing some high-flying action around the league.
The Panthers, save for a few shootouts in the Boston series, have kept things pretty tight especially against Toronto.
In the 5-game series, the Panthers were involved in four one-goal games with Game 1 going 4-2 in their favor.
“We have seen some big spreads in a lot of these games and there have not been in any of our games,” Maurice said. “It is more likely this will be tighter. That is the expectation coming in. Both teams have a foundation of forechecking and a hard gap and a defensive game. We’re identical in that mindset although how we get there may be different. The expectation is this will be a grinding series.”
This is expected to be an extremely tight series, one in which special teams could play a huge role in.
While Florida’s penalty kill tightened up after being abused by the Bruins, Carolina has been strong throughout the regular season and in the first two rounds.
After being successful on 84.4 percent of its kills during the regular season to rank second in the league behind Boston, Carolina’s 90 percent rate in the playoffs leads all teams.
Florida’s power play is ranked sixth in the playoffs at a 28 percent success rate.
A lot more one-goal games may be on the horizon for the Panthers.
“They have good players who play a good structured game — but so do we,” Lundell said. “We have learned a lot in the past year and the biggest key is we’re still here. We play very good in the offensive zone and in the d-zone. …
“At the end of the year, we were able to win some big games when we had to. That gave us a lot of confidence and we were very confident coming into the playoffs. We were ready to challenge them as the underdogs.”
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
PANTHERS (WC2) AT CAROLINA HURRICANES (MET1)
- When: Thursday, 8 p.m.
- Where: PNC Arena, Raleigh
- TV: TNT
- Radio: WQAM 560-AM, WPOW 95.6 FM2, WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Series Schedule — Game 1: Thursday at Carolina, 8 (TNT); Game 2:Saturday at Carolina, 8 (TNT); Game 3: Monday at Florida, 8 (TNT); Game 4: Wednesday, May 24 at Florida, 8 (TNT); Game 5*: Friday, May 26 at Carolina, 8 (TNT); Game 6*: Sunday, May 28 at Florida, 8 (TNT); Game 7*: Tuesday, May 30 at Carolina, 8 (TNT). *If Necessary
- Season Series: (Carolina won 2-1): @Florida 3, Carolina 0 (Nov.9); @Carolina 4, Florida 0 (Dec. 30); Carolina 6, @Florida 4 (April 13)
- All-Time Regular Season Series: Carolina/Hartford leads 71-46-10, 11 ties
- Postseason History: First Meeting
- How They Got Here — Carolina: d. New York Islanders in 6; d. New Jersey Devils in 5. Florida: d. Boston Bruins in 7; d. Toronto Maple Leafs in 5.