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2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Florida Panthers Hope Return Home is Sweet vs. Leafs

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A horde of Florida Panthers mascots seem to be enjoying themselves during Game 6 of the opening round of the playoffs against the Boston Bruins last Friday in Sunrise. // Photo by Roger Lee Photographer (561) 866-2000

The Florida Panthers love playing at home.

No one can say otherwise.

But boy, have they enjoyed the road during these playoffs.

The Panthers are back home and will play host to Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Sunday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

As much as the Panthers have enjoyed the road, so have the Leafs.

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Toronto is just 1-4 on home ice in these playoffs but are 3-0 in Florida — winning all of its road games in the opening round against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Panthers are up 2-0 in this best-of-7 series and have taken home ice away from the Maple Leafs.

Will it matter?

The Panthers certainly hope so.

“I am super-excited to come home,” said Radko Gudas, whose team went 1-2 in Sunrise against the Bruins including a 7-5 win in Game 6 last Friday night. “The home crowd those past few games, we really fed off the energy. We’re looking forward to seeing them again.”

Road teams have fared very well in the postseason and are currently 34-23 in the playoffs.

Count the Panthers as one of the leading teams when it comes to the road trend.

“Playoffs are a different beast,’’ coach Paul Maurice said. “We’re playing two teams under a lot of pressure to be dynamic at home, to be really good at home. Sometimes being on the road is a nice, safe place. … But, I’m really glad to be coming home. For sure.”

After losing Game 1 in Boston, the Panthers have not lost on the road again.

The Panthers have won five straight road playoff games for the first time in franchise history and hope to take care of business in Sunrise.

“I thought it drove us in Game 6. It gave us energy,’’ Maurice said of the electric atmosphere at FLA Live Arena last Friday night.

“That building was wired from the start. The further we’re going to play into this, to get it to a Game 6 back home, the crowd becomes more important. This is true of all teams: The hockey doesn’t necessarily get better. Their bodies and minds can only handle so much. At the end of it, the juice is all from your home crowd.’’

They probably will not get the same sort of undivided attention at home as, say, the Leafs as a large contingent of Toronto fans are expected to be among the 20,000+ fans packing FLA Live Arena for the next two games.

Much was made of the Panthers trying to limit initial ticket sales to local fans on the first day they went on sale, but even they knew that was just an opportunity to slow the tide of Toronto fans from buying tickets.

The Maple Leafs travel extremely well — but as Maurice said, most wearing blue-and-white will not be flying in.

“There will be lots there and most of them won’t have to travel,” Maurice said with a grin. “Just walk around my neighborhood and there are Ontario plates everywhere. Canada lives in my neighborhood. They won’t have to travel.

“The Leafs will be well represented. It’s a function of the great state of Florida. You have fans of all the other 31 teams who live here and they support their teams. Game 6 against Boston? There were a lot of Panthers fans, too.”

FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS (ATL2) AT FLORIDA PANTHERS (WC2)
GAME 3 (Panthers Lead 2-0)

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