In the aftermath of the Florida Panthers’ 5-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday, coach Joel Quenneville said he hoped it served as a “wake-up call” for his team.
He also hoped they would be angry, ticked off.
In an odd way, the beatdown at the hands of Tampa Bay may have been just what the Panthers needed.
After more than four months away from being in a meaningful hockey game, getting played the way Florida did against the Lightning could act like a splash of cold water —perhaps even a nice slap — across the face.
“That was definitely not the result we wanted,” team captain Sasha Barkov said following Thursday’s afternoon practice in Toronto.
“It’s over, it was an exhibition and it was a wake-up call for all of us. Now we know how it’s going to be in the playoffs and we have to be ready for that.
“We got a good lesson from Tampa and fortunately for us, that game didn’t count. We know more, will be more ready for Saturday. I know everyone will be ready.”
Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky was a little more succinct.
“It’s a good thing it was just an exhibition game because everyone realizes we have to elevate to another level — maybe two levels,” Bobrovsky said.
“Today was a good practice, I thought, for the whole team. Everybody competed, everyone was pissed off. Same as me. We have to be ready for a tough, hard battle. … We have to step up and show our best hockey.”
The Panthers, who were missing top defensive combo Aaron Ekblad and MacKenzie Weegar on Wednesday, gave up two goals in the second half of the first period to Brayden Point and did not offer much response in the second.
The frustration on Quenneville’s face was evident every time the cameras in Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena panned his way.
Quenneville’s disappointment spilled over into his postgame press conference and he said the message was seemingly received.
“We were extremely disappointed with yesterday’s game,” Quenneville said Thursday.
“It was one of those games where you’re looking at all aspects and all areas. We visited with lines, practiced in our groups. Certainly, it caught us off guard thinking that was the game. I commend Tampa for the way they were ready to play and compete.
“I thought we had a good talk, good review of the game. A lot of good things came about it. I thought we had one of our better practices. Our guys had a good response and that’s what we were hoping for and expected.
“We’re going to move forward off of that. We got a lesson. Hopefully we can apply it just at the right time.”
The Panthers will have one more practice Friday before their season truly resumes Saturday.
Florida will take on the New York Islanders in a best-of-five Stanley Cup qualifier with Game 1 coming from Toronto at 4 p.m. (Fox Florida, NBCSN, 560-AM).
Ekblad, one of only four Florida players still on the team from the 2016 first-round series between these two teams, says he is ready to get “another shot” at the Islanders.
“I am really excited to get out there,” Ekblad said. “They’re obviously a great team. They have an identity and they play to it. Barry Trotz holds them to that very well.
“We know what we’re matched up against, we know they are a great team. But really excited to get another shot at these guys. It’s always fun playing against them.”
Getting ready for our matchup against the Islanders. 💪 pic.twitter.com/2Z3B9YAFPz
— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) July 30, 2020
BACK TO WORK
Quenneville again did not specify why Weegar did not play against the Lightning.
“He was fine today,” Quenneville said. “He practiced, did a good job and looked good. We liked his practice. Good day for him.”
Ekblad missed three practices last week before returning to the ice with his teammates Monday and is expected to be in the lineup on Saturday as well.
“I am feeling good now,” Ekblad said, “had a few maintenance days there. But I feel great. Have been out with the guys the last two practices.”
Although Quenneville kept his lines and defensive pairings as intact as he could thought the two-week training camp depending on injury and absence, he changed things up a bit during the game Wednesday.
Could his lineup Saturday be different than what we saw throughout camp based on Wednesday’s game?
Quenneville would not say.
— Thursday was Florida’s fifth day inside the Toronto bubble and Ekblad and Barkov were both asked how they are occupying their time.
To no one’s surprise, video games seem to be a popular diversion.
“I’m not much of a video game guy, but I decided to bring my Xbox on this trip,” Ekblad said. “It is something to do. We have been playing cards with the boys, poker and things like that.”
Added Barkov: “I have been hanging in the lounge with the guys, have my PlayStation with me. I haven’t played as much as I did at home. I’m just hanging around with the guys, having lunch and dinners. Just being around them.”
— Did Quenneville notice anything special in watching the Islanders beat the Rangers 2-1 in their exhibition on Wednesday night?
“The one thing about the Islanders you’re always going to see is they play a purposeful game,’’ Quenneville said. “System-wise, they are intact and they are predictable with each other in a lot of ways.”
— Bobrovsky on playing in an empty arena: “I definitely missed the fans. Our game is a lot better with them. As the game went on, you put your focus on the game, on the play and you try to laser focus one moment at a time.
“You don’t think about what is around you, don’t listen to the music. You’re trying to be in tune with yourself and focus on the game.’’