The Florida Panthers will host their first playoff series since 2016 although due to Covid-19 precautions, things will most definitely be different.
The team is increasing capacity at the 19,250-seat BB&T Center for the opening round against the Tampa Bay Lightning with over 9,000 being allowed into the arena.
With vaccinations being widely available to anyone who wants one, the team is hoping to bring in bigger crowds if the Panthers move through the playoffs.
The state of Florida, team president Matt Caldwell said, is fine with the team going to full capacity. The NHL, however, is hesitant.
Social distancing will be reduced from six to three feet per CDC directives and, if the Panthers advance, larger crowds will follow.
The schedule for the opening round of the playoffs is expected to be announced Thursday afternoon.
“The first round will be just under 50 percent capacity,” Caldwell said. “Not everyone will have six feet and we have decreased that to three feet. Hopefully we advance and we’ll look at it. If we get approved to increase capacity further, there won’t be as much social distancing as in the past. You start running out of space. That’s a good problem to have. Let’s get out of this first round and go from there.”
Work on the arena is underway with Game 1 against the Lightning expected to be Sunday night.
Large HVAC units and dehumidifiers have been installed around the back side of the arena. Due to the summer weather approaching and the larger crowds piling into the arena, the machinery is needed to not only increase air flow in the building but pull out humidity to help the ice surface.
Because the Panthers have not made it out of the first round since 1996, these dehumidifiers have never been used at the Sunrise arena.
The Panthers did use them in 1996 and 1997 at Miami Arena.
“The NHL has all the best medical advise and we want fans, when they come into a mass gathering, that they feel safe” Caldwell said. “The NHL has asked us to, being in Florida, to try and decrease the humidity as much as possible both for the ice conditions and because the more humidity is in the air, the more stagnant it is.
“We’re doing everything we can to increase airflow throughout the arena and decrease humidity. That will give us better conditions. Most people are vaccinated, our organization has had the opportunity to do so. … Most of our staff, our players and coaches all had access to be vaccinated. We’ll kind of have herd immunity and most of our fans have had the opportunity. We’re just taking extra precautions.”