SUNRISE — The Florida Panthers have been anticipating this day to come for a while.
They have been anticipating it long before they clinched their playoff spot in early April, as they were chugging along at a record pace all season long.
Now, it has come to fruition.
“There is lots of excitement, lots of smiles,” MacKenzie Weegar said. “We have known our place for a while now. Down the stretch, it might be tough to get into those games because your mindset was thinking about the playoffs so long ago, but there is lots of excitement. Maybe some nerves, but good nerves.”
The Panthers earned home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs by winning the Presidents’ Trophy with a league-best 58-18-6 record.
That included 33 wins on home ice — the third-most in NHL history.
“That’s what you work for all year and now we’re here,” Jonathan Huberdeau said after Tuesday’s morning skate.
“Now we’re excited for Game 1, especially being at home. We’re going to be ready right at the get-go.”
For a team that finished in the bottom five of attendance countless times, that type of home-ice advantage has been a foreign concept.
This year has been different.
The crowd has gotten the team pumped on numerous occasions with their “We Want 10” chants, Bon Jovi sing-a-longs, and even a dance party with Kodak Black.
While we cannot confirm that he will be in attendance tonight, Game 1 of the Playoffs may end up being a sellout for the Panthers.
“All year, the atmosphere has been great and we’re all excited,’’ Huberdeau said. “The fans are getting excited as well and we’re excited to see the atmosphere in the building.”
With success comes recognition, especially in this market.
Panthers players can catch themselves plastered all over town while driving around Fort Lauderdale Beach — and they’re enjoying it.
“You see all of the guys on the beach (lightpole banners) and it’s cool to see that,” Huberdeau said. “The recognition has been nice and we’ve been waiting for this all year, so we’re just excited to get going.”
And they’ll stop and take pictures with you as well.
“Three of four years ago, no one would recognize us,” Weegar said. “Now when we go out and we’re having food, fans are coming up to us and asking for pictures and stuff, which is really cool. We love that stuff.”
Morning Skate Updates
- Aaron Ekblad will return to the lineup, per Andrew Brunette. He will skate on the top pairing with Weegar and return to the top power play unit.
- Mason Marchment and Huberdeau are both in the lineup after needing maintenance days earlier in the week. The Panthers are fully healthy heading into Game 1.
- Alex Ovechkin will play for the Capitals in Game 1 against the Panthers after missing the last three games with a shoulder injury.
- Vitek Vanecek will be Washington’s Game 1 starter.
NHL STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
FLORIDA PANTHERS V. WASHINGTON CAPITALS (Best of 7)
- Game 1: Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN2/ESPN+
- Radio: WQAM 560 (flagship); WMEN 640 (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3 (Florida Keys); SiriusXM 219 (Streaming 932).
- Tickets: CLICK HERE
- Draft Kings odds — Florida favored: Money Line (-230); Puck line (-1.5, +110); Over/Under 6.5 (-110/-110); Series (-340)
PANTHERS V. CAPITALS
- Season series — Florida won 2-1: @Florida 5, Washington 4 OT (Nov. 4); @Washington 4, Panthers 3 (Nov. 26); @Florida 5, Washington 4 (Nov. 30)
- All-time regular season series: Capitals lead 67-44-11, 9 ties
- Playoff history: None
- First-round schedule — Game 1: Washington at Florida, Tuesday, 7:30 (ESPN2/BSF); Game 2: Washington at Florida, Thursday, 7:30 (TBS/BSF); Game 3: Florida at Washington, Saturday, 1 (ESPN/BSF); Game 4: Florida at Washington, May 9, 7 (TBS/BSF); Game 5*: Washington at Florida, May 11; Game 6*: Florida at Washington, May 13; Game 7: Washington at Florida, May 15. *If necessary