SUNRISE — Just over three months to the day the Florida Panthers dropped Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, they will play in front of their fans against a familiar foe in the Toronto Maple Leafs.
There have been a lot of new additions to their Sunrise arena since they left for Vegas with a 3-1 deficit on June 10.
The newly-named Amerant Bank Arena will have a new Eastern Conference Champions banner in the rafters and is fitted with new amenities courtesy of sponsorships acquired from the momentum of the playoff run.
But most importantly, the Panthers are excited to see their fans back in the cavernous building as they hold their 30th home opener.
“It feels really good, especially when you’re finished with the excitement of the last two months,” coach Paul Maurice said.
“There is this connection that happens between fans and players. You become friends and you haven’t seen them in a couple months so you get back to see them again. It’s going to be fun.”
The Panthers have some familiar, yet less-friendly faces, on the other side of the ice.
The Leafs will be looking for revenge after the Panthers ended their season in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
“I think rivalries are built in the playoffs, they are not divisional or conference,” Maurice said.
“But there is no way to play in a series with Toronto and not have it be an event. There is just so much coverage and so much scrutiny put on everything, so there will be an extra energy in this for us when we play Toronto, Boston and Carolina this year.”
The lasting image of how the series ended rings in the Maple Leafs’ heads the most.
After Nick Cousins scored the Game 5 overtime-winning goal, Radko Gudas was pictured screaming in the face of Toronto goalie Joseph Woll in a moment of pure elation.
While Gudas is now in Anaheim after signing with the Ducks this offseason, that moment is still fresh in the heads of the Maple Leafs’ fans and players.
“He wants to win so bad and winning in overtime and going to the Eastern Conference Final, those were the emotions we had,” Panthers captain Sasha Barkov said.
PANTHERS ON DECK
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS @ FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
- Where: Amerant Bank Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida/ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (West Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); WCZR 101.7-FM (Treasure Coast); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- DraftKings odds — Maple Leafs Favored: Money Line (-130); Puck line (-1.5, +170); Over/Under 7 (+105/-125)
- Last Season: Toronto won Regular Season Series 3-1; Florida won Eastern Conference Semifinals 4-1
- This season: @Florida, Thursday/April 16; @Toronto, Nov. 28/April 1
- All-time Regular Season Series: Toronto leads 48-36-7, 7 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Saturday vs. Vancouver Canucks, 7 p.m.
PROJECTED FLORIDA PANTHERS LINEUP
17 Evan Rodrigues // 16 Sasha Barkov // 13 Sam Reinhart
23 Carter Verhaeghe // 27 Eetu Luostarinen // 19 Matthew Tkachuk
21 Nick Cousins // 15 Anton Lundell //24 Justin Sourdif
94 Ryan Lomberg // 82 Kevin Stenlund // 18 Steven Lorentz
42 Gus Forsling // 91 Oliver Ekman-Larsson
77 Niko Mikkola // 7 Dmitry Kulikov
28 Josh Mahura // 26 Uvis Balinksins
72 Sergei Bobrovksy
41 Anthony Stolarz
Scratched: Will Lockwood, Mike Reilly
Injured: Aaron Ekblad (LTIR-shoulder), Brandon Montour (IR-shoulder), Sam Bennett (IR-LBI), Jonah Gadjovich (UBI)
PROJECTED TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS LINEUP
59 Tyler Bertuzzi // 34 Auston Matthews // 16 Mitchell Marner
23 Matthew Knies // 91 John Tavares // 88 William Nylander
19 Calle Jarnkrok // 39 Fraser Minten // 11 Max Domi
Noah Gregor // 64 David Kampf // 75 Ryan Reaves
44 Morgan Rielly // 78 TJ Brodie
22 Jake McCabe // 37 Timothy Liljegren
55 Mark Giordano // 3 John Klingberg
35 Ilya Samsonov
60 Joseph Woll
Scratched: Simon Benoit
Injured: Connor Timmins (lower body)