SUNRISE — The Florida Panthers wrapped up their preseason with a 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night.
After three weeks of training camp, the Panthers are finally in Game Week mode as they officially open their season in Minnesota against the Wild on Thursday night.
“It has been a long camp and a hard one, too,” Ryan Lomberg said. “We are ready for it to start counting. We are all jacked up and ready to go.”
With eight preseason games in the books, Florida’s coaching staff and front office has had more than enough chances to decide its fiercest roster battles.
And there have been some surprise names who have stuck around before the team makes its final cuts this week.
“I think we have discovered some new players who are going to fit really well,” coach Paul Maurice said.
“I think everybody got a chance… These kids work so hard all summer and tend they’ve committed their life to the game. God, they want a chance. I feel like we’ve done a good job of getting almost everybody in. I feel like our evaluation is fairly based on what they’ve shown.”
Here are my observations from Florida’s preseason finale:
- With Oliver Ekman-Larsson out of the lineup, the Panthers used Mike Reilly as the quarterback of the top unit. OEL’s absence was felt, as the power play was sluggish and laden with mistakes. Reilly had perhaps the biggest blunder, turning the puck over to Brandon Hagel, who promptly scored the game-winning goal.
- Justin Sourdif played well in his last chance to prove he can make the NHL roster. While he didn’t register a point, the 21-year-old set Anton Lundell and Sam Reinhart up with a few nice passes and he won quite a few puck battles.
- Evan Rodrigues has fit in well with Florida’s top power play unit. They use him in a bumper role and he has excelled at moving the puck quickly and getting shots of where they are needed. He had one blunder that led to a goal on Saturday but he has performed well there overall.
- Uvis Balinksis quietly had himself a good game on the top pairing next to Gus Forsling. The Latvian defenseman made a couple of mistakes early in the preseason while adjusting to the North American game but he has grown more comfortable with each game opportunity. Oh, and he is pretty good defensively.
- Kevin Stenlund got some work in on the penalty kill and he fit pretty well there. The 6-foot-5 forward has a long reach, which breaks up a lot of passing lanes, while he is fast enough to keep up with opposing forwards. He played well offensively, too, finishing the preseason with five points in six games.
PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT MINNESOTA WILD
- When: Thursday, 8 p.m.
- Where: Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
- Radio: WQAM 560-AM; 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
- Last season: Florida won 2-0
- This season: Florida @ Minnesota, Thursday; Minnesota @ Florida, Jan. 19
- All-time regular season series: Minnesota leads 18-10-2, 1 tie
- Up Next for the Panthers: Saturday at Winnipeg Jets, 4 p.m.