The Florida Panthers increased attendance at BB&T Center for Game 1 of the playoffs on Sunday night and although the sold-out crowd of 9,646 was less than half of capacity at the cavernous arena, a number of players said it was fantastic to have a large, engaged crowd back in Sunrise.
The increased crowd noise did not come without consequences, however.
Coach Joel Quenneville all but lost his voice trying to yell over the din.
Whether it was yelling directions to his players to expressing his displeasure with the officials, Quenneville’s vocal cords paid the price.
Sunday’s crowd was by far the largest the Panthers had played in front of since what turned out to be the 2019-20 regular season finale at St. Louis on March 9, 2020.
It was also the largest NHL crowd since the pandemic.
In last year’s qualifying round, the Panthers played in an empty Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. Although the Panthers allowed limited fans into BB&T Center for each of their 28 regular season games, other arenas have been much more limited.
The roar of a crowd took some getting used to.
”The crowd noise was really high, like we haven’t seen in a long time,” Quenneville croaked during his postgame media session. “You have to get everyone to hear the call on the bench. It went up a whole different level. It was kind of quiet in other areas.”
Captain Sasha Barkov said Saturday that he and his teammates were excited to see what the atmosphere at the arena would be.
Last week, the Panthers officially announced they were upping Covid-related capacity limits from around 20 percent to just below 50 for the opening round.
If Florida were to beat the Lightning and advance to the second round, the team is planning on opening to full capacity. That would mean upwards of more than 19,000 in the building.
Last week, the Panthers announced a sellout crowd of 5,040 for their finale against the Lightning; on Sunday, that sellout number rose to 9,646.
The crowd was into it from the start with the ‘Let’s Go Panthers’ chant starting in earnest during the pump up video narrated by Ed Jovanovski.
“They were unbelievable,’’ said Barkov, who scored a goal and assisted on another in Florida’s two-goal first period.
“I got goosebumps before the game, during the anthem. It was so nice, you want this to happen every game and we’re going to do our best on the ice. Lot of support from our fans, we love that and appreciate that. We want to keep playing and having fun.”
And the more the Panthers win, the more people will be allowed into the arena.
Florida ended this season ranked second in attendance, averaging 4,055 fans over the 28 home games; the Dallas Stars averaged 4,341.
PANTHERS ON DECK
STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS, ROUND 1
GAME 2: LIGHTNING AT PANTHERS
TAMPA BAY LEADS BEST-OF-7 SERIES 1-0
- When: Tuesday, 8 p.m.
- Where: BB&T Center, Sunrise
- Tickets: AVAILABLE HERE
- Regular season series: Florida won 5-2-1
- TV: CNBC, BS-FLA
- Radio: WQAM 560-AM