As much as some within the NHL tried to sell last year’s expanded postseason as the playoffs, a lot of use weren’t buying it.
The Panthers are part of that group.
Although Florida was part of the Toronto bubble, the No. 10 seed in the East didn’t make it out of the play-in round and came home without officially taking part in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“Yeah, the bubble didn’t really count,” Jonathan Huberdeau said.
That is not the case here tonight.
The Panthers are officially back in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
And this one counts.
Florida will open up its first-round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday at 7:30. It is only the sixth time the Panthers have been part of the NHL’s Sweet 16 in franchise history.
”It feels like the playoffs,” Joel Quenneville said. “It feels like something special is going on. This is the first time the Florida teams get to meet and there seems to be a bit of a buzz around here. That’s healthy for us. We have to beat the best and it’s a completely different feeling.”
For players like Huberdeau and Barkov, it is only their second trip to the playoffs.
”Obviously playing Tampa, it’s going to be fun and this is a rivalry a little bit,” Huberdeau said. “We’ll feel that tonight getting on the ice. We’ll see our fans, it’ll be doubled from earlier this season. It’s exciting, there’s a lot of excitement in the room. We’re ready to get going.”
Quenneville, obviously, has been here before — even if he hasn’t done it here before.
When Quenneville took over the Panthers back in 2019, the first thing he talked about was how much fun a run through the playoffs was.
“I want every one of you guys to remember where you’re at right now and remember the feeling that you have today,’’ Quenneville said in his introductory press conference, one which coincided with the 2018-19 Panthers locker clean out day.
“Next year we want to be right now coming off the ice with our skates and we’re preparing for our first-round opponent.
“And you’re going to know that when you’re on that ride, it’s the ride of a lifetime and the memories are going to be everlasting. Look forward to that.”
On Sunday, Quenneville held a spirited morning skate which may or may not have been an optional. If it was an optional, it looked like everyone showed up.
Even Quenneville stayed out on the ice a little longer than usual.
”it has been a long week waiting for this day and we’re excited about being here,” Quenneville said on Sunday morning. “Now it’s a different game than what we saw at the beginning of the season. We’re excited for the chance and the privilege of playing playoff hockey against a team we know we’ll have to be at our best against. … We have to go to the next level.”
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Radko Gudas said he woke up excited to get this thing going.
“This is a day I have been looking forward to since Game 1,” he said. “I was excited to get to the rink, we had a great morning skate with a lot of energy. Everyone was doing their thing to get ready for the game. You can feel the excitement getting bigger as the game approaches.”
In a nod to 1996 when the entire length of I-95 from the Palm Beach County line to downtown Miami was lined with Panthers lightpole banners, the City of Sunrise has put up new banners along the roadways leading to BB&T Center.
The dehumidifiers are cranking outside the BB&T Center as the Panthers brought out the big machinery to try and suck some of the water out of the air.
The machines, which looked like commercial A/C units, are in the loading docks behind the arena.
They serve two purposes: To help the ice during these South Florida summer months as well as help keep the air a little less stagnant and thereby safer for fans who will be sitting inside for a couple of hours.
Due to the Panthers lack of success in the playoffs since 1996, this is the first time the BB&T Center has brought these things in. The Panthers simply never made it out of April before.
— George Richards (@GeorgeRichards) May 16, 2021
These humidifiers first made their appearance in South Florida during the Panthers’ run to the Cup Finals in 1996.
Some of you may remember seeing the huge ducts creeping up the side of the old hat box on the Metrorail side of the building.
Speaking of the 1996 Panthers: Happy early Birthday to Bill Lindsay!
The Blonde Bomber celebrates a milestone birthday tomorrow and will work tonight’s game with Doug Plagens on the radio.