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2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Pressure May Be Off the Bruins (and On the Florida Panthers)



Florida panthers
Matthew Tkachuk celebrates in front of Boston goalie Jeremy Swayman following Carter Verhaeghe’s overtime goal in Game 7 on April 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

FORT LAUDERDALE — Florida Panthers captain Sasha Barkov was asked Sunday what he thought of his team being the presumptive favorite in its upcoming series against the Boston Bruins.

“I think that is more for you to decide,” he said. “We just play our game. We know how to play, we know how to play hard. That is all we want to do. We have the same mindset as last year. We want to out-compete every team we play. It doesn’t matter who we play. We want to be at our best every game.

“It is not our decision to decide who’s the favorite.”

Well, according to the gambling world, the Panthers are betting favorites in Game 1 tonight (-165 on the MoneyLine locally) and -170 at FanDuel to win the series.

Boston, coming in off an emotionally draining 7-game series win over the Maple Leafs, is not used to playing the underdog role.

The Bruins, however, may have less pressure on themselves in this series after surviving Toronto.

Florida was a heavy underdog going into last year’s first-round series with the Bruins before rallying from a 3-1 series deficit and winning in 7.

The Bruins certainly remember.

The Panthers know they do.

In four games between the two this season, Boston played like a team with something to prove and won all four.

The Panthers forced overtime twice, losing both.


“They definitely got us in the regular season,” said Matthew Tkachuk, the catalyst of Florida’s comeback win last year. “I think if you ask them, they’re probably using that for confidence going into this series.

“We’re like, ‘the regular season doesn’t matter.’ We got them in playoffs. We’ll use our playoff experience and use that as confidence. They did take it to us this year, but they were all close games. So I’m expecting a very good series. They are such an unbelievable game in every aspect of the game. They touch everything … it’s a lot like our team.’’

Enemy Lines: Follow the Bruins at Boston Hockey Now

Tkachuk did give the Bruins their props.

After beating the Lightning last Monday night, Tkachuk alluded to playing the Bruins in the second round.

“Just to in a playoff series against your biggest rival is so cool and so much fun to begin with,’’ Tkachuk said last week. “To come out on top, be a part of the team that was able to do that for the first time makes it more special. … We’re probably going to be playing our next-biggest rival, so there will not be an emotional letdown.”

He continued that on Sunday.

Even though there was plenty of doubt Boston could finish off the Leafs after losing another 3-1 series lead, it did.

“Without this sounding too bad, I think we all knew it was going to be Boston the way that series was going,” Tkachuk said. “You never know, but we were always expecting Boston.”

Although Boston is coming in off a high of winning a first-round series, so are the Panthers.

And they did so by beating their “top rival” as Tkachuk said.

Florida is confident but not cocky. It knows what it has coming into this series, and knows the Bruins stand in the way of the ultimate goal.

This should be a good one.

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