CORAL SPRINGS — When Sam Reinhart of the Florida Panthers was asked about the atmosphere having a playoff-like feel at a game a few months ago, he said he could not relate to the question.
“Unfortunately, the way my career has gone, I can’t quite comment on that,” he said.
“It’s something you want to be a part of. You want to be playing hockey at the end of the year.”
Reinhart will finally get his first taste of the NHL postseason on Tuesday night when the Panthers open up their best-of-7 series with the Washington Capitals.
”This is what you play for,” Reinhart said. “It is what you work toward. I feel comfortable because of all the long summers I have been able to prepare for this moment. I am feeling good right now. I have always felt my game kind of felt good at the end of the year. So it has always been disappointing when it has been cut short. I am feeling healthy, ready to go.”
While a good number of Florida players have made their postseason debuts over the past few seasons, none on this team had to wait as long as Reinhart did.
With the Buffalo Sabres missing the playoffs since 2012, Reinhart has never gotten the chance to play once Game No. 82 came to a close.
He’s ready to make up for lost time.
“The last two months, I have thought a lot about it,” said Reinhart, who was drafted third overall in 2014 right behind Aaron Ekblad.
“The past week has probably been the least I have thought about it. I have been looking forward to seeing the competition rise a little bit, the intensity. But at the end of the day, it’s just another hockey game. … I am looking forward to it.”
Reinhart has been a huge addition to the Panthers ever since his time in Buffalo came to a predictable end last summer.
With the Sabres undergoing another rebuild — and, looking like they’re getting it right this time — Reinhart was traded to Florida at the 2021 draft for a first-round pick and goalie prospect Devon Levi.
Buffalo may reap the benefits of that deal in the future, but the Panthers are loving their end of it right now.
Reinhart has been terrific this season, helping Florida’s third line become one of the best in the NHL.
Playing alongside rookie Anton Lundell and rising performer Mason Marchment, Reinhart ended his season third on the team with 82 points and second with 33 goals.
That line, in particular, is what pundits look at when they talk about Florida’s scoring depth. Not only can they get you with the stars up on their top two, but the Panthers can do it with their third as well.
“I think they are the most fun team in the league to watch,” said TNT analyst Rick Tocchet. “The best secondary scoring in the league. They are so deep, they can score at will.”
NHL STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
FLORIDA PANTHERS V. WASHINGTON CAPITALS (Best of 7)
- Game 1: Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN2/ESPN+
- Radio: WQAM 560 (flagship); WMEN 640 (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3 (Florida Keys); SiriusXM 219 (Streaming 932).
- Tickets: CLICK HERE
PANTHERS V. CAPITALS
- Season series — Florida won 2-1: @Florida 5, Washington 4 OT (Nov. 4); @Washington 4, Panthers 3 (Nov. 26); @Florida 5, Washington 4 (Nov. 30)
- All-time regular season series: Capitals lead 67-44-11, 9 ties
- Playoff history: None
- First-round schedule — Game 1: Washington at Florida, Tuesday, 7:30 (ESPN2/BSF); Game 2: Washington at Florida, Thursday, 7:30 (TBS/BSF); Game 3: Florida at Washington, Saturday, 1 (ESPN/BSF); Game 4: Florida at Washington, May 9, 7 (TBS/BSF); Game 5*: Washington at Florida, May 11; Game 6*: Florida at Washington, May 13; Game 7: Washington at Florida, May 15. *If necessary