On Sunday afternoon, the Florida Panthers boarded a charter flight bound for Boston. They were not expecting a friendly welcome upon their arrival not after what happened the last time they played the Bruins.
For those who may not remember, the Panthers ended what had been a historic season for the Bruins — upsetting them in the first-round of the season.
That record-setting regular season for Boston was pushed into the dust bin of history.
While the Panthers moved on in the playoffs — and ended up going all the way to the Stanley Cup Final — the Bruins had a long offseason to ponder what went wrong.
After all, the Bruins held a 3-1 series lead over the Panthers when they returned to Boston for Game 5.
Things quickly started to unravel.
“It was a crazy few weeks there with some ups-and-downs and coming back from 3-1,” said Florida’s Matthew Tkachuk, who scored the overtime-winner in Game 5 and then made a postgame guarantee to his teammates they would be returning to Boston for Game 7.
“The summer was so quick, you got a little time to reflect but not a ton. That was last season but going back there … I am sure will bring a smile to my face.’’
Spoiler alert: They did return for Game 7.
And the Panthers won that one as well.
“Any time you play a team in the playoffs you develop a little hatred for the team and a rivalry,” said Carter Verhaeghe, who scored the overtime goal which ended Boston’s season on April 30. “There were good games in the playoffs and I am excited to get some emotion in the game, have fun in their building.”
A lot has happened for both the Panthers and Bruins since they last met including various changes to the players on the ice.
Boston saw captain Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci both retired.
Nick Foligno, Tyler Bertuzzi, Tomas Nosek and defensemen Dmitry Orlov also moved on.
Florida lost Radko Gudas and Marc Staal to free agency while are still missing injured defensemen Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour.
Boston, however, has picked up right where its previous regular season left off as they are 7-0-1 coming into tonight’s game.
“Every game within the Atlantic is a very meaningful game but playing a team you played in the playoffs means there’s a little extra there,” Tkachuk said.
“I know we’re excited to go there, we had some success there of late. But they are such a great team and are off to another unreal start this year. We’re going to have to play a perfect road game to beat these guys.”
This is the second time in the early going that the Panthers go up against a team they played in the postseason with coach Paul Maurice thinking Florida’s home opener against Toronto would have a little more intensity than it did based on their recent past.
That game, of course, was not played in Boston.
There should be a lot of negative energy thrown Florida’s way later tonight.
After all, Boston is not all that happy with the way teams from South Florida have been treating them of late.
From the Heat, Panthers, Dolphins and even the Marlins, Boston teams have not fared too well against the Miami teams over the past few months.
Not only did the Panthers end the Bruins’ season, but the Heat beat the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals.
“I don’t think they’re too thrilled with our team,’’ Tkachuk said. “It wasn’t like it was like it was a fluke, that we came in and stole it. We went all the way to the finals. We earned it. Coming back from 3-1 is a hard feat, had to win twice in Boston.”
The Panthers and Heat aren’t the only ones to have Boston success.
The Dolphins are 2-0 against the Patriots this season and, back in June, the Marlins went to Fenway Park and swept a three-game set against the Red Sox by a combined 18-3.
“They are off to a real good start while everyone else is kind of scratching and clawing,” Maurice said. “There is a lot of conversation before these games and then the puck drops and those things are sort of forgotten. I thought the Toronto game would be really aggressive and it did not seem that way. But there will be some energy,”
Said Verhaeghe: “Any kind of rivalry is fun and it always fun playing meaningful games. When things get competitive, that’s when it gets fun and in the playoffs there is so much emotion involved. Those make for the most fun games and what we as players play for. It is a lot of fun.’’
PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS @ BOSTON BRUINS
- When: Monday, 7 p.m.
- Where: Boston Garden
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida/ESPN+
- Radio: WAXY 790-AM; WBZT 1230-AM (West Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); WCZR 101.7-FM (Treasure Coast); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932; NHL App
- Last Season — Regular Season: Tied 2-2; Playoffs: Florida won 4-3 (first-round)
- This season: @Boston Monday, April 6; @Florida Nov. 22, March 26
- All-time Regular Season Series: Boston leads 60-37-7, 6 ties
- All-time Postseason Series: Florida leads 2-0 (1996, 2023)
- Up Next for the Panthers: @Detroit; Thursday, 7 p.m.