It's NHL Playoff time! (Imagine a red goal light wildly rotating to the sounds of sirens blaring.) A few months back, as the Florida Panthers were improbably becoming a white-hot team after years of lukewarm performances, we provided an explainer about the team's customs for bandwagon fans,
So, no excuses — you should be all up to date now. What we didn't cover, however, is what to do when playoff time comes around. Well, it's now underway — so here's a crash course in advanced Panthers playoff hockey. This is everything you need to know about the Panthers' 2016 Stanley Cup chase, which begins tonight.
So, NHL Playoffs, eh?
Yup. Your Atlantic Division champion Florida Panthers face the New York Islanders, winners of the first Eastern Conference Wild Card, in the first round. The Islanders actually blatantly lost on purpose in their last game to get to face the Panthers in the first round. You chose poorly, Islanders.
Subplots! So when does this madness begin?
The Islanders bring their candy asses to the Thunderdome (some call it the BB&T Center) in Sunrise Thursday at 8 p.m. and Friday at 7:30 p.m.; then the series moves to Brooklyn at the Barclays Center for games on Sunday at 8 p.m. and Wednesday, April 20, at 8 p.m.
If the series goes longer, Game 5 would be at the BB&T Center on Friday, April 22, and if needed, Game 7 would be there Tuesday, April 26. If the Panthers win a Game 7 at home, it's to the Sawgrass Mills food court we go. It's like the Sunrise Club LIV.
Where can I get tickets?
Here and here. This week, tickets were going for as cheap as $57 and as expensive as $1,000. So yeah, things have changed since the days you could fill out a form online saying you've never been to a Panthers game and then print out a ticket for free.
Cool. So, are the Islanders any good? Should we be worried?
Playoff hockey is crazy, and anything can happen. The Islanders did finish with just three fewer points than the Panthers this season, so hold onto your butts — we could be in for a barn burner.
Florida won two of three this season against the Islanders, the only defeat being a 3-2 ball-buster of a loss on March 14 in which the Panthers gave up a 2-0 lead with seven minutes left. It sucked, but the Panthers dominated the game until puking all over their skates at the end.
And if they get past the Islanders, what's next?
The winner of the Islanders-Panthers series will play the winner of the Detroit Red Wings-Tampa Bay Lightning series. That's when stuff gets real. Both those teams have a recent history of success in the playoffs, unlike the Islanders. Think of the Islanders as training wheels and the next series as a motorcycle.
OK, got the opponents down. So are we still doing the rats thing? I saw we got in trouble.
Yeah, it's a team tradition to throw rubber rats on the ice after a Panthers win. But in the first week of April, the team gave out 10,000 rats to fans — who proceeded to throw them on the ice after goals were scored. This disrupted play, and the Panthers were penalized. (Some speculated that the opposing New Jersey Devils fans had sabotaged the team by throwing the rats.) I'm not gonna sit here and tell you not to throw a rat, but if you do, know it could cause some real-life problems for the Panthers on the ice. Haters gonna hate.
That's absurd. Even MLB thinks that's killing all the fun.
It is. You know what? Screw them — I have a plan. Here is a place on eBay selling rats for two bucks. Just paint "GO ISLANDERS" on them. It will completely confuse the officials and nothing will be done. They can't penalize the Panthers because people threw Islanders stuff on the ice.
Sounds like a plan. So, which Panthers players should I watch for most? What are their strengths?
The Panthers are stockpiled with young talent. Aleksander Barkov, Aaron Ekblad, Nick Bjugstad, Vincent Trocheck, and Jonathan Huberdeau are all major parts of the now and later. Jaromir Jagr, Roberto Luongo, Shawn Thornton, and Jussi Jokinen mix in the veteran leadership that has made the Panthers so successful so fast.
Anything the Panthers can exploit on the Islanders?
Yup, their goalie. The regular net minder (say "net minder"; people like that) is injured, so Thomas Greiss will be between the pipes (say "between the pipes"; people like that too). He's 23-11-4 this season but has exactly one game of playoff experience, which came back in 2010. His heart should be beating, and the Panthers should smell blood in the water.
Anything else I need to know before the games start?
If you can't make it, you can find the TV schedule here. Panthers games will alternate among various Fox Sports networks. As long as you get Fox Sports Sun and Fox Sports Florida, you're good to go.