Playoffs – A Whole Lotta Love for the Florida Panthers

I spent a good part of a day scanning the internet to see what the professional pundits were saying about the Florida Panthers’ chances of winning their 1st round  matchup against the New York Islanders as the playoffs are about get underway.

If those pundits are to believed, the Panthers have a great chance to advance to the 2nd round.

As an example, surveyed 21 of its commenters and editorial staff and only three predicted an Islander win.

Panthers with a Perfect Blend of Youth and Experience

The Panthers are getting a lot of love based on the experience of playoff veterans like Jaromir Jagr, Brian Campbell and Roberto Luongo but most are also pointing to the emerging superstars Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Reilly Smith, Nick Bjugstad and Aaron Ekblad  as solid reasons they should be able to get past the Islanders.

If 25 goal-scorer Vincent Trocheck can return for the series, all the better.

Between the Pipes

The Islanders revealed Tuesday that #1 goaltender Jaroslav Halak would be out with injury for the entire 1st round series, meaning that Thomas Greiss will be the starter. While Greiss performed well in 40 games this season, he has only started one playoff game while Panthers’ netminder Roberto Luongo has 64 playoff games played which should give the Panthers the advantage.

On paper, the two teams are fairly evenly matched with their forward depth allowing coaches to roll four lines, but the Islanders have a couple of defensemen hurting and that could impact the overall performance unless Greiss can stand on his head.

Canada’s Team in the Playoffs?

Many millions of Canadian hockey fans don’t have a dog is this fight this season, as all seven Canadian teams missed the post-season. If they’re struggling to find a team to cheer for through the playoffs, they might just consider the Panthers as the center of their fandom. Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star points out that the Cats have employed more Canadians than any other NHL squad this season…22 out 33 who suited up this season but young defender Ekblad says that doesn’t matter much in the dressing room.

“We got a great mix,” said Ekblad told the Star. “We’ve got a couple of Finnish guys, some Czechs, Russians, Americans. In the end, we’re all equal in the fact that they’re all good character guys. Guys that will lead, guys that will fall in line and do what they’re told. It’s a special mix of young and old. I’ve learned so much from some of the older guys. It doesn’t matter the nationality, we get along so well.”

Considering how many Canadians spend their winters in Florida, I imagine the BB&T Arena will have a sizeable number of Canucks in the seats when the puck drops.