The Florida Panthers are back in the Stanley Cup playoffs - and for the first time since 2016, games will take place inside the BB&T Center starting Sunday.
Florida will host the in-state rival Tampa Bay Lightning for the opening round of the playoffs, the first time in history that the two Sunshine State foes have met in the postseason.
With playoff hockey returning to South Florida, several changes will be taking place with the opening series regarding ticket sales and safety precautions amid the COVID pandemic.
Here’s a breakdown of what you need to know if you’re heading to Sunrise to see the Cats in action.
More Fans Welcome!
The Panthers will be increasing capacity inside the arena for the opening series, with just under 50 percent of seats being available (slightly more than 10,000) for fans. That’s an increase from the 25 percent capacity for the regular season. No word has been released on if capacity will be increased for future playoff series.
Bring Your Masks
Facial coverings will still be required when inside the BB&T Center except for when you are eating or drinking. Socially distant entry and exit points will remain in place while health screenings, including temperature checks, will be required before fans can enter the arena. Features including contactless mobile ticketing and food ordering will continue.
Party With the Panthers!
Fans can enjoy ‘Happy Half Hour’ specials on the CITY Furniture Lounge and JetBlue Tarmac outside the BB&T Center from 90 minutes to 60 minutes before puck drop (6 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Sunday) before puck drop. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and all fans will get a playoff towel once inside.
Sunshine State Showdown
Florida and Tampa Bay will face for the first time in a playoff series, with the Lightning looking to defend the Stanley Cup championship they won last season. Florida will be making their seventh all time playoff appearance and aim to advance out of the first round for the first time since 1996, when they advanced to the Finals.
The playoff schedule is as follows:
- Game 1 - Sunday, 7:30 p.m. in Sunrise
- Game 2 - Tuesday, 8 p.m. in Sunrise
- Game 3 - Thursday, 6: 30 p.m. in Tampa
- Game 4 - Saturday, May 22nd at 12:30 p.m. in Tampa
- Game 5 (if needed) - Monday, May 24th in Sunrise (time TBD)
- Game 6 (if needed) - Wednesday, May 26th in Sunrise (time TBD)
- Game 7 (if needed) - Friday, May 28th in Sunrise (time TBD)
Panthers on the Peacock
If you can't make it out to the games, the NBC Sports family has you covered. Game 1 on Sunday will be televised on NBC Sports Network while both Games 2 and 4 will be televised on CNBC. Game 3 will be televised on USA.
Hopeful for More
The Panthers have made it to the postseason a total of seven times including this year - but don’t have much to show for it. Just once before has Florida advanced past the first round with the last five series losses coming against teams from New York or New Jersey:
- 1996 - Lost in Stanley Cup Final (to Colorado Avalanche)
- 1997 - Lost in First Round (to New York Rangers)
- 2000 - Lost in First Round (to New Jersey Devils)
- 2012 - Lost in First Round (to New Jersey Devils)
- 2016 - Lost in First Round (to New York Islanders)
- 2020 - Lost in Qualifying Round (New York Islanders)
Both Florida and Tampa Bay were moved to the National Hockey League’s Central Division for the 2020-21 season, with the Panthers holding a 5-2-1 advantage this season. Florida won three in a row over the defending champs - including the final two games to end the regular season by a combined 9-1 score.
The Panthers have a player that the Lightning could be having nightmares about when it comes to the postseason: goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky was in the net for the Columbus Blue Jackets when they swept Tampa Bay out of the postseason in the first round back in 2019.
Making Their Return
Tampa Bay will be welcoming back Steven Stamkos, who has not placed since April 8th due to an injury. He has 68 career points against the Panthers and has played in more games all-time in the series between the two teams.
The Power of ‘Q’
Head coach Joel Quenneville will be leading the Panthers into the postseason in his second year with the team. Florida fans hope for the same success he had in his second season with his last team: in 2010, Quenneville led the Chicago Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup championship, the first of three over a six-season period.