SUNRISE — The situation the Florida Panthers find themselves in is less than ideal, but it’s not the end of the world — yet.
The Stanley Cup Final transitions from Vegas to Sunrise on Thursday night with Game 3 between the Vegas Golden Knights and Florida Panthers taking place at FLA Live Arena. Vegas defended home ice or the “Fortress” as they like to call it — taking a commanding 2-0 series lead to start off the finals.
The Panthers will play in front of their home fans for the first time in two weeks tonight. They’ll face a daunting challenge as they host their first Stanley Cup Final game since 1996. Down 0-2 in the series, a loss in Thursday night’s game won’t be the end of the season for Florida, but it will be as close as to having the writing on the wall as possible.
“This is by far the biggest game of our season,” said Panthers’ star forward Matthew Tkachuk.
Florida has been in uncomfortable situations before. They went on an improbable run to sneak into the playoffs as the lowest seed in the league — then they had to claw back in the first-round against a historic Boston Bruins team that held a 3-1 series lead. The Panthers have beaten the odds before, but this is no doubt their toughest challenge yet.
Florida hasn’t been outplayed by an opponent to this extent since the early games of the Bruins series way back in April. They also haven’t seen consecutive losses — or multiple losses — since that series either.
The Panthers ran the gauntlet of the East, losing just one game between rounds two and three on their way to the Stanley Cup Final. Going into this series the Panthers knew it wouldn’t be easy to get by Vegas and so far the Knights have thrown everything at the Panthers and then some.
“They’re a different team than anyone we’ve played in these playoffs,” said Panthers forward Sam Bennett. “I think they’re most similar to maybe Boston’s size and physicality… we’ve definitely been able to handle that in the past.”
Florida was able to figure out Boston before it was too late, which is the reason they are here. They’ll need to do the same quickly against Vegas, otherwise they won’t be the happy team in the final handshake line of the year.
The hole the Panthers are in isn’t great, but the silver lining is that they can finally play at home. Defend home ice tonight and it’s a different series going into Game 4.
“I think the boys are fired up, a lot of emotions,” said Anthony Duclair this morning. “We just need to be a little smarter in certain situations.”
There’s still a lot of hockey to be played and then next two will be at the Panthers’ barn, a place that has been electric all postseason. Throughout this run the Panthers have fed off the crowd and they’ll need it tonight.
“The way we’ve been playing at home all playoffs, our fans are a big part of that,” said Duclair. “Just being home, having our crowd by our side and us being comfortable playing in front of our home fans has been a real huge key for us.”
Panthers’ fans will be packing FLA Live Arena for what will be the first Stanley Cup Final game in South Florida in 27 years — and the first ever in Sunrise.
The Panthers’ faithful will be happy to know that defenseman Radko Gudas will be in the lineup tonight after there was some doubt on his status following his early departure in Game 2.
Unfortunately, Eetu Luostarinen will miss his third straight game with an undisclosed injury.
In net, Florida will go back to Sergei Bobrovsky.
Puck drop is at 8 p.m. EST from FLA Live Arena in Sunrise
Keystone Chiropractic and Neureplasticity is a practice focused on correction and rehabilitation of disorders of the brain and spine. Head over to Chiropractickeystone.com today