CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. --
Florida coach Kevin Dineen
ended up changing his practice schedule on the fly after he found out his team would be among the last two to play its first playoff game.
The Panthers will open their Eastern Conference quarterfinal against the New Jersey Devils
on Friday at the BankAtlantic Center. That announcement came after Dineen said he was told the Panthers would begin play Thursday and later was told that it would be Wednesday.
Dineen held a practice Monday that lasted about 90 minutes and decided to give his team Tuesday off before getting back on the ice the next day.
"For us, the rest is really important right now," Dineen said. "I'm going to give them a day off tomorrow, which is not an easy thing to do in the playoffs. But I feel that day off, they're going to come in nice and fresh on Wednesday, we'll get a good skate Wednesday, Thursday and I think that'll be beneficial in the long run.
"Unfortunately, in the playoffs things are going to happen pretty fast and furious. But we feel it's a worthy day off. It has been a very tough month of March and April. We worked hard and there's been a lot of scratching and clawing and the mental break, as much as the physical break, will make a difference."
As much as they want to get started in the playoffs, Panthers players didn't seem to mind the delay.
"When you finish preseason games and you have a week of practices, that's where you're able to get sharp," goalie Jose Theodore
said. "We played so many games lately, we hardly practiced. It's kind of hard to stay sharp when you don't practice. Having a full week of practice, you can work on details, you can work on technical stuff, so it's actually easier to stay sharp when you practice every day like we're going to have this week."
Veteran forward Marco Sturm
and rookie defenseman Erik Gudbranson
didn't take part in Monday’s practice. Dineen called their absence a "maintenance day."
Sturm didn't play in the third period of Saturday's 4-1 division-clinching victory against Carolina after getting 7:19 of ice time in the first 40 minutes. Gudbranson played 14:10 against the Hurricanes.
Dineen said both players would be re-evaluated Wednesday.