A Bruins' fifth-round draft pick in 2004, Versteeg takes extra satisfaction in battling against, and sometimes beating, Boston. The circumstances of his arrival Thursday at the TD Garden were little different now that he's not wearing the sweater of one of Boston's archrivals. But with Florida's renaissance this season, there's potential for a new rivalry to spark.
A totally revamped roster, including a trade that moved Versteeg to South Florida, and the hiring of Kevin Dineen as coach have put the 15-8-4 Panthers in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff hunt -- just behind the defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins, who stand at 17-8-1, for second place in the conference.
"Kevin, he brings a whole different type of system -- a system that guys want to play for, a guy that guys want to play for. And I think it's really shown in our game. We play a pretty good system game. And not only that, we bring work ethic every night. We're going to have to bring work ethic, especially against a team this big, this strong, this deep, if we're going to win tonight. But we definitely, I think, bring it on a consistent basis." -- Kris Versteeg
Bruins forward Shawn Thornton expected Dineen to have a positive impact in his first NHL job. The rugged winger briefly played under Dineen with the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League.
"I know their GM [Dale Tallon] from Chicago, I know both their coaches [Dineen and assistant Craig Ramsay], it really doesn't surprise me," Thornton said. "I think they have a pretty good track record -- [Dineen] obviously at the minor-league level. But I know when you play for him, you want to play for him, and I think he gets the most out of his players all the time."
After beating division rival Washington on Monday night to firmly establish their early-season superiority in the Southeast, the Panthers are trying not to put too much emphasis on the "measuring stick" aspect of this game. Dineen noted that while the Bruins are a team he'd like his club to compete hard with, he would've liked to have faced Boston during its 3-7-0 stretch rather than the current string that's featured 14 wins in the last 16 games.
So maybe more than a "measuring stick" game, it's more of a "mirror-image" game. Not too long ago, Bruins coach Claude Julien took over a team that hadn't reached the playoffs two years in a row. He instilled a work ethic that has become part of the organization's fabric through the Cup win and up until this day.
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Julien echoed the sentiments about the similarities, even noting Ramsay might've also brought some Bruins' work ethic to Florida. Dineen pointed out Ramsay, fellow assistant Gord Murphy and goaltending coach Robb Tallas bring their share of Bruins grit.
"They've made some changes, but they've added some quality players in there that has given them a little bit more depth, and right now they seem to be enjoying -- just like you know, Winnipeg -- they're just working so hard that their work ethic is good enough that they're winning some games," Julien said. "And once you start believing in those kinds of things, it just gets better so we see a similarity in Florida as far as they're starting to see what [hard work is] giving them and they're feeling pretty good about themselves."
After big wins over the Capitals, Rangers and Sharks in recent weeks, the Panthers would feel even better about themselves if they could take down the League's hottest team. Success might've landed in Sunrise quicker than most expected, but the Panthers don't plan on slowing down just to conform to those expectations.
"We didn't quite know [how long it would take]. We thought that we had a lot of good guys coming into the room, so we thought it could turn around quicker than maybe most people gave us credit for," Versteeg said. "So it's been great, it's been nice to see a lot of success going around the room for a lot of different guys, and hopefully we'll just keep that rolling."