With training camps set to begin on July 13 as part of Phase 3 of the NHL Return to Play Plan, NHL.com is taking a closer look at each of the 24 teams in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers.
Today, the Florida Panthers.
The Florida Panthers were 35-26-8 (.565 points percentage) in the regular season and will enter the Stanley Cup Qualifiers as the No. 10 seed in the Eastern Conference. They will play the No. 7 seed, the New York Islanders (35-23-10, .588), in one of eight best-of-5 series, and the winner will advance to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Panthers struggled with consistency throughout the season. They won six in a row in January but went 6-9-3 in their final 18 games before the NHL paused the season March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. From Feb. 6-March 7, a span of eight games, the Panthers did not win at home (0-6-2), the longest such skid in their history.
But the qualifier series affords the Panthers an opportunity to make amends for a season that failed to live up to the hype following the offseason hiring of coach Joel Quenneville, who won the Stanley Cup three times with the Chicago Blackhawks (2010, 2013, 2015), and the signing of free agent goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, a two-time winner of the Vezina Trophy voted as the top goalie in the NHL (2013, 2017).
"We were on such a good roll before the All-Star break, and then we came back from that and really struggled," general manager Dale Tallon said. "And then prior to this break, we started to play well and started to get our game back on track. The fair thing is that it'll be an equal playing field that no one will have an advantage or an edge. When we start, everybody will be starting on the same date, so it's just a matter of getting our timing down and getting our systems down."
Bobrovsky tops the list of players motivated by a second chance in the qualifiers. He was 23-19-6 in 50 games (49 starts) and had the highest goals-against average (3.23) in his 10-season NHL career.
"It's going to be quite a race to the finish here," Tallon said. "[In a] short series, anything can happen, so you've got to be prepared mentally and physically."
Player to watch
Aleksander Barkov is one of the top two-way centers in the NHL and will likely get plenty of ice time against Islanders center Mathew Barzal, one of the more dynamic offensive players in the League. Barkov scored 62 points (20 goals, 42 assists) in 66 games during the regular season.
Video: FLA@LAK: Barkov picks the corner on Quick
Can Quenneville provide an advantage? The Panthers coach, whose 925 wins are second in NHL history to Scotty Bowman (1,244), is going up against Islanders coach Barry Trotz, who is fifth all-time (845), guided the Washington Capitals to their first championship in 2018 and won the Jack Adams Award voted as the top coach in the NHL last season, his first with New York. The Panthers went 0-2-1 against the Islanders during the regular season and were held to four goals in three games.
Sergei Bobrovsky, G -- Healthy for training camp after missing the final four games before the pause with a lower-body injury sustained against the Blackhawks on Feb. 29.
Brian Boyle, F -- Healthy for training camp; did not play after sustaining an upper-body injury against the Montreal Canadiens on Feb. 1.
Dryden Hunt, F -- Healthy for training camp; was expected to be out for several weeks when he sustained a lower-body injury against the Vegas Golden Knights on Feb. 22.
Riley Stillman, D -- Healthy for training camp; did not play in the final game before the pause, a 2-1 win at the St. Louis Blues on March 9, because of an upper-body injury.
Forward Aleksi Saarela scored four points (two goals, two assists) in six NHL games after being recalled from Springfield of the American Hockey League on Feb. 18. In 48 AHL games with Springfield and Rockford, Saarela scored 32 points (12 goals, 20 assists).
Video: FLA@ANA: Saarela buries carom for first NHL goal
Bobrovsky is 16-10-0 with a 2.18 GAA, a .928 save percentage and three shutouts in 27 games against the Islanders.
They said it
"Guys are in good shape and starting to come back. They're all coming with the mindset that we're going to try to win the Stanley Cup." -- forward Aleksander Barkov
Jonathan Huberdeau -- Aleksander Barkov -- Frank Vatrano
Mike Hoffman -- Erik Haula -- Evgenii Dadonov
Aleksi Saarela -- Lucas Wallmark -- Brett Connolly
Colton Sceviour -- Brian Boyle -- Noel Acciari
MacKenzie Weegar -- Aaron Ekblad
Mike Matheson -- Anton Stralman
Keith Yandle -- Mark Pysyk