This is what we’ve been fighting for the entire season.
In the days leading up to our opening round matchup with the New York Islanders, I have to say things have certainly felt a little bit different around here. I’m not just talking about the “Stanley Cup Playoffs” logo that has suddenly shown up on our practice rink, but more the increasing excitement in our locker room. It’s definitely nice to be able to get this far and continue playing because, for a lot of the younger guys here, we’re used to our season being over at this point.
The last three or four days have allowed us to kind of get our head straight, take a deep breath, get some relaxation and get ready. There have also definitely been a few extra meetings during our practices. It’s a best-of-seven series, after all. We’re going to see the same opponent consecutively, so we have to spend a lot of time studying up on their team and doing some touchups ourselves.
I know we’ve had some success against the Islanders this season, but that doesn’t really mean much right now. I mean, you know what their personnel is and what kind of style they play, but other than that it’s a clean slate. It was obviously a successful season for us, but that was just a step for us to get into the playoffs. Now that we’re in, the next step is to keep progressing through these rounds. You can’t fall back on what your record was against a team during the regular season because a lot of things change during the postseason. I’ve been watching the playoffs my whole life and it really seems like they’re on another level.
I’ve been seeing a couple of predictions for our series on Twitter, but I haven’t clicked on any of them. I don’t want to have any of their thoughts in my head. I try not to look at it because it’s just another thing to think about. You can’t waste any time thinking about how other people think you’re going to play or react to a situation. It’s my first playoff series and I’m just trying to stay focused and not overindulge myself in the media or what else is going on around the league. I’m just focused on what we’ve got to do as a team to win.
As for myself, I’ve been trying to stay out of the sun. You don’t want too much sun down here, especially since it’s been super hot. I’ve been hanging out at the house, hanging out with my dog and not really doing much. It’s all about keeping the same routine and not really changing too much as we get ready for the playoffs.
This is really the first “long” season of my career. We’ve already played 82 games, but that could potentially turn into a lot more, so I have to make sure that my body is rested and that I’m eating right and all of that. My girlfriend Jackie is a good cook and is already very much in playoff mode. She’s talked to some of the older players’ wives about what to expect in the coming weeks and how everything can be stressful. A lot of times, it’s the wives and girlfriends that take charge in terms of keeping you relaxed and making sure that everything is going right.
I’m sure a few of us will be nervous during our first shifts on Thursday, but we’re trying to stay focused and keep to the same routine that’s been working for us all year. You can’t overthink it. If we just got to play our game and play our style, we know we’ll have success in the playoffs.
SOUTH FLORIDA SHINES
It’s exciting to put the Florida Panthers back on the map.
I’ve really enjoyed seeing the fans get excited down here, especially at these last few practices. We’re really proud of what this team has been able to accomplish. There have been a lot of changes and we’ve made a lot of progress, but I think that’s the coolest thing is that people are starting to realize the talent we have here.
We’re getting people excited about hockey in South Florida again, and I think that’s the biggest thing for me. I love seeing the change in the amount of fans in the seats from two years ago up until now. That makes me feel good about our squad because we’ve put a lot of hard work into it as a team.
I usually look into the stands and check out the fans before getting dialed into the game during warm-ups. If I see a little kid with a sign saying, “Bjugstad, can I get a puck?” I usually throw one over the glass before we head back in. Now, there are usually a lot more signs for Jagr than anyone else, but I’ve gotten a few this year.
There have actually been a lot of rotisserie chicken signs thanks to Ekblad and Trocheck. I guess I’ve got to laugh about it because the guys really thought it was funny. I’m going to have to wait on getting some payback, but it’ll definitely come when they’re not ready for it. There was actually one sign that had my head attached to a rotisserie chicken… I thought that was pretty funny. The fans have made some clever signs this year, but that was probably the most creative one.
PLAYOFF BEARD UPDATE
It’s not coming in so nice.
I’ve been twisting it and pulling on it, trying to get these hairs to grow just a little bit longer. I’m hoping that, maybe a month or so from now, it’ll look somewhat decent. In the end, I think us Scandinavians -- Barkov, Jokinen and myself -- just have trouble growing heavy beards.
It’s really disappointing when you look at a guy like Aaron Ekblad. He’s three or four years younger than I am and can already grow a full beard in like three days. It’s just genetics, I guess.
Looking around the room, some of the younger guys have a little grey in their beard, which I think is a pretty good style. I think Shawn Thornton is going to have an interesting looking beard, and I’m excited to see how that turns out. A lot of guys are growing playoff beards this year. Maybe I shouldn’t be participating, but it’s all in good fun and I can take the chirps from the guys.
I’m really into documentaries and biographies.
I recently watched ESPN’s 30 for 30 on Allen Iverson. It was really good and I always liked him a lot as a basketball player when I was younger. If I’m watching something on TV, it’s usually a sports documentary or The Office. I really enjoy seeing how athletes’ battled or found ways to win because I find motivation in that.
I’d probably have to say the Bell Centre in Montreal. I wasn’t a Canadiens fan growing up, but it’s where hockey started, or so they say. It’s definitely fun during warm-ups, looking at the fans in their seats watching every little thing that’s going on because of how big hockey is up there. They have a lot of passion for the game and it’s a really exciting to be a part of that environment. We usually do pretty well there, too.
Jameson Olive contributed to this article