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Cats & Coffee: No Sleep 'Til Opening Night

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

Good morning and welcome to "Cats & Coffee," a weekly segment, presented by Koffee Kult, in which we serve up an exciting look at what's on deck for your Florida Panthers. Like our friends at Koffee Kult, this forecast serves up only the best -- so sit back, sip and enjoy our latest brew of news, notes and information!

The Florida Panthers have been waiting for this moment all summer long.

After two weeks of rigorous practices and heated exhibitions, the Cats will finally kick off their 2019-20 regular season on Thursday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning at AMALIE Arena.

"I can't wait for opening night," Panthers forward Vincent Trocheck said after Florida's 1-0 shootout win in Saturday's preseason finale at Tampa Bay. "I'm not going to be able to sleep until then."

With the lone goal in the shootout, Trocheck helped the Panthers not only head into the regular season with a win, but also a wealth of confidence. Sure, there were no points up for grabs, but that doesn't mean there wasn't anything on the line. Finishing the preseason with wins in three of their last four games - including a pair against the Bolts - the Cats are ready to start rolling.

"It's good to get the wins rolling in and know what it feels like to have some confidence and win some games before the season starts," Trocheck said. "Everybody's really excited preseason's over, camp's over, and it's time to start the regular season. We've been waiting for this."

As it is with every new season, this week will feature a mixture of old and new.

Players like Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau, who each eclipsed the 90-point mark last season, will be returning, while newcomers such as two-time Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky, Noel Acciari and Anton Stralman are all expected to make their Panthers debuts.

"Tampa's a good team. We're going to face them a lot," said Bobrovsky, who made 26 saves to shutout the Lightning on Saturday. "Next game is a huge game. Now, we start to play for real."

Of course, there will also be a new man and a mustache behind the bench as well.

Hired back in April, Joel Quenneville, the second-winningest coach in NHL history, is entering his first season with the Panthers. Looking to add a fourth Stanley Cup as a head coach to his mantle, he previously led the Chicago Blackhawks to championships in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

"We want to be a team that makes the playoffs," Quenneville said after his hiring. "Everybody is striving in their career to play playoff hockey. Once you get that appetite of playing meaningful games, big games in big moments, it's a thrill…. You grow together as a team, and it's amazing the steps that you take."

Following their opening night matchup in Tampa Bay, the Panthers will return home to Sunrise to host the Lightning in their own long-awaited home opener at BB&T Center on Saturday night.

"The whole intrastate rival thing is actually starting to become a thing," Trocheck said of Florida's budding rivalry with Tampa Bay. "It's a lot of fun. It's fun to be a part of that. They've got a physical team. We've got a physical team. When we meet, it's going to get physical."

Here's everything you need to know for the week ahead…

THE GAMES

Thursday: at Tampa Bay Lightning, 7:00 p.m.

The Panthers will take their first few steps on the long road to the playoffs when they open the regular season on the road against the Lightning at AMALIE Arena on Thursday. This will mark the fourth straight contest between the two clubs, as Florida topped Tampa Bay in two of three games to end the preseason. The Lightning are coming off a season of mixed emotions. They won the 2018-19 Presidents' Trophy with a franchise-record 128 points, but were bounced out of the playoffs in the first round by the eighth-seeded Columbus Blue Jackets. The goaltender on that Jackets team? Sergei Bobrovsky, who surrendered just eight total goals during the four-game sweep. Heading into his first season with Florida, Bobrovsky registered a 37-24-1 record with a 2.58 goals-against average, .913 save percentage and an NHL-best nine shutouts during his final season with Columbus. At the other end of the ice, reigning Vezina Trophy winner Andrei Vasilevskiy is expected to man the Lightning's crease. Last season, he posted a 39-10-4 record with a 2.40 goals-against average, .925 save percentage and six shutouts. If you're a fan of great goaltending battles, they don't get much better than this exciting Game 1 showdown.

TV: FSF

Radio: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast)

Watch Party: Funky Buddha Brewery in Oakland Park

Saturday: Tampa Bay Lightning, 7:00 p.m.

In the fifth straight matchup between the cross-state rivals, the Panthers will celebrate their home opener against the Lightning at BB&T Center on Saturday. After focusing on goalies in the previous game preview, let's take a look at a pair of high-powered offenses in this one. In 2018-19, Tampa Bay led the NHL with 319 goals. Florida, meanwhile, tallied a franchise-record 264. Led Aleksander Barkov's franchise-record 96 points, the Panthers had numerous players post career-best point totals last season, including Jonathan Huberdeau (92), Mike Hoffman (70), Evgenii Dadonov (70), Keith Yandle (62) and Frank Vatrano (39). For the Lightning, three players surpassed the 90-point plateau, including Nikita Kucherov, who took home the Art Ross and Hart Trophies after finishing with a career-high 128 points (41 goals, 87 assists). One of those players, Brayden Point, who racked up 41 goals and 92 points, isn't expected to take the ice in this contest for the Bolts, as a lower-body injury is expected to keep him out of the lineup until later in October. And while the 5-on-5 play in this game will be exciting enough on its own, special teams could end up deciding the winner. After all, the Lightning (28.2 percent) and the Panthers (26.8 percent) finished with the top-two power plays in the entire league last season.

TV: FSF

Radio: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast)

In-Arena Activations: $25,000 seeded 50/50 Raffle, First 10,000 fans in attendance will receive a 2019-20 magnetic schedule presented by FOX Sports Florida

Tickets: HERE

IN THE NEWS

With puck drop fast approaching, there's no better time than now to take a look back at the pre-season positional rankings the folks over at The Hockey News put together earlier this month.

The best part about their rankings? They're absolutely packed with Panthers.

While there's at least one Panthers player featured at each position, a few of the highlights include Aleksander Barkov as the league's 5th-best center, Jonathan Huberdeau (9th) and Mike Hoffman (16th) among the best left wingers, and Sergei Bobrovsky as the 2nd-best goaltender.

"We keep banging the drum, and he keeps getting better," the reason behind Barkov's lofty ranking states. "Barkov is everything you want in a No. 1 center, and now he's got more help."

In total, the Panthers had one center, two left wingers, one right winger, one goaltender and two defensemen featured throughout the different lists, which can be found at TheHockeyNews.com

SEATS AND A SWEATER

You can't beat the view from the front row.

With the recent launch of the "Behind the Glass" contest, the Panthers are giving fans a chance to get as close to the action as possible. The grand prize winner will not only receive four tickets on the glass for Florida's matchup against the Carolina Hurricanes at BB&T Center on Oct. 8, but also a signed Sergei Bobrovsky jersey and a chance to snap a photo on the ice after the game.

If you'd like to enter - heck, why wouldn't you? - click HERE.

MATHESONS MATCH DONATIONS

In an effort to help raise funds for Hurricane Dorian relief efforts in the Bahamas, Mike and Emily Matheson have partnered with UNICEF USA to start their own fundraising campaign.

As part of their commitment, the couple has pledge to match donations up to $25,000.

Tweet from @mmatheson19: Hurricane Dorian was the strongest hurricane in Bahamas history. The Bahamas are really special to @EmilyPfalzer and I. Join us in supporting relief efforts- We will be matching your donations up to $25,000. Every little bit helps!https://t.co/9jQ7AWJlTS @UNICEFUSA @FlaPanthers pic.twitter.com/ftOcQuCoC1

"We just want to be able to help as much as we can," Mike said. "We're just really hoping that people feel the same way and give, too. I just want to be able to get it to as many people as possible. The Panthers have been really generous with helping me do that. That's been a big benefit. When you're a little more in the public eye, you need to be able to give back."

To donate, please click HERE.

CATS CLIP OF THE WEEK

You'll find some sweet new food offerings in the suites of BB&T Center this season.

Tweet from @FlaPanthers: Annual suite holders joined us on Thursday to get the first taste of our new suite menu. Our #FlaPanthers digital host @Katie_Gaus takes us through the event, samples food and gives us her thoughts. Try not to get hungry. 😋 More at https://t.co/KQmMczvWjO pic.twitter.com/A3QLNVlmKq

CATS IN THE COMMUNITY

Tweet from @FlaPanthersCARE: We had a blast at the Autism Speaks walk with @soflaford this morning at @thebbtcenter! #Ford4Autism pic.twitter.com/xnj4RBX2mS

Tweet from @FlaPanthers: Hey season ticket holders! Thank you for joining us at today���s open house and enjoying Pantherland discounts, food samplings, tours and more! pic.twitter.com/Dv6KlOkgOt

Tweet from @StanleyCPanther: I got a ��� Paw-Peroni Pizza��� as a First Game Back gift! I love my #StanFans. pic.twitter.com/yGJdhXUjMG

TERRITORY TALK

On the latest episode of the Territory Talk podcast, Frank Vatrano stops by to chat about Coach Q, getting to know Sergei Bobrovsky, and his overall expectations for the upcoming campaign.

COLD COFFEE (IN CASE YOU MISSED IT)

-- Four players were loaned to AHL Springfield on Sunday.

-- The Panthers are playing with pace under Coach Q.

-- "Flex Plans" make it easy to fix a night at the rink into even the busiest of schedules.

-- Sam Montembeault is eager to prove himself as Florida's backup goaltender.

-- The Florida Panthers Radio Network for 2019-20 season has been unveiled.

-- The Florida Panthers Alumni Association handed out 10 youth hockey scholarships.

-- Need a hockey fix before opening night? FOX Sports Florida has got you covered.

-- Want to play blackjack with Sergei Bobrovsky? Don't miss "Ice & Dice" Casino Night.

-- Registration for year's Viktor E. Dash is currently open.

-- Grateful Dead Night is coming back to BB&T Center!

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