Panthers fans are familiar with the opposing teams in the Southeast Division, primarily because the new NHL has made it a priority for teams to develop rivalries through 32 interdivisional games each year. That said, this year will mark the first time in three years that the Stanley Cup will be awarded to someone outside the Southeast Division.
While the scheduling of division opponents goes a long way in building up rivalries, Panthers fans are treated to some of the best competition and players in all the NHL as well. Here in Sunrise, 41 nights out of the year, fans can see arguably the scariest young team in hockey. You have Olli Jokinen, Jay Bouwmeester, Nathan Horton and Stephen Weiss
. The latter three all had breakout years, setting career highs in each major statistical category. Bouwmeester led the team in time on ice and a plus/minus rating of plus-23. Captain Olli proved to be the Panthers most consistent load carrier and hasn’t missed action in over 294 consecutive games.
Outside of Sunrise, you have your Kovalchuk’s, Ovechkin’s and Semin’s, even a Lecavalier and St. Louis. The division is jam-packed with talent. The Panthers proved they can hold their own in the division, especially against Carolina, Tampa Bay and Washington. In fact, the Panthers put up a franchise best 54 shots on goal when they hosted Washington in February. All in all, the Cats had an easy go of Washington, finishing the season series with a 6-2 mark. Carolina was more of the same, as well as Tampa Bay, who the Panthers beat 7-2 in the second to last game of the season.
But those other 41 games in a hockey season, the fans were limited to watching their Panthers on FSN or listening to Goldie and me on the radio. Here I’ve filled you in on some of the NHL’s best cities, but the Southeast is fast becoming a hockey hotbed, and in true ‘Tales from the Road’ fashion here’s a toast to the cities that house the game we all love just around the corner. To read this article in its entirety, pick up the May issue of Panthers Insider, on newsstands now, or call 954-835-PUCK for subscription information.