In today's Baptist Health Practice Notebook, Patric Hornqvist is ready to chase another Stanley Cup, Sergei Bobrovsky gets the nod in net for Game 1, and the Lightning get two stars back.
SUNRISE, Fla. - Patric Hornqvist lives for the postseason.
Already a two-time Stanley Cup champion, the veteran forward was beaming with excitement during this morning's practice as the Panthers came together to make their final preparations before opening up the playoffs against the intrastate rival Lightning at BB&T Center on Sunday.
"In my mind, the playoffs are all I play for," Hornqvist said passionately. "I don't care about the regular season. I want to win the [Stanley] Cup and I want to be successful. Obviously, you have a long road in front of you when you start in Game 1 [of the regular season] to prepare and to try to get into the playoffs. You never know how many cracks you're going to get at it.
"That's my mindset. You almost have to have that mindset that this is the last playoff you'll ever play. You never know. I've been happy and fortunate to play a lot of playoffs and have a few good runs. I'm proud of that and happy about it. I really learned from it, too. Don't take anything for granted. Make sure you do everything in your power to take advantage of this opportunity."
In the midst of his first season with the Panthers after helping the Penguins capture back-to-back Cups in 2016 and 2017, Hornqvist was the first player acquired by general manager Bill Zito after he was hired in September, a move that has since paid off in more ways than one.
One of the team's primary tone setters since his arrival, Hornqvist, who wears an "A" on his jersey as an alternate captain, is often one of the loudest players during practice, constantly supporting his teammates vocally, while also coming down hard when things grow stagnant.
With more than 800 NHL games under his belt, the value of his experience has also shown up in the stat sheet just as much as in the locker room. Suiting up in 44 games, he finished tied for fifth on the Panthers in in scoring with 34 points, including finding the back of the net 14 times.
"We felt it early in the year what he brought," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. "He has that intangible of bringing competitiveness and internal competition. Every day is important to try and improve and leave it all out on the ice. It's kind of a playoff mentality. That's been nice for our group to see it. I can imagine it'll go to a new level, and hopefully we get a lot of viewings."
Gearing up for his 10th playoff run in 13 NHL seasons, Hornqvist certainly knows how to handle high-pressure situations such as this. In addition to having a pair of championship rings, the 34-year-old has also racked up 46 points (25 goals, 21 assists) in 90 career postseason contests.
Once the playoffs get underway, he knows better than most that "everything" changes.
"You play against the same team seven times," Hornqvist said. "The intensity goes up. The refs let the players decide a little bit more out there. You can really only think about the next shift."
Despite being sidelined for the final seven games of the regular season due to an upper-body injury, Hornqvist said he "feels great" heading into the long-awaited series with the Lightning. And based on what we've seen in practice, the hard-nosed Swede will likely be starting out on a line with with Alex Wennberg and Frank Vatrano, while also playing on the top power-play unit.
Rested up and ready to go, he can't wait to get started.
"My body feels really good," Hornqvist said. "I'm super excited for the opportunity we have in front of us. We've been waiting the whole year for the fun to start."
BOBROVSKY SET FOR GAME 1
When the Panthers hit the ice on Sunday, it'll be Sergei Bobrovsky leading them out.
Announced as the team's Game 1 starter by Quenneville this morning, the two-time Vezina Trophy winner will look to build off his strong finish to the regular season, while also hoping to potentially tap into the form that helped him stun the Lightning during the playoffs back in 2019.
Backstopping the Blue Jackets to a first-round sweep of top-seeded Tampa Bay that year, the 32-year-old Bobrovsky turned aside 109 of 117 shots for a. 932 save percentage in the series.
"It's definitely an exciting time for all of us, for the whole team," Bobrovsky said when asked about facing down the Lightning again. "We look forward to this opportunity. I think we have a great team. We have a great chance. We're all excited. It's going to be good, fun hockey."
Owning a 19-8-2 record, Bobrovsky looked to be calm, cool and collected during his final taste of action before the postseason when he gobbled up 28 of 29 shots to guide the Panthers to a convincing 5-1 win over Tampa Bay in the penultimate game of the regular season on May 8.
Over his last 12 appearances, Bobrovsky went 7-3-0 with a .911 save percentage.
"I thought Bob had stretches this year where he was outstanding," Quenneville said. "I thought his last game was in that same realm. … I thought Bob had an excellent start going into the playoffs. His frame of mind has been outstanding. He's excited about the challenge, and he's definitely rested."
ACROSS THE STATE
There was big news coming out of the Gulf Coast this morning.
According to Joe Smith of The Athletic, Lightning coach Jon Cooper confirmed that injured forwards Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov will both be back in the lineup on Sunday.
Stamkos, who produced 34 points (17 goals, 17 assists) in 38 games this campaign, has been sideline since April 8 while nursing a lower-body injury, while Kucherov, who took home the Hart Trophy as the NHL's MVP in 2019, has not played at all this season after offseason hip surgery.
"The goal has always been to be ready come Game 1 of the playoffs, and everything has been trending in that direction, so that's exciting," Stamkos told reporters last week. "I'm feeling much better. I'm definitely in a better place than I was a couple of weeks ago."
While the Panthers have yet to see Kucherov in action, they did take one of two games against the Lightning when Stamkos was in the lineup. Overall, Florida went 5-2-1 against Tampa Bay this season, including closing out the regular season with back-to-back victories in Sunrise.
Either way, regardless of who's across the ice, the Panthers feel more than prepared.
"Confidence feels great," Hornqvist said. "I think those two games we played here, the two last games, gave us more confidence. But at the same time, it's a new season. It's a fresh start."
To stay up to date on the Sunshine State showdown, follow @FlaPanthers and @JamesonCoop on Twitter.
SATURDAY'S PRACTICE LINES
Carter Verhaeghe - Aleksander Barkov - Anthony Duclair
Jonathan Huberdeau - Sam Bennett - Owen Tippett
Frank Vatrano - Alex Wennberg - Patric Hornqvist
Ryan Lomberg - Noel Acciari - Mason Marchment
Nikita Gusev - Juho Lammikko - Aleksi Heponiemi
Gustav Forsling - MacKenzie Weegar
Markus Nutivaara - Brandon Montour
Keith Yandle - Radko Gudas
Kevin Connauton - Anton Stralman