In today's Baptist Health Practice Notebook, the Panthers get back to work following a tough exhibition loss, Aaron Ekblad and MacKenzie Weegar both appear on track to play and more!
The Florida Panthers believe they've learned their lesson.
Less than 24 hours after enduring a 5-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in an exhibition game - their lone tune-up before the postseason begins - the Panthers dusted themselves off and got back to work during practice at the Ford Performance Centre in Toronto on Thursday afternoon.
"Now we know how it's going to be in the playoffs," Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said. "We have to be ready for that. We got a good lesson from Tampa. Fortunately for us that game didn't count. Now we know even more. Now we're going to be even more ready for Saturday."
Although there were few positives to take away from the game on paper, Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville said he hopes the loss to the Lightning served as a "wake-up call" for players as they prepare for their series against the New York Islanders in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers.
Following a tight opening 10 minutes of action, Tampa Bay just seemed to pull away from Florida, scoring two goals in the first period, two more in the second, and one in the third.
"We're extremely disappointed with yesterday's game," Quenneville said. "It's one of those games where you're looking at it from all aspects, all areas. We visited with lines and we practiced in our groups there today. Certainly, it kind of caught us off guard."
Sergei Bobrovsky said the Panthers will "have to show our best hockey" moving forward.
"I think everybody realized we have to elevate to another level, maybe two levels, same as me," the Panthers goaltender said. "Today, I think, was a good practice for the whole team. Everybody competed and was pissed off, same as me. We have to be ready for a hard battle."
During practice, Quenneville said he reviewed the game with players and noted that, despite the end result, "there's a lot of good things that came about it." After all, they say that you can learn a lot more in defeat than in success, which is something the Panthers know they'll have to do.
With a best-of-five series on the horizon, the margin for error against New York will be minimal.
"I think the guys had a good response, which we were hoping for and expected," Quenneville said of the mood during practice. "We're going to move forward off of that. We got a lesson."
WEEGAR AND EKBLAD ON TRACK
After sitting out against Tampa Bay for undisclosed reasons, defenseman MacKenzie Weegar was back on the ice during this afternoon's practice and "looked fine," according to Quenneville.
"We liked his practice as well," Quenneville said. "It was a good day for him."
Weegar's quick return bodes well for the Panthers, as the 26-year-old was projected to line up alongside Aaron Ekblad on the team's top-defensive pairing against the Islanders on Saturday.
Like Weegar, Ekblad has also missed some time recently but is on track to return against New York in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers. Absent toward the end of training camp, the 24-year-old former Calder Trophy winner has been practicing regularly with the team in Toronto.
"I'm feeling good now," Ekblad said. "I had a few maintenance days there, but I feel great. I've been back practicing with the guys the last two practices. Really excited to get another shot at [the Islanders]. They're obviously a great team. They have an identity and they play to it."
Florida's clear-cut No. 1 defenseman, Ekblad averaged a team-high 22:59 of ice time per game in the regular season while being one of a few players to be counted on in situations. Appearing in 67 games, he scored five goals and reached new career-highs in assists (36) and points (41).
Unfinished business on his mind, Ekblad is also one of just four players still with the Panthers that suited up in the team's opening-round loss to the Islanders during the playoffs in 2016.
"I'm really excited to play here in the playoffs against the Islanders," said Ekblad, who notched one assist in six games during the heated series. "It's really exciting. It's something we've been dreaming of for a long time. We're finally here and we want to seize this opportunity."
In three games against New York during the regular season, the Weegar-Ekblad pairing was one of Florida's most-effective in stifling the opposition. Over the 38:52 the duo shared the ice together at 5-on-5, the Islanders didn't register a single goal while firing off a measly 13 shots.
"They are key players, offensively and defensively," Bobrovsky said. "We're excited to get them back and to be in the lineup and help us to compete."
LIFE IN THE BUBBLE
It's only been a few days, but the Panthers are settling into their new bubble life.
Digging in for what they hope will be an extended stay at the Fairmont Royal York in downtown Toronto, players have been spending most of their free time either relaxing in their hotel rooms, hanging out together at the team's lounge, or eating at one of the NHL's approved restaurants.
"I'm not much of a video game guy, but I decided to bring my XBOX on this trip to have something to do," Ekblad said. "Other than that it's getting together to play cards with the boys, poker and stuff like that."
Like Ekblad, Barkov has also been unwinding with video games.
"I have my PlayStation with me," Barkov said. "I haven't been playing as much as I played at home, but still a little bit. Just hang out with the guys, have lunch and dinners. That's the way we spend time."
Stay tuned to @FlaPanthers on Twitter for continued updates from the bubble.
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