In today's Baptist Health Practice Notebook, the Panthers are finally heading to the bubble in Toronto, Lucas Wallmark is eager to get back to the playoffs, and updates on two blueliners.
CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. - The Florida Panthers are bubble bound.
After closing out the final day of their "Return to Play" training camp with a lively scrimmage at the Panthers IceDen on Saturday afternoon, players will have one night to take care of any of their last-minute preparations before the team finally heads up north to Toronto on Sunday morning.
Following a multi-month lockdown due to COVID-19, it's almost time for the puck to drop again.
"We had a pretty good camp. We worked really hard. Everybody's excited," captain Aleksander Barkov said with a grin. "We're in the play-in and going to Toronto to get this thing started again. Like I said, very excited and can't wait to play the games. "
I haven't packed anything. For me, I'm going to pack last minute. Obviously, I know we're going to be there for a while. I'm probably not going to bring my whole home there, but I'll figure it out, throw something really quick in the luggage. We'll see."
Upon their arrival to Toronto (the chosen hub city for the Eastern Conference), the Panthers will be required to remain within a designated safe zone at all times in order to limit the risk of player potentially contracting and then further spreading the coronavirus among the team's travel party.
This means that when they aren't at the arena, players will be spending the majority of their time within the team's hotel. In anticipation of this downtime, many of them will be bringing along a bit more than the basics -- toothbrush, clothes, iPad, etc. -- they'd typically pack for a long road trip.
"It'll be a different experience," forward Mike Hoffman said. "I think there will be a lot of hanging out with the guys -- either playing cards, video games, watching movies, whatever it is. It's going to be an experience that we're going to remember for the rest of our lives. The XBOX, that'll be coming. There's going to be a lot of free time. We'll get guys [together] and have some fun."
Like Barkov, many players have waited until the last minute to begin organizing their suitcases - a task that's proving to be harder than you'd expect. After all, how much should you bring if you don't know when you're coming back? The father they go, the longer they'll be away from home.
That means if the Panthers do manage to claw their way into the Stanley Cup Final, they could end up being away from home for more than months, a run that would take them into October.
For Brian Boyle, that means packing for both summer and fall.
"You've got to pack for the hot weather and the cold weather," the veteran forward said. "The biggest suitcase I've ever brought on a road trip is the one thing I'll be bringing. I'm also bringing a putter with three golf balls to keep that thing rolling if I can in the room."
While their work has officially ended in South Florida, the Panthers will still have several more on-ice sessions once they arrive in Toronto. After getting a few more practices under their belt, they will face off against the Tampa Bay Lightning in a final exhibition tune-up game on July 29.
Then, just two days after that, they'll finally begin their postseason run by kicking off their best-of-five series against the New York Islanders in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Qualifier on Aug. 1.
Joel Quenneville believes "things are going to happen quickly" once the team touches down.
"We expect up-tempo practices and to get excited as we progress in the week," the Panthers head coach said. "It's certainly another part of this long stretch of getting back to playing. This will be a big hurdle. You'll probably feel the excitement when we land tomorrow."
WALLY READY TO MAKE HIS MARK
An extended stay in a hotel will be nothing new for Lucas Wallmark.
Acquired by Panthers in a multi-player deal at the trade deadline back in February, the 24-year-old forward had spent just seven games with his new club and was still pretty much living out of his suitcase when the NHL season was paused due to concerns over COVID-19 on March 12.
"I felt good the last couple games before the break, but I feel these two weeks [of training camp] have been good for me to get to know everyone and get to know the system a little more" said Wallmark, who tallied a goal and an assist after the trade "I feel comfortable. I'm ready to go."
Going into the pause, Wallmark had been centering the team's third line. Coming out of it, he's still on the third line, but had slid over to the left wing. Entering the first game of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, it looks like he'll be playing alongside two veterans in Brian Boyle and Brett Connolly.
As a line, Wallmark said the trio provides the Panthers with a lot of different looks on the ice.
"I think we can bring good defense and we can be able to score, too," said Wallmark, who set a new career-high with 11 goals this season. "I feel we've had good chemistry the last couple of days. I feel like we're going in the right direction. Hopefully we can keep going here."
Despite being by the youngest among his linemates, Wallmark does share in their experience in the playoffs. Last season, he suited up in 15 games as a rookie with the Hurricanes on their run to the Eastern Conference Final. Along the way, he recorded five points (one goal, four assists).
"It's so much fun [in those] games," Wallmark said. "It's those games you want to play -- win the series and keep moving forward. It's a lot of fun and you get really closer with each other in the group. That feeling is really good. I think we have a good team to have a great chance to do something good. I'm really excited. Hopefully I can bring some playoff experience."
When asked about Wallmark, Quenneville said he "likes what he brings" to the team.
"He's got some balance to his game," Quenneville said. "He gives us some intelligence. He can kill penalties, win faceoffs… He's acquiring that taste of where to go a little bit more. Each and every day, that progress is starting to give him some more comfort… He's one guy that adds a little more reliability to our team game."
HELP ON THE BLUE LINE
The Panthers received some good news in the injury department.
Quenneville said that both Chase Priskie and Aaron Ekblad, two defenseman that have both missed multiple days of training camp for undisclosed reasons, skated prior to today's practice.
"They're progressing," Quenneville said.
This season, Priskie, who also came over from Carolina with Wallmark at the trade deadline, notched 35 points (eight goals, 27 assists) in 57 games during his first tour of the AHL, while Ekblad set career-highs in points (41) and assists (36) in 67 games as Florida's No. 1 defender.
"We'll see what Monday's plan is with them when we get on the ice in Toronto," Quenneville said.
-- Attention: Due to COVID-19, convalescent plasma donations are needed urgently in South Florida.
At Baptist Health, convalescent plasma (plasma collected from people who have recovered from coronavirus) is being used to treat critically ill COVID-19 patients not responding to other therapies.
To schedule a donation time or to learn more, click HERE.