It's time to put down your plastic rats and pick up a carrot.
Returning to the postseason for the first time since 2017, the Greenville Swamp Rabbits, who entered into a multi-year affiliation agreement with the Florida Panthers last November, will begin their quest for a Kelly Cup when they open a best-of-five series with the Indy Fuel on Tuesday.
Completing the 2020-21 regular season with a 38-19-12-3 record, the Swamp Rabbits finished with the second-best mark in the ECHL's Eastern Conference. Not too far behind them in third place, the Fuel went 37-24-8-0, including taking four of five hard-fought games from Greenville.
Their sixth trip to the playoffs since their inaugural season in 2010-11 when they were known as the Road Warriors, the Swamp Rabbits own a 19-24 all-time record in 43 playoff games. At the other end of the ice, the Fuel are making their second trip to the postseason in franchise history.
Taking a look at their 23-man playoff roster (which can be found HERE), the Swamp Rabbits currently boast 11 players that were drafted by NHL teams. Of those draftees, four were taken by the Panthers, including defenseman Benjamin Finkelstein and goaltender Ryan Bednard.
Overall, the Panthers have six prospects competing with the Swamp Rabbits.
With the opening-round series following a 1-3-1 format, the Swamp Rabbits will visit the Fuel for Game 1. After that, the action will shift to Greenville for Games 2, 3 and 4 (if necessary) at Bon Secours Wellness Arena. If a winner still isn't crowned by then, Game 5 will take place at Indy.
For a full series schedule, player notes and more, keep reading below!
Game 1: Tuesday, June 8 at 7:05 p.m. ET at Indy
Game 2: Thursday, June 10 at 7:05 p.m. ET at Greenville
Game 3: Friday, June 11 at 7:05 p.m. ET at Greenville
Game 4: Saturday, June 12 at 7:05 p.m. ET at Greenville (if necessary)
Game 5: Monday, June 14 at 7:05 p.m. ET at Indy (if necessary)
WATCH LIVE: https://www.flohockey.tv/
LISTEN LIVE: https://mixlr.com/swamp-rabbits
Ryan Bednard: A seventh-round pick (206th overall) in the 2015 NHL Draft, Bednard finished tied for third in wins (20), first in shutouts (4), fifth in goals-against average (2.43) and sixth in save percentage (.917%) among ECHL goaltenders during the regular season. Also spending two games with Syracuse in the AHL, he went 1-1-0 with a .915 save percentage during his stint with the Crunch. With his work between the pipes not going unnoticed, the 24-year-old was named the ECHL's "Goaltender of the Week" multiple times throughout the 2020-21 campaign.
Ben Finkelstein: Scooped up in the seventh round (195th overall) of the 2016 NHL Draft, Finkelstein's game reached new heights during his first professional season. Suiting up in 35 games with the Swamp Rabbits, the 23-year-old defenseman recorded 32 points (11 goals, 21 assists) and, despite missing 29 games due to an injury, his 0.91 points per game placed him first among all blueliners in the ECHL. In May, he was honored as the ECHL's "Rookie of the Month" after racking up 15 points (eight goals, seven assists), including a 12-game point streak.
Greg Meireles: Making the jump to the professional ranks this season, Meireles, a sixth-round pick (168th overall) in the 2019 NHL Draft, recorded 24 points (10 goals, 14 assists) in 31 games with the Swamp Rabbits. Getting off to a hot start, the 22-year-old forward was named the ECHL's "Rookie of the Month" in January after posting 11 points (three goals, eight assists) in nine games. Over the course of those nine games, he boasted four multi-point performances.
Matt Wedman: A seventh-round pick (199th overall) in the 2019 NHL Draft, Wedman appeared in 34 games with the Swamp Rabbits while notching eight points (four goals, four assists). Prior to turning pro, the 22-year-old forward amassed 211 points (92 goals, 119 assists) over 310 career regular-season games in the WHL with the Seattle Thunderbirds and Kelowna Rockets.
Patrick Bajkov: Joining the Panthers on a three-year, entry-level contract in 2018 after going undrafted out of the WHL, Bajkov, who is in this third season in the professional ranks, finished fourth among Swamp Rabbits in scoring with 39 points (16 goals, 23 assists) in 53 games.
Alec Rauhauser: Following four spectacular seasons at Bowling Green, Rauhauser signed a one-year, entry-level contract with the Panthers as an undrafted free agent in 2020. As a rookie, the 26-year-old defenseman tallied 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in 49 games with the Swamp Rabbits while also compiling a +13 rating from the blue line.
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH
Matt Bradley: In the midst of his third professional season, Bradley, a fifth-round pick (131st overall) of the Montreal Canadiens in the 2015 NHL Draft, led the Swamp Rabbits in scoring with a career-high 47 points (21 goals, 26 assists) in 69 games. As a rookie in 2018-19, the 24-year-old forward hoisted the Kelly Cup as a member of the Newfoundland Growlers.
Sam Jardine: One of the alternate captains on the Swamp Rabbits, Jardine, a sixth-round pick (169th overall) of the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2011 NHL Draft, finished fourth among ECHL defensemen in scoring with 44 points (three goals, 41 assists) in 67 games. In 2018-19, the 27-year-old helped the Newfoundland Growlers capture the Kelly Cup.
Garrett Thompson: One of the grizzled veterans on the Swamp Rabbits at 31 years old, Thompson, who also wears an "A" on his jersey, finished third on the team in scoring with 42 points (17 goals, 25 assists) in 62 games.
Joey Haddad: The captain of the Swamp Rabbits, Haddad registered 37 points (14 goals, 23 assists) in 62 games. Prior to joining Greenville this season, the 32-year-old forward spent six seasons with the Cardiff Devils in the United Kingdom's EIHL.
*Photo Credit: Greenville Swamp Rabbits