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Battle of Florida: Florida Panthers Players to Watch

Florida Panthers Players to Watch

As a new playoff series between the Cats and Bolts commence, here are some Florida Panthers players to watch at all times. The regular season is in the past. When the postseason begins every player has a chance to start from scratch. Every season we witness the heroic rise of players who glided under the radar and now become household names. When the Panthers and Lightning meet this Sunday at the Amerant Bank Arena everybody’s sights will be on the superstars, but they may be in for a surprise.

Battle of Florida: Panthers Players to Watch

Finnish Men in Sunrise

Aleksander Barkov, the Florida Panthers Captain will be assessed with plenty of detail in every meeting room held by the Lightning. His fellow countrymen may be underlooked and might be as decisive, nevertheless. Most importantly, Anton Lundell has found his rhythm towards the end of the season and hopes he can carry that momentum heading into Game 1. Scoring four goals in his last 10 games, the third-line centreman has done so in impressive fashion. Although he did not have the season many fans expected. His production waxed and waned during the 82-game campaign. However, it is not a matter of how he starts, but how he finishes. And a series against Tampa seems as good as any occasion to take the spotlight.

Eetu Luostarinen, on the other hand, has not been as flashy as Lundell, nevermind Sasha Barkov, but he has been one of the best forwards on the Panthers end of the ice. Leading all forwards in blocked shots, Eetu has shown his team-first approach and that is one quality the Cats could benefit from in this playoff run. There may not be penalty shootouts in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but that does not make the Finnish players in Florida any less dangerous.

Playoffs Bob

Sergei Bobrovsky will get the nod in net when the puck drops at 12:30ET on Sunday. Following a brilliant performance during the 22/23 playoffs and a fantastic regular season, the Russian goalie made his case as the starting goaltender. Nevertheless, Anthony Stolarz could make an appearance, if need be. The Panthers are lucky to have two good choices in that position. Last year Alex Lyon was the starter for the first games against the Boston Bruins. Replaced by Bob in the midst of it. The rest is known history. Bob is not on a short leash, whatsoever, but who knows? Stolarz, the NHL leader for GAA and SV%, may have a shot during this postseason run.

Looking at the opposition’s bench, Jon Cooper has (for better or worse) a thoughtless decision to make for his starting goalie. Andrei Vasilevskiy has not had a remarkable season but he is still one of the best in the NHL in his position. Moreover, he might be a goalie’s first choice for any NHL team. His playoff resume speaks for itself. Tampa’s success cannot be explained without mentioning ‘Vasi’. Their roster is stacked with the likes of Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Victor Hedman, Steven Stamkos, and many more. However, there is not any position as crucial as the one their number 88 plays at. In many ways, Tampa will go as far as Vasilevskiy takes them. Unfortunately for the Panthers, he seems to play out of this world whenever they meet.

Mr. Carter, Back in Business

Carter Verhaeghe has become one of the most clutch performers in Panthers history. The former Tampa Bay player (he won a Stanley Cup with the Lightning) starred in many of the Cats best moments. He owns the franchise record for the most playoff overtime goals. Along with Matthew Tkachuk, ‘Swaggy’ was arguably the man responsible for the Panthers latest postseason accomplishments. Despite missing a couple of games with an upper-body injury, Verhaeghe played in the regular season finale against Toronto. And as it could not have been any other way, he scored.

Back and fully healthy, Verhaeghe is one player to watch in this first-round series. When the game is close, Florida will look for a hero, and who usually answers the call? Mister Carter Verhaeghe.

Extending on the injury front, Aaron Ekblad is expected to be back for Game 1 while Oliver Ekman-Larsson is considered day-to-day. Ekblad’s return means a lot to the Panthers who get their best defensive pairing back as Aaron joins Gustav Forsling. The Swedish defenceman is coming off an impressive season filling in for Brandon Montour and Aaron Ekblad when both defenders were on IR. As a result, Forsling possesses the best plus-minus in the league. In times when he was needed he showed up and earned himself some Norris Trophy votes.

‘Tkachuk, Tkaching’: You know the drill

One simply cannot resist. Talk about the Florida Panthers in the playoffs for some time and eventually the name will pop up. Matthew Tkachuk is most certainly a top priority to be assessed by any team that runs into the Panthers. Tkachuk is one of the players to watch at all times. He catches the eye, even when opponents’ fans do not want to acknowledge him. His play is astounding game in and game out. Somehow, he manages to become even more explosive come playoff time. The bar was set exceptionally high last time around, so it is no secret he will be thoroughly judged and expected to replicate last year’s production. However, the Panthers would hope to get some more evenly balanced points throughout their lineup.

Having a fired-up Tkachuk makes the Cats extremely dangerous. Having that fire shared between Sam Bennett, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Sam Reinhart would make them that much feared. The latter is another forward who will have all of the spotlights on him. After a career year, Reino heads into the Playoffs off a 57-goal season. The Panthers power play runs through him. His accuracy is what makes or breaks their PP success rate. At times looking like a one-man wrecking crew, the Cats need to account for a plan B in which Tkachuk, Barkov, or Tarasenko can fill in on the PP scoring sheet.

Time to Hunt: Redemption

This is the playoffs. Every line is crucial. There is no such thing as light shifts. The Panthers have two previous series from which to learn and use as fuel for their fire. The ‘Battle of Florida’ is one of the most entertaining rivalries in the NHL nowadays. However, unless the Panthers can finally take down the Bolts, it may not remain a rivalry much longer.

Main Photo Credit: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports


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