The Stanley Cup is never won in October.
But it sure can be lost.
The Florida Panthers are well aware of how detrimental a slow start can be to a season, or how much a hot start can set them up. With back-to-back games to start the season against a division opponent, the plate is set for the chance to get off to that coveted quick start.
Add in that those two games come against in-state rival Tampa Bay, and the Panthers know they don’t even have to leave the state. The recipe is there for the mixing.
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“We have to get points early and that’s what we want,’’ forward Jonathan Huberdeau said. “I think with this being a back-to-back with a division rivalry it’s going to be really important that we get things going the right way.’’
It didn’t go as planned in the season opener as Florida rallied from down two goals only to give up two early goals in the third and fell to the Lightning 5-3 at Amalie Arena. Connor Brickley, Mark Pysyk and Huberdeau scored for the Panthers while Roberto Luongo took the loss in net.
Vladislav Namestnikov and Nikita Kucherov scored third-period goals to allow Tampa Bay to pull away.
The two teams meet again on Saturday at BB&T Center in the home opener for the Panthers.
The Panthers stumbled out of the gate last season, hovering around .500 for the first two months of the season and never go on track. The longest winning streak of the season was five games, which didn’t come until February. It resulted in a change behind the bench and the Panthers, one year after winning the Atlantic Division, Florida finished in sixth place and changed coaches again at the end of the season.
“We’ve learned the past few seasons that every game matters, every point counts, especially later in the season,’’ forward Vincent Trocheck said. “So to get off to a hot start and win games early really means a lot.’’
In facing the Lightning twice to open the season, it offers a sense of familiarity. The two teams met three times in the preseason, all in the same week with Florida sweeping the Lightning. Though it was just preseason, the results, particularly in the two games in Sunrise, gave the Panthers a sense that they are on the right path.
“The first two games I think both coaches were watching a lot of young guys and there were a lot of mistakes being made,’’ Florida head coach Bob Boughner said. “The third game, I liked our game against a pretty good lineup in Tampa. And I think both coaches know the tendencies and the strengths and weaknesses of each lineup by now. So now it’s just about concentrating on your own team and playing your game plan.’’
Notes: Owen Tippet, the Panthers first-round pick in the 2017 Entry Draft, was a healthy scratch for the game and will have to wait to make his NHL debut. Tippet did take part in pregame warmups, however.
“It’s going to be good for him,’’ Boughner said. “I want him to watch and I want him to prepared because he could be in any day. (And) it’s not so much what he has to do, he’s ready to play, some guys have had good camps and some guys are in their positions. It’s like any other team, it’s a numbers game right now and I expect when he gets in there he’s going to be a good player for us.’’ … The Panthers also scratched C Denis Malgin and D McKenzie Weegar.