As the Panthers gear up for the start of their Stanley Cup playoff opener against the Islanders on Thursday, it’s hard not to notice some disparity in the team’s postseason experience.
The Panthers have a number of players with plenty of it and a lot more making their playoff debuts.
Look around the Florida locker room and you’ll see hardened veterans who have been here before.
Jaromir Jagr and Shawn Thornton have won the Stanley Cup twice; Brian Campbell and Jiri Hudler once.
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Goalie Roberto Luongo made six trips to the playoffs with Vancouver, playing for it all in the 2011 Finals only Thursday will be his first game representing the Panthers in the postseason.
Jagr alone has played in 202 playoff games -- 164 more than the Florida Panthers as a franchise have.
Yet a number of the Panthers key players will be stepping onto the postseason stage for the first time. Two-thirds of Florida’s top line -- Jagr notwithstanding -- have never been here in Sasha Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau.
“I don’t care if some guys haven’t played in the playoffs yet,’’ coach Gerard Gallant said. “They’re young guys, so they haven’t been there yet. We’re a 103-point team, won our division. We’re a good hockey team.”
Of Florida’s expected 20 players on Thursday, nine (including backup goalie Al Montoya) will be experiencing their first playoff game.
Only Dmitry Kulikov, Erik Gudbranson and Campbell represented the Panthers in the playoffs back in 2012.
The Panthers, as expected, say they have no concerns with their young players handling the big stage properly.
“We have some good veterans who have done a lot in this league,’’ Luongo said. “Hey, maybe it’s better to be young and just go out there and play, not think about things too much. We’re just excited about the potential of our group.”
Said Thornton: “At the end the day, it’s just another hockey game although it’s a bit more intense and a lot more on the line.. But these guys know how to play hockey. I’m not too worried.’’
General manager Dale Tallon deftly cobbled together this roster by adding veterans such as Thornton and injured captain Willie Mitchell (two Cups with Los Angeles) to a roster filled with potential.
Florida’s young players have been able to grow into their roles as team leaders without having the pressure of carrying the load alone.
As has been said many times before, Florida wouldn’t be where it is now without its veteran players but certainly wouldn’t have come this far without its talented young core.
“We have a young team, a good blend with guys who have won Cups and played in a lot of playoff games,’’ Tallon said Monday. “We’re counting on them to pass on the message to our young guys about being focused and elevating their game and their focus and all those things. We have to embrace the process. This is Game 83. We have to keep doing what we’re doing, only do it better.”
▪ Mitchell continues working out with the team but Tallon said there has been no change in his status for the postseason so far.
Mitchell, who hasn’t played since January after suffering what he told Rogers Sportsnet was his seventh concussion, received the ‘Spacey In Space’ sweatshirt following Saturday’s regular-season closing victory.
Doctors have advised Mitchell not to return because “they’re concerned with his long-term health,” as Tallon told the Miami Herald last month.
Mitchell is the 17th player to receive the postgame sweatshirt since Barkov got it for the first time on Dec. 30.
Luongo and Montoya have been awarded it four different times.
▪ Gudbranson, spotted wearing a walking boot Saturday after missing Florida’s final two games of the regular season, was back on the ice Monday and Tallon said “it looks like Erik will be ready to go.”
Steven Kampfer (ankle) and Vincent Trocheck (foot) remained out and there was no update on their status. Rookie Mike Matheson remains up on emergency recall.Online box:
Florida Panthers postseason experience
Jaromir Jagr: 202 games played; 2-time Stanley Cup champion
Shawn Thornton: 101; 2-time Stanley Cup champion
Brian Campbell: 97; Stanley Cup champion
Willie Mitchell*: 89; 2-time Stanley Cup champion
Jiri Hudler: 77; Stanley Cup champion
Roberto Luongo: 64
Jussi Jokinen: 48
Florida Panthers franchise: 38
Teddy Purcell: 22
Jakub Kindl: 19
Reilly Smith: 12
Dmitry Kulikov: 7
Erik Gudbranson: 7
Derek MacKenzie: 6
Panthers vs. Islanders
Thursday: Islanders at Panthers, 8 (FSFL, CNBC)
Friday: Islanders at Panthers, 7:30 (Sun, NHL Network)
Sunday: Panthers at Islanders, 8 (FSFL, NBCSN)
April 20: Panthers at Islanders, 8 (Sun, USA)
* April 22: Islanders at Panthers, TBD
*April 24 Panthers at Islanders, TBD
*April 26: Islanders at Panthers, TBD
*— If necessary