Florida Panthers

Panthers’ Rocco Grimaldi seizing unlikely playoff shot

The Panthers’ Rocco Grimaldi, left, recently called up from the minors, celebrates after a goal by Teddy Purcell, center, during the first period of Thursday night’s playoff game.
The Panthers’ Rocco Grimaldi, left, recently called up from the minors, celebrates after a goal by Teddy Purcell, center, during the first period of Thursday night’s playoff game. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

The Panthers’ playoff inexperience has been well documented, as eight of the 20 active players in Thursday’s opener against the Islanders were making their postseason debut.

For third-line center Rocco Grimaldi, being in these playoffs must feel a little like playing with house money.

Just a few weeks ago, the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs couldn’t have been on his mind.

The AHL Calder Cup playoffs, sure; the NHL postseason, no.

“I was focused on being in the starting lineup in the ‘A,’ ” said Grimaldi, who was called up from the minors on March 30 when Vincent Trocheck got injured.

“We were in a playoff chase there, and I get here and we’re in a division chase. I didn’t expect this. It’s pretty cool.”

It appeared Grimaldi was out of the Panthers’ plans this season as he was sent back to AHL Portland (Maine) before Christmas and never came back.

It’s not like the Panthers weren’t recalling forwards, either.

When he did get the call last month, Grimaldi has taken the opportunity and taken off with it. When Trocheck comes back, this run might be over, for the moment, but only because there doesn’t seem to be anywhere else to play Grimaldi.

When Trocheck returns, perhaps as soon as Wednesday, he’ll go back to centering Reilly Smith and Jussi Jokinen, with Nick Bjugstad returning to center Teddy Purcell and Jiri Hudler.

“I can only focus on one shift at a time, one game at a time,” Grimaldi said. “I don’t know what could happen as far as lineup changes go, so I’m not worried about it. I know I’m going to play [Thursday] and that’s all I can control. It’s an opportunity for me to help our team win.”

So far, Grimaldi has made his best case that he is valuable to the Panthers and deserves to be a part of whatever future this postseason might hold.

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“I’ve had numerous opportunities here this year and last year, and I think this one has been my best,” he said. “I feel more confident, more comfortable. Obviously, playing with [Hudler and Purcell] has helped me out, make me feel comfortable, which is great. I can’t be satisfied with the few games I’ve played; I have to move forward in the playoffs.”

▪ Injured defenseman Steven Kampfer skated before the morning workout, then joined in during the later stages of practice.

Kampfer injured his ankle in Ottawa last week and was thought to be out for at least the first four games.

Depending on how things go, however, it’s believed Kampfer might be available for Game 3 on Sunday.

“It’s too early; he’s still day-to-day,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “Today was the first day on the ice, so that’s a good thing for him.”

▪ Defenseman and captain Willie Mitchell told the Fox Sports Florida pregame show that sitting out since January because of concussions has been difficult to deal with, and he hasn’t ruled out returning.

Doctors have warned Mitchell another concussion — he told Rogers Sportsnet he’s sustained seven — could be problematic to his future health.

“It’s tough to have the thing you’re most passionate about taken away from you,” said Mitchell, who has been practicing and traveling with the team the past few weeks. “I want to have a healthy life.”

▪ Jaromir Jagr on being worried the Islanders would target him defensively: “I don't know why they should look at me. I’m 50 years old, so ...”

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