SUNRISE, Fla. — Fitting that it’s Friday the 13th.
When the Florida Panthers skate on to the ice at the BankAtlantic Center on Friday night for Game 1 of their Stanley Cup playoff series against the New Jersey Devils, it officially will leave the Maple Leafs as the lone National Hockey League club without a post-season appearance since the 2004-05 lockout.
The Panthers return to the playoffs for the first time since 2000, when they were swept in the first round by the Devils.
For Panthers forward and Toronto native Stephen Weiss, the game will mark his first NHL playoff match after 637 regular-season games, all with the Panthers. He will be up against Devils coach Peter DeBoer, who coached Weiss for two seasons with the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers and three seasons with the Panthers.
“It’s a good side story,” Weiss said. “We are familiar with the style he preaches, and it’s going to be tight. There is not going to be a lot of room out there.
“I want to win and he wants to win. That stuff gets thrown out the window when the puck drops, but certainly at the end of the series it would be nice to shake his hand (and be on) the winning side.”
The next playoff win for Devils goalie Martin Brodeur will be his 100th. Ilya Kovalchuk, meanwhile, has played in just nine career playoff games.
The best line of the morning went to DeBoer, who said upon greeting the media that he hadn’t been in that particular room “since I was fired last year.”
Panthers coach Kevin Dineen refused to say who his starting goalie will be, but the expectation is that it will be Jose Theodore.
And though playoff excitement might not be as obvious in an area where the rink is on the edge of the Everglades, Kovalchuk said he knows it’s there.
“People know what’s going on,” Kovalchuk said. “A few people at the hotel have been asking me about it. That’s good to see.”