Panthers head back to work, resting and waiting for Bruins-Leafs winner

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — All players and coaches were at work on Wednesday at the Florida Panthers’ practice facility. Nobody was on the ice.

That’s a nice problem to have right now.

Florida will open the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs at home. That much is certain. The opponent — Boston or Toronto — won’t be decided until at least Thursday. And when Game 1 of the next series will happen is anybody’s guess.

So, for now, the Panthers will rest up and wait. The current plan calls for them to skate on Thursday and Friday, then see what happens.

“We have a sports science group, got a new facility, got lots of things we can do for recovery for these guys and we’re exploring all that,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “And we’re trying to learn too. It’s not that we set a program and we’re staying with it. There’s a better way and that’s what we’re doing down there today.”

The Panthers have some experience with this. They went nearly a week from the end of a Round 2 win over Toronto to the start of the Eastern Conference finals against Carolina last year, They waited almost a week and a half between the end of that series with the Hurricanes and the start of the Stanley Cup Final against Vegas.

“Anytime you can take a break like this, take advantage of it,” Panthers forward Sam Reinhart said. “You’re going to be better off, mentally, physically. You know, it’s a grind. Every series is its own battle, has its own challenges. So, you have to take advantage of a time like this.”

They could use the rest. Forward Sam Bennett, who missed the last 3 1/2 games of the five-game series with Tampa Bay because of an upper-body injury, will skate for the first time since getting hurt on Thursday. The Panthers haven’t said if he’ll be ready to play in Game 1 against the Bruins or Maple Leafs, but it stands to reason that the more time Florida has off now the higher the chances are of Bennett being ready.

There’s also the array of bumps and bruises that everyone has at this time of year, which is why the treatment rooms saw all the activity at the Panthers’ facility on Wednesday while the ice stayed empty.

“This time is huge for us,” Panthers forward Anton Lundell said. “We’re trying to take it and recover and get some energy back.”

The Panthers’ video staff is pulling double-duty right now, since preparations have to be made for two teams. But in fairness, it’s not like either side in the next round will be starting from scratch. Going back to the start of last season, Florida has played Boston 15 times and Toronto 13 times — meaning it has faced the Bruins and Maple Leafs more than it has any other opponent in that span.

Florida beat Boston in a seven-game Round 1 series last season — a big upset over the No. 1 seed — and then beat the Maple Leafs in five games.

“They know us. We know them,” Maurice said, referring to both Boston and Toronto. “In a 13-month period, those are the two teams we probably know the best.”



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