The Florida Panthers started selling single-game playoff tickets on Saturday morning. That's not a big deal in many markets as making the postseason is a rite of spring.
It is, however, kind of special in South Florida.
Saturday was the first time the Panthers were able to sell tickets to a postseason game in 12 years. The team clinched its first berth in the playoffs since 2000 on Thursday and then capped that off with the franchise's first divisional title with a 4-1 win over visiting Carolina.
"This is, by far, the best time of the season,'' Sean Bergenheim said. "This is when the fun begins. Not that the regular season isn't fun, but this has a little extra. We're hoping to do something here that hasn't been done in a long time. I'm really excited. We all are. You get one or two wins and everything snowballs. That's what happened for us in Tampa last year.''
Even though the Panthers don't have much experience in the postseason as a franchise, the team has plenty of postseason experience. Bergenheim, for instance, scored nine goals in 16 games as the Lightning came within a goal of the Stanley Cup Finals last spring.
"Everyone said we didn't have a chance early on and we were pretty motivated,'' said Ed Jovanovski, who has played in 27 of Florida's 31 postseason games. "This is the best time of the year, what we all play for. This is the big stage. We have some guys who have never been here, but a lot who have. It's going to be fun.''
Florida, as the third seed in the Eastern Conference, will hold home ice advantage against the New Jersey Devils.
Coach Kevin Dineen, for one, is excited about the prospect of bringing the postseason back to hockey's southernmost outpost. Florida's arena, opened in 1998, has hosted just two playoff games.
"I guess the words 'amped up' is something you would use,'' Dineen said. "The level of intensity gets amped up, the level of importance at every faceoff, every finished check. Those are things you talk to your players about, but it's not really needed because they recognize it and they know there's a lot of other teams sitting at home that would love to be a part of where you are right now.''
Florida finished the season 38-26-18; its 94 points were most since getting 98 points in 1999-2000.