‘It’s called home-ice advantage for a reason’: Panthers feeding off home crowd in playoffs

The Florida Panthers are proving they can be a hockey market. They saw the crowds pick up during last season’s run to the Stanley Cup Finals and have seen little drop-off so far this season.

The latest data point: The Panthers led all NHL teams in average attendance during Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, averaging 19,530 fans for their three home games against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amerant Bank Arena. The listed capacity for the Sunrise arena is 19,250.

Florida will host at least two games in Round 2 as well against the Boston Bruins — Game 1 on Monday and Game 2 on Wednesday. If the series gets extended, Florida would also host Games 5 and 7 of the best-of-7 series.

“It’s called home-ice advantage for a reason,” forward Evan Rodrigues said. “They were loud. They were into it from Game 1. It gives you a boost, especially when maybe you have a lull in the game and the crowd gets up and roaring, it gives you that little extra energy to have a good next shift. Usually, all it takes is one shift to turn the tide of the game.”

The full crowds isn’t anything new for Florida this season. The Panthers averaged 18,632 fans per home game during the regular season, with 16 of their 41 home games being classified as sellouts.

“It’s been huge with our attendance and how loud our arena gets,” defenseman Brandon Montour said. “The success that we have as a team playing at home is huge. We’re hoping to get off to a good start in these two games.”

Sam Bennett ‘not far off’

The Panthers will once again be without second-line center Sam Bennett, who hasn’t played since sustaining a hand/wrist injury in Game 2 against the Lightning, for the series opener against the Bruins on Monday.

But coach Paul Maurice said Bennett is “not far off” from returning. He has skated each of the past three days on his own.

Outside of Bennett’s absence, the Panthers are at full strength for the Bruins series.

Quote of the day

“Both teams have some things that can be really good for them coming in. They’re in a rhythm, coming off a real big high. We’ve had some — rest isn’t the right word, it’s recovery. You have two days off at home, you’re rested. But now, the bruises are gone and we feel pretty strong. We know we’re going to have to be ready for the first 10 [minutes], but I think only as ready as the next 10. The next 10 will be very close, really hard, hotly contested, but I think it’ll be very physical, very fast. But I also think what might be different is it will also be very disciplined. Maybe last year, each team was trying to mark their territory and not every check got finished. That Game 1 was as heavy of a game as I can remember and both teams know they can’t do that now. This game is heavy. It’s hard. But I think the difference is it will look a lot more disciplined.” - Maurice on his expectations for Game 1 against the Bruins.