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Panthers set team attendance record, fueled by another deep Stanley Cup playoff run

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — The on-ice success story for the Florida Panthers is easy to see: They’re one win away from a second consecutive trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

The off-ice success isn’t hard to figure out, either.

With a 26th sellout of the season expected for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final on Saturday night, when the Panthers play host to the New York Rangers, Florida has already lured more fans to its rink this year than in any other in the team’s 30-season history. And the team’s ticket revenue has climbed 50% from where it was just two years ago, according to data shared with The Associated Press.

“If you win and you build a good program, you create an expanded fan base that isn’t necessarily then going to fluctuate with wins and losses all the time,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “You have to, over time, play an exciting game of hockey. But I’d like to feel that we’re part of something with deep enough roots that we would be considered a model franchise.”

That phrase — “model franchise” — was not one that anyone in hockey would tag the Panthers with a few years ago. Relocation rumors, despite the team steadfastly saying they were totally untrue, were constant. The home rink was half-empty, at best, much of the time.

Those days are long gone.

“We've had some great turnouts throughout these playoffs so far,” Panthers forward Steven Lorentz said.

Florida will play its 50th home game of the season on Saturday night, tying last year’s team for the second-most in club history. If Florida makes the Stanley Cup Final, there is a chance that the Panthers’ total home attendance could top the 1 million mark for the first time; it’ll be somewhere around 940,000 for the season when all the tickets for Game 6 against the Rangers are counted.

“They’ve been great for us all season,” Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said.

No NHL team saw a bigger jump in regular season average home attendance this year than the Panthers, whose numbers in that department went up nearly 12% over last season. Over a two-year span, that number is up 25% — and corporate partnership revenue is up by more than 120% from where it was in 2022, the team said.

Add it all up — the wins, the deep playoff runs, the sellouts, the opening earlier this year of a new practice facility with fan-friendly amenities such as a store and restaurant in downtown Fort Lauderdale, more and more sponsor deals — and it becomes obvious that Florida is enjoying a run from the business standpoint like never before.

“You have to play a style of game that if you’re going to spend your money and you’re going to go to the rink in February, you’ve got a real good chance of being entertained,” Maurice said. “And I think these men do that.”

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AP NHL playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://www.apnews.com/hub/NHL