Poker, Netflix and naps: How the Panthers plan to spend their time on long flights to Edmonton

FORT LAUDERDALE — Sunrise and Edmonton are separated by nearly 3,000 miles. The two cities, who host the Panthers and Oilers, respectively, are further apart than any two Stanley Cup Final cities in history.

The Panthers have home-ice advantage in their second consecutive trip to the Stanley Cup Final, meaning even if the series goes seven games, they would only need to fly to Edmonton and back twice — for Games 3 and 4, and possibly Game 6. But they still have at least one long trip to Edmonton and back ahead of them.

“Not having to do that extra flight to start is nice,” Panthers star Matthew Tkachuk said Tuesday. “It’s nice to be here for a week, just preparing.”

Although the team will be flying in comfort on their way to Alberta, it’s still a long haul across two countries. So a key for the Panthers will be staying limber, healthy and, frankly, entertained for hours. Fortunately, they have plans.

“I think it’s getting rest when you need it,” forward Carter Verhaeghe said. “We like to play cards sometimes, and I think recovery’s the biggest thing. Whenever you get on the plane, when you get there, you’ve kind of got to get your body right to what it needs for the day or what you need to do to feel good the next day, whether it’s sleeping, going on the bike or something like that. Whatever you need to do. Everyone’s different.”

Poker is the game of choice for Panthers looking to cut loose on the long flights. Verhaeghe said he thinks he’s the best poker player, though he mentioned Gustav Forsling, as well.

“We have a good group,” Tkachuk said. “(Nick Cousins) definitely is the last guy that’s taken the cash in poker. I don’t know if I could play poker for six hours, to be honest. I’ll probably do some poker, a little bit of a fake nap, walk around, back to playing poker.

“It is a long flight. You only do it a couple times a year. That part is going to be a little different this series, definitely.”

Young forward Anton Lundell said he might watch some of his teammates play poker, but he will likely keep out of the games (“I’m not the poker player. I try to save the money,” he said.).

“I’m just watching some shows, maybe a movie, but overall, just hanging around,” Lundell said. He added that he has been watching White Collar on Netflix.

“I like that show, so I’m excited to keep watching it,” he said.

Although the Panthers’ flight will certainly be more comfortable than those flying coach on commercial flights, the team will also need to keep from getting sore or tight while cooped up in a plane cabin. Star winger Sam Reinhart said he will try to get some rest on the plane.

“Nothing changes from a recovery standpoint,” Reinhart said. “All year, you kind of learn what works for you. It’s so important, especially in a playoff run, to take care of yourself.”

As for coach Paul Maurice, he will stay away from the card games, try to get some work done and get some shut-eye.

“I used to hate flying. Like absolute, full-blown sweat, agonizing before I get on the plane,” Maurice said. “Then after a while, you just don’t care. It’s normal. I can sleep on a plane pretty good. But it’s the best place to get work done. You can watch as much hockey as you can stand on an airplane and read a little bit, too.”