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The Florida Panthers shocked the hockey world when they eliminated the record-setting Boston Bruins in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Panthers finished 43 points behind Boston in the regular season. But that doesn’t matter now. What does matter is their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Toronto Maple Leafs surprised fans, in a way, by finally winning a playoff series. They eliminated the Tampa Bay Lightning, the reigning conference champion, in six games.
The Leafs finished well ahead of the Lightning in the regular season, but Tampa’s recent playoff success — three straight trips to the Stanley Cup Final, including two championships — meant victory was anything but assured.
Contrast that Tampa Bay success with Toronto’s futility. The Leafs hadn’t won a playoff series since 2004 despite reaching the postseason in each of the past six seasons.
Naturally, Toronto Maple Leafs fans are fired up about reaching the second round and facing the Florida Panthers. They’re obviously excited that they don’t have to play Boston and have home ice advantage in the round.
But when the series shifts to Florida for Games 3 and 4, Toronto fans are going to have a tough time getting tickets.
In a diabolical move meant to stop Maple Leafs fans from invading their barn, the Florida Panthers are allegedly restricting ticket sales to United States citizens.
Of course, this only applies to tickets sold by the Florida Panthers. Third-party sites, like StubHub, are not going to be forced to restrict their sales.
So really, this is more a move out of principle, rather than a practical attempt to stop Leafs fans from getting into the game.
With that context, I love the move. Start getting in the heads of the opponents early and often.
Of course, that could backfire. It does signal a potential worry that Leafs fans are more likely to buy tickets to games in Florida than Panthers fans.
That wouldn’t be all that surprising, though. Again, Toronto is desperate for the Maple Leafs to be good. And, they finally reached the second round of the playoffs.
Florida reached the second round last season before Tampa Bay eliminated it. That Panthers team won the President’s Trophy, too.
Though the games haven’t actually begun between the Leafs and Panthers, the mind games HAVE begun!
Follow Dan Zaksheske on Twitter: @RealDanZak