Panthers owner would prefer to face Islanders in playoffs

With no Canadian teams to cheer for in the Stanley Cup Playoffs we introduce a new segment that provides several reasons (some funny) to root for certain American teams going forward.

Any poor sap (*meekly raises hand*) who has ever asked anyone associated with a playoff team which opponent they’d rather draw in the next series should brace for a non-answer.

Of course they have a preference. They’re just not going to make those druthers public for fear of giving their foe some bulletin-board material.

So when someone actually gives an honest response, we love it. And NHL owners are generally more prone to giving more candid interviews than calculating general managers and coaches.

Doug Cifu, co-owner of the Atlantic Division champion Florida Panthers, hopped on NHL Network Radio Wednesday morning and may have given the New York Islanders (or at least Thomas Greiss) a spoonful of motivation.

Looking at the Panthers’ potential first-round matchup, Cifu — who grew up a hockey fan on Long Island — said that both the New York Rangers and Islanders are “really, really strong teams,” but if forced to pick, he likes his club’s chances against the Isles.

“I guess the Rangers have a great, world-class goalie, so in a coin flip, I’d probably prefer to play the Islanders,” Cifu said on-air. “It’ll be a great atmosphere. There’s a ton of transplanted New Yorkers down there [in Sunrise], so the Rangers and Islanders games tend to be packed in our building anyhow.”

The Panthers went 2-1-0 versus the Isles this season and 1-1-1 versus the Rangers.

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The Rangers (99 points) hold a two-point lead over the Islanders (97) for third in the Metropolitan Division, but the Isles have a game in hand. By locking up the divisional crown Tuesday night, Florida locked up home ice (and its valuable gate revenue) for the first two rounds of the post-season.

“The guys weren’t drinking champagne last night,” Cifu said. “They were getting on the bus to go to Ottawa. We got another game on Thursday we want to win.”

No doubt, the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist has the best goaltending resume in New York, but the Islanders’ Greiss (seeing extra work filling in for injured Jaroslav Halak) is enjoying a career year. The backup actually has a better save percentage (.924) than Lundqvist (.921) this season, albeit in fewer appearances.

Cifu also put a call out to snowbirds to adopt the lovable Panthers as their new favourite team this spring.

“Obviously Canada needs someone to root for. We’re a great underdog franchise,” Cifu said. “The vast majority of our lineup is all wonderful, skilled, young Canadian men.”

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