FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Ordinarily at playoff time, this would be bulletin-board material: A coach in the NHL referred to the Florida Panthers as weird.

Except this time, nobody minded. Because the guy who said it was Panthers coach Paul Maurice.

Weird, goofy and unique are just some of the terms Maurice uses to describe his team, and he’s saying those words in the most endearing way possible. To him, they’re all badges of honor, part of the reasons why the Panthers finished with 110 points, won the Atlantic Division for the second time in three years and have a full head of steam going into a first-round playoff series with the rival Tampa Bay Lightning.

“There’s a lot of guys that have been here for a long time, we’ve been together and everyone’s great,” Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said. “Everyone’s serious when we go on the ice and when we have to work. That’s the best part of it. And, off the ice, obviously we want to be as relaxed as possible, joke around, that kind of stuff. We love spending time together.”

The way Maurice sees it, the more fun the Panthers have, the better. The team’s practice facility that opened this season was designed with some of that in mind, loaded with amenities designed to make the players want to spend even more time together. And every locker room in sports has a personality, a heartbeat to it — but Maurice insists there’s something different about Florida’s.

Nobody is safe from the jokes in there. Not Barkov, not Matthew Tkachuk, not Aaron Ekblad, not Sergei Bobrovsky, not even Maurice himself.

“Goalies have this weird superstitious thing and I’m not superstitious,” backup goalie Anthony Stolarz said. “I’m cracking jokes with the guys, talking on the bench in between periods, trying to just lighten the mood any way I can. But goalies are kind of known for being a little weird. So, I try to stick to that stigma just a little bit.”

Like all hockey rooms, Florida’s is a melting pot filled with Americans, Canadians, Russians, Swedes, Finns, even a Latvian. Countless different backgrounds, tons of languages spoken, and it’s only natural for players with similar stories to gravitate toward one another.

Not so with the Panthers. Stolarz says he’s been to dinner on road trips with just about everybody on the roster, and Maurice figures that just about everyone in the room can say that as well.

“It’s a tight group for sure,” said Florida forward Sam Reinhart, who scored 57 goals this season, 27 of them on the power play. “I’ve known that from Day 1. I think as I’ve progressed here, year in and year out, it’s gotten even closer. I think when you’ve got that core group, it’s easy for guys to come in and just fit in and feel comfortable. It’s important.”

This is why it’s so important: The Stanley Cup playoffs will test any team. Wins are great, losses are tragic. The emotional ebbs and flows can vary not just by the day, but by the period, even by the shift in some cases.

If bonds and trust within a roster haven’t been formed by now, they probably won’t be. Maurice knows he doesn’t have to worry about that — the weirdness, as he calls it, puts him at ease with the team about to enter the most important part of the season.

As he put it, the room allows every player — and the coach — to be goofy when needed, without fear.

“We’ve got some unique guys in there,” Maurice said. “We’ve got some guys that just don’t look like professional athletes and they’re elite at it. Lots of different personalities. So, what I think you find is because of the room the way it is, so accepting, guys are completely comfortable truly being themselves — and then that weirdness or uniqueness comes out.”

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