Gregory Campbell Not Surprised by Florida’s Sudden Rise, As Bruins Center Prepares to Face Former Club

Gregory Campbell Not Surprised by Florida's Sudden Rise, As Bruins Center Prepares to Face Former ClubWILMINGTON, Mass. — Gregory Campbell spent the first seven years of his professional career with the Florida Panthers, and never once even had a sniff of postseason action.

But the Bruins winger isn't surprised by the Panthers' sudden rise this year. Florida looks poised to finally end a postseason drought that dates back to 2000 as the Panthers currently lead the Southeast Division with an 18-10-6 record for 42 points.

"They've had a lot of high draft picks," Campbell said. "[Florida general manager] Dale Tallon has gone in down there and he's obviously had success in Chicago. He's a smart hockey man and he made the right moves."

And a lot of moves. Tallon has orchestrated quite an overhaul since the end of last season, engineering a string of trades and free-agent signings to revamp the roster and hiring Kevin Dineen as coach.

"They've made the right moves," Campbell said. "To be honest, there's not a lot of guys that I played with still there. But the guys that are there I keep in touch with and it's nice to see them happy and winning games.

"Florida's not a bad place to play," Campbell added. "Obviously it's not a hockey market like Boston is or some of the teams up north, but they work hard, and I hear good things about their coach from the guys there that I still keep in touch with. It's nice to see that they're doing well."

The Panthers are starting to lure some fans back to their improved product as well, though that's always a struggle in a market like the Miami and South Florida region.

"It's tough to sell the game down there," Campbell said. "First of all, there's not a lot of people from there originally. So you have Rangers fans. You have Bruins fans, whatever. Either you go to the beach or to a hockey game, so it's a tough sell. If they win, which they're doing now, you're always going to attract fans. I know that organization works hard to put people in the stands and I think the easiest way to do that is to win."

Florida has been winning plenty this season, led by a top line that features three players in the top 30 in the league in scoring in Kris Versteeg (16-19-35), Stephen Weiss (11-21-32) and Tomas Fleischmann (12-18-30). The Panthers also added to their blue line this offseason, acquiring Brian Campbell, who is second among NHL defensemen with 3-23-26 totals. Dmitry Kulikov is not far behind at 3-17-20 and Jason Garrison leads all blueliners with 10 goals already this season.

"Their first line is having a lot of success right now, as is their back end," Campbell said. "Their goaltenders are playing well. They're getting a lot of offensive chances from their back end. They're a young team that's coached well and they work hard, so we have to be prepared to compete."

Despite the gaudy numbers this season, Campbell thinks the Panthers are still sneaking up on opponents after years of mediocrity.

"I think they're catching a lot of teams by surprise," Campbell said. "A lot of teams might not take them seriously, but they are for real. They're a good team. Their system's good. When we played them, they played a good road game and pushed us to the limit there."

Florida is one of the few teams to have any success against the Bruins in the last two months. Boston is 19-2-1 since the start of November, but one of those two regulation losses was a 2-0 setback against the Panthers at the Garden on Dec. 8.

The Bruins have won five straight since that game, but the memory of that loss remains fresh and the Bruins aren't likely to fall prey to overlooking the Panthers this time around.

"They're first in their division, so I think they've garnered some attention," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "[They] certainly have ours, anyways. The last time in here they played a great road game. They kept a scoreless game as long as they could and the minute they got a chance to score a goal and pounce on it they did. And that's how they won the hockey game. So we have to make sure we come out more aggressive [Friday] with a little bit of passion behind it. They're playing [Thursday in Ottawa], so [Friday] we need to be the fresher team."

© 2015 New England Sports Network.

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