Rats! What’s a Miami Heat-loving Florida Panthers fan — and vice versa — to do this week?

As the NBA’s Heat and the NHL’s Panthers were set to begin the next round in their respective playoffs, the NHL on Monday revealed a Panthers schedule nearly identical to the one previously announced for the Heat.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” said Raymond Gil, a Heat fan from Deerfield Beach, who usually watches games at his local Duffy’s Sports Grill. “Now I have to share TVs with Panthers’ fans? It’s cool, but the flow and the vibe, totally different.”

Gil may find his seat already taken, as the Panthers start earlier.

The Panthers schedule in the best-of-seven playoffs includes games at 7 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday at FLA Live Arena in Sunrise, then 1:30 p.m. Sunday and 7 p.m. Monday in Tampa Bay. Should they be required, there would be games May 25, 27 and 29 at times TBD.

The Heat play at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday at FTX Arena in Miami, then 8:30 p.m. Saturday and Monday in Boston. If that series extends beyond four games, they also would be held May 25, 27 and 29 at times TBD.

After weeks of anticipation over these playoffs, the realization that a fan of both teams may not be able to watch them live and uninterrupted for many games is a buzzkill.

Mauricio Cardenal, a Panthers season ticket holder since the team’s magical 1995-96 Stanley Cup run made tossing rubber rats on the ice a thing, has held season tickets to the Miami Heat just as long. Cardenal said he would have tried to attend games for both teams.

“It just sucks. The last couple of weeks of the [Heat and Panthers] playoffs, it’s been every other night, and it’s given the fan base down here a great opportunity. They could shift from one sport to the other, from one team to the other, and stay excited,” said Cardenal, 49, of Coral Gables. “Now it’s, ‘Alright, I have to decide, one or the other.’”

Adding to the frustration, this is the first time the Heat and Panthers have advanced this far in the playoffs at the same time, each also is a top seed and each is facing a bitter rival — Miami Heat vs. Boston Celtics, Florida Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Lightning.

Chrissy Parente, Florida Panthers corporate communications manager, said the schedule is a product of a “complex puzzle” of broadcast rights and building commitments among the eight teams left in the NHL playoffs.

“Obviously for Florida fans, this is unfortunate,” Parente said. “The Panthers management and NHL have been in touch regarding scheduling.”

Cardenal isn’t sure what his plan is yet for home games at the Heat’s FTX Arena and the Panthers’ FLA Live Arena, saying he may alternate between the two teams. Watching road games at home, he plans to follow the Panthers game until the end, then switch to the Heat.

“The Comeback Cats, they’re fun to watch, they’re never out of it,” he said, then admitted, “I’m more nervous about the Panthers than I am the Heat.”

The schedule has created a unique situation for South Florida bars and restaurants trying to set up watch parties that cater to each fan base.

“This is why we were built,” said Joe Webb, president of Duffy’s Sports Grill. Each of the restaurant group’s 33 locations from Kendall to Jupiter has hundreds of seats and dozens of big-screen TVs covering the walls. “We’re so excited about this. We go as Florida sports go.”

Webb said individual restaurants will arrange TV viewing according to the audience.

“We might have all hockey fans in one section and all Heat fans in another section, or we might have a mix. Remember, some people come to watch Chive TV,” he said, laughing.

The Funky Buddha Brewery in Oakland Park is an official Florida Panthers bar. It has a taproom at FLA Live Arena and hosts road-game watch parties that have been standing-room-only popular as the team has navigated the season into the playoffs.

The brewery and Riverwalk Fort Lauderdale are hosting a free, family friendly Panthers watch party at Esplanade Park in downtown Fort Lauderdale for the team’s game at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, said marketing director John Linn.

But the brewery also has a business partnership with the Miami Heat, Linn said.

“Isn’t it crazy? Somebody needs to move one of these series,” he said, laughing.

A typical Panthers watch party at the Funky Buddha includes four large projector screens, sound on, in addition to the smaller TVs over the bar. Linn said “some” will be tuned to the Heat game while the Panthers are on.

A signature of the watch parties are free servings of the brewery’s Panthers-themed Gloves Off IPA after a win to anyone in Panthers’ gear. Linn would not commit to another free beer for someone wearing a Jimmy Butler shirt under an Aaron Ekblad jersey if both teams win.

“I can’t endorse a double dip, but it would be a great day in the taproom,” he said.

Staff writer Ben Crandell can be reached at bcrandell@sunsentinel.com.


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