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Tampa Bay Lightning at Florida Panthers: Sunshine State rivalry kick-off

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Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov are back in the lineup!

Tampa Bay Lightning v Florida Panthers Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images

Tampa Bay Lightning at Florida Panthers: ROUND 1, GAME 1

Time: 7:30 pm Eastern Time

Location: BB&T Center

Broadcast/Streaming: NBCSN, SN, TVAS, BSFL, BSSUN

Opponent SBNation Site: Litter Box Cats

After 28 seasons of existence, the Tampa Bay Lightning will face their in-state rival, the Florida Panthers, for the first time in a playoff game. A long-awaited Sunshine State playoff series is starting tonight with the game in Sunrise, Florida. Unlike in the previous years, where the Lightning were a clear favourite between those teams, both teams are heading into the first round of playoffs with almost even chances to make the next round.

The Panthers claimed home-ice advantage after winning two final games of the regular season against the Lightning, in which Tampa Bay decided to give some rest to their players. The Panthers have also beaten the Lightning in a regular season series with a 5-2-1 record and given the Lightning’s cold stretch at the end of regular season, Florida look like more consistent team and a favourite for the first round. The Lightning, however, are expecting some reinforcements, which could make some changes to the balance of power in postseason.

The Lightning are expected to be at almost full strength for the first time this year, as the Lightning’s head coach Jon Cooper already confirmed that both Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos will be in the lineup for the opening game of the first round. While it’s unclear if both players are fully recovered and could contribute at their usual level, having them back in the lineup, especially Kucherov, automatically increasing the Lightning’s chances.

In the second half of the regular season, the Lightning heavily struggled with converting their scoring chances and the return of Kucherov, who is one of the most impactful 5-on-5 players in the NHL, should partially solve this situation. His presence should also boost power play numbers for the Bolts and given the Panthers bottom-half penalty kill unit this season, this could be the Lightning’s biggest advantage in the first round.

According to Jon Cooper, Barclay Goodrow will be out for at least one week. The Lightning forward sustained an upper-body injury in a game against Florida one week ago and missed the final game of the regular season. Goodrow has been a significant part of Lightning’s penalty kill unit and Ondrej Palat is expected to replace him during his absence.

The Panthers are also having some of their injured players back, including Patrik Hornqvist, who missed almost entire month due to injury. Sam Bennett is questionable for tonight’s game, but appeared at yesterday’s practice amongst regulars. Joel Quenneville has also confirmed that Sergey Bobrovsky will be the starter for the Panthers this series. Bobrovsky is the last goaltender to beat Tampa Bay in a playoff series back in 2019, when the Lightning got swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round of 2019 NHL playoffs.

Tampa Bay Lightning Lines

(according to yesterday’s practice)

Forwards

Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov

Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Steven Stamkos

Ross Colton - Yanni Gourde - Blake Coleman

Pat Maroon - Tyler Johnson - Mathieu Joseph

Defense

Victor Hedman - Jan Rutta

Ryan McDonagh - Erik Cernak

Mikhail Sergachev - David Savard

Goaltenders

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Curtis McElhinney

Florida Panthers Lines

(according to yesterday’s practice)

Forwards

Carter Verhaeghe - Aleksander Barkov - Anthony DuClair

Jonathan Huberdeau - Sam Bennett - Owen Tippett

Frank Vatrano - Alex Wennberg - Patrik Hornqvist

Ryan Lomberg - Noel Acciari - Mason Marchment

Defense

Gustav Forsling - MacKenzie Weegar

Keith Yandle - Radko Gudas

Markus Nutivaara - Brandon Montour

Goalies

Sergei Bobrovsky

Chris Driedger