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Lightning Round: Tampa Bay will face Florida in the first round of Stanley Cup Playoffs

These teams never met in the postseason before.

Florida Panthers v Tampa Bay Lightning Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images

After yesterday’s loss to the Dallas Stars, the Tampa Bay Lightning are officially eliminated from the first place race in the Central Division and will face the Florida Panthers in the first round of Stanley Cup Playoffs. Despite an almost 30-year long history of playing in the same division, these team have never previously met in the postseason.

While the official opening date of playoffs hasn’t been announced yet, the matchup between the Lightning and the Panthers is basically starting today, as both teams will wrap up the regular season with two head-to-head games. Currently both teams have won three games each against their opponent this season, but the Panthers have a slight lead in the regular season series, as they secured a loser point in their penultimate meeting in April.

The Panthers have made a big step forward since hiring Bill Zito as their general manager last autumn. Before his arrival, Florida failed to make the postseason in five previous season, including losing in the qualifying round in 2020. Instead of making big acquisitions like the season before in 2019, when the Panthers signed Sergei Bobrovsky to a $70 million deal, Bill Zito preffered to make some tactical moves, adding some players that could complement their current stars. Zito’s first move as a general manager was trading for Patric Hörnqvist with the Pittsburgh Penguins, who eventually became a very important player not only on the ice, but also in locker room. In the offseason he signed Anthony Duclair and former Lightning player Carter Verhaeghe as free agents. Both players immediately earned their spots on the Panthers top lines and Verhaeghe has already set his career high in both points and goals in the NHL, scoring 17 goals in 42 games before sustaining an injury this spring. The Panthers continued this strategy during last month’s trade deadline, acquiring players like Sam Bennett, Brandon Montour, Lucas Wallmark and giving another chance to Nikita Gusev. Bennett has been one of the biggest steals of the trade deadline as he scored 13 points in nine games with the Panthers.

The Panthers jumped to the top of the Central Division since the start of the regular season and have become one of the most improved teams this year.

Speaking on their first round opponent, Pat Maroon seemed very confident, saying that the Panthers should be terrified of playing against the Lightning.

Lightning Links

As it was already mentioned, the Lightning have lost their final home game of the regular season to the Dallas Stars, allowing that team to stay in the playoff race [Raw Charge]

After ripping off a 7-game point streak where the Lightning showed signs of being the team that rampaged their way to the Stanley Cup last season, they fell back into the bad habits that plagued them in March and early April. Dallas was able to bottle them up in their own zone and catch them in transition while Tampa Bay struggled to get the puck past the Stars team and establish a forecheck.

Steven Stamkos appeared during the Lightning’s practice again, saying that he has been feeling better than a month ago.

The Syracuse Crunch fell to the Utica Comets in the overtime on Friday night.

The Orlando Solar Bears completed a winless night in the Lightning organization, losing to the Greenville Swamp Rabbits in overtime.

Hockey News

The Carolina Hurricanes have clinched a Central Division title after Tampa Bay’s loss last night.

Phil Kessel scored his 900th career point against the San Jose Sharks last night.

The St. Louis Blues have clinched their playoff berth on a two-year anniversary of Pat Maroon’s goal in second overtime of Game 7 against the Dallas Stars in 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.