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The Tampa Bay Lightning will face the Florida Panthers in the first round of the playoffs

Feb 17, 2024; Tampa, Florida, USA; the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers scuffle on the boards in the third period at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into the games last night, the Tampa Bay Lightning did not know if they would be facing the Bruins or the Panthers in the first round of the playoffs. All Boston had to do to earn that opportunity was to beat the Senators, they didn’t. They still had a chance to finish at the top of the division and face the Lightning if Toronto could beat the Panthers. They didn’t.

After giving up the first two goals, Florida came storming back to defeat the Maple Leafs, 5-2, while also denying Auston Matthews his 70th goal of the season. With that result, the Panthers claimed the division and the right, nay, the privilege, of facing the Lightning in the opening round.

So, it’s time for the third installment of the Sunshine State Showdown. Can the Lightning continue their success against them in the postseason or will the younger brothers finally get their comuppence?

The added bonus is that the Maple Leafs will get to face Boston again, so get ready for the “it was 4-1!” references to start flying.

As for the other half of the Eastern Conference, it was a wild night. Detroit needed to beat Montreal and have the Capitals lose in order to have a shot at making the playoffs. Meanwhile, Philadelphia needed to beat Washington in regulation and have Montreal beat Detroit in regulation.

With the Canadiens leading the Red Wings late, very, very, very late in their game, and with the Flyers deadlocked with the Capitals in their game, Coach John Tortorella was faced with a rare decision. He opted to pull his goaltender in regulation in a tied game (a Bettman Point for the Caps would have knocked the Flyers out). It did not work.

In the end, it didn’t matter. Just a few minutes before, Detroit had tied the game with Montreal with just seconds left on the clock. That Bettman Point eliminated the Flyers before the Washington goal did. Torts told reporters that he found out about the Detroit goal after the Caps had scored.

Of course, that didn’t stop Red Wings’ fans from spouting conspiracy theories since the Washington victory eliminated Detroit from the playoffs. It so eliminated Pittsburgh, so Torts has that going for him in Philly.

Anyway, Washington slips into the playoffs and will face the Rangers while we get Sebastian Aho versus Sebastian Aho in the Hurricanes/Islanders match-up.

Should be a fun opening round!

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