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Anthony Duclair Returns as Lightning Visit the Florida Panthers

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Former Florida Panthers forward Anthony Duclair warms up before making his debut with the Tampa Bay Lightning last Saturday night. Tonight, he is back in Sunrise against the Panthers. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

The Florida Panthers welcome back an old friend Saturday night — something usually not said when it involves the Tampa Bay Lightning.

But now Anthony Duclair plays for the Lightning, so, that makes for an interesting situation.

Duclair, acquired at the Trade Deadline last week, admitted it was strange hearing Tampa Bay fans chant his name and cheer for him when he was announced as having an assist in his first game with the Lightning.

“I definitely heard the ‘Duke’ chants and it was amazing,” Duclair said. “I never thought I would hear that from Lightning fans. Listen, I am just happy to be here. I know they have a great fanbase here after battling these guys for the past 10 years. It is always a tough building to play in. Just glad I am on the other side of it now.”

Yeah, ‘The Duke’ comes back to South Florida on a real tear and playing his best hockey of the season at the right time.

Duclair spent the past three seasons playing with the Panthers before being dealt to San Jose on July 1.

Last week, San Jose traded Duclair to Tampa Bay for a prospect and a third-round pick.

Duclair was welcomed back to Sunrise with the Sharks on Oct. 24 and was here during San Jose’s All-Star break to christen the construction of a synthetic ice rink funded by his foundation at Boyd Anderson High in Lauderdale Lakes. 

“This is a second home for me, and it is great to be back,” Duclair said then. “I promised when I started the Foundation that we would build rinks here and it does not matter that I got traded away; I am going to honor that and even go beyond that.

“South Florida will always have a special place in my heart, everyone was so good to me here. It is a no-brainer to try and grow the sport down here. This is a perfect spot with all the ethnicities and different backgrounds. It is personal to me since there is such a big Haitian presence.”

Tonight, with the Lightning, things will be a little different as Duclair is now a friend-turned-foe.

Duclair struggled to start this season but, just over a year removed from returning from his Achilles injury, is back to his old ways. 

He comes into the game with nine of his 18 goals in the past 10 games.

Duclair has two goals and three points in his first two games with the Lightning.

The Lightning, which beat Duclair and the Panthers in the playoffs two straight years in 2021 and 2022, are fighting to make the big dance in this one.

If Tampa Bay is to make the playoffs, it will likely be as a wild card.

The Lightning appear pretty set in the wild-card race but are eight points back of Toronto for third place in the Atlantic Division.

Upon arriving in Tampa, Duclair was asked about being thrown into a playoff race after spending the entirety of this season playing for the last-place Sharks.

“It was a great experience last year,’’ Duclair said. “It takes a lot. It takes a full team — all four lines, all defensemen — and we all know the big risk of injury. It is always the next man up, so everyone has to be dialed in.

“The process is fun. You are in there with your brothers and they become your family in a short period of time. I’m just looking forward to doing that here again.”

The Panthers, obviously, would like to slow Tampa Bay’s roll; the Lightning has won its past two games.

Florida is coming off a 4-0 loss in Carolina on Thursday but has won eight of its past 10.

The Panthers have also won 18 of the past 22. 

“It’s great and I am very excited to come here,’’ Duclair said last week. “This is a winning organization. Obviously, with all the battles we had the past three years playing for the Panthers, it is just a real honor to be part of this locker room and move things forward.”

ON DECK

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING @ FLORIDA PANTHERS

  • When: Saturday, 6 p.m.
  • Where: Amerant Bank Arena, Sunrise
  • Streaming ONLY: ESPN+/Hulu
  • Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM 2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL app
  • Season Series (Panthers Lead 2-0) — At Tampa Bay: Panthers 3, Lightning 2 (Dec. 27)Panthers 9, Lightning 2 (Feb. 17). At Florida: Saturday.
  • Last season: Even 2-2
  • All-time regular season series: Florida leads 77-50-19, 10 ties
  • Up Next for the Panthers: Thursday vs. Nashville, 7 p.m. (ESPN+)

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