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2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Up Next for Florida Panthers: Old pals Tampa Bay Lightning

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The Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning did not meet in the playoffs until 2021 — and now, the two Sunshine State rivals meet again in the 2022 Eastern Conference semifinals. — Roger Lee Photographer (561) 866-2000

A few minutes after the Florida Panthers finished off the Washington Capitals in overtime in Friday night, Sasha Barkov said his team would enjoy the series win.

“It feels great,’’ Barkov said, “but there is a lot of work to do. We’ll enjoy this and get back to work tomorrow — or, whenever.”

Based on some Instagram pictures snapped on and around Fort Lauderdale, it appears the Panthers enjoyed their Saturday a lot more than the Capitals did.

With a day off upon arriving back in South Florida in the wee hours of Saturday morning, the Panthers had plenty of time to kick back and check out their next opponent.

On Saturday night, the Tampa Bay Lightning were fueled by a fantastic performance from Andrei Vasilevskiy as they knocked out the host Maple Leafs 2-1 in Game 7.

Friday night, a number of players were asked who they would rather play: The Lightning or the Leafs.

As expected, the Panthers did not have an opinion one way or another.

At least not one they wanted to share publicly.

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”At the end of the day, we don’t really care who we are playing,” Jonathan Huberdeau said. “If I am watching TV. I’ll watch. It’s two good teams, our division was good this year. If it is Tampa, great rivalry. … It doesn’t really matter to us.”

“It will be a big-time challenge, a different kind of series,’’ added Andrew Brunette. “I think, right now, we’ll just enjoy what we accomplished, celebrate a little bit and enjoy it. This was a hard accomplishment. Sometimes, in life, you don’t celebrate the good times. Let’s enjoy this — and in six hours I’ll be thinking about what’s next. Probably another sleepless night.”

The Panthers had success against both teams in the regular season — but if any team knows this is a new season now, it is Florida.

The Capitals gave the Panthers a stronger fight than many had thought although there were a few out there who picked the veteran-laden team to pull the upset.

Getting out of the first round for the first time since 1996 was a big step for a Florida team which ended the regular season atop the NHL standings which earned them home ice throughout the postseason.

At times against the Capitals, it did not appear the Panthers were going to be able to take advantage of that.

Florida held home ice in the opening round against the Lightning last year and it did not mean much after Tampa Bay took the first two games of the series in Sunrise.

When Florida came back for Game 5, it was down 3-1 and called on rookie Spencer Knight to try and help get back in the series.

He did what they hoped he would, but Florida lost Game 6 in Tampa and that was that as the first Sunshine State playoff series ended with the Panthers coming home.

The two teams split their four games this season — but three of those were played before New Years.

No NHL teams played as much as Florida and Tampa Bay did in 2021, between the preseason, 11 regular season games and a six-game playoff series, than these two.

Florida will get a chance to not only redeem last year’s playoff loss, but end the Lightning’s Stanley Cup championship run.

The Bolts are going for a three-peat.

Someone call Pat Riley.

NHL STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS

EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS 

PANTHERS V. LIGHTNING

  • Game 1: TBA
  • Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise   
  • TV/Streaming: National TV TBA (ESPN or TNT/TBS)
  • Radio: WQAM 560 (Miami/Fort Lauderdale); WMEN 640 (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3 (Florida Keys); SiriusXM 
  • Tickets: CLICK HERE
  • Full schedule: TBA

PANTHERS V. LIGHTNING

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