CORAL SPRINGS — Back in the day, John Tortorella would dismiss any notion of a rivalry between the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning until the two slugged it out in the playoffs.
Torts may have been right, although it would be hard to describe what we have watched between these two teams over the past few years as friendly.
Last year certainly blew things into another stratosphere as far as dislike between the two teams go.
And, yes, the first meeting between the two in the postseason certainly helped that along.
This week, the Panthers and Lightning meet again as the two Sunshine State rivals — yeah, we said it — battle it out for the right to go to the Eastern Conference final.
The Lightning are the two-time defending Stanley Cup champs trying for a three-peat; the Panthers are just trying to keep this party going.
Game 1 is Tuesday night at FLA Live Arena.
”It is an exciting challenge,” Andrew Brunette said, “they are what we want to be. We have an opportunity to play them again and get that chance. It has been a fun rivalry the past few years and they beat us in the playoffs, so they’re up. We get the chance to get even.”
It ought to be one hell of a series.
“You know, it’s going to be exciting,” Brandon Montour said on Sunday morning after a light team practice.
“This is a team that has had our number — and has had every team in the league’s number the past few years. Obviously it is always a battle against these guys and we’re up for the challenge. Everyone is excited.”
Montour joined the Panthers at the trade deadline last year and got in two games against the Lightning before the six-game opening-round playoff series.
Florida was upset with the loss to the Lightning with a number of players saying they have used that as motivation leading into this season.
While watching the Lightning battle it out with Toronto in Game 7 on Saturday with the winner coming to South Florida, perhaps Montour was not the only one with a little revenge on his mind.
“It was two tough teams, Game 7s can go any way and Toronto had a great season,’’ Montour said. “You know, in the end, I think a lot of guys wanted to play this team. It is what it is. They had a good game last night and now we’re moving forward.”
Due to the limited divisional schedule played during the Covid-shortened 2021 season, the Panthers played the Lightning eight times during the regular season before the six games in the playoffs.
The two teams then played five preseason games against one another and three regular season games before 2021 came to a close.
That is 22 games between two teams in a single calendar year.
You get to know your opponent pretty well when you play that many games.
“I was going through the pre-scout this morning and it was very familiar because nothing has really changed,” Brunette said. “We played against each other so much. And I have said this a few times, but they really helped us become a better team. We understand how hard it is, what it takes. Playing against them is always a challenge. They made us better by playing so many times.”
Brunette said that it appears Mason Marchment will miss Game 1 of the conference semifinals after not playing in the final two games of the Washington series with what the team says is a lower-body injury.
Aaron Ekblad and Ben Chiarot, who were nicked up in the Game 6 win on Friday night, are expected to be ready.
“I think he’ll be OK, still dealing with some things,” Brunette said of Ekblad. “March won’t be available for Game 1. Ben will be fine.”
RETURN OF THE DUKE?
Anthony Duclair was a healthy scratch in game 6 after registering two points off one shot on goal in his first five games of the series.
He was replaced by Ryan Lomberg who scored to tie the score at 1; it was Lomberg’s first game in since the series opener.
“We’re going to need him,” Brunette said. “He is going to need to have more of an impact and he will. We need The Duke, for sure. It’s always a hard decision, the worst part of coaching. Him playing so well for us this year made it even harder.
”But you have to make hard decisions. I don’t think he made the impact he is capable of and he was trying. I think he just needs to figure out playoff hockey a little bit. We need a little more out of him.”
NHL STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
PANTHERS V. LIGHTNING
- Game 1: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: TNT
- Radio: WQAM 560 (Miami/Fort Lauderdale); WMEN 640 (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3 (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Tickets: CLICK HERE
- Full schedule — Game 1: Tampa Bay at Florida (TNT), 7; Game 2: Tampa Bay at Florida, Thursday, 7 (TNT); Game 3: Florida at Tampa Bay, Sunday, 1:30 (TNT); Game 4: Florida at Tampa Bay, Monday, 7 (TNT); Game 5*: Tampa Bay at Florida, Wednesday, May 25 (Time, TV TBA); Game 6*: Florida at Tampa Bay Lightning, Friday, May 27 (Time, TV TBA); Game 7*: Tampa Bay at Florida, Sunday, May 29 (Time, TV TBA). (*) — If necessary.
PANTHERS V. LIGHTNING
- Regular season series — Tied 2-2: Florida 4, @Lightning 1 (Oct. 19); @Lightning 3, Florida 2 OT (Nov. 13); @Florida 9, Lightning 3 (Dec 30); Tampa Bay 8, @Florida 4 (April 24).
- All-time regular season series: Panthers lead 73-49-18, 10 ties
- Playoff history: Second meeting; Tampa Bay d. Florida 4-2 in R1, 2021
- Round 1 — Florida d. Washington 4-2 — Game 1: Washington 4, @Florida 2; Game 2: @Florida 5, Washington 1; Game 3: @Washington 6, Florida 1; Game 4: Florida 3, @Washington 2 (OT); Game 5: @Florida 5, Washington 3; Game 6: Florida 4, Washington 3 (OT).
- Round 1 — Tampa Bay d. Toronto 4-3