SUNRISE — The Florida Panthers are going to play their final home game of what has been an extremely successful season on Sunday night.
The Panthers, as you all know by now, have already clinched the Atlantic Division title and first place in the Eastern Conference.
Sunday, the Tampa Bay Lightning come to town.
Last year, the Lightning ended its regular season with two games in Sunrise and did not really seem to care whether it won or lost.
Tampa Bay just wanted to make the playoffs.
The Panthers played for the home-ice advantage which came with their two wins against Tampa Bay in those final two home games and, in the end, it really did not matter.
The Lightning were a completely different team when it came back to South Florida for Game 1.
Florida probably will not open these playoffs against Tampa Bay — nor should it want to — although this final meeting between the two could add to the animosity which always bubbles under the surface.
Well, sometimes it is right there for all to see.
Florida is going to be the top-seeded team in the East; Tampa Bay will likely finish third in the Atlantic Division side of the playoffs with a first-round meeting with a Toronto team the Panthers beat in overtime on Saturday night.
The Lightning could also finish as one of the two wild cards, which means it could be back in Sunrise in a week for Game 1.
Does Tampa Bay care where it ends up?
Last year, the Panthers and Lightning met in the playoffs for the first time in their shared history. Tampa Bay won in six games and went on to win its second consecutive Cup title.
The Panthers are good and know it. Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper is smart enough to know his rival to the southeast is a legit Cup contender.
The Lightning won’t say it, but it does not want to face the Panthers in the first round any more than Florida wants an early rematch with Tampa Bay.
Florida, which set a franchise record with its 13th consecutive win Saturday night, does not have to beat the Lightning on Sunday to earn its respect. They may not even have to punch its way out of this game.
Been there, done that.
Still, it should be interesting. Florida would like to end its home regular season on a high note. Whatever happens on the season-ending road trip is what it is.
Should be interesting.
PANTHERS ON DECK
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Sunday, 7 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- Streaming Only: Hulu/ESPN+
- Radio: WQAM 560, SiriusXM
- Draft Kings odds — Florida favored: Money Line (-135); Puck line (-1.5, +185); Over/Under 6.5 (-125/+105)
- Last season: Florida won 5-3-0
- Season Series — Florida leads 2-0-1: Florida 4, @Lightning 1 (Oct. 19); @Lightning 3, Florida 2 OT (Nov. 13); @Florida 9, Lightning 3 (Dec 30)
- All-time regular season series: Panthers lead 73-48-18, 10 ties
PROJECTED FLORIDA PANTHERS LINEUP
11 Jonathan Huberdeau // 16 Sasha Barkov // 10 Anthony Duclair
17 Mason Marchment // 8 Sam Bennett // 28 Claude Giroux
55 Noel Acciari // 15 Anton Lundell // 13 Sam Reinhart
94 Ryan Lomberg // 27 Eetu Luostarinen // 70 Patric Hornqvist
8 Ben Chiarot // 52 MacKenzie Weegar
42 Gus Forsling // 62 Brandon Montour
18 Robert Hagg // 7 Radko Gudas
30 Spencer Knight
72 Sergei Bobrovsky
Scratched: Lucas Carlsson, Petteri Lindbohm, Joe Thornton, Maxim Mamin, Carter Verhaeghe
Injured: Markus Nutivaara (LTIR), Jonas Johansson (IR), Aaron Ekblad (LTIR)
PROJECTED TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING LINEUP
20 Nick Paul // 21 Brayden Point // 86 Nikita Kucherov
18 Ondrej Palat // 91 Steven Stamkos // 79 Ross Colton
38 Brandon Hagel // 71 Anthony Cirelli // 17 Alex Killorn
14 Patrick Maroon // 10 Corey Perry // 24 Zach Bogosian
77 Victor Hedman // 44 Jan Rutta
27 Ryan McDonagh // 81 Erik Cernak
98 Mikhail Sergachev // 52 Cal Foote
88 Andrei Vasilevskiy
1 Brian Elliott