The Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning have shared Florida since 1993 but rare has been the instance when anyone outside of the Sunshine State really cared when the two played each other.
Florida and Tampa Bay have rarely been good at the same time so, the national spotlight has had no reason to reach this far south.
This year is different.
The Lightning are good, as usual.
The defending Stanley Cup champions reside at the top of the NHL’s Central Division and have the most points in the entire league.
New to the party are their cousins to the south, the Panthers just two points back and hanging out in second place — in the division and NHL.
Tampa Bay’s success this season has been no surprise.
Florida being as good as it is, well, is.
That does not mean the Panthers are resting on what they accomplished in the first half of the season.
Because, good teams don’t accept first-half accolades.
“I think we’re pleased with our first part of the year,” Joel Quenneville said.
“We expect the second half to be more competitive in the games; everybody’s familiar with one another within the division.
“There’s going to be tough games going forward as well. We just want to keep pushing ahead.”
The Panthers have two of the first three meetings between the two teams this season with Sunday being the fourth of eight.
After beating Nashville 2-0 on Saturday, the Panthers have won seven of their past nine as they continue to keep pace with not only the Lightning but Carolina as well.
Florida has 26 games remaining and are looking like a solid playoff participant at this point in the season.
The Panthers have an 11-point lead on Chicago and Columbus which are tied for the final playoff spot in the Central.
Folks are noticing the Panthers these days.
For the first time in a long while, when the Lightning-Panthers play, it is of interest all around the NHL.
“There’s just a buzz in the room this year,’’ Chris Driedger said after Saturday’s 2-0 win over Nashville.
“We’re feeling good … there’s always a belief that we can come from behind and get the job done.”
Florida Panthers at Tampa Bay Lightning
- When: Sunday, 4 p.m.
- Where: Amalie Arena, Tampa
- Tickets: AVAILABLE HERE
- TV/Radio: FSF/560-AM
- Records (standings): Tampa Bay 22-6-2, 46 points (1st in Central); Florida 20-6-4, 44 points (2nd).
- All-time series: Florida leads 68-47-16, 10 ties
- Season series: Florida leads 2-1-0
- Last season: Tampa Bay won three of four
- Up next: Florida at Chicago, Tuesday, 8 p.m.
- Previous game: Panthers 2, Preds 0
- Panthers This Week — Monday: Florida 6, Chicago 3; Thursday: Nashville 2, Florida 1; Saturday: Florida 2, Nashville 0; Sunday: Florida at Tampa Bay, 4.
PROJECTED FLORIDA PANTHERS LINES
91 Anthony Duclair — 16 Sasha Barkov — 23 Carter Verhaeghe
11 Jonathan Huberdeau — 21 Alex Wennberg — 70 Patric Hornqvist
77 Frank Vatrano — 27 Eetu Luostarinen — 74 Owen Tippett
19 Mason Marchment — 55 Noel Acciari — 94 Ryan Lomberg
52 MacKenzie Weegar — 5 Aaron Ekblad
42 Gustav Forsling — 7 Radko Gudas
3 Keith Yandle — 6 Anton Stralman
72 Sergei Bobrovsky
60 Chris Driedger
Scratches: F Vinnie Hinostroza, F Juho Lammikko, D Markus Nutivaara
Injured: D Noah Juulsen (upper body)
Taxi squad: D Kevin Connauton, D Riley Stillman, F Brett Connolly, G Philippe Desrosiers
Florida power play (23/93 24.7% — 11th in NHL)
Florida penalty kill (73/90 81.1% — 11th in NHL)
PP1: Sasha Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Patric Hornqvist, Aaron Ekblad, Keith Yandle
PP2: Alex Wennberg, Frank Vatrano, Mason Marchment, Carter Verhaeghe, Gustav Forsling
PROJECTED TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING LINES
TAMPA BAY FORWARDS
18 Ondrej Palat — 21 Brayden Point — 37 Yanni Gourde
17 Alex Killorn — 71 Anthony Cirelli — 91 Steven Stamkos
19 Barclay Goodrow — 9 Tyler Johnson — 20 Blake Coleman
14 Pat Maroon — 79 Ross Colton — 7 Mathieu Joseph
TAMPA BAY DEFENSEMEN
77 Victor Hedman — 44 Jan Rutta
27 Ryan McDonagh — 81 Erik Cernak
98 Mikhail Sergachev — 52 Cal Foote
TAMPA BAY GOALIES
35 Curtis McElhinney
88 Andrei Vasilevskiy
Tampa Bay power play (29/100 29% — 2nd in NHL)
Tampa Bay penalty kill (87/103 84.5% — 6th in NHL)
PP1: Alex Killorn, Bryaden Point, Ondrej Palat, Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman
PP2: Patrick Maroone, Yanni Gourde, Anthony Cirelli, Mikhail Sergachev, Tyler Johnson