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2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Panthers vs. Lightning: A Rivalry with Mutual Admiration

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The Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning mixed it up a bit early, but Sunday’s Game 1 was relatively quiet in the shenanigans department. // Roger Lee Photographer (561) 866-2000

SUNRISE — Do n0t let this series’ relatively quiet opener fool you. The rivalry between the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning is as intense as ever.

Perhaps more so.

Although Sunday’s matinee had only five minor penalties, one should read between the lines for the full story.

There was a subtle clue that these teams meant business: Florida and Tampa Bay combined for 109 hits.

This is the third postseason in the past four years in which the Panthers matched up against the Lightning in the playoffs.

It is a rivalry made in hockey heaven, given the two teams’ geographic proximity and similar skill levels.

The nucleus of both teams remains essentially the same as in the past, except for the Panthers’ addition of an agitator named Matthew Tkachuk.

The supporting cast changed considerably, particularly with the Lighting, because the success of two Stanley Cups makes it impossible to keep a team intact under the cap.

This season, the Panthers were 2-1-0 against the Lightning.

Since its start in 1993, Florida holds a 77-51-19 edge (with 10 ties).

Although the Lightning prevailed dramatically in the past playoffs, coach Jon Cooper is not flaunting prior successes.

In his customary diplomatic manner, Cooper explained that he does not take this series lightly and had nothing but praise for the Panthers and coach Paul Maurice.

The fact his team managed only 19 shots on goal Sunday and didn’t produce its first shot until almost 16 minutes had gone by in the first period was proof enough of Florida’s defensive capabilities.

Cooper sees a difference in the Panthers’ style of play over the past four seasons.

With as many coaches as Florida has had, that is understandable.

“This is the third time we played them with three different coaching systems,” Cooper said before the Panthers won 3-2 in Game 1. “Joel Quenneville and Andrew Brunette were similar in the way they played.

“It’s changed under Paul. The coach the first time is a Hall of Famer, the coach the second time has got a really damn good chance of winning the Jack Adams, and the coach the third time took them to the Stanley Cup Final in his first year.

“They’re kind of a well-oiled machine. They just do it in different ways.

“There are little tweaks in the system, but they’ve had great leadership here. Previously, they haven’t tasted success more than the regular season. Now they have. I’m sure they’re hungry for more.”

Cooper is the longest tenured coach in the NHL at eleven seasons.

He has seen both his Lightning and the Panthers in good seasons and bad.

It has only been in the last few years that the teams were relatively equal, and the rivalry intensified.

“When we play each other, because of the fact that we’re borderline equals either way, it’s a ton of fun,” Cooper said. “I think there’s a group of players on both teams that have been here for so long that it’s built itself into a fun rivalry.”

Maurice was equally complimentary of the opposition following the Game 1 victory.

“Two teams that respect the game, play the game very hard,” Maurice said. “They both have high-end offensive guys, but all those guys are going to grind because they understand that’s the way you get there.”

One game does not a series make.

The chirping and the after-the-whistle shenanigans were barely noticeable in the opener.

But then again, one of their meetings this year produced 180 penalty minutes.

As Curly Washburn said in City Slickers: “The Day Ain’t Over Yet.”

For the most in-depth coverage of the Florida Panthers:

STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
EASTERN CONFERENCE QUARTERFINALS
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (WC1) VS. FLORIDA PANTHERS (ATL1)
PANTHERS LEAD BEST-OF-7 SERIES 1-0
GAME 2
  • When: Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.
  • Where: Amerant Bank Arena, Sunrise
  • Local TV/National TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida/ESPN2/ESPN+
  • Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (West Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); WCZR 101.7-FM (Treasure Coast); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL app
  • First Round (Panthers Lead 1-0) — Game 1: Panthers 3, Lightning 2 (Sunday); Game 2: Tuesday at Florida, 7:30 (BSF, ESPN2); Game 3: Thursday at Tampa Bay, 7 (BSF, TBS); Game 4: Saturday Ap. 27 at Tampa Bay, 5 (BSF, TBS, TruTV); Game 5*:Monday Ap. 29 at Florida, TBA (BSF, TBA); Game 6*: Wednesday May 1 at Tampa Bay, TBA (BSF, TBA); Game 7*:Saturday May 4 at Florida, TBA (BSF, TBA). (*) — If necessary
  • 2023-24 Regular Season Series (Panthers Won 2-1) — At Tampa Bay: Panthers 3, Lightning 2 (Dec. 27)Panthers 9, Lightning 2 (Feb. 17). At Florida: Lightning 5, Panthers 3 (March 16).
  • All-time Regular Season Series: Florida leads 77-51-19, 10 ties
  • All-Time Postgame Series: Lightning Leads 2-0 (2021 first-round, 2022 ECS)

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