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The Florida Panthers Rivalry with Lightning Among NHL’s Best

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Matthew Tkachuk celebrates a goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning last season. The two teams wrap up the preseason schedule Saturday night in Sunrise. // Photo by Roger Lee Photographer (561) 866-2000

Few things bring out hockey animosities more than the lethal mix of two teams in close geographic proximity like the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning.

Add in similar ability, the two teams aiming for the same prize with a bunch of hungry athletes hoping to earn a roster spot and you have the makings of some real hatred and long-term grudges.

If the first two of this year’s three exhibition matchups of the two bitter rivals is an indicator, we are in for some fun times.

As usual.

The Lightning-Panthers rivalry does not yet match the epic state of Calgary-Edmonton, Rangers-Islanders or one of the great rivalries just a few years back, Montreal and Quebec.

But it is heading that way.

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The Panthers joined the NHL in 1993, one season after the Lightning.

Only it wasn’t until recent years that both franchises iced superior teams at the same time.

For a quarter century these two Sunshine State teams, located about 200 miles apart as the charter jet flies, coexisted peacefully.

The fireworks began in earnest late in the 2021 season.

Due to the compressed Covid schedule, Florida and Tampa Bay played eight times — including for the finale two regular-season games.

As hockey fate would have it, the two were already slated to meet up in the first-round of the playoffs.

It turned out to be a nasty six-game opening round playoff win by Tampa Bay.

The teams played each other eight consecutive times. As if that wasn’t enough, pleasantries were resumed when they met three more times in the following preseason.

The rivalry was intensified last season with the arrival in Florida of a strip of sandpaper named Matthew Tkachuk — who had been part of the heated Calgary-Edmonton rivalry.

“I hate Edmonton,’’ Tkachuk said in his introductory presser in Sunrise. “But I hate Tampa more now.’’

When the two teams met up to start last season, Bolts’ superstar Steven Stamkos mentioned that things had changed between the two teams.

“There’s no doubt that there’s some hatred … from the last couple of years, which is great for hockey, great for our state and great to play in.’’ he said. “It’s competitive games against really good teams that have some elite players and elite goaltending. They’re fun to play in.”

These teams see each other too often and have too much at stake to be anything but at their cantankerous best when they meet each other.

The first matchup this preseason produced a whopping 160 penalty minutes.

The boys behaved only slightly better in game two.

The only downside to this entire episode is that the two rivals meet only three times during the regular season.

The first confrontation is December 27th in Tampa, just in time for the combatants to lose the holiday spirit.

So, when these two wrap up the exhibition season tonight in Sunrise — enjoy it.

Follow Alan Greenberg on Twitter @thegovman

UP NEXT FOR THE FLORIDA PANTHERS (4-3)

PRESEASON VS. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (4-2)

LOOKING AHEAD FOR THE PANTHERS

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