It is now official: For the first time, the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning will play each other in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
For years, former Lightning coach John Tortorella would shush any talk that the two Florida teams had a real rivalry. Until they played in the playoffs, and felt the true hatred that could come out of such a series, there is no rivalry.
Well, we shall see how things go.
The series was set Friday night as Carolina clinched the Central Division title after Dallas beat the Lightning 5-2 on Friday night. Both Florida and Tampa Bay are tied in the standings with 75 points and two games remaining.
Neither team can catch the Hurricanes.
The Panthers will play host to the Lightning for a two-game series to close out the regular season starting on Saturday night at BB&T Center.
When the two wrap things up on Monday night, a best-of-seven game playoff series will be next.
Florida will be trying to win its first playoff series since the team’s miracle run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1996; Tampa Bay will attempt to defend its Stanley Cup championship.
This two-game set will decide home ice for the upcoming playoff series. If Florida wants to have home ice, it needs to finish ahead of the Lightning in the standings.
Tampa Bay wins the tiebreaker due to having more regulation wins.
“We feel like we have a group that if we play the right way, we’re a very tough team to beat,” Tampa Bay’s Blake Coleman said Friday night.
“We’re going to focus on our game, we have to be better than we were tonight. It’s going to be, set the tone a little bit. There’s going to be a lot of games against these guys and you want to set the tone early. You want to play the right way, send a message that we’re going to be a tough opponent. …
”(The Panthers) are a good team that can roll four lines and they have big, strong defensemen and they’re getting strong goaltending all around. We have a lot of respect for them. We know they can play a grinding game. It’s a really challenging series, a challenging weekend before the series begins.”
ON DECK: LIGHTNING AT PANTHERS
When: Saturday, 7
Where: BB&T Center, Sunrise
Tickets: AVAILABLE HERE
Season series: Florida leads 3-2-1
TV: BS-FLA, Fox Sports Go streaming
Radio: WQAM 560-AM