SUNRISE, Fla. — When the puck drops between the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning Sunday night in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, hockey will see something it’s never seen before: an all-Florida matchup in the playoffs.
In the series, the Panthers are looking to do something they haven’t done since Bill Clinton ran for a second term in the White House and Tupac Shakur was murdered. Florida hasn’t won a playoff series since 1996 when the rats would rain down on the ice in Miami as the Panthers lost the Stanley Cup Finals.
On the other side of the ice will be our own Tampa Bay Lightning, the defending Stanley Cup Champions. But the series has been decidedly one-sided this year and been as much about penalties as of late as it has been about playoff positioning.
Last Saturday, Florida thumped Tampa Bay on the scoreboard (5-1) in a game that saw more than 150 penalty minutes assessed to the teams. By the end of the game, referees handed out four fighting majors, 10 misconduct penalties, and more. The Panthers have crushed the Lightning over the last three games against each other by a combined score of 14-4.
Still, there’s plenty of reason for Lightning fans to have faith the team can send the Panthers home for the summer. The team will get some bigtime reinforcements in the form of Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.
Kucherov hasn’t played this season since having hip surgery last December, but has been fully participating in practice, according to NHL.com. His scoring in the playoffs last year helped fuel the Lightning’s run to the cup. Stamkos hasn’t played since early April but led the team with 17 goals and was tied for second on the team with 34 points at the time of his injury. The health and efficiency of both will likely be the key factor for the Lightning’s Quest of the Cup in 2021.
If fans are looking for a key stat for the series, Lightning fans should pay attention to the end of the second period of play. According to NHL.com, the Lightning won every game this season while leading after two periods of play, finishing 26-0-0! NHL.com said the last two teams to pull off such a feat, (Penguins in 2015-16 and Blackhawks 2014-15) both won the Stanley Cup.