TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — It may have been the most intense series of the Lightning’s 2021 Stanley Cup title run, and now Tampa Bay is set to face the Florida Panthers again this postseason in a second-round showdown.
“Florida’s a hell of a team,” said Lightning Head Coach Jon Cooper. “We’ve watched them all year. We’ve had some amazing battles with them. I think people — especially in Florida — have been begging for the two teams to be contenders and go at it. I think that last year, many people said that might have been the series of the playoffs. They’ve retooled their team and brought some big names in there and it should be a ton of fun. They’re fun to play against. It’s competitive as hell and I think it’s really good for hockey.”
Last season, the Bolts and Panthers met in the first round, with Tampa Bay winning a feisty six-game series. It took place nearly a year ago to the day, spanning from May 16, 2021 to May 26, 2021. Similar to last season’s postseason showdown, the Panthers have the home ice again this time, as the top seed in the Eastern Conference and the 2022 President’s Trophy winners.
“That’s when things get interesting and rivalries are born—when you play teams multiple times in the playoffs,” said Lightning forward Steven Stamkos about the rematch with the Panthers. “Our division was crazy this year. You beat a team like Toronto that’s a top-five team in the league and you’ve got the best team in the regular season now in the second round … That was one heck of a series last year in the first round.”
“We saw them a lot last year,” said Lightning forward Ross Colton. “I think whenever we play them it’s obviously a tough test. Watching them against the Capitals, I thought the series could have went either way. We kind of know what to expect from them. It’s probably going to be a grind. I think right now we just want to enjoy this moment but come [Sunday] we’ve just got to go right back to work and know that they’re going to have some bad blood from last year what happened, so we can’t overlook them.”
The Bolts and Panthers met four times this regular season, with each team winning twice:
- 10/19/21 (Tampa) Florida 4, Lightning 1
- 11/13/21 (Tampa) Lightning 3, Panthers 2 (F/OT)
- 12/30/21 (Sunrise) Florida 9, Lightning 3
- 4/24/22 (Sunrise) Lightning 8, Panthers 4
For the Lightning, making it to the second round means their hope of a three-peat is still alive. The desire for a third-straight Stanley Cup—being on the verge of greatness as Cooper said—is what drives this group.
“What we accomplished the last two seasons is unreal but when you have these opportunities you don’t want to waste these opportunities,” said Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman. “We still have a great, great team (and) the best goalie in the league. We’ve got new guys coming in—Nicky Paul coming in, scoring two goals (Saturday), (Brandon Hagel), Ross (Colton) was with us last year but different guys. Like we said, we’ve been battle-tested and even though we won two-straight Cups, it doesn’t matter. We don’t take these easy. I’ve been in this league long enough to know that these chances don’t come around too often and you’ve got to take advantage when you have the opportunity. You have the team. You have the kind of group that we have. You can’t let it go to waste. Those other two (Cups) are in the rearview mirror and we’re looking forward. For us, one round is accomplished. Now we’re looking forward to another great battle against our state rivals.”
Stamkos said another part of their motivation is getting a Stanley Cup for those new guys who haven’t won yet—and of course getting more for the guys who have won it all before.
“Once you put that Bolts uniform on, we know what we’ve accomplished the last two years but it really is—it’s a new year,” Stamkos said. “It’s going to be as hard as ever, as we saw with this (Maple Leafs) series. It’s there in the back of your mind for sure but listen, we want to win with this group and (these) guys and (this) was a good start.”
The Panthers- Lightning series schedule has yet to be released.
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