With their final regular season meeting now behind them, it’s fair to say that the Tampa Bay Lightning embarrassed their cross-state rivals in 2011-12.
The Bolts posted a 4-1-1 record against the Florida Panthers this season, taking nine of a possible 12 points.
Considering the two very different trajectories that the teams have followed this year, this should be a point of satisfaction for Lightning fans.
But wait, there’s more.
It turns out that the Lightning’s dominance isn’t limited to any one thin snapshot in history like a single season inter-team record. Upon closer examination, it becomes excruciatingly clear which team is the superior Florida franchise.
Here are the top-ten reasons why the Lightning are ever so much better than their cross-state competitors.
In many ways, hockey is a classy sport and it’s an established practice to pay a competitor his dues.
So in the case of the Panthers, it must be acknowledged that in 1999-00 and 2000-01, Pavel Bure won the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy as the highest goal-scorer in the league. It’s also fair to point out that Bure’s wins stand as the franchise’s only major individual accolades.
In stark contrast, Tampa Bay’s locker room personalities have won numerous and diverse awards, including the:
-Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, John Cullen (1998-99)
-Hart Memorial Trophy, Martin St. Louis (2003-04)
-Art Ross Trophy, Martin St. Louis (2003-04)
-Lester B. Pearson Trophy (now the Ted Lindsay Award), Martin St. Louis (2003-04)
-Jack Adams Award, John Tortorella (2003-04)
-Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, Brad Richards (2003-4)
-Conn Smyth Trophy, Brad Richards Trophy (2003-04)
-Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy, Vincent Lecavalier (2006-07)
-Lady Byng Memorial, Martin St. Louis (2009-10)
-Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy, Steven Stamkos (shared with Sidney Crosby) (2009-10)
9. Playoff Success
The Lightning have certainly had their playoff struggles, but last year’s run was their sixth spring in the post-season and they’re won seven playoff series over those years.
The Cats, meanwhile, have only made it to the post-season three times, and, beyond their run to the Cup final in 1996, have won exactly one game…not series, game.
And while they look to be headed back to post-season this year, they hold the NHL record for consecutive seasons shut out of the playoffs at ten.
8. Arena Experiences
No need to get into the awesome (and awesomely privately funded) $40 million summer renos to the Tampa Bay Times Forum, or the fact that the BankAtlantic Center has rats, let’s talk Fan Cost Index.
The Fan Cost Index compares the cost of a fan’s experience at all 30 NHL rinks.
The latest release of the comparison details the 2010-11 season, and it turns out that tickets, beer, hot dogs, and parking were all cheaper in Tampa.
Upon entering the league for the 1993-94 season, the Panthers adopted Stanley C. Panther as their mascot. Allegedly the ‘C’ stands for “Cup”, and one might be forgiven in thinking that the organization has gotten ahead of itself, but if nothing else, it’s a nice sentiment.
The Lightning avoided the mascot travesty that would have been “Shocky the Lightning Bolt” by demonstrating greater creativity than their Atlantic-side cousins, and selected Thunder Bug as their chief of fan morale.
Thunder Bug takes seriously his/her mission to spread t-shirts to the believers and silly-string-to-the-face-style disdain to the heathens. Thunder Bug is not about nice sentiment. Thunder Bug is badass.
We like red. We don’t like red. We like red again!
Memo to the Panthers: Could please you make up your minds already? Or at least stop making a big deal about flip-flopping your colors. And those third jerseys? Um, yeah.
Regardless of whether or not everyone has embraced Tampa’s new “classic” look, the makeover retained the all-important lightning bolts on the players’ pants.
No contest here.
5. Farm Squads
Sadly for the Panthers, the Lightning’s dominance extends beyond the NHL and delves into the minors.
No need to entertain substantive hockey talk concerning the Cats’ and Bolts’ AHL squads to prove this one. No, no, a cursory glance at the Norfolk Admirals’ and San Antonio Rampage’s logos tells the tale.
The Bolts’ Admirals boast a battleship firing a broadside of…wait for it…pucks – hockey logo genius.
Meanwhile, the Rampage sport a cartoon-like bull. Doing what, you ask? Rampaging of course.
Which is all well and good, except that it looks like some art intern mistakenly printed the final proof on the “grayscale-boring” setting prior to sending the logo to production.
4. Outside the Rink
Sunrise, Florida is a lovely place to be, and its not often that you see a major facility like the Panthers’ BanckAtlantic Center built on the edge of the everglades (Everglades Water Management Area 2B to be exact). But despite its easy highway access, Sunrise is far removed even from Fort Lauderdale, never mind Miami. Public transport is nonexistent (so get your DD on). That said, one shouldn’t dismiss the advantage of having the Sawgrass Mills mall – which features a Rainforest Cafe – right across the street. Rockin’.
The Lightning play in the Channelside district of downtown Tampa (famous for nothing less than the original Hooters restaurant), but also not far from the fun-filled Ybor City section of downtown. The city of Tampa has a tram service that ferries folks between Ybor and the arena.
3. Rays vs. Marlins
Technically, this is outside the realm of hockey, but now that we’ve momentarily stepped outside the rink, why not indulge? Tampa is proud to call the little baseball team that could its own. Never mind the Marlins World Series victories in 1997 and 2003, was there anyone (including the Lightning players) who wasn’t caught up in last fall’s drive to the playoffs? Epic sports drama.
Contrast that feel-good story with the weird transformation taking place within the “Miami” Marlin franchise.
To wit: Due to their strength of character and general good sense, Bolts fans likely found this piece funny and informative. Whereas Panthers fans were likely reminded of their own mortality, the sputtering economy, and the fact that someone decided to build their area in a swamp.
Oh, and of course you’ll find quite few more fans in the Tampa building. According to ESPN, this year the Bolts have an average attendance of 18,394 (13th in the league), whereas the Cats can claim 16,685 (20th).
1. Lord Stanley’s Cup
The best argument of all was made on June 7, 2004, when the Lightning won Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final and hoisted hockey’s most famous trophy.
Now to closing arguments.
If you have not been convinced thus far, you’re likely an unrepentant Panthers fan, or Dale Tallon
, or possibly Jacob Markstrom’s mom.
But no matter what you think of the airtight comparisons drawn above, there’s no escaping the fact that the Bolts can claim at least one victory this year. And to quote the immortal words of National Lampoon’s sage-like Cousin Eddie, that victory smells like “fried pussy-cat”.
Brent’s hockey writing has appeared in a variety of online and print media, including the Yahoo! Sports NHL blog, Puck Daddy, and USA Today magazines. He shoots left.