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As both the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning reach their penultimate game of the 2020-21 NHL season, they will be facing an opponent that they know all too well. As in-state rivals for more than 20 years, these franchises have faced off numerous times in the past, but tonight’s game will mark something different. For the first time in their history, the Sunshine State rivals will be taking the ice knowing that they will soon be meeting in the postseason.
After the Carolina Hurricanes clinched first-place in the Discover NHL Central Division, this meant that the Panthers and Lightning would be on a crash course to face each other in the playoffs. While they already know who their opponent will be, however, it does not mean that this game is unimportant for both teams.
See, 54 games into the season, both franchises have pulled together 75 points, with the Lightning posting a 36-15-3 record and the Panthers a 35-14-5 record. With their final two games of the season against each other, this means that second place in the division and home-ice advantage in the first postseason meeting of the Governor’s Cup will be on the line.
Player Stats and Team Records
Six games into their eight-game series this season, the Panthers and Lightning have split their first six games 3-3, showcasing how even these teams are against each other. Finally, over the last 10 games played, both teams are playing strong, with the Panthers posting an 8-2-0 record with the Lightning putting together a 7-2-1 record.
As far as the game tonight goes, expect both teams to throw the best of their healthy lineups on the ice. Even though the Lightning will be without Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos, and the Panthers are missing key players like Aaron Ekblad, Carter Verhaeghe, and Patric Hornqvist, the teams still have some of the most explosive offensive talents in the NHL. In fact, another interesting tidbit is that both teams are sitting on exactly 179 goals scored, placing them in a three-way tie for fourth place in the league alongside the Vegas Golden Knights.
Players to keep an eye on for Tampa Bay include Yanni Gourde and Mikhail Sergachev. For Gourde, the 2020-21 season has been a bounce-back year, and he currently sits tied for second place in team goalscoring while acting as a battery for the Lightning’s offense. Sergachev, on the other hand, is often overshadowed by Victor Hedman, but he has been playing some of the best hockey of his young career, breaking 30 points scored while taking on the third-most minutes for the team each night.
As we look at the Panther’s roster, two names stand out: Anthony Duclair and MacKenzie Weegar. While both players have had respectable scoring numbers, more impressive is their massive plus-25 rating. While this is a much-begrudged statistic, it’s impossible to ignore when it is that high, especially when it ties them for ninth in the league alongside superstars like Connor McDavid and Mark Stone.
Panthers: Aleksander Barkov – 26 goals in 48 games played
Lightning: Brayden Point – 23 goals in 54 games played
Panthers: Jonathan Huberdeau – 59 points in 54 games played
Lightning: Brayden Point – 48 points in 54 games played
Starting Goaltender Comparison
Panthers: Sergei Bobrovsky – 30 games played, 18-8-2 record, .904 Save Percentage, 2.97 Goals Against Average
Lightning: Andrei Vasilevskiy – 40 games played, 31-8-1 record, .928 Save Percentage, 2.10 Goals Against Average
Eugene Helfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who is actually from Tampa Bay. He has written about the Lightning for six years, covering everything from their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, to their crushing first-round exit in 2019, to their redemption in the bubble in 2020. While he is happy to talk about just about anything from cows to cars to video games, hockey will always remain one of his favorite pastimes.