The Governor’s Cup is barely two seasons old, but the Tampa Bay Lightning already have quite the hold on the trophy awarded to the Florida-based NHL team with most standings points (based on the NHL’s current system for wins, loses and overtime/shootout loses) in head-to-head competition within a season. Launched prior to the Lightning and Florida Panther’s first match-up in October 2013, the Bolts have dominated in every sense.
In four games last season, the Lightning won 7-2, 4-3, 6-1 and 5-4, ending the season with eight points for Tampa and one shootout loss for the Panthers resulting in their single point. Even the built-in tiebreaker (based on goal differential) would not make a difference. Despite similar shots on goal (the Lightning with 117 to the Panthers’ 112), Tampa outscored the Cats 22 to 10.
This year, however, things may turn out differently.
The two inner-state rivals have only met once this season, resulting in a 2-3 overtime win for the Lightning and , based on the Governor’s Cup point system, holding on to a 2-1 lead.
Last season, the Lightning was eighth in the League’s standings with 101 points and second in the Atlantic Division; the Panthers were second last at a mere 66 points, resulting in a consolation prize of first overall section at the 2014 Draft. While Tampa has maintained their consistency as one of the best teams in the NHL during the 2014-2015 season (sixth in the League, second in the division, and 80 points in 62 games played), the Panthers largely surprised the hockey world with their jump to 20th in League standings and within two points of a wild card berth.
Those two points are going to make a world of difference as the two teams battle it out in their next three meetings in a previously one-sided Governor’s Cup: the Panthers desperately need every win. As their meeting with the Chicago Blackhawks showed earlier this week, they are true “Comeback Cats”, having tied the game in the third period, forcing overtime (and a point in the standings). The upcoming three games against the two teams will be, excluding the 4-3 OT win in 2013, the most competitive games seen in a Governor’s Cup series.
In the past, the match-ups have drawn meager interest, with average crowds for both areas. But that has changed as early as this year. The Panthers’ playoff race and the Lightning’s rise as one of the NHL’s premier organizations has led to increased interest in the Florida-based teams.
— George Richards (@GeorgeRichards) February 26, 2015
There is a very real possibility, should the Panthers make the playoffs, that a Lightning team that is consistently in and out of the top spot in the Atlantic would be their first round opponent. Both teams possess the veteran leadership, solid goaltending and developing young talent to make a Cup run – Stanley or Governor’s – quite a series.
The Cup’s aim, to generate some heat to the rivalry, might have finally taken off. The game on March 1 may be the first step of a much more competitive future – and increased interest – in Florida hockey.
Michelle Timian fell in love with hockey after watching a game between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs in 2006 and has been following hockey ever since. She is a graduate of Western Illinois University with a degree in Creative Writing and is more comfortable in front of a keyboard than on skates. She also blogs for the New York Rangers at blueshirtsunited.com.