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Post-Christmas Battle of Florida Goes to the Panthers

Rivalries. A huge part of what makes hockey the great sport that it is. There are many longstanding rivalries across the league. But one relatively new one that has captivated the attention of hockey fans everywhere is the “Battle of Florida”. A state where few would have believed hockey could ever thrive has become a “hot spot” for two of the top teams of this decade. The Tampa Bay Lightning won the Eastern Conference title in 2020, 2021, and 2022. The Florida Panthers won it in 2023. So, what better way to resume the best game on ice after a four-day Christmas break than with the first of this season’s installment in the “Battle of Florida”?

The Panthers are off to a good start this season, picking up where they left off last year. They are currently tied with the Toronto Maple Leafs at 40 points, trailing only the Boston Bruins in the Atlantic division. The Lightning, meanwhile, have been plagued by inconsistencies all season long. However, they seem to have found their stride as of late. They have won seven of their last ten games including their last three in a row. They now find themselves just a single point behind the Leafs and Panthers. A win in regulation tonight would move the Bolts ahead of the Panthers by a point in the standings (albeit in two fewer games). Could the Lightning continue their pre-holiday solid play?

Post-Christmas Battle- Round One

The two teams obviously got some rest over the holiday as they both came out fired up. The Bolts had some great chances, including a mini breakaway for Steven Stamkos. But nothing found the back of the net. Then, just over four and a half minutes in, Aaron Ekblad scored his first of the season (and first since April 8th) with a shot from the point and traffic in front of Lightning netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy.

The Lightning pressed hard for the equalizer, including on two power play. But, alas, they came up empty. They also had some defensive lapses which provided Florida with good scoring opportunities and sustained offensive zone time. Vasilevskiy stood tall in net to prevent the Panthers from doubling their lead.

Round Two

Round two of tonight’s battle started off similar to round one- with the Florida Panthers scoring early. While it took them 4:16 to score in the first frame, it took just 1:24 in this second frame! Some have referred to the Bolts’ 2023-2024 performance thus far as a “Jekyll and Hyde season”. We’d been seeing Dr. Jekyll going into the Christmas holiday. But Mr. Hyde certainly seemed to be rearing his ugly head in this one. The remainder of the period featured more sloppy defensive plays and failures to get the puck out of their own zone multiple times.

They did manage a few chances of their own, but each time, Sergei Bobrovsky had the answer.

The Final Round

Would the Bolts manage to muster anything up in the final round of tonight’s battle? They answered that question quickly as the league leader in points, Nikita Kucherov, slapped home his 24th goal of the season and 300th of his career. Congrats to Kucherov on yet another milestone! Just 29 seconds into the period and the Bolts had cut the lead in half at 2-1.

Some good pressure from the Lightning led to some rough-housing behind the Panther net, which led to another Lightning Power Play. It was a pretty uneventful power play for the first minute and a half. And then, just as we were getting lulled into a false sense of security, Sam Reinhart skated up ice shorthanded and beat Vasilevskiy for his second goal of the game. And as that goal was being announced at Amalie Arena, the Bolts carried the puck down the ice for the final rush of the power play and Mikey Eysimmont rifled one past Bobrovsky for his 6th of the season.

The Bolts had some good chances after that but Bobrovsky stopped them cold. With the Lightning net empty, the Panthers had a scoring opportunity that turned into a Lightning penalty. Vasilevskiy returned to the net and the Panthers kept the puck in the offensive zone as the final seconds ticked away. Round one of the battle of Florida for this season goes to the Panthers 3-2 in regulation.


Three Stars

1- Sam Reinhart- 2 goals

2- Sergei Bobrovsky- huge saves as he stopped 27 of 29

3- Nikita Kucherov- 300th career goal

Up Next

The Bolts will finish up 2023 with two more home games starting with the Eastern Conference leading New York Rangers visiting Amalie on Saturday night. Puck drops at 7pm.




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