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The Battle of Florida Begins

Today, the Tampa Bay Lightning face state rivals, the Florida Panthers in Game 1 in their Round 1 playoff series. This is widely known now as the Battle of Florida. This series marks the third time in four years that these two meet in the playoffs. The Lightning won both of those series. This season, the Lightning are a Wild Card team and the Panthers are the number 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. Florida has the home ice advantage. One thing is certain, over the last four years the mutual hatred between players of these two teams has grown. Those feelings will make this rendition of the NHL’s Battle of Florida a series to watch. It all starts today. 

This series will feature two stellar goalies. For Tampa, it’s Andrei Vasilevskiy and on the other side for Florida it will be Sergei Bobbrovsky. Each team has their stars. For the Panthers, it starts with Matthew Tkachuk. They also have Sam Reinhart and his 57 goals and former Bolt Carter Verhaeghe. The Panthers also added Vlad Tarasenko at the trade deadline.On the Lightning lineup, it starts with the Art Ross Trophy winner, Nikita Kucherov. But wait, there’s more. Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos along with Kucherov give Tampa three 40 goal scorers. The Lightning also added Anthony Duclair who helped ignite the late season push. The teams also have defensive stars in Victor Hedman for the Bolts and Aaron Ekblad for the Cats. This has the makings of a great series. 

Dropping The Puck

Both teams want to set the tempo for the game not to mention the series once the game starts. Only the home team showed that on the ice. The Panthers were relentless on the forecheck once the game began. At times, it seemed that they had two more skaters than the Lightning. Ultimately, the Panthers team defense forced another defensive zone turnover and it led to the first goal of the game. Just past the six minute mark, Reinhart tipped in a Gus Forsling shot from the point past Vasilevskiy. Panthers draw first blood. 

The Florida team defense was so stifling that after 13 minutes of the initial period, the Lightning still haven’t registered a shot. The Panthers were also doing a number in the neutral zone. Taking the puck away from the Lightning more than they didn’t. As the period wound down to the final five minutes, the best thing for the Lightning was that they only allowed one goal. Meant that they were still one good shot from tying the game. 

Shooting The Puck

After 16 minutes, the Lightning finally got their first shot on goal. Maybe this is the turnaround for this game. On an ensuing faceoff the Lightning’s Anthony Cirelli got off the team’s second shot on Bobrovsky. The Panthers goalie failed to control the rebound and Brandon Hagel made him pay. We got a brand new ball game. As flat as the Lightning came out in this game, they have to feel fortunate to be in this game. Need to take advantage of this to steal Game 1.  

Middle Frame of a Brand New (Tie) Game in this Battle of Florida

Much like the start of the first period, both teams came out in the second wanting to set the tempo. Unlike the first period, neither team did. Both teams had chances in the offensive zone though if the ice was tilted, it leaned Tampa’s way. 

It went like this for close to 15 minutes. Then, the Lightning got their first power play chance of the game. While they got a shot on Bobrovsky, the power play was mostly uneventful. On and on both teams went. A hit there, a blocked shot there, everybody finishing their checks. In other words, playoff hockey.

The Panthers got a power play chance of their own with 24 seconds remaining in the period. They didn’t get a shot off but will have 1:36 left with the man advantage at the start of the third period. After 40 minutes, we are all tied up.

First Round of the Battle of Florida goes to the Panthers

Florida made the most of the power play time they had and scored the tie breaking goal. Verhaeghe scored against his former team on a nice tip in on a pass from Aleksander Barkov. Still, the Lightning were shot away from tying this game up. 

Witha little over three minutes remaining and the score still 2 – 1 Panthers, coach Jon Cooper pulled Vasilevskiy. The Lightning did manage a few good looks but Bobrovsky stood tall in his net. The icing on the cake for the Panthers was an empty net goal by Tkachuk to make it 3 – 1. 

The Lightning made a valiant effort and Stamkos scored the team’s second goal but it was a case of too little, too late. Round 1 in this Battle of Florida goes to the Panthers by a score of 3 -2.

Three Stars 

  1. Aleksander Barkov – 2 assists including on the Verhaeghe goal that put Florida up to stay.
  2. Steven Stamkos – 1 goal and 1 assist
  3. Matthew Tkachuk – 1 goal and 1 assist

What’s Next 

Game 2 of this first round playoff series is Tuesday night, puck drops at 7:30 pm

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