Florida Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
Saturday, Oct. 6, 7 p.m.
Season Series: First Meeting
2017-18 Results: Tampa 3 wins (1 in OT), 1 loss
After missing the playoffs in an injury-riddled 2016-17 season, the Tampa Bay Lightning were back in postseason play last year, making a run that saw them come up one game short of the Stanley Cup Finals.
Thanks in large part to that performance, and a season that saw them finish with the most points in the Eastern Conference, Tampa is a team that is getting plenty of attention as a Stanley Cup Favorite entering the 2018-19 season. And it’s with good reason, as the team returns almost every player from last season’s roster.
Tampa will get its first test of the regular season against a familiar foe, taking on the Florida Panthers Saturday night at Amalie Arena. This is the second year in a row Tampa has hosted Florida on opening night and third time in five years.
About the Lightning
After lighting up the league for most of the regular season and cruising through the first two rounds of the 2018 playoffs, the Lightning all of a sudden lost their way to the opponent’s net, suffering a pair of shutout losses in games six and seven of the Eastern Conference Finals against Washington.
That firepower that led the league with 290 goals last season – 17 more than the next closest team – returns all of its guns, including Nikita Kucherov, who led the team and finished fourth in the league with 39 goals. He will be joined once again by fellow forwards Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point. A surprise addition to the roster two years ago, Point had a breakout season last year, scoring 32 goals to go along with 34 assists.
Both Point and Kucherov are two speedsters that present plenty of problems for opposing teams. They fit the new mold of NHL hockey, which has turned into a speed-dominated game. Recognizing that, Lightning coach Jon Cooper has added more speed to the roster this season in the form of Mathieu Joseph and Danick Martel.
“There’s a lot of speed in that locker room, and we’ve got to take advantage of it,” Cooper said. “We’ve got to play at a higher pace and we have to put other teams in situations where they can’t make a lot of plays. And to do that, you need to have fast players.”
While it might take fans a little bit of time to get to know Joseph and Martel, they will certainly recognize a Tampa defensive unit that will once again be anchored by Norris Trophy winner Victor Hedman. That side of the ice will be the biggest question mark for Tampa, especially on the penalty kill. Tampa was one of the worst teams in the NHL defending opposing power plays last year. If the Lightning can keep opponents’ power play in check, the path to the Stanley Cup could be wide open for the Bolts.
About the Panthers
After a slow start to the 2017-18 season, Florida made a late push for the playoffs, only to miss out on postseason play by one point. That late-season push may have benefitted the Lightning more so than any other team. Florida’s two wins against Boston in the final week of the season gave Tampa a division crown and home-ice advantage throughout the NHL Eastern Conference Playoffs.
The Panther organization is excited about its mix of veteran leadership and young talent.
Forward Aleksander Barkov was named the Panthers captain earlier this week after a season that saw the 23-year-old Finland native wrack up career highs in assists (51) and points (78), while earning NHL All-Star honors last year.
Barkov will lead a group of forwards on the top three lines that contain five players who have scored 60 points at least once in their career, with four posting more than 65 points during the 2017-18 campaign.
Backing them up is veteran goaltender Roberto Luongo. The 39-year-old Florida netminder is closing in on his 500th win after finishing last season with 18 wins and a 2.47 GAA. Luongo was 0-1-1 against the Lightning last season with a 4.46 GAA.
The first 20,000 fans will receive a Tampa Bay Lightning cooling towel presented by AMALIE Motor Oil.
How to Watch
Sun Sports/FOX Sports Florida
Stream live on the FOX Sports App
How to Listen
Local Broadcast: 970-AM (WFLA)
Satellite Radio: Sirius/XM Channel 203
Tampa remains home for its next four contests, beginning with a meeting against Western Conference foe Vancouver on Thursday, Oct. 11 before hosting Columbus (Oct. 13), Carolina (Oct. 16) and Detroit (Oct. 18).
Content provided by Shawn Lafata and the Tampa Bay Lighnings. For more sports check one of these past stories out on Destination Tampa Bay:
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