The Tampa Bay Lightning (1-3) square off against the Florida Panthers (3-1) Friday at 7:30 p.m. After getting swept by the Bolts in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last year, the Panthers and Lightning meet for the first time this season.
Tampa Bay lost its previous game to the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday. Florida was victorious in their last game on Wednesday, also against the Flyers.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning have been the NHL’s most consistently dominant team in previous seasons. The Bolts have reached the Stanley Cup Finals the past three years, winning the Stanley Cup twice. Tampa Bay’s roster is stacked with veterans such as Nikita Kucherov, Pat Maroon and Steven Stamkos. However, they also have fiery young talents in Mikhail Sergachev and Nicholas Paul. While the Bolts have gotten off to a relatively slow start this season, the talent, experience and recent success of the squad leaves fans with plenty of optimism.
In the team’s first four games, Steven Stamkos leads the team in points (7) and goals (6), while Nikita Kucherov leads the team in assists (5). In their last game against the Flyers, Kucherov assisted Stamkos’ two power-play goals. Additionally, goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy is currently giving up 2.73 goals per game.
The Lightning are still dealing with some absences on the ice. Zach Bogosian and Anthony Cirelli are dealing with shoulder issues and are not expected to play for at least another month. However, defenseman Ian Cole is back on the ice full-time after his suspension was lifted on Oct. 15. Cole was suspended by the Lightning on Oct. 10 following a Twitter post by a user who claimed Cole formerly sexually assaulted her. After investigation, the NHL found no evidence to substantiate the allegations and closed the case. Cole made his season debut against the Flyers.
Last season, the Panthers finished 58-18-6 and were the top seed in the Atlantic division. In the first round, Florida beat the Washington Capitals in six games but were swept by the Lightning in the second round. The Panthers, who have historically been poor since their inception in 1993, have reached the playoffs the last three seasons.
The Panthers have started the season off strong. Left wing Matthew Tkachuk, whom they acquired in a trade from the Calgary Flames this offseason, leads the team in points (6) and is co-leader in goals (2) and assists (4). Centers Colin White and Carter Verhaeghe have also scored twice, thus far. Florida’s offense averages 3.5 goals per game, and the defense, headed by goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, allows three goals per game.
In their last performance against the Flyers, Verhaeghe scored twice and he was followed by third-period goals from Rudolfs Balcers and Josh Mahura, leading to a Panthers victory. Tkachuk and Aleksander Barkov each had two assists.
The Panthers squad is currently without right wing Anthony Duclair (Achilles) and defenseman Aaron Ekblad (lower body). However, defenseman Brandon Montour, who missed the last two games with an upper body injury, returns to the lineup Friday.
Both teams have solid, hungry rosters that will be an exciting clash. The teams played twice in the preseason where Florida won the first game 3-2 and Tampa Bay won the second 5-2. This game will likely come down to defense, as both squads have the ability to attack from all points of the ice offensively. Also, the Panthers need to try and slow down red-hot Stamkos.
Expect Tampa Bay to come out firing. The team needs to get back into the win column and will want to take down a respected squad. The teams each have high expectations after last season’s success, and this will be a highly competitive game.
The puck is set to drop at 7:30 p.m. at FLA Live Arena in Sunrise, Florida.