Florida Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Lightning: Round 1 Series Preview

(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

This series is being dubbed the battle for Florida; which team will come out victorious, the Panthers or the Lightning? After clinching the Atlantic Division title, Florida is set up for an in-state rivalry in round one. While I personally would have preferred a matchup with the Maple Leafs, the Cats went 2-1 this season against Tampa Bay, and the game they lost was an odd one. Florida had 50 SOG in the last match against the Lightning and simply got outplayed by Vasilevskiy, it was also a game riddled with penalties and special teams. One positive is that the travel won’t be nearly as taxing for Florida as it will be for other teams like Vancouver and Nashville, for example. This is a first-round series that is sure to excite with the in-state rivalry that’s bound to boil over and elite scoring players on both sides.

What The Numbers Say:

Florida ended their season with a record of 52-24-6 and 110 points. Tampa, meanwhile, ended their season 44-29-8 with 96 points. Florida had a franchise-best 26-11-4 record on the road this season, while Tampa is 20-18-3, so although the Cats have home-ice advantage for the series, they’ve been a great team on the road. As a team, the Panthers rank 11th in G/GP at 3.23, 1st in GA/GP at 2.31, 8th on the PP% at 23.5, and 6th on the PK% at 82.5. On the other side, the Lightning as a team ranks 5th in G/GP at 3.51, 22nd in GA/GP at 3.26, 1st in PP% at 28.6, and 5th on the PK% at 83.3. Florida scored 268 total goals this season while allowing 200 goals to be scored against them for a differential of 68. The Lightning scored 291 goals on the season and allowed 268 goals to be scored against them for a differential of 23. Over the course of the three games they played this season, the teams averaged 87 penalty minutes a piece. Florida had a total of 109 SOG, 38 blocked shots, 79 hits, and 83 faceoff wins during the three games. Tampa Bay had a total of 77 SOG, 41 blocked shots, 72 hits, and 95 faceoff wins during the regular season matches.

Notable Players:

It’s no secret that Sam Reinhart has been a hot goal scorer for the Panthers. He ended his season with 57 goals, with 27 of them coming on the power play and 5 coming short-handed, and 37 assists – he ended the year at +29. After a slow start to the year, Matthew Tkachuk turned it on at the start of 2024 and ended his season with 26 goals, with 6 of them on the power play and 1 short-handed, and had a team-leading 62 assists – he ended the year at +19. Carter Verhaeghe had 34 goals, 8 of them being power play goals, 38 assists, and ended the year at +17. Aleksander Barkov had 23 goals, 5 of them being power play goals, 57 assists, and ended the season at +33. And, of course, the stellar goaltending duo of Sergei Bobrovsky and Anthony Stolarz. Bob ended the year with a .915 SV%, 2.37 GAA, which was 3rd in the NHL, 36 wins, which was tied for 3rd in the NHL, and 6 shutouts, which tied for 1st in the NHL. Anthony Stolarz ended his season with an NHL-leading 9.25 SV% and 2.03 GAA to lead the NHL, 16 wins, and 2 shutouts. 

For Tampa Bay, Brayden Point is their leading goal scorer with 46 goals, with 15 coming on the power play and 44 assists, but he is -16. Nikita Kucherov hit the extremely impressive 100 assists point in the last game of the season, with 44 goals and 16 coming from the power play, he ended at +8. Steven Stamkos had 40 goals on the season, with 19 coming from the power play and 41 assists, and ended the year at -21. Brandon Hagel ended the regular season with 26 goals, 2 of which came from the power play and 49 assists, and ended at +1. Andrei Vasilevskiy ended his season with a .900 SV%, 2.90 GAA, 30 wins, and 2 shutouts. Jonas Johansson ended his season with a .890 SV%, 3.37 GAA, 12 wins, and 2 shutouts. 

Florida Players Who Might Surprise:

The Panthers have a very talented roster, and while the high goal scorers draw a lot of attention, the bottom six forwards are keeping an eye on as well. Anton Lundell and Eetu Luostarinen have been a formidable pair on the third line, with Luostarinen becoming a great penalty killer this year, earning a spot on the first PK Unit. Lundell has made some incredible shots from unusual angles, two of them coming from behind the opponent’s goal line. Vladimir Tarasenko, who joined the team at the trade deadline, has only gotten better the more games he’s played and has earned himself time on the power play units while also making great defensive plays. However, there is one player fans should really keep their eye on and that’s Gustav Forsling. Part of the Panthers’ top defensive paring Forsling has been an absolute force on the ice this season. He has 10 goals and 29 assists at the end of the regular season, but those numbers don’t truly tell the impact he’s had. Forsling ended his season at an NHL-leading +56, the next closest player to him is Winnipeg’s Dylan DeMelo at +46. What’s more impressive is that when Forsling and Barkov were on the ice together, they only gave up 9 goals in the 450 5v5 minutes they played. Forsling is a defensive game-changer for the Cats, blocking shots, forcing turnovers, and making great stick plays to give Florida the opportunity to go on the offensive. Game 1 is set for Sunday at 12:30 ET/11:30 CT.

We Got The Jack Inside The Rink

In episode 8 of the Inside The Rink podcast, Matty and Smitty are joined by new co-host Conrad Jack. After the long hiatus, we get back to hockey with a PACKED episode!Matt Rempe & the Devils vs. Rangers Line BrawlCould the Vancouver Canucks squander a playoff opportunity? Have the Winnipeg Jets finally figured out their lines?Flyers Head Coach John Tortorella is a sound byte MACHINEOvechkin is on his way to 895, Who is next?McDavid joins elite company with 100 Assists in a seasonRyan Hartman was suspended 3 Games, was it worth 3 games??Can Auston Matthews hit 70 Goals this season?The Eastern Conference Wild Card race is heating up, who lands the two playoff berths?For all of your hockey news and more from the show, visit us at insidetherink.com and watch us on YouTube! How to support us and our sponsors:TicketmasterColumbia Sports ApparelESPN+ SubscriptionFanaticsDraft Kings – CODE ITR
  1. We Got The Jack
  2. Episode 7. Player Safety First!
  3. Episode 6. Early Trade Season
  4. Episode 5. Longing For The Chiarelli Years
  5. Episode 4. Ottawa’s On Fire

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