Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Florida Panthers Playoff Preview

Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images
Photo Credit: Mike Carlson/Getty Images

It’s the best time of the year. The 2024 Stanley Cup playoffs are here. For the Tampa Bay Lightning, this is the seventh consecutive season that they have made the postseason. Last season was their only first-round exit in the current run, as they fell short in six games to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Entering this season, many hockey pundits felt their window to contend had passed. For much of the year, they struggled to stay in contention for a playoff spot. A nine-game point streak to end March, coupled with a 9-3 record in January, was enough for them to earn the Eastern Conference’s first Wild Card. Their reward is a first-round matchup with the defending Eastern Conference champion Florida Panthers. Below, I’ll preview how these teams match up and give you one player to watch.

Offensively, the Lightning averaged 3.51 goals per game, good for fifth in the league. However, their scoring was top-heavy, with only five players at or above 75 points. Nikita Kucherov’s league-leading 144 points was 54 more than the team’s second-leading scorer in Brayden Point. Nick Paul had a career-high 46 points, and Anthony Cirelli heated up late to finish with 45 points. Keep an eye on trade deadline acquisition Anthony Duclair. The former Panther forward was key to their run to the 2023 Stanley Cup Final. He has eight goals and 15 points since joining the Bolts.

The Panthers, meanwhile, averaged 3.23 goals per game. That was good for 11th best. Sam Reinhart led the team in scoring, with 94 points, but Matthew Tkachuk, Aleksander Barkov, and Carter Verhaeghe were less than 25 points back. Their big addition, Vladimir Tarasenko, added 14 points since being acquired from the Ottawa Senators. Sam Bennett is a player to watch, as he was a thorn in opponents sides in last year’s playoff run and can contribute offensively when he’s on the ice.

Defensively, the Lightning struggled to keep the puck out of their own net, allowing 3.26 goals per game. That was 22nd in the NHL. The Panthers gave up only 2.41 goals, a number which led the league. Victor Hedman’s plus-18 led a Bolts team that saw just ten players with a plus rating. On the other side, Gustav Forsling had a plus-56 to lead a team that didn’t give up many goals all season.

Special teams should favor the Lightning, but the margin is razor-thin. Tampa Bay’s power play led the league, scoring at a 29 percent clip, while their penalty kill was fifth best at 83 percent. Florida had the eighth-best power play, clicking at 24 percent. Their penalty kill was 82 percent, good for sixth in the league. Reinhart’s 27 goals with the man advantage led the way, with Verhaeghe chipping in eight, Tkachuk six, and Barkov five goals. Stamkos, Point, and Kucherov had 19, 15, and 13 goals to pace the Bolts. Paul’s nine goals helped when the big three had been shut down, as did Duclair when given the opportunity.

Goaltending favors the Panthers, but it could swing to the Lightning, depending on which Andrei Vasilevskiy shows up. During the regular season, Sergei Bobrovsky won 36 games with a 2.37 goals against average (GAA) and a .915 save percentage. He also had six shutouts. Vasilevskiy missed the first six weeks of the season after undergoing back surgery early in training camp. Upon returning, he struggled to find his usual dominant form but still won 30 games. He finished the season with a 2.90 GAA and .900 save percentage, a far cry from the dominance he showed two seasons ago.

The schedule is as follows:

*Lightning @ Panthers, April 21, 12:30 pm EST

*Lightning @ Panthers, April 23, 7:30 pm EST

*Panthers @ Lightning, April 25, 7 pm EST

*Panthers @ Lightning, April 27, 5 pm EST

***IF NECESSARY***

*Lightning @ Panthers, April 29, Time TBD

*Panthers @ Lightning, May 1, Time TBD

*Lightning @ Panthers, May 4, Time TBD

Can the Lightning pull off a miracle, or is this the Panthers year to go on a deep run and potentially win it all? Those questions and more will be answered over the next two weeks or less, so sit back, relax, and watch the fourth edition of the Battle of Florida playoff style.

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

Lauren Burg

Lauren Burg is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer for “Inside the Rink.” A lifelong Tampa Bay Area resident, she graduated from the University of South Florida’s world-renowned journalism program in December 2009. While in college, she discovered hockey and the Tampa Bay Lightning. She quickly became a passionate fan, attending many games over the years. She also experienced an All-Star game in 2018, numerous road games, and, most recently, the Bolts back-to-back Stanley Cup championships. Since graduating college, she’s been working hard to combine her two loves, writing and hockey, hoping to one day make that her full-time career. In her free time, she enjoys attending sporting events (both home & road when possible), taking photos, and traveling.

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