Sunshine State showdown: Lightning take on Panthers in first round of playoffs
SUNSHINE, Fla. / AP — The defending Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning will take on the Florida Panthers for the first time in the postseason on Sunday night.
Florida was second in the Central Division, Tampa Bay was third.
The Panthers went 5-2-1 against the Lightning in the regular season, though that seems irrelevant given that Tampa Bay’s lineup will be considerably different in this series.
The Lightning are adding Nikita forward Nikita Kucherov — whose last game was Sept. 28, which just happened to be the night Tampa Bay hoisted the Stanley Cup. He missed the entire regular season with a hip injury.
“The big thing for me is to not sit here and say ‘Kucherov is coming back, like all problems are solved,’” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “That would be the absolute wrong way to look at it. I don’t think anybody should be looking at it that way. He’s an exceptional player in this league and he can make things happen. … But we have to also be careful in the fact that he hasn’t played a game in eight months, and there’s something to be said for that.”
It’s not just Kucherov returning: The Lightning are also expecting Steven Stamkos back for this series. He hasn’t played since April 8 with a lower-body injury.
“We haven’t had our full team,” Tampa Bay defenseman Ryan McDonagh said.
But they do now.
Florida will join California, New York, and Pennsylvania as states that have had an in-state NHL playoff series.
The game will air on NBCSN at 7:30 p.m.
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