Panthers beat Maple Leafs; first-round playoff matchup with Lightning set

Jordan McPherson, Miami Herald on

Published in Hockey

SUNRISE, Fla. — The Florida Panthers have won the Atlantic Division, and their path for the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs is now set.

First up: The Tampa Bay Lightning.

With a 5-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday in their regular-season finale and a 3-1 Boston Bruins loss to the Ottawa Senators, the Panthers vaulted to the No. 1 spot in the Atlantic and will stay in the Sunshine State for the entirety of the first round of the postseason in its attempt to reach the Stanley Cup Final for a second consecutive season.

Game dates and times have not yet been announced for the best-of-7 series, but the Panthers will host Games 1, 2, 5 (if necessary) and 7 (if necessary). The Lightning will host Games 3, 4 and 6 (if necessary).

Here’s everything you need to know about the best-of-7 matchup.

How did the regular-season series between the Panthers and Lightning unfold?

The Panthers and Lightning played three times this season, with Florida going 2-1-0 against Tampa Bay.

Florida won 3-2 on Dec. 27 and 9-2 on Feb. 17 in Tampa before losing 5-3 against the Lightning on March 16 in Sunrise.

However, the Lightning has won both playoff series against the Panthers, winning in six games in the first round of the 2021 playoffs and sweeping Florida in the second round of the 2022 playoffs.

How did the Panthers and Lightning fare in the playoffs last year?

The Panthers went from the last team to qualify in the Eastern Conference to making a run all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, where they ultimately lost to the Vegas Golden Knights in five games. Florida beat Boston in seven games, Toronto in five games and the Carolina Hurricanes in four games to get to the Stanley Cup Final.

The Lightning were the No. 3 seed in the Atlantic last year and lost in the first round to Toronto in six games.

Who are the players to watch from the Panthers?

— Sam Reinhart: Reinhart finished the season with 57 goals, including a franchise-record 27 power-play goals, and has been one of the top two-way wingers in the NHL this season.


— Aleksander Barkov: The Panthers’ captain and arguably the top two-way center in the NHL was once again a stalwart on the ice this season. He scored 23 goals and logged 57 assists while breaking a slew of franchise records in the process.

— Matthew Tkachuk: Tkachuk logged 88 points (26 goals, 62 assists) in his second regular season with the Panthers. He was one of their biggest starts in the playoffs last season, scoring 11 goals (including four game-winners and three in overtime) and dishing out an additional 13 assists.

— Sergei Bobrovsky: Bobrovsky tied for the NHL lead with six shutouts in the regular season and went 36-17-4 in 58 starts with a .915 save percentage and 2.37 goals against average. He went 12-6 in the playoffs last season with a .915 save percentage, 2.78 goals against average and one shutout.

— Gustav Forsling: Forsling’s evolution into one of the NHL’s top defensemen continued in the 2023-24 season. He led the league in plus-minus (plus-56) and logged 38 points (10 goals, 28 assists) in the process.

Who are the players to watch from the Tampa Bay Lightning?

— Nikita Kucherov: The winger leads the NHL with a staggering 142 points (43 goals, 99 assists) with one game left to play. He is one of three Lightning players with at least 40 goals (also Brayden point with 45 and Steven Stamkos with 40)

— Andrei Vasilevskiy: The All-Star netminder is 30-20-2 this season with a 2.90 goals against average and .900 save percentage. However, it’s worth remembering just how dominant he is in the playoffs, with a career 2.37 goals against average, .921 save percentage and seven shutouts.

— Victor Hedman: The defenseman has 76 points (13 goals, 63 assists) this season.

— Anthony Duclair: Since the Lightning acquired Duclair from San Jose at the trade deadline, the winger has produced 13 points (seven goals, six assists) in 16 games.

Who would the winner of the Panthers-Lightning matchup face in the second round?

The winner of the Panthers-Lightning matchup would face the winner of the Bruins-Maple Leafs matchup in the second round.

The Panthers, as division champions, would have home-ice advantage over either team if they advance to the second round.

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