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Lightning Limping Into the Playoffs

May 12, 2021, 12:52 AM ET [13 Comments]
Michael Stuart
Tampa Bay Lightning Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
The Tampa Bay Lightning are limping into the postseason.

With two games against the Florida Panthers to close the season, and needing only a single win to clinch home ice advantage in the opening round, the Bolts promptly lost both contests to finish third in the Central Division. That means they’ll be opening the playoffs on the road against a very good Panthers team that certainly had their number this week.

Of course, the biggest question for the Lightning as the playoffs are set to begin is health. If the blue line that the Lightning used in these final two games is the blue line that takes to the ice in this upcoming seven-game series, this upcoming seven-game series will probably turn into a very quick four-game series. Getting Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh back in action is paramount to the Lightning’s chances of success. Up front, the same is true with respect to Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov.

Even if they are fully healthy, the Lightning are going to have a very tough time against this Panthers team. Just as the Bolts have the capacity to overwhelm opponents with their speed, the Panthers seem to have the ability to do the same to Tampa Bay. It’s been crazy to see the evolution in Florida’s game even since last season; these aren’t your grandfather’s Panthers.

As evidence of the Panthers’ prowess in basically all departments, consider that they lead the Lightning in terms of both five-on-five shot attempt share and expected goal share this season per Natural Stat Trick. Tampa Bay wasn’t at its best over the last few months, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that Florida was absurdly good basically from start to finish in 2021. Without flipping the switch in a fairly material way, the Lightning’s title defence could be quite short.

Regardless of what happens from here for the Lightning, the reality of this opening-round playoff series with the Panthers is that we’re looking at hockey history in the State of Florida. To see these two teams right near the top of the standings – and now set to play against each other in an interstate series – is a testament to the great work that both organizations have done this year to succeed. As much as the Panthers are rivals in every sense of the word, nothing should make Lightning fans happier than to see them in a position to help create some special memories over the next couple weeks.

As always, thanks for reading.
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