SUNRISE (AP) — The two-time defending Stanley Cup champions on one side. The Presidents' Trophy winners on the other. Franchises separated by just a couple hundred miles of highway. And two teams that don't like each other very much.
Tampa Bay and Florida. For the state championship — and so much more.
The Lightning and the Panthers are meeting in the playoffs for the second consecutive season, with Game 1 starting Tuesday on Florida's home ice. Tampa Bay needed six games to oust the Panthers a year ago in Round 1.
"Florida is a hell of a team," Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. "We've watched them all year. We've had some amazing battles with them. I think people, especially in Florida, have been begging for the two teams to be contenders and go at it. Last year, many people said that might have been the series of the playoffs. They retooled their team and brought some big names in there and it should be a ton of fun."
The Lightning won a Game 7 in Toronto to extend their hope of trying to become the first team to win three consecutive Stanley Cups since the New York Islanders won four in a row from 1980 through 1983. The Panthers are coming off their first series win in 26 years, beating Washington in six games, and now have a shot at avenging last season's playoff loss.
"That's when things get interesting and rivalries are born when you play teams multiple times in the playoffs now ... and we know what it's going to be," Lightning forward Steven Stamkos said. "That was one heck of a series last year in the first round."
The NHL started awarding the Presidents' Trophy in 1986 to the club with the best regular-season record, and this marks the ninth time in that span that the winner of that trophy has faced the reigning Cup champion in the playoffs.
Of the previous eight instances, the last of which came in 2017 when Washington lost in seven games to Pittsburgh, it's a split — four wins for the Cup champs, four wins for the Presidents' Trophy holders.
"They're a great team," Florida interim coach Andrew Brunette said. "They are who we want to be, and this is a great opportunity for us."
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