Intensity from the outset in Sunshine State playoff series


Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) and left wing Alex Killorn (17) celebrate the game-tying goal by defenseman Brayden Point (21) during the third period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series against the Florida Panthers, Sunday, May 16, 2021, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Joel Auerbach)

The first-ever playoff game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers could be tough to top.

Or perhaps it’s just a taste of what’s to come in their opening-round Sunshine State series. The defending champion Lightning take a 1-0 lead into Game 2 Tuesday night (8 p.m. EDT, CNBC) in Sunrise, Florida.

The intrastate foes — they’ve never really been rivals — have met 142 times in the regular season, including eight games this season. But they’d never faced off in the playoffs until Sunday, when the Lightning won a physical, dramatic thriller, 5-4.

“Very intense game,” Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. “There was a lot going on out there.”

Also trying to rally from 1-0 deficits at home Tuesday will be the Pittsburgh Penguins against the New York Islanders, and the Vegas Golden Knights against the Minnesota Wild.

The Lightning-Panthers game was only the fourth in NHL playoff history to have four lead changes. Is there more of the same to come?

“It was certainly exciting to be a part of,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “I don’t think both teams want to play 5-4 hockey the whole playoffs.”

Adding to the intensity was a raucous crowd of 9,646, with the Panthers doubling their capacity for the playoffs.

Lightning star Nikita Kucherov scored two power-play goals after missing the entire regular season because of a hip injury. Also returning from injuries for Tampa Bay were Stamkos, Ryan McDonagh and Victor Hedman, who had three assists.

But then, coming back in the postseason is what the defending champs do. In Game 1, they rallied from deficits of 2-1 and 4-3.

“We talked about composure,” Stamkos said. “That was the theme of last year’s run. The game is never over. So many things can happen, you just stick with it. We’re comfortable playing in these types of games.”

The Lightning’s offensive outburst included three power-play goals and one short-handed. Quenneville must now decide whether to stick with goalie Sergei Bobrovsky or switch to Chris Driedger, who had a 2.07 goals-against average in 23 regular-season games.

The Panthers will be without forward Sam Bennett, suspended for one game for boarding Lightning forward Blake Coleman during Game 1.

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