In part one of ‘a view inside the enemy,’ I take a closer look at the Florida Panthers’ rival and break down their roster. Today’s enemy… the Tampa Bay Lightning!
Obviously, every game you play during the regular season is an important match, no matter who you face. That’s true of course, but what’s also true is that your biggest enemy tends to lie in the same division as you.
In this series that will be in multiple parts, I try to dive deeper into the enemy’s layer and figure out the best case scenario for the Panthers to achieve success. Enemy #1 remains the Tampa Bay Lightning. Why might you say? Because they’re both an in-state and divisional rival to our Cats!
Their defense has a balance of both offensive and defensive power. Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh can both score and defend at the same time, while veterans like Anton Stralman and Braydon Coburn are purely known for their defensive-first mentality.
The Bolts also possess a young gun at the back, who goes by the name of Mikhail Sergachev. The 20-year-old Russian is versatile at both ends of the ice and is only going to improve in the coming years. 40 points in his rookie season is just a start of what’s to come in his young, fruitful career.
To top this all off, Tampa has two solid netminders guarding their crease in Andrei Vasilevskiy and Louis Domingue. Vasilevskiy, who’s only 24 years of age, is regarded as one of the best goaltenders in the NHL, while his understudy in Domingue is good enough to hold the backup position.
So when you look at this entire Lightning squad, you say to yourself, “how on earth are the Panthers expected to beat that?” Don’t be fooled, this Tampa Bay Lightning roster is beatable. Sure, it won’t be a walk in the park, but it’s certainly not impossible either.
The Panthers are going to have to hit the Lightning where it hurts most, coming off of odd-man rushes and counter-attacking play. We saw last postseason against the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference Finals in games #6 and #7 how vulnerable and sloppy the Lightning’s defense can really be.
Forwards like Barkov, Huberdeau, Trocheck, Hoffman, Dadonov, and Bjugstad are all expected to give the Lightning a rough time in their end. Those aforementioned players will be counted on to create plays and open-ice space for both themselves and their teammates.
They’re also expected to shut down the Lightning’s most prized possessions up front. Kucherov, Stamkos, Point, and the rest of them will all have to be monitored and closely watched when they’re on the ice.
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These types of matches are where the big dogs are called into play, and it’s a perfect opportunity for the core group of guys to get their time to shine and impress. There’s no reason why the Panthers’ trio of Barkov, Huberdeau, and Trocheck can’t go up and take on the Lightning’s trio of Stamkos, Kucherov, and Point.
The Cats face the Bolts four times this year, with the first two meetings being played in Tampa, while the other two being in Sunrise, Florida. Last season in their season series, the Lightning edged out the Panthers, defeating them twice in regulation and once in overtime.
Each of those contests ended in high-scoring affairs, with the top-six heavy Panthers taking game #2 by a score of 5-4, while the Lightning took games #1, #3, and #4 with scores of 5-3, 8-5, and 5-4 (OT).
Gone are the days of the over-reliant first line, with flashes of Trocheck carrying his second line. The Panthers now have a real top-six, along with a third (thanks to Borgstrom) that can make some noise.
These four games against Tampa are going to battles, and the Cats are going to have to come out running once the puck officially drops. The Panthers can’t afford to start off slow in either one of these games, as we know Tampa will pounce viciously on the slightest of blunders.
The best way to approach these types of series is to take it one game at a time. Focus solely on the task at hand and not towards a game that is week or month away. There’s no reason why the Panthers can’t split the season series with their in-state rival, grabbing a total of four crucial points out of eight.
Obviously, winning just one game against the Tampa Bay Lightning is tough, but with the roster the Panthers currently possess, I really don’t see why they can’t achieve that goal.
No one is asking Florida to sweep them this season (which would be nice), but what we are asking for is that we give them a run for their money in all four games. And that means winning a couple!
The Tampa Bay Lightning remain the Florida Panthers’ biggest rival this season, who possess the largest threat in all three zones of the ice. Will the Cats buckle under pressure or will they rise to the challenge? Time will only tell…