For the second straight year, the battle for Florida is coming to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Florida Panthers will face the rival Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round of the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs after the Lightning beat the Toronto Maple Leafs, 2-1, in Game 7 of their first-round series Saturday in Canada.
Game times have not yet been announced, but the series could start as early as Monday.
It’ll be a rematch of their first-round series in the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs. Tampa Bay beat the Panthers in six games last year en route to its second straight Stanley Cup.
For the second straight year, Florida will be the favorite and will host the Lightning for Games 1 and 2 — and 5 and 7, if necessary — at FLA Live Arena in Sunrise.
It’ll be another stiff challenge for the Panthers, who are into second round of the Cup playoffs for the first time since 1996. In Round 1, they survived an early scare from the Washington Capitals — the 2018 champions — before winning in six games with three straight come-from-behind victories to clinch the series Friday at Capital One Arena in Washington.
In Round 2, Florida will face an even more battle-tested team, albeit one it knows well.
Last year, the Panthers faced Tampa Bay eight times with the NHL’s divisions realigned because of the COVID-19 pandemic and they followed it up by playing the Lightning for the first time ever in the playoffs. Ultimately, Florida was done in by its goaltending as Sergei Bobrovsky and Chris Driedger combined to give up 18 goals on 125 shots before the Panthers turned to fellow goaltender Spencer Knight, who was just 20 at the time, to start the final two games of the opening-round series.
This year, Bobrovsky has been one of the best goalies in the playoffs so far and Florida is even better than it was a year ago, winning the Presidents’ Trophy for the first time. The Panthers split their four regular-season meetings with Tampa Bay, losing one of the games in overtime.