Sunshine State showdown: Lightning-Panthers in NHL's Round 1

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Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Pat Maroon (14) exchanges words with the Florida Panthers bench as he is led off the ice for fighting during the third period of an NHL hockey game on Saturday, May 8, 2021, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Mary Holt)

There used to be a thing called the Governor’s Cup, a trophy presented to whichever team won the annual regular season series between the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning. It was supposed to be a way of drumming up hockey interest around the Sunshine State.

It never really caught on.

Besides, there are far better things to win than some crystal vase.

The defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning and the upstart Panthers are about to meet in the postseason for the first time. Game 1 of their Central Division opening-round series is Sunday night on the Panthers’ home ice in Sunrise, Florida.

Florida was second in the Central Division, Tampa Bay third.

“I think we made giant strides over the course of the year, from this year to last year,” Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. “But it doesn’t matter. It’s what we do now going forward.”

The Panthers went 5-2-1 against the Lightning in the regular season, though that seems most irrelevant now given that Tampa Bay’s lineup will be considerably different in this series.

The Lightning are getting forward Nikita Kucherov — whose last game was Sept. 28, which just happened to be the night Tampa Bay hoisted the Stanley Cup. He missed the entire regular season with a hip injury.