Florida has gone hockey mad. The Tampa Bay Lightning are going for their third straight Stanley Cup title, which the NHL hasn’t seen since the New York Islanders won four in a row from 1980-83.
But they may have to win Florida first. Standing in the Lightning’s way is their cross-state rival, the Florida Panthers.
Entering the weekend, both teams are fighting for the Atlantic Division title and have two of the best records in the NHL. Florida is one point ahead of the Lightning with a 36-13-5 mark, while Tampa Bay is 35-12-6.
The two teams have met three times this year, with the Panthers winning twice. They take the ice for the final time on April 24.
Florida is working on changing its online sports betting legislation, meaning sports fans in the Sunshine State could see online sportsbooks soon.
Until then, enjoy a look at the Panthers and Lightning and what lies ahead in the quest for the Stanley Cup.
What do the oddsmakers say?
At Caesars, the Lightning and Panthers odds are listed as +750 each to win the Stanley Cup. BetMGM has it slightly different, with the Lightning at +750 and the Panthers at +800.
The Hart Trophy is given to the league MVP. Lightning superstar Steven Stamkos is +6,600 to win the award at BetMGM, while Panthers winger Jonathan Huberdeau is +700.
The Rocket Richard trophy goes to the league’s goal-scoring leader. Stamkos (+6,600) and Huberdeau (+8,000) are in the running for that as well.
Lightning Strikes Again
In his 14th season, Stamkos continues to be one of the top players in the NHL, with 26 goals and 34 assists this season.
Tampa Bay has been streaky this season, winning nine of 10 games in December and leading the Atlantic Division for most of the way. Tampa Bay is about to start a pivotal six-game road trip.
There’s a Panther Lurking
Florida has been the talk of the NHL after starting off the season 8-0 and have put together win streaks of four games four times. Huberdeau leads the team with 75 points and a whopping 57 assists. He’s on pace for a career year.
The Panthers are also a sentimental favorite, signing future NHL Hall of Famer Joe Thornton to a deal this off-season. Thornton, 42, has never won a Cup in his 23-year career. He’s scored four goals in 24 games.
Lightning Playoff History – Nuts and Bolts
Still a relatively young franchise (starting in 1993), the Lightning have made the playoffs 13 times and won three Stanley Cups (2004, 2020, 2021). They also lost in the Stanley Cup Finals in 2015.
Three other times this past decade, they lost in the conference finals. They have lost in the conference semifinals once and the first round five times.
Panthers Playoff History – The Legend of the Rat
Florida has a unique playoff history.
The Panthers’ lone Stanley Cup championship came in 1996, which has become known as the ‘Year of the Rat’ in hockey lore.
Then-Panthers captain Scott Mellanby swatted an unfortunate rat in the locker room at old Miami Arena, then later scored a few goals in the game, which then became known as a “Rat Trick.”
Panther fans began throwing plastic or rubber rats on the ice after Panther goals.
The tradition has been curtailed now, where the rats are supposed to only be thrown after victories. But Florida, you do you.
Incredibly, 1996 is the only time the Panthers ever won a playoff series. They have lost in the first round in five other trips to the playoffs.
What’s so great about the Stanley Cup?
The Stanley Cup is the oldest trophy in professional sports, and its look and its legends make it a star all by itself.
As the story goes, it was created by Sir Frederick Arthur Stanley, the Governor-General of Canada, to present to the top hockey club in Canada starting in 1892. It has been an NHL trophy since 1926.
The Cup is not a new trophy every year. It is the same one. The winning team gets it for a year (or two, if you’re the Lightning). Players, coaches, and key contributors are engraved on the Cup, which weighs 34.5 pounds and is made of silver and nickel.
There are mistakes on the Cup, which add to its charm. The Islanders are missing an ‘S’ for some reason, and the Boston Bruins has a Q mixed in.
And hockey fans know this too: You don’t touch the Cup, unless you win it!
Florida hockey fans are hoping the Stanley Cup stays here.