After a week of playing mostly unfamiliar foes, the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning will face a recognizable opponent on Tuesday night.
The Sunshine State clubs will meet for the first time this season, in Tampa, in a rematch of last season's first round of the playoffs.Under the 2020-21 format's 56-game season, the Panthers and Lightning squared off eight times in the eight-team Central Division.
Florida went 5-2-1 against its upstate rival during the regular season, but the Lightning won when it mattered the most -- beating the Panthers in their playoff series on the way to a second straight Stanley Cup title.
Florida opened this season with opposition at home that it did not face last season -- the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders -- with the Panthers triumphant twice, 5-4 in overtime and 5-1, respectively.
In a winning rally in its opener, Florida gave Pittsburgh nine power-play opportunities, leading to the Penguins generating 37 shots over the final 40 minutes of regulation.
But the Panthers allowed just two goals, and Frank Vatrano complimented the play of rookie center Anton Lundell on the penalty kill.
"He did great for a kid that's that young," said Vatrano, one of Lundell's third-line wingers. "To have the defensive responsibilities that he has and the way he was penalty killing with (Aleksander Barkov), I think he fits in really well."
The Panthers' power play -- a dangerous unit with Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Sam Bennett, Sam Reinhart and Aaron Ekblad -- is 0-for-7 for the young season, while their penalty-killing holds a 76.9 percent success rate (10-for-13).
Goaltender Spencer Knight will make his first start for Florida this season in Tuesday's game.
Tampa Bay has played three games -- against Pittsburgh, the Detroit Red Wings and the Washington Capitals -- with a bit of everything sprinkled in: a bad loss, a ferocious rally with and overtime win, and a defensive gem that also turned victorious in extra time.
The Lightning would not mind the opportunity to be on the man advantage.
With a unit led by Victor Hedman operating at the point, Steven Stamkos blasting away from the left circle and Brayden Point finding open space, they ranked first on the power play in 2018-19, fifth the following year and ninth last season.
Nikita Kucherov (lower-body injury), who snipes from the right circle on the unit, did not practice Monday and reportedly will be reevaluated for what appeared to be a groin injury suffered in Washington.
"Definitely not a day-to-day thing," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.
The champs' power play grids 10th this season after connecting on 3-on-9 chances (33.3 percent), and Tampa Bay allowed just one tally during the 10 times on the penalty kill (90 percent), which ranks ninth.
While not leading at any point in regulation, the Lightning have won two of three contests on overtime tallies by Ondrej Palat in Detroit and Steven Stamkos in Washington.
"What's made us successful the last couple of years is the ability to play in these types of games," Stamkos said of the 2-1 win over the Capitals. "In close games, rely on our goaltending, rely on our special teams, rely on our solid five-on-five play."
The captain notched his 873rd point Saturday, inching him just one behind Vincent Lecavalier for second place in all-time Lightning scoring. Stamkos also was named the NHL's Third Star of the Week.
--Field Level Media