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Sunshine State Showdown rivalry heated before even getting on the ice

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by Erik Erlendsson |  @Erik_Erlendsson |  Like us on Facebook
October 19, 2021


TAMPA – The best NHL rivalries bring the blood to a boil before the puck ever drops on the ice.

Montreal-Boston. Battle of Alberta. Rangers-Islanders. Sunshine State Showdown.

The later might not pop up right away when discussing the top rivalries in the league, but it should.

After what might have been the most entertaining playoff series last year – and that Game 1 perhaps the best game – that features offense, physical play, plays that stick in the memory bank for players down the road, it was already building momentum. Add in the fireworks from the first preseason meeting and the build up to tonight’s first regular season meeting is not manufactured.

This rivalry is real as the two teams get set to face each other for the 18th time in ten months.

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“It’s exciting, we play them a ton,” Lightning center Brayden Point said. “Both teams are extremely competitive. Both, I think, are dynamic teams and they’re just good games. I think both teams can feed off each other and both teams have a lot of speed. I guess intensity does kind of ramp up when we play each other.”

Throughout most of the existence of both franchises, the two teams were forced into being geographic rivals as a manner to drum up interest between two hockey teams in the extreme South. Former Lightning general manager Jay Feaster even said one time that Panthers’ fans didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to get on a bus and come to Amalie Arena to take in a game – an obvious calculated statement to force some Florida fans to get on a bus and buy tickets.

But that sort of rhetoric is no longer required. Not after the two teams finished 2-3 in the revamped COVID Central Division last year. Not after some of the heated games at the end of the regular season last year, with playoff seeding and home ice up for grabs.

Certainly not after the two teams went back and forth in a highly entertaining six-game playoff series. And definitely not after the two teams met at Amway Center in early October, a game that featured 94 combined penalty minutes and five fights to go with a pair of misconduct calls.

“I think for both teams we’ve played each other so often, just eight games last year and the exhibition games and the playoffs, if you add it up, I don’t think there’s anything that either team does that is going to surprise you, or that any coach needs to do to motivate their players. This is one of those easy ones,  you know what to expect so go get them. And it’ll be hard fought. They’re extremely entertaining games. To me, they’re must-see TV. There are rivalries all over the league, but I’d be hard pressed to see one that’s as juicy as this one.”

It doesn’t take much to get up for these games nowadays, even when it’s the fourth game of the season for Tampa Bay and the third for the Panthers.

“It’s fun when you kind of build those rivalries,” Panthers defenseman Kevin Connauton said. “I think that this one is kind of getting some momentum. People are talking about it. I’m sure the guys in their room are as passionate about it, too. It’s fun. These are the games you want to play.”

With so many meetings in such a short period of time, one might think they get sick and tired of seeing each other on the opposite bench, sort of like when that relative comes over and by the time they say hello, you are ready to pack their bags and send them right back out the front door to send them back home.

But for Mikhail Sergachev, he’s always ready to put out the welcome mat, though not hand them over a key to show up whenever it’s convenient.

“They’re team changed a little bit, our team changed a little bit now, some new faces so it’s not that annoying,” he said. “And they’re a good team, they’re fun to play against. Those games are always fun.”

There’s just a little bit of a different adrenaline flow when the rival comes to town.

“It’s kind of like a rivalry,” Sergachev said. “It’s kind of grueling. And obviously when two good teams go at each other and not just trying to hit each other but play to play heavy, it’s it’s even more fun for the fans.”

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