|4:30 PM PT5:30 PM MT6:30 PM CT7:30 PM ET23:30 GMT7:30 4:30 PM MST6:30 PM EST3:30 UAE (+1)19:30 ETNaN:� BRT, October 6, 2017
Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida Attendance: 19,092
Lightning, Panthers out to recapture playoff magic
Florida Panthers at Tampa Bay Lightning
- The Panthers finished up the 2016-17 campaign with a mark of 7-16-1 in their last 24 games, missing the postseason one year removed from winning the Atlantic Division in 2015-16. Florida is 5-0-1 in its last six season openers, including victories in each of the last two years.
- Despite going 8-1-1 in the last 10 games of 2016-17, Tampa Bay missed the postseason for the first time since 2012-13 last year. The Lightning have won their season opener each of the last three campaigns.
- These clubs split four games in 2016-17, each beating the other twice on home ice. Tampa Bay is 7-1-1 against Florida at Amalie Arena since the beginning of 2013-14.
- The Panthers lost they're leading goal-scorer from last season, Jonathan Marchessault, to the Vegas Golden Knights in last summer's expansion draft. Vincent Trochek was Florida's second-leading goal-scorer in 2016-17, lighting the lamp 23 times.
- Nikita Kucherov paced the Bolts with 40 goals in 2016-17, tied for second most of any skater in hockey. Kucherov has lit the lamp four times in his last six skates against the Panthers (had one goal in first eight career games against the Panthers).
- Steven Stamkos is ready to rock after missing the last 65 games of 2016-17 with a knee injury (torn meniscus). Stamkos (9g, 11a in 17 games last season) has 321 career markers -- third most in Lightning history.
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Both the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers missed the playoffs last season after making them the year before, and as they open the 2017-18 season Friday with a home-and-home series, there's excitement about getting back to the postseason.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper, whose team missed a wild card by a single point in the Eastern Conference standings, said the two nights he always looks forward to are the first night of the regular season and, hopefully, the first night of the playoffs.
"The excitement in the building, the excitement of the players, the atmosphere. They're the two nights I look forward to most," he said. "In both instances, everybody's equal. The light shines bright for everybody and that's the one night that can happen."
The Lightning, who went 42-30-10 last season, start their optimism with the healthy return of center Steven Stamkos, who was limited to 17 games last season. Andrei Vasilevskiy opens the season as a No. 1 goalie for the first time, taking over that role after Ben Bishop was traded away last season.
In Stamkos' absence, Nikita Kucherov led the team with 40 goals and 85 points, with defenseman Victor Hedman leading the team with 56 assists and continuing to establish himself as one of the league's top defenders. The team's No. 3 scorer, Jonathan Drouin, was traded away, but the rest of the scoring nucleus remains intact.
Tampa Bay added two veterans from winning programs, signing 38-year-old winger Chris Kunitz from the Pittsburgh Penguins and 33-year-old defenseman Dan Girardi from the New York Rangers.
Florida has had more change, with longtime leader Jaromir Jagr gone and former San Jose Sharks assistant Bob Boughner in his first season as head coach.
"I told the guys we have great character, we have great players. It's just a matter of taking it upon ourselves: Why not us?" Boughner said, inheriting a team that went 35-36-11 and finished 13 points behind the Lightning in the standings.
Florida still has experienced leaders like goalie Roberto Luongo, now 38, and young leaders like 21-year-old defenseman Aaron Ekblad, who is entering his fourth NHL season.
"I feel very confident that our team is on the same page, more so than we have been before," Ekblad said. "If we all buy in, we're not going to be good. We're going to be great."
Tampa Bay won the season series by a 2-1-1 margin last season, and the teams meet on back-to-back nights to open the campaign, first in Tampa on Friday and at the Panthers on Saturday. They meet a third time Oct. 30, then not again until March 6 in Tampa.
Two years ago, the Panthers and Lightning finished 1-2 in the Atlantic, with the Lightning making it all the way to the Eastern Conference finals. Both teams want 2017-18 to be more like that year instead of last season, and the pursuit of getting back to that starts Friday night at Amalie Arena.
Updated October 5, 2017