(Photo via Tampa Bay Lightning)
By Jake Ricker
Almost any Lightning fan will tell you the regular season doesn't matter as much as some make it out to be. As long as you make the playoffs, anyone can win the Stanley Cup. Of course, Bolts fans have learned this first had over the last few years seeing their team struggle when they finished atop of the NHL standings and succeeded when they did not.
2019 1st in the NHL - Swept first round
2020 2nd in the Atlantic - Stanley Cup
2021 3rd in the Atlantic - Stanley Cup
However, it might be a little different this year as a home-ice advantage could make or break a series against one particular team.
The Florida Panthers gave the Lightning a run for their money in the first round of the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs but ultimately fell to the Lightning in six games. The Panthers are having another fantastic year and will almost certainly be back in the playoffs. Being in the same division as the Bolts, a first or second-round matchup is a very likely possibility depending on how things play out for the rest of the season, and you know the Panthers will be looking for revenge.
But why would home ice be so important for this matchup specifically? Especially when we have already seen the Bolts prove that home ice isn't all that important. Well, when looking at the NHL standings, one stat stands out the most, and that's the team's home and away records. Most teams around the league have a similar home and away record; for example, the Lighting are 16-4-4 at home and 14-6-2 on the road.
The Florida Panthers are not built this way. It's unclear what exactly is going on down there in Sunrise, but the Panthers hold a home record of 23-3-0. It's the most home wins by any team in the NHL, with the next closest team having 20 home wins. But it's not just the record that's impressive. The Panthers have scored an impressive 124 goals at home. The Avalanche, who have the second-best goal differential in the NHL, have only scored 100 goals on home ice. Not only do the Panthers score a lot at home, but they don't give up many goals either. With just 70 goals against, the Florida Panthers have a +45 goal differential at home. Almost every stat you look at, the Panthers are excellent at home.
However, things are not as good on the road for the Panthers. They have scored 70 for and have 69 against, for a goal differential of just 1. Their record is also significantly worse playing on the road at 9-7-5. Again almost every stat you look at is a major difference when compared to that same stat at home.
So why is finishing ahead of the Panthers in the Atlantic division so important? If the Lightning are the higher seed, they would get the extra home game if the series went the full seven games. While this situation may never happen, you want to try and get any advantage you can in the playoffs. Not to mention when playing as the higher seed, the first two games are played at home. This could give the Bolts a major confidence boost and a better chance at leading the series, heading into Sunrise for games three and four. This is not to say the Lightning can't beat the Panthers at home, but there is no question that they become a much tougher opponent when playing in front of their fans.
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