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Wednesday July 28th, 2021 3:06AM

Intensity from the outset in Sunshine State playoff series

By The Associated Press
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The first-ever playoff game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers could be tough to top.

Or perhaps it's just a taste of what's to come in their opening-round Sunshine State series. The defending champion Lightning take a 1-0 lead into Game 2 Tuesday night (8 p.m. EDT, CNBC) in Sunrise, Florida.

The intrastate foes — they've never really been rivals — have met 142 times in the regular season, including eight games this season. But they'd never faced off in the playoffs until Sunday, when the Lightning won a physical, dramatic thriller, 5-4.

“Very intense game," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. “There was a lot going on out there.”

Also trying to rally from 1-0 deficits at home Tuesday will be the Pittsburgh Penguins against the New York Islanders, and the Vegas Golden Knights against the Minnesota Wild.

The Lightning-Panthers game was only the fourth in NHL playoff history to have four lead changes. Is there more of the same to come?

“It was certainly exciting to be a part of," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “I don’t think both teams want to play 5-4 hockey the whole playoffs.”

Adding to the intensity was a raucous crowd of 9,646, with the Panthers doubling their capacity for the playoffs.

Lightning star Nikita Kucherov scored two power-play goals after missing the entire regular season because of a hip injury. Also returning from injuries for Tampa Bay were Stamkos, Ryan McDonagh and Victor Hedman, who had three assists.

But then, coming back in the postseason is what the defending champs do. In Game 1, they rallied from deficits of 2-1 and 4-3.

“We talked about composure," Stamkos said. "That was the theme of last year’s run. The game is never over. So many things can happen, you just stick with it. We’re comfortable playing in these types of games.”

The Lightning's offensive outburst included three power-play goals and one short-handed. Quenneville must now decide whether to stick with goalie Sergei Bobrovsky or switch to Chris Driedger, who had a 2.07 goals-against average in 23 regular-season games.

The Panthers will be without forward Sam Bennett, suspended for one game for boarding Lightning forward Blake Coleman during Game 1.

WILD vs. GOLDEN KNIGHTS, Minnesota leads series 1-0 (10 p.m. EDT, NBC Sports Network)

In Las Vegas, Golden Knights coach Peter DeBoer is searching for offense. His team was without injured leading scorer Max Pacioretty for a seventh consecutive game Sunday, and Vegas lost 1-0 in overtime despite a 42-30 advantage in shots on goal.

Playing for the first time since April 24, Tomas Nosek was inserted into the Golden Knights’ top line, but replaced in the second period.

“In his defense, he hasn’t played in a month and hasn’t skated a lot,” DeBoer said. “I thought he gave us a good period and change of some energy. I thought as we got into the second period, that line needed a little more juice."

The Golden Knights will be desperate for a win before the series moves to Minnesota, where their record is 0-6-2.

“We’ve got to find ways to score,” Vegas captain Mark Stone said. “It’s not just finding those dirty areas. You’ve got to find loose pucks. We’ve got to make plays. You can’t just rely on taking 40, 45 shots.”

ISLANDERS vs. PENGUINS, New York leads series 1-0 (7:30 p.m. EDT, NBC Sports Network)

The Penguins could receive reinforcements as they try to even their series with the Islanders. Center Evgeni Malkin, who sat out New York’s 4-3 overtime win in the opener with an undisclosed injury, skated on Monday and will be a game-time decision.

Pittsburgh’s biggest issue in Game 1 wasn’t lack of firepower because of Malkin’s absence, but goaltending.

Tristan Jarry struggled in the second postseason start of his career, allowing a pair of wrist shots to the glove side from outside the faceoff dots.

The Penguins declined to blame Jarry.

“I think Tristan is in a good spot from a mindset standpoint, and we’re confident that he will respond and be at his best in Game 2,” coach Mike Sullivan said.

Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov skated with the team Monday after being scratched for Game 1. Rookie Ilya Sorokin played exceptionally well over the final two-plus periods to help New York steal home-ice advantage.

The Penguins have lost 10 of their past 11 postseason games going back to the second round against Washington in 2018.

___

AP Sports Writer Will Graves in Pittsburgh and AP freelancer W.G. Ramirez in Las Vegas contributed to this report.

___

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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