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Lightning will play Hurricanes in Stanley Cup Second Round

Tampa Bay eliminated Florida; Carolina defeated Nashville

by David Satriano @davidsatriano / Staff Writer

The Tampa Bay Lightning will play the Carolina Hurricanes in the Stanley Cup Second Round.

Tampa Bay, the No. 3 seed in the Discover Central Division, eliminated the No. 2 seed Florida Panthers in six games of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Game 1 of the best-of-7 series is at Carolina on Sunday (5 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVAS).

The Lightning are the defending Stanley Cup champions.

"Carolina is a really good team, they play fast they have a lot of skill," Lightning forward Tyler Johnson said. "They work extremely hard and every time we played against them it was a battle. This series is going to be a really tough one and we are going to have to be at our best."

Carolina, the No. 1 seed, eliminated Nashville, the No. 4 seed, with a 4-3 overtime win in Game 6 of that best-of-7 series on Thursday.

"You knew if we got through this series, whether it was Florida or Tampa [Bay] for me, it was going to be the next best team, I think, in the League," Carolina coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "… So we're getting the Stanley Cup champs. We know what we're up against. We're going to have to be as good as we can to have a chance against these guys, especially now when they've got their full group back. It's a great challenge for us. We'll give it all we've got."

Nikita Kucherov leads the Lightning and the playoffs with 11 points (three goals, eight assists), and Victor Hedman (eight assists) , Alex Killorn (four goals, four assists) and Steven Stamkos (three goals, five assists) have scored eight points each. Andrei Vasilevskiy has a 2.64 goals-against average and .929 save percentage.

Sebastian Aho leads the Hurricanes with seven points (five goals, two assists), and Jordan Staal (four goals, one assist) and Martin Necas (two goals, three assists) have scored five each. Alex Nedeljkovic is 4-2 with a 2.22 GAA and .922 save percentage.

The Lightning were 4-3-1 against the Hurricanes in the regular season. Killorn (two goals, three assists) and Hedman (one goal, four assists) led Tampa Bay with five points. Vasilevskiy was 3-3-1 with a 2.14 GAA, a .933 save percentage and one shutout in seven games. Backup Curtis McElhinney made 31 saves in a 3-1 win Feb. 25.

"The games that we've had with them have been pretty intense," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "Somewhat similar to what we experienced with Florida. There's a reason they were almost the Presidents' Trophy winners up until the end of the season because they have a [heck] of a hockey team.

"I think we're well-matched and it should be a really entertaining series. If there's one team in this league that I think from start to finish has played the same way (as us), it's them and it works for them. There's a reason they've been so good. They have an identity and they stick to it."

Necas led Carolina with eight points (three goals, five assists), Aho scored six points (two goals, four assists), and Dougie Hamilton had five assists against Tampa Bay. Nedeljkovic was 2-1-0 with a 1.02 GAA, a .962 save percentage and one shutout; James Reimer was 1-2-0 with a 2.71 GAA and an .892 save percentage; and Petr Mrazek was 1-0-1 with a 1.45 GAA, a .956 save percentage and one shutout.

"I think we've been through a lot, even though we're a young team," Aho said. "It definitely helps. This is the third straight year we're in the playoffs, and we try to learn every year and every game. It doesn't matter if it's a win or a loss, it's a process. I think we're on the right track. But for your question, they are the defending champs and there's a reason for that. They're a really good team, and we have to play our best if we can beat them."

Tampa Bay has never played Carolina in the playoffs.

The Lightning advanced to the second round for the fifth time in the past seven seasons. Tampa Bay has advanced to the conference final in four of the past six seasons.

Carolina was eliminated by the Boston Bruins in five games in the first round last season after being swept by the Bruins in the 2019 Eastern Conference Final.

"We know what Carolina's going to be, we know the personality, we know what style they play," Johnson said. "So I don't think that's going to be a surprise to us at all. We know it's going to be a battle, they're a team that likes to go up and down the ice very quickly. And they play really good man-on-man defense, so we have to be ready for that. Win our battles and go from there." independent correspondents Robby Stanley and Corey Long contributed to this report

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