Steven Stamkos is happy to say the Sunshine State rivalry finally is a real thing after the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers played in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season for the first time.
Stamkos, the Lightning captain, said on a new episode of the "NHL @TheRink" podcast that he expects the rivalry between the two Florida-based teams to continue to grow this season and for years to come.
"I think it's great for the state of hockey in Florida," Stamkos said. "We saw that last year. You really get a sense of building that hatred for a team by playing each other in the playoffs. You can talk the regular season up all you want. Until you face a team in the playoffs and you really get a feel for each other, that's when that stuff starts to build and that rivalry. Everyone always tried to build up the Sunshine State rivalry. There was never a rivalry there. We finally play them in the playoffs and it just exploded."
The Lightning defeated the Panthers in six games in the Stanley Cup First Round, the first obstacle they cleared in their path to winning the Stanley Cup for the second straight season.
The series featured 41 goals, comeback victories, an overtime and a series-clinching shutout by Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. It's regarded as arguably the best series of the 2021 postseason, TNT analyst Keith Jones said last week.
Video: Stamkos on Lightning's mindset for 2021-22
The Lightning and Panthers played three games in a row against each other last week and it was clear the intensity of the rivalry was there even for preseason games. They will face each other for the first time in the regular season at Amalie Arena in Tampa on Tuesday.
"I don't want to say we hate them and they hate us, but the competitive juices are flowing," Stamkos said. "We saw it in preseason. We saw how exciting and entertaining that series was last year. They're a contender and we know that. And obviously they know we are too. It's great for the game. You look at that roster, they're pretty stacked and they've added some really good players this offseason as well. They're going to be an obstacle for sure."
Around the 16-minute exclusive interview with Stamkos, the episode also featured co-hosts Shawn P. Roarke and Dan Rosen talking about opening night in the NHL, particularly the sustainability of the Pittsburgh Penguins after a 6-2 win against the Lightning and the optimism that the Seattle Kraken should feel after a 4-3 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights.
They debated the merits of the Montreal Canadiens signing 22-year-old center Nick Suzuki to an eight-year, $63 million contract extension and the New York Rangers signing 28-year-old center Mika Zibanejad to his own eight-year contract extension.
In addition, they discussed the ongoing NHL.com Trophy Tracker series, giving their predictions for who will win the Jack Adams Award plus the Calder, Vezina, Norris and Hart trophies.
The "NHL @TheRink" podcast is free and listeners can subscribe on all podcast platforms. It is also available on NHL.com/multimedia/podcasts and the NHL app.
Listen: New episode of NHL @The Rink