Good morning and welcome to "Cats & Coffee," a weekly segment, presented by Koffee Kult, in which we serve up an exciting look at what's on deck for your Florida Panthers. Like our friends at Koffee Kult, this forecast serves up only the best -- so sit back, sip and enjoy our latest brew of news, notes and information.
The Panthers are itching to get the playoffs started.
With the first-ever postseason meeting between the NHL's two Sunshine State squads on the horizon, the Panthers and Lightning will kick off this week with one final dress rehearsal when they close out the regular season with a head-to-head matchup on Monday at BB&T Center.
And if the penultimate game of the season was any indication, this meeting will be heated.
With tempers flaring and fists flying from the get-go, the Panthers got the last laugh in a 5-1 win over the Lightning on Saturday - an intense battle that set social media ablaze both during and long after the final buzzer sounded as the teams combined for a whopping 154 penalty minutes.
"I love it," Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky said when asked about the wild nature of the game afterwards. "That's the game. That's the game of hockey. That's the best of it. We had a good crowd behind us. It was a great atmosphere. We're going to see those guys a lot."
They certainly will.
Although the schedule for the playoffs has yet to be released, the long-awaited battle between the two intrastate rivals is shaping up to be one for the ages. And although that matchup is set in stone, there's actually still a lot riding on the final game of the regular season for both clubs.
With a record of 36-14-5, the Panthers currently hold a two-point cushion over the Lightning, who sit at 36-16-3, for second place in the Central Division. So, with Tampa Bay holding the tiebreaker by having more regulation wins this season, Florida needs to earn just one point on Monday in order to secure the coveted No. 2 seed and gain home-ice advantage in Round 1.
"We're just looking to win the next game," said Panthers forward Alex Wennberg, who recorded his second hat trick of the season during Saturday's victory. "Of course you can look at the standings, but the focus is to just play the game and do what we do. We'll see what happens."
Here's everything you need to know for the week ahead…
Monday: Tampa Bay Lightning, 7 p.m. ET
With a chance to secure home-ice advantage in Round 1 of the playoffs, the Panthers will look to pick up at least one point when they close out the regular season against the Lightning (36-16-3) at BB&T Center on Monday. Entering this week on a two-game losing streak, Tampa Bay followed up a 5-2 defeat on Friday at Dallas with a 5-1 loss at Florida on Saturday. Bitten by the injury bug, the Lightning are currently missing multiple key players, including Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman. As of right now, the availability of those three players is up in the air. That being said, Tampa Bay still boasts one of the league's most-potent attacks. Up front, Brayden Point ranks first on the team in scoring with 48 points (23 goals, 25 assists), while Ondrej Palat sits in second with 46 points (15 goals, 31 assists). In net, Andrei Vasilevskiy leads the league with 31 wins, but has gone 2-3-0 with a .904 save percentage against the Panthers this season. Speaking of the Cats, look for Aleksander Barkov to try and do some damage in this contest. Leading the team with 26 goals, he's lit the lamp eight times in his last nine games.
TV: Bally Sports Sun
Radio: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); 107.9 FM/1370 AM WZTA (Treasure Coast); SiriusXM Ch. 220 / Streaming Ch. 932
Sergei Bobrovsky is three wins away from his 300th NHL win.
Keith Yandle is one point away from his 600th NHL point.
Keith Yandle is three assists away from his 500th NHL assist.
Jonathan Huberdeau is two points away from his 500th NHL point.
GEAR UP FOR THE PLAYOFFS
Whether you're at the rink or cruising down Las Olas, there's no better time to rep the Cats.
Arriving just in time for the postseason, tons of great new gear is now available for purchase at FLATeamShop.com, including Panthers playoff-themed hoodies, t-shirts, polos and more. And if you're looking for a more classic look, a jersey - either regular or retro - is never a bad choice.
To peruse the virtual racks and start gearing up right now, visit the link in the tweet below.
BRACKETS AND BIKES
If you like to peddle and make predictions, this contest is for you.
For a chance to take home a Panthers-branded bicycle, click HERE to join the team's official Stanley Cup Playoffs Bracket Challenge group and make your picks right now. After the Cup has been hoisted, the highest-scoring eligible person in the group will take home the prize.
To check out these limited-edition bikes at FLA Team Shop, click HERE.
Henry Bowlby is heating up as the AHL season winds down.
Lighting the lamp during Syracuse's 4-2 win over Utica on Saturday, the 24-year-old forward has now recorded nine points (four goals, five assists) over his last eight games. In that span - which includes an active four-game point streak - he's also produced three multi-point games.
Overall, Bowlby has tallied 12 points (six goals, six assists) in 21 games this season.
An undrafted free agent, Bowlby made the leap to the pros when he inked a two-year, entry-level contract with the Panthers in August following three season at Harvard. A native of Edina, Minn., he registered 45 points (21 goals, 24 assists) over 84 career games with the Crimson.
Of all the Cats prospects on the Crunch, Bowlby has played in the most games this season.
CATS CLIP OF THE WEEK
Don't look now, but we've got Mason Marchment on the mic!
Hear what the Panthers forward had to say during a 5-3 win at Tampa Bay on April 17.
Video: Mason Marchment Mic'd Up 4/17/21
CATS IN THE COMMUNITY
Providing insights from across Alligator Alley, TampaBayLightning.com's Bryan Burns joined last week's episode of the Territory Talk podcast to discuss the battle for the Sunshine State.
COLD COFFEE (IN CASE YOU MISSED IT)
-- The hockey world has waited almost 30 years for this playoff series.
-- Check out "5 Takeaways" to re-live Saturday's 5-1 drubbing of the Lightning.
-- Aleksander Barkov has entered beast mode.
-- Doug Plagens is back to answer more of your burning questions.
-- Owen Tippett has started to hit his stride on Florida's second line.
-- Philippe Desrosiers was recently rewarded for his hard work this season.
-- The Panthers Podcast Network has arrived! Learn how to listen and subscribe now.
-- Make sure to sign up for the new "93 Society" newsletter.