Panthers advance by eliminating Florida rival Lightning

It’s official. The Florida Panthers are the NHL’s new Sunshine State champion.

The Panthers eliminated their in-state rival Tampa Bay Lightning from the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 6-1 win on Monday night at the Amerant Bank Arena in Sunrise, Florida.

Florida wins the Eastern Conference first-round playoff series 4-1.

The Panthers, who lost in the Stanley Cup Final to the Vegas Golden Knights last season, advance to play the winner of the series between the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs. The Bruins lead 3-1 with Game 5 Tuesday night.

The Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2020 and 2021 and reached the Cup Final in 2022. They were eliminated in the first round in 2022-23.

Only eight players remain from Tampa Bay’s 2021 Cup-winning squad.

One of them is captain Steven Stamkos, who may have played his last game as a member of the Lightning on Monday. His contract ends this season. Stamkos – the greatest player in the franchise’s history – wants to return and Tampa Bay wants him back. But can they make the money work?

Stamkos, 34, had five goals and an assist in the series.

Aleksander Barkov and Carter Verhaeghe had two goals and an assist each. Evan Rodrigues and Niko Mikkola also scored for Florida.

Defenseman Victor Hedman supplied the Lightning goal.

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