Tuesday, September 25, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Fennelly: Can we get a stinking Lightning-Panthers rivalry here?

TAMPA — It sits by its lonesome in Amalie Arena, on an end table between a couch and a chair outside Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman's office: the Governor's Cup. The crystal vase was awarded exactly one time, to the winner of the 2013-14 season series between the Lightning and the downstate Florida Panthers.

How can we forget Lightning players skating around the ice with the Governor's Cup over their heads?

"I don't think we ever really got to that point," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said with a grin.

The Governor's Cup shouldn't be confused with the Nextel Cup or Florida Blue Cup, other short-lived contrivances aimed at propping up the arid intrastate rivalry between these hockey clubs.

It's inexcusable that Lightning-Panthers hasn't amounted to anything. We're not asking for Montreal-Quebec or Islanders-Rangers. Just a heart beat, if only in the name of geography.

Nothing. Nearly a quarter-century, 122 games, including 50 Lightning wins. Nothing.

They will try again when they meet Tuesday night at Amalie. The Lightning and Panthers, both off to a 2-0-0 start, are expected to fight for the Atlantic Division crown. Maybe it's time to dust off that Governor's Cup.

"I don't even think the governor knows what the Governor's Cup is," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "There is no rivalry. There's no history. It's amazing."

That could have changed last season, when a Lightning-Panthers playoff matchup seemed a distinct possibility. The Lightning held up their end, beating the Red Wings in the first round, but the Panthers fell to the Islanders. Florida's hockey teams have never met in the postseason.

"If we get a playoff series with them, it's going to ramp it up, definitely spike the interest," Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop said.

"When the playoffs come, that's when blood starts to boil," Lightning center Brian Boyle said. "That's when emotions run high. That's when crazy stuff happens. That's when rivalries are born."

Hockey fans in this state have been standing outside the delivery room for 24 years. The Lightning joined the NHL in 1992. The Panthers entered a year later. But there are remarkably few Lightning-Panthers memories.

"I can't really think of one game or moment that jumps out," said Craig Ramsay, who has coached for both teams.

"All these years and it's a blank," Lightning co-founder Phil Esposito said.

The big problem: Last season marked only the second time the Lightning and Panthers made the playoffs in the same season. The first time was 20 years ago, when both teams made their playoff debuts. The Lightning lost to Philadelphia. Commendable effort. The Panthers proceeded to go to the Stanley Cup final.

There have been years the Lightning was good and the Panthers were awful. There have been years the Panthers were good and the Lightning was awful. And then there have been years, a lot of years, when they both have been awful. It adds up to The Rivalry That Isn't.

General rule of thumb: If Phil Esposito can't create a rivalry, no one can. In his P.T. Barnum days, Esposito played a woman in goal and said he'd put a horse in there if it stopped pucks. But Lightning-Panthers was the nut he couldn't crack, even after he helped dub Florida "the stinking Panthers."

"The stinking Panthers, right off, first year. I was trying to get it going," Esposito said.

Take the first time the Lightning and Panthers met in the regular season. Oct. 9, 1993. The second-year Lightning had moved from the State Fairgrounds' Expo Hall to the ThunderDome (now named Tropicana Field). A record NHL crowd of 27,227 attended the game. The first-year Panthers' general manager was Hockey Hall of Famer Bobby Clarke.

"So I see Bobby in the hallway before the game doing a live TV thing," Esposito said. "I snuck up behind him and kissed him on the cheek, right on TV, smooched him, and said, 'Welcome, you pussycats, welcome!' Then they went out and shut us out. Their first win ever."

Not even that could stir up a rivalry.

"I stirred as hard as I could," Esposito said. "The thing was unstirrable."

Oh, there have been occasional skirmishes, pockets of excitement. Ask Jassen Cullimore, who in his career played for both the Lightning and the Panthers, including the 2004 Bolts Stanley Cup champions.

"Whenever we beat the Panthers, Jay Feaster would come in, his face would turn red, he'd scream and go crazy," Cullimore said.

Former Lightning GM Jay Feaster confirmed it.

"I did get into it," he said. "I was the same way when I was with the Flames against the Oilers. I always thought it would be good to have a rivalry."

"It just never turned into anything," Ramsay said. "We tried to build things up. Us against them. But it always just turned into another game."

But this season might be the one. Both teams have astounding young talent. Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman … Aaron Ekblad, Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov. There's Panthers ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr. There's Bishop looking down the ice and seeing veteran Roberto Luongo in net.

"We're both good at the same time," said Panthers coach Gerard Gallant, who also played for the Lightning. "And we might both be good for a long time."

"Would it be great for hockey in Florida? Of course it would," Cooper said. "It would be big. Playoffs. That's what it will take. Both places packed, Alligator Alley filled with Panthers and Lightning fans going back and forth."

Both teams chasing the Cup.

No, that other Cup.

Comments
Lightning journal: Vinik pushing for outdoor game

Lightning journal: Vinik pushing for outdoor game

As he sat back in his chair facing the stands in the middle of the two benches, Lightning owner Jeff Vinik could not help but remember the first time he sat there.A young Steven Stamkos sat next to him as he spoke in front of a crowd of about 30 peop...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Lightning journal: Roster trimmed to 28

Lightning journal: Roster trimmed to 28

TAMPA – After Sunday morning, the Lightning sat five cuts away from having a 23-man roster to start the regular season.It cut its training camp roster by 27, leaving 28 players on the roster with the start of the regular season less than two we...
Published: 09/23/18
Lightning forward prospect Boris Katchouk putting together strong preseason

Lightning forward prospect Boris Katchouk putting together strong preseason

TAMPA — As the end of training camp looms, there's no clear-cut answer as to how the Lightning will fill the one, maybe two open forward spots in its lineup.It could go with Adam Erne. Spending much of his time in AHL Syracuse the past three se...
Published: 09/22/18
Lightning journal: ‘No-risk’ forward pickup; another preseason win; Fan Fest on Sunday

Lightning journal: ‘No-risk’ forward pickup; another preseason win; Fan Fest on Sunday

TAMPA — It didn't take long for Lightning GM Julien BriseBois to decide he wanted to put a waiver claim in Friday.Not when he saw that F Danick Martel was available."He's a player we have had on our radar for a while, going back to actually his...
Published: 09/22/18
Lightning journal: Adam Erne looks to stick in Tampa

Lightning journal: Adam Erne looks to stick in Tampa

Forward Adam Erne flicks the puck into the net, but he has no time to celebrate.He flips around. Crunch, crunch, crunch. Snow flies off his skates. Erne then squares his body as he arrives in the defensive zone, steps away from the net.Within a secon...
Published: 09/21/18
Lightning falls to Hurricanes again in preseason

Lightning falls to Hurricanes again in preseason

The Lightning did not fare much better in its second preseason crack at the Hurricanes.In fact, it did worse.It lost 6-1 Wednesday in Raleigh, N.C.Carolina put a much more veteran team on the ice than it did Tuesday in winning Tampa Bay's preseason o...
Published: 09/19/18
Second-round pick Gabriel Fortier among Lightning’s early cuts

Second-round pick Gabriel Fortier among Lightning’s early cuts

One round of cuts down, several more to go.The Lightning cut seven players on Wednesday, five of whom were training camp invitees, the team announced. All seven players were assigned to juniors.Gabriel Fortier was the most notable cut. The Lightning'...
Published: 09/19/18
Lightning journal: Can Mathieu Joseph sneak his way onto the opening-day roster?

Lightning journal: Can Mathieu Joseph sneak his way onto the opening-day roster?

It remains to be seen if F Mathieu Joseph will make the Lightning's roster. If he doesn't, it certainly won't be because of a lack of opportunities.Joseph saw time on the Lightning power play and penalty kill on Tuesday at Amalie Arena when Tampa Bay...
Published: 09/19/18
Hockey News poll: Lightning favored to win Stanley Cup, other awards

Hockey News poll: Lightning favored to win Stanley Cup, other awards

Falling just short of winning a championship the past few seasons has done nothing to erode fans' confidence in the Lightning.Not just locally, but also nationally and across Canada.The Lightning is the runaway favorite to win the Stanley C...
Published: 09/19/18
Lightning journal: Alex Killorn’s just puttin’ on the Fitz

Lightning journal: Alex Killorn’s just puttin’ on the Fitz

TAMPA — How big is FitzMagic? It has hit the Lightning, too.Proving that Harvard guys stick together, Lightning forward Alex Killorn showed support for fellow Harvard grad Ryan Fitzpatrick by, sort of, dressing up the way Fitzpatrick did after ...
Published: 09/19/18