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Reintroducing Lightning’s Atlantic Division foes

While some teams look familiar, Tampa Bay hasn’t seen others in more than a year. Here’s what they did in the offseason.
Florida Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky stops Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov on a breakaway during Game 1 of last season's opening-round playoff series in May at BB&T Center in Sunrise. Tampa Bay and Florida move from the Central Division back to the Atlantic this season.
Florida Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky stops Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov on a breakaway during Game 1 of last season's opening-round playoff series in May at BB&T Center in Sunrise. Tampa Bay and Florida move from the Central Division back to the Atlantic this season. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Oct. 10

After a season in which they played only seven other teams in the regular season in a realigned Central Division and two of them in the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Lightning are back in the Atlantic this season with the usual suspects.

It’s time to get reacquainted with old foes and familiar faces.

Boston Bruins

Boston's "Perfection Line" of Brad Marchand, pictured, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak returns intact.
Boston's "Perfection Line" of Brad Marchand, pictured, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak returns intact. [ FRANK GUNN | The Canadian Press via AP ]

Last season: 33-16-7, third in the East

Last faced Lightning: Aug. 31, 2020 — Eastern Conference semifinal (Lightning won series 4-1)

The “Perfection Line” of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak remains one of the finest in the NHL and capable of taking over a game at any time.

The Bruins reinforced their bottom lines in the offseason wit the signings of Nick Foligno, Tomas Nosek and Erik Haula, and added depth to their defense with the addition of Derek Forbort.

They also signed goaltender Linus Ullmark in free agency to a four-year, $20 million deal. He will compete for the No. 1 spot with Jeremy Swayman while Tuukka Rask recovers from hip surgery. Rask is not expected back until at least January,

Second-line center David Krejci, a mainstay since 2007 who was second on the team in assists (35) last season, chose to return home to the Czech Republic for family reasons.

Buffalo Sabres

The Sabres removed Jack Eichel's captaincy during the offseason.
The Sabres removed Jack Eichel's captaincy during the offseason. [ DERIK HAMILTON | AP ]

Last season: 15-34-7, last in the East

Last faced Lightning: Dec. 31, 2019 (Lightning won 6-4)

The Sabres entered training camp still in a stalemate with star center Jack Eichel over treatment for the herniated neck disk he suffered in March. Eichel was stripped of his captaincy when camp opened after he failed his physical. He has requested a trade and will be placed on injured reserve to start the season.

Buffalo traded forward Sam Reinhart, who led the team with 40 points last season, to the Panthers and Rasmus Ristolainen, second among its defensemen with 18 points, to the Flyers.

Buffalo picked up a left-shot defenseman in Will Butcher and reacquired right-shot defenseman Mark Pysyk. They added depth to their offense with the addition of bottom-six forward Vinnie Hinostroza.

The Sabres will have a new goaltending tandem after Ullmark and Carter Hutton left in free agency. They brought in veterans Craig Anderson and Aaron Dell to compete with Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and former Lightning goalie Dustin Tokarski.

Detroit Red Wings

The Red Wings acquired former Hurricanes goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic, pictured stopping Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov on a breakaway during last season's second-round playoff series.
The Red Wings acquired former Hurricanes goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic, pictured stopping Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov on a breakaway during last season's second-round playoff series. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Last season: 19-27-10, tied for last in the Central

Last faced Lightning: May 2 (Lightning won 2-1)

The Red Wings are still in rebuild mode but added an important piece when it traded with the Hurricanes for goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic, whose 1.90 goals-against average and .932 save percentage led the league last season. Nedeljkovic, who played well against the Lightning in the second round of the playoffs, is expected to start this season.

The Red Wings added in free agency versatile Pius Suter, who had 14 goals and 27 points as a rookie last season with the Blackhawks and could slot somewhere among the top six.

Forward Michael Rasmussen , the No. 9 overall pick in the 2017 draft, could move into a bigger role after impressing the coaching staff while averaging nearly 17 minutes of ice time over the final 20 games last season.

Former Tampa Bay forward Adam Erne averaged a career-best 13:55 of ice time last season.

Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers goaltender Spencer Knight (30) started two games against the Lightning in the opening-round playoff series, winning one of them.
Florida Panthers goaltender Spencer Knight (30) started two games against the Lightning in the opening-round playoff series, winning one of them. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Last season: 37-14-5, second in the Central

Last faced Lightning: May 26 — first round of the playoffs (Lightning won series 4-2)

The Panthers lost goaltender Chris Driedger to the Kraken in the expansion draft but return starter Sergei Bobrovsky and Spencer Knight, who started two games against the Lightning in the opening round of the playoffs last season, winning one.

Former Tampa Bay forward Carter Verhaeghe made a splash last year with 36 points (18 goals) in 43 games and could put up even bigger numbers this season skating on the top line with Aleksander Barkov and Sam Reinhart, Florida’s biggest offseason acquisition.

The Panthers have one of the deepest collections of forwards in the league and added a veteran presence in free agency in Joe Thornton. Thornton, 42, enters his 24th season ranked seventh on the NHL’s career assists list (1,104) and 14th in points (1,529). He had five goals and 15 assists in 44 games with the Maple Leafs last season.

Montreal Canadiens

The path back to the Stanley Cup final will be even more difficult for the Canadiens after losing captain Shea Weber, pictured here fighting Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev during a game in March.
The path back to the Stanley Cup final will be even more difficult for the Canadiens after losing captain Shea Weber, pictured here fighting Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev during a game in March. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Last season: 24-21-11, fourth in the North

Last faced Lightning: July 7, Stanley Cup final (Lightning won series 4-1)

An already difficult climb back to the Stanley Cup final got steeper with the loss of defenseman Shea Weber. Montreal’s captain will miss the season due to knee, foot and ankle injuries that could jeopardize his career.

The Canadiens were active in free agency, signing durable forward Mike Hoffman, whose lethal wrist shot has allowed him to score 20 or more goals six of the past seven seasons (his 65 power-play goals over the past five seasons are fifth most in the league), and Mathieu Perreault, who adds experience and defense to the forward lines.

Former Lightning pest Cedric Paquette, who played with the Senators and Hurricanes last season, will be a gritty fourth liner who is good in the faceoff circle.

Montreal added a veteran shutdown defenseman in David Savard — who was a valuable asset for the Lightning last season after being acquired ahead of the trade deadline — and Chris Wideman, a former NHL player who was the top defenseman in the KHL last season.

Ottawa Senators

The Ottawa Senators are looking for more consistency from goaltender Matt Murray in the second season of his four-year deal.
The Ottawa Senators are looking for more consistency from goaltender Matt Murray in the second season of his four-year deal. [ ADRIAN WYLD | AP ]

Last season: 23-28-5, seventh in the North

Last faced Lightning: Jan. 4, 2020 (Lightning won 5-3)

The Senators need two-time Stanley Cup champion Matt Murray to establish himself as their No. 1 goaltender. The Cup winner with Pittsburgh, traded to Ottawa before last season after an up-and-down tenure with the Penguins, was injured or inconsistent for much of last season. Though he was 3-1-0 in his final four games.

The Senators should be improved on defense following the offseason acquisitions of Michael Del Zotto (free agency) and Nick Holden (trade).

Ottawa locked up an important part of its future by signing first-line wing Drake Batherson to a six-year contract. Batherson, who was fourth on the team in points (34) last season, can play at both ends of the ice and contribute on the power play.

The Senators are thin at center, but second-liner Shane Pinto, a second-round draft pick in 2019, could be a player to watch.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner, left, laughs with coach Sheldon Keefe during training camp.
Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner, left, laughs with coach Sheldon Keefe during training camp. [ NATHAN DENETTE | Associated Press ]

Last season: 35-14-7, first in the North

Last faced Lightning: March 10, 2020 (Lightning lost 2-1)The Maple Leafs continue to like their core. A high-scoring group led by Mitch Marner (team highs of 47 assists and 67 points last year) and Auston Matthews (team-leading 41 goals, 66 points) helped produce one of the highest team point totals in the league last season (77).

After losing goaltender Frederik Andersen to Carolina in free agency, Toronto added Petr Mrazek in free agency to join Jack Campbell, who played well last season after Andersen was injured.

The Leafs also picked up in free agency forwards Michael Bunting — who could end up in the top six — and Nick Ritchie, who will be a valuable physical presence if he can stay out of the penalty box.

Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. Follow @faiello_mari.

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