The Florida Panthers will face the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference First Round of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The best-of-7 series was decided when the Panthers (52-24-6) defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-2 on Tuesday to clinch the Atlantic Division by one point ahead of the Boston Bruins, who lost to the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday. Florida will have home-ice advantage.

The Lightning (44-29-8) are the first wild card from the East. They have one more regular-season game, against the Maple Leafs on Wednesday.

Florida and Tampa Bay have played twice in the playoffs. The Lightning won in six games in the first round in 2021, then swept the Panthers in four straight in the second round in 2022.

They played against each other three times during the regular season, with Florida winning the first two matchups. The Panthers won 3-2 on Dec. 27 and 9-2 on Feb. 17. The Lightning won 5-3 on March 16.

Who will win this series? That's the question before staff writer William Douglas and senior director of editorial Shawn P. Roarke in this playoff edition of State Your Case.

Roarke: Look, the Tampa Bay Lightning are what the Florida Panthers want to be. The Lightning have a championship pedigree and have owned the battle for bragging rights in the state as the Panthers never have won a playoff series against the Lightning. That all changes this season. The Panthers did not draw the Lightning until their last game of the season, passing the Bruins for the Atlantic Division crown. Don’t be surprised, though, if this isn’t the matchup they wanted all along, a chance to exact some revenge on their dominant neighbors. After the run to the Stanley Cup Final last season and an outstanding showing so far this season, Florida has the confidence to take on anyone. The Panthers also have the weapons, matching or bettering the Lightning at every position. Florida has the belief it can win, something it has not had in past series against Tampa Bay. It will make all the difference this time around.

Douglas: Shawn, perhaps Florida did want Tampa Bay all along -- a great state rivalry that’s sure to create lots of buzz and fill Amerant Bank Arena. As for extracting revenge, the Panthers accomplished a bit of that by winning the three-game regular-season series against the Lightning. But all of that is out the window in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, a territory that the three-time Cup champion Lightning know very well. I don’t think Tampa Bay was fazed by getting into the postseason as the first wild card in the East, knowing it’s not where you finish but how you finish. I think coach Jon Cooper has done a good job of pacing his veterans in the regular season for the postseason battle ahead. Sure, the Panthers may be able to match the Lightning position for position, but they still can’t match the playoff experience and know-how that Tampa Bay has.

Roarke: Enough of intangibles on each side of this argument. Let’s talk facts: the Panthers might be the most sound defensive team in the League. They allowed 200 goals, the second-fewest in the NHL behind the Winnipeg Jets (197). Their plus-68 goal differential is the best in the NHL. They put teams under pressure from the start of the game to the end, and when they are in high gear, watch out. Just ask the Maple Leafs, who couldn’t weather a second period Tuesday that saw the Panthers generate 29 shots on goal, more than nine teams average per game. They have three elite defensemen in Brandon Montour, Aaron Ekblad and Gustav Forsling, each of whom can skate with any of the Lightning’s crafty forwards. Matthew Tkachuk not only has 88 points (26 goals, 62 assists), but as he showed in the playoffs last season, he has a taste for the big moments and an ability to drag his team into the fight. Sam Reinhart scored 57 goals and gives Florida a game-breaking presence it has lacked. Veteran Aleksander Barkov is the best two-way center in the game now that Patrice Bergeron has retired. Oh, and then there is goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who made the 2023 postseason his own stage. He has carried over that strong play this season and should be a more than capable adversary for Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, whose playoff pedigree is unmatched. Finally, let’s not forget who is pulling all the strings here in coach Paul Maurice, who has 113 NHL playoff games under his belt, has reached the conference final four times and is completely in synch with this team. It is an unbeatable mix.

Douglas: You want facts? Here goes: The Lightning were fifth in goals per game during the regular season, averaging 3.48; only the Colorado Avalanche, Maple Leafs, Dallas Stars and Edmonton Oilers averaged more. Tampa Bay has the top power play in the NHL (28.7 percent), and the fifth-best penalty kill (83.1 percent), a spot ahead of the Panthers (82.5 percent). And then there’s Nikita Kucherov. The Art Ross Trophy contender as the League’s leader scorer leads the NHL with 142 points (43 goals, 99 assists) heading into the regular-season finale against the Maple Leafs on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET; MAX, truTV, TNT, SN, TVAS). But Tampa Bay isn’t a one-man band; Brayden Point has 89 points (45 goals, 44 assists) in 80 games, and the seemingly-ageless Steven Stamkos has 79 points (40 goals, 39 assists) in 78 games. Victor Hedman is formidable as ever on defense and has 76 points (13 goals, 63 assists) and is plus-18 in 78 games. Yes, Bobrovsky has been brilliant in goal this season, but for me, Vasilevskiy is the postseason gold standard. He’s 65-42 in 110 playoff games (105 starts) with a 2.37 goals-against average, .921 save percentage and seven shutouts. Maurice’s coaching record is impressive, but so is Jon Cooper’s. Currently the NHL’s longest-tenured coach, he’s 86-59 in 145 playoff games and has two Stanley Cup rings from 2020 and 2021. He’s a proven winner who’ll guide his team past the Panthers.