Game 1 results see Panthers, Heat on separate paths: One chasing title, one facing sweep | Opinion

South Florida had two teams begin their postseason runs Sunday afternoon.

One is playing for a championship.

The other is playing to not be swept.

Narratives for the Florida Panthers and Miami Heat did not change but rather were forcefully underlined in Game 1s of their respective NHL and NBA first-round playoff series.

The Panthers never trailed in a 3-2 home victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning that foretold a competitive series but one that finds the Cats the clear favorite.

The Heat never led and seldom got close in a 114-94 loss at the Boston Celtics to open a series that saw Miami a huge underdog even before the injury-absence of top star Jimmy Butler.

The hockey series could get good and last long.

The basketball series could get ugly and be quick.

The Panthers’ Game 2 is Tuesday night back in the Sunrise rink. The Heat’s Game 2 is Wednesday night back in Boston.

The home horn blasted six minutes in for the Cats on Sam Reinhart’s slap shot that Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy partially blocked but could not contain. No surprise: Reinhart’s 57 goals were second most in the NHL this season.

Florida dominated dearly and led in shots 9-0 before Tampa got its first and soon after equaled at 1-1 late in the first period on Brandon Hagel’s shot on a deflection off Sergei Bobrovsky’s stick. The tie score carried into the third period.

Panthers led 2-1 in the first minute of the third on Carter Verhaeghe’s backdoor power play tip-in off an Aleksander Barkov pass pretty enough to hang in The Louvre.

“I didn’t even see the pass,” said Verhaeghe. “It just hit my stick. That’s how well Barky can pass the puck!”

That was enormous partly because Florida had been on a dismal 4-for-53 conversion rate slump on power-play chances, and Tampa led the league in stopping those type of goals.

Tampa down one pulled its goalie with 3:08 to play -- a bit early -- and was punished 63 seconds later on Matthew Tkachuk’s open netter to make it 3-1. Tampa made it seem close for a 3-2 final on a power-play score with 9.3 seconds left.

On the basketball side of town Sunday, the Heat didn’t need much more than 9.3 seconds to find itself in trouble.

Boston’s domination was immediate as the game began with a 14-0 Celtics run before Miami finally scored. The Heat fought to get close but trailed 60-45 at the half, unable to generate much offense beyond Bam Adebayo’s 14 points.

The Celtics were burying Miami from 3-point range, with 12 of 30 long-range buckets in the first half to the Heat’s measly three of 14.

The final score flattered the Heat as Boston palpably let up in the fourth quarter.

“They don’t give up. They don’t lay down,” said Celtics star Jayson Tatum of the Heat. “Playoff games, you can’t relax. We was up [34] points or whatever, human nature can play a factor. But, playoff basketball; you can’t relax until there’s zero on the clock.”

Tatum finished with a 23-10-10 triple double to lead six Celtics in double figures. Boston finished 22-for-49 on 3’s to tie a franchise playoff record for most made. Miami finished with 12 thanks to five late ones in garbage time by Delon Wright.

The Heat had beaten Boston in three of the past four playoff meetings since 2012, including last season, all in the Eastern Conference finals, with Miami one basket from making it four of four. But now the Celtics entered on the wing of the best regular season in the NBA, and Miami without two injured starters in Butler and Terry Rozier. It made Boston a huge 14 1/2-point underdog Sunday.

“I mean, it’s the underdog story, right? David vs. Goliath,” said Heat forward Kevin Love. “That’s why you’ve got to roll the ball out and play. Obviously, beating a team like Boston is an incredibly uphill battle. They’ve played like the best team in the league all year. But you understand that anything can happen in this game.”

Unquestionably, all of the pressure is on the Celtics this series -- especially with Miami minus its biggest star.

“I think, honestly, we can just play free,” as Heat guard Tyler Herro put it. “Having Jimmy out and then being on the road, all the odds are against us, no one expects us to win. But I think things can change if we do get one in Boston. So, we’re going to bring everything we can to try to get one.”

Miami playing “free” didn’t amount to much in Game 1.

Florida, also playing its biggest rival, fared better.

Tampa Bay eliminated Florida in both of their prior playoff series, in 2021 and ‘22, both also in the first round and the last by a sweep. But the Panthers entered this series after a better regular season during which the Cats won two of three meetings with their state rivals. Now, Florida is among Stanley Cup frontrunners and a clear favorite in this first round series.

“We have history between these two teams,” said Barkov. “Last two times, it didn’t work out well for us but we want to change it now.”

Said Panthers coach Paul Maurice of the rivalry renewal: “Neither team’s going to quit. It’s not going to be the score. It’s going to be pride, the fight. It’s going to be an awesome series and you know it. There’s no quit in either room. If we’re all lucky, we can get it to seven games and overtime because that would be all the juice you can handle in one series.”

The max seven games in this hockey series seems realistic.

For the Heat, unless an instant healing of Jimmy Butler’s knee or some other miracle occurs, it does not.