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Conflicting Heat, Panthers playoff schedules create South Florida sports conundrum

NHL schedules Lightning-Panthers series on almost entirely same days as NBA's Celtics-Heat Eastern Conference finals
Jimmy Butler of Miami Heat and Carter Verhaeghe of Florida Panthers, heroes of South Florida playoff teams
Posted at 10:01 AM, May 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-17 13:05:35-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — South Florida sports fans are facing quite a conundrum come Tuesday evening.

The NHL released its playoff schedule Sunday, which revealed that the second-round series between the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning will be played on almost identical dates as those of the NBA's Eastern Conference finals between the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat.

That means fans of the Heat and Panthers – both of whom are the top-seeded teams in their respective conferences – will have to choose between them during their playoff run.

When the Panthers defeated the Washington Capitals in the first round to win their first playoff series since 1996, most South Florida sports fans anticipated that Florida and Miami would play on alternating days, as they did during the previous series.

Florida Panthers center Carlos Verhaeghe celebrates game-winning goal at Washington Capitals, May 13, 2022
Florida Panthers center Carter Verhaeghe celebrates the winning goal during overtime of Game 6 in the first round of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs against the Washington Capitals, Friday, May 13, 2022, in Washington.

Instead, the NHL inexplicably scheduled the third and fourth games in Tampa on back-to-back days and allowed for two days off between the second and third games, when the series shifts from Sunrise to Tampa.

The NBA and NHL typically schedule the best-of-seven series to be played every other day.

Had the NHL slated the Lightning-Panthers series to start Wednesday, this all likely could have been avoided.

The NBA conference final schedules had already been set when the NHL announced the dates for its next round of playoff games.

Here is a look at the series schedule for the Heat and Panthers:

NBA Eastern Conference Finals

Boston at Miami | Tuesday | 8:30 p.m.

Boston at Miami | Thursday | 8:30 p.m.

Miami at Boston | Saturday | 8:30 p.m.

Miami at Boston | May 23 | 8:30 p.m.

Boston at Miami* | May 25 | 8:30 p.m.

Miami at Boston* | May 27 | 8:30 p.m.

Boston at Miami* | May 29 | 8:30 p.m.

NHL Second-Round Playoff Series

Tampa Bay at Florida | Tuesday | 7 p.m.

Tampa Bay at Florida | Thursday | 7 p.m.

Florida at Tampa Bay | Sunday | 1:30 p.m.

Florida at Tampa Bay | May 23 | 7 p.m.

Tampa Bay at Florida* | May 25 | TBD

Florida at Tampa Bay* | May 27 | TBD

Tampa Bay at Florida* | May 29 | TBD

* if necessary

Assuming both teams need all seven games, there will only be one game in which the Heat and Panthers play on different days.

Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler motions as he runs down court at Philadelphia 76ers, May 12, 2022
Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler gestures as he runs down the court during the second half of Game 6 of an NBA second-round playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Philadelphia.

The latest puck drop through the first four games of the Lightning-Panthers series is 7 p.m. on TNT, whereas tip-off time for the Heat games will be at 8:30 p.m. on either ABC or ESPN, so fans of both teams can at least watch a quarter of hockey action before changing the channel.

But having to choose between the two seems like an injustice to the South Florida sports community.