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A familiar script for the Lightning leads to a 2-0 series lead

Wayne Masut | The Scrum Sports

During the Tampa Bay Lightning’s march to the 2020 Stanley Cup championship, they figured out a script that finally worked for them. Over and over again in 2020, we saw them pounce on the opposition with an early lead. They often followed that up by playing smart defensively, shutting down the opposition late in the game, and receiving timely goaltending when needed.

During their wild 5-4 Game 1 victory over the Florida Panthers in this first round series, the Lightning got away from that script, but still came away victorious by a 5-4 score. Tampa Bay can be forgiven for getting away from that script in the first game, as emotions ran high between these two heated rivals playing each other in the postseason for the first time.

In Game 2, the Bolts returned to that script that made them champions last season, roaring out to a 2-0 first period lead before clamping down in the final period and emerging with a 3-1 win at the BB&T Center that gives them a 2-0 series lead against their in-state rivals. In Game 1, the Lightning’s stars and their power play made the difference, as Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point lit up the scoreboard that night. Tonight, it was Steven Stamkos, Ondrej Palat, and Yanni Gourde earning the goals while Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 32 of 33 shots for the victory.

On the other side, Florida started Chris Driedger in net after Sergei Bobrovsky allowed five goals on 40 shots in Game 1. Driedger was solid tonight, allowing two goals on 28 shots before Gourde ended the night with an empty net tally. The final tally of shots on goal ended up being 33-29 in favor of Florida, the Cats held a 67-50 advantage in shot attempts. Despite being on the short end of the shot share and allowing more scoring chances, the Lightning’s defensive structure held strong when needed, sticking to the championship script they’re looking to replicate in this year’s postseason.

Lightning strike first in fast-paced opening period

Much like the opening period of Game 1, the first 20 minutes of Game 2 turned out to be a fast, physical, frenetically-paced affair. Unlike Game 1, there weren’t nearly as many post-whistle shenanigans and no power plays for either team in that time frame. Yet much like the first game of the series, it was a highly-entertaining period featuring both teams using their speed to generate quality chances. In fact, the Lightning created the majority of their opportunities off of the rush, although they displayed a tendency to pass the puck a bit too much at times.

Stamkos put the Bolts up 1-0 at the 4:52 mark following some tremendous work by Alex Killorn. Killorn led a rush, cut to the slot, but saw his shot get blocked. As the puck trickled back to the point, David Savard dished it back to Killorn in the right circle. Killorn sent the puck to Stamkos in the left circle, who attempted a return pass back to Killorn. However, the puck bounced off former Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman and into the net for Stamkos’s first of the playoffs. Savard also earned his point in a Lightning uniform since joining the team at the trade deadline.

After failing to convert several chances off the rush, the Bolts extend their lead

Florida began turning up the pressure for a brief time, but Vasilevskiy was up to the task in keeping them off the scoreboard. Following that surge, the Lightning held the Panthers without a shot for over eight minutes while creating multiple odd-man rushes that came up empty. However, Palat finally added to the Lightning’s lead with 5:03 left in the period. Kucherov found Point streaking down the left wing, where he flew around MacKenzie Weegar and cut to the net before hitting the far post. Palat pounced on the rebound, firing it home to the far side for a 2-0 Lightning lead. They would enter the intermission with a 15-9 edge in shots and a 21-17 lead in shot attempts.

The Panthers got one back as the pace slows down, but the physicality remained

On the heels of a back-and-forth first period, this game took on a more tight-checking feel to it in the second period, as both shots on goal and scoring chances declined. Despite this, the intensity never waned as the physical play continued. Each team found themselves on the power play one time each during the middle stanza, but both teams came up empty despite creating a few good chances with the man-advantage. Florida outshot the Lightning 11-4 in the second, while holding a 44-36 edge in shot attempts in all situations through 40 minutes.

Florida finally got on the board with 5:39 left in the period, with Aleksander Barkov working the puck behind the net to Carter Verhaeghe. Verhaeghe found Mason Marchment with a perfect setup in the slot, as Marchment found an opening and buried it past Vasilevskiy to cut Tampa Bay’s lead to 2-1. The remainder of the period saw both teams ramp up the physicality, with the Panthers’ Radko Gudas laying out Blake Coleman with a huge hit at center ice.

Coleman did draw a rouging penalty on Weegar at the end of the period, giving the Bolts a power play going into the third period. Throughout the evening, Florida’s Ryan Lomberg played the role of pest, trying to get under the skin of the Lightning while also attempting to draw penalties. However, Lomberg found no success in that regard, as the Lightning’s Pat Maroon seemed to let him know what he thought about it just before the second intermission.

The Lightning fight through some tense moments in a tight third period

The Lightning’s power play to start the final 20 minutes ended thanks to Kucherov going to the box for tripping Anthony Duclair, a play that led to a post-whistle scrum and 4-on-4 hockey, which had been a common occurrence in Game 1. Following a brief Panthers power play, Duclair nearly tied it up, but his conversion of a cross-ice pass got denied by Vasilevskiy.

Just under eight minutes into the period, this play by Ryan McDonagh drew the ire of Panthers fans, but didn’t receive a penalty in the eyes of the officials. If you were to take a snapshot of the intensity and ferocity of this series, this is what it would look like.

Being that he threw a stiff arm that Derrick Henry would’ve been proud of, McDonagh probably should’ve gotten a penalty there, but play continued.

However, the Bolts’ penalty kill faced a huge test halfway through the period when Maroon took a tripping penalty. Despite this, the Lightning kept the Cats from having much extended offensive zone time, as Gourde eventually created a shorthanded chance towards the end of the power play.

Shutting the door and taking a 2-0 series lead

Over the second half of the third period, the Lightning’s defensive structure tightened up, but when they needed a few big saves from Vasilevskiy, they got them. On top of that, Tampa Bay came up with a few key shot blocks when needed. Florida pulled Driedger for an extra skater with just over two minutes to go, but Gourde slammed the door shut by scoring into an empty net with 1:25 to go to seal the victory for the Lightning. There were some more post-whistle scrums near the end of the game, but by this point, the Lightning were more than happy to walk away with the victory.

The series shifts to Tampa for Games 3 and 4, with the opening puck drop at Amalie Arena taking place this Thursday at 6:30 pm.

Our Three Stars of the Game

1st Star: Andrei Vasilevskiy – Stopped 32 of 33 shots

2nd Star: Ondrej Palat – Scored the game-winning goal and added an assist

3rd Star: Anthony Cirelli – Didn’t find the scoresheet, but created a few glorious scoring chances early on

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