The Tampa Bay Lightning edged out the Florida Panthers in a back and forth, playoff like affair on Sunday. This game was hard hitting, fast paced, and filled with offense. However, the star of the game was goaltender Curtis McElhinney who made numerous grade-A saves to keep Florida off the board at key times. Tampa Bay will move 4 points ahead of Florida and remain in sole possession of first place in the division.
The pace set early in the first was quite incredible. Both teams rushed up and down and had chances on every possession. At 3:28 of the first former Bolt Carter Verhaeghe would open the scoring. Ondrej Palat coughed up the puck at the blueline and Verhaeghe outwaited McElhinney and was able to tap it in. Despite being down early the Bolts would respond. 32 seconds after the Florida goal Yanni Gourde would put Tampa on the board. Gourde who came late on the play, was able to pick up a rebound from Barclay Goodrow and put it past Bobrovsky. Despite being the only two goals in the period, the quick pace would not stop. Although the Lightning were able to generate tons of offensive opportunities, they also gave up a bunch to.
Back and Forth
Although the rest of the game wasn’t quite as frantic as the first, it was still exciting as the teams would trade goals for the rest of the contest. After gaining some momentum on a eventful but scoreless powerplay, Tampa Bay would strike first in the second. Cernak using his body to protect the puck would swing around the net and throw the puck in front. It would eventually find its way to Alex Killorn who fired it into the back of the net. For Killorn he remains red hot scoring his 6th goal and 12th point in his last 11 games.
Tampa Bay would hold their lead for all of 7 minutes before surrendering the first of Florida’s powerplay goals in the contest. Screened in front McElhinney could not see a point blast from Gustav Forsling. These two goals would be the only tallies of the second which ending was little different from the first. Overall, the period was evenly played like much of the game. Both teams were able to control segments and get looks at the net. The only difference was that Florida edged Tampa Bay in their number shots on goal. They outshot the Lightning 12-6 in the second.
Edged out Physical Third.
Mathieu Joseph would open the third period scoring on a great play from Ross Colton. Colton was able to get a shot off on a rebound and Joseph followed up and tucked it in. Once again the lead would not last long as Goodrow in an effort to win the following center ice faceoff took a high-sticking minor. Similar to the first powerplay goal the shot came from the point. This time Patrick Hornqvist was able to deflect it past McElhinney to tie to the game. Tampa Bay would respond with a PPG of their own as Gourde was able to find Tyler Johnson off the rush for an easy tap-in. This would give the Lightning the lead for good. Brayden Point would add his 13th into an empty net to seal the deal and edged out the upstart Panthers.
The Third period was by far the most physical of the three. The bitterness that has been developing through the course of the season started to show. Although there was no fights, numerous scraps developed, including Palat and later rookie Ross Colton. There was a combined 8 penalties in the third period alone. 5 of them were roughing calls. This combined with the pace, speed and skill of both teams solidified the playoff like intensity of this matchup. The Lightning and Panthers have never meet in the Playoffs despite being in the same division for over 20 years. This rivalry will continue to grow throughout the season and could explode if these two clubs meet in the postseason. It is something Florida hockey fans have been waiting for.
The Lightning will travel to Dallas to play two games against the Stars who have made strides towards reentering the playoff conversation. Following Tuesday’s and Thursday’s matchups with the Stars, the team will head to Carolina for one before returning home to play Columbus on the 30th.
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