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Bolts trample desperate Panthers, take commanding 3-1 series lead.

Wayne Masut | The Scrum Sports

After an embarrassing loss in Game 3, the Tampa Bay Lightning looked to get back on track and take a commanding series lead over a desperate Florida Panthers team.  While it looked like Florida would keep the game close, the Lightning had other plans, as they took command of the game and never gave it back. The Panthers’ late and desperate attempts to send a message were seen as an obstacle for Tampa late in the game, but the Lightning stood tall.

Horrible possession yet productive offense

Florida wasted no time putting pressure on the Lightning defense early on. Yanni Gourde and Jonathan Huberdeau each were called for roughing, which has been a common trend this series. Anthony Cirelli took advantage of a horrible change by Florida and buried the puck past Sergei Bobrovsky to give the Bolts an early lead. That goal, which happened during a 4-on-4, occurred on Tampa’s first shot of the game. Nearly midway through the period, the Bolts extended their lead. Gourde tipped in a shot from Nikita Kucherov that went past Bobrovsky for a 2-0 lead.

After the goal, Gourde was called for unsportsmanlike conduct, giving the Panthers their first power play of the game. Huberdeau took advantage of an open net opportunity and cut the Bolts lead to one on the power play. The Bolts had a hard time keeping the puck in their zone which allowed the Panthers to steal momentum. However, Tampa Bay regained the momentum late in the period. A shot from Erik Cernak went off Ondrej Palat’s stick and in the net for a 3-1 Lightning lead. Despite the lack of puck possession, the Bolts made sure every shot counted, scoring on three of their seven shots in the period.

Offense stays hot

Unlike the first period, Tampa Bay learned from their mistakes and put the pressure on Florida. The Bolts then looked to capitalize on an Anthony Duclair penalty. On the ensuing power play, Kucherov again delivered a perfect setup, this time it was Alex Killorn with a perfect tip-in that extended the lead to 4-1. Minutes later, Killorn scored yet again, causing the Panthers to make a goalie change to Chris Driedger down 5-1. The Bolts caught the Panthers’ defense sleeping, which caused Cirelli and Steven Stamkos to easily set up Killorn for the goal.

Whatever John Cooper said in that locker room during the first intermission worked, as it felt like night and day for the Lightning in the second period. After numerous power play opportunities, the Panthers finally scored on the man-advantage. With just over a minute to go, Carter Verhaeghe backhanded a puck past Andrei Vasilevskiy to cut the lead to 5-2. The Panthers received another power play entering the third period off a questionable interference call on Kucherov. While Kucherov did make contact with Driedger, he was pushed into the goaltender by MacKenzie Weegar, causing the accidental contact.

Florida gets creative, desperate, and the emotions fly

At the start of the third period, Tampa killed off the Kucherov penalty and soon after, would get another chance on the man-advantage. After setting up three goals, Kucherov scored a goal of his own on the power play. The Bolts extended their lead to 6-2 and looked to control the flow of the game to secure the landslide victory. Oddly enough, with about 11 minutes to play, the Panthers pulled their goalie while on the power play. It was a desperate attempt by Florida, but Vasy shut them down. During the power play, Florida took a slashing penalty, thus foiling their plan.

On the Bolts power play, Anthony Duclair chopped Kucherov and immediately went down in pain. The Lightning could not score on the power play, yet the desperation from Florida continued. Mikhail Sergachev took a hard hit from Patric Hornqvist that sent him hard into the boards, and he slowly walked off the ice with help. A scrum ensued after Gourde and Ryan Lomberg exchanged words. Lomberg tried to get Gourde to throw punches, but Gourde stood tall and the Bolts end up with a power play. However, Pat Maroon and Hornqvist were each issued a misconduct penalty. The Lightning went on to win the game 6-2, putting the Panthers on the brink of elimination. Neither Kucherov nor Sergachev returned to the game following their injuries.

Three stars of the game

1st Star: Nikita Kucherov – 1 goal and 3 assists

2nd Star: Andrei Vasilevskiy – Stopped 39 of 41 shots faced

3rd Star: Alex Killorn – 2 goals and 2 assists

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