Tonight the Tampa Bay Lightning welcomed in the Florida Panthers in their final game against one and another this season. Both teams had eight games remaining in the season (including tonight). The Panthers play only one playoff team in the final eight games while the Lightning play three.
Tampa Bay came out with great pressure early as the Namestnikov, Paquette and Brown line continued to provide a spark this team has needed, but it was Stamkos’ line that would help get the first goal of the night. With some extended pressure Stamkos would force Panthers defenseman Brian Campbell to send the puck out of play causing a delay of game penalty. Barely 30 seconds into the first power play of the game Tyler Johnson would rocket a wrist shot from the top circle past Roberto Luongo to take a 1-0 lead. Johnson has really stepped up his game recently and since the beginning of January Johnson has eight goals and twelve assists. With about 12 minutes gone in the first the Panthers had only managed one single shot on net against Vasilevskiy while the Bolts had eight on Luongo. At 6:24 the Panthers would get on the board as Vincent Trocheck would get one past Vasilevskiy tying the game 1-1. While Stamkos sat in the box for a high sticking call late in the opening period. The ageless one Jaromir Jagr would get a power play goal from the slot giving the Panthers a 2-1 lead. That would be the final goal of the period as shortly thereafter the period would come to a close.
Early on in the 2nd the Panthers would control the puck in the Lightning zone for the beginning of the period. While the Bolts would get a chance in the Panthers zone inability to control the puck would ultimately lead to the Panthers getting out of their defensive zone. Luongo is a big reason the score remained 2-1 with 5 minutes gone in the 2nd. The referees are not doing the Lightning any favors in the 2nd. Twice the Bolts were called for “Penalties”. I put them in quotations because god forbid the officials get something wrong…. (See what I did there?) First was an interference goal to Stamkos following a blatant holding call by a Panthers player that never got called. Then Brian Boyle would get a call for tripping that wasn’t a trip at all. Neither of those penalties resulted in goals, but they never should have been called. Late in the period Jiri Hudler would extend the Panthers lead 3-1 that would carry over into the 3rd period.
Over the course of this game no matter how good Luongo has been one of the biggest issues in this game has been the Lightning’s passing. As the game has gone on it has gotten worse and worse. Wide open passes that should have been tape to tape easy passes have not been sent properly or received properly. Not even five minutes in to the 3rd the Lightning would have an issue getting the puck out from in front of Vasilevskiy and it would cost them. Jonathan Huberdeau would get a puck in front of the Lightning net minder and get it passed him for a 4-1 lead. This Lightning team looks completely tired, but I don’t know if it was last night’s game against the New York Islanders or the season as a whole. The Lightning have collectively lost 162 games to injury. Unfortunately, the Bolts don’t look anywhere close to the team we saw make it to the Stanley Cup Finals. If they make it past the first round, I’ll honestly be surprised especially without Anton Stralman guarding the blue line. With seven minutes left Jon Cooper pulled Vasilevskiy giving the Panthers an empty net to shoot on. With just about three minutes left while on the power play and having a two man advantage due to Vasilevskiy being on the bench Steven Stamkos would net his 36th goal of the season. The score now 4-2, but possibly too little too late for the Lightning whose costly mistakes dropped them to second in the Atlantic Division.
3 Stars of the Game
3rd Star – Jiri Hudler: Scored the third goal of the game that essentially put the game out of reach for the Lightning.
2nd Star – Jaromir Jagr: Scored the game winning goal for his 25th of the season.
1st Star – Roberto Luongo: Pretty much made sure that no matter what the Lightning did they weren’t going to catch back up.
Toronto will head to Amalie Arena to face the Lightning as the regular season ticks away.
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