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Lightning Lose A Playoff Style Battle with Panthers

Home cooking appears to be lacking as the Lightning lose a playoff style battle with cross state rival Panthers tonight 5-3 at Amalie Arena. These games have a four point swing. In the remaining 12 regular season games, the Lightning have two games each with Carolina and Florida.  One of these three teams will win the Central Division. Whichever teams secures the most points in the head to head battles will likely be the #1 divisional seed. 

In this critical match tonight, ultimately the Lightning weren’t up to the challenge.  Right out of the gate, they looked like they shook off their recent mediocre defensive play. Newest Lightning defenseman David Savard playing in his 600th NHL game looked like the guy that played so well against Tampa in the past. The Governor’s Cup goes to the winner of the season series between these two franchises.  Tampa has won seven of these last nine Cups including the most recent three seasons,  Lightning and Panthers are now tied at three wins each with two remaining games. Which team will take the Governor’s Cup?

Let’s Get Ready To Rumble

The game definitely had a playoff feel from the start. The first few minutes of the opening period were all Lightning. They were executing their cycle and strong forecheck in the Florida zone. Rookie phenom Ross Colton drew a high sticking penalty for the first power play chance of the night about five minutes into the game. Alex Barre-Boulet on the first power play unit had a few good looks from Nikita Kucherov’s office but no there was luck with the extra man. After killing that penalty, the Panthers were finally able to carry the puck into the Lightning zone. 

Shortly after the Panthers killed that penalty, Brandon Montour took a slapshot that looked to be far wide of the net. As they say, that puck had eyes as it took an unfortunate bounce off Erik Cernak past Andrei Vasilevskiy to open the scoring.  Despite giving up the lead, the Lightning was taking the game to the visitors and dominating puck possession. Didn’t matter. A few minutes after the initial goal, Patric Hornqvist deflected an Aleksander Barkov shot past Vasilevskiy to give Florida a two goal lead.  Were the Lightning going to answer? 

About a minute after giving up the second goal, the Lightning put one past Sergei Bobrovsky to cut the Panthers lead in half. Brayden Point redirected the puck past Bobrovsky. Barre-Boulet earned his first NHL point after Mikhail Sergachev’s shot pinballed off him and onto the stick of Point. Okay, so maybe they have some life. Clearly, the momentum was leaning the Lightning’s way.  In the final minute of the period, Tyler Johnson allowed his check, Jonathan Huberdeau to easily beat him to a rebound with half an empty net. Those last minute goals can be back breakers.  Will Johnson’s defensive lapse prove this out? 

Would The MIddle Frame Be The Same

In their recent games, the second period has proven to be their undoing in Lightning losses. They’ve been outscored in the middle period like a gazillion to three over the last month.  If that trend continued, the two points for the win in this game would not be theirs. As the second period ensued, the Panthers were the dominant team. Keeping the Lightning back on their heels in their zone. Making it challenging to even get the puck to the center line, We have to give the boys in black (Saturday home game) some credit. Florida was handing them their backsides in this period but they didn’t break. 

Even after killing two hooking penalties committed by Johnson five minutes apart, the Lightning were staying in the game. Battling the whole period to stay in the game, the Lightning coughed the puck up in the Panthers zone and Frank Vatrano went in on a breakaway.  Vasilevskiy was beat by Vatrano on a quick backhand forehand move to give Florida a 4 – 1 lead. 

For a game that could very well be a playoff preview, one team showed up. Would the home team answer the call? Erik Cernak tried to give his team life support as he scored in the final minutes of the period to close the gap to 4 – 2.  Assisted by Victor Hedman and Blake Coleman. For Hedman, it was his 400th NHL assist.  In Lightning history, he is the fourth player to reach that particular milestone. Marty St. Louis, Vinnie LaCavalier, Steven Stamkos and now Hedman.  Tampa’s Mount Rushmore.

Epitome of A Playoff Style Battle

At the start of the third period, Florida has to avoid mistakes and Tampa has to get on the board. In the first two minutes, Hedman took a shot from the point, Matthieu Joseph redirected the puck past Bobrovsky to make the score 4 – 3 Florida.  Now, we got a game. Most of the time in the period remained after Joseph’s goal.  All the Lightning had to do was tie the game in regulation. They could then get the second point of the game in overtime as they did Thursday.  But Florida was having none of that. Their defense made it tough for the Lightning to get off an unchallenged shot.  The Panthers bent but didn’t break.  

With two minutes left in the period and the score still 4 – 3, Coach Jon Cooper pulled Vasilevsky hoping the extra man could tie the game.  While they maintained the puck in the Florida zone, the Lightning were unable to capitalize with the extra man.  With 50 seconds left in the game Anthony Duclair potted an empty netter for the final score of 5 – 3 for the Panthers win. 

On the historic night where Hedman notched his 400the and 401st career assist, it was a shame to take this loss.  On the night that Barre-Boulet scored his first NHL point and Savard played in his 600th NHL game, a win would have been better.

What’s Next 

It doesn’t get easier for the Lightning.  Carolina comes into town for a Monday-Tuesday back to back set at Amalie.  Both games start at 7:00 pm.

Three Stars 

  1. Aleksander Barkov – One assist.
  2. Brayden Point – One goal and won 75% of faceoffs he took.
  3. Victor Hedman – Two assists including his 400th NHL assist.


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