The Tampa Bay Lightning showed their vast playoff experience in their intense Game 1 win against the Florida Panthers. I’m sure there were doubts that the Lightning were going to be ready to defend their Cup. As a result of this comeback 5-4 playoff road victory, those concerns should be eased.
From the opening puck drop, the Lightning played like the Panthers were trying to steal the Cup from them. They had a jump that we haven’t seen in awhile. Nikita Kucherov landed on the stat sheet in the first five minutes of the game. Kucherov and the Panthers Mackenzie Weegar were called for offsetting roughing penalties.
A bit over the seven minute mark, Alex Killorn slashed Jonathan Huberdeau. The Panthers appeared to score but the goal was waived off. The replay confirmed that Sam Bennett used his stick to move Andrei Vasilevskiy’s left skate pushing in the puck. On the ensuing face off, Blake Coleman scored a short handed goal beating Sergei Bobrovsky. In the blink of an eye, the Lightning went from down one to up one.
As the penalty kill unit was killing off the Killorn infraction, Ryan McDonagh boarded Anthony Duclair. This gave Florida a brief 5 on 3. While they didn’t take advantage of that, they did score a power play goal to tie the game. Captain Aleksander Barkov lit the lamp with the extra man.
For as long as Sunshine State hockey fans waited for this series, it didn’t disappoint. Above all, every check was finished on both sides. With just under four minutes left in the first, former Lightning, Carter Verhaege put Florida up 2-1. Sit back and enjoy, this insanely intense opening period tells us all that we got a series.
The second period started much slower than the first. Then the Panthers gave the Lightning a power play opportunity. Bennett held Coleman for the two minute penalty. The top power play unit with Kucherov and Steven Stamkos went to work. After Stamkos missed a shot from his office, Kucherov did not and the game was knotted at two.
Just as the Lightning began to build some offensive momentum, they put the Panthers on the power play. Having given up a power play goal already the penalty kill units hunkered down. Hard work was rewarded as the Panthers committed a penalty effectively ending their power play. After 15 seconds of 4 on 4, the Lightning had another power play chance. Unable to take advantage with the extra man, the game remained tied at two.
Just as the period was 13 minutes old, Florida’s Markus Nutivaara was called interfering Anthony Cirelli. In a helter skelter sequence, at the end of the power play Kucherov scored his second goal of the game. Lightning taking 3-2 lead as the middle period was coming to an end.
Determining Who Gets The Game 1 Win
The third period started with another 4 on 4 situation. At the end of the second, some Lightning player was giving a Panther the business. That same Panther responded with noogies and both guys went into the sin bin. Almost immediately when the game resumed at 5 on 5, Huberdeau scored on a breakaway to tie the game at three. This shifted the momentum just as fast. On the very next shift, Florida’s Owen Tippett broke the tie with his first career playoff goal.
That last Panther goal lit a fire under the Lightning. After another set of coincidental penalties led to yet another 4 on 4 situation, the game settled a bit. Until a charging call against Bennett gave the Lightning a power play chance. With exactly seven minutes remaining in regulation, Brayden Point scored the third power play goal for Tampa. Tied at four with seven minutes left. These are the moments that define champions. Who was going to step up? Ultimately, it was the usual suspects.
Kucherov tipped the puck to McDonagh who slid a gorgeous two line pass onto the tape of Point’s stick. Skating in all alone, Point did a nice little forehand backhand and potted the game winning goal with 1:14 left on the clock. After that, the Lightning shut down the Panthers even after Bobrovsky was lifted for the extra skater. Tampa held firm and earned this hard fought 5-4 comeback Game 1 win.
Game 2 between these two is Tuesday night with the puck drop at 8:0 pm. The Panthers are going to a bit ornery. The Lightning will be looking to steal the first two games in Sunrise. House money, baby! One thing for sure, this is going to be one hell of a series. Just like we knew it would.
Nikita Kucherov – He’s back with a vengeance. Two goals and two assists.
Brayden Point – Two goals including the game winner.
Victor Hedman – Two assists
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