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Point’s two goals not enough as Bolts’ winning streak halted in Sunrise

Despite each playing fewer games than some of the other teams in the realigned Central Division, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers began a three-game set at the BB&T Center in Sunrise in first and second place, respectively, in the division. Wednesday’s contest marked the first of eight meetings between the long-time in-state rivals.

Based on the results of this game, the Lightning might finally have some stiff competition from their neighbors in Sunrise.

The Lightning (9-2-1, 19 points) are known for their ability to overwhelm teams with their speed and skill, but on this night, it was the Panthers (8-1-2, 18 points) who came out flying, swarming the Bolts with a dominant forecheck, forcing turnovers and controlling the action in a 5-2 victory, snapping Tampa Bay’s six-game winning streak. Despite the shot total being 29-21 in favor of Florida, the difference was more pronounced at 5-on-5. The Cats held a 24-13 edge in shots while at five skaters per side, in addition to holding a 28-9 lead in 5-on-5 scoring chances and 8-1 in high danger chances while at 5-on-5.

Five different Panthers tallied goals in the victory, while Brayden Point scored both Lightning goals, extending his point streak to seven games (four goals and seven assists in that stretch). In net Sergei Bobrovsky was rarely tested in picking up the win for the Cats, while Andrei Vasilevskiy took the loss for the Bolts, and it could have been worse if not for a handful of solid saves he had to come up with.

Panthers rewarded for a relentless opening period

For the first 18 minutes of this game’s first period, the Panthers appeared to be on a mission to dominate. They were faster, more relentless, more physical, and won more puck battles. The 7-5 edge in shots on goal was not indicative of how Florida controlled the action. The Cats kept the Bolts pinned in their own end with that relentless forecheck on several shifts. As a result, that work finally paid off at the 8:56 mark. Frank Vatrano, Owen Tippett, and Eetu Luostarinen capped off an excellent shift resulting in a 1-0 lead for Florida as Vatrano camped out at the top of the crease, squeezing a shot between Vasilevskiy’s legs for his second of the year.

Tampa Bay’s best chance came off a turnover in the Panthers’ end, resulting in Barclay Goodrow getting an open look at Bobrovsky from the slot. However, Bobrovsky came up with a big save to keep the Lightning off the board.

Over the final two minutes, the Bolts began picking up the pace with a couple of solid chances from point shots by Ryan McDonagh and Erik Cernak. Unfortunately for the Lightning, the result wasn’t quite what they were looking for. McDonagh’s shot just missed the net and Cernak’s got denied by Bobrovsky.

The Bolts manage to stay in it despite falling behind by two

The middle 20 minutes of this contest turned out to be much of the same, as Florida continued turning up the pressure while also creating chances off the rush. Former Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman even got into the act, only for Vasilevskiy to make a sensational stop.

Vasilevskiy got just enough of the puck to deflect it up into the air and on top of the net. Soon after, Vatrano jumped off the bench to start his shift, collecting a pass behind the Lightning defense. Vasilevskiy stonewalled him, preventing Florida from extending their lead.

At the 8:31 mark, the Panthers extended their lead to 2-0 when the Lightning got caught in the Panthers’ zone, allowing a 2-on-1 the other way. With Cal Foote the only Bolts player back to defend, Jonathan Huberdeau fed Alexander Wennberg with a beautiful pass, and Wennberg connected for his third of the season.

Just a short time later, the Panthers took the first penalty of the night, getting whistled for too many men on the ice. At the 10:55 mark, Point finally put the Lightning on the board, converting a give-and-go with Ondrej Palat when he slipped between two defenders and beat Bobrovsky from the slot for his fifth of the season and first power play goal of the campaign.

The Panthers keep up the onslaught and extend their lead

Only 1:59 after Point’s goal, Florida regained the two-goal advantage with a power play tally of their own. With Mikhail Sergachev in the penalty box for interference, Aaron Ekblad ripped a rocket of a one-timer past Vasilevskiy for his fourth goal of the season.

Just 2:01 after Ekblad’s goal, former Lightning forward Carter Verhaeghe continued his stellar start to this shortened season when his pass bounced off the skate of Cernak and into the net for a 4-1 Florida lead. After a string of penalties against both teams over the final five minutes, the Lightning ended the second period with 55 seconds of carryover power play time.

Point wouldn’t let the Lightning go down easy, but it wasn’t enough on this night in Sunrise

In the dying seconds of the aforementioned power play chance, Victor Hedman hit Point with a stretch pass and as he cut towards the net, he unleashed a shot from a razor-sharp angle and roofed it past Bobrovsky for his second power play goal of the night just 54 seconds into the period. This goal occurred with just one second remaining on the man-advantage.

The goal breathed life into the Lightning. However, for a short time it appeared as though they’d lose that momentum when Yanni Gourde took a holding penalty. In spite of that brief setback, the Lightning’s penalty killers put forth an inspiring effort, spending much more time in the Panthers’ zone. Tampa Bay built off this momentum boost, creating more scoring chances and appearing much more engaged, trading opportunities with Florida.

Unfortunately for the Bolts, it was too little, too late, and even though they knocked on the door, they couldn’t narrow the deficit, as Brett Connolly capped it off with an empty-net goal with exactly one minute left.

These two teams return to action in Sunrise on Saturday night with a 7 pm puck drop.

Our Three Stars of the Game

1st Star: Alexander Wennberg – One goal and one assist

2nd Star: Frank Vatrano – One goal, but created several quality chances throughout the night

3rd Star: Brayden Point – Two power play goals

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