Heading into Monday’s elimination game five against the Florida Panthers, the Tampa Bay Lightning were facing another new face in net. Spencer Knight got the nod for the Cats. The 20-year-old rookie had played just four NHL games, but desperate times in Sunrise called for desperate measures.
It was the postseason debut for the Panthers’ American net-minder, so the Bolts wanted to establish themselves early, and hopefully shake the youngster’s confidence, with a chance to send Florida packing, entering action with a commanding 3-1 series lead.
First shot sensation
It took just one shot for the Lightning to put one by Knight. However, he settled in after that. Tampa Bay had been fabulous all series long at getting on the rush. That’s exactly what they did early on.
Just 53 seconds in, Blake Coleman fed Ross Colton, and he lifted it over Knight to bury on the Lightning’s first shot of the night.
Panthers bend but don’t break
The Cats certainly didn’t envision a 22-shot opening frame for the Bolts. For the remainder of the period, the Lightning had several quality looks. The Lightning, however, were unable to cash in, and were carried by a 3/3 penalty kill, and a lack of dangerous Florida chances aside from the ‘PP,’ to a 1-0 lead after one.
Pace slows in second, Cats capitalize
While the Lightning generated 22 shots in the opening period, they mustered just nine in the second. Knight continued to be rock solid in the Panther net. He stopped all nine for 30 consecutive saves following the opening shot tally from Colton.
All it took was one screen and a lapse in defensive coverage for the Panthers to jump out to a 2-1 lead. First, it was a rip right off a face-off from MacKenzie Weegar that got by Andrei Vasilevsikiy, who was completely blinded by Ryan McDonagh in front of the net.
Next, some great work from Aleksander Barkov and a questionable pinch from Erik Cernak had the Bolts in the hole. Barkov danced behind the Lightning cage, bought some time, and then made a wicked backhand pass out front to Mason Marchment, who found the back of the net. The Panthers led 2-1 with a period left for the Bolts to attempt to punch their ticket to the second round in just five games.
Panther power play cashes in
Late in the second, Luke Schenn was nabbed for holding as a Panther forward was inches away from bursting in alone on Vasilevskiy. That power play would carry into the third, and net-front presence and a fortunate bounce gave Florida a 3-1 lead. A shot from the point hit Patric Hornqvist, who was laying on the ice, and caromed into the net. No chance for Vasilevskiy. A tough gut-punch for the Bolts. They were down two early in the final frame.
Trailing by two, Tampa Bay didn’t spend nearly enough time in the offensive end. Knight continued to be excellent, including a late pad stop on Nikita Kucherov. Inside the final two minutes, he sprawled across to rob Kucherov on a one-timer. Ultimately, time ran out on the Bolts. The Panthers added an empty netter, to make it a 4-1 final. The series will shift back to Tampa Bay for game six, Wednesday night.
Our three stars of the game
- Spencer Knight: 36 saves in his first career playoff game; a win.
- Aleksander Barkov: 2 assists, including an apple on the GWG.
- Ross Colton: Three quality chances, one on which he capitalized, in a solid effort.
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