During the two previous playoffs, the Tampa Bay Lightning have beat the Florida Panthers handily. Winning eight and losing two in these two series. Both times, the Lightning were propelled onto the Stanley Cup Final. One good residual from these two playoff series has been the reigniting of the instate rivalry with the Panthers. They meet again tonight for the fourth and final time this regular season. The Lightning are 2-1 against the downstate Cats. If Florida is going to make the playoffs, tonight is the type of game they need to win. For the Lightning, newly acquired Tanner Jeannot will make his debut. The Bolts also need to cleanse the last game out of their system. For Tampa, tonight is for redemption. Either way the rivalry with Panthers continues.
Lightning fans are anxious to see Jeannot. Placed on the third line with Ross Colton and Nick Paul, to face the Panthers tonight. There’s no question, Jeannot’s new teammates want to get his Lightning career off to a great start. Bolts – Cats. Andrei Vasilevskiy and Sergei Bobrovsky between the pipes. Should be a real barn burner.
At this point in the season, the Panthers are on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. At the start of tonight’s game they are three points behind Pittsburgh for the last Wild Card spot. Additionally, for the Kitty Cats, there are two teams between them and that eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. As we’ve seen recently against Buffalo, Detroit and Pittsburgh, these are desperate teams. The Panthers, Red Wings, Sabres and Pittsburgh are each taking their turn at that last playoff seed. In the last week, these four teams have given everything they had against the Lightning.
In addition to Jeannot, Erik Cernak returns from his league mandated two game holiday. Fans were hoping Cernak got nothing but salty over that time. Both Cernak and Jeannot are on the ice at puck drop. Time will tell if the new guy’s mojo will help the Lightning tonight. The Panthers struck first. Long time Lightning nemesis, Eric Staal tipped in a Josh Mahura shot that went past Vasilevskiy to open the scoring, Not sure that Vasilevskiy ever saw the puck once it was deflected, There was still over 13 minutes left in the period. Certainly enough time to right the ship.
Then, the Panthers struck second. Just about the 16 minute mark, Anton Lundell jumped all over a puck that jumped over Zach Bogosian’s stick. Lundell took it to the net then looked Vasilevskiy away with what looked like a pass. He then wristed the puck past the Lightning netminder. Florida was up 2-0 at this point. Then the Panthers struck again. Like Lundell’s goal, this was also unassisted. Eetu Luostarinen took an errant Lightning pass in the low slot and lit the lamp. Shades of the second period in Pittsburgh.
Desperation vs Redemption
So far, desperation is beating the hell out of redemption like it stole something. Just at the end of the first period, Corey Perry was called for a cross-check. On the ensuing Florida power play, for a brief second it looked like the Panthers scored again to make it 4-0. Not so fast. Jon Cooper challenged the goal for goalie interference. Sure enough, the replay showed that new Lightning nemesis Matthew Tkachuk holding down Vasilevskiy’s glove with his stick. At least for the moment, there was a point of redemption for Tampa. Too bad, the best defense in the first period for the Lightning was the coach’s challenge. It did, however, keep the score 3-0 Florida.
As the second period unfolded, it appeared that the Lightning were getting one of those goals back. Nick Perbix scored a backhanded unassisted goal to close the three goal gap. This time Florida coach Paul Maurice was saying not so fast. Challenging for offside, the Panthers won the challenge so the score remained 3-0 in favor of Florida.
Rivalry with Panthers Tastes Sour Tonight
Back to work went the Lightning. About halfway through the period, the Panthers put the Lightning on the power play. The first unit of the power play didn’t disappoint and scored as easy as 1-2-3. In hockey lexicon it was as easy as Nikita Kucherov (TIC), Steven Stamkos (TAC), Brayden Point (GOAL). Definitely a step in the right direction
Ignore those numbers at the bottom of the screen #TBLvsPIT
Brayden Point scores for the fourth game running, as called by @DaveMishkin
— Lightning Radio (@BoltsRadio) February 27, 2023
It wasn’t as if the Lightning didn’t have chances. After Point’s power play goal, the Lightning had four chances with the extra man. They went 0 for 4.That just isn’t going to get it done. Down to the final four minutes of the game, the score remains 3-1 Florida.
Just about the 3:36 mark, Cooper pulled Vasilevskiy. The Lightning dominated possession and had some unbelievable scoring chances. Give credit to the Panthers, they all stood tall in front of Bobrovsky blocking shots. Ultimately, the Panthers scored an empty netter to make it a 4-1 final. For this season the rivalry with Panthers is tied at two games apiece.
- Sergei Bobrovsky – 29 saves on 30 shots for a .967 save percentage
- Eric Staal – 1 goal, 1 assist
- Radko Gudas – Seven blocked shots including one potential game saving block when Bobrovsky was prone on the ice
No rest for the weary as the Pittsburgh Penguins come to Amalie on Thursday. Puck drops at 7:00 pm.
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