Rubber match. Inner-state rivals. Monday night’s Lightning-Panthers game had all the makings. Who would close out the three-game set with a win? After each team imposed their will on the other once in the two previous contests? It would begin with a triumphant return.
While Steven Stamkos wasn’t out long, he was still a welcome sight back in the Bolts’ lineup, amidst the absence of Anthony Cirelli, and the season-long loss of Nikita Kucherov. Especially considering Stamkos’ history, and the start he’s been having to this season, he was certainly a sight for sore eyes, making his return after a two-game absence, for Tampa Bay fans, to face the Panthers.
Panthers can only watch
Right off the hop, Stamkos made an impact. From a very familiar spot. Erik Cernak made a nice play and got Panthers backup Chris Driedger to commit. He then slid the puck off to Stamkos in his office. Left-circle one-timer. Back of the net to give the Bolts an early 1-0 lead.
Curtis McElhinney, who was solid in his first game of the season, a road win in Nashville, made a mistake that led to the Cats tying the game. He was waiting on a rim behind the net but the puck slowed up on him and Patric Hornqvist slid it out front to Jonathan Huberdeau. He put it into the empty net to tie the game at one.
In his defense, McElhinney had a solid period, including a beautiful pad stop on an Anthony Duclair breakaway, and shutting down Alexsander Barkov to end the frame.
The second period was a wild one. First, Jan Rutta was unable to escape the Panther forecheck, and Owen Tippet beat McElhinney to give the Cats a 2-1 lead.
From there, it was all Panthers for a stretch. Frank Vatrono got behind Luke Schenn and was slowed down, drawing a penalty shot. He threw a quick wrister by McElhinney to make it 3-1.
Moments later, a three-goal lead for Florida thanks to a burst of speed and a wraparound from Duclair.
The Bolts needed the next goal. They couldn’t afford to go down four goals, and they didn’t, courtesy of a quick shot from the wall from Alexander Volkov. His second goal in as many games made it a two-goal game.
Then, crushingly, the Lightning would surrender a goal almost immediately and it was 5-2 Panthers. Alex Barkov with another display of speed.
That could have been a goal that sunk Tampa Bay, but they kept fighting, and before they knew it, were back in the game. Pat Maroon and Volkov were both after a puck in front of the net and combined to put it home. Next, a 2-on-1 for the Bolts. Mathieu Joseph and Tyler Johnson. Joseph the feed, Johnson the finish. Just like that it was a one-goal game at 5-4.
While the Lightning were unable to capitalize on a late power play, they were certainly content with just a one-goal deficit after the floodgates had opened for Florida. A three-goal lead cut to a manageable margin after two.
Eventually, the Panthers handed the Lightning the knockout punch. It came from a familiar face in former Bolt Anton Stralman, who lifted one home to make it 6-4.
Despite a late power play, the Lightning weren’t able to tie this one up or even get within one. Driedger was solid down the stretch, and the Bolts couldn’t find the touch in the third as they fell to the Panthers 6-4.
Our three stars of the game
- Anthony Duclair: Duclair was the most dynamic player on the ice, start to finish.
- Chris Driedger: Despite giving up 4, Driedger was solid when he needed to be, guiding the Panthers to victory.
- Alexander Volkov: Goals in back-to-back games for the youngster and he was on the scene for the Maroon tally as well.
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