The Tampa Bay Lightning entered Saturday night’s game against the Florida Panthers beaten and bruised. Despite being down three centers, they battled through a tough game to emerge with a 3-2 regulation victory over Florida. With the win, they kept pace with Boston and Toronto who were both victorious on the night.
Yanni Gourde and Matthew Peca were called up, and Greg McKegg was reinserted into the lineup to fill the holes created by injuries to Tyler Johnson, Vlad Namestnikov and Cedric Paquette. Gourde stood out all night, skating on a line with Jonathan Drouin and Alex Killorn. The winger caused several turnovers and brought much needed speed to a team that was in danger of being outskated by the Panthers.
The Lightning jumped out of the gate with Brayden Point centering Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat. The newly constructed top line produced a couple of chances right away, forcing James Reimer to scramble for a few saves.
JT Brown returned to the lineup and immediately got into a tussle with Alex Petrovic. There weren’t many, if any, punches thrown. The biggest accomplishment was Petrovic managing to pull off of Brown’s helmet. Both were sent to the box for “fighting” anyway. Shortly after, Drouin sent a 2-on-1 wide after Yanni Gourde made a nice play in the defensive zone by chipping the puck to himself to start the rush.
Despite generating several quality chances on a power play, the Lightning couldn’t get it past Reimer. On a power play, Victor Hedman set Kucherov up for a one time that was easily deflected away.
The Panthers drew first blood just after their first power play expired. Jaromir Jagr ran down a loose puck and slid it past Andrei Vasilevskiy from a sharp angle. The Lightning goaltender had made several nice saves, but lost track of the puck after a Sasha Barkov shot hit him in the shoulder. By the time he found the puck, it was coming off of Jagr’s stick and past him into the net. The goal was his 14th of the season and the 1905th point of his career.
Reimer made a nice save on Drouin as the young Bolt tried to wrap it around the big netminder. Gourde helped start the play by creating a turnover behind the Panther’s net and slid it to Drouin. The Lightning’s inability to tie the game would haunt them seconds later.
With less than a minute to go in the period,Mark Pysyk let a shot go from the point. It hit Kucherov’s stick and fluttered by Vasilevskiy for the Panther’s second goal of the period.
The Panthers, sensing a chance to put the game away, were the better team at the start of the period. Vasilevskiy made a nice pad save on a point blank shot from Aaron Ekblad. The goaltender, as he has done since being named starter, kept his team in the game until the offense could get going.
It would be a hit by Gabriel Dumont that got the Lightning back into the game. Ekblad had the puck in his own zone. He reversed it behind the net and the motion took his head into the path of Dumont’s check. The Lightning forward’s shoulder drove Ekblad’s head into the glass leaving the Panther defender dazed on the ice.
Keith Yandle took umbrage to the hit and started a fight with Dumont. Again, not many punches were thrown, but the refs thought Yandle’s actions were unwarranted and assessed him an extra roughing penalty. The Lightning went to the power play with the Panther’s two best blueliners off the ice.
Kucherov didn’t miss on his second chance with the power play. After Victor Hedman made a nifty move at the blue line to get an open lane for the pass, Kucherov scored his 14th power play goal by blasting a one-timer over Reimer’s glove.
A few minutes after the goal, Anton Stralman delivered a nice hipcheck on Douglas Malgin. Unfortunately, it resulted in the young forward banging his head against the glass. The Panthers, reacted badly. Petrovic picked up a game misconduct and an early shower for scrum after the hit. On the power play, Colton Sceviour and Palat picked up roughing penalties as the action on the ice officially escalated to “chippy”.
It wouldn’t be the prolific power play that tied the game, but the shorthanded unit. Yanni Gourde, who worked hard all night, scored his first NHL goal shorthanded. Gourde stepped up to pick Vincent Trocheck’s pocket at the Lightning blueline. He then used his speed to get a step on Trocheck, and fought him off long enough to slide the puck between Reimer’s pads for the game-tying goal.
After the goal, Andrej Sustr was wrong-footed by Keith Yandle and decided to stop him by hitting him in the face with his stick. That was against the rules. The Panthers won the ensuing faceoff and Jonathan Marchessault fired a shot on net that Vasilevskiy snared with his big ol’ glove to preserve the tie. The Lightning escaped the penalty kill unscathed.
The period ended 4-on-4 after the teams renewed their hostilities following a Victor Hedman shot. Jason Demers pushed Gourde. Jake Dotchin pushed Demers. Trocheck put Dotchin in a headlock. Dotchin tackled Trocheck. Dotchin and Trocheck went to the penalty box.
The third period started with both teams battling back and forth with little room on the ice. The penalties and after action shoving died down as both teams knew how important it would be to pick up the extra point in regulation.
Reimer made his best save of the game following an unsuccessful Lightning power play. Point galloped into the Panthers’ zone, pulled up and hit Hedman, who was all alone in between the circles, with a nice pass. The big Swede wired the puck on goal, but Reimer was able to drop into a full split and knock the puck down with his glove. The game remained tied.
As the period passed the halfway mark, the Lightning began to control the action. The Panthers, playing the second half of a back-to-back began to have trouble clearing the puck. Tampa Bay started to pick up their forecheck and kept Florida pinned back in their own zone. Luckily for the team from South Florida, James Reimer was able to keep the puck out of the net.
After a brief flurry by Florida, the Lightning were finally able to pull ahead. Ondrej Palat drove the puck in around the boards. A tired Panther defense wasn’t able to stop the puck and it came out to Sustr at the point. The large human being flung the puck toward the net and Palat, mired in a goalless streak, deflected it past Reimer for his 14th goal of the season.
The Panthers pulled their goalie with just under two minutes to play, but the Lightning were able to successfully clear the zone several times and kept their lead as time on the clock expired.
With the win, the Lightning remained five points back of Boston for the third spot in the Atlantic and three points behind the Maple Leafs for the last wild card spot. They are back on the ice Monday, taking on the Rangers at Madison Square Gardens.
Game Notes: Palat’s goal was his 200th career point...Vasilevskiy has made 30+ saves in six straight games...Mark Pysyk led all skaters with 26:05 of total ice time.