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Lightning pull off exciting 5-4 comeback victory in overtime over Panthers

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The Panthers led 4-1 but couldn’t hold it.

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Florida Panthers Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Florida Panthers 5-4 in overtime in a wild comeback victory. The Bolts fell behind 4-1 before mounting the comeback over the second half of the game to salvage both points.

Ryan McDonagh returned to the lineup after missing the final two periods of Thursday’s game against Buffalo following a bad hit from Jack Eichel along the boards. Adam Erne was the odd man out among the forwards possibly due to the illness that kept him out of Thursday’s game.

Ondrej Palat started the game on a line with Steven Stamkos and Yanni Gourde but moved around including taking some shifts with Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. Head coach Jon Cooper also rolled out a new third line of Anthony Cirelli, J.T. Miller, and Alex Killorn.’

The star of tonight’s game was Kucherov. He took over after Tampa fell behind and propelled them back to earn the victory.

First Period

The game started slowly with only three shots on goal between the two teams in the first eight minutes. Both teams limited the available space in the middle of the ice making it difficult to get through the neutral zone and forcing the game to the boards. The Lightning did some good cycling work and applied some pressure with their forecheck but were unable to generate any dangerous shots.

One of the best shifts of the early part of the game came from the new third line. Miller appeared to be fitting in well with Cirelli and Killorn. That line has an interesting combination of skills. All three are similarly well-rounded players who should be able to find success in any situation in any zone.

The slow slog transformed into a shootout in less than a minute. First, Frank Vatrano scored on a harmless shot on a 2 on 1 rush. Dan Girardi played it well and Vatrano put the puck on net instead of passing. Domingue had a clean look at it and had plenty of time to react. He just let it bounce past him into the net.

Just eleven seconds later, Domingue gave up another softy. This time to Aleksander Barkov on a shot that was barely a shot at all. Domingue failed to cover the puck and suddenly, the Lightning trailed 2-0 despite only having allowed three shots on goal.

The new look third line answered for the Bolts just 44 seconds later. Alex Killorn ripped a one-timer short side past James Reimer. Sergachev set him with a pretty cross-ice pass and Braydon Coburn picked up the secondary assist.

After the goal, the Lightning took over the game. They didn’t allow another shot on net during the period after the Barkov goal making life as easy as possible on Domingue.

Second Period

Yanni Gourde took a penalty at the end of the first period leading to the first power play of the game for Florida. The bulk of it carried over to the second period but the Lightning were able to kill it without much issue.

But shortly after Tampa killed the penalty, Florida extended the lead back to two goals. Sergachev tried his patented drag move at the blue line but Jonathan Huberdeau was waiting for it and picked his pocket cleanly. The Panthers forward skated in freely on Domingue and beat him easily. That was Florida’s third goal in just four shots on target to that point in the game.

Instead of tightening up, the Lightning fell apart taking back-to-back penalties giving the Panthers an extended 5 on 3. Florida took advantage with Evgeni Dadonov beating Domingue on an easy back door dunk following some good puck movement. To compound things for Tampa, Ryan McDonagh was hurting from blocking a shot moments earlier making the penalty basically a 5 on 2.

Now trailing by three goals, the Lightning opened up the game and gave up several odd man rushes. The defense and Domingue did enough to hold the score where it was despite the scrambling nature of the game.

The gamble worked for the Bolts as they were the next to get on the scoreboard. Kucherov lulled the Panthers into going for a line change by faking like he was going to circle back into his own zone. As soon as they headed to the bench, he passed to Girardi and broke up ice to receive a return pass. He then hit Mathieu Joseph with a perfect feed and the rookie beat Reimer to cut the lead to two goals.

Toward the end of the period, the penalty bug that bit Tampa earlier went after Florida. The Lightning converted on their first chance despite the Panthers doing a great job on the penalty kill. They limited shooting opportunities and forced the Bolts to play catch around the perimeter. Steven Stamkos was eventually able to break their structure with a shot fake and pass to Hedman who flicked it over to Kucherov who hammered a one-timer past Reimer.

Third Period

For the second period in a row, a team carried over a late penalty from the period before. This time, it was the Lightning. Unlike the first power play, they weren’t able to get established in the offensive zone and the penalty expired without much of a threat.

A few minutes later, Florida went on the power play but they weren’t able to do much with it either. In fact, the Lightning were the closest to scoring with both Killorn and Cirelli nearly beating Reimer to tie the game.

After the penalties, the game opened up into a back and forth race. Kucherov nearly scored on a quick play off of a faceoff pass from Tyler Johnson. The third line put together another great shift making it three times on the night that they spent an extended period in the offensive zone. Mike Hoffman responded with a breakaway chance that nearly extended the lead but Domingue was able to deflect the puck away to the boards.

With the pace both teams were keeping, a goal was inevitable. It eventually came for Tampa Bay but in an unusual way. A Florida player committed a horrific turnover feeding the puck from behind his own net directly to Cedric Paquette in the slot. Paquette wasn’t able to score on the initial shot but his rebound attempt deflected off of Reimer and then off of Dryden Hunt and into the net. That goal brought the Lightning all the way back from a 4-1 deficit to tie the game.

The rest of the period continued exactly as it had been. Neither team seemed content to play for overtime with plenty of chances occurring at both ends. But both goalies held their own for the final few minutes and indeed, the game went to 3v3.

Overtime

The overtime period started slowly. Florida won the opening faceoff and played hyper conservative hockey spending most of their time circling in the neutral and defensive zone. When they did finally start their attack, Frank Vatrano tried to set a subtle pick in the offensive zone. Unfortunately for him, it was extremely not subtle. He knocked Cirelli to the ice and the Lightning got a 4v3 power play.

Early in the power play, Aaron Ekblad nearly won the game for Florida on a seemingly harmless shot that caught Domingue wrong footed. The goalie was barely able to reach across the crease and kick it away.

After that, the Lightning got set up in the offensive zone and Florida never touched the puck again. Fittingly, Kucherov set up the game winner with a wonderful pass through the crease to Brayden Point for an easy back door dunk. Kucherov faked like he was going to pass back to the point and instead, passed to Point.

Summary

The Lightning deserved to win tonight. They outplayed Florida comfortably. Domingue struggled again and put the team in an early hole that they didn’t deserve. But also again, the skaters kept the faith and forced their way back into the game by outscoring their problems. To Domingue’s credit, he was good in the second half of the game holding down the fort while the Lightning attacked offensively and pushed the pace to get back in the game.

Monday and Tuesday will see the Lightning play back-to-back games in New Jersey and Detroit. Given Domingue’s recent struggles, it seems likely Eddie Pasquale will get one of those games. And considering that he’s never played an NHL game before, no one should expect much from that game.

As such, getting two points is huge tonight. Andrei Vasilevskiy’s injury is starting to show its impact. Coming back to salvage both points in a game that looked like a certain loss buys the team another game before they have to reckon with the consequences of giving up this many goals every night.

It seems unlikely they can keep winning this way but they’ve done it twice in a row now. And tonight, much of the credit should go to Nikita Kucherov. He showed again why he’s a special player. He created the second and fifth goals single-handedly and scored the third on a rocket of a shot. Star players step up in the clutch and propel their teams to victory. Kuch did just that tonight.