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Tampa Bay Lightning’s offense resurges in 6-1 victory against Panthers

Alex Volkov gets his first NHL goal, and Gemel Smith scores two points in his first official game in almost a year.

Tampa Bay Lightning v Florida Panthers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Lightning were put in a very extremely uncomfortable position before the start of tonight’s game due to losing two of their players, but managed to defeat the Florida Panthers, 6-1, despite it all. Anthony Cirelli suffered an injury during Thursday’s game against the Florida Panthers and is week-to-week according to the team. Steven Stamkos missed the game on Thursday night due to a lower body injury, and was placed on the NHL’s COVID protocol list a day later.

In their absence the Lightning returned to a 11/7 roster and recalled Gemel Smith from the taxi squad. Smith hasn’t played in an official game since the cancellation of the AHL regular season in March. He played a very impressive game, scoring two assist in just 10 minutes, and helping his new linemate Alex Volkov to score his first NHL goal.

Andrei Vasilevskiy played another brilliant game, stopping 33 of 34 shots and earning the second star of the game, however he probably wished for his first shutout of the season tonight.

Tyler Johnson had been struggling offensively this season, scoring just one goal in the previous 11 games, but played probably his best game of the season after recording two goals on Saturday night.

First Period

The first period started at a pretty intense rate, however the teams played without scoring chances on either side. The Tampa Bay Lightning registered just one shot attempt in the first five minutes and didn’t allow any from the opposite team. The Yanni Gourde line was especially active, pressing the Panthers into their defensive zone and creating the only scoring chance for the Lightning.

The Bolts were awarded with the first power play of the night after a rare face-off violation by the Panthers. The Lightning have already been missing Nikita Kucherov as their primary power play weapon, and now they were additionally stripped of Steven Stamkos. In their absence the Lightning looked a little bit chaotic, but still created a couple of solid chances, which unfortunately didn’t end up in the Panthers net.

A couple of minutes later a Lightning player was called for high-sticking. Initially it was Alex Killorn who sat in the box, but after reviewing, Victor Hedman received a double minor penalty, giving the Panthers a four-minute power play. Despite the absence of Anthony Cirelli and Victor Hedman (who was serving the penalty), the Lightning did a tremendous job killing that penalty. The Panthers had eight shot attempts during those four minutes, but none of them were a real danger for Andrei Vasilevskiy.

The atmosphere between two teams has been electrified since the first game two days ago and it was not a surprise that there were already a couple of scrums during the first period today. First Patric Hornqvist was involved in a little fight with Eric Cernak during the four-minute Panthers power-play. Later MacKenzie Weegar dropped gloves with Killorn after a Lightning forward made a big hit on Owen Tippet in front of the Panthers bench. Both players were sent to the box, giving teams two minutes of 4-on-4 action.

Statistically speaking, the Panthers had a better first period, holding the edge in expected goals share (78.11% against 21.89%) and shot attempts (12 against 7) at 5v5, however the Lightning had some really decent chances in the second half of the period, including Brayden Point hitting the post, Ryan McDonagh’s long-distance shot and 2-on-1 opportunity by Eric Cernak and Tyler Johnson. But still the first period ended scoreless.

Second Period

The second period started with an early power play opportunity for the Lightning thanks to Brayden Point efforts: the Lightning center forced a turnover on the blue line, and entered the Panthers’ defensive zone at full speed, leaving the Panthers defencemen no other chance than trying to intercept him and violating the rules.

The Lightning showcased good puck movement on this power play, which resulted in the first goal of the game. Mikhail Sergachev made a back pass to Victor Hedman on the blue line, and Hedman quickly delivered the puck to Ondrej Palat for a one-timer. It was the kind of the shot Sergei Bobrovsky should have probably taken, but this time he was helpless against Palat. The Bolts took a 1-0 lead in the game.

Just a minute and a half after the first goal Mathieu Joseph doubled his team’s advantage, creating the opportunity all by himself. He retrieved the puck after blocking an unfortunate Alex Wennberg’s shot attempt, ran on a breakaway and beat Bobrovsky, sliding the puck through his five hole.

The Lightning kept pressing after scoring two goals, however the Panthers managed to stay in the game for a while. It was until 12:58 into the second period, when Gemel Smith robbed Carter Verhaeghe on forecheck and fed Tyler Johnson for the third Lightning goal of the night.

During the last seconds of the period Johnson scored his second goal of the game. This time he was first on a rebound after Jan Rutta’s shot, sending the puck past Bobrovsky and giving the Bolts a 4-0 lead.

Not just the offence should take the credit for this period; the penalty kill was once again very effective for the Lightning. The Panthers had two power-play opportunities during the second period, but the Bolts kept them out of their own zone, even pressing on the opposite side of the rink.

The Lightning dominated this period and it was obvious even without giving any additional numbers. They created seven highly dangerous chances (compared to just one by their opponent) and had 16 shots on goal at 5v5 (after just two in the first period).

Third Period

The last period was pretty uneventful during its first half, comparing to the previous period, aside from a small fight between Blake Coleman and Radko Gudas. The Lightning’s advantage was already big and both teams were aware of that.

However, the Panthers managed to get on board at the 9:47 mark of the period, ruining Vasilevskiy’s hopes for his first shutout of the season. Frank Vatrano was left uncovered on the left side of the rink by Luke Schenn, who followed Brett Connolly with Sergachev and didn’t notice Vatrano heading towards the net behind him. It was the the second goal in two games against the Lightning for Vatrano.

Tampa Bay responded very quickly. Another solid play by Gemel Smith, who kept the puck after Joseph tipped it along the boards and made a pass to Alex Volkov for his first career NHL goal. 5-1 for the Lightning.

Later Barclay Goodrow made the advantage bigger and uglier for the Panthers. Jan Rutta was successful in a battle for the puck and Gourde managed to push it towards Goodraw, who finished a sequence on a breakaway, making it 6-1.

The Lightning weren’t pushing the accelerator this period, playing according to the numbers on scoreboard. Florida controlled the puck this period and had an advantage in expected goal share, although the Lightning proved why they’re favourites, converting on fewest amount of chances.