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A solid performance by Curtis McElhinney led the Lightning to a 5-3 win over the Panthers

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The Lightning backup goaltender earned his third win of the season

Florida Panthers v Tampa Bay Lightning Photo by Scott Audette /NHLI via Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Florida Panthers in a very tight game on Sunday afternoon and extended their lead over the opponent from Sunrise to four points in the standings. Five different players scored for the Lightning in the 5-3 game, including Tyler Johnson, who scored the game-winning goal. Ross Colton played his fourth game in a row in a Lightning jersey, recording his fourth point in seven games. Curtis McElhinney earned his third win of the season after stopping 29 out of 32 shots in this game.

The Lightning however lost defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who wasn’t able to finish the game after suffering an injury during the first period.

First Period

The Lightning looked a little dangerous in the first minutes. Despite starting the game with their fourth line they almost put one on the scoreboard, but Pat Maroon wasn’t able to finish a centering pass from Mathieu Joseph. However it was the Panthers who opened the scoring. Ondrej Palat couldn’t handle a puck in attempt to exit the zone and allowed a turnover. Aleksander Barkov picked up the puck, maneuvered through the Lightning zone and fed Carter Verhaeghe with a pass in the slot, the former Lightning player showed patience and beat McElhiney with backhand shot, giving his team a 1-0 lead.

The Lightning responded very quickly: Erik Cernak skated through the left side of the opponent’s defensive zone and tried to deliver it to Blake Coleman, he couldn’t manage the puck under the pressure of Barkov, but left it for Goodrow. Bobrovsky stopped his backhand shot, but left the net wide open for Yanni Gourde, who tied the game off the rebound.

The Lightning issues hadn’t disappear after scoring the equalizer. The Panthers kept pressuring high and the Bolts struggled to exit their zone at some moments. Florida forced several turnovers very close to the opponent’s net, but couldn’t convert on these chances.

At 7:34 the Lightning were sent to their first penalty kill after Barclay Goodrow was called for cross-checking. Surprisingly, the Panthers didn’t look as much dangerous as on 5v5 and couldn’t even get a shot on McElhinney’s net. The Lightning even got couple of shorthanded chances, but first Coleman lost control on the puck after breaking away, then Bobrovsky denied Alex Killorn’s shot and Yanni Gourde wasn’t able to grab the puck after a rebound.

During the course of the game the Lightning came closer to the Panthers net and started to create chances more consistently. Palat got a very good chance from right circle after great puck movement by Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos, but was stopped by Bobrovsky. With five minutes to go in the period, the Lightning received their first power play chance. The Bolts were way more dangerous than their opponent earlier in the game, but still couldn’t score. The Panthers defended very selflessly and the Lightning were forced to fight through some scrums.

The period ended even in shot attempts, the Lightning had a slight advantage in shot quality, but otherwise it was a pretty even period.

Second Period

It’s not very easy to deal with Yanni Gourde’s irrepressible energy; the Lightning forward broke into the Panthers slot and was stopped only by a slashing attempt by Aaron Ekblad, awarding the Lightning another power play opportunity. The Lightning wasn’t as threatening as their previous opportunity and McElhinney supported them with couple of saves on their own end.

McElhinney had an overall solid period, saving his teammates in many situations. At first he denied Ryan Lomberg’s shot on the back post, which stayed uncovered by Cal Foote, some moments later McElhinney broke off a Panthers 2-on-1 rush with a glove save on Alex Wennberg’s shot.

After having two scoreless power opportunities by the halfway mark of the period, the Lightning finally took a lead in the game, but did it at 5v5. Erik Cernak circled around the net and threw a puck towards Bobrovsky, it deflected off Ekblad’s stick and bounced right to Alex Killorn who was able to finish the combination, scoring the second goal of the game for the Lightning.

Florida responded five minutes later with Frank Vatrano’s goal on the rebound after Weegar’s shot, but the Lightning quickly challenged it for the offside and it was waved off. The Panthers didn’t stop there. Blake Coleman was called for the second time this period for tripping, while the Lightning almost survived this penalty kill, they allowed a goal after Gustav Forsling’s long-distance slapshot found a home with five seconds left on PK. The puck went through a heavy traffic in front of the net, so McElhinney clearly couldn’t see the moment of the shot and the Panthers tied the game.

As it was announced during the second period, the Lightning’s defenceman Ryan McDonagh sustained an injury at some point in the first period and missed the rest of the game with lower-body injury.

Third Period

The third period started with another goal review. McElhinney made a save on Anthony Duclair’s shot after a rush, but was pushed into the net by the backchecking Anthony Cirelli. The referees took some time to review if the puck crossed the line, but it wasn’t confirmed and the score remained 2-2.

Five minutes into the third period, the Lightning returned to the lead after efforts of their fourth line. Pat Maroon sent the puck deep into the Panthers zone, Joseph was first on it in the corner and dumped the puck further behind the net, Colton picked it up and went for wraparound, but couldn’t finish the chance. The puck deflected off Bobrovsky’s pads to Joseph, who scored, making it 3-2 in favor of the Lightning.

As it already happened twice this game, the leading team couldn’t keep the lead for a long period of time. Just a minute later after Joseph’s goal, the Panthers returned to the power play as Goodrow was sent to the penalty box for high-sticking. Keith Yandle fired a puck from a position behind the right circle and Hornqvist redirected it into the net. Once again McElhinney had no chance to save that shot.

With 11 minutes left in the period, the Lightning were awarded with another power play opportunity. The two minutes of man advantage almost expired when Johnson deflected the puck into the net after Gourde’s pass into the slot. That made it 4-3 for the Lightning with the half of the period left.

With the game nearing to its end, the atmosphere started heating up between the team and many players got involved in some skirmishes. At first it was Palat and Weegar, they both got a double minor for this incident. Later Colton got himself into the fight with Huberdeau, but this time the Lightning rookie was the only player who served the penalty.

The Lightning survived that power play and the Panthers decided to pull the goalie with two minutes left in the period. The Bolts defended very carefully in the last minutes of the game, not allowing to create any chance around their net. With less than a minute left Brayden Point intercepted the puck, Ondrej Palat was leading the rush towards the Panthers net, but played selflessly and left the puck for Point, who had started the opportunity. The only thing Point needed to do was to put the puck into the empty net.

Overall the Panthers finished the game with more shot attempts in all situation. However at 5-on-5 it looked very differently: while the first two periods were very close in many statistical aspects, the Lightning controlled the possession with a big margin in the third period and ended the period with ridiculous 90.05% xGF.