Brayden Point scored with 1:14 left in the third period to break a 4-4 tie between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers. Point’s second goal of the third period completed the comeback for the Bolts who took a 1-0 lead in the best of seven against their in-state rival.
Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Ryan McDonagh, and Victor Hedman returned from injuries and contributed to the win. Kucherov didn’t look like he missed a beat despite not playing all season long. He had two goals and one assist (all on the power play). Stamkos chipped in an assist while Hedman had three helpers and McDonagh had two, including one on the game-winning goal by Point.
Andrei Vasilevskiy wasn’t spectacular, but was good enough as he stopped 35 of 39 shots for the win. Sergei Bobrobskiy saw 40 shots and stopped 35 for the Panthers. The line of Johnathan Huberdeau, Owen Tippett, and Sam Bennett was effective for Florida as Huberdeau had a goal and two assists, Tippet a goal and an assist, and Bennett finished the night with two helpers.
It was apparent that some of the bad blood from the regular season carried over into the game. Within four minutes there were tussles after almost every stoppage and the hitting picked up. As for the scoring, it appeared the Panthers were first on the board, but the refs ruled that Sam Bennett had pushed Vasilevskiy’s pad, leading to the puck going into the net. That’s interference and negated the goal.
Here's the "no goal" call. pic.twitter.com/n4ICvT8mUg— x - Jameson Olive (@JamesonCoop) May 16, 2021
In a cruel turn of events for Panthers’ fans, the Lightning responded immediately after the no-goal call and scored shorthanded. It was Blake Coleman who flipped a backhander past Bobrovsky for the goal.
Blake Coleman (Yanni Gourde, Ryan McDonagh) Short Handed
The lead was short-lived, though. Less than two minutes later, Alex Barkov drilled a one-timer on the power play that beat Vasilevskiy cleanly.
Alex Barkov (Johnathan Huberdeau, Keith Yandle) Power Play
Nikita Kucherov was back on the ice for the Lightning and was up to his old tricks as he took the role of playmaker for the top line with Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat. Kucherov had a golden opportunity to put the Lightning up by a goal, but was denied on a breakaway.
As the period went on, Florida spent more time in the Lightning zone and it eventually paid off as former Bolt Carter Verhaeghe wired a wrister from the slot past a screened Vasilevskiy to give the home team a 2-1 lead.
Carter Verhaeghe (Alex Barkov, Keith Yandle)
A sight for sore Lightning-fan eyes greeted them in the second period. After Sam Bennett was sent to the penalty box for holding Blake Coleman, the Lightning’s first power play unit got to work. They won the face-off and worked the triangle perfectly with Hedman setting Kucherov up to sweep the puck past Bobrovsky.
Nikita Kucherov (Victor Hedman, Steven Stamkos) Power Play
The Panthers inability to stay out of the penalty box would cost them the lead. After the Lightning killed off a questionable interference call on Ondrej Palat, the Lightning drew the next two power plays. On the second one, it was once again Nikita Kucherov cashing in.
Nikita Kucherov (Victor Hedman) Power Play
The Lightning took that lead into the dressing room. At even strength it was a fairly even period, in fact Florida had the slight edge in possession numbers. Unfortunately for them the Tampa Bay power play once again has its groove back.
If penalties are Florida’s downfall, then turnovers would be the Lightnings. Two costly cough-ups in the first five minutes of the period would flip the score. First it was Mikhail Sergachev losing the puck in the offensive zone that led to a Jonathan Huberdeau breakaway.
Jonathan Huberdeau (Sam Bennett, Owen Tippett)
Then it was a turnover at the blueline by Jan Rutta that was quickly turned around by the Huberdeau line.
Owen Tippett (Jonathan Huberdeau, Sam Bennett)
The Lightning, who had not lost this season when taking a lead into the third period, weren’t done. To be more precise, Brayden Point wasn’t done. The power play converted for it’s third goal of the game. This time, it was Point all alone in front of an empty net after Kucherov deked out the entire arena with a fake shot/pass. An absolute stellar keep at the blueline by Hedman set up the goal.
Brayden Point (Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman) Power Play
It looked like the game would be heading to overtime, as had the three previous games in the NHL’s playoff so far this season. That was until Ryan McDonagh spied Point streaking down the middle of the ice. The veteran defenseman’s stretch pass was on target and Point did the rest, beating Bobrovskiy through the five-hole to give the Lightning the 5-4 lead.
Brayden Point (Ryan McDonagh)
The Lightning survived a final flurry of shots from Florida, including a Patric Hornqvist shot that went just wide of the net, and took the 1-0 series lead. The two teams will be back at it on Monday night.