Time: 8:00 pm Eastern Time
Location: BB&T Center
Broadcast/Streaming: CNBC, SN, TVAS, BSFL, BSSUN
Opponent SBNation Site: Litter Box Cats
Normally the first game of a playoff series has a bit of a tentative feel to it. The two teams spend the first period or so figuring each other out to set up the rest of the series. The Lightning and Panthers threw that strategy in the penalty box and went at it from the opening whistle. Part of that comes from having met each other so much over the regular season thanks to the in-division only schedule. What was left to find out about teams that had faced each other eight times over the last few months?
Can they keep the pace going for another three-to-six games? Probably not, but even if they meet just 80% of the action and fun from the first game, this will go down as one of the best playoff series in recent memory. The two teams are evenly matched and both play with speed and an offensive mindset. Also, it’s possible they might not like each other very much.
Florida is the first team to make adjustments to their roster. One was forced by the league as Sam Bennett was suspended for one game after trying to drive Blake Coleman through the glass and into the Auntie Anne’s at the Sawgrass Mills Outlet Mall next to the arena.
Awful hit by Bennett on Coleman that is worthy of a major penalty. Charging + boarding. Only gets two minutes.. pic.twitter.com/Arg2Qz6gRx— NHL Safety Watch (@NHLSafetyWatch) May 17, 2021
Even Panthers fans couldn’t defend the hit, opting to mention instead the fact that Ryan McDonagh should have also been suspended for boarding Anthony Duclair earlier in the game.
Ryan McDonagh gets a two minute minor for boarding Anthony Duclair pic.twitter.com/oT0nvrIrUA— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) May 17, 2021
While McDonagh was penalized, he was not issued any supplemental discipline. As one might imagine, Panthers fans weren’t happy about it. Heck, Panthers players and coaches probably weren’t happy either, but there isn’t much they can do about it other than move on to Game Two. Juho Lammikko will draw into the line-up with Bennett out. Alex Wennberg will move up to the second center spot, Noel Acciari the third, and Lammikko will center the fourth line.
The Panthers will also have a different netminder facing the Lightning’s reinvigorated offense. Chris Driedger will take Sergei Bobrovsky’s spot in net for Game Two. Coach Quenneville stated that he is just rotating his goaltenders like it was the regular season and believes that the Panthers have two top-tier players. That may true, but it also gives him an out if Driedger struggles in this game.
Coach Q might think that both netminders had a good season, but Driedger put up the better stats in the regular season. According to Natural Stat Trick Driedger posted better numbers at 5v5 play across the board: .942 SV% vs .914 SV%, 1.63 GAA vs. 2.55 GA, 7.74 GSA vs. -8.72 GSAA, .836 HDSV% vs. .800 SV%. In short, Driedger should have been named the starter for the entire series. Unfortunately, there are $10 million reasons why Bobrovsky got the last game.
On the Lightning’s side of the ice, they will be looking to up their play a little at even strength. They’ll also want to cut down on the self-inflicted turnovers that have plagued them all season. The back-to-back gaffes in the third period by Mikhail Sergachev and Jan Rutta just can’t happen in a close playoff game. Frankly, they can’t happen in a random February game against Columbus, but the stakes are a bit higher at this time of year. Luckily for both of them they were bailed out by Mr. Brayden Point.
The Bolts would also like to finish a little more at even strength. They can’t count on scoring three power play goals every night. Not to say they can’t do it, but to rely on it is kind of like relying on hitting the Power Ball (current jackpot at $201 million) to fund your retirement. It would be a good idea to have a back-up plan.
They would also like to see a little better play out of Andrei Vasilevskiy. The Panthers have been his kryptonite this season as he’s posted a 2-4 record with a .898 SV% and 3.36 GAA. He gave up four or more goals in four of those six games. For some reason he just hasn’t played up to his normal lofty standards against the Panthers. Even on Sunday there are probably at least two goals he’d like to have back (the Barkov shot and the Huberdeau breakaway).
If he can get back to 2020 postseason Vasilevskiy, things will get dicey for the Panthers. If not, well, it should still be a pretty exciting game at least.
Tampa Bay Lightning Lines
Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Steven Stamkos
Ross Colton - Yanni Gourde - Blake Coleman
Pat Maroon - Tyler Johnson - Mathieu Joseph
Victor Hedman - Jan Rutta
Ryan McDonagh - Erik Cernak
Mikhail Sergachev - David Savard
Florida Panthers Lines
Carter Verhaeghe - Aleksander Barkov - Anthony DuClair
Jonathan Huberdeau - Alex Wennberg - Owen Tippett
Frank Vatrano - Noel Acciari - Patrik Hornqvist
Ryan Lomberg - Juho Lammikko - Mason Marchment
Gustav Forsling - MacKenzie Weegar
Keith Yandle - Radko Gudas
Markus Nutivaara - Brandon Montour