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Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Florida Panthers Preview: Playoff hockey returns to Tampa after two years

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The Lightning have a very comfortable lead ahead of two home games

Tampa Bay Lightning v Florida Panthers - Game Two Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Florida Panthers: ROUND 1, GAME 3

Time: 6:30 pm Eastern Time

Location: Amalie Arena

Broadcast/Streaming: USA, FX-CA, TVAS2, BSSUN

Opponent SBNation Site: Litter Box Cats

The Tampa Bay Lightning are returning home with two wins over the Florida Panthers after two away games and have a very comfortable lead in the first round of the 2021 NHL Playoffs. While many experts predicted that this series could go as far as seven games, a potential 4-0 Lightning sweep doesn’t seem impossible at this moment.

However, despite a 2-0 lead, this series isn’t lopsided at all. The Panthers controlled shot department in both games and their top lines, especially Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau, have been a very big threat at 5-on-5. The Panthers fourth line has also been trying to get under the skin of the Lightning’s players in the first two games, choosing Mikhail Sergachev as their primary target in Game 2.

Outside of the two top lines, however, the Panthers didn’t show much offensively. The Lightning clearly have more depth and, more importantly, more experience and that played a big part in the two opening games of the series. Moreover, the Lightning managed to adjust to their opponent after the first game, limiting the number of unnecessary penalties and avoiding turnovers at the opponent’s blue line – these had been the biggest Lightning’s issues during their regular season series against the Panthers.

Sam Bennett has served his suspension for his hit on Blake Coleman and expected to return to the Panthers lineup. They will most likely return to their combination from Game 1, meaning that former Lightning defenceman Anton Stralman will be scratched again. The most important decision for the Panthers though is choosing their starting goaltender for Game 3. Sergey Bobrovsky didn’t play awful in the opening game against the Lightning, but Chris Driedger impressed more than a 10-million dollar goaltender from Russia in Game 2, despite playing his first playoff game in career. After allowing two goals in the first period (which weren’t his fault mostly), Driedger didn’t make any mistake in the remaining part of the game, making 26 saves on 28 shots in this game. As of publication the Panthers haven’t revealed who will lead their team on the ice in tonight’s game.

In the last game, the Lightning returned to their 11/7 lineup with Luck Schenn as a seventh defenseman, which allows them to use Nikita Kucherov in many combinations on different lines. On Tuesday, Kucherov played around 22 minutes, more than any other Lightning’s forward in this game – a very impressive number for player, who has just returned after missing four months due to recovering from injury.

Barclay Goodrow is still recovering from his injury and Tampa Bay haven’t shared new information on his status. As it was announced earlier, Goodrow will miss the entire week and will be reevaluated after. In his absence Ross Colton has been a solid replacement on Yanni Gourde’s line.

The Lightning will play tonight their first playoff game at Amalie Arena since 2019. As it was announced yesterday, the Lightning increased their fan capacity to 9,000 people starting tonight’s game

Tampa Bay Lightning Lines

Forwards

Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov

Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Steven Stamkos

Ross Colton - Yanni Gourde - Blake Coleman

Pat Maroon - Tyler Johnson

Defense

Victor Hedman - Jan Rutta

Ryan McDonagh - Erik Cernak

Mikhail Sergachev - David Savard

Luke Schenn

Goaltenders

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Curtis McElhinney

Florida Panthers Lines

Forwards

(with assumption that Sam Bennett will return to the lineup)

Carter Verhaeghe - Aleksander Barkov - Anthony DuClair

Jonathan Huberdeau - Sam Bennett - Owen Tippett

Frank Vatrano - Alex Wennberg - Patrik Hornqvist

Ryan Lomberg - Noel Acciari - Mason Marchment

Defense

Gustav Forsling - MacKenzie Weegar

Keith Yandle - Radko Gudas

Markus Nutivaara - Brandon Montour

Goalies

Chris Driedger

Sergei Bobrovsky