The Florida Panthers entered the game swearing that all of the pressure was on the Tampa Bay Lightning. Down 2-0 in the series they had nothing to lose. The Lightning didn’t play like a team facing a lot of pressure, in fact they played like not only was their no pressure, there was no importance to the game. That led to an entertaining 6-5 overtime victory for the Panthers.
They were the better team for the most of the night, while, outside of a 5-goal second period, the Lightning played passively and were plagued by their old nemesis - the turnover. Ryan Lomberg, the man who is seemingly in every post-whistle scrum, scored the game winner in overtime while Sergei Bobrovsky picked up the win in relief. Andrei Vasilevskiy had his three-game post-season winning streak snapped as he surrendered 6 goals on 47 shots. Bobrovsky made 9 saves on 9 shots as he relieved starter Chris Driedger in the third period after the rookie had allowed 5 goals on 22 shots.
The Lightning went back to a 12/6 line-up with Mathieu Joseph back on the fourth line and Luke Schenn in the press box. For Florida it was also a 12/6 configuration with Sam Bennett back on a line with Jonathan Huberdeau. Anton Stralman filled in for Keith Yandle who was scratched.
Despite the Lightning controlling most of the early play, the Panthers were the ones that struck first. A three-on-two rush by the Huberdeau saw the recently unsuspended Sam Bennett tap home a nice pass from Huberdeau.
Sam Bennett (Jonathan Huberdeau, Owen Tippett)
The Huberdeau line struck again a few minutes later. This time if was off of a face-off that followed an icing. Huberdeau won it, and the puck found its way over to old friend Radko Gudas. Ondrej Palat made the initial block, but Gudas retrieved his own shot and then wristed a casual shot that slipped past Vasilevskiy.
Radko Gudas (Gustav Forsling, Jonathan Huberdeau)
Following the goal, Florida started to keep the puck in the Lightning zone and pressure Vasilevskiy, a theme that would continue for most of the night. Tampa Bay helped them out with a few turnovers in their own zone, but their goaltender kept bailing them out.
As the period wound on, the Lightning did get their skates back under them and threatened the Florida net a few times. Tyler Johnson and Braden Point both had excellent looks at goal, but couldn’t convert. Mikhail Sergachev had a shot that trickled past Driedger, but it was cleared out of the crease before it could trickle across the goal line. While the shot attempts were close, Tampa wasn’t really getting shots from in close on a consistent basis.
The Lightning needed a goal early to get back into the game and it they got one. It came from an unlikely source. To say Anthony Cirelli was in a scoring drought would be an understatement. Cirelli was buried underneath two feet of sand in the middle of a desert during a drought. It was 26 games in the regular season that he went without a goal. Playoff Tony is a different player.
He established position to the right of Driedger’s net and when Victor Hedman’s shot hit traffic in front, he was there to put the rebound home.
Anthony Cirelli (Victor Hedman, Alex Killorn)
It was a reverse of the first period. This time it was the Panthers controlling play for the most part, but the Lightning who buried the chances. Ross Colton tied the game at two. It was a fantastic individual effort by the rookie who dug the puck out of a puck battle, was knocked to the ice, popped up and then roofed it over Driedger.
Ross Colton (Blake Coleman, Yanni Gourde)
A rookie tied it, but it was two veterans that gave the Lightning the lead. Ryan McDonagh makes a tremendous read to step up and pick off a pass in the neutral zone. He skated in, centered it, and The Captain, Steven Stamkos, deflected it home to give the Bolts a 3-2 lead
Steven Stamkos (Ryan McDonagh)
Florida had to wonder what was going on. Despite having the better of the play they surrendered three goals in less than ten minutes. They would finally solve Vasilevskiy and tie things back up. With time winding down on a power play, Alex Wennberg found the back of the net.
Alex Wennberg (MacKenzie Weegar, Owen Tippett) Power Play
Anything the Panthers can do on the power play, the Lightning can do better. Florida made the mistake of committing the next two penalties and the Bolts capitalized on both of them. First it was Point from, who else, Nikita Kucherov
Brayden Point (Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman) Power Play
Then it was Alex Killorn in front of the net cleaning up the loose puck and depositing it in the back of the net.
Alex Killorn (Victor Hedman, Brayden Point) Power Play
The five goals in the period was a playoff record for the franchise. Despite all of the offense, the MVP of the middle frame was probably Vasilevskiy who made several key stops as the Lightning clawed their way back into the game.
As fun as that period was, the message in the Lightning locker room after the second period had to be about focusing on defense. For the Panthers, it had to be to keep doing the same thing and hope they could crack the Vasilevskiy code. They did make a change in net by starting Sergei Bobrovsky in the third.
Penalties by the Lightning would only help the Panthers so Palat’s boarding call early in the period wasn’t exactly ideal. Florida obviously felt it was a tipping point in the game as they sent five forwards out on the ice. It paid off as Huberdeau threw a puck to the front of the net and it deflected off of Patric Hornqvist’s skate and in.
Patric Hornqvist (Jonathan Huberdeau, Sasha Barkov) Power Play
Protecting a one-goal lead, the Lightning employed their bend-don’t-break strategy from Game One. It was a strategy that worked until it didn’t. That would be with about three minutes to go in the period.
Gustav Forsling tied it and the Panthers were finally rewarded for the pressure they had put the Lightning under for most of the period.
Gustav Forsling (Alex Wennberg, Patric Hornqvist)
It wasn’t a good period for the Lightning who were way too passive for most of it. It did, however, end on a bright note as Anthony DuClair was sent off for cross checking Alex Killorn with 23 seconds left in regulation. Florida held them off for the remainder of the period, but it carried over to overtime.
Unfortunately, for the first time all night long, they didn’t convert with the extra skater. Shortly after Colton had a good look but it was gloved away by Bobrovsky.
The game would be decided on a seemingly innocent play. Gudas flipped it out of his zone and Frank Vatrano bumped it ahead. It happened that Ryan Lomberg had slipped behind the Lightning defense. He gathered up the puck and bested Vasilevskiy on the shot. That was it. Ballgame over.
Ryan Lomberg (Frank Vatrano, Radko Gudas)
The Lightning will have to overcome a disappointing defensive effort and find a way to slow the Panthers down on Saturday in Game Four.