Despite getting outshot early in the game, the Tampa Bay Lightning took advantage of an opportunistic offense and a seemingly unstoppable power play to defeat the Florida Panthers 6-2 in Game Four of their series. The game descended into a penalty-filled (54 penalty minutes) dirty game once Florida realized they couldn’t come back.
Andrei Vasilevskiy made 39 saves to rebound from his disappointing effort while Sergei Bobrovsky lasted less than two periods as the Panthers starter. Alex Killorn scored twice and Nikita Kucherov recorded four points before leaving the game in the third period following a slash to the back of the knee.
The Panthers started the game with a boatload of pressure, aided by poor clears by the Lightning. Vasilevskiy was busy early on fending off shots. However, the Lightning ended up scoring against the run of play. With both teams skating four-a-piece (thanks to some early aggressive hugging by Yanni Gourde and Jonathan Huberdeau) the Panthers overplayed their hand a bit. Alex Killorn had the puck along the right boards at center ice and all three of the Panther skaters on the ice converged on him (Sasha Barkov had skated off on an untimely line change). Killorn slipped the pass to Anthony CIrelli who was all alone in the middle of the ice and went in on a breakaway. He slid it through the five hole to open the scoring.
Anthony Cirelli (Alex Killorn, Erik Cernak)
After the goal, Florida continued to pressure the Lightning zone, forcing Vasilevskiy to continue to work harder than his coach or teammates would like. Still, he made the saves and eventually the top line managed a little zone time. As they changed lines, Nikita Kucherov flipped a puck wide of the net, Yanni Gourde got his stick on it and deflected it past Bobrovsky for the Bolts second goal on as many shots.
Yanni Gourde (Nikita Kucherov, Mikhail Sergachev)
The good of Gourde led to the goal, but the bad of Gourde got the Panthers back into the game. The feisty center was whistled for unsportsman-like play and Florida capitalized on the power play. Sam Bennett flicked a shot at the net that hit Patric Hornqvist who was stationed in front of Vasilevskiy. The puck caromed over to Vasy’s right and right onto Huberdeau’s stick. The talented forward fired it home past the goaltenders desperate dive across the crease.
Johnathan Huberdeau (Patric Hornqvist, Sam Bennett) Power Play
The Lightning’s opportunistic offense continued. Despite most of the period being spent in their own end, they were efficient when they did get their chances. Florida’s aggressive defense in their zone led to some openings on the ice. The Bolts were able to get a cross-ice pass to Erik Cernak who fired a slap-pass to the front of the net, where Ondrej Palat was in perfect position to deflect it home. Peep the look Bobrovsky gives Gudas right after the goal. Probably not happy his bearded defenseman let Palat camp out right in front of him.
Ondrej Palat (Erik Cernak, Nikita Kucherov)
The Lightning came out a little stronger in the second, in the sense that they actually cleared the puck out of their zone a few times, and their increased time in the Panthers’ zone led to their first power play of the game (after a sequence in which Bob absolutely robbed Point).
Their power play did what it’s done all series long. Score. Hedman —> Kucherov —> Killorn. It’s that simple.
Alex Killorn (Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman) Power Play
The pass was from Kucherov (his third assist of the game) was just so, so good. He feathered it through the skates of the defenseman and with just enough pace for Killorn to deflect it home.
A short while later Killorn chased Bobrovsky as he came down the middle of the ice uncontested and put home a centering pass. Yes Bob should have made that save, but Brandon Montour should not have tried to cut off Stamkos and Owen Tippett should have skated a little harder to catch up with Killorn. The team defense in front of the Florida net was poor all game long.
Alex Killorn (Steven Stamkos, Anthony Cirelli)
With that Chris Driedger entered the game with the Panthers down 5-1. Tempers flared shortly after his entrance with Pat Maroon sending Frank Vatrano into the boards roughly. A scrum ensued that took some sorting out. In the end Florida had a power play, but that only lasted a few seconds since old friend Carter Verhaeghe put his shoulder into Cirelli’s chest. It would have been a nice, legal hit if Cirelli was anywhere near the puck (he wasn’t).
A few seconds into the four-on-four Cernak was sent off for....a head lock? Technically roughing, but from what they showed on the CNBC replay, there wasn’t much more than that. Florida had some chances on the power play, but the Lightning had Vasilevskiy so the scored remained 5-1.
After ten minutes of so of penalties of all kind, the Panthers finally scored on a power play. Carter Verhaeghe pulled David Savard out of position with a fake-pass and flipped a backhander up and over Vasilevskiy.
Carter Verhaeghe (Sasha Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau) Power Play
The game continued its descent into penalty madness as Kucherov was whistled for goaltender interference after he was checked into Driedger. It was an unavoidable hit that unfortunately was helmet-to-helmet, leaving Driedger lying on the ice for a bit. He stayed in the game to finish the period.
The Lightning killed off the penalty and went on their own power play after Radko Gudas was called for having elbows. Unlike the Panthers, the Lightning scored on their gifted power play. Nikita Kucherov. He didn’t pass this time.
Nikita Kucherov (Steven Stamkos, Alex Killorn) Power Play
With ten minutes to go in the game and back on the power play, the Panthers pulled the goaltender and put six forwards on the power play. Vasilevskiy showed why he’s the best in the game as he made a nice save on Hornqvist to his right and then slid over to stop Alex Wennberg on his left.
Two bad, away-from-the-play slashes turned the six-on-four into a four-on-three for the Lightning. First it was Hornqvist slashing Cernak, then it was Anthony DuClair with a slash to the back of Kucherov’s knee well after the puck was gone.
Florida continued to take their frustrations out as Mason Marchment ran Ross Colton and Hornqvist put Sergachev into the boards with a violent shoulder-to-shoulder hit. It’s unfortunate that Florida chose to bring the game down with their antics, as they are a team that can actually win with skill.
Neither Kucherov or Sergachev finished the game and their status will be a big factor for Game Five.