In what has been a somewhat trying season the Tampa Bay Lightning have spent the last week serving reminders that they are still the defending Stanley Cup Champions. Since losing to the Detroit Red Wings on April 19th, the Lightning have won their last three games while averaging over seven goals a game. Two of their wins came against their division rivals. First they dropped eight goals on the Toronto Maple Leafs then, on Sunday, they dropped eight more on the Florida Panthers in an entertaining 8-4 victory that snapped the Panthers 13-game winning streak.
It was the Lightning’s big players coming through as Steven Stamkos posted four points (2 goals, 2 assists), Nikita Kucherov had five points (2 goals, 3 assists), and Victor Hedman had four assists. Nick Paul added two goals, including a sublime shorthanded goal. Brayden Point and Cal Foote had the other goals while Andrei Vasilevskiy was a solid 36-of-40 in net.
The most prolific team in the league, the Florida Panthers, scored four time with Sam Reinhart (2 goals), Mason Marchement, and Brandon Montour recording goals. Spencer Knight was pulled after allowing five goals on 17 shots. Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 13-of-16 in relief.
Both teams had plenty of power play practice with the Lightning converting two of their seven opportunities while Florida was one for six.
It didn’t take long for the scoring to get under way. Three goals in the first seven minutes (and one overturned goal) set the tone for the evening. Tampa Bay opened things up with an unlikely connection as Pat Maroon made a nice cross ice pass to Nikita Kucherov in the right circle and the cerebral forward found a narrow space on the short side for his 22nd goal of the season.
Nikita Kucherov (Pat Maroon, Ryan McDonagh)
As they have done so often this season, it appeared the Florida Panthers answered as Claude Giroux swept home a rebound off of Gustav Forsling’s point shot. Mason Marchment, fighting for position initiated enough contact to garner a review. To the dismay of the home crowd, Toronto ruled that it was enough contact to disallow the goal.
The crowd’s taunts of the refs quickly turned to cheers for their team as Sam Reinhart snapped a shot past Vasilevskiy to tie the game shortly after the overturned goal. Sometimes the other team just makes a nice shot and Reinhart used Mikhail Sergachev as a screen brilliantly.
Sam Reinhart (Anton Lundell, Noel Accari)
The goal light kept going shortly after. On a power play, Steven Stamkos one-timed a feed from Victor Hedman through the legs of Spencer Knight. The young netminder would have been in position if Stamkos had caught all of it, but The Captain threw a bit of a change-up that snuck through the five-hole.
Steven Stamkos (Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov) Power Play
Florida was able to counter with a couple of power plays of their own. The five-forward unit moved the puck around well and had some looks, but ultimately weren’t able to dent the back of the net. Following Brandon Hagel’s penalty the Lightning had an odd-man opportunity that they worked to perfection. Stamkos carried it out and fed it to Hagel who hit the trailer, Cal Foote, with a perfect pass and the youngster guided his shot on net for the 3-1 lead.
Cal Foote (Brandon Hagel, Steven Stamkos)
Even with a two-goal lead and time winding down in the period the Panthers are a dangerous team. Ryan McDonagh wasn’t able to clear the puck out of the zone and his attempt came off the boards and right to Brandon Montour who banged it home with an old-time slapshot.
Brandon Montour (unassisted)
It didn’t take long in the second period for the Panthers to reduce their deficit to zero. The goal wasn’t pretty, more like pretty lucky. Mason Marchment outreached Erik Cernak on a bouncing dump-in and just poked it past Vasilevskiy. He could have just as easily whiffed on the bounding puck, but he didn’t and the score was tied at 3.
Mason Marchment (Claude Giroux, MacKenzie Weegar)
The Lightning weren’t only playing with fire with the constant penalties they were taken (four power plays for Florida at this point) they were throwing lit matches into gas cans. However, sometimes bad ideas yield good results. Enter Brandon Hagel and Nick Paul. Hagel pushed the puck into the Florida zone shorthanded and spied Paul trailing him. The backpass was perfect and Paul went between the legs and in for the nifty goal goal. Just like that it was 4-3 Lightning (cash those over 6.5 total goals bets, kids).
Nick Paul (Brandon Hagel) Shorthanded
Another penalty by the Lightning was killed off and Nick Paul once again found the back of the net. With a two-on-one with Alex Killorn, his attempted pass hit a couple of sticks (none of them belonging to Killorn) and went in the net. That made it 5-3 and ended Spencer Knight’s......night. Enter Sergei Bobrovskiy
Nick Paul (Alex Killorn, Victor Hedman)
Shortly after the goal, Sam Bennett laid a slightly late hit on Mikhail Sergachev in retaliation for a slightly late hit Sergy put on Claude Giroux. Bennett and Sergachev decided to use their hands instead of their words to settle their differences. Mikhail hung in there after Bennett bloodied him with an early shot. Unfortunately for the Lightning Sergachev would not return to the game. They did have seven defenseman in the line-up so they were still able to rotate their blueline regularly.
Two good-looking, but unsuccessful power plays took the Lightning to the second intermission with a 5-3 lead. A couple of posts (Stamkos and Hedman) and a wonderful save by Bob on Kucherov kept things uncomfortably close through 40 minutes.
Get the puck out. Get it to the red line. Get it deep. It’s a simple three-step process to slowing down a team like Florida when they are hunting for a comeback. Making them work the length of the ice is the best way to stymie their efforts. It’s also vital to make the most of the opportunities that present themselves. Enter Brayden Point on the power play. Nikita Kucherov set him up by squeezing a pass into him in the slot. Point didn’t get the cleanest shot off, but it was quick and accurate and, most importantly, in the net.
Brayden Point (Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman) Power Play
What you don’t want to do is keep giving them chances with extra skaters. The sixth match that the Lightning threw on the gas can finally ignited as Sam Reinhart finished off an unconventional feed from Jonathan Huberdeau on the power play to cut the Lightning lead back to two goals.
Sam Reinhart (Jonathan Huberdeau, Claude Giroux) Power Play
The Lightning don’t panic. We’ve known that for two seasons now. So it’s no surprise that Reinhart’s goal didn’t rattle them or force them into a defensive shell. They stuck to their game and struck again. Once again it was Kucherov finding pay dirt from the right circle on a cross-ice pass from Stamkos. The one-timer was so smooth and and quick that Bobrovskiy really didn’t have a chance.
Nikita Kucherov (Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman)
The Lightning were back on the power play late following a tussle between Ryan Lomberg and Erik Cernak. Florida obviously wasn’t happy about having their long winning streak ended so they took some liberties. The Lightning responded by putting the puck in the back of the net. Steven Stamkos - one-timer goal.
Steven Stamkos (Braydon Point, Nikita Kucherov)
That goal wrapped up the regular season series between the two teams, but there is a better than average chance they could meet in the second round of the playoffs. Should that happen, it’ll be a heck of a series.