Spencer Knight shines in debut as the Panthers defeat the Lightning, 4-1

There will be a Game Six.

Spencer Knight stopped 37 of 38 shots from the Tampa Bay Lightning and became the youngest goaltender to win his playoff debut in an elimination game. The Florida Panthers scored twice in the second period to overcome a one-goal deficit and extend the series to a Game Six with the 4-1 victory. Ross Colton scored the lone goal for the Lightning just 53 seconds into the game while Andrei Vasilevskiy made 34 saves on 37 shots.

On the road, Coach Cooper went with his old reliable 11/7 rotation with Luke Schenn coming into the line-up and Mathieu Joseph coming out. The setup not only brings in a little more physicality, but it also lets him bring his top-line players in against more favorable match-ups when he doubleshifts them.

The Panthers made the risky decision of starting a 19-year-old netminder with four games of NHL experience in a lose-and-stay-home match. The gamble paid off as Spencer Knight was fantastic in net.

The Lightning greeted the rookie goaltender rather rudely as they scored on their first shot on net less than a minute into the game. It was fellow rookie Ross Colton who finished off a centering feed from Blake Coleman on a two-on-one that started the scoring. Welcome to the NHL.

Ross Colton (Blake Coleman, Ryan McDonagh)

The Panthers had a couple of looks on a subsequent power play, but old friend Carter Verhaeghe’s chip shot went over Vasilevskiy and through the crease. Unlike in previous games in this series, the Lightning were able to put some pressure on the Panthers at even strength in the first period as they absolutely dominated the scoring chances through the first 15 minutes (9-1). Granted the Bolts were also shorthanded twice (technically three times, but one was only 8 seconds long) and that helped even up the over stats for the period.

For the most part the teams behaved themselves (a Ryan McDonagh crosscheck to the face and a Mason Marchment boarding call excepted) and the two teams combined for an entertaining period of hockey with 53 combined shot attempts (28 by the Lightning), 27 scoring chances (19 by the Lightning) and 12 high-danger chances (8 by the Lightning). That’s the good stuff we’ve been waiting for.

The intensity picked up a little in the second. While both teams were able to find room to skate up the ice, things closed down once they entered the offensive zone and prime scoring chances were hard to find in the first five minutes of the period. Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat had a clean two-on-one, but Gustav Forsling made a nice play with his stick to deflect it away before Palat could tap it into the empty net.

Despite the Panthers fondness for scoring on the transition, they tied it off of a face-off win in the neutral zone. Sam Bennett won it cleanly and the puck worked its way to MacKenzie Weegar at the top of the right circle. He let it go and it weaved it’s way through traffic and over Vasilevskiy’s shoulder to tie the game at one a piece.

MacKenzie Weegar (Johnathan Huberdeau, Sam Bennett)

The Panthers definitely improved their even strength play in the period as they kept the Lightning to the perimeter for most of it and gave their young goaltender a clean look at the shots from distance. For his part, Knight made the saves and controlled the rebounds. There weren’t many second opportunities available for the Lightning forwards.

With three-and-a-half minutes to go the Lightning appeared to put the puck in the net. Well, Spencer Knight went into the net while holding the puck after he was run into by his own player. The refs reviewed it and waived it off as there wasn’t a clear look at the puck actually being in the net. Thirty second later the Panthers took the lead when Mason Marchment fired home a shot off of a pass from behind the net by Sasha Barkov. That’s an unfortunate swing of momentum.

Mason Marchment (Aleksander Barkov, MacKenzie Weegar)

The Lightning had a golden chance to tie it shortly after, but Knight kicked out his right pad and denied Colton from in close. On the ensuing rush down the ice, Luke Schenn  hauled down Anthony DuClair and the Cats went back on the power play. They didn’t score, but the horn sounded on a really good period for the home team.

While they might not have scored on the portion of the power play they had at the end of the second period, they did on the part that occurred in the third. Simple, efficient puck movement and a quick shot from the slot by Barkov that hit Patric Hornqvist and deflected by Vasilevskiy. Not the prettiest goal Hornqvist has scored, but one of his more important ones in a Panthers uniform as it made it 3-1.

Patric Hornqvist (Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau) Power Play

The rest of the period had the Bolts chasing the game, but the Panthers doing a stout job of defending. With their ability to counter as quickly as they can, the Bolts had to be cautious jumping up on the play lest they surrender another goal.

In the end, with Vasilevskiy pulled, the Lightning still couldn’t find the back of the net. Knight made one more key save on a Kucherov one-timer and Victor Hedman blasted a shot just wide. Frank Vatrano eventually put it into the empty net to make the final 4-1.

Frank Vatrano (Patric Hornqvist) Empty Net

Empty net goals get no highlight.

The two teams will do it again on Wednesday. Pretty sure Spencer Knight will get the start for the Panthers.