This game had a similar feel to Monday's contest between the Lightning and New York Rangers. It was a fiercely contested, physical game with a playoff-type feel. As was the case on Monday, both goalies had exceptional performances to keep the game close.
Of course, there were a couple of big differences, too. Monday's game remained scoreless until the Rangers won it in OT. In this one, the Lightning spotted the Panthers a 2-0 first period lead, so they had to play from behind. And the Lightning were able to net the game-winning goal late in the third, so they captured a regulation victory.
While the Lightning didn't have a poor first period, they did get burned by a couple of defensive zone miscues that the Panthers turned into goals. The first came moments after the Lightning had killed off a penalty. The second occurred in the final minute of the frame - and those can be deflating goals to allow.
But the Lightning cleaned up their game in the second. They were aided by some retaliatory penalties the Panthers took. Gabriel Dumont's check on Aaron Ekblad took Ekblad out of the game, but it was deemed a clean hit. So when Keith Yandle fought Dumont, the Panthers were given an extra roughing minor. On the ensuing power play, Nikita Kucherov netted his 31st goal and 14th power play marker of the season. Most of those 14 power play goals, like this one, have come off one-timers from the right circle. With the goal, Kucherov set a career-high in goals and points (67) in a season.
Ekblad's injury forced him from the game and the Panthers lost Alex Petrovic to a game misconduct a few minutes later. Petrovic reacted to an Anton Stralman hip check on Denis Malgin (Malgin was also injured on the play and missed the rest of the game). Without Ekblad and Petrovic, the Panthers were down to four defensemen and also minus Malgin at forward. Still, they had a chance to extend their lead when they got a power play halfway through the second. But on that PK, Yanni Gourde stole a puck from Vincent Trocheck and countered on a shorthanded breakaway. With Trocheck pursuing, Gourde put in his first NHL goal, tying the game at two.
Even though the Lightning had pulled even, they immediately faced another important test. The Bolts took another penalty, putting the Panthers on an extended five-on-three. But Andrei Vasilevskiy made a key save on Jonathan Marchessault and the Lightning got through both ends of the five-on-three.
From that point until Ondrej Palat's game-winner late in the third, the teams traded chances. The Lightning may have had a few more in all, but both goalies were repeatedly tested - and responded with key saves. Eventually, the Lightning broke through. After Palat dumped the puck in from center ice, it ricocheted around the boards to Andrej Sustr at the right point. Sustr fired a quick shot that Palat tipped past James Reimer.
The Palat goal came with 2:23 left, but the Lightning still needed more Vasilevskiy saves before the final buzzer. One of his best came in the final half-minute - he stopped a Marchessault shot following a clean offensive zone faceoff win by Aleksander Barkov.
It was not only another solid outing and critical win for the Lightning, but one in which they were able to rally from a multi-goal deficit. They'll look to avoid that scenario when they visit the Rangers and Ottawa Senators on Monday and Tuesday.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Gourde's shorthanded goal.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
- Andrei Vasilevskiy - Lightning. 32 saves.
- Yanni Gourde - Lightning. First NHL goal.
- James Reimer - Panthers. 31 saves.