In attempting to rally from a 4-1 deficit, the Lightning made a furious push in the final 11 and a half minutes of this game. They netted two goals and, if not for some key saves by Florida goalie Al Montoya, could have tied the game. But the urgency they displayed in those final minutes wasn’t evident for most of the rest of the game. This wasn’t one the Lightning deserved to win.
The first period wasn’t awful for the Lightning, but there were still some leaky parts to their game. On a number of occasions, they hesitated clearing pucks from the defensive zone and Florida forecheckers made steals. Also, the Lightning weren’t crisp in their rush coverage. The Panthers didn’t register a shot until the game was just over 10 minutes old, but that shot was a wide-open chance for Tomas Kopecky at the end of a Florida rush. On the next shift, the Panthers scored the game’s first goal – again generating a chance off the rush. Anton Stralman deflected an attempted pass from Jonathan Huberdeau to Aleksander Barkov, but the puck ricocheted perfectly to Jaromir Jagr, who was trailing the play. Jagr buried the shot to give the Panthers the lead.
The Lightning’s forecheck did create problems for the Panthers in the first period. Forechecking pressure helped them tie the game shortly thereafter. Brian Boyle stole the puck at the left circle and passed to Jonathan Drouin. After some fancy stickhandling, Drouin left the puck for Stralman, who roofed a shot over a screened Montoya.
The Panthers took over the game in the second period. Their raised urgency level was evident from the opening faceoff in the period. Throughout the frame, the Lightning made poor puck decisions, turned pucks over in all three zones, lost numerous puck battles and, in a continuation from their first period woes, struggled with rush coverage. They were outshot, 15-5, in the frame. Still, of their five shots, three were terrific scoring chances. One came on a Tyler Johnson breakaway, just as a Lightning penalty was about to expire. Johnson was hooked on the breakaway, so he was awarded a penalty shot. Montoya stopped both attempts – and later made a save on an in-alone Boyle chance. Moments after Johnson’s unsuccessful penalty shot, the Panthers again scored off the rush. Jagr’s point blank shot led to a rebound goal for Barkov at 5:31. Play for most of the rest of the period was spent in the Lightning zone. It appeared that the Bolts might escape the period only down by one goal, especially after they killed a penalty late in the frame. But with just over three minutes left in the second, Brad Boyes banked a shot off Ben Bishop’s stick into the net.
Down 3-1 entering the third, the Lightning failed to muster much of an attack in the early minutes. The Panthers received five power play chances in the game – and they scored on the fifth one. At 4:18, Aaron Ekblad’s point shot deflected off Jason Garrison’s leg into the net.
The Bolts didn’t come alive until Garrison stole an attempted Florida clear at the left circle and wired a cross-ice pass to Steven Stamkos, who buried the shot into an open side of the net. The goal, which came with 11:29 left, sparked the Lightning. For most of the rest of the game, they dictated play and, as a result, generated some Grade-A chances. Alex Killorn’s center point shot hit the cross bar with about 10 minutes left. Later, Montoya stopped Johnson’s point-blank rebound attempt with a terrific right skate save. Then, with the clock ticking under three minutes, the Lightning enjoyed a sustained shift in the offensive zone. Tampa Bay was able to change players while maintaining possession. The tired Panthers, on the other hand, couldn’t get off the ice. Nikita Kucherov eventually set up Johnson for a tap-in with 2:44 left. It was 4-3, but despite some pressure in the closing minutes, the Lightning couldn’t tie it.
The game became close because the Lightning played with intensity and urgency after falling behind by three goals. But in terms of which club had the run of play for most of the night, the contest wasn’t close. The Bolts know they’ll need to be better as they look to lock down a post-season berth and hit their stride in the closing weeks of the regular season.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game:
Barkov’s goal, which came moments after Johnson’s unsuccessful penalty shot.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game:
1.Jonathan Huberdeau – Panthers. Three assists.
2.Jaromir Jagr – Panthers. Goal and assist.
3.Al Montoya – Panthers. Several key saves during the game.