This game had three distinct parts. The first half of the game featured the best defensive hockey we've seen so far from the Lightning. For much of that time, they managed the puck well, cleanly came out of their own end, and skated hard without the puck (so the Panthers had very little time and space with which to work). While the first period was fairly evenly-played - and defensive-minded on both sides - the Lightning did create more dangerous chances than the Panthers. Then, during the opening minutes of the second, the Lightning decisively carried play, generating more good looks.
When the Panthers went on the power play at 8:33 of the second, they had posted only nine shots for the game - and just one in the period. But after Mike Hoffman scored the opening goal on that man advantage, the game's narrative completely changed. Moments later, the Lightning committed another penalty and Hoffman converted again. For the rest of the stanza, the Lightning's team defense became loose. They yielded chances off the rush. They turned pucks over. Florida players found room in the offensive zone. Noel Acciari netted a third goal following a Lightning d-zone turnover and a coverage lapse. In a 2:53 span, the Panthers had opened up a 3-0 lead. Even after Gemel Smith got one back for the Lightning late in the frame, the Lightning didn't build momentum. The Panthers pushed back immediately after that goal and almost netted a fourth tally before the period ended. Eventually, Florida did tack on a fourth goal during the opening shift of the third, following a failed Lightning clearing attempt and a Hoffman redirection tip on an Aaron Ekblad point shot.
Then the Lightning made their furious comeback push. Following Hoffman's hat trick goal, they outshot the Panthers, 17-5, for the rest of the game. Smith's post-whistle scrum with Hoffman at 5:39 may have sparked the Lightning. Steven Stamkos scored on the ensuing four-on-four. Minutes later, Sergei Bobrovsky robbed Nikita Kucherov during a Lightning power play. Bobrovsky also denied Mathieu Joseph's in-alone attempt off the rush. Undaunted, Joseph converted soon after on another rush chance, putting in a backhander following a cross-ice pass from Yanni Gourde. Carter Verhaeghe earned his first NHL point with an assist on the play.
The Lightning applied heavy pressure in the closing minutes with an extra attacker on the ice. Tyler Johnson won four consecutive offensive zone faceoffs from Acciari during that sequence. That helped the Lightning maintain possession in the Florida end and put shots towards the net. Bobrovsky kept the puck out, however, and got the game across the finish line for the Panthers.
Just as special teams were a key in the Lightning's win on Thursday, they were again a big storyline on Saturday. The Lightning hurt themselves with those second period penalties (they took three in the stanza, all in the opening 10:24). The Panthers have an excellent power play and, unlike on Thursday, they made the Lightning pay for those infractions. Immediately after that, the Lightning lost the tight structure they had displayed earlier in the game and the Panthers took advantage, building a lead that was just too big for the Lightning to overcome.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game:
- Mike Hoffman - Panthers. Hat trick.
- Jonathan Huberdeau - Panthers. Two assists.
- Mathieu Joseph - Lightning. Goal.