Heading into this game, the Lightning knew they’d be facing a desperate Florida team. The Panthers were five points behind Ottawa for the second wildcard spot. The Panthers were desperate and played well. They racked up 36 shots on Andrei Vasilevskiy, scored three goals in a 1:58 span in the second period and applied heavy pressure at different points throughout the game. But in the end, the Lightning found a way to pick up their fourth consecutive win and 30th home triumph of the season.
The Lightning were the crisper team at the start and jumped out to a 2-0 lead. First, a miscommunication between Florida d-men Brian Campbell and Willie Mitchell at the Panthers bench resulted in neither player touching a puck that slid past them. J.T. Brown pursued the puck into the Florida zone with Brendan Morrow in what become a two-on-one. Morrow fed Brown for a point-blank shot and then Morrow banked the rebound off Roberto Luongo’s pad into the net at 5:49. Less than two minutes later, Ryan Callahan intercepted an outlet from Erik Gudbranson and set up Tyler Johnson for a one-timer in the slot. The shot eluded Luongo and the Bolts had an early 2-0 lead.
The Panthers didn’t have a shot until they received a power play chance at 8:24. But on that man advantage, Florida posted five shots, several of them dangerous. The Panthers added three more on the shift after the penalty ended. But Vasilevskiy stopped all eight – and added four more before the period ended.
In the second, the Panthers erupted for those three quick goals. The first came off an offensive zone faceoff win and a rising shot from Jussi Jokinen. On the next shift, the Panthers’ forechecking forced a turnover in the Lightning end and Brandon Pirri rifled a point shot through a screen that hit Vasilevskiy and went in. There was some bad luck for the Lightning on that play. Just before the goal, Vasilevskiy had lost his stick and Johnson retrieved it for him. But the Lightning goalie had just taken it back when the shot arrived and was not set to make the save. Finally, the Bolts surrendered an odd-man rush and Jonathan Huberdeau’s pass hit Anton Stralman and careened in on Vasilevskiy. Vasilevskiy scrambled to stop the puck, but Huberdeau jammed in the rebound. It was 3-2 Florida with just under 12 minutes left in the second. For much of the rest of the period, the Lightning were not able to match Florida’s intensity. As a result, they didn’t possess the puck much. The Florida line of Aleksander Barkov, Huberdeau and Jaromir Jagr was especially dangerous and consistently kept the Lightning pinned back in the d-zone. Still, the period ended with the Lightning only down by a goal.
In the third, the Lightning raised their own desperation level and the final frame was more evenly played. They tied it early in the third, when Nikita Kucherov deflected a point shot from Andrej Sustr over the net. The puck hit the glass and dropped down behind the net. Kucherov scooped it up and swept in a wraparound shot. But even though the Lightning’s intensity level was higher, the Panthers’ intensity didn’t drop. They continued to enjoy some long offensive zone possession time, particularly the Barkov line and the line of Brad Boyes, Jussi Jokinen and Dave Bolland. Vasilevskiy made a terrific save on Boyes with about eight minutes left in the third to keep the game tied at three. Then, in the closing minutes, the Lightning line of Steven Stamkos, Alex Killorn and Callahan (reunited as a line in the third period) maintained possession for a long offensive zone shift. Eventually, Callahan stepped out from behind the net to the left circle and wristed a shot past Luongo for the go-ahead goal at 17:32. On the next shift, Vasilevskiy made a superb point-blank stop on Huberdeau to preserve the lead. The Panthers pulled Luongo with under two minutes left but couldn’t tie it.
The desperate Panthers played well enough to win this game. But the Lightning made key plays at important times and received important saves from their goalie. That was the difference.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
1.Ryan Callahan – Lightning. GWG and assist.
2.Andrei Vasilevskiy – Lightning. 33 saves.
3.Jonathan Huberdeau and Brad Boyes – Panthers. Between them, goal and assist.