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Panthers looking for answers after Game 2 loss to Lightning

Yet to find form that resulted in five wins against Tampa Bay in regular season

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

The Florida Panthers have already used two starting goalies and played two home games.

They're two losses away from one of the best seasons in their history coming to an abrupt ending at the hands of the defending Stanley Cup champions.

"We've got our work cut out," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said.

Video: TBL@FLA, Gm2: Marchment buries a redirection in front

The Panthers, the No. 2 seed in the Discover Central Division, lost 3-1 to the No. 3 seed Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup First Round on Tuesday. Chris Driedger made 26 saves for the Panthers in his first professional playoff game. He started after Sergei Bobrovsky allowed five goals on 40 shots in Game 1.

Game 3 in the best-of-7 series will be played in Tampa on Thursday (6:30 p.m. ET; USA, FX-CA, TVAS2, BSSUN, BSFL). Quenneville said Wednesday morning no decision on a starting goalie had been made. 

Florida was 2-1-1 in four games at Tampa Bay in the regular season. It finished ahead of Tampa Bay in the standings, but this is a different Lightning team with forwards Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos back in the lineup, and the Stanley Cup Playoffs are a different beast altogether.

The Lightning know how to win at this time of year. The Panthers have not proven yet that they do, and the worry that they've already played their final home game of the season is real even though the players and Quenneville said and focused on all the right things after the game.

"Just stick together as a team," Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said. "Obviously, we had huge support by our fans in this building. We loved it. We enjoyed it. Just couldn't come up with wins. We're going to battle to the end, give everything we have every game, every shift and hopefully come back for Game 5." 

The pace, give and take, animosity and drama in Game 2 was a 180-degree difference from how things went in Game 1, a 5-4 Lightning win in come-from-behind fashion Sunday, a game that featured four lead changes and five instances of 4-on-4 hockey because of matching minor penalties. 

The problem for the Panthers is even the tamed-down Game 2 benefitted the Lightning because of how the first period played out.

"We played run and gun," Florida defenseman MacKenzie Weegar said. "We were playing more of their game."

Stamkos scored with a pass that redirected off Panthers defenseman Anton Stralman at 4:52 to give the Lightning a 1-0 lead.

Ondrej Palat made it 2-0 at 14:57, scoring off a rebound of Brayden Point's shot off the crossbar that bounced directly onto his stick in the right circle.

"They had the lead they were looking for, so it was more patient of a game and a lot more structured of a game," Quenneville said.

Video: Palat earns a goal and an assist in Game 2 victory

The Panthers can't try to win a rush game against the Lightning. Few, if any, teams win against them when the game gets wide open and becomes chance for chance.

"We have to play more of a checking game, get pucks deep, grind them down like we did all season long," Weegar said. "We played great against them all season (5-2-1) and we've got to get back to our game."

They did it on forward Mason Marchment's goal that cut the Lightning lead to 2-1 at 14:21 of the second period.

Marchment won a puck battle against Lightning defenseman Luke Schenn in the corner and got it to Barkov, who put it behind the net to Carter Verhaeghe. Marchment went to the front of the net, Verhaeghe found him and he scored on a redirect from the slot.

"That's what we've got to do," Weegar said.

It's what they did a lot against the Lightning in the regular season, to the tune of five wins and 31 goals for in eight games (3.88 goals per game). They scored 16 goals in four games at Amalie Arena.

The Panthers will get forward Sam Bennett back in the lineup after he was suspended for Game 2 for boarding Ligthning forward Blake Coleman in the third period of Game 1. 

Quenneville said Bennett should have a positive impact on how the Panthers control the puck in the offensive zone.  

"We need more guys that are at their best and to get that we're going to push every envelope we can to make sure that we are going to be the best we can going forward," Quenneville said. "You have to improve as the games go along here. We have to expect more."

They have to get more, or the season could be over by the end of the week.

"If we don't play run and gun against them," Driedger said, "I like our odds."

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