"All year long he did everything you'd want," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said of Driedger, who is celebrating his 27th birthday today. "It's an opportunity when we're looking at goaltending to see how it's going to play out in the playoffs. We're going to take it one game at a time. He hasn't had this chance here for two years. We feel it's the right time to give him an opportunity."
After spending nearly 30 years building up bad blood, the first-ever playoff series between the Panthers and Lightning proved to be worth the wait. Playing in front of a limited-capacity sellout crowd, the two bitter rivals traded goals and hits during a relentless battle in Game 1 on Sunday.
With the Panthers leading 4-3 early in the third period, the Lightning managed to tie the game on a power-play goal from Brayden Point, who would then go on to lock in the 5-4 win when he flew down the ice and beat Sergei Bobrovsky on a breakaway with 1:14 remaining in regulation.
Looking for a better result in Game 2, the Panthers' No. 1 priority will be to stay out of the box.
The better team at 5-on-5, the Panthers edged the Lightning 3-1 when both sides were even in Game 1. But on special teams, the Lightning converted on three of their four opportunities on the power play, including a pair of key goals from Nikita Kucherov during the second period.
"The intensity is going to be high," Panthers defenseman Brandon Montour said. "The fans are going to be involved. Each shift is going to be that much tighter and that much more impactful. … Obviously, they took it to us on the power play there. At 5-on-5, I thought we were stronger. We've just got to use our strengths the best we can tonight and see what we've got from there."
Unfortunately, the Panthers will be without one of their strongest performers tonight.
In a physical matchup that featured 34 combined penalties minutes, there were certainly more than a few notable incidents that occurred in the heat of the moment during Game 1. And while neither team can claim innocence, it was only the Panthers that faced supplementary discipline.
Suspended one game by the NHL's Department of Player Safety on Monday, Panthers forward Sam Bennett will miss tonight's game after he drove Lightning forward Blake Coleman into the boards during the third period on Sunday. On the play, he was given two minutes for charging.
Bennett, who had no prior suspensions during his NHL career, will certainly be missed. One of Florida's top offensive players ever since he was acquired from Calgary at the trade deadline, he recorded 15 points (six goals, nine assists) over 10 games to close out the regular season.
In Game 1, Bennett recorded two assists, three hits and two takeaways.
"We're going to deal with it, learn and more forward," Quenneville said of the ruling.
With Bennett unavailable, Alex Wennberg, who had a career-high 17 goals during the regular season, will slide up from the third line to the center of the second. Additionally, Noel Acciari will move up to the third line, while Juho Lammikko will enter the lineup to center the fourth line.
"I don't really overthink it," Wennberg said of his promotion. I've played with [Jonathan Huberdeau] in the past and know what type of player he is. It's part of hockey right there. I've got the opportunity. I've got to try and take advantage and make the most out of it."
Leading the Panthers in scoring with 61 points (20 goals, 41 assists) during the regular season, Huberdeau once again led the charge on offense with a team-high three points (one goal, two assists) in Game 1. Also lighting the lamp were Aleksander Barkov, Carter Verhaeghe and Owen Tippett, who also chipped in an assist for a two-point game in his NHL playoffs debut.
Across the ice, the Lightning are expected to go back to Andrei Vasilevskiy between the pipes. In Game 1, the former Vezina Trophy winner, who led the NHL with 31 wins during the regular season, turned aside 35 of 39 shots he faced. Of those saves, 16 came in the first period alone.
Looking well rested after missing the entire regular season while recovering from offseason hip surgery, Kucherov paced Tampa Bay with three points (two goals, one assist) in Game 1, while Point potted a pair of goals. Also back after a long absence, Steven Stamkos had two assists.
During the regular season, the Panthers owned a 5-2-1 record against the Lightning. "It was a different look than we'd seen all year," Quenneville said of facing the revamped Bolts.
"We watched a lot. We had some poor clears. First and foremost, stay out of the box. They had a lot of special teams time in the game. That power play is lethal. They have so many different options and looks, so many great playmakers and deceiving playmakers as well."
Looking to split the series tonight, Wennberg said the Panthers learned a lot from Game 1.
"That's one game right there," Wennberg said. "You've got to learn from it. We had a talk about it. We're going to focus on what we can do, and we have an opportunity to be better today."
PANTHERS vs. LIGHTNING IN THE REGULAR SEASON
- ALL-TIME vs. TBL: 71-48-10-17
- ALL-TIME HOME vs. TBL: 42-16-4-10
- 2020-21 vs. TBL: 5-2-1
- Aleksander Barkov led the Panthers in goals (26), even-strength goals (18), even-strength points (38) and shots (176) during the regular season. He also ranked second on the team in assists (32), points (58), power-play goals (7) and power-play points (19). He stands as the only player in the history of the franchise to produced six consecutive 50-point, 20-goal seasons.
-- Jonathan Huberdeau led Florida in assists (41), points (61) and power-play points (24) for the second straight season, while also ranking second on the team in goals (20) and even-strength points (37). In 38 career games against Tampa Bay, he's tallied 38 points (13 goals, 25 assists).
-- MacKenzie Weegar paced all Panthers defensemen in scoring with a career-high 35 points, including posting three goals and eight assists over his final eight games of the regular season. He also sat first among NHL blueliners in even-strength points (31) and plus/minus (tied-+29).
-- Anthony Duclair recorded six goals and 10 assists over his last 14 games to finish the regular season with 32 points. Logging a career-best +27 rating this season, he also found the back of the net three times in seven games against the Lightning.
-- A two-time Stanley Cup champion, Patric Hornqvist has recorded 46 points (25 goals, 21 assists) in 90 career playoff games. During his first season with the Panthers, a team-leading eight of his 14 goals came on the power play, including potting a pair against the Lightning.
-- Frank Vatrano finished tied for third on the Panthers with 18 goals, including a team-leading seven game-winners. Of those 18 goals, 14 were scored in the third period or overtime.
-- Radko Gudas led the NHL with 250 hits during the regular season.
PROJECTED LINEUP (SUBJECT TO CHANGE)
Carter Verhaeghe - Aleksander Barkov - Anthony Duclair
Jonathan Huberdeau - Alex Wennberg - Owen Tippett
Frank Vatrano - Noel Acciari - Patric Hornqvist
Ryan Lomberg - Juho Lammikko - Mason Marchment
Gustav Forsling - MacKenzie Weegar
Markus Nutivaara - Brandon Montour
Keith Yandle - Radko Gudas
Scratches: Eetu Luostarinen, Juho Lammikko, Nikita Gusev, Aleksi Heponiemi, Anton Stralman, Sam Bennett, Matt Kiersted, Noah Juulsen, Spencer Knight, Kevin Connauton
Taxi squad: Scott Wilson, Cole Schwindt, Brady Keeper, Sam Montembeault, Philippe Desrosiers
Injured reserve: Aaron Ekblad (lower body)
- May 10: D Kevin Connauton was recalled to Florida's active roster.
- May 4: G Philippe Desrosiers was loaned to the Taxi Squad.
- May 3: G Philippe Desrosiers was recalled from the Taxi Squad.
- 50/50 Raffle
- All fans in attendance will receive a "Fear No One" rally towel courtesy of HairClub.
- To learn about safety protocols and the new "Red Reminders" program presented in conjunction with Baptist Health South Florida, visit FloridaPanthers.com/RedReminders.
- Visit FloridaPanthers.com/MobileOrdering to learn about mobile ordering at BB&T Center.
- Download the all-new FLA Live! Mobile app. Click HERE for all the info!
HOW TO WATCH / LISTEN
When: Tuesday, May 18 at 8:00 p.m. ET
Where: BB&T Center - Sunrise, FL
TV: Bally Sports Florida, CNBC
Stream: Bally Sports App
Radio: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 850 WFTL (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); 107.9 FM/1370 AM WZTA (Treasure Coast); SiriusXM Ch. 219 / Streaming Ch. 932
Pre-Game Listen: Hear from Kevin Weekes on the latest episode of "Around the NHL."