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Preview: Fresh Off Wild OT Win, Panthers Look to Split Series in Game 4

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop /

The Panthers are alive.

Following a ferocious comeback to claim Game 3 in overtime on Thursday, the Panthers will now look to pull even with the Lightning in their first-round Central Division playoff series when the in-state rivals clash once again in a critical Game 4 at Amalie Arena on Saturday afternoon.

"The guys were obviously on a different level last night," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said during a media teleconference on Friday. "The excitement was sky-high, but it's a new day. I think that taking that momentum [into Game 4], we've got to try and find a way to balance it."

Trailing 5-3 entering the third period in Game 3, the Panthers got a power-play goal from Patric Hornqvist early in the frame to cut the deficit to 5-4 before Gustav Forsling, suiting up in just the third playoff game of his career, lit the lamp with only 3:07 left to make it 5-5 and force overtime.

Starting the extra frame behind the eight ball, the Panthers first had to kill off 1:23 of a power play for the Lightning, which had carried over from the third period. Rising to the challenge, and even though Tampa Bay had scored two with the extra attacker already, they got the job done.

Having set the table for some heroics, an unlikely hero then emerged.

After Noel Acciari won a faceoff back to Radko Gudas in the defensive zone, the defenseman then lofted the puck up into the air towards the neutral zone. Getting just enough of his stick on it, Frank Vatrano then poked the rubber straight through two defenders right to Ryan Lomberg.

With no one but the goaltender in front of him, the hard-nosed forward, who had yet to fire off a shot in the game up until that point, then beat Andrei Vasilevsky to give the Panthers to a 6-5 win and chop the Lightning's lead in the best-of-seven series down to a very manageable 2-1.

Video: FLA@TBL, Gm3: Lomberg scores breakaway Game 3 OT goal

Just the third player in franchise history to score a game-winning goal in overtime, Lomberg, who did it on his first shift in the extra frame, was the first to do so since Mike Hough in 1996.

"All it takes is one shot, one opportunity," Lomberg said afterwards. "We're on to Game 4."

Also coming up big in the win, Sergei Bobrovsky stopped all nine shots he faced after entering the game in relief of Chris Driedger to start the third period. Following that strong performance, the two-time Vezina Trophy winner is expected to get the nod in net once again on Saturday.

In the crease for parts of two games in the series, Bobrovsky has stopped 44 of 49 shots.

"He was excited about the challenge when he got put into the game," Quenneville said of Bobrovsky, who owned a strong 19-8-2 record on top of a .906 save percentage during the regular season. "I don't know if I've ever seen him happier than he was after that game."

As for other lineup changes heading into Game 4, Quenneville said it's "likely" the Panthers will roll with the same group that helped them pick up the W on Thursday. In that win, Sam Bennett, Alex Wennberg and Radko Gudas joined Hornqvist, Forsling, and Lomberg in touching the twine.

Through the first three games of the series, Jonathan Huberdeau leads Florida in scoring with six points (one goal, five assists), including dishing out three helpers in Game 3. Not far behind, captain Aleksander Barkov and rookie Owen Tippett are tied for second with four points apiece.

With Saturday's puck drop set for 12:30 p.m. ET, an exact lineup won't be known until warmups.

For the Lightning, Game 3 marked the first time all season they lost a game when leading after two periods. Before that, they'd gone 28-0-0 during the regular-season and playoffs combined. With all five of their goals coming in the middle frame, it also marked just the third time in NHL history that a team lit the lamp five times in a single period and still lost the game in the playoffs.

In the defeat, Anthony Cirelli, Ross Colton, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point and Alex Killorn all found the back of the net, while Vasilevskiy surrendered six goals on 47 shots, including giving up a pair of goals on the power play thanks to some exceptional screen jobs from the Panthers.

Although he could be in line for his second Vezina Trophy after leading the NHL with 31 wins during the regular season, Vasilevskiy continues to appear vulnerable against the Panthers. In fact, the 26-year-old has given up at least four goals in five of his last six games against them.

Game 3 also marked just the second time this season Vasilevskiy allowed at least five goals.

The other game? Yep, you guessed it, also came against the Panthers.

"We know he's a good goalie, but we can beat him," Huberdeau said. "We're good enough to beat him. A lot of games we've scored a lot of goals against him. Tonight, again, six goals. We've just got to make it difficult for him and the puck will go in and that's what we did tonight."

Putting up three assists in Game 3, Victor Hedman paces the Lightning in postseason scoring with six points, while Point, who has tallied at least one point in each game thus far, and Nikita Kucherov are tied for second with five points each. In third, Stamkos has compiled four points.

On Friday, Hedman, Kucherov and Vasilevskiy, who is expected to start in Game 4, were all absent from Tampa Bay's practice due to maintenance. According to Bryan Burns of the club's official website, coach John Cooper said afterwards that all three players will play on Saturday.

"We did some video today, we looked at it to see what we could do better and now it's in the past," Cirelli told reporters. "I think at this time of year, you have to have a short memory. Last night happened, that's how it went, and we've just got to refocus and be ready for next game."

With the home team yet to win a game in the series, the Panthers have a golden opportunity in front of them to even up the best-of-seven battle before heading back across Alligator Alley to host the Lightning in what should be a rowdy Game 5 at BB&T Center on Monday at 8 p.m. ET.

"There's still a lot of work to be done," Quenneville said.


- 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 produce 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). Through the first three games of the playoffs, he's produced a team-high six points.

-- Alex Wennberg scored his first goal of this year's playoffs and also added an assist in Game 3. During the regular season, he registered a career-high 17 goals, including a pair of hat tricks.

-- 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).

-- A two-time Stanley Cup champion, Patric Hornqvist has recorded 48 points (26 goals, 22 assists) in 93 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.

-- Sam Bennett ranks fourth on the Panthers in playoffs scoring with three points (one goal, two assists) despite missing Game 2 due to a suspension. Dating back to the regular season, he's recorded at least one point in 11 of 12 games since being acquired from the Flames at last month's NHL trade deadline. In that span, he's produced 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists).

-- With a pair of multi-point games already in the series, rookie Owen Tippett ranks tied for second on the Panthers in playoffs scoring with four points (one goal, three assists).

-- Radko Gudas paced the Panthers and led the NHL with 250 hits during the regular season. Through three games against the Lightning in this series, he's already registered 24 hits to go along with a goal and an assist. Additionally, his goal in Game 3 was the first playoff goal of his NHL career.



Carter Verhaeghe - Aleksander Barkov - Anthony Duclair

Jonathan Huberdeau - Sam Bennett - Owen Tippett

Frank Vatrano - Alex Wennberg - Patric Hornqvist

Ryan Lomberg - Noel Acciari - Mason Marchment


MacKenzie Weegar - Anton Stralman

Gustav Forsling - Radko Gudas

Markus Nutivaara - Brandon Montour


Sergei Bobrovsky

Chris Driedger

Scratches: Eetu Luostarinen, Juho Lammikko, Nikita Gusev, Aleksi Heponiemi, Keith Yandle, Grigori Denisenko, 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.


When: Saturday, May 22 at 12:30 p.m. ET

Where: Amalie Arena - Tampa, 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 NHL Network Radio Ch. 91; Sports USA

Pre-Game Listen: On the latest episode of the Territory Talk podcast, Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press stops by to chat about the resurgent Panthers, heated playoffs and more!

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