Yeah, we all know the numbers.
The Panthers had a 5-2-1 report in opposition to the Lightning in eight video games through the common season. They outscored them 14-4 over the earlier three video games. They completed 4 factors forward of them within the Central Division, incomes house ice for his or her first-round playoff sequence.
Properly, good for them. They hadn’t seen the Lightning at full power.
Main playoff scorer Nikita Kucherov missed all the common season after hip surgical procedure. Captain Steven Stamkos was out greater than a month with a lower-body damage. And Conn Smythe-winning defenseman Victor Hedman missed the ultimate two video games with an damage of his personal.
With the three again within the lineup Sunday night time, the Lightning for the primary time all season actually resembled the group that stormed its solution to the Stanley Cup a yr in the past.
And it was a sight to behold.
Right here is how we graded the Lightning’s efficiency of their 5-4 win in Recreation 1.
Definitely worth the wait
It took 27 seasons for the Lightning and Panthers to lastly meet in a playoff sequence, and the groups appeared to pack a long time of highlights into the primary 60 minutes.
Their first postseason assembly featured physicality, spectacular scoring, particular groups play actually worthy of the identify, nice goaltending (regardless of the 9 complete objectives), and even a little bit of levity when Florida ahead Aleksander Barkov and Tampa Bay defenseman Jan Rutta engaged in one thing of a wrestling match within the first interval.
The Lightning led. The Panthers tied it. Florida went forward. Tampa Bay regained the lead.
And that was earlier than an exhilarating back-and-forth third interval through which each groups scored twice.
Simply while you thought the Panthers might need the higher hand because of Jonathan Huberdeau’s stick magic early within the interval, Brayden Level upstaged him late.
And to assume, that is simply Recreation 1.
A particular participant
What had been the Lightning lacking with Kucherov out of the lineup? What weren’t they lacking?
The Lightning’s main playoff scorer from their Stanley Cup run was engaged from the beginning, creating scoring possibilities, placing pucks on internet, stealing pucks, mixing it up alongside the boards.
Florida took their photographs at him early on, however as Kucherov confirmed throughout final season’s Cup ultimate in opposition to Dallas, it solely makes him higher.
Although Sergei Bobrovsky stopped him on a first-period breakaway, Kucherov was lethal correct on his two power-play objectives, arrange Level’s tying purpose and was a menace all night time lengthy, from in every single place on the ice.
It had been 34 video games because the Lightning scored a couple of power-play purpose in the identical sport. Sunday, they scored three on 4 alternatives.
With Kucherov and Stamkos becoming a member of Level and Hedman on the highest unit, the Panthers had too many choices to cowl, and it was clear they didn’t know the place to focus their consideration.
Fear an excessive amount of about Kucherov on the suitable facet, and Stamkos will beat you with a slap shot from the left circle. Break up your focus between Stamkos and Kucherov, and you allow your self open to Hedman’s blasts from the purpose.
Overplay any of them, as Bobrovsky did on Kucherov within the third interval, and Level will make you pay from the slot, as he confirmed by scoring the tying purpose right into a nearly empty internet.
Bodily from the beginning
From the primary huge hit early within the first interval, when Patric Hornqvist and Frank Vatrano sandwiched Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev into the top boards, the Panthers set a bodily tone.
Florida had 20 of the 29 complete hits within the interval and 54 of the 90 within the sport.
It appeared to work within the Panthers’ favor early on, as MacKenzie Weegar managed to tug Kucherov into the penalty field with him after a scrum alongside the facet boards, and Florida appeared to have the higher of the 4-on-4 play that resulted from all the extracurricular exercise.
However as the sport moved alongside, the tough stuff appeared to work in opposition to the Panthers. It resulted in 4 power-play alternatives for the Lightning, and Tampa Bay scored on three of them. Powerful luck.
Insult to damage
The Panthers appeared to open the scoring when Sam Bennett stuffed a puck behind Andrei Vasilevskiy simply over seven minutes into the sport. However the purpose was disallowed when officers dominated that Bennett had pushed Vasilevskiy’s left leg pad along with his stick.
If Florida coach Joel Quenneville was upset in regards to the name, he was completely incensed moments later.
In what seemed to be a set play off the neutral-zone faceoff, Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh banked a move off the facet wall to Yanni Gourde, who collected the puck simply contained in the Panthers zone and fed Blake Coleman within the slot. Coleman beat Sergei Bobrovsky excessive on the glove facet with a backhand shot, placing Tampa Bay forward as a substitute.
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