SUNRISE — Rivalries aren’t made on one sport alone, however perhaps that is the start.
The excitement going into the Lightning’s first-round playoff opener towards the Florida Panthers centered on whether or not these groups have been lastly match to be true rivals.
And if the Lightning’s 5-4 comeback win on the BB&T Middle — a sport by which the defending Stanley Cup champs have been stretched to the restrict by their upstart cross-state neighbors — is an instance of what’s to come back, this will probably be an thrilling collection and presumably the making of one thing large.
“Once you face groups constantly within the playoffs, that’s if you get that rivalry,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos stated. “(The Panthers have) been pushing the envelope the previous couple of years they usually’re a contender for positive. If Sport 1 is any indication, that is going to be an incredible collection, an extended collection and we’ve to be up for the duty.”
The Lightning rallied from a one-goal, third-period deficit with two targets by heart Brayden Level within the last seven minutes, together with his game-winning rating with 1:14 remaining on a breakaway. This was the fourth playoff sport in NHL historical past to have 4 lead adjustments.
“I simply had the most effective seat in the home for it,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper stated. “And it was fairly a hockey sport, two distinctive groups going at it. And that’s why it’s the best sport on the earth. We simply witnessed why, that show of these two groups.”
They have been little doubt rejuvenated by the return of star wing Nikita Kucherov, who scored two power-play targets and assisted on Level’s first objective of the evening, which additionally got here on the ability play. After lacking your complete common season recovering from hip surgical procedure, Kucherov was enjoying in his first sport in practically eight months since hoisting the Stanley Cup within the bubble in Edmonton.
Following an atypical common season, one which ended with the Lightning banged up and never enjoying their finest hockey, Tampa Bay flipped the swap when the postseason highlight turned on. Their playoff expertise, cultivated via their Cup run final 12 months and falling brief earlier than that, confirmed.
“We talked about composure, and that was type of the theme of final 12 months’s run,” Stamkos stated. “So many issues are going to occur in the midst of a collection … that may change momentum. We’ve discovered so many occasions all through the playoffs and the runs that we’ve been on whether or not it occurred towards us or like we noticed tonight the place we have been capable of pull one out.”
Sunday’s opener additionally prolonged the physicality of the workforce’s last two regular-season conferences right here with a mixture of arduous checks and post-whistle shoving scrums. However the Lightning had the final snigger partially because of Kucherov.
Thirty-five minutes into the sport, any questions on whether or not Kucherov would be capable to soar proper right into a playoff ambiance have been answered. He already had danced round the proper circle with two objective celebrations.
Kucherov tied the rating 4:58 into the second interval. Off the faceoff in the proper circle of the Panthers’ zone, Florida defenseman Gustav Forsling snapped in half and Kucherov calmly cleared away the remnants of Forsling’s stick, took a feed from Victor Hedman and rifled a one-timer into the online.
Level then chased the puck into the nook and took two Panthers with him, received it out to Hedman who skated throughout the entrance of the crease drawing consideration earlier than passing off to Kucherov beneath the proper dot.
The Lightning went into the third main by one — however shortly fell behind 4-3 after two fast Florida targets — ahead Jonathan Huberdeau scored the tying objective and assisted on Owen Tippett’s go-ahead rating.
The Lightning tied with seven minutes left within the third with a 3rd power-play objective as Kucherov bluffed a shot from the proper circle, then slid the puck to Level within the slot.
Level then took a stretch move from defenseman Ryan McDonagh via the impartial zone after a blocked shot and beat Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky on a breakaway objective via the 5 gap.
“Not numerous doubt,” Stamkos stated. “Pointer on the breakaway within the playoffs has been fairly cash.”
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