It took 65+ minutes, but the Florida Panthers took a hard fought, 5-4 shootout victory against the reigning Eastern Conference Champions in Tampa Bay on Saturday night.
Jussi Jokinen (4) opened the scoring at the 4:48 mark, banging home a Vincent Trocheck wraparound to beat Bolts goaltender Ben Bishop for an early 1-0 lead. Brian Campbell earned his seventh assist of the season on the play.
Midway through the period, Cedric Paquette tripped Shawn Thornton for Florida's first power play opportunity - but it was short-lived. Fifty-two seconds later, Brandon Pirri was whistled for holding Erik Condra's stick. After a short four-on-four, the Bolts power play also came up empty.
Tampa Bay did tie the game at the 15:22 mark after a scramble in front of Roberto Luongo's crease. After Lou poked the puck out of danger (or so he thought), Bolts forward J.T. Brown poked it past him and off the post. The rebound skidded out to Paquette, who fired point blank into Florida's net for a 1-1 tie.
The teams were pretty evenly matched after one, despite Tampa Bay's 15-to-11 lead in Corsi events. The best four Panthers in this metric were Jaromir Jagr, Aaron Ekblad, and Campbell, each at plus-4. Ten Lightning players were better than even, led by Victor Hedman, also at plus-4. Nine different Panthers ended the frame with ten hits to nine for Tampa Bay, while the Bolts blocked eleven shots to nine for the Panthers. Tampa Bay also led in the faceoffs-won category, 11-to-9.
Just 1:02 into the second period, Tampa Bay took the lead when Vladislav Namestnikov (2) beat Luongo. The goaltender lost his footing, and the Russian slid it easily past him. Steven Stamkos earned the only assist on the play.
At the 2:39 mark, Nick Bjugstad (6) tied the score up at two when he beat Bishop on a breakaway. He got the Bolts goalie to commit to a quick head fake, then banged it over his sprawled out body to make it an all-new ballgame.
Just over two minutes later, Pirri (3) got himself a near breakaway, but was hooked just enough to be unable to generate a shot. The referee called for a penatly shot. Pirri came in very slow, waiting for Bishop to commit, then fired it through the big goalie's five hole for a 3-2 Panthers lead.
Florida's lead didn't last long, however. Anton Stralman (1) tied it at 7:49 when he poked a rebound past Luongo. Alex Killorn and Hedman earned the helpers on the play.
At the 11:25 mark, Thornton was called for elbowing, but the Panthers easily killed the penalty off. The period would glide to a close from there without any major developments, other than a little added chippy-ness between the Sunshine State adversaries.Tampa Bay easily won the Corsi chance battle through the period, generating 21 shots compared to just 14 for the Cats. Tyler Johnson and Hedman each had a plus-8 through the period, while Ekblad and Jonathan Huberdeau topped the Panthers at plus-3.
Florida blocked five shots to four for the Lightning, and outhit them 13-to-8 through the second. The big surprise was their 19-to-10 edge in the faceoff circle, led by Bjugstad's eight-for-12 and Trocheck's six-for-seven.
Halfway through the third period, Namestnikov (3) scored for the second time of the night after yet another scramble in front of Luongo. Brown and Stamkos each earned their second assist of the night on the play, which would see the Bolts on top by a 4-3 score.
At the 19:17 mark, Ryan Callahan flipped the puck over the glass from his own zone, resulting in a delay of game penalty and a (hypothetical) two-minute power play. The Panthers also pulled Luongo in an effort to even the score before time ran out, but it only took five seconds of six-on-four for Ekblad (3) to fire one past Bishop from the blue line. Reilly Smith and Dave Bolland earned the assists on the play.
Florida won the Corsi battle in the third 21-to-15, led by Alex Petrovic and Rocco Grimaldi at plus-8 each. They also blocked eight shots to only one for Tampa Bay, and outhit the Bolts 8-to-6. Tampa Bay won 12-of-21 faceoffs through the frame.
Fourth and Fifth Period
Five minutes of three-on-three overtime passed by with only one shot-on-goal for each club, but no paydirt for either. Luongo stoned Hedman, Brian Boyle, and Valtteri Filppula in the shootout, while Pirri scored in the first round with the eventual game-clincher.
- The teams were actually pretty evenly matched throughout. At no time did I think the result of the game was decided until Lou made that last save against Filppula. Florida was slightly more aggressive than were the Lightning, having collected 32 hits on the night to 23 for Tampa Bay. More importantly, ten Panthers wound up with multiple hits, led by four from resident spark plug Derek MacKenzie. I can't overstate how happy I am with this guy.
- Ekblad looked good in every zone and on every shift as far as I could tell on my grainy third-world feed. His plus-12 Corsi was the best of any player, aided only slightly by his 60% offensive zone starts.
- Trocheck is leaving less and less doubt in my mind that he is the future of this club. Funny - with all those first rounders, who would have pegged this guy to be such a huge difference maker? He won nine-of-15 faceoffs to lead Florida. Conversely, Dave Bolland has to do a little better on the dot, as three wins in 12 won't cut the mustard.
So, not only did Florida get out from "under .500," they actually pushed Tampa Bay below that hated number. Next up for Florida, none other than the Tampa Bay Lightning, this time at the BB&T Center. Hopefully, the Cats can keep them down, if only for one more day.