In game they had to have, the Florida Panthers came up short again, dropping a 3-2 decision to the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena.
The loss leaves the Cats seven points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with fifteen games left to go.
Florida repeated a pattern that has been haunting them the last few weeks, scoring early in the game and then failing to add on in the second and third period.
The Cats opened the scoring 16:32 into the first when Jaromir Jagr whacked a loose puck into the net with a Andrei Vasilevskiy out of position due to a flurry of Panther chances. The assist on Jagr’s 14th went to Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Marchessault.
Mark Pysyk added to the lead with 47 seconds remaining in the frame. Reilly Smith dropped the puck to Pysyk at the point and he fired it home off Nikita Kucherov’s stick with Jagr screening in front. Barkov picked up the secondary assist on the play.
Kucherov would make up for it with a power-play goal at the 3:43 mark of the second period. Kucherov gunned Victor Hedman’s crossing pass by James Reimer for his 31st goal. Jonathan Drouin picked up the assist on the marker that ended Florida’s club record streak of twelve games without giving up a man-advantage goal.
Yanni Gourde tied the tilt midway through the period with is first NHL goal, shorthanded to boot. Gourde stole the puck from Vincent Trocheck at the Lightning blue line and fended off the Cats’ center the rest of the way down the ice before shoveling the puck between Reimer’s pads.
The Lightning came up with the only goal of an exciting third period when Ondrej Palat knocked Andrej Sustr’s shot out the air and by a crossed-up Reimer with 2:23 remaining regulation, sending the Panthers to a fifth straight defeat.
Florida will return home to face the Maple Leafs on Tuesday in what truly is a must-win game for the sinking team. After that game, a daunting three-game run on the road against the Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins awaits.
Bolts & Dolts
- Florida’s Aaron Ekblad and Denis Malgin are in the league’s concussion protocol after leaving the game in the second period. Ekblad was knocked out after his head smacked the glass when he was checked by Gabriel Dumont in what Tom Rowe called a “dangerous” hit. Magin went off after being hit by Andrej Sustr.
- The Lightning, 10-2-3 in their last fifteen games, remained within four points of Toronto.
- Defenseman Mark Pysyk scored for a second straight game and was one of three Panthers to finish with four shots on goal. The others were Vincent Trocheck and Michael Matheson.
- Jaromir Jagr also lit the lamp for a second straight game. The ageless Czech now has 763 goals, 36 of them against the Lightning.
- Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy finished with 32 saves and has won his last five starts.
- 25-year-old rookie Yanni Gourde’s sensational first career goal came in his seventh NHL game.
- James Reimer stopped 31 shots in a much better performance than Friday’s game against Minnesota. Reimer has not posted a win since beating St. Louis on February 20.
- Our buds at Raw Charge will shock and awe you with other side of Tampa Bay’s electrifying win over the Cats.