What should’ve been the Florida Panthers biggest win of the season ended in extremely frustrating fashion as the Cats blew a three-goal second period lead before losing 5-4 to the Tampa Bay Lightning when Brayden Point scored a 4-on-3 power-play goal with 1:48 remaining in overtime.
The Panthers got off to a fast start, scoring on two of its first three shots of the game. Frank Vatrano, from Evgenii Dadonov and Mike Matheson, and Aleksander Barkov, from Jonathan Huberdeau, each beat Louis Domingue through the wickets in an 11-second span to complete 2-on-1 breaks with the puck carrier choosing to shoot both times.
Tampa Bay countered with a Alex Killorn one-timer 44 seconds after the Barkov goal with the assists going to Mikhail Sergachev and Braydon Coburn.
Huberdeau scored an electrifying breakaway goal 2:11 into the second period after he poked the puck away from Sergachev, who tried to deke the winger at the Florida blue line, and went the length of the ice before calmly stuffing a forehand shot past Domingue.
Dadonov put the Panthers up by three with a 5-on-3 goal at the 8:04 mark. Mike Hoffman’s screaming blast knocked down Ryan McDonagh, opening more space for Keith Yandle to find Dadonov down low for the put-away, again through Domingue’s five hole.
Unfortunately, that was it for the good time Saturday night at the BB&T Center.
The Bolts carved the Cats up for another one-timer goal with rookie Mathieu Joseph finishing off a Nikita Kucherov pass, after the speedy Russian blew by two Cats to gain the zone, from the top of the right circle with six minutes left in the frame.
Kucherov then bagged a power-play goal with Vatrano off for hooking to cut the deficit to one exactly five minutes later. Victor Hedman teed the deadly Kucherov up in the right circle for Tampa Bay’s third one-time tally of the night and he made no mistake. The second assist on the marker went to Steven Stamkos.
A wide-open third period ensued with each team notching 14 shots on goal. The Panthers best chance came on a Hoffman breakaway that Domingue just got a piece of.
Cedric Paquette was credited with the tying goal at 11:41 after Dryden Hunt inadvertently kicked the puck into his own net with the Lightning pressuring and James Reimer scrambling after making back-to-back saves in close.
An iffy interference call on Vatrano in overtime set the stage for yet another one-goal Panther loss.
The Lightning patiently passed the puck around the box before Kucherov collected his third point of the night by slipping a pass under a squatting Aaron Ekblad, who came close to winning the game shorthanded, to a wide-open Point who easily dented the twine. Game over.
This game was a microcosm of the Panthers 2018-19 season thus far. We saw the best of the Cats in the first half of the game as they built a three-goal advantage and looked poised to blow the NHL’s best team right out of the building. Then Florida’s demons emerged and conspired to script another disheartening defeat. The defense left Tampa Bay shooters wide-open on the first three goals; Reimer couldn’t keep the opposition’s total down to winnable level; another third period where the offense couldn’t come up with the key goal or hell, a goal; bad penalties at inopportune times... you get the picture. I guess the good news this morning is that the Panthers took 3 of 4 points from two of the league’s best playing on back-to-back nights. The bad news is they remain every bit a meandering .500 team who keeps shooting themselves in the foot.
Video Recap (courtesy of NHL.com)