The Florida Panthers rallied from not one, not two, but three two-goal deficits before finally falling 5-4 to the Atlantic Division-leading Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena.
Florida carried the play in the early going, but Vince Trocheck’s smart play of keeping Brayden Point away from the rebound of Andrej Sustr’s shot, which hit the glass behind the net, backfired and the puck came back out in front to Yanni Gourde, who easily beat Roberto Luongo at the 10:38 mark. The second assist on the goal went to Sustr’s defense partner Anton Stralman.
The Lightning took advantage of a terrible turnover by Mark Pysyk 2:13 later to go up by two. Pysyk tried to reverse the puck while rounding his own goal, but instead left it for Gourde, who was able to find J.T. Miller in the slot. Miller scored his second as a member of the Lightning with a nice backhand shot over Luongo’s reaching glove.
Nick Bjugstad got the Panthers on the board at 18:23 when he fired a shot from just below the goal line over the shoulder of Andrei Vasilevskiy, who was overprotecting the low part of the net. The assists on Bjugstad’s 12th went to Aaron Ekblad, who made a good play to keep the puck down low, and Aleksander Barkov. The helper extended Barkov’s point streak to seven games.
Gourde and Miller teamed up again for Tampa Bay’s third goal 1:27 into the middle frame. Miller forced Mike Matheson into a turnover behind the net and Gourde swooped in and collected the puck before curling his way into the right faceoff circle and unleashing a shot that Luongo could not stop.
Bjugstad got his second of the night when he took a pass from Evgenii Dadonov and drove to the net and eventually pushed the puck under Vasilevskiy. Keith Yandle drew the second helper on the goal, which came at 13:35.
Alex Killorn restored the Lightning’s two-goal when he swept Steven Stamkos’ rebound into the net with 3:53 left in the second. Nikita Kucherov won the puck from Pysyk behind the Florida net and fed Stamkos, who took a hard shot from the top of the right circle that Luongo could not gather in.
Big Nick completed his first career hat trick 21 seconds into the third when Barkov dropped the puck back to Matheson and Bjugstad converted the rebound of the ensuing shot from the point, putting th Cats within striking distance.
Trocheck, who went -4 on the night, tied the game with a power-play snipe just over five minutes later. With Sustr off for tripping, Trocheck took a pass from Yandle and moved into the right circle before snapping a shot by Vasilevskiy. Barkov picked up his third assist of the night, bumping his team-leading point total to 66.
Point gave Tampa Bay the bonus point 2:47 into the extra session, neatly avoiding Dadonov’s attempt at poke check with a toe-drag before driving the puck over Luongo’s shoulder. Stralman and Tyler Johnson combined to set up the game-winner, which came seconds after Stralman just missed an empty net.
Despite the loss, the Panthers picked up another key point in the wild card chase with their impressive third period comeback on the NHL’s top team. The Cats gave the Lightning all they could handle, and if not for some poor defensive plays in the first two periods of the tilt, would have likely extended its winning streak to seven games. Here’s hoping these two teams finally meet in the playoffs. Florida now trails Columbus, who beat Vegas, by two points with three games in hand and return home, where they are 19-9-3, for the next five games.
Full Highlights (courtesy of NHL.com)
Bolts & Dolts
- Brayden Point scored his fourth overtime winner of the season. The 21-year-old Point also has four game-deciding shootout goals.
- Nick Bjugstad’s first hatty came is his 344th NHL game. Bjugstad led all skaters with seven shots and also dished out two hits in one of his best games as a Panther, if not the best.
- The two Florida teams combined for 39 goals (Lightning 22, Panthers 17) in their four games this season. Tampa Bay won three, while the Cats picked up three points.
- Nikita Kucherov second period assist gave him a new NHL career-high of 86th points. He had 85 points last season.
- The Panthers launched an impressive 49 shots at Andrei Vasilevskiy, but the netminder stopped 45 of them to post his league-leading 39th win.
- Roberto Luongo made 28 saves and lost for the second time since coming off injured reserve.
- Joining Vincent Trocheck in the -4 club were winger Jonathan Huberdeau and defenseman Mark Pysyk, who a tough night. Jamie McGinn amd Mike Matheson finished with -3 ratings.
- For more on the final regular season game between Florida and Tampa Bay, visit our friends Raw Charge and get jolted.
Condensed Game (courtesy of NHL.com)