Nikita Kucherov lit the lamp twice, and added an assist, to end a ten-game goal-scoring drought, as the Tampa Bay Lightning led from wire to wire to beat the Florida Panthers 5-2, completing the season series sweep.
The Lightning opened the scoring early when Kucherov sent Victor Hedman into the Panthers zone. The rangy defenseman passed off to Kucherov down low and he quickly sent a sharp angle shot through James Reimer’s pads at the 4:02 mark. Definitely a goal Reimer would like to have back. Anton Stralman collected the secondary assist on the play.
Florida only mustered five shots in the opening period, but they got it going in the second, out-shooting the Bolts by an astounding 17-3 count.
Unfortunately for the Cats, two of those three shots found the back of the net.
Stralman drew his second point of the night when he set up Steven Stamkos with a beautiful saucer pass in the slot for a nifty deflection goal with 8:01 left in the frame.
The Panthers responded 1:03 later thanks to Frank Vatrano’s 19th of the season. Mike Matheson got to a loose puck at center and whacked it down the boards and through Stamkos. Jonathan Huberdeau collected and swung a pass from the lower left circle back to Vatrano in the high slot and he one-timed the feed past Louis Domingue.
Tampa Bay would go back up by two at 17:51. With a Panthers power play expiring, rookie Mathieu Joseph, who really seems to enjoy playing against the Cats, worked the puck away from Vincent Trocheck and poked it forward, allowing Ryan Callahan to out-skate Aaron Ekblad and break in on Reimer. Callahan went to the backhand to beat Reimer for his sixth of the campaign. This just missed being Florida’s 11th shorthanded goal allowed by four seconds.
For a second time in the period, the Panthers struck back quickly. Some hard work by Riley Sheahan below the goal line got the puck to Troy Brouwer, who had his shot blocked from the right boards blocked. The puck came down right in front of Denis Malgin, who fired in off Mikhail Sergachev’s stick blade and through the legs of Domingue 59 seconds after Callahan’s goal.
Roberto Luongo came on to start the third period, passing Patrick Roy in the games played (1.030) by a goaltender in the process, and was promptly beaten by Brayden Point 4:25 in. J.T. Miller picked up his second point of the night, flipping a backhand pass to Point, who singed a quick wrister by Luongo with the Bolts on a power play.
Like the first period, the Panthers only tested Domingue five times in the third.
Kucherov completed the scoring with 48 seconds remaining with a 5-on-3 goal from Stamkos and Point with Keith Yandle and Ekblad in the penalty box.
Once again the Panthers were done in by an incomplete effort. The Cats played really well in the second period, but were doubled up in shots in the first and third periods, and failed to come through again in the final twenty minutes down by just a goal. As good as they played in the second, the score was 2-2 in that frame, displaying the wide gulf between Florida’s two teams. The Lightning got a solid performance for its backup keeper, while the play of both Reimer and Luongo was not good enough. Tampa Bay’s top guys were productive, while the Cats got quiet nights from Barkov (1 shot) and Trocheck (1 shot). A tough loss, but big picture is the Panthers are 6-3 in their last nine game. They need to shake this on off and bring a better effort against Dallas on Tuesday.