Brayden Point tied the game with a power-play goal at the 13-minute mark and then converted on a breakaway with 1:14 left in regulation to give the Tampa Bay Lightning a 5-4 comeback win over the Florida Panthers in an intense opening game in the best-of-seven series that’s been 27 years in the making.
Tampa Bay went 3-for-4 on the power-play with Nikita Kucherov, playing in his first game of the season, beating Sergei Bobrovsky twice in the second period with one-timers from the right circle. Blake Coleman opened the scoring with a shorthanded goal 7:42 into the first period as Florida’s lousy performance on special teams, in large part, cost them the game.
The Panthers did what they needed to do offensively and at 5-on-5.
Aleksander Barkov responded to Coleman’s goal with a power-play marker at 9:41, hammering a Jonathan Huberdeau cross past Andrei Vasilevskiy from the the top of the right circle. Keith Yandle drew the second assist on the goal. Barkov also scored Florida’s last playoff goal on BB&T Center ice on April 22, 2016 in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
The Cats took the lead later in the frame with Barkov and Yandle combing to set up Carter Verhaeghe for a one-timer from the high slot. It was Verhaeghe’s first career playoff goal and had to feel extra special coming against his former team.
"They're going wild in South Florida!" -@GoldieOnIce after the Carter Verhaeghe goal!— Bally Sports Florida: Panthers (@BallyPanthers) May 17, 2021
: Bally Sports Florida
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Down a goal in the third, the Panthers drew even 1:27 into the frame when Owen Tippett got a piece of Mikhail Sergachev’s pass, allowing Sam Bennett to send Huberdeau away on a breakaway. Huberdeau skated in on Vasilevskiy and calmly slid the puck through his five hole.
Jonathan Huberdeau slips one passed Vasilevskiy!— Bally Sports Florida: Panthers (@BallyPanthers) May 17, 2021
: Bally Sports Florida
Download the new Bally Sports app!#FLAvsTBL #FearNoOne #NHLPlayoffs#FlaPanthers 3#GoBolts 3 pic.twitter.com/aANkimErug
Tippett would be the beneficiary of an amazing Huberdeau effort and pass that left him with a yawning net to tap the puck into to the give the Cats a 4-3 lead 2:42 later. Bennett drew his second assist of the period on the go-ahead goal. We might not see a better set-up than this one the rest of the playoffs.
Unfortunately, Bennett took a charging penalty at 12:19 that put the Bolts on the power-play. Kucherov drew all the attention and instead of one-timing the puck on goal he directed it to Point, who finished into an empty net with Bobrovsky completely out of position.
The Lightning turned defense to offense to win the game. Ryan McDonagh blocked MacKenzie Weegar’s drive from the blue line and sprung Point, and he streaked down the ice and solved Bobrovsky on the backhand.
A thrilling tilt for sure, just the fourth playoff game in NHL history with four lead changes, but ultimately the Panthers need to close this one out and instead let it slip away after overcoming a shorthanded goal and two deficits. A borderline call on what could’ve been a Bennett goal early in the first period didn’t help either. Despite giving up five goals, Bobrovsky made some spectacular stops to finish with 35 saves. He probably did enough to earn the start in Game 2, but a case could definitely be made for going with Chris Driedger. The Cats outhit the Lightning 54-36, which is impressive, however, if it’s at the cost of getting out of position and leaving Lightning players open, it’s not the most effective way of doing things. I think the Panthers need to concentrate more on playing their game instead of going out of their way to crush Bolts. Unless the Panthers can completely stay out of the box, the penalty kill simply has to better. Going into the game, I though the Cats were the better team 5-on-5, and I saw nothing to change my opinion on that. The series will be won or lost on special teams, and Florida came up way short last night.
Shock and Aww
- Aleksander Barkov posted his first career multi-point playoff game. Barkov has recorded at least a point in each of his past five postseason games (2G/4A).
- Jonathan Huberdeau also registered his first career multi-point playoff game. Huberdeau is the eighth Panther in franchise history to record at least three points in a playoff game.
- Owen Tippett became the first Panthers rookie to record multiple points in their first career playoff game in franchise history. Tippett is the third Panthers rookie to register a multi-point game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, after Ed Jovanovski (May 9, 1996 vs. Philadelphia) and Radek Dvorak (May 24, 1996 vs. Pittsburgh) and the first Panthers rookie to score a goal in a playoff game since David Nemirovsky (April 23, 1997 at New York Rangers).
- Steven Stamkos had two assists and three shots on goal in 16:36 in his return after missing the final 16 games of the regular season with a lower-body injury
- Keith Yandle notched two assists, his ninth career multi-point playoff game. He is the third Panthers defenseman in club history to record multiple multi-assist playoff games. With his second helper Yandle reached 30 career playoff assists.
- Radko Gudas logged 11 hits, surpassing Mike Weaver’s 10 hits on April 26, 2012 vs. New Jersey Devils for most by a Panther in a playoff game since the NHL began tracking hits. Gudas posted 11 hits twice during the regular season.
- Victor Hedman finished the game with three assists and played a game-high 25:17. Ryan McDonagh set up two goals.
- For the happier side of the Battle of Alligator Alley, check out Raw Charge.