After yesterday’s miserable 6-2 to loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Florida Panthers will be shooting to go “dirty thirty.” Dirty because that’s the kind of series this been, and thirty because NHL teams have overcome 3–1 series deficits 29 times, with the most recent escape act being pulled off by the San Jose Sharks during the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Despite outplaying the Lightning in the first period, the Cats found themselves down 3-1 to their cross-state rivals thanks to a breakaway goal by Anthony Cirelli and deflections by Yanni Gourde and Ondrej Palat.
Radko Gudas left the barn door wide open on Cirelli’s goal as he needlessly vacated his position to check Alex Killorn, who was already being maked bu Gustav Forsling, and Aleksander Barkov didn’t help matters by going off for a change. Cirelli make it look easy against Florida’s $10 million man in net, too easy.
Sandwiched between Tampa Bay’s too nicely executed deflections was a power-play goal by Jonathan Huberdeau, who punched the rebound of Sam Bennett’s shot that caromed off a screening Patric Hornqvist into a wide-open net.
Killorn would score twice in a 1:34 early in the second period to put the game away. His first came on a power play, when he slipped in front to redirect a perfect pass from Nikita Kucherov by a helpless Sergei Bobrovsky. The second happened in large part due to a huge mental mistake by Brandon Montour, who traded good ice for bad by leaving the slot to chase Steven Stamkos, leaving Killorn all alone in front to convert a feed from the Lightning captain.
The Killorn brace ended Bobrovsky’s afternoon and brought Chris Driedger into the game. Bobrovsky yielded five goals on 14 shots, while Driedger stopped 11 of 12 in relief.
Carter Verhaeghe scored a pretty power-play backhand goal from Barkov and Huberdeau with 1:15 left in the middle frame to give us a modicum of hope going into the third.
Carter Verhaeghe scoops a backhand over the shoulder of Vasilevskiy!— Bally Sports Florida: Panthers (@BallyPanthers) May 22, 2021
: Bally Sports Florida
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Alas, there would be no comeback. The Lightning killed off a penalty early in the period and then Kucherov scored yet another unstoppable power-play goal 47 seconds after Gudas was sent off for elbowing to complete the scoring.
The game degenerated into an almost unwatchable penalty-fest after that, with the lowlight being a slash on Kucherov by Anthony Duclair that eventually ended the Bolts star after a lot of time laying on the ice. Expect a very physical start to what is now a must-win Game 5 for the Cats, who are down to their eighth life.
Killorn (2G/2A) and Kucherov (1G/3A) were just too much for the Panthers defense and goaltending to handle. The Panthers are doing a lot of good things offensively, they out-shot the Lighting 41-26, but like in Game 2 the finishing strike just wasn’t there, with a close-in rebound chance by Alex Wennberg, who failed to simply lift puck allowing Vasilevskiy to make the stop on a low slam, being a perfect example of this. The difference in this one was execution. Gudas has to hold his position and Bobrovsky needs to come with a stop on Cirelli. Sorry folks, I get that it was a clean breakaway, but breakaways statistically favor the goalie and Bobrovsky has now been beaten three times on breakaways. Barkov was standing right next to Palat and failed to take the body or stick on the third goal, and I’m still trying to figure out why Montour left his post on Killorn’s second. The Panthers passing and handles in the beginning of the second period were awful, and while they did have a lot of shots, too many came a split second too late. These kind of mistakes can’t happen against a team as dangerous against Tampa Bay. This was definitely a weird one, in addition to outshooting the Bolts, the Cats out hit them and won a lot more faceoffs, and yet they lost by four. The Cats have a lot to clean up if they want to win Game 5, much less Game 6 and 7.
Flash & Dash
- Jonathan Huberdeau scored his first career playoff power-play goal and added an assist for his third multi-point game of the series. He has produced eight points (2G/6A) over the first four games of the series, four on the power play.
- Aleksander Barkov has now recorded at least a point in each of his past seven postseason games (2G/6A). Despite getting on the score sheet, I thought Barkov and linemate Carter Verhaeghe were not good enough.
- Noel Acciari won 71% of his faceoffs (10/14) and was one of seven Panthers to finish with an even rating. Mason Marchement, Patric Hornqvist, Frank Vatrano, Ryan Lomberg, Anton Stralman and MacKenzie Weegar were the others,
- Florida has recorded five power-play goals through the first four games of the series. Tampa Bay has scored seven on just 15 opportunities.
- Mikhail Sergachev left the game at 16:24 of the third period after being hit into the boards by Hornqvist. This was a great hit by Hornqvist on a player who needed to receive it.
- For the happier side of Game 4, visit Raw Charge.