SUNRISE — After two game officials peeled Lightning forward Pat Maroon off Panthers defenseman Brandon Montour in the late stages of Tampa Bay’s 5-1 loss Saturday night, Maroon was escorted to the bench by lineman Pierre Racicot to end his night.
But before he left, Maroon skated by the Panthers bench, pulled his shoulders up and gave a “come and get me” gesture, then twirled around Racicot to offer the Panthers some parting words before disappearing into the tunnel.
By this point, Saturday’s game at the BB&T Center had turned into more of a backyard brawl than a hockey game. Both teams were looking to jaw, push and shove at every turn.
These teams clearly don’t like each other.
With the Lightning and Panthers playing their seventh regular-season game against each other Saturday, and meeting one more time tonight in their season finales before their upcoming playoff series, they have already seen a lot of each other this year. Saturday’s fight night — which included 154 penalty minutes, 10 game misconducts and four fighting majors — didn’t truly encapsulate how much the game became about setting a tone for the postseason.
“It’s funny,” said Lightning defenseman Luke Schenn, who had a second-period fight with Panthers forward Ryan Lomberg. “You go through all of the regular season and all of a sudden, flip of a switch, you kind of get down to the last game or two, and then all of a sudden it’s playoff hockey.
“It turns into a man’s league. … And that’s why you need everyone to stick together. We saw it last year. We see it year after year. The teams that win, everyone sticks together; everyone plays a physical brand of hockey. It’s going to be hard fought on both sides.”
Back to the Maroon-Montour exchange: As the game approached six minutes left, Montour slid his stick between Maroon’s leg and pulled it up into his groin. Maroon wanted to send a message to Montour, who had pulled Lightning forward Yanni Gourde’s jersey over his head during a scrap earlier in the game. Maroon grabbed Montour and started talking to him against the boards before officials pulled them away.
They kept jawing through a break in play, and Maroon eventually slammed his stick and went after Montour. The two went to the ice before any punches could be thrown.
On Sunday, the league suspended Maroon one game for unsportsmanlike conduct and fined Montour $5,000.
In disciplining Maroon, the Department of Player Safety said: “This incident occurs late in the game with the score out of reach. Maroon chooses to unnecessarily escalate the situation.”
That wasn’t the only post-game discipline. Panthers defenseman MacKenzie Weegar was fined $5,000 for high-sticking Lightning forward Mathieu Joseph with 1:18 left in the game. In the game, Weegar was assessed a minor for roughing.
It was quickly evident Saturday that tensions would be running high. When Maroon swatted at a puck that Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky covered up in the first period, Bobrovsky jumped to his feet and went face to face with Maroon before two Panthers players pulled a smiling Maroon back to the boards.
Nineteen of the game’s 31 penalties happened in the third period, when most of the game misconducts were handed out after Maroon’s fight.
Midway through the third, Panthers forward Owen Tippett slammed Lightning center Anthony Cirelli into the boards and rookie Ross Colton immediately tackled Tippett, the first of three scrums that developed to the right of the Lightning net.
Forward Barclay Goodrow, the Lightning’s leader in hits with 110, checked Panthers forward Noel Acciari into the boards in the corner. Panthers star wing Jonathan Huberdeau retaliated with a hit on Goodrow, and within seconds Goodrow and Acciari were exchanging punches while Schenn and Huberdeau were grabbing each other by the collar.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper said he expected the teams to play with more discipline in the playoffs.
“I’m sure guys will be a little bit more careful than otherwise they probably would be in a situation like this,” he said. “I guess we’ll have to see. The physicality may stay the same. But maybe the recklessness probably won’t be there as much.”
Schenn said he expected the physicality to carry over into tonight and the playoff series.
“Both are proud teams, and we’ve got a bit of a rivalry going on with them and have played each other a number of times,” he said. “It’s a different brand of hockey in the playoffs, and we obviously want to compete as hard as we can against one another.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieintheYard.
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