SUNRISE — In the waning moments of the Lightning’s 3-1 Game 2 win, forward Blake Coleman — who has quickly become Public Enemy No. 1 to the Panthers — was pulled away from Florida forward Ryan Lomberg following a scrum that led both players into the Lightning goal.
Coleman dropped his gloves as Lomberg was escorted away to serve a misconduct penalty that ended his night. Coleman followed a few strides behind, smiling big and pointing up at the BB&T Center scoreboard. Then he threw two fingers into the air and made a fist — a reference to Tampa Bay’s two-games-to-none lead in the first-round playoff series that was about to become official — and waved goodbye to his aggressor.
The Lightning flexed their muscles in the series’ first two games in Sunrise, scoffing at the notion that home ice matters in the playoffs. The first-round playoff series heads to Amalie Arena for Games 3 and 4 on Thursday and Saturday.
“We talked about the last game,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “Anytime you start on the road, the goal is to at least get one win. And if you get the first one, you want to get greedy and take the second. I thought tonight was an outstanding effort.”
Games like the Lightning’s 5-4 opening victory are rare in the postseason. Wins like Tuesday’s — when the Lightning took an early lead and preserved it with a third period of stellar defense and remarkable goaltending by Andrei Vasilevskiy — are more within the recipe for winning Stanley Cups.
“We talked about, probably you don’t want to play too many 5-4 games in the playoffs,” Stamkos said. “This was more indicative of the playoff style and you’ve got to defend hard. And it’s not easy but we stuck together tonight. Vasy was huge and then the penalty kill was huge. We shut it down in the third period like really good teams do when you have the lead. it was a great game all around.”
And there’s no team that can close out games like the Lightning, who have been unbeatable this season when carrying a lead into the final period.
Vasilevskiy made 13 of his 32 saves in the third period Tuesday, and the Lightning killed off two Panthers power plays in the final frame period while clinging to a one-goal lead.
“It always seems to work that way, that you have the lead and something gets called on you and you have to kill it off like that,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “I thought it was a huge part of the game. We killed it off. Guys were laying out blocking shots, getting clears. You need to do that to win hockey games this time of year and guys pulled through.”
The Lightning were 26-0-0 in the regular season when leading after two periods. The last two teams to go undefeated in those situations won the Stanley Cup.
Stamkos scored the first goal 4:52 into the first period, flicking a puck across the crease intended for Alex Killorn, but it hit off Anton Stralman and into the net.
The Lightning took a two-goal lead with 5:03 left in the first when Brayden Point raced down the ice and unloaded a shot that hit the far post, but Ondrej Palat was perfectly positioned for a backdoor putback.
Mason Marchment scored with 5:39 left in the second period to cut the lead to 2-1.
Yanni Gourde’s empty-net goal with 1:25 remaining sent most of the limited capacity crowd of 9,646 to the exits as plastic rats, usually saved for to celebrate Panthers home wins, were heaved onto the ice prematurely in frustration.
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