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Game 2 report card: Panthers can learn a lot from Lightning

By keeping its composure and buckling down defensively, Tampa Bay illustrated the difference between winning and losing in the postseason.
Lightning defender Erik Cernak (81) battles for position against  Florida Panthers left wing Jonathan Huberdeau (11) during the second period.
Lightning defender Erik Cernak (81) battles for position against Florida Panthers left wing Jonathan Huberdeau (11) during the second period. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published May 19
Updated May 19

As a three-time Stanley Cup champion, Joel Quenneville knows a thing or two about winning. So when the Florida Panthers coach complimented the Lightning after Game 1 as a team that “knows how to win” while saying his own team was “looking to get educated,” he wasn’t wrong.

The proof was right there in Game 2.

As a result, a Panthers squad that had beaten the Lightning three straight times entering the postseason and won six in a row has now dropped consecutive games for the first time in a month — and finds itself two losses from elimination.

While Tampa Bay kept its composure and locked things down defensively, Florida continued to take too many liberties with Lightning players and played fast and loose with the puck, resulting in numerous odd-man opportunities for Tampa Bay during a first period that ended with it leading by two goals.

Already down a game despite outplaying the Lightning at even strength on Sunday, the Panthers should have known the importance of staying out of the penalty box against a team that converted three of its four power-play chances in Game 1.

Yet, after a strong second-period push that trimmed their deficit to a goal, there was MacKenzie Weegar hitting Tampa Bay forward Blake Coleman from behind as time expired in the period to give the Lightning a power play to start the third.

Tampa Bay didn’t convert, but the penalty clearly killed any momentum Florida might have had. Roughing penalties against Ryan Lomberg and Mason Marchment resulting from a scrum in front of the Lightning net in the final minute ended any chance the Panthers might have had of tying the game.

Here is how we graded the Lightning’s performance in their 3-1 win in Game 2:

Helping hand

Steven Stamkos, left, celebrates his goal with Alex Killorn after beating Panthers goaltender Chris Driedger fin the opening period.
Steven Stamkos, left, celebrates his goal with Alex Killorn after beating Panthers goaltender Chris Driedger fin the opening period. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

After allowing five goals in Game 1, the Panthers added a seventh defenseman to their lineup to try to bolster their defense. It took Anton Stralman fewer than five minutes to make an impact ... for his former team.

With the Lightning on a 2-on-1, Steven Stamkos tried to send a pass across the ice to linemate Alex Killorn. But the puck never got there, deflecting instead off Stralman’s knee pad into the Panthers net as Tampa Bay opened the scoring for the second straight game.

The gift goal, Stamkos’ first of the postseason, was the last thing goalie Chris Driedger wanted for his 27th birthday while making his first career playoff start.

Grade: F, for fortuitous

Speed demon

Lightning left wing Ondrej Palat, left, celebrates his first-period goal with center Brayden Point.
Lightning left wing Ondrej Palat, left, celebrates his first-period goal with center Brayden Point. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

When Brayden Point is allowed to skate with speed through the neutral zone, the Lightning are hard to beat, and Game 2 was no exception.

With Point gaining a head of steam near center ice with just under five minutes remaining in the first period, Nikita Kucherov gloved a pass from the Tampa Bay zone and backhanded a pass to Point. The Lightning forward beat Weegar to the net and rang a shot off the right post that deflected to Ondrej Palat out in front. With Driedger slow to find the puck, Palat put a shot up over his shoulder into the net.

The goal went to Palat, but the work was all Point’s.

Grade: A

Power dampeners

Lightning left wing Alex Killorn works to fight off a check by Panthers center Frank Vatrano (77) during the third period.
Lightning left wing Alex Killorn works to fight off a check by Panthers center Frank Vatrano (77) during the third period. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

In a tightly contested game with few penalties called, the Lightning’s three penalty kills were crucial, especially the two in the third period. In all three cases, Tampa Bay did a nice job of sticking to its structure, anticipating passes and blocking shooting lanes.

Protecting a two-goal lead with just over eight minutes left in the second period and Point serving a holding penalty, Ryan McDonagh blocked an Aleksander Barkov shot, and Erik Cernak did the same on a Jonathan Huberdeau chance.

Andrei Vasilevskiy made a big save on a slap shot by Barkov. Yanni Gourde won a faceoff, allowing Tampa Bay to clear the puck out of the zone, and a Barkov shot wide of the net caromed out of the zone, effectively killing the penalty.

Up a goal midway through the third, Lightning forward Pat Maroon took a tripping penalty. But Vasilevskiy made a blocker save on a Frank Vatrano blast, Keith Yandle shot wide and Killorn won a footrace to a puck as Tampa Bay twice cleared the zone to relieve the pressure.

Grade: A

Net gain

Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy works to deflect the puck while making a save with Panthers right wing Patric Hornqvist pressuring during third-period action.
Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy works to deflect the puck while making a save with Panthers right wing Patric Hornqvist pressuring during third-period action. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

After allowing four or more goals in each of his previous three starts and four of his past six, Andrei Vasilevskiy was outstanding in stopping 32 of 33 shots.

The Lightning goaltender limited second-chance opportunities and didn’t allow anything down low while picking up his 35th career playoff win in his 60th postseason appearance.

Vasilevskiy was at his best when it mattered most, stopping 23 shots over the final two periods, including 13 in the third, to limit a team that was among the league’s highest-scoring during the regular season to a single goal.

Grade: A-plus

Just desserts

Gourde was his usual pesky self, winning faceoffs, blocking shots, knocking down Patric Hornqvist and bringing energy all over the ice. But something was off offensively, as he failed to convert on some of the Lightning’s best scoring chances.

Gourde had the Lightning’s first real opportunity when he broke in on Driedger during a three-on-one with Kucherov and McDonagh, but he lost control of the puck and didn’t get a shot off. He later had an open shot from the right side after a nice setup from Ross Colton, but Driedger managed to get a stick on it.

Then, with the Lightning shorthanded in the third period, Gourde stole the puck from Yandle in the Florida zone but was unable to find the net with his shot.

So it was only fitting that Gourde was rewarded with an empty-net goal after picking off an errant pass in the neutral zone in the closing minutes to seal the win.

Grade: B

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