SUNRISE — The Lightning have put themselves in the best situation possible as they return home to Tampa leading their first-round playoff series with the Florida Panthers two games to none.
Though Tampa Bay controls the series as it moves to Amalie Arena for Games 3-4, the first two games were remarkably close.
Game 1′s frenetic back-and-forth pace saw four lead changes and lots of physicality. In Game 2, the Lightning took a two-goal lead in the first period on a Steven Stamkos pass that went off a Florida defenseman into the net and a rebound off the post that gifted an empty-net goal for Ondrej Palat.
The Lightning have never lost a playoff series when leading 2-0, regardless of where those wins came. They won in each of the seven previous instances. Those include two times in which they won Game 3 after taking the first two games on the road — they swept the Capitals in the 2010-11 Eastern Conference semifinals and won a six-game series against the Canadiens in the 2014-15 conference semis.
Still, the Lightning aren’t looking too far ahead.
“The series is definitely not over,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “We’ve been in these positions before, we’ve been on both ends of these positions before, so we certainly know that team over there is not quitting, not going anywhere.
“They’re a really good team ,and it took a huge effort for us to be up 2-0. We definitely can’t take the foot off the gas pedal, because we know how hard it is to win this time of the year, so we’ll be expecting their best in Game 3.”
Despite starting the series on the road, the Lightning experienced the energy of a crowd, feeding off the atmosphere in front of a limited-capacity but loud 9,646 at BB&T Center in Sunrise. Now, they have to make that carry over to their own ice for the first playoff games at Amalie since the end of the 2018-19 season.
“I thought the building in Florida was awesome those last two nights,” Lightning forward Pat Maroon said. ‘It was really loud, the fans were into it, it was great. I can’t wait to see our arena. I’m sure our fans are gonna be the same.
“They’re true passionate fans, so I can’t wait to get in there and see them in the warmups and get jacked up, because it’s gonna be awesome because I know they’ve been waiting for this for two years now to watch playoff hockey.”
The two teams’ play was remarkably equal at even strength over the first two games. The Lightning netted three power-play goals and a shorthanded score in Game 1, and Game 2′s win was sealed by the Lightning’s penalty-kill unit, which preserved a one-goal lead through two Panthers third-period power plays.
The Lightning’s 3-1 win Tuesday was dictated by defense, particularly in the third period. Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said once his team fell behind, the Panthers tried to run with Tampa Bay too much instead of focusing on a puck-possession game at which the Lightning excelled.
“Staying composed,” Panthers defenseman MacKenzie Weegar said when asked what Florida needs to do in Game 3. “By all means, we’re not even close out of this series yet. We played great all year on the road. We’ve just got to stick with it here.
“No one’s hanging their heads here and we’re gonna move on to this next game and we’re gonna bring it, bring it to them in their own rink. We’ve got nothing to lose, the pressure’s on them. We’re gonna bring it to them.”
The Panthers owned the best road record in the Central Division during the regular season, going 17-9-2 and splitting four games with the Lightning at Amalie Arena.
“We’ve got our work cut out,” Quenneville said. “We’re going to Tampa, we’ve had some success there, but we need to play the right way from start to finish, knowing that we’ve got to get better as we’re going along in these games.
“Let’s find a way to win a period and go from there. They got the start they’re looking for, whether it’s breaks or not, but we’re a good team with the lead, too.”
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