I’ll admit, I didn’t think it was possible. No one can keep up with the Lightning when they’re firing on all cylinders, let alone during a record-setting offensive outburst. Not with their scoring prowess, playoff experience and propensity for protecting leads.
That early two-goal deficit in Game 3 against the Panthers on Thursday night? Tampa Bay needed all of nine minutes of the second period to erase it. Then it added two more goals in the frame to take a two-goal lead into the third at 5-3.
Unbeaten (28-0) this season when leading after two periods, the outcome seemed a foregone conclusion for Tampa Bay.
All it took to end that streak was a puck going off the skate of Patric Hornqvist, whose sole contribution in the first two games of the series seemed to be griping to the officials.
And an improbable tying goal from defenseman Gustav Forsling with just over three minutes remaining in regulation.
And the winner in overtime from Ryan Lomberg, who showed he can use his hands to do more than throw punches or shove players to the ice.
But there was Lomberg, less than six minutes into the extra period, after Frank Vatrano tipped the puck past reigning Conn Smythe winner Victor Hedman, skating with speed toward the Lightning net. Lomberg flipped the puck up over Andrei Vasilevskiy’s glove and in.
Just like that, we’ve got a series.
Three minutes from falling into an 0-3 hole, the Panthers instead find themselves with renewed life. The Lightning, meanwhile, continue to seek their first home playoff win since Game 5 of the 2018 conference final against the Capitals.
Here is how we graded Tampa Bay’s performance in their 6-5 loss:
Quick on the uptake
Adrenaline pumping at the start of their first home playoff game in more than two years, the Lightning came out flying — and hitting — and had the Panthers on their heels. But after surviving that initial Tampa Bay surge, Florida was the quicker team for much of the first period and came away with a 2-0 lead.
The Panthers successfully stretched the ice, their forwards vacating the defensive zone as soon as a teammate gained possession of the puck, and moved quickly into the neutral zone, allowing them to back off the Lightning’s defenders.
Sam Bennett scored off the rush after getting behind the Tampa Bay defense and redirecting a beautiful saucer pass from Jonathan Huberdeau past Vasilevskiy less than five minutes into the game.
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Two-and-a-half minutes later, Radko Gudas put back his own rebound to give the Panthers a 2-0 lead. The sequence began with a clean faceoff win by Huberdeau back to Forsling, who passed to Gudas at the right point. Ondrej Palat blocked Gudas’ initial shot, but the former Tampa Bay defender retrieved the puck inside the right circle and fired a shot past Vasilevskiy, who appeared to be screened on the play.
It was just as well. He wouldn’t have liked the view, anyway.
Trailing by two at the start of the second period, Tampa Bay scored five times in the first 18-plus minutes of the second to take a 5-3 lead.
They came in a flurry:
Anthony Cirelli, who hadn’t scored in 28 games, put back a rebound of a Hedman shot from the point. Ross Colton got up off his knees to score on an incredible individual effort. Steven Stamkos redirected a Ryan McDonagh pass from the low slot. Brayden Point replicated his power-play goal from Game 1, and Alex Killorn banged home another rebound.
The outburst set a franchise record for goals in a playoff period and should have put the game away.
Sitting on the lead
Despite being down by two, the Panthers continued to push in the third period while the Lightning sat back and played to protect the lead. Florida kept up sustained pressure, forcing turnovers and spending an inordinate amount of time in the Tampa Bay zone.
They outshot the Lightning 14-6 in the period, getting goals from Hornqvist early and Forsling late to force overtime.
With four Lightning players caught in the corner, Alex Wennberg passed to Forsling all alone in the high slot. Forsling skated between the circles and fired a shot through Vasilevskiy’s legs to tie the score with 3:07 left.
As Vasilevskiy looked up in frustration, all you could think was, how did we even get to this point?
Even after losing the lead, the Lightning were handed a golden opportunity when Anthony Duclair was penalized for cross-checking Steven Stamkos with 23 seconds left in regulation, putting Tampa Bay on the power play.
The Lightning had 1:37 left with the man advantage when overtime started. But they had trouble getting set up in the Panthers’ zone, and Florida was able to clear the puck after a giveaway by Killorn.
Tampa Bay finally got the puck onto the right sticks late in the power play, but Nikita Kucherov and Stamkos shot wide of the net and the Panthers were able to kill the penalty.
With it went the Lightning’s last best chance.
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