TAMPA — You didn’t think it would be that easy, did you?
The Lightning were about three minutes away Thursday night from closing out yet another postseason victory, the type of tightly contested game they’ve learned how to win. They were that close to being one win from sending the Panthers into the offseason.
Instead, goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy ended Game 3 of the first-round series looking to the sky in frustration as Panthers forward Ryan Lomberg, a fourth-line pest with two goals to his NHL resume, beat the Vezina Trophy contender glove side in overtime, sending the Lightning to a 6-5 loss in the first postseason game at Amalie Arena in more than two years.
Instead of having a 3-0 lead in the series, the Lightning saw their advantage cut to 2-1.
Much as this series has gone, there were plenty of ebbs and flows in the game, from the Panthers taking a 2-0 lead in the game’s first seven-plus minutes to the Lightning’s record-setting five-goal second period for a 5-3 lead to the Panthers’ third-period comeback to send the game to overtime. But this time, Tampa Bay came out on the short end in front of a limited capacity crowd of 9,508.
Still, “no one’s worried in our locker room,” said forward Alex Killorn, one of the Lightning’s five scorers in the second.
“We know that (the Panthers are) a good team. I think there’s certain things we can do better when we get that lead in the third period.”
The Lightning weren’t their championship selves in the third. Every time previously they’d taken a lead into the third this season — 28 times before Thursday — they had emerged victorious.
“We kind of sat back a little bit too much, I thought,” defenseman Victor Hedman said. “It felt like we were kind of protecting a lead and not playing to our strengths. We knew that, and we weren’t happy with the way we played in the third.
“(The Panthers are) going to push sometimes, but we weren’t good enough in the third, and that’s the bottom line.”
The Lightning were unstoppable in the second, their five goals on 12 shots a team record for goals in a playoff period. Among those goals: Forward Anthony Cirelli broke a 28-game scoring drought and rookie forward Ross Colton scored for just the second time in 16 games.
Even when the Panthers had an answer, tying the score at 3 on a power-play goal by forward Alex Wennberg with about 7½ minutes left in the period, the Lightning responded, taking back the lead on forward Brayden Point’s power-play score on a feed from Nikita Kucherov and then getting Killorn’s rebound goal in front of the net, which also came on a power play.
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But the game turned in the third. Positioned in the crease, Florida forward Patric Hornqvist spun around as forward Jonathan Huberdeau put a puck on net, and the shot deflected off Hornqvist’s left skate and into the net 1:45 into the period to make it 5-4. The tying goal was one that Vasilevskiy, who had 41 saves, surely wanted back, a straight-on shot from the high slot by defenseman Gustav Forsling that beat Vasilevskiy through the legs.
Florida goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, benched after giving up five goals in the series opener, subbed in for starter Chris Driedger to start the third and stopped all nine shots he faced in the third and overtime.
The Lightning have drawn from their postseason experience — particularly after winning the Stanley Cup last season — all year long. Now, they hope to rebound in Game 4 in Tampa.
“Sitting here saying, ‘Hey, you’ve a two-game-to-one lead,’ I would have taken it,” coach Jon Cooper said. “We’ve had two-to-one leads before in a playoff series, and we know how to do a deal with them. So moving forward here, it’s a different opponent, but we know how to deal with these, and that’s what we have to do moving forward.”
First Period—1, Florida, Bennett 1 (Tippett, Huberdeau), 4:31. 2, Florida, Gudas 1 (Huberdeau, Forsling), 7:05. Penalties—None.
Second Period—3, Tampa Bay, Cirelli 1 (Killorn, Hedman), 1:57. 4, Tampa Bay, Colton 1 (Coleman), 5:46. 5, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 2 (McDonagh), 8:38. 6, Florida, Wennberg 1 (Weegar, Tippett), 12:34 (pp). 7, Tampa Bay, Point 3 (Hedman, Kucherov), 14:17 (pp). 8, Tampa Bay, Killorn 1 (Hedman, Point), 18:17 (pp). Penalties—Rutta, TB (Interference), 10:38; Bennett, FLA (Roughing), 11:17; Coleman, TB (Roughing), 11:17; Marchment, FLA (Hooking), 13:46; Gudas, FLA (Hooking), 16:48.
Third Period—9, Florida, Hornqvist 1 (Huberdeau, Barkov), 1:45 (pp). 10, Florida, Forsling 1 (Wennberg, Hornqvist), 16:53. Penalties—Palat, TB (Boarding), 0:41; Duclair, FLA (Cross Checking), 19:37.
Overtime—11, Florida, Lomberg 1 (Gudas, Vatrano), 5:56. Penalties—None.
Shots on Goal—Florida 12-17-14-4_47. Tampa Bay 10-12-6-3_31. Power-play opportunities—Florida 2 of 2; Tampa Bay 2 of 3. Goalies—Florida, Bobrovsky 0-1-0 (9 shots-9 saves), Florida, Driedger 0-1-0 (22-17). Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 2-0-0 (47-41). T—3:05. Referees—Steve Kozari, Brian Pochmara. Linesmen—Brandon Gawryletz, Matt MacPherson.
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