SUNRISE — The Lightning have been one of the league’s most penalized teams for a while, but this postseason their penchant for the penalty box could be their biggest obstacle in repeating as Stanley Cup champions.
It’s not only the number of penalties they are committing, but the ill timing of them.
With intensity and physicality up, it’s not unusual to see more calls being made in the postseason. But the Lightning are averaging 6.4 minor penalties a game through five postseason games.
While the Lightning’s penalty problems were compounded in Monday’s 4-1 loss to the Panthers at BB&T Center, they’ve been an issue all series.
The Lightning couldn’t have asked for a better start in Game 5, scoring on their first shot on rookie goaltender Spencer Knight. But three straight penalties over a 10-minute span took the air out of the Lightning’s sails and forced the penalty-kill unit on the ice for an extended amount of time while Tampa Bay’s skill players sat on the bench.
“Even though it didn’t give up any (power-play goals in the period, the Lightning had) a lot of guys sitting for an extended period of time and more guys playing more minutes,” said Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman, whose hooking call was the first of the three penalties. “You want to stay out of the box, that’s the bottom line.”
Lightning coach Jon Cooper felt a little snakebitten with some of the calls and said after Game 5 that the Panthers “must not take very many (penalties). They do a good job, because it seems like we’re the only ones taking them.” Regardless, Cooper said the Lightning must do a better job of staying out of the box.
“There’s no good time to take a penalty, but it’s when they stack up on each other and now you’ve given a team a third and fourth power play in a row,” Cooper said. “Some of it is positional, some of it is circumstance, some of that’s probably a little bit of bad luck. But in the end, if you’re putting yourself in a position for the ref to make a call, now you’re playing with fire, and for whatever reason even in these 50/50s, the call’s not going our way.
“You can’t hang your head about it. In this series, the calls are getting made against us and we’ve just got to man up and find a way to make sure we’re not putting ourselves in those bad spots.”
Of the Panthers’ six power-play goals, Patric Hornqvist’s two are the ones that really stand out. Both were critical pieces of Panthers wins.
With the Lightning clinging to a 5-3 lead following a five-goal second period in Game 3, Ondrej Palat took a boarding penalty 41 seconds into the third. Just over a minute later, Hornqvist tipped in Jonathan Huberdeau’s puck to cut the lead to one. Gustav Forsling tied the game late in the third, and Ryan Lomberg scored the winner in overtime.
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After Lightning defenseman Luke Schenn took a holding call with 59 seconds left in the second period of Game 5 — forced to make a play with Anthony Duclair on a breakaway following a turnover in the neutral zone — Hornqvist scored 35 seconds into the third to give the Panthers a 3-1 lead.
The Lightning have had only three fewer power-play opportunities in the series but had just two in Game 5 spanning only 2:08 of game time compared to five for the Panthers.
“It’s been tough because of the penalties we’ve taken, and we lose our momentum and then we get it back,” Cooper said. “To play this game 5-on-5, we’re fine with it. But you just can’t keep giving the power plays we’re giving them.
“You’re basically giving them one (goal) a game if you’re going to give them that many power plays. But it’s the momentum shifts, and the guys that don’t get on the ice that you want on the ice, and so we have to do a better job at that.”
Got to stay out of the box
The Lightning have been one of the league’s most penalized teams for the past few years, but this postseason, the penalties are reaching an abnormal peak.
Year Pen mins/game Minor pen/game
19-20 reg season 10.3 3.7
19-20 postseason 12.8 4.1
20-21 reg season 10.2 3.4
20-21 postseason 18.8 6.4
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