TAMPA – The stealth of a cat is why legend and myth says it has nine lives and on Thursday evening the Tampa Bay Lightning experienced all the lives that the Florida Panthers had into offer as in the end, Ryan Lomberg provided a reincarnation for the the Panthers, who announced their arrival in the series with a thrilling 6-5 overtime victory.
Lomberg collected the puck in the middle of the ice on the fly off a tipped pass from Frank Vatrano and drove it past Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy at 5:56 into the overtime period for the win that left the Panthers down 2-1 in the series with Game 4 in Amalie Arena on Saturday at 12:30 ET.
“You’re going to get ups and downs throughout a playoff series and it’s how you respond as a group,” said Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman, who collected three assists. ”
It looked like the Panthers might slumber into the off-season as Tampa Bay exploded for five goals in the second period to take a 5-3 lead after two, but veteran Patric Hornqvist scored just 1:45 into the third period off of Jonathan Haberdeau’s third assist of the evening to cut the Lightning lead to 5-4.
Gustav Forsling then scored at 16:53 as he fired a one-timer by Vasilevskiy to tie the game at 5-5.
“They pushed hard and they got one in off a skate,” said Hedman. “I thought we sat back a little too much. We were kind of protecting the lead and not playing to our strengths. We knew that and we weren’t happy with the way we played in the third.”
Florida coach Joel Quenneville saw the pride and talent of his Panthers take control in the third period.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with how we competed in the third period,” he said. “When you look at what could have happened and where we could have been at, so now the specter changed completely in a short amount of time.”
Lightning coach Jon Cooper wasn’t going to buy in to any overanalyzing of the Lightning defense as he pointed to the proven potential of the Panthers on the offensive end of the ice.
“We have played pretty good defensively at times, but if you’re going to give the other team time and space, they are going to get some opportunities,” said Cooper. “I just didn’t think we shut down that time and space like we did the previous game.”
The Lightning’s call to arms must have been with a high pitched voice somewhere in the annals of Amalie Arena after the Florida Panthers dominated the Lightning in taking a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes. The Panthers showed their urgency early with goals by Sam Bennett just 4:31 into the game and Radko Gudas at 7:05.
The Lightning roughed up Florida goalie Chris Driedger, who stopped all 10 of the shots fired his way in the first period, with the five-goal second. He was replaced by Sergei Bobrovsky to start the third period as Bobrovsky then held the Lightning in check by turning away all nine of Tampa Bay’s shots in the third period.
Anthony Cirelli, Ross Colton and Steven Stamkos all scored in a 6:41 stretch early in the second period as Stamkos tallied his second goal of the playoffs when he sailed through the middle of the Florida defense untouched and took a centering pass from Ryan McDonough which gave the Lightning a 3-2 lead at 8:38.
After the Panthers’ Alex Wennberg scored on a power play goal at 12:34 to tie the score at 3-3, the Lightning power play, strong with three goal in Game 1, came up money late in the second period.
Brayden Point stationed himself in the middle of the Panthers penalty killers as he scored on a quick pass from Nikita Kucherov at 14:17. The pass fooled the Panthers because they were expecting Kucherov to shoot from such a close angle. Victor Hedman posted his third assist of the game and sixth of the playoffs with his pass to Kucherov from the point.
Then at 18:14 Alex Killorn became the fifth Lightning player to score in the second period as he pushed the puck past Driedger off of a Victor Hedman shot to give Tampa Bay a 5-3 lead at the second intermission.
The Panthers showed their urgency early in the game as they started flying at the net and caught the Lightning napping eas Sam Bennett scored on a fly from Huberdeau as the Panthers took a 1-0 lead at 4:31.
The rush was started by a Lightning turnover in the Tampa Bay zone as Owen Tippett shot the puck across the ice to Huberdeau. He maintained the puck for a brief second and then hit Bennett on the blade as goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy couldn’t get repositioned in time to stop Bennett’s shot.
Radko Gudas served the Lightning notice as he deeked Tampa bay’s Ondrej Palat from behind the right circle and then shot a wrister by Vasilevskiy from inside the right circle for a 2-0 Panthers’ advantage.
Gudas, playing in his first career playoff game, took the pass from fellow third line defenseman Gustav Forsling who captured the puck off the face-off behind the left circle.
Florida outshot Tampa Bay, 47-31, as the 47 shots were the third most that Vasilevskiy had ever faced in a playoff game.
“We have been working our tails off,” said Quenneville. “This has been an unbelievable series. The pace is unbelievable, so we keep our composure and let’s be smart about it. I loved the way Bob (Bobrovsky) came in and shut things down.”