Panthers score twice in the third period and beat the Lightning 3-2 in ...

21 Apr 2024

Carter Verhaeghe tapped in a pinpoint pass from Aleksander Barkov for the lead 58 seconds into the third period, Matthew Tkachuk added a goal and an assist and the Florida Panthers beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2 in Game 1 of their NHL playoff series opener Sunday.

Florida Panthers - Figure 1
Photo NBC 6 South Florida

Barkov had two assists, Sam Reinhart also scored and Sergei Bobrovsky had 17 saves for the Panthers, who won a Game 1 on home ice for the first time since 1997.

Brandon Hagel and Steven Stamkos got the goals for Tampa Bay, which now trails Florida in a series for the first time. Andrei Vasilevskiy made 25 stops for the Lightning, who pulled him for an extra attacker with 3:08 remaining. Tkachuk got an empty-netter 63 seconds later, and Florida soon began celebrating a 1-0 series lead.

Stamkos scored with 9.3 seconds left for the Lightning.

Verhaeghe's goal came on the power play, one that carried over from late in the second period. Barkov held the puck at the right point, then sent a diagonal pass through the slot to a hard-charging Verhaeghe — who was behind everyone else and simply touched the puck into an open net.

It's the third time the Sunshine State rivals have met in the playoffs — both of the first two having gone Tampa Bay's way, and basically in one-sided fashion. The Lightning won 4-2 on their way to their second straight Stanley Cup in 2021, then swept Florida 4-0 in 2022 and outscored the Panthers 13-3 in that series.

Florida Panthers - Figure 2
Photo NBC 6 South Florida

That ouster brought changes to Florida, which hired Paul Maurice to implement a new style geared toward winning in the playoffs without sacrificing offense. The Panthers rode that to the Stanley Cup final last year, to the Atlantic Division title this year — and it was enough in Game 1.


Florida took the game's first eight shots, keeping Tampa Bay from getting anything to Bobrovsky until 15:55 had elapsed in the opening period. And then it was the Lightning who clamped down — holding Florida to only six shots in the next 25 minutes, no small feat against the team that has gotten, by far, the most shots on net in the NHL over the last four seasons.

Shots after two periods: Florida 14, Tampa Bay 10. It tied the second-fewest shots the Panthers had through 40 minutes this season, and tied the third-fewest the Lightning had entering a third period.

Reinhart scored on a tip-in 6:13 into the game, and Hagel connected off a rebound from the slot at 16:04 of the first. It stayed that way until Verhaeghe skated unnoticed to the left side of the crease and tapped in the pass from Barkov for the 2-1 lead.


Game 2 is Tuesday in Sunrise.

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