The Florida Panthers have not had much success in Tampa so not much was expected to them Tuesday night — not with top centers Sasha Barkov and Sam Bennett out of the lineup once again.
No, few saw this kind of a start coming.
The Panthers were on the Lightning from the drop of the puck, ending up with three goals in the first period before holding on for a 4-1 win over the Lightning to keep pace in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Florida now has 20 games remaining with the NHL Trade Deadline coming on Friday afternoon.
Beating the Lightning on Tuesday could go a long way in how general manager Bill Zito looks at it.
On the ice, Florida skated circles around the Lightning in the opening period, holding Tampa Bay to just four shots on goal — and none in the final 15 minutes or so of play.
Eric Staal opened things up at 6:19 of the first (the Panthers had a 6-4 shot advantage) by deflecting a Josh Mahura shot and beating Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Eetu Luostarinen and Anton Lundell also scored in the opening period one which appeared would be a 4-0 game.
With three seconds left, Gus Forsling scored on the power play but Matthew Tkachuk was ruled to have interfered with Vasilevskiy and the goal was taken off the board.
Florida ended up winning a goalie interference of its own, taking what was a Steven Stamkos goal off the board with 16:58 left in the second. That would have cut Florida’s lead to 3-2.
The Panthers also successfully challenged an offside call on the Lightning in the second period.
Tampa Bay did get one that counted — a power play goal from Brayden Point — at 11:39 of the second.
Florida certainly gave the Lightning plenty of shots at the power play, taking five consecutive calls from the second period on.
After a couple delay-of-game calls and a high-sticking, Sergei Bobrovsky got called for tripping while breaking up a shot with 6:46 left and up 3-1.
Tampa Bay only got one power play goal — that counted, anyway.
Thank Bobrovsky — and Radko Gudas — for a lot of that.
Bobrovsky ends with 29 saves and Gudas blocked seven of Florida’s 22 shots.
GOALS OF THE GAME
- Panthers 1, Lightning 0 (6:19, 1st): Eric Staal camped out in the slot and Josh Mahura sent a saucer pass to him as Staal deflected it past Andrei Vasilevskiy for his 12th goal of the season. Twelve goals for Eric Staal. Who called that one? No one.
- Panthers 2, Lightning 0 (15:56, 1st): Anton Lundell drove in on the Tampa goalie and scored his second goal in the past 14 games.
- Panthers 3, Lightning 0 (17:37, 1st): Anthony Duclair may not get a point on this goal, but he did a ton of work — first getting it deep into the zone and then retrieving it after Brandon Montour’s shot went wide. The puck was stripped of Duclair in front of the net but it went right on the stick of Eetu Luostarinen who hammered it home.
- Panthers 3, Lightning 1 (11:39, 2nd): Brayden Point deflected a shot from Steven Stamkos in front of Sergei Bobrovsky on a power play chance.
- Panthers 4, Lightning 1 (19:55, 3rd): Staal has the empty net to himself — but lets Anthony Duclair have it.
Paul Maurice made a surprising announcement on Tuesday morning when he said Grigori Denisenko would not play but Casey Fitzgerald would.
Fitzgerald had been working with Florida’s forwards since Sunday as was the seventh defenseman against the Lightning.
It was the first game for Fitzgerald since the Panthers claimed him off waivers from Buffalo in January.
By playing Tuesday, he also became part of the second father-son duo with the Panthers as his father Tom — now the GM of the New Jersey Devils — was an original member of the Florida organization.
Cory and Riley Stillman were the first father-son pair to play for the Panthers in franchise history.
GR’S THREE STARS OF THE NIGHT
1. Sergei Bobrovsky, Florida (29 saves, 354th NHL win)
2. Eric Staal, Florida (goal, assist)
3. Radko Gudas, Florida (7 blocked shots, 4 hits)
PANTHERS ON DECK
NASHVILLE PREDATORS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Sun, ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5 FM-2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Season Series (Predators lead 1-0): Nashville 7, Florida 3 (Feb. 16)
- Last season: Florida won 2-0
- All-time regular season series: Florida leads 21-13-6, 3 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Pittsburgh at Florida, Saturday, 6 p.m.