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Crazy night in Tampa Bay: Panthers hold off Lightning



Panthers Bay Tampa
The Florida Panthers (clockwise from left: Jonathan Huberdeau, Patric Hornqvist, Keith Yandle, Aaron Ekblad and Sasha Barkov) celebrate a power play goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021 at BB&T Center. // Photo by Roger Topalian, 21st Century Photography

The Florida Panthers wanted to see how they stacked up to one of the best teams in the NHL when their three-game series with the Tampa Bay Lightning kicked off on Thursday.

Not bad.

Not bad at all.

Monday night, the Panthers visited Tampa for the first time and pulled out their second win in three games against the Lightning, this one 6-4.

The Panthers had not won in Tampa in almost five years.

Although the Panthers lost at home 6-1 on Saturday, by virtue of their two regulation wins in the series, Florida pulled out four of the available six points against the defending Stanley Cup champions.

No doubt they would have taken that when this series started.

Florida is now 4-0 coming off a loss and head to Carolina at 9-2-2.

With the Hurricanes tied in points with the Panthers, yet another test is on deck.

Still, the Panthers head to Raleigh feeling pretty good about themselves.

”Going into this three-game set, coming out ahead against them is a feather in our cap,” Joel Quenneville said postgame.

”But hey, we can’t rest on any laurels knowing there is a lot of hockey left. We can learn that we can expect more from one another and let’s look to get better. But that was a real good set with them.”

Monday’s game was highlighted by a wild second period in which the two teams combined for seven goals — with the Panthers netting four of them to take a 5-4 lead into the third period

Saturday’s game: Tampa Bay Lightning 6, Florida Panthers 1

In the second, the Panthers held a pair of three-goal leads only to see Tampa Bay charge back each time.

For the Panthers, Owen Tippett, Frank Vatrano (penalty shot), Anthony Duclair and Sasha Barkov all scored in the second.

Earlier in the game, tampa Bay took a 1-0 lead on a blast from Steven Stamkos with Jonathan Huberdeau tying the score at 1 at 7:56 of the first.

When Anton Stralman scored early in the third to make it 6-4, he became the 11th player on the Florida roster to make the scoresheet in this game.

”It is awesome especially after the first effort we had at home,” Duclair said of winning the series.

”We had a lot of people doubting us early on in the year but I think we have proved a lot of people wrong in the past three games. We’ll obviously see them again and we have to make sure we’re playing at our best against these teams.”

In net, Chris Driedger replaced Sergei Bobrovsky and ended the night with 27 saves.

As has been the case with Bobrovsky in his time with the Panthers, Driedger’s stats won’t look great at the end of the night, but Florida does not win this game without some great saves by him at some big moments.

This was a big win for the Panthers and for Driedger.

”Huge,” he said. “People are saying this is the best team in the league and we just beat them two out of three. I know we played some teams early that were lower in the standings and that allowed us to get our feet under us. This was a big test for us and I thought we played a fantastic game today.

”We know they have a lot of speed, a lot of skill. We shut it down in the third and put pucks in the back of the net. Great win for us.”

Tampa Bay gave All-World goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy a rare night off as veteran Curtis McElhinney got just his second start of the season.

Although McElhinney only gave up one goal against Nashville in his previous start, this was a much different game as he surrendered six off 21 shots.

With Noel Acciari out (upper body), the Panthers added Juho Lammikko to the lineup to center the fourth line.

Florida made one other change from Saturday, sitting Markus Nutivaara and putting Noah Juulsen in.

For the Panthers, Monday was their first win at Tampa Bay since March 16, 2016 which was near the end of their Atlantic Division-winning season, the last one in which Florida made the playoffs.

Florida had been 0-5-3 in its eight-game losing streak on the west side of the state.

First period highlights

Both teams took it a little slow to start, but the intensity — and scoring chances — picked up for both as things went on.

Tampa Bay took the 1-0 lead on a one-timer from Stamkos hanging in the right circle following a face-off win off an icing call.

Stamkos’ shot appeared to go off the crossbar and out, but the officials reviewed it and the goal stood.

”I think it hit the camera,” Driedger said. “I tried to get a stick on it but that didn’t quite work out. Stammer laid into that one and I saw the replay, it went off the camera.”

Prior to that goal at 6:24, the Panthers had a couple of good chances including a breakaway from Duclair which McElhinney stopped.

Florida tied the score at 1 when MacKenzie Weegar fired a puck deep.

McElhinney chased it down behind the net not noticing that Patric Hornqvist was charging in. Hornqvist won the race and battle for the puck, fired a quick pass to Huberdeau hanging in front of the cage who scored into the empty net.

The Panthers continued getting some scoring chances as the period went on but Tampa Bay’s killer power play got a shot with 2:12 remaining.

Florida killed it off with Barkov closing the period with a breakaway which was knocked away.

The Panthers outshot the Lightning 10-6 in the period and had five more shot attempts.

Second period highlights

Where do we even begin with what was a crazy second period?

We had seven goals combined, a penalty shot and despite all the offense, some really big saves. Believe that or not.

OK, well, lets start at the beginning.

After Florida had its early power play negated on an Aaron Ekblad penalty, the Panthers took their first lead at 2-1 when Vatrano forced a turnover at the wall, Eetu Luostarinen picked it up and fed it to Tippett in the slot.

It was Tippett’s first NHL goal since Florida gave him a junior tryout at the start of the 2017-18 season.

He spent all of last season in the AHL (Tippett was hurt around the All-Star break) before making the Panthers out of camp this year.

About four minutes later, Vatrano got dragged down driving to the net by Luke Schenn and got his first career penalty shot.

He nailed it.

Less than two minutes later, Duclair finally got his first of the season (off his 32nd shot on goal) when he drove in on McElhinney, strode around the cage and tucked the puck in on the wraparound shot.

Last week, Duclair had a similar shot roll across the goal line and out of harms way.

“I wanted to stay positive,” he said to FSN during the second intermission.

“It was a long time coming.”

Duclair’s goal made it 4-1 but, the Lightning did not pack up and head toward Channelside for the night.

No, Alexander Volkov got loose and scored to make it 4-2.

Before the limited amount of fans could settle back in, Barkov picked up a loose puck in the Tampa zone, drove in on McElhinney, held up and went to the forehand and fired up an odd-angled shot to make it 5-2.

Pretty soon, the Lightning would strike — twice.

First, Pat Maroon scored off a puck that had come off of Driedger to make it 5-3. Just 48 seconds later, Tyler Johnson made it a one-goal game when he and Mathieu Joseph came down on a 2-on-1 rush.

Tampa Bay then drew a penalty on Ekblad to end the period on the power play only did not strike before the horn blew to end the second.

The Lightning ended up outshooting the Panthers 15-7 in the period and amped up the pressure on Driedger with 21 shot attempts in the period.

“It was wild, good for the fans,’’ Stralman, who left the Lightning for the Panthers as a free agent said of the second.

“Every shift, there was a good chance or a goal it seemed like. There are surges in a game and that happens. We had a good start to that period, got some goals and you saw them get a little desperate and up there game. We couldn’t handle the surge and it turned out to be that wild. Then it settled down in the third.”

Third period highlights

The Panthers were able to kill off the final seconds of the Ekblad penalty and then went on the offensive — again.

With just under a minute gone in the third, the scoring barrage continued as Stralman carried the puck into the zone and flung up a wrist shot from the right circle that beat McElhinney to make it 6-4.

Both teams traded some scoring chances in the third — but also traded some punches.

First, former teammates Carter Verhaeghe and Gimel Smith went after each other before Radko Gudas and Yanni Gourde traded blows.

Moments after Gudas settled into the penalty box, Smith drove Barkov into the Lightning bench and got jumped by a couple of Florida players including Weegar.

With 3:15 left, Yandle took a slashing penalty which may have saved a goal. Tampa Bay pulled McElhinney giving it a 6-on-4 chance but Florida killed it off.

”It’s going to be a tight race all the way to the end, especially against a team like this,” Stralman said. “If you’re not on, like we weren’t the other night, you’re not going to have a chance. This was a good response for our team.”

Up Next: Florida Panthers at Carolina Hurricanes

When: Wednesday, 5 p.m.

Where: PNC Arena; Raleigh, N.C.

TV/Radio: FSF/560-AM

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