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Florida Panthers Jump On Lightning, Keep Foot on Gas in Rout

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Carter Verhaeghe celebrates after Matthew Tkachuk got his second power-play goal of the second period in Florida’s 9-2 win over the host Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)

Yes, the Tampa Bay Lightning took a quick lead on the Florida Panthers on Saturday.

Brandon Hagel scored 24 seconds into the game.

It did not affect anything the Panthers wanted to do.

Down 1-0, the Panthers started to swarm goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. On their fifth shot of the game, Brandon Montour clipped a Tampa defenseman with his one-timer off a Sam Bennett faceoff win.

The puck went in, and the Panthers were off to the races.

By the time the smoke cleared, the Panthers ran out of Tampa with a 9-2 win — a victory which extended the team’s record road winning streak to 11 games.

“This is probably our biggest rival,’’ said Sam Bennett, who broke a six-game scoring drought with a pair of goals and two assists. “We played hard, we played right until the end. We did not take our foot off the gas.’’

Florida scored four goals in the first, opened with two in the second, and got three off replacement goalie Jonas Johansson to kick off the third.

The Panthers, holding a comfortable lead with the knowledge Sergei Bobrovsky was taking care of business on the other end of the ice, could have slowed things down.

They could have played a looser game defensively and laid off on some hits here and there.

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Only they did not.

“Even late in the game, we played the physical brand of hockey which makes us successful,” said Matthew Tkachuk, who continued to wield a hot stick with a pair of goals and two assists in the win. “They started it in the third, which fits right into our game. We’re happy to play that way.”

The Panthers played the same brand of game that has served them so well for much of the past two seasons, whether they were trailing or blowing the Lightning out of its building.

“It’s all the mindset,” said Carter Verhaeghe, who scored two of the three goals in the third period to give him 30 for the third straight season.

“Whether we’re up 9-2 or down 9-2, we will play the same way. You can’t let your foot off the gas at any time, or playing the game is no fun. We just go out there and play the hardest we can every shift, regardless of the score or who we’re playing.

“They’re a good team over there. They came out hard and scored the first goal, and then we battled back and got back in it. We played a hard game.’’

Captain Sasha Barkov echoed those sentiments.

“We’re just trying to play the right way,” he said, “no matter what the game situation is. We just want to play like we know how to play. Everyone works really hard every time we step on the ice. We are happy with that. … Wins like this are pretty rare in this league when you score so many goals. Everyone was having fun out there and playing the right way.’’

Of the 18 skaters Florida dressed on Saturday, 13 made it to the scoresheet as the Panthers spread things out in a way that Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper could only shake his head at.

The Lightning came in with wins in eight straight home games — but the Panthers have now won their past four against their cross-state rivals and have points in six of their past seven (5-1-1) in Tampa.

With the Panthers rolling like they are, the Lightning could do little more than watch it happen.

“For 26 seconds, it was a heck of a game for the home fans,’’ Cooper said. “After that, the better team clearly won. They out-skated us, they won the puck battles, they won the special teams war. … If there’s a TV timeout war, they probably won that too.’’’

This is one of those games which will probably not be forgotten by a Tampa Bay team with a championship pedigree and long memories.

The two teams only play each other three times this season with the regular-season finale next month in Sunrise.

But with the Atlantic Division as tightly contested as it is, these two could be headed toward a postseason showdown for the third time in four years.

“That’s a good team over there,’’ Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “They played well and we didn’t.’’

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ON DECK

OTTAWA SENATORS @ FLORIDA PANTHERS

  • When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
  • Where: Amerant Bank Arena, Sunrise
  • TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
  • Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL App
  • Last Season: Florida won 2-1
  • This Season (Panthers Lead 1-0) — At Ottawa: Panthers 5, Senators 0 (Nov.27); April 4. At Florida: Tuesday; April 9
  • All-time Regular Season Series: Ottawa leads 57-45-5, 3 ties
  • Up Next for the Panthers: Thursday at Carolina, 7 p.m.

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