TAMPA — The light is flickering on the Florida Panthers season and it will all come down to Monday night.
If the Panthers can find a way to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 4, the season continues and Florida returns to Sunrise for a Game 5.
With a loss, the Panthers will still return home — but it will be to clean out their lockers and say goodbye for the summer.
As successful as this season has been, it can all end on Monday.
And if it ends in a sweep to the Lightning, it ends in a thud.
Coach Andrew Brunette challenged his team in his postgame comments following Sunday’s 5-1 loss in Game 3.
The Lightning, who blocked 19 shots, played like a team which wanted it more than the Panthers.
“They do a great job,’’ Brunette said. “Obviously they’re Stanley Cup champions and the best team in hockey probably over the last five years, so they know what they’re doing and they’re willing themselves.
“They have more will and more desire than we do, and it shows probably if you watch the game shift after shift right now, so we have to find a way that we need to dial it in deeper and harder and want it more. …
“They’re blocking shots. We’re not, really. … But they’ve just got a little bit more will. When there’s a loose puck, they’re kind of out-battling us and they want it a little bit more.”
In the history of the NHL postseason, only four teams have ever rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win the next four and move on.
Florida has a couple of players with some experience in these rare comebacks.
Claude Giroux was with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010 when they went down 3-0 to the Bruins and came back to win.
Joe Thornton was on the other side of that comeback coin, his Sharks taking a 3-0 lead on the Kings in 2014 — only to watch Los Angeles rally and take the Western Conference championship en route to the Stanley Cup.
The Panthers cannot be thinking about any of that.
They just need one win.
“Obviously it’s tough to see, but we’ve got to give everything we have,’’ Jonathan Huberdeau said. “Down 3-0, it’s a good team but who knows? We come back tomorrow, it’s a back-to-back so we can show up tomorrow and win a game and it’s a different series.
“This game is over and we lost. Tomorrow we’ll wake up, it’s a new day and we can do it. We know we can do it. We have that kind of team. We have resilience. We showed it all year, so why not do it right now?”
Florida was saying the same thing coming into Game 3 and got off to a good enough start.
Despite going down 1-0 in the first on a deflection by Corey Perry, Florida tied it up with 3:53 left in the period on Sam Reinhart’s power play goal. It was the Panthers’ first power play goal in 26 tries this postseason.
In the second, both teams had plenty of scoring chances — but it was the Lightning who scored twice and took a 3-1 lead into the third. The Lightning then shut things down and ended up with two empty net goals to make the score look worse than it was.
Still, with the Panthers losing two games at home, they were desperate.
“You just want to go out there and play and put on a better performance,’’ Reinhart said. “Another opportunity tomorrow night, and we’re obviously going to need our best effort.
“It’s tough not to get frustrated. I think there’s certain things we’re doing well, but obviously it’s not enough bodies around the net picking up those loose opportunities. It’s certainly frustrating when you’re that close but you’re not ultimately getting it in.”
NHL STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
PANTHERS V. LIGHTNING (TBL leads 3-0)
- Game 4: Monday, 7 p.m.
- Where: Amalie Arena, Tampa
- TV/Streaming: TNT
- Postgame: Bally Sports Florida
- Radio: WQAM 560 (Miami/Fort Lauderdale); WMEN 640 (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3 (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Tickets: CLICK HERE
PANTHERS V. LIGHTNING
- Regular season series — Tied 2-2: Florida 4, @Lightning 1 (Oct. 19); @Lightning 3, Florida 2 OT (Nov. 13); @Florida 9, Lightning 3 (Dec 30); Tampa Bay 8, @Florida 4 (April 24).
- All-time regular season series: Panthers lead 73-49-18, 10 ties
- Playoff history: Second meeting; Tampa Bay d. Florida 4-2 in R1, 2021
- Round 1: Florida d. Washington 4-2; Tampa Bay d. Toronto 4-3
- Full schedule — Game 1: Tampa Bay 4, @Florida 1; Game 2: Tampa Bay 2, @Florida 1; Game 3: @Tampa Bay 5, Florida 1; Game 4: Florida at Tampa Bay, Monday, 7 (TNT); Game 5*: Tampa Bay at Florida, Wednesday, May 25 (Time, TV TBA); Game 6*: Florida at Tampa Bay Lightning, Friday, May 27 (Time, TV TBA); Game 7*: Tampa Bay at Florida, Sunday, May 29 (Time, TV TBA). (*) — If necessary.