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2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Florida Panthers Bottle up Lightning, Take Control of Game 1

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Gus Forsling, Ryan Lomberg and Sasha Barkov congratulate Matthew Tkachuk after he scored an empty-net goal during the third period of Game 1 on Sunday afternoon in Sunrise. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

SUNRISE — The Florida Panthers took control of their game against the Tampa Bay Lightning and celebrated with a 3-2 win in Game 1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

For the first 15:59, the Panthers held the Lightning without a shot, outshooting it 9-0 while hounding Tampa Bay on the forecheck, rarely letting the Lightning out of its own zone.

”It’s a foundation of our game,” coach Paul Maurice said.

“We know both teams have had some games off, we’ve been waiting for the playoff games to start, it’s going to come out hot, there’s going to be some banging.”

From the moment Sam Reinhart deflected a Gus Forsling shot home to give Florida a 1-0 lead, it was an uphill battle for Tampa to get back in the game.

The crowd at Amerant Bank Arena was buzzing from the moment the puck dropped, which helped the Panthers as they continued to push on.

“That was kind of the way you want to start,” Reinhart said. “I liked their energy the first 10-to-15 minutes. We kept it simple. We were playing north, we were on the puck, getting it back and they got into the game as the first period went on.”

It could have gotten ugly had it not been for Andrei Vasilevskiy.

He made seven saves on 15 scoring chances and eight high-danger chances in the opening period before Tampa Bay got a chance to get its offense going for the first time all game.

“They’re at home, the crowd’s pumped up, they’ve got all of this energy and I give them a ton of credit. They went to a gameplan and we abandoned ours before it even started,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.

“I give our guys credit, we weathered the storm for 12, 13 minutes or whatever it was and then we played.”

Tampa Bay got itself back into the game immediately after they drew its first shot on goal 15:59 into the opening period.

Right off the ensuing offensive zone face-off, Tampa Bay rattled off a couple of shots before Brandon Hagel potted home a rebound that tied the game up at 1-1.

From that point on, it was tight-checking playoff hockey.

Neither team gave the other an inch.

“Nothing really changed as the game progressed, and that’s how we’re trying to play,” Reinhart said. We’re trying to limit their time and space, be on top of pucks, and that’s what gives you success this time of year.”

Both teams combined for just 10 shots (6-4 FLA), 12 scoring chances (8-4 FLA), and six high-danger chances (3-3) in the second period while looking for some way to break the game open.

“I don’t think it’s really frustrating,” Carter Verhaeghe said. “I think we come in here and expect it.

“Every game, we’re playing against a really good team and it’s going to be a tight-checking game. We know their weapons, they know we have weapons and I think anytime you come into one of these games, you’re expecting it and it’s going to be one break that wins the game. I think that’s what makes it so intense and so exciting. That’s generally our mindset.”

Both goalies did not face much, but they made some 10-bell saves when asked to.

“It is what it is,” Sergei Bobrovsky said. “You are trying to stay focused and read the game and it was a tight game. There was not much room out there for both teams. So it was good competiton.”

After both teams traded power plays to no avail, Florida got one to start the third period and got their break.

Sasha Barkov threaded a saucer pass through traffic to find Verhaeghe in front just over a minute into the third period.

Verhaeghe buried it and gave the Panthers a 2-1 lead.

“I gave the puck to Barky and went to the net and I didn’t even see the pass. It just hit my stick,” Verhaeghe said. “Barky can pass the puck, so just put it on Barky’s stick.”

Florida rode that momentum from there on out.

Shots (13-9) and scoring chances (10-10) were relatively even, but it kept Tampa Bay out of the dangerous areas and generated a few more quality chances.

Matthew Tkachuk drilled home the empty-netter with 2:05 to go to make it a 3-1 game — and Florida needed it.

Tampa Bay got a power play late in the game and Steven Stamkos fired off a one-timer from his office on the left flank to draw Tampa Bay within a goal with 9.3 seconds to go.

Only it was too little, too late.

Florida came away with the win and owns a 1-0 series lead in the first round for the first time since 1997.

“When you look at the game, there are going to be places where both teams want to be better,” Maurice said.

“There will be places where both teams will feel pretty darn good. That’s what from today until the drop of the puck [for Game 2] is. How much can you leverage what you think you were good at and mitigate where [the Lightning] were good.”

For the most in-depth coverage of the Florida Panthers:

STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
EASTERN CONFERENCE QUARTERFINALS
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (WC1) VS. FLORIDA PANTHERS (ATL1)
PANTHERS LEAD BEST-OF-7 SERIES 1-0
GAME 2
  • When: Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.
  • Where: Amerant Bank Arena, Sunrise
  • Local TV/National TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida/ESPN2/ESPN+
  • Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (West Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); WCZR 101.7-FM (Treasure Coast); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL app
  • First Round (Panthers Lead 1-0) — Game 1: Panthers 3, Lightning 2 (Sunday); Game 2: Tuesday at Florida, 7:30 (BSF, ESPN2); Game 3: Thursday at Tampa Bay, 7 (BSF, TBS); Game 4: Saturday Ap. 27 at Tampa Bay, 5 (BSF, TBS, TruTV); Game 5*:Monday Ap. 29 at Florida, TBA (BSF, TBA); Game 6*: Wednesday May 1 at Tampa Bay, TBA (BSF, TBA); Game 7*:Saturday May 4 at Florida, TBA (BSF, TBA). (*) — If necessary
  • 2023-24 Regular Season Series (Panthers Won 2-1) — At Tampa Bay: Panthers 3, Lightning 2 (Dec. 27)Panthers 9, Lightning 2 (Feb. 17). At Florida: Lightning 5, Panthers 3 (March 16).
  • All-time Regular Season Series: Florida leads 77-51-19, 10 ties
  • All-Time Postgame Series: Lightning Leads 2-0 (2021 first-round, 2022 ECS)

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