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2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Florida Panthers Coming Home, Lightning Keep Season Alive



Panthers lightning
Carter Verhaeghe got the Florida Panthers on the board early in the second period and celebrates with the bench after making it 3-1. Florida ended up losing Game 4 by a 6-3 final on Sunday in Tampa. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

TAMPA — Florida Panthers coach Paul Maurice did not seem too upset following his team’s Game 4 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday evening.

He just wanted to escape a very warm press workroom where his press conference was being held.

Maurice brought his bag with him and was ready to get home.

Following a 6-3 loss to the Lightning, the Panthers did just that.

Florida will play host to Game 5 of the first-round of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs on Monday night after the Lightning avoided a sweep and kept its season alive.

“We were not very good and we were a little bit slow,” Maurice said. “We had some problems with the special teams, so, that is a recipe for a tough one.”

The Panthers said they were prepared for a big push from the Lightning — only it did not look it in the opening period.

“We came out with fire and we got rewarded,” Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman said afterward. “They pushed back in the second, but I thought we had a tremendous third and deserved the win.”

Yes, for the first time in this best-of-7 series, the Lightning were the better team.

Tampa Bay did not become Florida’s second sweep victim in the past year by scoring three in the first and holding off a big push from the Panthers in the final 40.

“We gave them too many power plays and that’s what got them in this game,’’ said Dmitry Kulikov, who took a high stick late which left several cuts on his face.

“When we are playing 5-on-5, we’re a pretty good team. We created chances, we were back in that game. Sometimes this is the way it goes. We wanted to win this one, but we’re going home now. We’ll try and finish the job there.”

Florida trailed 3-0 after the first and was down 4-1 midway through the second before Sam Reinhart and Oliver Ekman-Larsson pulled the Panthers within a goal.

The Panthers certainly had momentum on their side going into the third and had many chances to tie things up.

But Steven Stamkos’ second goal of the night on a beautiful no-look shot from 35-feet out beat a stunned Sergei Bobrovsky and the Lightning live to fight another day.

“We did what we needed to do at home,” said Maurice, whose team beat the Lightning twice in Sunrise before splitting the two in Tampa. “We won the first two games. Then we did what we needed to do on the road. We split. You’re up three and you want to win that fourth one, but they’ve got a pretty good team over there.”

Said captain Sasha Barkov: “We all know it’s a battle. It’s best-of-7. We’re up 3-1 going home. We’re in a good spot.”

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