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2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Florida Panthers Confident in Special Teams Despite Game 4 Loss



Florida panthers
Tampa Bay’s Brandon Hagel gets sandwiched by Florida defensemen Dmitry Kulikov and Oliver Ekman-Larsson during the second period in Game 4 on Saturday in Tampa. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

If Paul Maurice was upset with his Florida Panthers for their less-than-enthusiastic performance Saturday, he didn’t show it afterward.

Instead, Maurice preferred to focus on the positives but mentioned the negatives and what was needed to correct the flaws.

Maurice was happy with his team’s second-period rally, which brought the Panthers within a goal of the Lightning.

“That’s the way the game is supposed to look for us,” he said following the 6-3 loss on Saturday evening.

Only the Panthers could never get closer and Steven Stamkos’ beauty midway through the third opened things back up.

“I like the way we were kind of able to get after it in the second period,” Maurice said. “It was a bit of a strange game, with the five-on-fours, four-on-fours, five-on-threes, and things like that. We’re going to have to find a way to stay out of the box.”

In Game 3, Maurice commended his penalty kill for stifling Tampa Bay’s lethal power play unit in its four attempts.

Tampa Bay had the top power play in the NHL during the regular season (as well as the fifth-best penalty kill).

Stamkos, Brayden Point, and Nikita Kucherov had 47 power-play goals between them; Tampa Bay scored 71 with the advantage.

The Lightning would not be a pushover despite Florida’s three straight victories.

Tampa Bay has been there before.

“The whole problem was with special teams tonight so that’s a recipe for a tough one,” Maurice said.

The Panthers failed to score on two power plays (one abbreviated) on Saturday.

They may have been rusty, having made no attempts in the previous game.

Stamkos’ two power-play goals from his usual area of the ice seemed almost unstoppable.

Maurice has been around long enough to act methodically and not out of emotion.

He was not in a panic mode.

“The shift outside the room is always far greater than the shift in the room,” Maurice said. “We did what we needed to do at home. We won the first two games. And then we did what we needed to do on the road. We split.”

Getting back to the weakness in Game 4, Maurice said, “We’re going to fool around with some things (and) fire ourselves back up. I think the intensity just continues to grow. I think it will get faster and faster as we go.”

He added, “Enjoy the hell out of it.”

Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper, who is always thoughtful and detailed, discussed the importance of Stamkos’s first power-play goal afterward.

“It was huge because we kind of fumbled the one before it,” said Cooper, whose team had six power play attempts in Tampa before the Panthers got their first.

“It’s like goal scorers: Goal scorers are used to scoring goals. But sometimes there’s the little bit of a slump and sometimes they get super streaky. It can be the same thing for the power play. It just gets magnified when it’s in the playoffs. We had some big moments when the power play could have helped us and did not. Tonight, we needed it. They gave it to us.

“I think confidence starts to brew and all of a sudden you’re getting better looks than you thought you could. Now you’re getting in the zone easier. So many things manifest from scoring a power play goal.”

During the regular season the Panthers killed 12 of the Lightning’s 14 power plays and were successful in four of 14 power play attempts of their own.

Stamkos and Point scored the two Lightning goals.

At Sunday’s practice, Maurice was again low-key about the loss.

“We think we can fix the things we didn’t like about our game,” he said. “They played really hard, right? They’re a desperate team. They put up six on us. That doesn’t happen to us very much. So, we’ve got to get that right.”

Tonight, two excellent teams — coached by two excellent strategists — meet up again.

It should be fun.

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