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2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Sasha Barkov Leads Florida Panthers to Historic Game 1 Win



Florida Panthers captain Sasha Barkov salutes the crowd after being named one of the Three Stars of Sunday’s 3-2 win over the Lightning before giving the game puck to goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. // Photos courtesy @FlaPanthers, @GeorgeRichards

SUNRISE — As Sasha Barkov made his way out of a triumphant Florida Panthers dressing room Sunday afternoon, he stopped to ask a reporter whether his team’s 3-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning was the franchise’s first Game 1 win in a first-round series.

It was not.

But it certainly has been a long time since it last happened.

On Sunday, the Panthers took a 1-0 series lead in an opening-round series for the first time since their days at Miami Arena.

Florida won its first-ever playoff game against the Boston Bruins on April 17, 1996.

A year to the day, the Panthers opened the 1997 playoffs with a 3-0 win over the New York Rangers. Florida lost the next four games in that series.

Since, the Panthers were beaten in Game 1 by the Devils (2000, 2012), Islanders (2016, 2020), Lightning (2021), Capitals (2022), and Bruins (2023).

Sunday was only one win for the Panthers in what they hope will be a long playoff run.

Yet this one felt important if only because it is the first time in three playoff rounds with the rival Lightning that Florida has held a lead in the series.

“Either you win or you learn from losing,” Barkov told Florida Hockey Now, moments after giving the game puck to goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. “Today, we won; but we also learned a lot. This was great for us.”

Barkov had a big hand in the Panthers win, earning third star honors from the media and top billing from FHN.

Florida’s opening goal by Sam Reinhart was set up by Barkov forcing a turnover at the top of the offensive zone and getting it to Gus Forsling for the point shot that Reinhart redirected past Andrei Vasilevskiy.

It was one of 16 turnovers forced by Barkov and the Panthers as they stymied the Tampa Bay offensive attack throughout the day.

Barkov then deftly threaded a needle with a laser of a pass from the right circle onto the stick of Carter Verhaeghe to make it 2-1 just 58 seconds into the third period.

Florida only scored three goals, but with the way it played defensively in front of Bobrovsky on Sunday, that was enough.

“We want to come at you in waves,” Barkov said. “We want all four lines to roll and just keep doing it over and over and over. When everyone is on the same page, we can keep doing that.’’

Added Bobrovsky: “It was a great start, our defense really set us up and had some great energy. It was a fun building to win, and it was a great win. It’s only one game and they are a good team. We enjoyed today and now we get ready for the next one.”

In past years, the Panthers have come out tentative in playoff games, looking nervous at times or, simply outclassed.

That certainly was not the case on Sunday as the Panthers jumped all over the Lightning and never let up.

Florida’s tenacious style appeared to frustrate the Lightning as they spent countless shifts failing to clear the puck out of its zone and being forced to defend for much longer stretches than accustomed to.

To keep the pressure on the Lightning in what will probably be a long series, the Panthers are going to have to continue doing just that.

Lucky for them, that is exactly how they like to play.

“It really was a good effort by us and it was not just at the beginning, but I would say throughout the entire game,” Barkov said.

“There were some breakdowns where we needed Bobby to save us, but that is expected against that Tampa team. They are really good, are extremely strong offensively. But we have to play defense, and we have been working on it for two years. We’ll keep working.”

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

  • 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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