BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
There is one good thing that happened on Saturday for the Florida Panthers as they were in Tampa to face the Lightning for game four of the NHL Playoffs.
Their game started at 12:30 PM.
Going into the contest, Florida was feeling pretty positive coming off a 6-5 OT win on Thursday Night to close their series deficit to 2-1.
Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky came in relief of Chris Driedger in the third period.
Driedger gave up five goals and Bobrovsky shutdown the Lightning by stopping all nine shots he faced to earn the win. Bobrovsky improved his all-time playoff record to 3-0 against the Lightning in Tampa dating back to when he played for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Coach Joel Quenneville made the logical choice and decided to go with Bobrovsky on Saturday against an angry team that felt it let Thursday’s game get away after leading 5-3 at the end of the second period.
Would Bobrovsky pickup where he left off on Thursday?
The Lightning roughed up Bobrovsky by taking 14 shots with five going in and jumped out to a 5-1 lead. He would be replaced by Driedger.
Tampa Bay cruised to a 6-2 win and now holds a 3-1 lead in the series.
Driedger stopped 11 of 12 shots he faced for a .917 save percentage.
Nikita Kucherov led the Lightning with four points, one goal and three assists.
Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy faced 41 Florida shots and stopped 39 for a 95% save percentage.
But as we’ve seen all series, Florida continues to hurt itself committing costly penalties and allowed two Lightning power play goals.
Florida had 13 penalties for 50 minutes while Tampa Bay had 13 penalties for 42 minutes. The Panthers two goals came on power plays. The Panthers out-hit the Lightning 37-33.
After the game, the Panthers weren’t going to dwell on the outcome even though they know they find themselves in a huge hole.
Coach Joel Quenneville said, “the outcome wasn’t what we looked for. We had the perfect start and then we started chasing the game. We’re working, we were doing a lot of good things.”
Sam Bennett added, “You’ve just go to move on. It’s a quick turnaround. We’ve got a chance to play on home ice and win on home ice. That’s all we can do.”
The captain Alexander Barkov said, “We’re going back home, just forget about this one. We’ve got to find a way to eliminate those chances. Go home, play in front of our own fans, get excited and play the right way for 60 minutes.”
Anton Stralman is eager to return to the BB&T Center for the Monday Night contest at 8 PM.
“We want to go home and play our best game in front of our fans, give them something to cheer for. This series is not over obviously.”
When the Panthers return home, they’ll be allowing nearly 75% capacity so you can rest assure the crowd will be lively.
The Panthers have history working against them.
The Lightning have never lost a series in which they won the first two games.
Tampa Bay is 11-3 after holding a 2-1 advantage.
The Panthers have never rallied to win a series after dropping the first two games.
Florida will have to win three straight against the defending Stanley Cup Champions to end the franchise’s 25-year drought without a playoff series win.
In three of the four games, Florida has allowed five goals and thus there were some goaltending questions which came up following Sunday’s morning skate.
Coach Quenneville didn’t commit about who would be between the pipes Monday Night and rookie goaltender Spencer Knight’s name was brought up.
“He gives us an option and is something to consider. He’s an option that we like and has been on big stages before.”
Quenneville said the key to defeat Tampa Bay is don’t get baited into taking unnecessary penalties and “we have to show more discipline and that’s been a factor in all games. We have to be smart and have to win every shift. We can’t show frustration.”
Noel Acciari said the team has to show controlled aggression.
“We have to play between the whistles, be more disciplined because the referees are looking for that (calling penalties). We have to come together and have a strong 60 minutes. We have to leave it all out there. We’re not out of this and not going out without a fight.”
MacKenzie Weegar said the early game allowed the team to, “have a nice dinner together and get things off our chest. We have a great leadership group so we have to give it our all and have a couple days to regroup.”
As far as the team’s performance on the penalty killing unit, “we have to be better. We need more desperation, grit, passion, pride and we’re giving them (Tampa Bay) too much respect. We need to bare down and control what we can do.”
Weegar is impressed with what he’s seen with Knight so far.
“He’s a pro at a young age, has his routine down, so elite and plays on a high level. We can trust him and he’s a great goalie. He’s a great guy, has a bright future ahead of him and I can’t wait to play in front of him.”
Regardless of plays in goal, Florida will face a team that knows how to win in the playoffs and they’ve done a great job getting under the Panthers skin causing the Cats to take unnecessary penalties.
As I’ve mentioned, Tampa Bay knows how to close out an opponent and having won the first two games in the playoffs at BB&T will give them more confidence to wrap this series up on Monday Night.
A win for Tampa Bay will only give their team more time to rest as it prepares for its next opponent.
On Sunday, the Nashville Predators defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 4-3 in two overtime’s and that series is tied at 2-2. It will go no less than six games.
Meanwhile, while Florida knows it has to take things one game at a time, and if the Panthers can somehow extend this series to seven games, two of those will be on home ice.
But first things first.
Don’t self destruct with penalties, play an entire 60 minutes or possibly more and the goaltending has to be stellar.
The least amount of goals Florida has allowed is three when the Panthers lost a 3-1 decision.
As Coach Quenneville has been saying, the team can’t be chasing and always be playing from behind.
Scott Morganroth can be reached at email@example.com and you can follow him on Twitter @TribuneSouth.
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