(Photo via NHL)
By Jake Ricker
The Lightning came into tonight in a win-win situation. You win; you go up 2-0, heading back to Tampa. If you lose your tied 1-1, and you did your job of getting at least one in Sunrise. Little did they know just three seconds would change the outcome of the game.
This game got off to a much different start, with both teams playing at a much faster pace. The Lighting pushed early, but Bobrovsky stood tall and kept the game scoreless. Early in the first, Sergachev would block a shot up high and then had to head down the tunnel for repairs; little did Lighting fans know this would not be the first player need repairs.
The Panthers then took their first penalty of the game as Montour was called for a hook. The Lighting, despite not having one of their top players on the power play, took full advantage as Corey Perry deflected the buck past Bobrovsky for a 1-0 lead.
The Lighting kept pushing after the goal creating chances and playing physical. It was clear the Panther's backs were against the wall, and the Lighting were looking for that insurance goal. Later in the first period, Cernak then blocked a shot up high and had to head back to the locker room. The Lighting now down, two defensemen held down the fort and would head into the 1st intermission up by one.
Sergachev would return to the Lighting bench for the start of the second, but things wouldn't get any easier. Stamkos, a few minutes into the period, then laid out to block a slapshot off his leg and would have to hobble off the ice and head down the tunnel. Before Lighting fans could take a breath, Bellemare was then called for tripping, and the Lighting would head to the penalty kill. Just as Bellemare headed the box, Cernak returned to the bench, ready to go. The Lighting once again killed off the penalty, and the Panther's power-play drought continued.
Stamkos would then later return to the bench, and the Lighting finally had everyone back. The Panthers were pushing through and nocking on the door for that game-tying goal. Both teams would then exchange power plays, but neither could find the back of the net. The Panthers just kept pushing and would eventually tie the game late in the second as the puck squirted past Vasilevskiy and into the net.
With the crowd now back into it, the Panthers held all the momentum. Kucherov was then called for a tripping penalty, and the Lighting would head to the penalty kill late in the period. The second would then come to a close with the game tied at one and the Lightning still on the penalty kill.
The Lighting would kill off the rest of the Kucherov penalty and now look to take back the lead early in the third. Stamkos continued to put his body on the line blocking another shot and then having to head back to the locker room once again. Vasilevskiy, who only had that one shake goal in the second, was now really locked in making huge saves to keep this game tied. But it wasn't just Vasilevskiy who was making saves as almost every player put their body on the line to block shots.
Stamkos then blocked a shot, and you guessed it had to head down the tunnel. Brandon Hagel then got in the action and took a nasty shot off the foot and had to be helped by the trainers down the tunnel. Just as Hagel was being helped off, Stamkos came back and was ready for another shift. Hagel would also eventually return, and the team was once again back to full strength.
As we got into the later parts of the third, there was then a too many men on the ice call, but to everyone's shock, it was not the Lighting headed to the box. Stamkos had the best chance on the power play with a big one-timer, but Bobrovsky came up big and shut the door. The Panthers then killed off the rest of the penalty, and we were back to 5-on-5 hockey. Bobrovsky was looking like his older self as he would make another grade a save as Palat tried to fire the puck into a wide-open net for the lead.
Stamkos would then take a late tripping call with just over three minutes left in regulation. But the Lightning once again shut down the Panther's power play and would look to now get ready for overtime. Or so we thought. With just seconds left in the game, Palat held the puck in the zone Kucherov played it behind the net, took a quick look over his shoulder as two panthers players closed in on him, and made a no-look pass to Ross Colton, who Buried it with 3.8 seconds left to give the Lighting a 2-1 lead. Stunned, the Panthers took a timeout and tried to gather themselves, but it was too late as the clock hit 0, and the Lighting took a massive 2-0 series lead.
The Lighting played another great game. Despite a few hiccups, the Lightning did what championship teams do and put their body on the line blocking shot after shot. Between Stamkos, Hagel, Srgachev, and Cernak, the Lighting must have had guys heading down the tunnel seven different times. But they all came back and never gave up. Vasilevskiy had one shaky goal but was once again stellar, and Kucherov did what he does best, having unbelievable awareness to get the puck to Colton for the game-winner. Never take your foot off the gas.
Our Three Stars:
3. Stamkos (TBL)
2. Colton (TBL)
1. Vasilevskiy (TBL)
Media's Three Stars:
3. Bobrovsky (FLA)
2. Vasilevskiy (TBL)
1. Colton (TBL)
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