Sunshine State showdown: Lightning takes lead in series, beats Panthers 5-4

Lightning

Teammates mob Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Brayden Point (21) after he scored the game winning goal against the Florida Panthers during the third period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series, Sunday, May 16, 2021, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Joel Auerbach)

SUNRISE, Fla.- (AP) — Brayden Point scored two late goals, including the game-winner with 1:14 left in the third period, to lift the Tampa Bay Lightning to a 5-4 win over the Florida Panthers on Sunday night in Game 1 of their playoff series.

Nikita Kucherov scored two power-play goals in his first appearance of the season, and Blake Coleman scored a short-handed goal. Andrei Vasilevskiy made 35 saves and Victor Hedman had three assists.

Jonathan Huberdeau had a goal and two assists, Owen Tippitt amd Aleksander Barkov each had a goal and an assist and Carter Verhaeghe scored a goal against his former team to lead the Panthers. Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 34 shots, and Keith Yandle and Sam Bennett each had two assists.

Point tied it at 4 with seven minutes to go on his power-play goal and then got the winner when he skated in on a breakaway and backhanded the puck past Bobrovsky.

With the Panthers trailing 3-2, Huberdeau skated in on a breakaway and slid the puck under Vasilevskiy’s pads at 1:27 into the third to tie the score at 3.

Tippett gave the Panthers a 4-3 lead on his goal at 4:09 of the third.

The Panthers thought they scored a power-play goal when Sam Bennett pushed the puck past Vasilevskiy at 7:26 of the first, but the goal was waved off due to goalie interference. The Lightning took a 1-0 lead on Coleman’s short-handed goal 16 seconds later.

The Panthers tied it at 1 on Barkov’s power-play goal at 9:41, and Verhaeghe put them ahead with 3:29 left in the first.

Kucherov tied the score 2-all on his first power-play goal at 4:48 of the second. His second gave the Lightning a 3-2 lead when he one-timed a pass from Hedman from the right circle with 5:09 left in the second. Kucherov missed the entire regular season with a hip injury after having surgery on Dec. 29. He played his first game since Sept. 28.

The first period was especially chippy, with a combined 16 penalty minutes. The second period ended with a fighting scrum in front of the Tampa Bay net.

BACK TO WORK

Steven Stamkos, who hadn’t played since April 8 with a lower-body injury, a span of 16 games, returned for Game 1. Hedman (lower body) and Ryan McDonagh (upper body) also returned after each missed the last two games of the regular season.

NOTES: Since his NHL debut in 2013-14, Kucherov has scored 38 postseason goals, tying him with Alex Ovechkin for most among all players. … Coleman’s short-handed goal was the first in the playoffs for the Lightning since Alex Killorn in Game 1, Round 1 in the 2019 playoffs.

ATTENDANCE

The Panthers increased capacity to 50% for the playoffs. 9,646 attended Sunday’s game.

UP NEXT

The teams meet Tuesday for Game 2.


There used to be a thing called the Governor’s Cup, a trophy presented to whichever team won the annual regular season series between the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning. It was supposed to be a way of drumming up hockey interest around the Sunshine State.

It never really caught on.

Besides, there are far better things to win than some crystal vase.

The defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning and the upstart Panthers are about to meet in the postseason for the first time. Game 1 of their Central Division opening-round series is Sunday night on the Panthers’ home ice in Sunrise, Florida.

Florida was second in the Central Division, Tampa Bay third.

“I think we made giant strides over the course of the year, from this year to last year,” Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. “But it doesn’t matter. It’s what we do now going forward.”

The Panthers went 5-2-1 against the Lightning in the regular season, though that seems most irrelevant now given that Tampa Bay’s lineup will be considerably different in this series.

The Lightning are getting forward Nikita Kucherov — whose last game was Sept. 28, which just happened to be the night Tampa Bay hoisted the Stanley Cup. He missed the entire regular season with a hip injury.

“The big thing for me is to not sit here and say ‘Kucherov is coming back, like all problems are solved,’” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “That would be the absolute wrong way to look at it. I don’t think anybody should be looking at it that way. He’s an exceptional player in this league and he can make things happen. … But we have to also be careful in the fact that he hasn’t played a game in eight months, and there’s something to be said for that.”

It’s not just Kucherov returning: The Lightning are also expecting Steven Stamkos back for this series. He hasn’t played since April 8 with a lower-body injury.

“We haven’t had our full team,” Tampa Bay defenseman Ryan McDonagh said.

They do now. So, all the principals on both sides, except for Florida defenseman Aaron Ekblad, seem as if they will be ready for Game 1.

“This is all I play for, the playoffs,” Florida’s Patric Hornqvist said. “I don’t care about the regular season. I want to win a Cup.”

And he didn’t mean a Governor’s Cup, either.

DEFENDING THE CUP

This is the first time that Tampa Bay gets to defend the Cup a year after winning it; the first Lightning title in 2004 preceded the season that was lost because of a lockout. Since Pittsburgh went back-to-back in 1991 and 1992, only two franchises have successfully defended the Cup — Detroit won in 1997 and 1998, and Pittsburgh did it again in 2016 and 2017.

THE LEADERS

Florida’s Alex Wennberg had five goals against the Lightning in the regular season, more than anyone else had in the eight head-to-head meetings. Tyler Johnson and Brayden Point each had four for Tampa Bay; Frank Vatrano had four for the Panthers. Florida’s Aleksander Barkov and Wennberg each had eight points, and Jonathan Huberdeau added seven for the Panthers. Stamkos has 68 points in 34 career games against Florida; no skater has played in more Panthers-Lightning games than he has.

THE GOALIES

Florida’s Sergei Bobrovsky swept the Lightning out of the playoffs in 2019 when he was in Columbus and will get the Game 1 start for the Panthers. Tampa Bay is going with Andrei Vasilevskiy, who backstopped the Lightning on their way to the title last year and capped it with a Cup-clinching shutout against Dallas in Game 6. But the Panthers scored nine goals off Vasilevskiy in the final two games of the regular season.

Q VS. COOP

Quenneville has won three Stanley Cups as a coach, all with Chicago, and that’s more than any active coach in these playoffs. “His guys play really hard,” Cooper said. “He knows what he wants in a player (and) knows how to get it out of them.” The Tampa Bay-Florida series is one of two first-round matchups featuring two Cup-winning coaches. The other is Pittsburgh against the New York Islanders, with Penguins coach Mike Sullivan facing off against the Isles’ Barry Trotz.

STATE BATTLES

Florida will join California, New York and Pennsylvania as states that have had an in-state NHL playoff series. There have been Sunshine State playoff showdowns in other sports — the Miami Dolphins lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the NFL playoffs after the 1999 season, and the Miami Heat beat the Orlando Magic in the first round of the 1997 NBA playoffs.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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