Saturday night begins a new chapter of the sunshine state showdown between division and state rivals the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers. Florida mauled the Bolts in a nightmare 5-2 victory at BB&T Center in Sunrise Flordia on Thursday. The Panthers looked strong and Tampa overwhelmed. Something this team isn’t used to feeling. The Lightning will try to take back the throne of the central division they dropped to The Panthers on Thursday. Once again Steven Stamkos is out with injury and Anthony Cirelli is out tonight. A huge loss for the team after taking a tough hit in the previous game. The Lightning are hurt but still dripping with talent. Gemel Smith made his season debut filling in for the beat up Bolts.
The first period was all Florida. Andrei Vasilevskiy playing his 12th game was phenomenal making dramatic stop after stop. The Lightning were shorhanded after a controversial double minor high sticking call on Victor Hedman. The Panthers had all the momentum. Luckily Tampa Bay executed the penalty kill to perfection. Tampa had a season low 4 shots in the first period. Brayden Point rang one off the iron in a rare scoring chance. With Vasilevskiy backing them Tampa killed off the massive penalty and escaped the period scoreless. Tampa Bay were going to need a strong middle frame after being bombarded by the Panthers in the first period putting up 11 shots and an abundance of scoring chances stopped by the Big Cat in The Lightning crease.
Early into the middle frame it was crystal clear Vasilevskiy was absolutely red hot. The team began to feed of his strong play. Throughout the first two periods questionable officiating and Penalties were called, that baffled even the officials. The zebras were putting on a show of their own that was damaging to both teams. Missed calls and miscommunication including dishing out penalties to the wrong players MULTIPLE times. Despite all of that. The Lightning offense finally broke through. Ondrij Palat did his best Steven Stamkos impression blasting home a one timer from Hedman for another power play goal from Stamkos’s office. Sergachev gave a nice no look, behind the back lob to hedman to set up Palat’s 6th goal of the season. The wall was broken and The Lightning rained down goals on Bobrovsky who had made some quality saves throughout the game. Matthieu Joseph blocked a shot and then took the bounce in alone on Bobrovsky and tucked home the puck between the legs of Bobrovsky for his 5th goal of the season. A sensational individual effort that put the Bolts up 2-0. The onslaught continued with Tyler Johnson who hasn’t been having the best season found the back of the net after excellent puck work on the boards from Gemel Smith. Smith who was inserted into the lineup with the injuries affecting The Lightning made a great effort on the play and set up Johnson who picked the corner expanding the lead 3-0. Johnson Scored again burying a backhand shot past Bobrovsky with 12 seconds remaining in the period. After a four goal and 17 shot 2nd period Tampa had taken a stranglehold 4-0 lead into the locker room. Tampa Bay needing to finish strong and not sit back with a massive lead to finish off the pesky Panthers.
The Panthers would not go down quietly. Starting off the period 6-0 on shots. Tampa once again seemed to relax in the first half of the final frame Vasilevskiy once again providing heroics. Blake Coleman and former Lightning defenseman Radko Gudas dropped the gloves at the 1:33 mark. The first fighting major of the game but far from the first physical battle of the game. MacKenzie Weegar and Alex Killorn were at each other’s throat for the whole contest. Florida ended Vasilevskiy shutout bid After Frank Vatrano put shot by the Russian netminder to cut the lead to 4-1. The Lightning responded 1:11 later with Alexander Volkov’s first career NHL goal. Both Mathieu Joseph and Gemel Smith picked up their 2nd points of the game with the assists on the rookie from Moscow’s debut goal. As tempers continued to grow A sloppy bout between Yanni Gourde and Patric Hornquist resulted in a Tampa Man Advantage after a frustrated Hornquist took an extra minor during the tussle. Shortly after the failed Powerplay. Vasilevskiy broke up a breakaway from Panthers Captain Alexander Barkov. The officials were losing control of the game with plenty of pokes, checks, and activity after the whistle. Yanni gourde sprung Barclay Goodrow Scored on another Break away. His 2nd goal in as many games. Another breakaway goal through the five hole of Bobrovsky. After the dust settled. The Bolts finished on top defeating The Panthers on their ice 6-1.
The Lightning look liked themselves again. The Bolts were back to flexing their offensive prowess and continued their outstanding play on the penalty kill. the defining moment of the game arguably killing off the Panthers 4 minute powerplay in the first period. After the first period it was all Tampa. The Lightning fed off of strong defensive play and goaltending to decimate The Panthers. These teams aren’t done. The fight shifts to Amalie Arena in Downtown Champa Bay on Monday. Clearly no love lost between these squads on Valentine’s Day eve.