The two teams split the first two meetings. A dominant performance by The Panthers last Thursday and a dominant performance by Tampa Bay on Saturday. Both teams look like the top two teams in the division. By far the Bolts most difficult test this season to date. Steven Stamkos makes his return from the covid 19 reserve list in time for Tampas first home game in two weeks. Curtis McElhinney makes his 2nd start of the season, after a few games off. First place on the division and valuable head to head points are needed more than ever.
It didn’t take very long for Stamkos to make his presence known. Erik Cernak made an excellent heads up play to load up a vintage Stamkos one timer that hit the camera behind and under the cross bar with an absolute bomb. It went in and out so fast it caused some confusion on ice for the officials. Less than two minutes after the go ahead goal from Stamkos, Patric Hornquist capitalized on a turnover behind the net and Jonathan Huberdeau calmly slid the puck past a rattled McElhinney. The Panthers did seem to take a lot of the momentum following the Huberdeau goal. The Cats outshot the Bolts 10-6 as Tampa Bay couldn’t seem to find a rhythm to find the net.
The second period was the most chaotic of the season for The Bolts. 7 goals scored in the middle frame. Three for Tampa & Four for the visitors. Tampa had a four goal 2nd period in their last meeting with Florida on Saturday. Flordia started off the period with three unanswered goals. Including a penalty shot goal for Frank Vatrano and Anthony Duclair’s first of the season. Down 4-1 Alexander Volkov scored his second goal of the season. Volkov had just scored his first NHL goal in the previous game. Alexander Barkov answered The Bolts response with a pretty goal to put the lead back at three It didn’t take long for another response. Tampa Bay’s fourth line continued to roll as Gemel Smith countiued his strong play in his second game called up from the taxi squad. Picking up an assist after feeding Pat Maroon in the crease. The goal would be awarded to Alexander Volkov who got a piece of it going in. Volkov’s second goal of the game. Another taxi squad call up and usual regular cast member Tyler Johnson scored again as he stays red hot finishing a great play with Mathieu Joseph. The period finally came to a close after an avalanche of goals Panthers ahead 5-4 for the final 20 minutes.
Tampa had terrible puck management and it was very apparent during the 3rd period. The team looked sluggish missing opportunities to make plays. Former Lightning defenseman Anton Strolman added another goal for Florida. Gemel Smith dropped the mits with former teammate Carter Verhaeghe early in the 3rd and later in the period Yanni Gourde fought Radko Gudas. Frustration clearly boiling over. The Lightning were unable to covert a crucial late powerplay and that was all she wrote from Tampa Bay. Panthers win round 3 of the inner state rivalry 6-4.
The Lightning faced a very good Panthers team but poor puck management and not converting on the man advantage definitely slowed their roll. Tampa finishing with a lowly 0/4 on the powerplay. The Bolts fourth line should be given the game puck being by far the most productive unit. The Panthers had scoring contributions from the top to the bottom of their roster. Aside from the Stamkos goal Tampa’s 4th line made the biggest impact. Tampa had a date with Dallas in the lone star state on Thursday
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