Those Pesky Bolts! Florida Panthers Game Recap — Game 31 @ Tampa Bay Lightning:


From the very beginning the fans knew this game was going to have a playoff-caliber atmosphere to it. Tampa Bay came into tonight’s game as the NHL’s best team, with the Florida Panthers right behind them. This was the second game of a back-to-back for both teams, and Florida would go with Sergei Bobrovsky in net as Tampa would go with Curtis McElhinney.

Florida would strike quick in the first period, and it was very apropos for former Tampa Bay Lightning forward Carter Verhaeghe to open the scoring. Verhaeghe would score his 12th goal of the season, with an assist coming from Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov.

(Scott Audette /NHLI via Getty Images)

Carter Verhaeghe opens the scoring at 3:28 in the first period. His 12th of the season with an assist from Barkov (23).

Tampa Bay would not be behind for very long, as Yanni Gourde would score his 11th of the season 32 seconds later with assists from Barclay Goodrow (6) and Blake Coleman (9). You can never feel comfortable with a lead of any kind against this Lightning team, because their ability to roll all four forward lines and press their attack is suffocating at times. Florida would ultimately out-shoot Tampa 11–10 in the first period, and go into the first intermission locked in a 1–1 tie.

The action would remain fast and furious in the second period, with both goalies standing tall for their teams. Tampa Bay would break the tie at 11:23 in the second period with a goal from Alex Killorn, his ninth of the season. It would be assisted by Erik Cernak (9) and Brayden Point (17). A few minutes later Florida’s Frank Vatrano would tie the game again, although Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper would challenge the goal saying that it was offsides. After a short discussion the referees would agree, and Vatrano’s goal would be taken off the board. Shortly after that however Tampa Bay would take a penalty, and on the Power Play with 1:36 remaining in the period Florida’s Gustav Forsling would score his second goal of the season with assists from Alex Wennberg and Frank Vatrano.

(Scott Audette /NHLI via Getty Images)

Gustav Forsling ties the game late in the second period on the Power Play. His second goal of the season with assists from Alex Wennberg (8) and Frank Vatrano (4).

The intensity was really starting to pick up at this point, as both teams knew how important this game was in controlling the Central Division. The second period would come to a close, and despite out-shooting Tampa Bay 12–6 in the period the Panthers would head into the dressing rooms boasting a 2–2 tie.

The third period would open up to more back-and-forth action, and after about five minutes had gone by Tampa would take the lead off a bad rebound from Florida netminder Sergei Bobrovsky. Mathieu Joseph would cash in, his eighth goal of the season with assists from Ross Colton (2) and Pat Maroon (8). Tampa Bay’s “energy” line would give them the lead, however on the ensuing faceoff Tampa would take a penalty to put the Panthers back on the Power Play. Florida would take advantage of the opportunity, and who else but Patric Hornqvist would get the goal down low? He would deflect the Keith Yandle point shot past McElhinney to tie the game again at 3–3.

(Scott Audette /NHLI via Getty Images)

Patric Hornqvist scores on the Power Play, his 12th of the season with assists coming from Keith Yandle (16) and Aleksander Barkov (24, his second of the game).

A few minutes later however, Tampa would receive a Power Play opportunity after Florida’s Aaron Ekblad high-sticked Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos in front of Bobrovsky’s net. It was almost a perfect Penalty Kill by the Panthers, however with a few seconds left Tampa Bay would beat the Panthers with speed and Tyler Johnson would score a simple tap-in goal off of a great feed from Yanni Gourde. It was Tyler Johnson’s seventh of the season, at 10:56 in the third period with assists coming from Gourde (9) and Anthony Cirelli (11). It was the only Power Play goal that the Panthers would allow in this game, but it ultimately would become the game winning goal.

Florida would get another late Power Play opportunity as Tampa Bay’s Ross Colton would get a roughing minor penalty with 4:27 minutes remaining in the game. Florida would attempt to pull Sergei Bobrovsky to the bench in favor of an extra attacker with about 2:30 remaining in the game, however the Panthers couldn’t get another past McElhinney. Tampa Bay would put the game on ice with 15 seconds remaining as Brayden Point would put the puck into the empty net for his 13th of the season, with assists from Ondrej Palat (17) and Blake Coleman (10).

(Scott Audette /NHLI via Getty Images)

The final score would be 5–3 in favor of the Lightning, however this game was close from the opening puck drop to the final horn. Florida would out-shoot Tampa Bay in this game 32–24, but Tampa would take better advantage of the opportunities they saw. It was a very physical game, as both teams were charged with 14 penalty minutes over the course of the full 60. Florida would go 2/5 on the Power Play while Tampa would go 1/5. There are still four matchups to go in the Tampa Bay/Florida series, so I expect there to be more playoff-caliber games the next times they meet.

The Three Stars of the game were:

Florida will play in Chicago on Tuesday, March 23rd, as they look to bounce-back against the Blackhawks. Florida is 4–0 so far against the Blackhawks this season, so this next two-game series will be a valuable opportunity to pick up some points in the standings. That game will start at 8 p.m. ET.



South Florida sports fan. Mostly cover the Florida Panthers NHL team, but also scattered stories about the Dolphins, Heat, and Marlins! Thank you for reading.

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Joseph London

South Florida sports fan. Mostly cover the Florida Panthers NHL team, but also scattered stories about the Dolphins, Heat, and Marlins! Thank you for reading.