NHL Game Recap: Florida Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Lightning | 02/17/2024

Photo Credit: Jason Behnken/Associated Press

Embarrassing. That’s the only way to describe the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 9-2 loss to their in-state rivals, the Florida Panthers, on Saturday night.

The Lightning brought the home crowd to their feet less than 30 seconds in, with Anthony Cirelli sending a perfect pass to Brandon Hagel, who sped past a Panther defender and beat Sergei Bobrovsky five-hole. That made it 1-0 and extended Hagel’s point streak to an NHL career-high nine games.

About seven minutes later, Brandon Montour fired a wrist shot through traffic. The puck deflected off Bolts rookie defenseman Emil Lilleberg and eluded goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy to tie the game at one.

From there, things unraveled for the Lightning. The second half of the opening period saw the Panthers add three more goals to make it 4-1 after 20 minutes.

While it can be argued that the Panthers fourth goal shouldn’t have counted because Carter Verhaeghe’s stick clearly hit Vasilevskiy’s glove as he went to make a save, the Lightning challenged it and lost. That resulted in them being assessed a delay of game penalty with less than two minutes remaining before the intermission.

Once the Lightning and Panthers dropped the puck to begin the middle frame, it didn’t take long for the puck to end up behind Vasilevskiy. Matthew Tkachuk continued torturing the Bolts by making it 5-1 and then 6-1, just over a minute apart. Both goals were scored just over a minute apart and came with the man advantage.

Head coach Jon Cooper then made the interesting decision to pull Vasilevskiy and replace him with Jonas Johansson to begin the final period. That didn’t work out too well, as Johansson allowed goals to Verhaeghe twice and Sam Bennett on the first three shots he faced to make it 9-1.

Brayden Point made it 9-2 on the man advantage, but it was too little too late. Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman added the assists. For Kucherov, he increased his league lead to 94 points, five more than Nathan MacKinnon.

Calling this game embarrassing is actually being nice. It was a train wreck, plain and simple. Nine goals is the most the Lightning has given up this season. Making things worse, it’s the most goals they have given up at home in 15 years. Yes, you heard that right. The last time this team gave up a nine spot on home ice was in March 2009 against the Carolina Hurricanes. For those wondering, that was Steven Stamkos’ rookie season, and Hedman hadn’t been drafted yet.

Going forward, the Lightning need to take the lessons this game offers, clean up the mistakes in their own end, and play a structured game. Vasilevskiy will need to bounce back as well, something he usually does.

Can the Lightning take this loss as motivation to start a new winning streak at Amalie Arena? They get their first chance to respond and show us they are a better team than what fans witnessed Saturday night when they host the Ottawa Senators on Monday night, February 19. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 pm EST.

Lauren Burg

Lauren Burg is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer for “Inside the Rink.” A lifelong Tampa Bay Area resident, she graduated from the University of South Florida’s world-renowned journalism program in December 2009. While in college, she discovered hockey and the Tampa Bay Lightning. She quickly became a passionate fan, attending many games over the years. She also experienced an All-Star game in 2018, numerous road games, and, most recently, the Bolts back-to-back Stanley Cup championships. Since graduating college, she’s been working hard to combine her two loves, writing and hockey, hoping to one day make that her full-time career. In her free time, she enjoys attending sporting events (both home & road when possible), taking photos, and traveling.

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