NHL Playoffs: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Florida Panthers Game 3 Recap | 04/25/2024

Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images
Photo Credit: Mike Carlson/Getty Images

Heading home with an 0-2 deficit, the Tampa Bay Lightning knew they had to win to make this a series. Unfortunately, another close loss puts a season that at times looked promising on life support. While this team lacks experience defensively and stumbled through much of the regular season, a March to remember showed they could turn it on and win games when needed the most. Experience makes a difference this time of the year, and while the Florida Panthers have last season to draw on, the Bolts have a lot more in the past four years. That’s what makes the potential sweep at the hands of their cross-state rivals a head-scratcher for many around Bolts Nation. Heck, one can even label it an embarrassment because this team knows how to win in the postseason.

Why are the Lightning in this precarious position?

First off, their first periods have been atrocious. That trend continued in Game 3, with the Panthers coming out strong. An early turnover by Nick Perbix gave the Cats a golden opportunity to open the scoring, but Andrei Vasilevskiy saved the Lightning for the time being. About halfway through the opening frame, Matthew Tkachuk continued being a thorn in the side of Tampa Bay by scoring the first of two goals on this night. That gave Florida a 1-0 lead.

Late in the period, Anthony Cirelli looked to have tied the game, but Panthers coach Paul Maurice challenged for offsides. Upon further review, Brandon Hagel had fallen down entering the zone, so Maurice won, and the goal was wiped off the board.

In the second period, the Lightning woke up. Less than a minute in, a Victor Hedman shot deflected in off of captain Steven Stamkos to tie things at one. It was Stamkos’ third goal of the playoffs, so nobody can say he didn’t do whatever possible to give his team a chance to win.

About two minutes later, the Lightning finally got a little secondary scoring, with Tyler Motte getting a goal past a screened Sergei Bobrovsky for a 2-1 lead. Memo to the Bolts: Shooting high and having traffic in front of the net is the only way to beat Bobrovsky, so DO THAT!

The Lightning nearly had a third goal multiple times in the first half of the middle frame, but Bobrovsky continued to come up with big saves. To tell you the truth, some of them likely reminded many Bolts fans of Vasilevskiy in the three-year span from 2020 through 2022.

Sam Reinhart scored to tie the game at two apiece off of yet another Lightning turnover. With the game tied and both goalies playing at a high level, the next goal was going to be huge. If the Lightning scored, this would probably turn into a series. If the Panthers did, the boys in blue might be staring at the possibility of being on the golf course by the end of this weekend. Brandon Montour fired a shot through traffic that eluded Vasilevskiy, giving Florida a one-goal lead at 3-2.

Entering the third period, the Lightning needed to make smart plays with the puck and make the most of the chances they got. Try as they might, it didn’t work, as Nick Cousins won a battle along the boards that sent the puck out to Steven Lorentz in the slot. With Bolts players all over him, he sent a shot over the shoulder of Vasilevskiy and into the net to make it 4-2 Panthers.

Nick Paul scored with five minutes left in regulation, making it 4-3, but by then, it was too little too late for the Lightning.

Pulling Vasilevskiy for the extra attacker didn’t even work, as all the Lightning’s shots either ended up on a Panther players stick or saved by Bobrovsky. Vladimir Tarasenko’s bid for an empty net goal was denied by Stamkos, who, in an attempt to give his team a chance to tie things in the dying minutes, put his body on the line by sprawling out on the ice to block his shot. That gave his team another shot, but they couldn’t get anything to go and Tkachuk sealed the deal with an empty netter to make it a 5-3 final.

A couple of things that stood out in this game were the Lightning’s abysmal power play and their attention to detail in critical moments. While the Panthers are good on the penalty kill, there’s no reason for the Bolts top ranked power play during the regular season to only have one goal on a number of opportunities through three games. Part of it is the Panthers getting in lanes to break up passes, but Tampa Bay also isn’t shooting the puck on net enough. When they do get it on net, there’s nobody there fighting for the rebound. Guys like Brayden Point and Paul make a living by scoring off of rebounds, so not having those is an issue that must be resolved sooner rather than later.

Finally, the Lightning’s attention to detail in critical moments has been lacking at times during this series. A missed assignment led to Carter Verhaeghe getting left wide open back door for a power play goal that essentially won Game One. Two nights later, a turnover in the zone gave the Panthers an opportunity they didn’t miss on, with Verhaeghe beating Vasilevskiy for the overtime winner. Game Three featured a lost battle in their own zone, resulting in Lorentz’s eventual game-winning goal. During the regular season, paying attention to the little things doesn’t always make a difference on the scoreboard. Come spring and the playoffs, every mistake you make is magnified because the stakes are higher than ever before. That’s something this team needs to realize soon before they suffer quite possibly their worst postseason loss since 2018-19.

Can the Lightning avoid being swept, instead sending this series back to Sunrise for a Game 5? While things look bleak, they have one more chance at extending their season on Saturday evening, April 27. Puck drop is at 5pm EST.

We Got The Jack Inside The Rink

In episode 8 of the Inside The Rink podcast, Matty and Smitty are joined by new co-host Conrad Jack. After the long hiatus, we get back to hockey with a PACKED episode!Matt Rempe & the Devils vs. Rangers Line BrawlCould the Vancouver Canucks squander a playoff opportunity? Have the Winnipeg Jets finally figured out their lines?Flyers Head Coach John Tortorella is a sound byte MACHINEOvechkin is on his way to 895, Who is next?McDavid joins elite company with 100 Assists in a seasonRyan Hartman was suspended 3 Games, was it worth 3 games??Can Auston Matthews hit 70 Goals this season?The Eastern Conference Wild Card race is heating up, who lands the two playoff berths?For all of your hockey news and more from the show, visit us at insidetherink.com and watch us on YouTube! How to support us and our sponsors:TicketmasterColumbia Sports ApparelESPN+ SubscriptionFanaticsDraft Kings – CODE ITR
  1. We Got The Jack
  2. Episode 7. Player Safety First!
  3. Episode 6. Early Trade Season
  4. Episode 5. Longing For The Chiarelli Years
  5. Episode 4. Ottawa’s On Fire

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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