NHL Playoffs: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Florida Panthers Game 4 Recap | 04/27/2024

Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

With their backs against the wall, the Tampa Bay Lightning showed up in a big way by letting the Florida Panthers know they weren’t going down without a fight. Armed with an emotional boost, as defenseman Mikhail Sergachev returned to the lineup for the first time since suffering a fractured tibia and fibula on February 7, the team looked different, stepping onto the ice for Game 4. That quiet confidence was there all game long despite a strong second-period push from their cross-state rivals.

Leaning on the emotional high of seeing Sergachev playing again this season 80 days after suffering a gruesome injury, the Lightning bucked their recent trend of atrocious first periods by having their best opening period in a while. They were engaged physically, won puck battles, and scored in every way.

Captain Steven Stamkos, in what could have been his final game wearing Bolts blue,Captain Steven Stamkos opened the scoring with a power play goal midway through the first. It was his fourth goal of these playoffs so, as much as hockey is a business, this man needs a new contract sooner rather than later. Letting him walk would be a massive mistake by general manager Julien Brisebois, considering Stamkos’ impact on this team both on and off the ice. Sergachev even stated post-game that Stamkos inspired him in his recovery, with team trainers showing him a video of Stamkos skating one month after fracturing his tibia during a November 2013 game.

Three minutes later, with the Panthers on the power play, Brandon Hagel took a pass from Victor Hedman, got a little separation, and fired the puck on the net. It went in to make it 2-0, and all of a sudden, the Lightning special teams had come alive.

Next, the Lightning had to find a way to score at even strength. They did that fairly quickly, as Brayden Point maneuvered around a Panther player before circling the net and tucking the puck in the back door on Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. That made it 3-0.

Entering the second period, the Lightning needed to show the same intensity they did in the first. They didn’t, and the Panthers were ready to pounce. Former Bolt Carter Verhaeghe continued being a thorn in Tampa Bay’s side by beating netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy to make it 3-1.

Hagel took a perfect pass from Sergachev and fired the puck home for the eventual game-winner, making it 4-1 about midway through the middle frame.

As expected, the Panthers refused to go quietly. In a five-minute span, Sam Reinhart and Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored to make it a one-goal game, 4-3.

Holding a lead after 40 minutes, the Lightning knew they must pick their spots wisely so as not to give the Panthers any freebies. That mission was accomplished. Stamkos then gave his team a little breathing room by making it 5-3 midway through the final frame.

Sensing their first loss of the 2024 postseason with under five minutes remaining, the Panthers lack of discipline came back to bite them. First, Gustav Forsling tripped Anthony Duclair on a breakaway. Mere seconds into that power play, Brandon Montour delivered a vicious cross-check to the back of Nikita Kucherov’s head, giving the Lightning a two-man advantage. They made them pay, as Nick Paul buried the puck for a 6-3 final.

A couple of things that stood out to me from this game were the energy created by Sergachev’s return and the Lightning’s special teams breaking through.

There was already plenty of emotion heading into this potential elimination game. Seeing Sergachev on the ice for warmups created a buzz, as many wondered if he would actually play less than three months after being stretchered off the ice at Madison Square Garden. His face then was one of anguish and disbelief, considering he had just returned from a previous injury less than two hours before. Saturday night, it was more reflective and calm. He had endured many long hours of rehabilitation before stepping foot on the ice again, leaving him with the sense that he could help this team once cleared by doctors. That clearance came Friday, leaving him with first game jitters that night. His return was made official when the starting lineup was read, and the ovation from the Amalie Arena crowd nearly brought the place down. That energy sparked the Lightning to a three-goal first, something they hadn’t done all series long. Sergachev, meanwhile, logged 17 minutes of ice time and factored in on the game-winner. Nobody could have predicted that a week ago, let alone after Game 3.

Finally, the Lightning’s special teams broke through in a big way this game. Through three games, they had mustered a single goal. In Game 4, the league leading power play from the regular season scored twice and the penalty kill produced one as well. Without those three tallies, it’s possible this team is on the golf course Monday instead of preparing to play a Game 5 in Sunrise.

Can the Lightning stave off elimination a second time? Tune in Monday night, April 29, to find out. Puck drop is at 7 pm 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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