If I were to show you a complete stat sheet from Tuesday night’s game with every possible stat other than the final score, you would surely think that the Panthers came away from this one with an easy victory. However, that would not be the case against the Lightning as the Panthers’ now predictable slow start dug a hole that the team was never able to climb out of.
Much like they have done in previous nights, the Florida Panthers found themselves down 2 goals early in the first period of Thursday night’s game. The Lightning’s scoring got started early as Vincent Lecavalier was able to put the first shot of the game past Panthers’ goaltender Jacob Markstrom – the 3rd time in the past 4 games that Markstrom has allowed the first shot of the game to be scored.
After the Lecavlier goal, the Panthers took control of the period and ended up outshooting the Lightning 17-3, but still couldn’t end the period on a high note. With only minutes remaining in the 1st period, Martin St. Louis slipped a goal past a helpless Jacob Markstrom to put the Lightning up 2-0 heading into the 2nd period. Although Markstrom did allow 2 goals on only 3 shots in the period, the bulk of the blame can be placed on the team’s defense which left the poor Swede out to dry on both scoring plays. In their last 4 games, the Panthers have been outscored 10-1 in the 1st period of play – a clear indicator of their recent streak of being able to start games on the right foot.
Only 13 seconds into the 2nd period and the Panthers’ hard work on offense finally paid off as Kris Versteeg was able to sneak a goal past Lightning goalie Anders Lindback to get both the Panthers and the fans at the BB&T Center back into the game. From that point on, the Panthers completely dominated throughout the entire 2nd period and eventually tied the game up on a goal from forward Tomas Kopecky. Kopecky’s goal was created by the hard work from Jack Skille whose primary assist on the goal earned him a 4 game point streak – tied for the longest of his career.
At the beginning of the 3rd period everything seemed to be working in the Panthers’ favor. They were outshooting the Lightning 30-6 and had kept superstar Steven Stamkos in check for almost the entire night. However, like most dream scenarios for the Panthers, this game was about to turn into a nightmare. After being solid throughout the entire 2nd period, Jacob Markstrom would eventually let in a very soft powerplay goal from Steven Stamkos early on in the 3rd period, thus putting the Lighting back on top 3-2.
The Panthers’ night would only get worse from that point as a clean hit from Lightning defenseman Radko Gudas sent Kris Versteeg to ice, clutching is knee and writhing in pain. After some time laying on the ice, Versteeg would eventually make his way to the dressing room with the help of the team’s trainers. There is still no word on the severity of the injury, but details should be available tomorrow.
After the Versteeg injury, the Panthers never truly threatened the Lightning lead other than a few close shots and an exciting breakaway attempt by Shawn Matthias. When the final seconds ticked off the clocked, the Panthers found themselves on the wrong end of a 3-2 game after outshooting the Lightning by an astounding 39-13 margin. On a night in which the Panthers once again received quality efforts from their top 6 forwards, the team was still unable to get back into the win column as Lightning goaltender Anders Lindback stood tall in net. On the night, Lindback stopped 37 of 39 shots in possibly one of the best NHL games of his young career.
Even though the Panthers played a tough game, they were still unable to put together the full 60 minute effort that is needed to win every night in the NHL. When asked about the team’s effort, forward Tomas Kopecky had this to say:
“You have to stick with it the whole 60 minutes. We had maybe two minutes we took off and all of a sudden it’s a good lead and it’s going to end up biting us so you have to play the full 60 minutes. I like the way we battled today, it’s something we were missing the last few games and today it was there but sometimes it’s a tough one.”
The Panthers won’t have much time to dwell on this loss as they are set to face a formidable Bruins’ team in Boston this Thursday night. If the Panthers can keep up the same kind of offensive pressure that they showed us tonight then they will definitely have a shot to hang with the mighty Bruins and possibly even earn a surprise victory. One thing is for sure though, with the season already halfway over the Florida Panthers are running out of time to figure things out.
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