SUNRISE — Rivalries aren’t made on one sport alone, however possibly that is the start.
The excitement going into the Lightning’s first-round playoff opener in opposition to the Florida Panthers centered on whether or not these groups had been lastly match to be true rivals.
And if the Lightning’s 5-4 comeback win on the BB&T Middle — a sport by which the defending Stanley Cup champs had been stretched to the restrict by their upstart cross-state neighbors — is an instance of what’s to return, this will probably be an thrilling sequence and probably the making of one thing massive.
“Once you face groups constantly within the playoffs, that’s once you get that rivalry,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos mentioned. “(The Panthers have) been pushing the envelope the previous couple of years they usually’re a contender for certain. If Sport 1 is any indication, that is going to be an important sequence, an extended sequence and we now have to be up for the duty.”
The Lightning rallied from a one-goal, third-period deficit with two targets by middle Brayden Level within the remaining seven minutes, together with his game-winning rating with 1:14 remaining on a breakaway. This was the fourth playoff sport in NHL historical past to have 4 lead adjustments.
“I simply had the most effective seat in the home for it,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper mentioned. “And it was fairly a hockey sport, two distinctive groups going at it. And that’s why it’s the best sport on the earth. We simply witnessed why, that show of these two groups.”
They had been little question rejuvenated by the return of star wing Nikita Kucherov, who scored two power-play targets and assisted on Level’s first purpose of the evening, which additionally got here on the facility play. After lacking the whole common season recovering from hip surgical procedure, Kucherov was enjoying in his first sport in practically eight months since hoisting the Stanley Cup within the bubble in Edmonton.
Following an atypical common season, one which ended with the Lightning banged up and never enjoying their finest hockey, Tampa Bay flipped the change when the postseason highlight turned on. Their playoff expertise, cultivated by their Cup run final 12 months and falling quick earlier than that, confirmed.
“We talked about composure, and that was form of the theme of final 12 months’s run,” Stamkos mentioned. “So many issues are going to occur in the midst of a sequence … that may change momentum. We’ve realized so many occasions all through the playoffs and the runs that we’ve been on whether or not it occurred in opposition to us or like we noticed tonight the place we had been in a position to pull one out.”
Sunday’s opener additionally prolonged the physicality of the workforce’s remaining two regular-season conferences right here with a mixture of exhausting checks and post-whistle shoving scrums. However the Lightning had the final giggle partially due to Kucherov.
Thirty-five minutes into the sport, any questions on whether or not Kucherov would have the ability to soar proper right into a playoff environment had been answered. He already had danced round the proper circle with two purpose celebrations.
Kucherov tied the rating 4:58 into the second interval. Off the faceoff in the proper circle of the Panthers’ zone, Florida defenseman Gustav Forsling snapped in half and Kucherov calmly cleared away the remnants of Forsling’s stick, took a feed from Victor Hedman and rifled a one-timer into the online.
Level then chased the puck into the nook and took two Panthers with him, received it out to Hedman who skated throughout the entrance of the crease drawing consideration earlier than passing off to Kucherov under the proper dot.
The Lightning went into the third main by one — however shortly fell behind 4-3 after two fast Florida targets — ahead Jonathan Huberdeau scored the tying purpose and assisted on Owen Tippett’s go-ahead rating.
The Lightning tied with seven minutes left within the third with a 3rd power-play purpose as Kucherov bluffed a shot from the proper circle, then slid the puck to Level within the slot.
Level then took a stretch move from defenseman Ryan McDonagh by the impartial zone after a blocked shot and beat Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky on a breakaway purpose by the 5 gap.
“Not loads of doubt,” Stamkos mentioned. “Pointer on the breakaway within the playoffs has been fairly cash.”
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