Lightning beat the Panthers, but lose Kucherov and Sergachev to injuries

“The hockey game ended halfway through the second. After that, it turned into something much different.” Those were the words of Lightning head coach Jon Cooper after his team beat the Florida Panthers 6-2 to take a commanding three games to one series lead.

This was a game the Lightning won but may have lost a couple of critical pieces for the rest of the series. Nikita Kucherov and defenseman Mikhail Sergachev both left the game with injuries in the third period.

Let’s get this out of the way right now. This was one of the worst officiated games I have ever seen in my years of watching hockey.

This game is a perfect example of what happens when the game is out of reach in the third period, and you have officials that can’t and won’t make consistent calls.

The Panthers outplayed the Lightning in the first period and ended the period trailing 3-1. The Panthers outshot the Lightning 15-7 in the period. Florida outplayed the Bolts in all facets of the game in the first period except for scoring goals.

The Lightning built on that lead in the second period making it a 5-1 game before the Panthers cut the lead to 5-2. The game was essentially over at that point, but that didn’t stop the Panthers from taking liberties with the Lightning players.

Andrei Vasilevskiy and Nikita Kucherov were the stars of the game for the Lightning. Vasilevskiy was under constant bombardment from the opening face-off and stood his ground, making many huge saves, especially in the first period.

Kucherov had a power-play goal and assisted on three others to help the Lightning gain the upper hand in the series.

In the third period, with the Lightning up 6-2 was when the game went sideways. The Panthers had no answers on how to stop the Lightning and the Tampa power play.

So the Panthers began playing dirty. Taking cheap shots on the Lightning players, and there was nary a whistle from the officials.

Angel Hernandez, no question, is the worst umpire and maybe the worst official in sports. How he has a job, I don’t know. But today, Kelly Sutherland, Garrett Rank, Matt MacPherson, and Brandon Gawryletz (the referee and linesmen for this game)embarrassed themselves and the NHL by their lack of non-calls.

They were on the level of Angel Hernandez today.

A very frustrated Jon Cooper talked in his post-game press conference that the officials told his team not to do anything stupid or they would pay the price.

“Don’t do anything stupid. We’re going to get you,’ so we don’t do anything stupid and the other team’s getting rewarded for it, I just don’t get it,” Cooper said. “It’s just frustrating because people are coming to watch a really intense good hockey game. You’re looking for a hockey game, and liberties are being taken. Don’t get me wrong. We’re not angels out there. I’m not sitting here saying that, far from it. But when there’s a standard set, and we’re being told, things are going to be called. When it doesn’t get done, there’s just confusion. I’ll give our guys a ton of credit for sticking with it and battling through whether it was the embellishments or the non-call after non-call after non-call and then having it go maybe not the way we wanted. Did we earn some of our penalties? There is no question we did. I’m not saying that. But I will give kudos to our guys for sticking with it.”

The Panthers organization and head coach embarrassed themselves today with their style of play. Yet, somewhere Tom Wilson is smiling.

The referees’ inability to control this game and the lack of consistency in calling penalties were the root causes of this game getting out of control and taking the shine off what was an outstanding game for Vasilevskiy and Kucherov.

“There’s nothing wrong with message-sending, tone-setting. Let’s do it in the parameters in the game, and there are guys with stripes that can control it. If it’s not controlled, nights like tonight happen, and there are guys lying on the ice because of it.” Jon Cooper talking about the right way to send a message.

The Lightning leads the series three games to one, with game five coming up in Sunrise on Monday night. It will be an elimination game for the Panthers. Win or the season is over. What can we expect?

I expect more of the same early on. The Panthers will take cheap shots early on, and the Lightning needs to ready for that.

If I were Jon Cooper, I would send out Pat Maroon, Blake Coleman, and Yanni Gourde on a line to start the game. Set the tone early, get it out of your system, and then play hockey.

There was no report after the game on how severe the injuries were to Kucherov and Sergachev.

The Panther’s goaltending situation has been unsettled this series. Joel Quenneville has played musical chairs with his goalies switching from Bobrovsky to Driedger. Bobrovsky started today and allowed five goals on 14 shots.

Neither goalie has been impressive for the Panthers. So would Florida turn to rookie Spencer Knight (4-0 this season) in an elimination game?

Highly unlikely. But the way this series has gone so far, never say never.

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