The Panthers are still reeling and in shock after the Ross Colton goal with 3.8 seconds left to give the Lightning a 2-1 win and a 2-0 series lead.
The Lightning is 9-0 all-time in series when they take a 2-0 lead. That includes a 4-0 record when starting a series on the road.
Jon Cooper will take the win but said the focus is on winning a series, not one game. “We’re two games closer to where we want to be, but we’re not there yet. Tonight was just one game. We’re here to win a series.”
The Lightning will get the chance to do that at home with back-to-back games three and four Sunday and Monday.
The Lightning played 12 back-to-back games this season, so this is not entirely virgin territory for this Bolts team.
Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy did not play in any of the back-to-backs this season but said he would stay with his regular-season routine when preparing for games three and four.
The Lightning is on a three-game winning streak and will be looking for number four when they host the Panthers at 1:30 PM Sunday.
At the beginning of the playoffs, I wrote about defense and determination in winning championships. The Lightning demonstrated that mentality on Thursday night with 24 block shots, in which numerous players went straight to the locker room for treatment after blocking a shot.
Eric Cernak took a puck to the face as he led the team with four blocked shots and had the blood-stained sweater to prove it. Ryan McDonough had three blocks. The captain, Steven Stamkos, had two blocked shots and required medical attention three different times.
It would be easier to look at the box score and see who didn’t block a shot versus who blocked a shot. It was a total team effort and showed that everyone is bought in and will do whatever it takes to bring that third Stanley Cup to Tampa.
Steven Stamkos talked about the commitment required to win these tight games in the playoffs. “It’s contagious,” Stamkos said. “You see guys stepping up, whether it’s an amazing penalty kill at the end, blocking shots, taking a hit to make a play. Guys are willing to do that, and it’s a great treat to have as a team.”
Brandon Hagel added, “It almost feels better than scoring a goal. That’s what winners do, sacrifice everything on the line for the guy next to you.”
The Lightning are getting contributions from everyone up and down the lineup. Ross Colton leads the Lightning with five goals, and Corey Perry has four in the postseason. Nikita Kucherov has two goals and Steven Stamkos one.
Florida cannot just focus on Stamkos or Kucherov. They found that out the hard way in the 2-1 Lightning win.
Braydon Point will miss his third straight game, and it is likely that he may miss the entire series. Brandon Hagel will be a game-time decision.
Another overlooked aspect of the Lightning has been the play of Andrei Vasilevskiy. Vasilevskiy has allowed three goals in three games during the win streak and is beginning to look like the Conn Smyth winner from last season.
The Panthers are desperate and will play with an extreme sense of desperation on Sunday. They cannot afford to go down in the series 3-0.
I do not foresee any situation where the Panthers can beat the Lightning four straight, or even beat this Lightning team four out of the next six.
The Lightning continues to play like Stanley Cup champions, and that trend should continue on Sunday.