SUNRISE, Fla. — Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 32 shots, Steven Stamkos and Ondrej Palat had first-period goals and the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Florida Panthers 3-1 on Tuesday night to take a 2-0 lead in their Central Division first-round playoff series.
10:42 p.m.: Bolts take a 2-0 series lead over the Panthers after beating Florida 3-1.
9:30 p.m.: Panthers get on the board with 5:39 left in the second period. Lightning still lead 2-1.
8:38 p.m.: Lightning extend their lead 2-0 with a goal from Ondrej Palat.
8:18 p.m.: Steve Stamkos puts the Bolts on the board. Lightning lead 1-0.
8:00 p.m.: Game 2 is underway!
The Lightning and Panthers have a tough act to follow.
Even the casual hockey fan was locked into Sunday's Sunshine State showdown. Brayden Point's goal with 74 seconds left the BB&T Center stunned, but we if the regular season is any indication of how this playoff series will go, expect the seesaw battle to begin.
"This is going to be a great series, a long series and we have to be up for the task," veteran Steven Stamkos said.
Entering Tuesday's contest, you know the Panthers need to find a way to A) avoid the penalty box and B) limit Tampa Bay's electric power-play unit after scoring three times in four opportunities.
That is what happens when Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos return to the ice.
"They were just playing with confidence," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "You see a couple of players who hadn't played in quite some time and the only thing holding them back, I think, were their legs and their lungs."
Statistically, the matchup was fairly even. The Panthers definitely provided more hits, but the difference came down to special teams. The only time Tampa Bay scored during 5-on-5 hockey was that last goal by Point. If Florida is looking for confidence entering game two, this is a reminder to stay disciplined with its aggression.
Sam Bennett's suspension might be another reminder. That is a big loss for the Panthers. He provided 15 points in 10 games since joining the Cats. Tampa Bay is not going to complain about that omission, especially when Cooper called it a 'predatory' hit after the game.
If you are the Lightning, you have to start periods faster. Florida really asserted itself in those first handfuls of minutes each time. It did not always show up on the scoreboard, but adjusting to the pace took Tampa Bay some time.
Also, Cooper's group needs to continue to use Florida's eagerness to their benefit. The Panthers might have been too jacked up and the steely veterans on Tampa Bay let the Panthers pay.
All the pressure is on Florida. Heading back to AMALIE Arena down 2-0 is an absolute disaster for a franchise looking to win a series for the first time since 1996.
The 9,000-plus fans inside the BB&T Center created quite the atmosphere and we can only imagine what the buzz will be like inside the arena before the puck drops at 8 p.m.