Dave Hyde: Power-play goal? Big-Game Bob? Panthers bring back playoff hockey with winning script in Game 1

SUNRISE — It’s always the perfect win when it happens in the playoffs, no matter how it happens, and this first one brought an added surprise for Matthew Tkachuk in studying the statistics sheet.

“Everyone had a hit,’’ he said.

Every Florida Panther. Every Tampa Bay Lightning.

“I don’t think I’ve seen that before,’’ the Panthers forward said Sunday after the Panthers’ 3-2 win in Game 1 of their first-round series. “Somebody (Tampa Bay’s Matt Dumba) had 10. Yeah, a lot of hits.”

Welcome back, playoff hockey. Good to see you again. The noise. The stakes. The intensity in the crowd matching the intensity on the ice. Sunday’s opening scene was enough to give Tkachuk goosebumps from the national anthem through his opening shifts.

“Very cool,’’ he said.

The accompanying script was equally cool for the Panthers. They played hard at that start. They didn’t just take a 1-0 lead on Sam Reinhart’s opening shot. They took the game’s first eight shots while holding Tampa Bay shot-less for 15 minutes.

“They are at home, it’s Game 1, the crowd is pumped and they had lots of energy,’’ Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “Give them tons of credit. They went to their game plan and we abandoned ours before it even started.

“Give our guys credit. They weathered the storm for 12, 13 minutes and then we played. But that’s the problem … The margins of error are much smaller now. You can’t just play for 45 minutes.”

Don’t expect that start to happen again. Certainly not in Tuesday’s Game 2 in Sunrise. Not from a Tampa Bay team full of a two-time Stanley Cup champions. But Game 1 followed a script the Panthers would have written right from that strong start.

It wasn’t always pretty.

“Second period, shots are six and five, just a grinder,’’ as Panthers coach Paul Maurice said.

It wasn’t some loud statement about style or talent setting up changes for Game 2.

“Both teams are going to read the same book a couple of times now,’’ Maurice said of reviewing this first game. “Both teams will see things they did well. Both teams will see places they want to get better. You’re not changing a whole lot.”

You can check the boxes about what the Panthers did well Sunday:

* They had two penalties — and one until the final minutes. That matters because the Panthers had the second-most penalty minutes this season and Tampa Bay has the league’s top power play. It scored on that second power play to cut the margin to 3-2 with 9.3 seconds left.

* Their scorers scored — and once on a power play. Reinhart, Carter Verhaeghe and Tkachuk (on an empty-netter) each had goals. Verhaeghe’s goal came when he tipped in a perfect pass from Aleksander Barkov (“I didn’t even see the puck; it just hit my stick,’’ Verhaeghe said) 58 seconds into the third period to break open a 1-1 game. The added boost is it came on a power play.

“We felt from our game against Dallas in mid-March to coming into this game we’ve had some chances on our power play that haven’t gone,’’ Maurice said. “You need to feel good about your power play, to feel it keeps momentum for you. That was the key part of the goal — we haven’t been able to get one behind any goalie for the last little while. We’ve been struggling.

“So, confidence. You want your shooters to get pucks. You want them to feel good. It’s such a confidence game for those guys.”

* Sergei Bobrovsky looked like Big-Game Bob. He only faced 19 shots. That’s one way to limit the fifth-ranked offense at 3.56 goals a game The other way is to have Bobrovsky come up with some big saves like on Michael Eyssimont’s breakaway in the last minute of the first period or a succession of point-blank shots in the final minutes starting with Brayden Point on the doorstep.

Finally, there was the physical play. Maurice was right in that it wasn’t, ‘”hyper-physical,” in the way playoff games get. But the Panthers led the league with 28 hits a game this year. They had 54 hits Sunday. Tampa Bay had 55.

“You don’t get to pick,’’ he said of following this style of play. “You like to think you get to pick the way the game’s played, and we tell ourselves that. But at the end of the game the two teams say how the game looked … I think it’s going to look like this until somebody has to change what they’re doing because it’s not working for them.

“There wasn’t enough sustained action by either team for either team to say, ‘We got it.’ “

They got one win. They need four to advance. To Game 2 we go.