After failing to get sweep, Panthers now look to take series vs Lightning on home ice

The Florida Panthers would have loved to finish this opening-round Stanley Cup Playoffs series against the Tampa Bay Lightning in four games.

That wasn’t in the cards.

After the Panthers won each of the first three games of the best-of-7 series, the Lightning managed to keep its season alive with a 6-3 win over Florida in Game 4 on Saturday.

The Panthers’ consolation prize: They now have a chance to secure the series on home ice.

Game 5 is at 7 p.m. Monday at Sunrise’s Amerant Bank Arena, and will be televised on ESPN and Bally Sports Florida.

“Sometimes that’s the way it goes,” defenseman Dmitry Kulikov said. “We wanted to win this one. We’re going back home now and trying to finish the job there.”

Despite the loss, the mood around the team remains high. Panthers coach Paul Maurice wasn’t overly upset during his postgame press conference — outside of a few remarks about how hot the media room was, even quipping that he was going to stay in the room until he was “down to about 185 pounds; that’s going to take me about 10 minutes.” Players lamented the missed chance but understood it was just one defeat after winning the first three, taking both games at home and splitting the two in Tampa.

Florida knows it’s still in control of the series and has three more opportunities to get that final win and advance to the second round.

But the Panthers know the Lightning around going to go down without a fight. Game 4 was a shining example of that, with Tampa Bay jumping to a 3-0 lead in the first, weathering a strong second period from Florida that got the game within a goal and surging back to dominating the game in the third.

“They’re a veteran team,” Florida forward Carter Verhaeghe said. “They came to play today. We weren’t good enough, but we have another game to refocus and try and get it going next game.”

Added goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky: “Just take a rest, reset, refocus and get ready to go play again.”

This and that

With his goal in the second period, forward Sam Reinhart became the first player in Panthers history to score 60 goals in a season when factoring in both the regular season and the playoffs. Reinhart scored 57 times in the regular season and now has three goals in the playoffs.

Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s second-period goal was his first in the playoffs since Aug. 2, 2020.

Through four games, the Lightning has been on the power play 17 times compared to nine for the Panthers.