Panthers know it will be tough to finish off Lightning in Game 4

TAMPA — Matthew Tkachuk took a deep breath and talked about the challenge still ahead of him and his teammates.

After scoring twice Thursday night as the Panthers topped the Lightning 5-3 to take a 3-0 lead in the first-round playoff series, Tkachuk did not sound like a player whose team is on the verge of a sweep.

“We’re in a great position,” he said. “We’re in a position we would have dreamed about being at the beginning of the series. I mean, up three to nothing, we’ll gladly take it. But there have been stretches where (the Lightning) have played really, really well. And I think it’s been a really close series so far in the first three games.”

But, Tkachuk said, the toughest game is yet to come.

“The fourth one is always the hardest,” he said. “I know everyone says that, so we have to come out absolutely ready to go on Saturday and try to play our best.”

The Panthers Saturday night at Amalie Arena will have a chance to become the first team to sweep an opponent in the postseason after being swept by that same team in their previous playoff meeting (2022) since the Canadiens defeated the Lightning in four games in the first round in 2014.

But the Panthers were not thinking about that Thursday.

“We’ll treat it like Game 1,” said defenseman Brandon Montour, who scored the go-ahead goal late in the second period. “... It’s going to be a tough one with their season on the line. Everyone gets that. They’re going to bring their best effort, but again, we’ve got our full focus is on getting rest (Thursday), getting some food in us, getting some fluids recovering (Friday) and ... bring it the next day.”

Getting emotional

Lightning coach Jon Cooper got emotional after Thursday’s loss, but it wasn’t his team’s play or being on the verge of elimination that upset him.

He was moved to talk about the death Wednesday night of Canadian broadcasting legend Bob Cole. The long-time voice of “Hockey Night in Canada” was 90.

“I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the passing of Bob Cole,” Cooper said. “I know it has nothing to do with this game, but it kind of does because I’m probably not coaching in this league if I wasn’t growing up and having a passion for this game because of his voice.”

Cooper called Cole “the Wayne Gretzky of announcers.”

“My passion for this game is built on what Bob Cole said,” he said.

Cooper said he met Cole in 2018, when he went up to the broadcast gondola at Montreal’s Bell Centre, put on a headset and the two spoke. Cooper called it one of the coolest moments of his life.

“I’m not starstruck that often, but I was starstruck when he came down, and he was such a wonderful man,” Cooper said. ” I’m going to miss him, because he was a superstar in this sport.”


The Panthers were able to keep the Lightning’s league-best power play in check four times Thursday, killing off eight minutes in penalties. “It was the most important thing we did,” coach Paul Maurice said. … The Panthers are now 9-4 on the road dating back to the 2023 postseason and tied the Golden Knights (9-3) for the most road wins among all teams. … When Tyler Motte scored 2:12 after Steven Stamkos scored his 11th career game-tying goal in the playoffs, it was the first time the Lightning held a lead in this series.

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