Stanley Cup Playoffs, Round 1, Game 1: Florida Panthers 3, Tampa Bay Lightning 2

A dominant defensive effort in a highly physical game paved the way for the Florida Panthers to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2 in Game 1 of their first-round Stanley Cup Playoff series on Sunday afternoon at Amerant Bank Arena.

Carter Verhaeghe scored the go-ahead goal on the power play 58 seconds into the third period and Matthew Tkachuk added an empty-net goal with 2:05 left to play. to put Florida up by two goals late.

Steven Stamkos put the Lightning within one with 9.3 seconds left on a power-play goal but Florida escaped with the win.

Sam Reinhart opened scoring for Florida 6:17 into the first period and Brandon Hagel tied the game at 1-1 for Tampa at the 16:04 mark of the opening period.

Sergei Bobrovksy stopped 17 of 19 shots that came his way.

There were 109 total hits in the game.

Game 2 of the series is at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Amerant Bank Arena.

Verhaeghe power-play goal puts Panthers up early in third

Carter Verhaeghe put the Panthers ahead 2-1 58 seconds into the third period with a power play goal, beating Andrei Vasilevskiy from the left side off a great feed toward the net from Aleksander Barkov.

Verhaeghe scored a team-high 19 third-period goals during the regular season.

Barkov and Matthew Tkachuk got the assists. Barkov has an assist on both Florida goals.

Thoughts from the second period

The middle 20 minutes were a little more even, mostly because neither team really got much offense going. Florida had just six shots on goal, while Tampa Bay was held to five.

Two telling stats about the game so far...

-First: There have been 24 total shots on goal (14 Florida, Tampa 10) and 77 total hits (40 Florida, 37 Tampa).

-Second: The Lightning has blocked 18 Florida shot attempts.

The Panthers will be on the power play for the first 1:37 of the third period.

Power play coming up empty early

At the midway point in the game, the Panthers have gotten two power play opportunities, both of which have come up empty. In fact, Florida put up just four shots on goal in four minutes of action playing a man up.

Thoughts from the first period

As one would expect, the opening period between the in-state rivals was physical.

The teams combined for 42 hits (23 by Florida, 19 by Tampa Bay). Aleksander Barkov, Ryan Lomberg and Oliver Ekman-Larsson each had three hits in the first period for Florida.

While the game is tied, the Panthers were the more dominant team throughout the opening 20 minutes. Florida had a 10-7 edge in shots on goal, had eight shot attempts blocked by Tampa and had a 14-9 edge in scoring chances. Matthew Tkachuk had a team-high three scoring chances.

The main difference that is keeping the Lightning in the game, unsurprisingly, is goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. He stopped nine of 10 shots he has faced, including four of five high-danger shots Florida sent his way. The Panthers will need to find ways to get past him to get results from their strong play.

Tampa ties it late in the first

After being held without a shot for nearly 16 minutes to begin the game, the Lightning fired off three consecutive shots at Sergei Bobrovsky, with the final one from Brandon Hagel getting past the Panthers’ goaltender to tie the game at 1-1 with 3:56 left in the first period.

Sam Reinhart opens scoring for Florida Panthers

The Panthers took a 1-0 lead 6:17 into the game when Sam Reinhart deflected in a shot from right in front of the net. Gustav Forsling and Aleksander Barkov get the assists.

Florida began the game as the more aggressive team in the opening minutes. They are outshooting Tampa Bay 4-0 so far and have a 13-7 lead in hits — including a big one by Dmitry Kulikov on Michaael Eyssimont behind the Panthers’ net that got the crowd going.

Pregame warmups

The Panthers’ forward lines and defense pairings during pregame rushes were as follows

Forward lines

Vladimir Tarasenko-Aleksander Barkov-Sam Reinhart

Carter Verhaeghe-Sam Bennett-Matthew Tkachuk

Eetu Luostarinen-Anton Lundell-Evan Rodrigues

Ryan Lomberg-Kevin Stenlund-Nick Cousins

Defense pairings

Gustav Forsling-Aaron Ekblad

Niko Mikkola-Brandon Montour

Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Dmitry Kulikov


Sergei Bobrovsky

Anthony Stolarz

Early notables

Panthers coach Paul Maurice spoke Sunday morning ahead of Game 1. Here were the highlights from his media availability:

Maurice confirmed forward Ryan Lomberg will draw into the lineup as the fourth line left wing, playing alongside center Kevin Stenlund and right wing Nick Cousins. Kyle Okposo, Steven Lorentz and Jonah Gadjovich will be healthy scratches.

Maurice on his message to the team before the game: “None of what I say will be new. That’s maybe the single most important thing. What you’d like to do is the first meeting in training camp to the first meeting before the playoffs, you’d like to be consistent with your message. ‘This is who we are. This is what we’re trying to do and this is the way we want to play.’ That’ll be a reminder today of what it looks like when our team is at its best.”

On what Maurice wants to see in the opening 10 minutes: “Do not try to win the Stanley Cup in the first 10 minutes. I don’t think that that’s an issue. When you get two playoff-veteran teams — certainly they are — that are going to get past that kind of youthful emotion of running all over and making plays. You shouldn’t be trying to finish checks that are way out of the range of a finished check. I think you’re gonna have two — I don’t know if this is the right word because it may not look like it — but sophisticated teams in terms of this isn’t the first time they’ve played a playoff game. I expect we look fairly close to how we should look and I expect Tampa to as well.”

Pregame reading

Want some Panthers reading this morning before the game? Here are some of our top stories leading into the series:

Ahead of playoff series, Panthers talk rivalry with Lightning

‘We know what it takes’: Panthers eye another playoff run. First up: The Tampa Bay Lightning

The Panthers will be at full strength for Game 1 with Aaron Ekblad’s return from his latest injury.

As the Panthers try to make more playoff memories, take a look back at their 2023 Stanley Cup Finals run

Playoff run in 2023 ‘lifted a burden’ off Panthers’ Sergei Bobrovsky. ‘Now, he can just play’

Newly extended, Panthers’ Bill Zito has made Florida ‘an unreal place to be right now’