Panthers Overtake Lightning During the Third and Win Game 5 to Eliminate Them

At Amerant Bank Arena on Monday, the Florida Panthers defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 6-1 in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference First Round. Aleksander Barkov and Carter Verhaeghe each finished with two goals and an assist.

In the second round, the Panthers will play either the Toronto Maple Leafs or the Boston Bruins. With Game 5 on Tuesday, the Bruins lead that best-of-7 series 3-1.

Florida forward Matthew Tkachuk stated, “Just to be in a playoff series against your biggest rival is so cool and so much fun to begin with.” “To come out on top, be a part of the team that was able to do that for the first time makes it more special. … We’re probably going to be playing our next-biggest rival, so there will not be an emotional letdown.”

Evan Rodrigues scored a goal and provided an assist for the Panthers, who are the top seed in the Atlantic Division. Niko Mikkola also had a goal. Sergei Bobrovsky made 31 saves, and Tkachuk contributed two assists.

“This group of guys is special, and every series is different,” Bobrovsky remarked. “We work so hard to have structure and everyone executed it. We are really close, really love each other.”

The Lightning, the first wild card from the East, scored through Victor Hedman. Andrei Vasilevskiy made thirty-three stops.

After making three straight visits to the Stanley Cup Final from 2020 to 22 seasons ago, Tampa Bay has been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs the last two seasons. In 2020 and 2021, the Lightning took home the Stanley Cup.

According to Lightning coach Jon Cooper, “some casual fans will wake up in the morning and be like, ‘Well, Tampa Bay got blown out.” “Anyone who follows this game knows that was not the case. There were a lot of things that didn’t go our way tonight, lot of things that didn’t go our way in the series. … I know how fortunate our teams have been when we have won. You make your own breaks.”

Anthony Cirelli’s shot from the slot gave Tampa Bay the appearance of a 1-0 lead at 13:00 in the first period, but Florida successfully protested for goalie interference, overturning the goal.

Forty-five seconds into the second session, Verhaeghe then gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead. Vasilevskiy blocked his attempt from the slot, but he followed the puck and scored off the rebound.

At 12:38, Barkov doubled the score with a short-handed goal, converting the rebound of Aaron Ekblad’s point shot.

“It feels nice to score goals, but I have said before that it does not matter on our team,” Barkov said,  “Obviously, a lot of them have come from [Verhaeghe], he gets a ton of big ones in the playoffs and regular season. Every player in our lineup can score, can do anything on the ice. That is what makes us special.”

At 13:37, Hedman made it 2-1 with a slap shot over the circles.

At 17:48, Mikhail Sergachev looked to have scored again for Tampa Bay with a one-timer from the slot, but the goal was quickly disregarded due to goaltender interference.On a one-timer from the slot, Mikhail Sergachev looked to have given Tampa Bay another lead at 17:48, but the goal was quickly disregarded for goalie interference on Cirelli. The play was contested by Tampa Bay, but a video review verified the call.

Cirelli stated, “We saw it one way, and they reviewed it, talked to Toronto about it, and it is what it is.” “It doesn’t go our way. We were trying to be at the net, perhaps too aggressively in their eyes. It’s out of our control once they review it. … It was our job to keep battling, keep working to get the next one.”

At 17:48, Mikhail Sergachev looked to have scored again for Tampa Bay with a one-timer from the slot, but the goal was quickly disregarded due to goaltender interference.At 11:06 of the third, Barkov made it 3-1 by tapping in a loose puck that had been blocked in front.

Around 14:16, Rodrigues increased the lead to 4-1 after one-timing a feed from Kevin Stenlund from the left circle.

At 16:03, Verhaeghe scored into an empty net to make it 5-1, and at 18:50, Mikkola added another goal to make the final score 6-1.

In their two prior matchups, Tampa Bay had eliminated Florida from the postseason in 2021 and 2022.

After winning the Stanley Cup with the Lightning in 2020, Verhaeghe signed a free agent contract with the Panthers, saying, “They had our number the past couple of years.” “Finally, we got one on them. It feels good.”

Following the Lightning’s rout of Florida in the second round in 2022, the team made several changes, including adding Tkachuk and hiring Paul Maurice as coach.

“You want to beat them, get over that hump,” Barkov remarked. “When there is one team that kind of beats you in the playoffs, both times in similar situations where we had home-ice advantage,” “We respected them. They have been unbelievable in past years. … There is a lot to learn from that team and that organization. So, it definitely feels great now to be able to beat them.’’

Maurice claimed he knew this series was different even though he wasn’t a part of the Panthers the last time the two state rivals faced off.

Maurice remarked, “I am really happy for the players who went through the pain of not having success,” “Two critical guys in the game … Barkov and Bobrovsky, when you are the No. 1 goaltender and the captain, and a series doesn’t go your way, most guys look at them. They have to answer for it. Those guys were good tonight, good the whole series. They dealt with some pain in that loss.’’