Brayden Point’s second goal of the game with 74 seconds remaining was the winner and Nikita Kucherov tallied two goals and an assist in his first game of the season as the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning claimed a thrilling 5-4 victory over the Florida Panthers in the opening clash of their Stanley Cup playoffs series Sunday in Sunrise, Fla.
Blake Coleman also scored for the defending Stanley Cup champions, while goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy made 35 saves for the Lightning in the clash that featured five lead changes. Tampa star defenseman Victor Hedman collected three assists.
Jonathan Huberdeau scored once in a three-point outing, while Aleksander Barkov and Owen Tippett collected one goal and one assist for the Panthers. Carter Verhaeghe also scored and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 35 shots.
The Panthers will host Game 2 of the best-of-seven playoff series — the first ever between the Sunshine State rivals — on Tuesday.
With the hosts leading 4-3, thanks to a pair of third-period goals, Point netted Tampa Bay’s third power-play goal of the night with exactly seven minutes remaining in regulation. Then, as overtime loomed, Point converted a breakaway to make the difference.
Coleman’s short-handed goal put the defending Stanley Cup champions on the board first. He zipped into the offensive zone and was fed a pass at full speed from Yanni Gourde before depositing a backhand at the 7:42 mark.
However, the hosts responded with a pair of goals by the first intermission. Barkov’s power-play goal, a rocket of a one-timer while at the top of the right circle, tied the game two minutes after Coleman’s goal. Then Verhaeghe put the Panthers ahead at the 16:31 mark with his own one-timer from the high slot.
That was just the beginning of the back-and-forth action. Kucherov, Tampa’s all-time playoff leader in goals, assists and points, made his season debut after missing the entire regular season following hip surgery in December. He made his presence felt plenty in the second period, tying the score with a power-play marker five minutes into the frame. He potted his second man-advantage goal 10 minutes later with another one-timer from nearly the same spot, the right faceoff dot.
Huberdeau took over for the first part of the third period, pulling the Panthers even again when he converted a breakaway 87 seconds into the final frame, and then made a brilliant pass — a spin-a-rama after he went across the edge of the crease — to set up Tippett for a tap-in tally that made it a 4-3 for the hosts.
–Field Level Media