Ross Colton’s goal with 3.8 seconds left gave the Tampa Bay Lightning a thrilling 2-1 victory over the Florida Panthers on Thursday in Sunrise, Fla., and a 2-0 edge in their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
With overtime looming, Colton headed to the net just as Nikita Kucherov sent a no-look backhand pass from the end boards. Colton, who scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal last year, buried a high shot for his fifth goal of the 2022 playoffs.
Corey Perry also scored for the two-time defending champion Lightning, who will look to claim a stranglehold on the Battle of Florida when they host Game 3 of the best-of-seven series on Sunday — the first of two home games on consecutive days.
Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy made 35 saves amid an outstanding goalie battle.
Eetu Luostarinen scored for the Panthers, who finished atop the league in the regular season but are now in serious trouble in their attempt to unseat their state rivals. Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 25 shots.
Perry, who was injured in the warmup when a puck he shot ricocheted off the crossbar and hit him in the face, notched Tampa Bay’s fourth power-play goal of the series at the 12:06 mark of the first period.
While Steven Stamkos held the puck in the left circle, Perry set up shop in the slot and redirected the shot-pass for his fourth of the playoffs.
The Lightning have 11 power-play goals through the first nine games of the playoffs, the same total they had through their first 11 postseason games last year.
The Panthers pushed back and finally drew even when Luostarinen netted his first career playoff goal with 1:53 remaining in the second period. After taking a drop pass from Gustav Forsling as they raced down the left wing, Luostarinen sent a shot that just trickled over the goal line.
The Panthers had their chances to win. Vasilevskiy sparkled, but Florida failed to convert four power-play opportunities and is now 0-for-25 to start the playoffs.
The Lightning are known for their offensive play, but they showed they can defend and are willing to sacrifice. Tampa Bay had a few players go to the locker room after blocking shots. Stamkos left the game twice, while Brandon Hagel, Mikhail Sergachev and Erik Cernak were hobbled briefly once, but all returned to finish the game.
–Field Level Media