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PREVIEW: Lightning prepared for surging Panthers with series edge

The disappointment of blowing their opportunity to take a commanding lead in their opening-round playoff series has left its mark on the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The defending Stanley Cup champions figure to have a sense of urgency, but will not be panicked Saturday afternoon for their home clash with the Florida Panthers. The Lightning hold a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series and have plenty of experience in operating amid playoff chaos.

“You’re not going to win 16 games and not lose any. It’s a process,” said Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman, who recorded three assists in Game 3 of the series. “We’re obviously not happy with the way we played the third period, but you’re going to get ups and downs during a playoff series and it’s how you respond as a group.”

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The Sunshine State playoff series added another thrilling chapter Thursday when the Panthers were on the verge of falling behind 3-0 but staged a thrilling third-period comeback en route to their 6-5 overtime victory. The road team has claimed all three games of the series and both squads have won once after trailing beyond the midway point of the third period.

“We could have done a better job making ourselves go up 3-0, but I don’t think anyone expected this to be a sweep,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “I think people expected this to be a really good series, and it has been.”

The Lightning, who trailed 2-0 after the first period but scored five goals in the second period to take a 5-3 lead, leaned a valuable lesson: Don’t let up against this Panthers squad.

“We were kind of protecting the lead and not playing to our strengths,” Hedman said. “We knew that and we weren’t happy with the way we played in the third. They’re going to push sometimes, and we weren’t good enough in the third, that’s the bottom line. We’ll make sure we do better next time we have a lead going into the third.”

Florida is right back in the series instead of on the edge of elimination, thanks a solid third period, as well as Ryan Lomberg’s goal at 5:56 of overtime. It was the first playoff overtime winner for the Panthers since 1996.

“Couldn’t be more proud with the way the guys competed in the third (period) as a team,” Florida coach Joel Quenneville said. “Look at what could have happened and where we would have been at, and now all of a sudden the picture changes completely in a short amount of time.”

“This team has tremendous ability to come back, it doesn’t matter how much of a deficit we have,” added goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who took the net from starting goalie Chris Driedger after the second period. “It’s one of those games we get together, one at a time, and we pulled out a ‘W’. It’s a big win.”

The Panthers will need a better performance from start to finish to return home for Game 5 on equal footing. Dropping Saturday afternoon’s game would mean a 3-1 deficit in games against a squad loaded with playoff experience.

“We were in a good spot after the first period, up 2-0, and then we do that in the second period,” Jonathan Huberdeau said, alluding to giving up five goals – including two on the powerplay in the last six minutes, which forced the Panthers to rally in the third. “We’ve just got to be smarter with our decisions and play our game.

“We had to assess that after the second and not panic, but you don’t want to go down in the third period,” Huberdeau added after collecting three assists in the game.

–Field Level Media