Interviews with Interim Head Coach Andrew Brunette, forward Anthony Duclair and defenseman Gustav Forsling
SUNRISE, Fla. – On the wrong side of the special teams battle, the Panthers opened up their Round 2 series with a 4-1 loss to the cross-state rival Lightning at FLA Live Arena on Tuesday.
In the loss, Florida went 0-for-3 on the power play, while Tampa Bay went 3-for-6.
“We had the lead almost the whole game,” Panthers forward Anthony Duclair said. “A couple chances, and they put it in the back of our net. For us, we know how to win against this team. We’ve done it before. We’ve just got to play with the puck more.”
Not deterred at all by falling behind 1-0 in the series, the Panthers dropped the first game of their best-of-7 series in Round 1 before storming back to eliminate the Capitals in six games.
“I was happy with our game,” Panthers interim head coach Andrew Brunette said. “It’s the little things in the game. That’s what [the Lightning] do so well. That’s why they’ve won a couple [Stanley] Cups and been through this so many times. It’s the little things. It’s that little faceoff, it’s shorthanded trying to score out of nothing, it’s special teams, all these things they excel at. We’re still learning. Unfortunately we had to learn again tonight, but we’ll be better next game.”
Netting the first playoff goal of his NHL career, Duclair opened up the scoring for the Panthers when he settled down a sweet dish from Jonathan Huberdeau, waited just a split second, and then lifted the puck over a diving Andrei Vasilevskiy to make it 1-0 at 14:01 of the first period.
Despite giving the Lightning a pair of power plays in the opening 20 minutes, the Panthers, thanks to some stalwart and responsible work in their defensive zone, headed into the first intermission not only holding onto an early lead, but also a 10-8 advantage in shots on goal.
Getting the Lightning on the board in the second period, Corey Perry buried a cross-ice feed from Nikita Kucherov on the power play to make it 1-1 at 16:22. Striking again early in the third, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare cashed in on a rebound to extend Tampa Bay’s lead to 2-1 at 3:35.
Pulling away with another goal on the power play, Kucherov scored to make it 3-1 at 15:54. But the goal did not come without a bit of controversy. After noticing that Anthony Cirelli had made contact with Sergei Bobrovsky on the score, the Panthers challenged the goal for interference.
Following a review, the goal was upheld and the Lightning were granted another power play. On the ensuing man advantage, Ross Colton lit the lamp to make it 4-1 with 2:16 left in regulation.
Per an email sent out by the NHL, officials deemed that contact between Bobrovsky and Cirelli “occurred in the white ice and, therefore, did not constitute goaltender interference.” While it does no good to dwell on these decisions, it looked like the Panthers had a very strong case.
“I know the standard, and you’ve got to take a try down 2-1,” Brunette said. “I thought he bumped him in the crease on his head. In real time it probably doesn’t look like that I guess.”
Looking to even up the series, Game 2 will be on Thursday in Sunrise.
“For about 35 minutes there I really liked our game,” Brunette said. “A little flat at the start of the third [period], kind of got ourselves in trouble with some breakdowns. … They’re a veteran team. They’re not going to open the door for you. … We had opportunities, and on to the next game.”
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After watching the final game of Round 1 from the press box in Washington, Duclair wasted no time in getting back to work as the dynamic speedster opened the scoring with an impressive goal from the doorstep that give the Panthers a 1-0 lead over the Lightning in the first period.
Video: [email protected], Gm1: Duclair buries Huberdeau’s saucy feed
“It feels great,” Duclair said of his return. “Any time I get the chance to play with some key players, I want to get out there and do my best to get the legs moving and be myself out there.”
Fresh off scoring a career-high 31 goals during the regular season, the Panthers know they’re going to need Duclair to continue bringing that scoring touch into the postseason. Able to fly up and down the ice quite a bit more freely than in Round 1, he fired off two shots on goal tonight.
“He was on the puck,” Brunette said. “I thought he played a really solid game.”
The Panthers know they’re due for a goal on the power play.
After going 0-for-18 with the extra attacker in Round 1, the Cats came up empty on all three of their opportunities against the Lightning tonight. Not for a lack of trying, Florida let loose six shots on goal on the man advantage against Tampa Bay, including two high-danger attempts.
That being said, hesitation appears to be an issue at times.
“I think we can shoot more,” Brunette said. “We talk about it. We’re getting a little stubborn at times. You get out of sync in these kinds of things, and it’s hard to get your mojo back. When you have it you have to keep it, and right now we have to find it. It starts with a shot.”
During the regular season, the Panthers ranked fifth in the NHL on the power play at 24.4%.
“We’ve got to stick with it,” Duclair said. “We’ve got so much talent, so much depth on our power play, a lot of guys that can shoot the puck. I think if we keep shooting and getting traffic on net it’s going to go in eventually.”
When the Panthers did get a look on the power play, Vasilevskiy was there to make the stop.
Finishing with 34 saves, he went a perfect 6-for-6 on the penalty kill. At the other end of the ice, Bobrovsky also shined bright with 32 saves, including stopping 20 of 21 shots at even strength.
Of course, the Panthers know they could’ve made it a bit tougher on Vasilevsky by crashing the crease and generating more second and third scoring chances. Looking at the numbers over at NaturalStatTrick.com, he faced only seven high-danger shots in all situations throughout the tilt.
By comparison, Bobrovsky faced 14 high-danger shots.
“He made some big saves,” Brunette said of Vasilevskiy. “You’d love to have gotten that second goal. We had multiple looks. We either missed the net or he made great saves. We can be a more resilient getting to the net and around it. I thought they did a good job of boxing us out.”
In terms of encouraging signs, the Panthers played a solid game at even strength.
Possessing the puck for the majority of time when the two sides were all square, the Panthers led 41-31 in shot attempts and 23-16 in scoring chances at 5-on-5 action against the Lightning.
Most importantly, they surrendered just one goal at even strength.
“We did a lot of good things at 5-on-5,” Brunette said.
Rarely giving up the rubber once they got it, the top line of Aleksander Barkov, Claude Giroux and Carter Verhaeghe was a force against the Lightning in Game 1. When they were deployed, Florida led 14-3 in shot attempts, 10-2 in shots on goal and 9-2 in scoring chances at 5-on-5.
“I think we had them where we wanted pretty much the whole game,” Panthers defenseman Gustav Forsling said. “At 5-on-5, I think we were the better team.”
Given how good they are at 5-on-5, the Panthers want to keep it that way.
That means staying out of the penalty box.
After being whistled for a pair of infractions within the first eight minutes of the first period, they went on to take four more penalties throughout the game. On those last four trips to the box, the Lightning took full advantage by cashing in on three goals after being sent to the power play.
“No one wants to take a penalty,” Forsling said. “We’ve got to be more careful with our sticks.”
During the regular season, Tampa Bay ranked second in the NHL in penalties drawn (362).
With that knack for drawing calls, the Cats know they have to be extra careful moving forward.
“Just a little careful with the sticks,” Brunette said. “Obviously you know what they do. They’re a veteran team that’s been in these kinds of situations. They sell it pretty good, and we just have to be aware of that and maybe sell it ourselves a little bit.”