The Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers continued their close offensive battle they displayed in both Games 1 and 2 once again Thursday night at Amalie Arena in the Bay Area for Game 3. There were many players on both sides who stepped up and made a difference for both clubs. Ultimately, the Panthers were able to cut the lead in half with their first overtime contest of the series so far. Here are some players who stuck out during this latest series showing.
After Florida jumped out in front in the first period with two goals, someone needed to answer for the Bolts to fight back. The player who provided said answer was Cirelli, who scored early in the second period to cut the Panthers’ lead down to one. Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman shot the puck at Panthers netminder Chris Driedger (who was later pulled for Sergei Bobrovsky) and Cirelli was on the doorstep near the net to cash in. It was a crucial moment for the 23-year-old as that was his first goal in 29 games. It was a monkey that was off his back personally, and it opened the floodgates for the rest of Tampa’s offense.
The Lightning piled on two more goals after Cirelli’s to take a 3-2 lead in the second period. All three goals were scored within the first nine minutes of that frame. That middle period was where all of Tampa’s offense came from for the entire contest, as they notched a total of five goals overall. The Panthers had stifled many of the Lightning’s offensive threats during the first, but Cirelli provided that spark that fueled the rest of the squad to keep up with Florida offensively.
Cirelli also finished the game with three shots on goal, three hits, and basically 16 minutes of ice-time.
It has been a good first NHL season for Colton. After spending the past couple of seasons in the AHL with the Syracuse Crunch, he officially earned playing time with Tampa in 2020-21. He had nine goals and three assists for 12 points in 30 regular-season matches. He hit another milestone when he tied Game 3 up 2-2 thanks to his first playoff goal. On the play, he grabbed the puck, fell to his knees, and got back up before then turning and flinging the puck toward the net. The puck bounced in and out so quickly on first look it did not look like it had made it past Driedger. He built off of Cirelli’s goal and took the wind out of the sails that the Panthers had gained from such a stellar first period.
On top of the tally, Colton finished Game 3 with three shots on goal himself, two hits, and over 14-and-a-half minutes of ice-time. While Cirelli and Colton established gaining back early lost ground to Florida, a key component came through in a big way as well to up the scoring more.
Both Teams’ Power Plays
With the number of weapons the Lightning have on their roster, any penalty taken by opposing teams can be very costly. It can become a nightmare trying to cover every Tampa player on the ice down a man, and the Panthers found this out the hard way on two occasions Thursday night in the second period. The first power-play goal came from Brayden Point, who was camped in a beautiful spot and fed the puck by Nikita Kucherov. Florida players were stuck between a rock and a hard place trying to cover the setup because Kucherov has a dangerous shot by himself, but then he can pass it to another skilled talent in Point who can get the job done. Either option could burn Florida, and it was Point that capitalized to make the score 4-3 Tampa. He has taken the reins in these playoffs, something he continued from his postseason last year.
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The second power-play tally was by Alex Killorn. The passing on the Lightning advantage can be so smooth with everyone out there having chemistry with one another, and that was on display here. After a Steven Stamkos shot misses the net and finds Kucherov, he passes it to Point, who in turn gives it to Hedman, who fires the puck himself. Killorn can get to the puck after and slip it by Driedger. Tampa got a third power-play opportunity near the end of the third period, but Florida killed it off entirely. The Lightning, as a result, finished two-for-three on the night.
The Panthers were perfect when they had their man advantage, going two-for-two thanks to goals by both forward Alex Wennberg and Patric Hornqvist. It is easy to talk about how dominant the Lightning’s power play is with the firepower they have, but Florida proved they could take care of their business in this regard as well. In both instances for the Panther power-play goals, the main focus by both scorers was getting the puck to the net. Wennberg shoots from the point and flies past Tampa goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, while the other goal is to get the puck to the net and a fortunate change in direction can shorten a deficit. In the end, both power plays proved to be evenly matched for the most part on Thursday. Both head coaches will look to light a fire under their penalty kill units for Game 4.
Huberdeau finished the night with three assists, and he was a big reason the Panthers were able to skate away with the Game 3 victory. He stood out the most out of any Florida player. Starting in the first period, it seemed like every grade-A chance the Panthers had to score, Huberdeau was the one setting up the play. His first assist of the night opened the scoring. After getting the puck from Owen Tippett, he sauces it across the ice perfectly for Sam Bennett to smack it past Vasilevskiy to make it 1-0.
Huberdeau’s second assist came with him winning a faceoff to defenseman Gustav Forsling, who then sent it across the ice to Radko Gudas, who would shoot and then gain his own rebound before firing it the net to double the lead 2-0. Lightning winger Ondrej Palat blocked the initial shot, but Gudas would go around him and shoot it again, this time prevailing.
The third assist for Huberdeau came in the third when he shot the puck to the net where teammate Hornqvist was. Hornqvist redirected the puck in with his skate (not in a kicking motion), and that boosted Florida’s goal count to four on the night. Huberdeau currently leads the team in scoring six points in three games this postseason (one goal and five assists). Despite making a big impact, he had some help from some relatively fresh faces.
The Panthers’ Newcomers
Panthers’ general manager Bill Zito was one of the busier at his position during the last offseason. He also added at the trade deadline to further deepen his team’s skill. With all of that work, his new additions shined quite a bit during Game 3. Bennett, traded for during the season from the Calgary Flames, scored the first Panther goal of the night. This happened coming off of him receiving a one-game suspension from the league for his Game 1 hit on Tampa forward Blake Coleman. Gudas then made it 2-0, a player signed by Zito during the free agency window back in October.
Overall, the newcomers who all contributed in Game 3 (besides the main hero who gets his own shoutout) were Bennett, Gudas, Hornqvist, Forsling, and Wennberg. Four of them (Gudas, Hornqvist, Forsling, and Wennberg) all had a goal and an assist each, while Bennett had just one goal, although he was awesome Thursday night. The change of scenery has benefited him and having a talent like Huberdeau playing with him can set him up for success.
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Zito and his staff did an excellent job bringing in players who have ultimately fit with the core already present on the squad. They do a great job recognizing the talent within a player and figures out whether it makes sense to bring them into the fold. As crucial as core members like Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov are, these first-time Panthers also put their own stamp on Game 3 for the club. The one newcomer from this season not mentioned yet did it in the best way he could.
The Stanley Cup playoffs are where heroes are made, and forward Lomberg is one of the latest examples of that. Like many players mentioned above, this was his first campaign with the Panthers. He started his career with the Flames but left and signed with Florida as a free agent back in October. He had only suited up for 11 regular-season NHL games before 2020-21, only having an assist to his name.
The Panthers gave Lomberg 34 regular-season contests this year, where he accumulated four points, including two goals. Head coach Joel Quenneville trusted him enough to put him in the lineup for all three postseason games so far, and Lomberg delivered for him when it mattered the most on Thursday.
After Florida killed off Tampa’s man-advantage in overtime, Gudas cleared the puck out of the Panthers’ end. Forward Frank Vatrano tipped the puck to a speedy Lomberg, who broke away from Hedman and shot a laser by Vasilevskiy to give the team their first win of this series and preventing them from falling into a 3-0 series pit. He will be remembered in Panthers’ history for clinching a win in what is still anyone’s postseason round.
Looking back at Game 3 as a whole, there was much to like from both organizations. Top players showed why they are key contributors on each franchise, power plays were lethal no matter who had them, and both teams can rely on their depth to make a significant difference with the score. Game 4 just got a whole lot more interesting, though, in what has already been a crazy series. The next chapter in this rivalry will soon be written.
I have been a hockey fan for most of my life, and have played the game myself for more than six years. I graduated from the State University of New York at Oswego in 2018, with a bachelor’s in Broadcasting & Mass Communication. Previous positions held include being a Sports Analyst for Oswego’s student-run TV station, WTOP-10; News/Sports Intern for WIVB-TV Channel 4; and Sports Beat Writer Intern for Pro Player Insiders.