WATCH: Tampa Bay Lightning Win Playoff Thriller With Late Goal in Closing Seconds, Take 2-0 Series Lead Over Florida Panthers

By  //  May 20, 2022

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Game 3: Florida @ Tampa - 1:30 p.m. ET

MIAMI, FLORIDA (Tampa Bay Lightning) – Just when it seemed Game 2 would be decided in overtime, the Lightning delivered some more late playoff magic.

Tied 1-1 with the Panthers in the final 10 seconds of regulation, a breakdown in coverage left Ross Colton all alone in front of the net. Nikita Kucherov worked him the puck and Colton lifted a shot over Sergei Bobrovsky to cement a 2-1 win for Tampa Bay.

Certainly, the biggest play in this game occurred in the closing seconds of the third period, when Nikita Kucherov delivered a no-look backhand pass from behind the Florida net to an unguarded Ross Colton in front for the game-winning goal. It was an incredible pass from Kucherov and a decisive finish from Colton, who snapped a one-timer into the top of the net.

The pass and finish involved high-end skill. But the winning goal wouldn’t have happened without hard work along the boards that had taken place moments earlier. Lightning players prevented the Panthers from gaining clean possession and clearing the puck. Eventually, Ondrej Palat collected the puck just inside the blue line and wired it behind the net to Kucherov.

The Colton goal was the game-winner, of course, and ultimately decided the outcome of Game Two. But there were plenty of key moments in the first 59 minutes and 56 seconds. The Lightning knew that the Panthers, down in the series, would play an urgent, desperate game. There were two segments in which the Panthers applied heavy pressure and put the Lightning back on their heels: the start of the first period and later, the end of the second period (after Eetu Luostarinen had tied the game) into the beginning of the third. Despite being on the wrong side of a surge during those stretches, the Lightning hung in defensively. They blocked shots, maintained their structure, and, when needed, leaned on Andrei Vasilevskiy. And in both instances, the Lightning were able to push back and reverse momentum.

Looking for immediate energy, the Panthers started the game with their fourth line, which had several big checks on the opening shift. The Panthers fed off that energy and dominated the early minutes. But Vasilevskiy made six saves to keep the Panthers off the board. The Lightning’s first shot on goal came almost seven minutes into the game. That Pat Maroon shot was off a two-on-one rush. Sergei Bobrovsky stopped Maroon’s attempt, but the Grade-A chance had an effect on swinging momentum away from the Panthers. Moments later, Anthony Cirelli got loose down the wing and Bobrovsky had to come up with another tough save. When Brandon Montour took a penalty at 11:29, the Lightning cashed in. From the left circle, Steven Stamkos put a shot/pass into the slot, where Corey Perry redirected it into the net at 12:06.

The Lightning dictated play through the end of the period, but the Panthers regrouped during the intermission. They had more possession time than the Lightning for the bulk of the second. Two consecutive power play opportunities helped them build that possession edge. But they didn’t break through until the late stages of the frame, when Luostarinen’s left circle shot deflected off Erik Cernak and caromed up. Vasilevskiy got a piece of the shot, but couldn’t stop it completely. It slid into the net at 18:07. Moments later, the Panthers received a third power play opportunity and almost grabbed the lead before the period ended. But in the final 10 seconds, Vasilevskiy made a toe save on Anthony Duclair’s one-timer, then consecutive close-range stops on Aleksander Barkov and Sam Reinhart.

The Panthers carried this second momentum surge into the final period. They posted six of the frame’s first seven shots (the lone SOG from the Lightning was a shorthanded clear from Nick Paul that ended up going on net). Vasilevskiy made key saves on chances for Duclair and Bennett (twice), keeping the game tied at one. Then, similar to what they accomplished in the first period, the Lightning took away Florida’s momentum. A too-many-men penalty on the Panthers played a role in the reversal. Bobrovsky made a terrific save on a Stamkos one-timer during the PP and it ended without a goal for the Lightning. But the man advantage helped them definitively end the Florida surge. After posting those six early shots in the period, the Panthers didn’t record another shot on goal until they went on their fourth and final power play at 16:37 of the third. Before that Lightning penalty, Bobrovsky made another highlight-reel save during this stretch, denying Palat’s chance from the right circle.

So the game remained tied at one as the Panthers went on that late power play. They held the puck in the offensive zone for the first 90 seconds and posted three shots on net. But the Lightning got through the kill, setting the stage for the Kucherov/Colton heroics.

It was a gutsy win for the Lightning, who blocked 24 shots (painfully so, in several instances). They navigated their way through Florida’s surges. The PK went 4-4. Vasilevskiy erased scoring chances. And like in Game One, Kucherov, with a game-changing play, had his fingerprints on this victory.