Lightning get crack at home ice down 2-0 to Panthers

The Florida Panthers defended home ice with an overtime victory on Tuesday. Now it’s up to the Tampa Bay Lightning to try and match it.

The best-of-seven Eastern Conference playoff series shifts to Tampa for Game 3 on Thursday night, with the Atlantic Division champs leading 2-0.

Tied 2-2 in the third Tuesday night, the Lightning’s NHL-best power play unit had a four-minute opportunity after Eetu Luostarinen committed a double-minor for high-sticking, but the visitors put just two shots on Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.

Actually, the best scoring chance occurred when Florida’s Aaron Ekblad went off on a short-handed breakaway, but goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped him.

Earlier, Bobrovsky dove across the crease with his back to the play and blindly used his elbow to block Mathew Dumba’s shot into a wide-open net, denying the go-ahead goal with under six minutes remaining in the second.

“You’re looking at two of the best,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper of the netminding. “To sit here and be on the biggest stage in the greatest league in the world, you kind of marvel at some of the saves that were made.

“On the (Dumba) save, Bob didn’t quit on it. It’s probably more on us than him, but you’ve got to tip your hat to him. I thought the two biggest saves were the two Vasi made after that save, which at the time could’ve sunk us.

Added Bobrovsky: “It was just a desperation save.”

Florida lost second-line center Sam Bennett to an upper-body injury in the second, prompting coach Paul Maurice to shift Anton Lundell between Carter Verhaeghe and Matthew Tkachuk.

At 2:59 into overtime, the Panthers won 3-2 when Tkachuk beat defenseman Emil Lilleberg for a puck at the half-boards and passed it to Lundell. The center then fed Verhaeghe coming in from the left side. He skated by Vasilevskiy, set up a backhander and roofed the game-winner from a sharp angle.

It was the Panthers’ 11th consecutive overtime win in the playoffs, the second longest in NHL history, with eight of them coming since the 2023 postseason.

The Lightning lost for the 10th time in the past 11 overtime playoff matches.

Meanwhile, Verhaeghe’s fifth overtime playoff winner in 47 contests tied him all-time with Patrick Kane, Corey Perry and Glenn Anderson for third place.

Only Joe Sakic (eight) and Maurice Richard (six) have more.

“Someone’s got to make a play,” Verhaeghe said. “Chucky made an awesome play, Lundy made an awesome play and I just finished it.”

The winger’s flair for playoff dramatics is growing.

A Stanley Cup winner with the Lightning in 2020, Verhaeghe helped Florida beat the Washington Capitals with a Game 6 series-clinching goal in overtime in 2022. Last season in overtime, he knocked off the Boston Bruins in Game 7 in Beantown.

Afterward, Ekblad joked that Verhaeghe’s OT game-winners are the result of favorable genetics.

“He’s got the clutch gene,” the defenseman said. “He’s born with it, man. You say that, but it’s a lot of years of hard work. … It’s no surprise at all.”

Maurice said Wednesday that Bennett, who had a goal and an assist the night before, would be out “at least a week.”

–Field Level Media