Lightning lock down Panthers in Game 2, take 2-0 series lead

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The Lightning didn’t win a Stanley Cup by accident, and by returning largely the same team — eventually — they rank among the biggest favorites of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Lightning slowed down the Panthers’ attack much more in Game 2, and their stars did the rest to win 3-1, taking a 2-0 series lead.

Less than five minutes in, Steven Stamkos sent a pass attempt off of former teammate Anton Stralman and into the net. Ondrej Palat then finished a Brayden Point rebound opportunity to make it 2-1, a goal that would eventually stand as the game-winner.

Nikita Kucherov collected a secondary assist on that game-winner. Overall, the Lightning controlled the play to beat the Panthers convincingly in Game 2.

Lightning win Game 2 over Panthers; Goaltending not really the issue

After Sergei Bobrovsky lost in Game 1, the Panthers went with Chris Driedger instead vs. the Lightning in Game 2. It’s hard to beat up Driedger too much for the Panthers going down 2-0 early in Game 2, but he did look a little scrambly at times vs. the Lightning. Much like Kucherov in Game 1, Stamkos made his presence felt on Tuesday:

(In an amusing coincidence, Driedger turned 27 on Tuesday.)

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2021 First Round schedule, TV info]

Once Game 2 of Panthers – Lightning was 2-0, it seemed like things could get out of hand. Florida faced some early bumps in the second period, but got a goal back on a nice play between Aleksander Barkov, Carter Verhaeghe, and Mason Marchment.

Florida couldn’t really get much going down 2-1 for most of the third period, however. An empty-netter sealed the deal, while Andrei Vasilevskiy was sharp when he needed to be.

Panthers still not quite finding right balance vs. Lightning after Game 2

Game 1 of Lightning – Panthers was an exhilarating blast. That said, it also got out of hand, and Tampa Bay took advantage. Nikita Kucherov & Co. scored huge goals on the power play, and Sam Bennett ended up getting suspended for boarding Blake Coleman.

Joel Quenneville would have been foolish to totally dilute what’s been working for Florida. While the pace and nastiness wasn’t as extreme between the Panthers and Lightning in Game 2, it was still there. And it might still behoove the Cats to do a better job “picking their spots.”

[NBC 2021 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Heck, maybe they should just stick to being careful around Blake Coleman.

At the end of the second period, MacKenzie Weegar took an extra penalty hitting Coleman from behind. It was part of a rough evening for Weegar; Brayden Point also burned him on the 2-0 goal, while Weegar also received a puck over the glass penalty.

Weegar’s quietly earned plaudits as an underrated defenseman, but perhaps facing Tampa Bay’s talent might lead to some growing pains.

Among other things, Quenneville might need to wonder if he should go to an 11-forward, 7-defenseman setup again going forward. No doubt, having Sam Bennett back would make it easier to justify a 12-F, 6-D setup.

Either way, Florida must be smarter — and better — if they want to get back into this series. This is a better Panthers team than many might realize, but so far, the results have been uncomfortably familiar.

PANTHERS VS. LIGHTNING (TBL leads 2-0) – series livestream link

Game 1: Lightning 5, Panthers 4
Tuesday, May 18: Lightning 3, Panthers 1
Thursday, May 20: Panthers at Lightning, 6:30 p.m. ET (USA Network)
Saturday, May 22: Panthers at Lightning, 12:30 p.m. ET (CNBC)
*Monday, May 24: Lightning at Panthers TBD
*Wednesday, May 26: Panthers at Lightning TBD
*Friday, May 28: Lightning at Panthers TBD

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.