The Florida Panthers are in trouble.
Not only did they lose two consecutive games at home against the Tampa Bay Lightning to open their Second Round series, but they second of those two losses on Thursday night could not have come in a more demoralizing fashion.
A defensive breakdown by the Panthers left Ross Colton wide open in front of the net to bury a game-winning goal with just 3.8 seconds to play in regulation, handing the Lightning a hard fought 2-1 win. The Lightning were dealing with injuries all night, entering the game without star forward Brayden Point and temporarily losing Steven Stamkos, Brandon Hagel, and Mikhail Sergachev during the game.
You can see Colton’s game-winning goal here.
There are three very important factors in that play leading to Colton’s goal.
The first is the Lightning’s ability to keep the puck in the offensive zone and get it back behind the net to Nikita Kucherov.
Then there is the slick pass by Kucherov who makes it look completely effortless to find a wide open Colton in front of the net.
But perhaps the most important aspect of this play is both Florida defenseman, Gustav Forsling and MacKenzie Weegar, both chasing Kucherov behind the net as time expires and leaving the front of the net completely vacated. Add in no forwards coming back in the area to help out and all of them being above the face-off dots and you have a 2-0 series deficit on your hands.
What has to make that sequence even more frustrating for the Panthers is it came less than two minutes after they failed to score on yet another power play with the game on the line. The Panthers’ power play went 0-for-4 on the night, including that late man-advantage in a tie game, and is now 0-for-25 this postseason. That unit is a mess.
Tampa Bay’s power play, by comparison, has already scored four goals in this series including its first goal on Thursday from Corey Perry.
You never want to count anybody out in the playoffs, especially a team as good and talented as Florida, but the Panthers are now facing quite the uphill fight in this series. They now have to win four of the next five games (with three of them in Tampa Bay) after failing to win the first two games at home against a Lightning team that did not have one of its best players.
It is going to take an amazing effort to win this series.