Panthers forward David Booth stops with the puck while Lightning defenseman Dan Boyle defends. (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)
By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com
TAMPA – Frustrated. Disappointed. Bewildered. Angry.
They all described the Panthers late Tuesday evening as they left this city to fly back home and face what now becomes a much tougher road to the playoffs.
While the Panthers were losing 3-1 here at St. Pete Times Forum, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington – three teams the Panthers were battling for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference – were all winning.
By night’s end, the Panthers were five points from the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference after their loss to the Lightning. To get to the eighth spot now, the Panthers will have to jump over four other teams (Buffalo is tied with Florida for points but has played one less games) with five games remaining, including their final three games on the road. The Panthers do play Washington twice in the final five games.
The loss was the Panthers first in regulation since Feb. 29 and are now 8-1-1 in their last 10 games. Nathan Horton articulated the hope that remains.
“We got five left,” he said. “Anything can happen.”
Tied 1-1 after two periods, the Panthers turned the puck over in their end 1:11 into the third period and Jeff Halpern buried the puck behind goalie Tomas Vokoun. Despite several good scoring chances in the remaining 18 minutes, the Panthers couldn’t get the puck past 21-year-old rookie Karri Ramo, who stopped 34 shots. The Lightning added an empty net goal with 52 seconds remaining.
“I take blame for the goal,” said Olli Jokinen, one the ice for the Lightning’s game winner. “If there’s someone to blame, I take the blame.”
GM and coach Jacques Martin indicated there was plenty of blame to go around.
“Some people weren’t good enough, that’s the bottom line,” Martin said. “The Stephen Weiss line produced nine scoring chances. Other people have to pull their weight. It’s very disappointing because I know some people care and gave us a strong game. But you need to have everyone going when it comes to games like that.
“We weren’t able to generate enough offense. It’s a tough one. That’s the reality.”
-Goaltender Tomas Vokoun
Stat of the Game
The Panthers penalty kill continued it's hot play of late, killing off two Tampa Bay power play attempts. The penalty kill units have killed off 16 straight power play attempts (4+ games) by the opposition dating back to the game against the New York Rangers on March 14th.
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1. Jeff Halpern
2. Michel Ouellet
3. Karri Ramo
“We just had one line going. You need to have more than one line to win a hockey game. You look at (the Lightning) and they had the (Vinny) Lecavalier and Halpern’s line that made the difference.”
Despite facing Ramo, who allowed six goals in the third period in his last start, the Panthers couldn’t sustain any kind of pressure in the Lightning zone early on and had only three shots on Ramo through the first 17 minutes of the game. Ramo was also fortunate early on when Nathan Horton hit the post just a minute into the game.
Still, the Lightning came out and dictated the play in the opening 20 minutes. They bottled the Panthers up in their own zone and that led to the Lightning’s first goal just three minutes into the game by Michel Ouellet.
“It’s not acceptable this time of year to be hemmed in your own zone for so long,” said defenseman Bryan Allen. “For whatever reason, they came out and dictated the pace and took advantage of us.”
The Panthers, outshot 11-7 in the first period, outshot the Lightning 16-4 in the second period. After David Booth scored his 21st goal of the season at 2:58 of the second to tie the game, the Panthers seemed to find their game and pressured the Lightning. Midway through the period, the Panthers attacked Ramo, but he made big stops on Horton and Allen.
Vokoun, who kept the game close with a big save on Martin St. Louis in the first period and two on Ouellet in the third period, called the loss “a blow to our run.”
“We weren’t able to generate enough offense,” Vokoun said. “It’s a tough one. That’s the reality.”
Martin said the Panthers lost the game “in the defensive zone in the third period.”
“We gave them a goal,” he added. “They had some chances in the third period you can’t afford. Not with the urgency that we needed.”
The Panthers must regroup now and prepare for Thursday’s game at BankAtlantic Center against Atlanta before closing out their home schedule Saturday against the Capitals.
“There’s nothing we can do,” Martin said. “There’s no sense crying. We have five games left and we have to win all five.”
1 - 0 TBL
1 - 1 Tie