Sergei Bobrovsky got the call to start the third period, and everything changed for the Florida Panthers in the game and in the series.
“We’re talking in the coach’s room there that if ‘Bob’ can keep them at zero in the third, we’ve got a chance here,” Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. “He did that. … Great response.”
Bobrovsky made the save on all nine shots he faced, and the Panthers essentially saved their season Thursday, coming back from down two goals in the third period to force overtime and eventually defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning 6-5 on Ryan Lomberg‘s goal at 5:56 in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup First Round at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida.
The Panthers allowed five goals in the second period and looked to be headed for a 3-0 hole in the best-of-7 series, the kind four teams in NHL history have overcome to win. It looked especially daunting against the Lightning, who were 28-0-0 when leading entering the third period in the regular season.
Instead, Bobrovsky regained the net after losing it following a Game 1 loss, and Florida is back in the series, trailing 2-1 with a chance to even it in Game 4 at Tampa Bay on Saturday (12:30 p.m. ET; CNBC, SN, TVAS2, BSSUN, BSFL).
“Look at what could have happened and where we would have been at, and now all of a sudden the picture changes completely in a short amount of time,” Quenneville said. “Hey, we’ve been working our tails off. It’s an unbelievable series. The pace is unbelievable. Keep our composure, let’s be smart about it. That’s a big win. I loved how Bob came in and settled it.”
Bobrovsky relieved Chris Driedger, who allowed five goals on 12 shots in the second period. Driedger replaced Bobrovsky after a 5-4 loss in Game 1 at BB&T Center on Sunday and made 26 saves in a 3-1 loss in Game 2 on Tuesday.
Quenneville went back to Driedger to start Game 3 because he felt he had earned the opportunity. He said it wasn’t an easy decision.
It’s easy for the coach to go back to Bobrovsky to start Game 4.
“You’re on the right track,” Quenneville said.
Bobrovsky said he stayed ready by continuing his preparation as if he were going to play. He had that mindset during the Lightning’s five-goal second period.
“I stay focused and stay ready,” Bobrovsky said. “It’s playoff hockey, everything could happen. You just have to be ready for the guys to work hard and you have to make sure you do your best if you get the chance to get in. Do your job.”
The Panthers’ job now is to figure out how to channel the momentum they created in Game 3 to carry it into Game 4. They surged in the third period because, in part, of how frustrated they were by how they played in the second.
“We were in a good spot after the first period up 2-0 and we do that in the second period,” forward Jonathan Huberdeau said. “We just have to be smarter with decisions, play our game. We had to assess that after the second, not panic, but you don’t want to go down 3-0 in the series, and the guys answered the bell in the third period.”
Lomberg said the goalie change helped change the momentum.
“Bob came in and did what he was capable of and allowed us the opportunity to come back,” he said.
Patric Hornqvist scored a power-play goal at 1:45 to make it 5-4. Gustav Forsling scored on a deflected shot at 16:53 to tie it 5-5.
The Panthers had to kill a cross-checking penalty on Anthony Duclair at 19:37, with 1:37 of it spilling into overtime. At that point, the Lightning were 2-for-2 on the power play in the game and 5-for-9 in the series. They did not get a shot on goal.
“Our mindset was, ‘We’re killing this penalty and after we’re going to win this game,'” Huberdeau said. “That’s what we did.”
The mindset shifts to Game 4, with Bobrovsky in net, the season saved, and hope restored.
“We needed something to feel good about ourselves,” Quenneville said. “I know that we had a great run for the whole year and the alternative of tonight’s result would have put a really ugly damper on the whole year going into the next game. The resiliency that we showed was reflective of what we did all year, finding different ways, some guys being the hero. It’s one game, but certainly it gives us something to get excited about.”