Reigning champs draw on experience in Stanley Cup playoffs

Sports

Florida Panthers defenseman Gustav Forsling (42) celebrates his goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning with defenseman Brandon Montour (62) during the third period in Game 3 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series Thursday, May 20, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

Postseason experience can be a valuable asset in the NHL playoffs. The Tampa Bay Lightning have plenty, and they think it’s going to help them moving forward in their first-round series against the Florida Panthers.

The reigning Stanley Cup champions let third-period leads slip away in two of the first three games against the Panthers, who won 6-5 in overtime Thursday night after falling behind 5-3 late in the second.

No team has been better this season at putting opponents away when leading after two periods. Including the playoffs, Tampa Bay was 28-0 before Florida rallied to cut the Lightning’s advantage to 2-1 heading into Game 4 (12:30 p.m. EDT, CNBC) of the best-of-seven series on Saturday in Tampa, Florida.

“You just don’t throw experience on the ice and experience wins the game. You still have to play the game,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.

“We’ve had 2-1 leads before in playoff series and know how to deal with that,” Cooper added. “It’s a different opponent, but we know how.”

The Lightning also surrendered a third-period lead in Game 1, eventually falling behind 4-3 before scoring twice over the final 13 minutes.

The Panthers haven’t won a playoff series in 25 years, but they’re confident about their chances.

“I think Game 1 could have went either way, so we were close in all the games,” Florida’s Jonathan Huberdeau said. “We know we can beat them. It’s a matter of sticking to our game plan and do it for 60 minutes.”

The Lightning plan to stay the course, too.

“No one’s worried in our locker room. We know they’re a good team. There’s certain things we can we can do better when we get that lead in the third period. … That’s part of growing,” forward Alex Killorn said.

A look at other games on Saturday:

PENGUINS at ISLANDERS, Penguins lead series 2-1 (3 p.m. EDT, NBC)

The Penguins have been successful in stopping the Islanders from building much momentum. In New York’s Game 1 win, it played with the lead for a total of 3:43. The Islanders scored the first goal and the Penguins tied it 3 minutes later. After New York took a 3-2 lead, the Penguins tied it 30 seconds later, before the Islanders pulled it out in overtime.

Pittsburgh scored the first two goals in Game 2 and held on for a 2-1 win.

The Islanders never led in Game 3, But each time they tied the score, the Penguins quickly responded to go back in front.

“It’s the playoffs and everyone’s bringing their A game,” Pittsburgh’s Jeff Carter said. “There’s a lot of physicality, a lot of scrums. It’s just a matter of trying to stick to your game plan as much as you can. There’s going to be ups and downs, you’re going to get scored on, you’re going to score goals. It’s kind of putting it behind you as quick as you can and getting back on the horse.”

CANADIENS at MAPLE LEAFS, Montreal leads series 1-0 (7 p.m. EDT, CNBC)

Maples Leafs captain John Tavares is sidelined indefinitely after colliding with Montreal’s Ben Chiarot and being hit in the head by Corey Perry’s knee as he fell to the ice during Toronto’s 2-1 loss in the series opener.

Coach Sheldon Keefe said Tavares, who was released from the hospital on Friday, had a concussion.

“Happy to know that everything’s looking on the ups, but definitely a moment where you know your mind races a little bit,” Maple Leafs forward Jason Spezza said. “You think about his family and then having to watch that. Just seeing your buddy on the ice like that is a scary moment.”

GOLDEN KNIGHTS at WILD, Golden Knights lead series 2-1 (8 p.m. EDT, NBC)

The Golden Knights, who won five of eight playoff series over the franchise’s first three seasons, are in front in another postseason matchup after scoring five unanswered goals to overtake the Wild during the second half of Game 3. That the Golden Knights have gotten this far without leading scorer Max Pacioretty, who has missed the last three weeks due to an undisclosed injury and could return at some point during the series, is hardly a surprise to coach Pete DeBoer.

They have played short-handed due to salary-cap restrictions, had five games postponed for COVID-19 and endured their share of injuries during the truncated regular season. Pacioretty had 24 goals in 48 games.

“Our response has been the same response this group’s had all year to whatever adversity we’ve had,” DeBoer said. “That’s a big hole for us. You take anyone’s leading goal scorer out of that lineup, and it changes the identity of that team.”

Captain Mark Stone had the first and last goals of the 5-2 victory on Thursday, both sparking and capping the comeback.

“He’s a great leader off the ice. But I think his biggest asset is on the ice and what he’s able to do,” said Reilly Smith, who got the go-ahead goal in the second period. “He scores that goal early for us and the one late to ice the game. That’s what you need from your best players.”

The Golden Knights were also eager to end their frustrating streak of eight games at Xcel Energy Center without a regulation win. The Wild, who lost right wing Marcus Johansson to a broken arm in Game 3, fell to 2-9 on their home ice in the playoffs since the last time they advanced in 2015.

“I think there definitely is a piece of the pressure that home teams put on themselves to win those games,” DeBoer said. “I think it’s easy to play on the road. I think this year it’s even easier because you’re not going into really hostile environments with 20,000 people in the stands.”

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AP Sports Writers Vin A. Cherwoo and Dave Campbell contributed.

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