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What the Florida Panthers Learnt Heading to Game 2

Following a 3-2 victory in the series opener, the Florida Panthers got a nice sample out of their strategy going into Game 2. Off to a good start, the Cats put on an all-around fantastic performance in Game 1 vs the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Panthers played a physical game, which has become their staple under Head Coach Paul Maurice. However, they did not commit a high number of penalties, as had been the case many times this season. Staying disciplined, while not giving up on their aggressive play style is key against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Florida Panthers Have Some Takeaways From Game 1 to Improve for Game 2

Stay out of the Box and You Control Your Destiny

This was a focal point coming into this playoff series. The stats speak for themselves. And had the stats been on mute, the film would have surely written the captions. Game 2 will be no different. Florida cannot hand out power play opportunities like candy. Limiting Tampa’s excellent PP unit is key. There is only an amount of times a team can hold Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, and Brayden Point from scoring. When they get going they can greatly turn the scale in favour of the Lightning. Florida, despite playing great on the penalty kill during Game 1, does not want to test their luck with the NHL’s #1 PP. If the series comes down to that matchup, then the Panthers chances become slimmer.

Florida’s penalty kill was tested twice in Game 1. Tampa scored on their second opportunity on what was a 6-on-4 PP as Andrei Vasilevskiy made his way to the bench for the extra man. Florida did well when short-handed, however, that is not what was truly remarkable about Sunday’s outing. The Panthers only committed two penalties and thus gave themselves their best shot at winning.

The Cats know that they are truly dangerous when playing 5-on-5 and can withstand not having many PP chances. Tampa, on the other hand, is so effective when on the man-advantage, that they do not feel as confident when playing on even numbers. When the boxes stayed empty, the Cats dominated most parts of the game. As long as they stay that way, the Panthers can be the ones who set the pace.

The Neutral Zone Is Where Tampa Shows Weakness

The Panthers operated excellent on every level of the ice last Sunday. That has to be the standard going forward. Getting the puck out of their own zone with great efficiency, along with well-timed line changes, the Cats did not really suffer much when on the defensive side of the game. On the attack, they managed to forecheck aggressively throughout the 60 minutes. Of course that might wane as the playoff speed and strength start to take a toll on every player.

Most importantly, the neutral zone was where Florida felt most comfortable. Tampa Bay was not given any space to operate in transition and more often than not the Lightning turned the puck over in centre ice. The Panthers focused on playing a hard-nosed style that paid off in Game 1.

Rest assured, Jon Cooper will adjust his game plan come puck-drop for Game 2 on Tuesday. The Panthers will too, but complying with this signature tactic, nevertheless. Maurice has watched the tape from both previous Florida-Tampa Bay series and found the Panthers mostly suffered when on the backcheck. Defending the likes of Kucherov, Point, Anthony Duclair, and Brandon Hagel when in transition can be a nightmare. Somehow, someway the Panthers limited those opportunities and hope to do so in Game 2, as well.

Play in Front of the Net

There are times when a vast number of people believe in one thing and are mistaken. Other times, no matter how annoying they may sound, they are right. Hockey fans yelling: “Shoot!” in every offensive shift, can be the case for both. Put pucks in goal, such a simple concept. How come no one ever thought about it before? Come Stanley Cup Playoffs time and that is one great recipe for success. Maybe not long-term, but it can easily turn the tide on any given game.

Florida seems to be becoming fond of this tactic, and with Sam Reinhart standing on the goalie’s view how can one blame them? Good things tend to happen. And it did, as the Cats opened the scoring in that fashion. It is not always pretty, but when was the last time prettiness won a Stanley Cup?

Tampa had gone the whole first half of the first period without a shot on goal. They had stepped into the Panthers Defensive zone but never managed to send a puck into Sergei Bobrovsky. Their first chance on net was a bank-side shot which offered up a juicy rebound and could have given the Lightning the tying goal. The next time they shot on goal, two rebounds followed and Hagel found the back of the net. Tampa did not discover any secret recipe, just followed a hockey saying as old as the wind. The Cats, however, did discover one stain they should address going forward.

The Panthers strategy on attack did not correlate with their defensive one. They were not putting any defenders in front of their net and thus were allowing free chances on any rebound. Once that was fixed, the Cats controlled the game without many alarms. Of course, Tampa did have a surge during the final frame and the Panthers held it off, thanks to Bob.

Just Getting Started

The Playoffs only began two days ago on Saturday. One game into the series, nothing is definite, whatsoever. The pace will only become faster. Game 2 will be a new game in which everything will be on the line, as in every playoff game. The Panthers learned many things from Game 1. Perhaps one of the biggest lessons was that no matter how calm and collected the team is playing, how many faceoffs are won, or how much time of possession one has. All that matters is the scoreboard. And it can change at any given moment. The Cats played perhaps their best during the first period, but only scored once in it. And in the blink of an eye, Tampa tied it up. Let the foot off the pedal for as short as a second and momentum can switch sides.

Cross-state rivals, Panthers and Lightning, will meet again Tuesday night. Florida has to make the most out of their home-ice advantage, which means taking a 2-0 lead in the series would be huge. For the Florida Panthers in Game 2 the “To Do List” is simple. Play hard, but disciplined. And most importantly, do not let any Tampa superstar get hot. Vasilevskiy has already made his presence felt with great saves, the Panthers cannot risk playing him in his “Superhero” role.

Main photo: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports


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