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Defending Stanley Cup Lightning Top Panthers Game 1 champion

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — The Tampa Bay Lightning won the first two games of their playoff series with the Florida Panthers last year on the road.

You’re halfway to a repeat performance.

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare got the go-ahead early in the third period, Andrei Vasilevskiy made 34 saves and the Lightning beat the Panthers 4-1 in Game 1 of an Eastern Conference semifinals series on Tuesday night.

In Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper’s estimation, Vasilevskiy was the story.

“Look at the saves he’s making at the times we need them,” Cooper said. “To me that’s what great goalies do and they give you a chance to win a hockey game and that’s what our guy did again tonight.”

Nikita Kucherov and Corey Perry each had a goal and an assist, and Ross Colton also scored for the two-time Stanley Cup champion who went 1-0 up against his state rival for the second straight season.

Again and again Vasilevskiy Florida slammed the door. In his last three games — all wins, including Game 7 in Toronto on Sunday — he has stopped 94 of 99 shots.

Corey Perry is bullied by his teammates after scoring in the Lightnings' 4-1 Game 1 win over the Panthers.
Corey Perry is bullied by his teammates after scoring in the Lightnings’ 4-1 Game 1 win over the Panthers.
NHLI via Getty Images

“He puts in 100 percent in every single game and everyone is just trying to put their energy into your game,” said Kucherov. “He’s a leader… he’s our best player.”

Anthony Duclair scored the goal for Florida, who won the Presidents’ Trophy and made 32 saves from Sergei Bobrovsky. Including the qualifying round that took place when the NHL restarted during the pandemic in 2020, Florida has lost seven straight games — a streak dating back to 1997.

Game 2 is Thursday night.

“They’re too good a team, an experienced team, and they’re not going to open the door for you,” Florida interim coach Andrew Brunette said. “We had our chances. On to the next game.”

Duclair, a 31-goal scorer, was scraped by Florida for his series win in Washington, but he was back Tuesday and put his team ahead by scoring after a Jonathan Huberdeau pass at 2:01 of the first goal.

Duclair’s goal came after the Panthers conceded two early penalties – one by MacKenzie Weegar and the others by Duclair – as special teams became a factor in the game.

Florida went 0-18 on the power play in the series win over the Capitals and went scoreless on three more attempts on Tuesday. But Tampa Bay conceded three of his six chances.

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare celebrates after scoring the go-ahead goal in leg three of Lightning's Game 1 victory.
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare celebrates after scoring the go-ahead goal in leg three of Lightning’s Game 1 victory.
NHLI via Getty Images

“Part of our game plan was to stay out of the box,” Duclair said. “Their power play was deadly.”

After getting hooked by Weegar, Kucherov went right around Florida defenseman Aaron Ekblad and fed Perry for a tap-in goal at 16:22 of the second period.

Bellemare’s goal came 3:35 of the third half and gave Tampa Bay their first lead of the game — and the Lightning kept it the rest of the way. The Lightning won a faceoff in the Florida Zone and Perry made a quick shot from the slot that Bobrovsky stopped, but the rebound splashed straight to Bellemare.

He beat Bobrovsky to the glove side for a 2-1 lead.

For a moment, it seemed like Florida had ended their long power play drought and equalized when Duclair scored a loose puck. Tampa Bay challenged, saying the puck went off the net and was therefore out of play. Video review confirmed this and the Lightning continued to lead 2-1.

“We knew straight away that our coaching staff told us straight away it wasn’t going to be a goal,” Duclair said. “So turn the page and get on with it.”

But it was the last hurray for Florida. Tampa Bay undoubtedly went late, with Kucherov and Colton each scoring power play evaluations in the final 4:06 to end the game.

https://nypost.com/2022/05/17/defending-stanley-cup-champion-lightning-top-panthers-in-game-1/ Defending Stanley Cup Lightning Top Panthers Game 1 champion

JOE HERNANDEZ

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