SUNRISE — This was not how the final 10 seconds were supposed to look.
This was supposed to be a celebration for the Lightning, a vindication for their hard work. This was supposed to be the end of the first-round series, and the beginning of Tampa Bay’s quest for back-to-back NHL titles.
Instead, the final 10 seconds included a pitiful attempt at a fight and one final indignity in a night full of them.
Pat Maroon tried to take out Noel Acciari after a faceoff with 10 seconds remaining but ended up in a scrum of bodies at center ice in a fitting metaphor for a team that did not go down swinging.
The Lightning lost 4-1 to the Panthers in Game 5 on Monday night with an effort that was even more disappointing than the final score.
“Undisciplined,” team captain Steven Stamkos called it.
“They elevated and we didn’t,” coach Jon Cooper said.
“We’ve got to try to match their intensity,” forward Brayden Point said.
The Lightning had momentum, they had an early lead, they had a 20-year-old goaltender in his first postseason game in the opposite net. And still they managed to give Florida new life in the final 34 minutes of Game 5.
It’s one thing to lose a hockey game, it’s something completely different to lose your way.
Florida had five power plays to Tampa Bay’s two and, for the second consecutive game, Cooper seemed to suggest the disparity was not warranted. But the truth is, the Panthers only scored one power-play goal, and that was on a penalty that was entirely justified when Luke Schenn pulled down Anthony Duclair on a breakaway.
You could argue the penalties robbed the Lightning of momentum and offensive scoring opportunities earlier in the game, but you could also argue that a team with as much experience and talent as Tampa Bay should not be giving up four power plays per game in the postseason. Is it a question of being undisciplined, as Stamkos suggested? Is it emotions in a series that has gotten nasty? Is it just silly plays?
“I don’t know, when you’re taking that many it feels like it’s probably a mixed bag,” Cooper said. “Some were drawing, some were probably being sucked in to plays. The (issue) for us is we have to stop taking penalties at the amount we are, but it would be nice to draw a couple, too. That’d be nice, as well.”
A grand celebration was in their sight. A much-needed respite was theirs for the taking. Just hold, or even build on, that lead for another 33 minutes, and the Lightning would have had a minimum of four days off before the start of the second round.
Instead, the Panthers tied the game midway through the second period after winning a faceoff and then took the lead 10 minutes later when the Lightning defense over-pursued Aleksander Barkov behind the net and left Mason Marchment free in front of the goal.
We didn’t see this last year. When the Lightning took a lead, you could usually count on going to bed happy.
That reliability has been absent in this series. Tampa Bay has blown a lead five different times in the five games, including four times in the second or third period. They blew a lead in the second period or later only six times in 22 games last postseason.
So is this a problem with the defense, or a symptom of Florida’s offensive strength?
More than likely, the credit should go to the Panthers. They were one of the top scoring teams in the league, and their offense is relentless. But it’s a little too convenient to absolve the Lightning of any responsibility.
“We talked about that at intermission. We weren’t coming back and supporting the D. We were standing still a little too much,” Stamkos said. “I think it was self-inflicted a little bit in not using our speed.”
The good news is the Lightning have been here before. They had a chance to close out a series against both New York and Dallas last postseason and lost Game 5 in double overtime on both occasions.
They also came back and clinched the series in Game 6 both times.
So, no, the Lightning will not be nervous. But will they be disciplined?
John Romano can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.
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