On Sunday night, the Tampa Bay Lightning fell into a big hole against the New Jersey Devils. The game was scoreless through on period, but in the second period, the Lightning committed multiple penalties and allowed the Devils to score three goals: two power play goals and one shorthanded. The Bolts tried like heck to pull things together in the third period, but they came up short, scoring two goals before allowing a cheap empty netter on a bad bounce. The Lightning couldn't quite stage a comeback.â†µ
On Monday night, a similar scene started to unfold down in Miami. The Florida Panthers fell behind early to the New Jersey Devils, allowing three goals in the first period, and it would have been too easy for them to simply fall apart at that point. Three goals is a tough deficit to overcome, and the Panthers had only come back from that far down once before in franchise history.â†µ
But the Panthers did something the Lightning didn't: play three hard-fought periods. While the Lightning couldn't pull themselves together until the third period of their game against the Devils, the Panthers started down the road to a comeback quickly. They took control of the game after the first period, out-shooting the Devils 26 to 12 over the final two periods. They only committed four penalties all game, and they managed to kill off every power play. They scored two goals in the second period, tied the game up with 10 minutes remaining, and then sunk the winning goal with two minutes left in regulation.â†µ
The Lightning and Panthers face off this upcoming weekend in a home and home showdown, and there's more than just pride on the line. The Panthers are currently the best team in the Southeast Division (11-6-3, 25 points), and in the entire Eastern Conference, only Pittsburgh has been better (12-6-3, 27 points). They have a +9 G/GA differential, while the Lightning are at a disappointing -6 differential and sit five points behind the Cats in the standings (9-8-2, 20 points).â†µ
It's still early in the season and the Lightning have a deeper roster than the Panthers do, but it might be time fans started treating the Panthers are more than just a fluke. After beating the Penguins and then staging a historic comeback in back to back games, they deserve some respect.â†µ
The Lightning better show up ready to play this weekend, because if not, they may find themselves in a new situation: looking up at the Panthers as they widen their lead in the standings.