Steven Stamkos scores twice, Lightning avoid elimination with 6-3 victory over Panthers

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Stamkos Scores Twice As Lightning Defeat Panthers
Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) celebrates his goal in front of Florida Panthers center Eetu Luostarinen (27) during the first period in Game 4 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series, Saturday, April 27, 2024, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Steven Stamkos scored his fourth and fifth goals of the series and the Tampa Bay Lightning avoided elimination with a 6-3 victory over the Florida Panthers in Game 4 of the first-round playoff matchup Saturday night.

Game 5 is Monday night at Florida. Only four times in 206 tries has an NHL team rebounded from a 3-0 deficit to win a series.

“The odds aren’t great being down 3-zip,” Stamkos said. “Three-one, they’re a little better. And hopefully next game it’s 3-2 and then they become a little better. That’s how we’re taking it.”

Stamkos opened the scoring during the Lightning’s three-goal first period and helped ease Florida’s sustained pressure during the opening half of the third period with his goal at 9:34 that gave Tampa Bay a 5-3 lead. Nicholas Paul added a goal during a 5-on-3 power-play goal with 3:38 to go.

Brandon Hagel had two goals and an assist, and Brayden Point added a goal and two assists for the Lightning. Andrei Vasilevskiy made 22 saves, with Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman both getting three assists. Kucherov became the fifth NHL player with 10 three-assist games.

Defenseman Mikhail Sergachev was a surprise addition to the Lightning lineup after being out since having surgery on his left leg on Feb. 8 to stabilize a broken tibia and fibula. He had an assist.

“The normal introductions, all the players names there’s cheers,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “It gets to Vasilevskiy, there’s a massive cheer. I could not hear the PA guy say Vasilevskiy’s name. The roar (for Sergachev) just kept going on and so all the guys on the bench got up. It was a stirring moment and I thought we carry that right into the first period.”

Carter Verhaeghe, Sam Reinhart and Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored for Florida. Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 26 shots. The Panthers gave up just one goal during 5-on-5 play, with two coming when both teams had a player in the penalty box.

“There’s always something you can learn from games and we’ll learn 5 on 5 we want to play as much as possible,” Florida center Aleksander Barkov said.

Stamkos, Hagel and Point scored 6:13 apart in the first to make it 3-0. Stamkos scored on a power play, while Hagel had a short-handed goal.

“We were a little bit slow,” Florida coach Paul Maurice said. “And then we had a little problem with some special team stuff and that’s a recipe for a tough one. We need to stay out of the penalty box.”

Verhaeghe cut it to 3-1 at 4:17 into the second.

After Hagel and Reinhart traded goals 1:30 apart midway through the second, Ekman-Larsson pulled Florida to 4-3 with his first playoff goal since Aug. 2, 2020, with 5:27 remaining in the period.

Stamkos became the third Tampa Bay player to reach 100 postseason points and moved past Ondrej Palat (48) into solo possession of second on the franchise list with 50 goals.

Tampa Bay is 8-5 (.615) in potential elimination games, which is the third highest winning percentage (minimum two games) among NHL teams.

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