Lightning defeat Panthers in Game 3, on verge of second-round sweep

TAMPA — The Tampa Bay Lightning moved within a game of the Florida Panthers in the second round of the Eastern Conference with a 5-1 win in Game 3 at the Amalie Arena on Sunday.

Tampa Bay leads best-of-7 series 3-0. Game 4 is here Monday. Teams leading 3-0 in a best-of-7 Stanley Cup playoff series are 197-4 (.980), including 1-0 in the first round this season.

Nikita Kutscherow had one goal and three assists, Steven Stamko hit twice, and Andrei Vasilyevsky made 34 saves for the Lightning, the No. 3 in the Atlantic Division and two-time Stanley Cup champions.

“This time of year is about winning and you have to do what brings wins,” said Stamkos. “It’s not always pretty and it won’t always be the highlights, although there are some, especially with [Kucherov] out there.”

Video: FLA@TBL, Sp3: Stamko’s network construction Kucherov

Sam Reinhart scored for the Panthers, No. 1 in the Atlantic. Sergei Bobrovsky Made 31 saves.

Florida, who have averaged 4.11 goals per game as the NHL best this season, have scored three goals this series.

“The will – they block shots, we don’t really,” Panthers coach Andrew Brunette said. “They handle different situations and I think we managed that well, to be honest. But they just have a little bit more will. If there’s a loose puck, they kind of beat us and she wants it a little bit more.”

[RELATED: Complete Panthers vs. Lightning series coverage]

Corey Perry gave Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead at 13:21 of the first period when he deflected a shot Ryan McDonagh.

Reinhart leveled it 1-1 at 4:07 when he scored the Panthers’ first power play goal of the postseason, a one-timer from the slot after a pass from Jonathan Huberdeau. Florida had played 0:25 in the playoffs.

“It’s hard not to be frustrated,” said Reinhart. “I think there are certain things that we do well but obviously it’s not enough bodies around the net taking advantage of these loose opportunities. It’s certainly frustrating when you’re that close but you don’t end up getting in.”

Video: FLA@TBL, Sp3: Reinhart’s PPG equalizes the Panthers

Cernak gave the Lightning a 2-1 lead at 2:54 of the second period with a shot from the left faceoff circle that beat Bobrovsky at the far post.

“It was a great performance by everyone, all my teammates on the ice,” said Cernak. “We win the face-off and then they find me in the open spot so I just have to pick the corner and luckily she went in.”

Stamkos extended the lead to 3:1 at 10:23 with a one timer from the left circle after a pass from Kucherov.

“It was certainly a big goal for us,” said Stamkos. “[Victor Hedman] makes a great stretch pass to ‘Kuch’ and he makes a good play. It was a big goal. We like it when our game goes into the third with the lead this season.”

Kucherov (16:06) and Stamkos (17:51) each scored a blank goal in the third period to make it 5:1.

“Became [darn] I’m happy with what’s going on here, but you know, we haven’t done anything yet,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “We’ve only won a few games, but the streak isn’t over yet. And until you start ticking off that fourth win, there’s nothing for us to sit and hang our hats on. So we’re getting closer, but it’s far from over.”

Video: FLA@TBL, Gm3: Cernak slides into a great goal

Brunette said the Panthers need to find a way to make more plays and not get frustrated.

“I’m sure they’re obviously disappointed,” said Brunette. “We’re falling behind, they’re a difficult team to come back to. And we kind of fell behind here in this whole series and didn’t find that extra gear from behind that we’ve been finding all year. But you have to play a game to bring it home and keep it alive.”

REMARKS: The Lightning have won five straight playoff games. … Kucherov had his fourth four-pointer game of his career in the Stanley Cup Playoffs — the most among active NHL players. He has seven points (two goals, five assists) in the series. … Kucherov completed his 19th playoff game with three plus points. Only five players in NHL history have more: Wayne Gretzky (59), Mark Messier (30), Jari Kurri (28), Denis Savard (21) and Jaromir Jagr (20). … panther center Alexander Barkov had 12 shot attempts, six of them on target, but was minus-4. … Perry has scored goals in three straight games. … defenders for the Panthers Aaron Ekblad led all skaters in the Ice Age by 25:34. He had nine shot attempts, three on target but was minus 3.

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