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TAMPA — Come Monday night, the Panthers could be packing their bags for a Game 6 back at Amalie Arena or packing their bags for the offseason.
The franchise, which hasn’t won a playoffs series since 1995-96, will play for its playoff life against the Lightning in a potential elimination game on home ice Monday at 8 p.m. in Sunrise.
“I think any time you get behind in the playoffs, you need a short memory,” said defenseman Anton Stralman, a former Lightning player. “You put this game behind you and you go out to the next one. This series is not over, obviously.”
To claim the first-round series, Florida will need to win out. Stralman said the team can’t look too far behind or ahead.
“We’re believing,” he said. “You get behind in a series, you’re leading a series. It doesn’t matter. It’s always the next game. And that’s our mindset. We can’t win three in a row right away, we just have to win the next one.”
Even forward Sam Bennett, who came over to the Panthers in a late April trade from Calgary, said he has “all the faith in the world” that his team can overcome the challenge Monday night presents.
“It’s a heck of a hockey team,” Bennett said. “My belief is as high as it was at the beginning of the series.”
History isn’t on the Panthers’ side. Only 29 times has an NHL team overcome a 3-1 deficit, most recently accomplished by the San Jose Sharks in 2019 against the Vegas Golden Knights. After winning Game 1, the Sharks lost the next three before eventually winning the first-round series 4-3.
“It’s a situation where we can’t show any frustration,” coach Joel Quenneville said Sunday. “(We) have to be excited about the opportunity. You can’t think of anything further but one opportunity tomorrow.”
And with luck, the increased home crowd capacity for the BB&T Center (to 75 percent or about 15,000) will be of some assistance.
With the exception of Saturday’s 6-2 outcome, the games have been decided by a goal or two (Game 2 ended with an empty-netter for a 3-1 Lightning win).
Florida may need to find more consistency in net. Sergei Bobrovsky and Chris Driedger have rotated spots mid-game twice. In Game 3, Quenneville pulled Driedger after he gave up five goals to the Lightning in the second period. In Game 4, Quenneville pulled Bobrovsky in the second period after Tampa Bay took a 5-1 lead.
At Sunday’s practice, Quenneville had rookie Spencer Knight in the starter’s net with Bobrovsky and Driedger sharing the other. He said he’ll announce his starter Monday.
Knight, who went 4-0 in the regular season for the Panthers, has been a healthy scratch throughout the series. The 20-year-old averaged 2.32 goals against and registered a .919 save percentage.
“I think that goaltending in the series, I think everybody has had some good and bad,” Quenneville said. “And with Spencer, I think he gives you an option for something to consider. I think his track record earned him that consideration.”
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