Panthers crushed 6-2 by Lightning in Game 4, trail 3-1 in series

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The first three games were a battle. Game 4 was a one-sided mauling.

Behind four points each from Nikita Kucherov and Alex Killorn, the Florida Panthers were crushed 6-2 by the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday afternoon at Amalie Arena.

After Thursday’s Game 3 dramatics to assure the Panthers would return to Sunrise for a Game 5, Florida will now be facing elimination on Monday night at BB&T Center, down 3-1 in the best-of-seven first-round series against the in-state rival and defending Stanley Cup champions.

“The outcome wasn’t what we looked for,” Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. “We started chasing the game. We’re working. We were doing a lot of good things.

“We’re going back home and taking Monday as one game. Don’t look at anything bigger than that, get some excitement out of that.”

Added forward Sam Bennett: “You’ve just got to move on. It’s a quick turnaround. We’ve got a chance to play on home ice and win on home ice. That’s all we can do.”

Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, back in net after earning the Game 3 win in relief, gave up five goals on just 14 Lightning shots. He was pulled in the second period for Chris Driedger, who had 11 saves on 12 shots on goal.

Florida was dumped despite outshooting Tampa Bay 41-26. Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy finished with 39 saves.

Killorn scored two goals and had two assists. Kucherov, the former NHL MVP, had three assists and tacked on a late goal.

The Lightning led 3-1 at the first intermission, despite the Panthers holding a 15-7 advantage in shots on goal.

Three minutes into the action, Anthony Cirelli scored first on a breakaway goal while the teams were in a 4-on-4 and Aleksander Barkov was skating to the bench for a line change with no one immediately entering to replace him. With three Panthers on the ice, Cirelli was sprung by a pass from Killorn. It was the Lightning’s first shot on goal in Game 4.

“We’ve got to find a way to eliminate those [chances],” said Barkov. “Go home, play in front of our own fans, get excited and play the right way for 60 minutes.”

Roughly four minutes later, Yanni Gourde, screening Bobrovsky, scored on a redirection that Kucherov fired his way from the blue line.

Shortly thereafter, it was Gourde’s unsportsmanlike penalty drawn by Jonathan Huberdeau that led to Huberdeau’s power-play goal in which he blasted a rebound past Vasilevskiy. Patric Hornqvist and Sam Bennett had assists as the Panthers went to the five-forward power play they had success with in Game 3.

The Lightning went back up two goals on another deflection — this time, Ondrej Palat tipping the puck in as Erik Cernak shot it toward the net.

Tampa Bay added to its lead in the second period behind two Killorn goals. First, he tapped in a feed from Kucherov on a power play, and then Steven Stamkos found him in the slot from behind the net for the goal that put the Lightning up 5-1 and led Quenneville to pull Bobrovsky.

Florida got one back late in the period when former Lightning forward Carter Verhaeghe snuck a backhand underneath the crossbar on a power play.

In the third, Kucherov scored to get himself a goal to go with his three earlier assists. He later went down after Panthers winger Anthony Duclair slashed him in the knee/leg area. Multiple skirmishes broke out in the final minutes.

The series returns to Sunrise for an 8 p.m. puck drop on Monday night at BB&T Center for Game 5.

“We want to go home and play our best game in front of our fans, give them something to cheer for,” said veteran defenseman Anton Stralman. “This series is not over, obviously. We’re looking forward to coming back home.”