Lightning and Islanders searching for answers to rebound from 2-0 deficits in NHL playoffs

Updated Apr. 24, 2024 6:03 p.m. ET

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Experience tells the Tampa Bay Lightning it’s time to go to work — not panic.

The New York Islanders are also down 2-0 after playing well at times and losing their first two games of the NHL playoffs on the road.

Both teams understand it’ll take a lot more than a return to home ice Thursday night — the Lightning versus Florida, and the Islanders hosting Carolina —to alter the course of those first-round matchups.

New York blew a three-goal lead in its Game 2 loss to the Hurricanes. Tampa Bay dropped a pair of one-goal games to the Panthers to fall behind 2-0 in a series for the first time since losing Games 1 and 2 of the 2020 Eastern Conference on the road to the New York Rangers.


A late empty-net goal wound up being the difference in Game 1. Carter Verhaeghe’s overtime winner decided Game 2.

“They’re really exciting. You’re on the edge of your seat. There are big saves at both ends of the ice, But in the end, they made the last play. And they’ve done it both nights,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.

“And we can’t hang our hat on: ’Wow, we were close.' That’s what teams that are playing golf right now are saying,” Cooper added. “If we don’t want to be that, we have to be the team that makes the extra play.”

The core of Tampa Bay’s star-studded roster features a slew of holdovers from the teams that won back-to-back Stanley Cup titles in 2020 and 2021.

Two years ago, the Lightning dropped the first two games of the East final before rallying over the Rangers to reach a third consecutive Stanley Cup Final.

“Obviously it’s a big hole, but we have done it before,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said.

Cooper stressed there's only one way to do it. One game at a time.

“We’re not going to win two games (Thursday night). We’ve just got to win one,” Cooper said. “There’s a big difference of down 0-3 and 2-1,” Cooper added. “It’s our job to make sure it’s 2-1.”

PANTHERS at LIGHTNING, Panthers lead 2-0, 7 p.m. ET (TBS)

The Panthers have their first problem of these playoffs.

Sam Bennett, who was fifth on the team in scoring during the regular season and had a goal and an assist before getting hurt in Game 2 of the Panthers’ series with the Tampa Bay Lightning, is out for at least a week with an upper-body injury.

The good news, Panthers coach Paul Maurice said without revealing specifics, is the injury wasn’t as bad as the team first feared. Bennett left the ice after getting struck by a shot from Florida teammate Brandon Montour in the second period of what became a 3-2 OT win that gave the defending Eastern Conference champions a 2-0 series lead.

Bennett was not traveling with the team to Tampa on Wednesday. He’ll be evaluated again next week.

“You want to stay healthy. Every team’s trying to,” Maurice said. “But every team is going to have players come out of the lineup.”

Bennett immediately dropped his stick, appeared to be holding his wrist and skated toward the Panthers’ bench after getting hit with the puck. Once at the bench, he only paused for a second or two before heading down the tunnel toward the Florida locker room for evaluation. He missed 13 games for Florida this season, including 12 of the team’s first 13 contests.

HURRICANES at ISLANDERS, Hurricanes lead 2-0, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

The Islanders will make a switch in net for Game 3, turning to Ilya Sorokin after Semyon Varlamov took the first two losses. Varlamov allowed six goals while facing 63 shots through the two games in Raleigh, with coach Patrick Roy saying it would be good to have a “fresh” goaltender in Sorokin (25-19-0, 3.01 goals-against average, .909 save percentage).

“I just feel that he’s coming in the perfect scenario,” Roy said Wednesday. “We’re down 2-0 in this series, now he’s going in. All he can do is go in and enjoy the ride.”

The Islanders had chances to win both of the road games to start this series, notably by blowing a 3-0 lead in Monday’s 5-3 loss in Game 2. Carolina scored the tying and winning goals nine seconds apart late in the third period, though Roy was more disappointed by the first loss that saw New York play closer to its preferred game.

To his point, the Hurricanes dominated Game 2 after falling into their big hole with long and often withering shifts in the offensive zone. By the end, Carolina had taken a 39-12 shot advantage – including 17-1 in the third period – while finishing with a 110-28 edge in shots attempted.

Islanders center Bo Horvat said they must do a better job of managing the puck and breaking out cleaner for transition chances after getting hemmed in for long stretches by the Hurricanes’ aggressive forecheck.

“We’re in good spirits here regardless of the score,” center Mathew Barzal said. “We’re taking this day by day and we’re enjoying the moment. We’ve got a chance now at an epic comeback.”

On the other side, Carolina won’t have veteran defenseman Brett Pesce, who left in the second period of Game 2 with a non-contact lower-body injury. Coach Rod Brind’Amour said Pesce is “more than likely” out for the series. That likely will move offensive-minded blue-liner Tony DeAngelo into the Carolina lineup, with him working in a pairing with Brady Skjei at Wednesday’s practice.


AP Sports Writers Tim Reynolds in Miami and Aaron Beard in Raleigh, N.C., contributed to this report.


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