Panthers take youthful exuberance into Game 6 vs. Lightning

NHL Hockey

The Florida Panthers just finished keeping their season afloat when coach Joel Quenneville was asked which goalie would start Game 6 of their Stanley Cup first-round playoff series on the road against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night.

“I’m not going to talk about it, but I think we know,” Quenneville said. “I think we all know what’s going on.”

It wasn’t hard to read between the lines and conclude that Quenneville will undoubtedly send rookie goalie Spencer Knight back onto ice for a second consecutive game.

Knight made his postseason debut in Game 5 on Monday night at Sunrise, Fla., and surrendered a goal on the first shot he faced but quickly settled in and made 36 straight saves to help the Panthers to a 4-1 victory.

At 20 years, 35 days, Knight became the second-youngest NHL goaltender to win his postseason debut, trailing only Don Beaupre, who was 19 years, 202 days old when he made his first playoff appearance for the Minnesota North Stars on April 9, 1981.

Tampa Bay still leads the best-of-seven series 3-2, but the performance by Knight and his calm manner has optimism growing for the Panthers.

“It’s kind of a fun confidence that he has,” Quenneville said of Knight. “He’s just one of those guys that’s composed in a lot of ways. Nothing really gets him off kilter. He’s very balanced in his approach to the game.”

Knight, the 13th overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, led the U.S. to a gold medal at the World Juniors last winter before returning to finish his sophomore season at Boston College.

He signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Panthers on March 31 and made his NHL debut on April 20.

Knight won all four of his regular-season starts before he was pegged to start Game 5 after Chris Driedger was injured early in Game 4, and Sergei Bobrovsky gave up five goals on 14 shots in the 6-2 loss, putting Florida on the brink of elimination.

“Timing was everything and he took advantage of an opportunity,” Quenneville said.

The Lightning will try to relocate their offense after getting shut down in Game 5. Tampa Bay had scored at least five goals in three of the first four games in the series.

Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos said the Lightning need to play with more vigor, especially in the corners and in front of the net.

He also said they need to stay out of the penalty box after committing six minor penalties in Game 5, compared to three for the Panthers.

“We talked about it before the game, trying to stay disciplined, and we need to do a better job of that going into the next game,” Stamkos said. “That’s not a recipe against a really good team.”

Stamkos figures it will take another strong start for the Lightning, who have scored first in four of the first five games in the series, and few let-ups the rest of the way.

“That’s a really good hockey team over there,” Stamkos said. “They weren’t going to just roll over and die. It’s two really good hockey teams going at it. We knew it was going to be a tough series from the beginning. We put ourselves in a good position to go home for Game 6 and try to win a series, so there’s no point in dwelling on the past now. We have a 3-2 series lead.”

–Field Level Media

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