The latest on Florida Panthers’ Sam Bennett ahead of Game 3 vs Tampa Bay Lightning

The Florida Panthers were without second-line center Sam Bennett down the stretch of their 3-2 overtime win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday after taking a puck to the hand/wrist in the second period.

And now they’re bracing to be without him for at least the near future.

Panthers coach Paul Maurice on Wednesday said Bennett will not play in Game 3 against the Lightning on Thursday (7 p.m., TBS and Bally Sports Florida) and will be out for at least a week.

“We came to the rink fearing that it could be something more sinister and longer term and got great news,” Maurice said. “It’s kind of like you get a phone call that says your car has just been in a car accident and then you find out it’s just a little bit of a fender bender. You’re OK with that. ... It’s all relative.”

Bennett, who scored the Panthers’ first goal of the game and assisted on the second on Tuesday, left the ice about five minutes into the second period after a Brandon Montour slap shot hit him in the left hand/wrist. Bennett immediately dropped his stick before heading to the bench and down the tunnel to the dressing room. He did not return after that.

“He was rolling,” Maurice said postgame Tuesday.

With Bennett out, the Panthers have to figure out at least in the short term how to make up for the multiple roles that he fills.

First and foremost is who takes over his spot as the center on the second line. Maurice moved Anton Lundell up to the second line to center wingers Carter Verhaeghe and Matthew Tkachuk. The three were on the ice together in overtime and ultimately created the game-winning play.

As Tampa Bay’s Emil Lilleberg tried to clear the puck from the Lightning’s defensive zone, Tkachuk gathered the puck and pushed it toward Lundell in the slot. Lundell, with four Tampa Bay skaters surrounding him, then got the puck to Verhaeghe near the goal front. Verhaeghe moved across the crease and beat Andrei Vasilevskiy top shelf to end the game and give Florida a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series.

If Lundell does move up to the second line, Kevin Stenlund likely moves up to third-line center with Eetu Luostarinen and Evan Rodrigues. That puts Steven Lorentz in place to center the fourth line with Nick Cousins and Ryan Lomberg on the wings.

The Panthers will also need to fill Bennett’s spot on the second power-play unit. Bennett is normally out there with Lundell, Vlaidimir Tarasenko, Rodrigues and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Luostarinen took Bennett’s spot on that power-play unit in the second half of Tuesday’s game.

And then there’s just the matter of Bennett’s physicality and tenacity. In addition to logging 41 points (20 goals, 21 assists), Bennett was second among Panthers forwards in the regular season with 173 hits and also blocked 43 shots.

The one relative bright side: The Panthers have been through this before. Bennett missed 13 games during the regular season with various injuries and they have the depth to offset the loss.

This and that

The Panthers have now won 11 consecutive overtime playoff games dating back to Lomberg’s Round 1, Game 3 winner at Tampa Bay in 2021. Florida improved its all-time playoff overtime record to 13-8. The Panthers’ streak of 11 consecutive playoff overtime wins is second only to the Montreal Canadiens’ streak of 14 consecutive overtime wins from 1993-1998.

Tarasenko’s power-play goal in the first period was his 45th career playoff goal in 99 postseason games played. According to NHL stats, the only active players with as many goals before their 100th career playoff game are Alex Ovechkin (48) and Nathan MacKinnon (45).

The Panthers’ 65 hits on Tuesday were the most in one playoff game in franchise history. Florida has logged 121 combined hits in the first two games of the series.

Verhaeghe has logged three points (two goals, one assist) through the first two games of the Lightning series. His 17 playoff goals are the most in club history, and his 35 playoff points as a Panther are second most in franchise history.

The Panthers have held the Lightning to just 42 shots on goal through two games in the series.