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Dave Hyde: Tampa Bay takes Game 4, but Panthers return home in control of series

Paul Maurice has been around long enough to understand more about some things, like the sorry side of human nature, than he understands about other things, like exactly why the outside conversation changes so dramatically each game in a playoff series.

“The shift outside the room is always far greater than the shift inside the room,’’ the Panthers coach said.

Tampa Bay just staved off summer by beating the Panthers 6-3 in Game 4 of their best-of-seven series. The reasons: Tampa Bay played desperate from the start, the Panthers took too many penalties, future Hall of Famer Steven Stamkos got his fourth and fifth goals of the series — or perhaps something more fundamentally simple.

Maybe it’s hard to sweep a proud team in a series.

“We did what we needed to do at home,’’ Maurice said. “We won the first two games and then we did what we needed to do on the road. We split. We got Game 3 and man, you wanted to win that fourth one, but that’s a pretty good team over there, and they got the fourth one.”

No win. But no worry just yet, either. The Panthers remain up 3-1 in the series. They know they’re a good team. They’re coming home for Game 5 Monday night and …

“No, I’m staying right here in this room,’’ Maurice said from Tampa’s Amelie Arena.

His face stayed comic deadpan.

“I’m going to get down to 185 pounds, and then I’m going to go home. It’ll take me about 10 minutes based on what’s going on now.”

Do you see how perspective is worn? How he assures a team up 3-1 in the series doesn’t go rubber-necking its Game 4 loss? How he even jokes after it so a team known for its joking can stay loose?

It doesn’t take deep thinking to solve this series. In the first three games of this series, the Panthers scored first, stayed out of the penalty box for the most part and kept their forecheck on high. It won all three.

On Saturday, the Lightning came out with the desperate look of a team facing summer, the Panthers took two early penalties, Stamkos scored on one of them on the way to a 3-0 first period.

“We came out with a fire and we got rewarded,’’ said Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman, who had three assists.

That’s the nature of the playoffs, and the subtle swings of human nature in any series. Tampa Bay didn’t just re-order its motivation for Saturday. It re-mapped its plan. It shifted some lines, began initiating hits in new ways.

Three Lightning players, for instance, closed midway through the first period around Panthers star Aleksander Barkov, who like most high talents is a career agnostic about fighting. But with three Lightning players punching him, Barkov pushed back.

The postseason refereeing clause of even-steven in such scrums meant Barkov and Tampa Bay’s Nicholas Paul went to the penalty box. That made it four-on-four play. Advantage, Tampa Bay, as everyone understands.

It’s simple, again: Five-on-five, Tampa Bay struggles. Anything else, they’re good. In this stretch, Brayden Point wrapped the puck around the goal into the Panthers net to make it 3-0.

“We’ve just got to play a little smarter — we don’t want to be in the box at all,’’ Barkov said.

The Panthers returned to being the Panthers in the second period, scoring three goals, making it 4-3 entering the third period and showing one bad period doesn’t really change much in a series. Just one game.

One night.

One conversational swing outside the locker room.

“We’re going to fool around with some things, fire ourselves up, and I think the intensity continues to grow and we’ll get faster and faster as we go,’’ Maurice said.

Oh, and one more thing.

“We’ll enjoy the hell out of it,’’ he said.

That’s the subtle way to manage being up 3-1 in this series. Oh, he can remind his players it’s a 7 p.m. start Monday in Sunrise, just to be sure they don’t wait until the second period to begin this time.

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