Tampa Bay Lightning sweep Florida Panthers in Eastern Conference semi-finals
Make no mistake the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions Tampa Bay Lightning are hungry for a third.
After surviving a first round playoff scare against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay, made a strong statement by completing a four game Eastern Conference semi-finals sweep against the Presidents’ Trophy winners Florida Panthers.
The Panthers, who finished with 122 points, made some key trade deadline additions in acquiring veteran forward Claude Giroux, along with defenceman Robert Hagg and Ben Chiarot knowing that to win the cup they would more than likely have to go through the Lightning.
Florida, who last year in first round action were eliminated in six by Tampa Bay felt confident heading into what would be the second ever playoff series between these two Sunshine State rivals.
This time around Florida were facing a Lightning team coming off a taxing seven game first round series win against Toronto and who lost key forward Brayden Point.
Tampa, who had a 110 point season proved once again that you can never count out the back-to-back Stanley Cup champs
Falling victim to the Presidents’ Trophy curse, the Panthers are the fourth team in the past five years to be eliminated in the second round.
Following this shocking sweep, Tampa Bay joined some elite company as they join the Montreal Canadiens and New York Islanders as the only three teams to win 10 straight playoff series.
Currently they are on the verge of accomplishing something really special as they are only eight wins away from becoming the first team since the New York Islanders to win three straight Stanley Cups.
The Islanders won four straight from 1980 to 1983, while the Montreal Canadiens prior the Islanders dynasty, won four straight Stanley Stanley Cups from 1976 until 1980 where they dominated the NHL.
The Eastern Conference semi-finals began in Fort. Lauderdale at FLA Live Arena where in the opener Tampa Bay forwards Nikita Kucherov and Corey Perry led the way with a goal and two points apiece as they defeated Florida by a 4-1 score.
Vasilevskiy was solid as he made 33 saves in getting the win. Meanwhile Panthers netminder Sergei Bobrovsky who is trying to prove that he can be a money goalie, had a 32 save performance.
From that point Tampa Bay continued to roll as they went on to take Game 2 by a 2-1 score followed by a 5-1 win and a series clinching 2-0 Game 4 win to complete the Sunshine State series sweep and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
A major reason why the Lightning completed the four game sweep was the superior play of goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. As every hockey fan knows, a team must have clutch goaltending if they are to win the Stanley Cup and Vasilevskiy was definitely clutch as he made 49 saves on Monday night to hold off the desperate Panthers and earn the shutout.
Game 4 was scoreless after two periods until Tampa got two third period goals from forwards Pat Maroon and with 23 seconds remaining Ondrej Palat into an open net to ice the series sweep.
Since Game 6 of the first round series against the Leafs, Vasilevskiy has gotten better and better as he has won six straight playoff games.
Affectionately known as “Big Cat,” this 27 year-old who is still very much in his prime has already won 57 playoff games which has him ranked 17th on the all-time list in a tie with Turk Broda.
Meanwhile the Panthers, who in first round action needed six games to defeat the Washington Capitals were outscored 13-3 against the Lightning. The Panthers were never shut out this season until Game 4 against Tampa Bay.
As already mentioned, this is the second year in a row that Tampa Bay have come out victorious in a Sunshine State playoff series.
Now it’s time for Tampa Bay to play the waiting game as they wait to see if they will be playing the New York Rangers or Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference finals.
Currently the Hurricanes and Rangers are tied 2-2 in their best of seven series.