After battling with the defending Stanley Cup Champions for six games, the experienced and stacked Tampa Bay Lightning took out the Florida Panthers. With Andrei Vasilevskiy leading the way, the Lightning were able to shut out the Panthers in Game 6 on Wednesday night. With that, the Tampa Bay lightning move on to the second round of the playoffs for the fifth time in the past seven years. While on the other side of the ice, the Florida Panthers learn precious lessons to carry them into the future. This was the first time we saw the Florida Panthers vs Tampa Bay Lightning in the playoffs, but it surely will not be the last.
Tampa Bay Lightning Shutout Florida in Game 6
With 20/20 hindsight, it was pretty optimistic to believe that the Florida Panthers could deter the defending Cup Champions in a best of seven. Yet, no matter the outcome, we knew the Panthers wouldn’t go down without a fight. Able to claw their way to a three-to-two series deficit, Florida proved that this team is more than capable of building a contender. Even though they ran headfirst into Goliath, hoping for the best. The Florida Panthers have begun the long and tedious process of becoming Stanley Cup Champions. Even Captain Aleksander Barkov said it himself.
“It was a different year. I’ve been saying all year that that is was a new start for me, for everyone in this organization. This is how we felt and how we played.”
Despite the resurgence across all of Florida Panther nation; The team lacked the experience to make a difference in this series. As mentioned in a previous article, the process of winning the Stanley Cup is long and tedious. The Lightning had to fail multiple times to succeed finally. Nonetheless, the true story of the series was how dominant Vasilevskiy played for Tampa Bay.
Closing out the series, Vasilveskiy was precisely what you expected. With a .929 save percentage and 2.64 goals against average, ‘Vasy’ finds himself within the top five for playoff goalies in save percentage. At the same time, the Panthers threw everything they had at him. No, literally. The Panthers outshot Tampa Bay 227 to 187 throughout the six games of the series. Showing their instate rivals what a goalie that is worth ten million dollars plays like. Now that Tampa Bay has a full and healthy roster, they all have their sights set on a repeat.
Tampa Bay Power-play Becomes Difference Maker
With that, the true difference-maker during this series was Tampa Bay’s power-play. During the Florida Panthers vs Tampa Bay Lightning series, the Bolts finished with an astonishing 40 percent completion rate on the power-play. One could argue that Tampa Bay was cheating with their “salary cap gymnastics,” but at the end of the day, you have to beat the team in front of you no matter what.
Bringing Nikita Kucherov back from the injured reserve list right at the start of playoffs, Tampa found their second wind. With two power-play goals in the second period of Game 1, it was as if he had been playing all season long. Finishing the series with three goals and 11 points and leading all of the playoffs. The resurgence of Kucherov is bound to take this team back to the Stanley Cup Finals.
On top of that, the rest of the Tampa bay lightning pulled their weight as well. 15 of the 20 possible skaters registered a point during this series. While Kucherov was at the front of it all, veterans Victor Hedman, Steven Stamkos, and Alex Killorn were all right behind him. While Brayden Point also made sure to chip in. With all five of these guys, the reason Tampa’s power-play has been so successful and why they are moving on.
The Growing Pains Begin for the Florida Panthers
After a hard-fought series, the Florida Panthers and their fans should be ecstatic for the future. With a young and talented roster, the Panthers have begun the long process of becoming a Stanley Cup Champion. Rounding out the season at fourth in points with 79, the Panthers legitimately have never been this good. Sure, the 1996 Panthers went further, but we all know who would win if those two teams played today. But that’s for another time.
Moving along, the 2020-21 Florida Panthers were simply incredible all around. Following this team from day one this season, you could tell that something was different. The team that Bill Zito constructed could be looked at as a “land of misfit toys.” But in all reality, Zito simply composed a team that was meant to be together. Whether it was the Selke-like season for Barkov or the quiet but deadly season by Jonathan Huberdeau. This team grew leaps and bounds. Carter Verhaeghe, Anthony Duclair, and Sam Bennett all found themselves a new home. And the best part of it all, the Panthers’ future star Spencer Knight played well above advertised. Despite heading home sooner than they would have wanted. This Panther team should be proud of what they did this year.
Looking towards the future, the Tampa Bay Lightning wait for the winner of Nashville vs. Carolina. At the same time, many expected Carolina to have no issues with the Predators. Yet, the series is headed for a Game 6, and as we all know, anything can happen in playoffs. But, no matter who wins that series, their actual test begins when the line-up against Tampa Bay.