The Tampa Bay Lightning vs Florida Panthers looked like a matchup everyone would enjoy. Two white-hot teams that are in-state, division rivals meeting in the playoffs? One the defending two-time Stanley Cup champions, the other a President’s Trophy winner? How will this not be the most entertaining series to date? After three games, the Lightning hold a 3-0 series lead and have the Panthers on the brink of elimination. A bit anti-climactic, one might say.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs Florida Panthers Series Analysis
Special Teams Have Been Brutal for Florida
How a team does on the power play and penalty kill can make or break their playoff hopes. Florida was finally able to notch a power-play goal in Game 3, their first of the postseason. That was after going 0/25 through their first eight playoff games. The Panthers have a 3.5 power-play percentage, going 1/28. That is brutally underachieving, and it’s costing the Panthers dearly. They’ve been able to kill 9/13 penalties, going 69.2% on the penalty kill. Florida has struggled to create prime scoring chances with the lack of sustained pressure. If Florida wants to salvage this series, they need to improve their power play immediately.
Another problem for the Panthers has been the number of penalties they’ve taken. Taking an average of 4.3 penalties per game is constantly adding pressure. With the power play being as stagnant as it’s been, Florida can’t afford to keep going shorthanded. Even if Tampa doesn’t score on, it keeps the Panthers pinned down in their own zone. Florida needs to play more disciplined in order to keep the pressure off Bobrovsky.
Andrei Vasilevskiy Has Returned
In the series preview, we talked about how goaltending could be the deciding factor in this series. For Tampa, Andrei Vasilevskiy has been fantastic in this series. He had a rough first round, excluding a masterful Game 7 performance. Against one of the best offences in hockey, Vasilevskiy has been just what the Bolts needed. Sporting a .971 save percentage through three games, he’s been able to shut down the potent Florida offence. The Bolts have also done a good job at not letting Vasilevskiy face too much pressure. This is what the Lightning need to continue towards their three-peat goal.
Florida Needs to Step up on Offense
Another big problem for the Panthers has been the offensive struggles. Through three games, the Panthers have allowed 3.7 goals per game, while only scoring 1 goal per game. That is nowhere near enough to keep pace with the Lightning. This is another result of the poor special teams play, as it keeps Florida from settling into a rhythm. Florida was known for their ability to come back from any deficit during the regular season. They were able to keep that style up during their First Round series against Washington. But that style of play doesn’t work against Tampa Bay. To beat the Lightning, consistent offensive pressure and the ability to score quickly is vital. The Toronto Maple Leafs were able to keep pace with the Bolts on offence while Florida has sputtered. The big guns will need to show up in order for Florida to mount any kind of comeback.
Can Florida Do the Impossible?
The Panthers now stare down the barrel of elimination. They will have to climb their highest mountain yet to advance. The last team to accomplish a reverse sweep was the 2013-14 Los Angeles Kings, doing so in the first round against San Jose. But the Panthers aren’t trying to overcome a First Round deficit. They have to do this against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions. A team that’s been their boogeyman and the ultimate roadblock to championship glory. Is it possible? Yes, but very unlikely. This series may not be finished just yet, but unless Florida finds some comeback magic, it sure feels like it.
Embed from Getty Images