Panthers' season ends in sweep by Lightning

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TAMPA — The most successful regular season in Florida Panthers history came to an abrupt end Monday night in the Stanley Cup playoffs as the Tampa Bay Lightning finished off the series sweep with a 2-0 win.

After scoring the most goals in a season since 1995-96 (377), the Panthers were held to 0.75 goals per game during their second-round series loss. Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy was a key part of it, stopping 151 of 154 shots throughout the series and capping it off with a 49-save performance to bring the brooms out.

The Panthers were shut out for the first time since their series-ending Game 6 loss to the Lightning in last season’s playoffs.

He was right: Why the Tampa Bay Lightning will beat the Florida Panthers in the Stanley Cup Playoffs

He was wrong: Why the Florida Panthers will beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Playoffs

Florida started Game 4 with some jump, leading 18-3 in shots, but Vasilevskiy consistently had answers. Despite taking an 11-6 lead in scoring chances into the first intermission, Vasilevskiy held Florida off the scoreboard and Tampa Bay limited the Panthers to  two high-danger opportunities while blocking 12 shots in the first period.

Panthers center Joe Thornton (19) consoles goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky (72) after Florida was eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs Monday night by the Lightning in Tampa.
Panthers center Joe Thornton (19) consoles goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky (72) after Florida was eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs Monday night by the Lightning in Tampa.

The second period saw two apparent Lightning goals taken away after officials' reviews decided there should have been play stoppage in both instances.

Tampa Bay looked to have scored on an Alex Killorn deflection with 11:16 to go in the period, but the puck deflected out of play prior to the goal.  Just under two minutes later, Nikita Kucherov appeared to put the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions up 1-0 for real with a wrist shot off of a face-off, but that goal was also called back due to a hand pass on the play.

The Lightning finally made a goal that counted in the third period when Pat Maroon tipped a puck out of the air and watched it roll into an open net with 13:44 to go.

Ondrej Palat shot the puck out of play with 2:30 to go, giving Florida a critical power play and a chance to tie the game. Vasilevskiy held strong and made four stops before Palat scored the empty-net goal fresh from the penalty box to seal the game and the series.

The Panthers scored one goal in 31 postseason power-play opportunities.

“They’re Stanley Cup Champions for a reason,” Panthers interim coach Andrew Brunette said. “The revolution of how they were a high-flying kind of offensive team and they found a recipe of how to win and they stuck with it. We aspire to be them and this is another learning experience for us and we need to be better.”

Here are three takeaways from Game 4:

Lightning block shots, limit Panthers from getting quality chances

While the Panthers registered 49 shots on goal, they were held to just five high-danger chances as the Lightning continued to block shots and shut down lanes to the slot. Tampa Bay blocked 18 shots to Florida’s nine in Game 4, including 12 blocked shots in the first period.

It was very much on par with how the series has gone, with the Lightning owning a 77-44 advantage in blocked shots while holding a 51-47 lead in high-danger chances.

“They are an experienced team that has been there and done that and when they get the lead, they know they are going to hold onto it,” Aaron Ekblad said. “They blocked shots extremely well, they kept it tight on the penalty kill, they kept it tight when they were up. They’re a strong team and they don’t give up much.”

Panthers’ stars too quiet throughout the series

Tampa Bay shut down Florida’s stars throughout the series, not allowing Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Claude Giroux to score a goal and holding Ekblad, Carter Verhaeghe, and Anton Lundell to zero points.

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay’s stars came to play, with Kucherov leading the way with seven points in the series while captain Steven Stamkos added four points and two crucial goals.

“They got a guy like their captain who scored 60 goals in this league and he’s playing defense and blocking shots,” Brunette said. “He’s willing his team to win and they’re all like that, and that’s the reason why they won.”

Sergei Bobrovsky did all he could to keep the Panthers in it

After struggling against the Lightning last postseason, going 1-2-0 with a .841 save percentage and 5.33 GAA, Bobrovsky was far from the reason the Panthers lost this year’s playoff series.

Bobrovsky came up with big save after big save, saving 113 of 123 shots and finishing with a .919 save percentage and a 2.55 goals-against-average. He finishes out the postseason with a 4-6-0 record with a .911 save percentage and a 2.70 goals-against average.

“He played great all playoffs,” Brunette said. “I thought he was a factor in all those games. He kept us in some games where we were a bit sluggish in the Washington series and he kept us in games here, so obviously he’s a big part of that first series win for us, too.”

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Tampa Bay Lightning sweep Florida Panthers out of Stanley Cup playoffs