TAMPA – A championship mentality, the cohesion of a stellar set of lines and special teams units and the “elite” play of the NHL’s top goalie in Andrei Vasilevskiy saw the Tampa Bay Lightning halt the Florida Panthers, 4-0, on Wednesday night, and win the hotly contested series 4-2.
Vasilevskiy stopped all 29 shots that were fired his way and the Lightning’s fleet of stars performed at the height of their collective abilities.
“That is why he is an elite goalie and the best goalie in the league,” said Lightning center Pat Maroon. “He has a calmness, a poise and he sees every shot. He gives us a chance to win very single night.”
Vasilevskiy also turned away two Panthers power plays as the second penalty kill off of a cross-check on Mikail Sergachev seemed to be the tipping point for the Panthers.
“It’s just fun to watch his work ethic throughout the year and how he competes every single night,” explained Maroon. “He doesn’t lose track of pucks and if he has a bad rebound, he is always there.”
Florida’s power play was a concern for Tampa Bay as the Panthers had converted 6-of-20 opportunities coming into Game 6. The Lightning cleaned things up regarding their own penalties and left Florida only two power play chances.
“They are a skilled group that has you on your heels,” said Lightning coach John Cooper. “Goody (Barclay Goodrow) is a big part of our penalty kill. He won some face-offs and got some pucks down. In the end, zone guys were blocking shots.”
The quick strike was what the Tampa Bay Lightning needed against young Panthers goalie Spencer Knight and they got it.
Tampa Bay’s experiece made this happen at 6:16 in the first period when center Tyler Johnson brought the puck around the net and passed it into the middle off of Mackenzie Weegar’s stick. Maroon took it off the bounce off the top of the stick and gave the Bolts a 1-0 lead.
“That was our best effort so far in the playoffs and the biggest game that we have played so far,” said Steven Stamkos. “That’s what experienced teams do in those situations.”
Stamkos later found the back of the net for his third goal of the playoffs as he blasted a shot past Knight from the left circle at 13:27. Defenseman Victor Hedman had the primary assist while Nikita Kucherov started the scoring play.
Brayden Point finished off the Panthers at 14:36 when Kucherov fed him the backhanded pass as Point was skating toward the net. He used his vaunted stick handling to deek Weegar on the way to driving the puck past Knight, who also fell for Point’s change of direction.
“I think we had a good game plan,” noted Stamkos. “The coaches and players watched video and we changed somethings around. Like I said before, we know how to win in these situations.”
Cooper was glad his team took control of it’s destiny and with that experience, it was like an expectation that the Lightning would strike the Panthers one last time.
“We didn’t want to come and think just because we are on home ice we are going to win,” said Cooper. “That is a flawed way of thinking. We had a plan set and it was 60 minutes of sheer will and compete and to win in this league, that’s what you need.”
Alex Killorn had an empty-netter at 18:18 that turned off the lights on Florida’s season.