The Tampa Bay Lightning sent the Florida Panthers packing with a marvelous effort at home to close out the series. Game 6 looked more like games 2 and 5 as both teams defended well. Tampa Bay played excellent in front of their own net and forechecked very well. Andrei Vasilevskiy put on an MVP performance to blank the cats and earn another playoff shutout. The Lightning will move on to the second round to face either Nashville or Carolina.
Unlike many of the games in the series, this game did not start out with an electric pace. The feel for both sides was that of control and precision. Early in the first though it was the Panthers that were controlling possession. A solid part of the first five minutes of the game were spent in the Lightning zone. Despite controlling the possession, Florida did not come away with many grade-A opportunities. Then at 6:16 Tyler Johnson (who played a awesome game) would beat out former teammate Anton Stralman to negate an icing. Johnson put it out front for a charging Pat Maroon where it would pinball of his and MacKenzie Weegar’s stick and behind goaltender Spencer Knight. In addition to being the game-winner, it propelled the Lightning to a very solid first period. The Panthers were still able to get some scoring chances, but Tampa Bay was there to blank the Cats.
Best defensive effort of the series.
The Lightning put on a very solid defensive performance in game 6. Down a goal and their season on the line, you knew the Panthers were going to throw everything they had at the Lightning. However the Lightning did not give them much. They played fantastic in front of their own net. Deflecting pucks, blocking shots and clearing rebounds, Florida had little to no second chance opportunities. This was aided by the return of Barclay Goodrow, who played his first game since being hurt injured in the second to last game of the regular season. Jon Cooper said in his postgame that Goodrow is “a glue guy” and does a lot to help his team win. His effort along with the Bolts’ commitment to cleaning up their defensive win helped blank the Panthers.
The second period was fairly evenly played. However, the captain would come through with the game changing moment. Just over halfway through the second, Sam Bennett took a very costly penalty, ripping the helmet off of David Savard in his own offensive zone. Steven Stamkos for the majority of the game up until this point was just coming up short on his chances but one could see he was getting closer. Stamkos would hit twine on his patented powerplay one-timer from the circle. It was an absolute bomb and gave the Lightning some breathing room heading into the third.
After blowing a two goal lead in the third period of game 3, the Lightning felt like they had sat back to much which allowed Florida to get back in the game. In game 6, they would make the Panthers go all 200 feet and work for every inch of ice. In addition to a continued dedication to defensive play, they were smart in the neutral zone and spent numerous shifts inside the Florida zone. This was a much needed improvement over games 3 and 4. Eventually with the Panthers looking to keep their season alive, things opened up a bit for Tampa Bay. A nice flip out by Eric Cernak would find Nikita Kucherov. Kucherov was able to find Brayden Point in the slot. Point deked Weegar out of his shoes, cut towards the far post and slid it past Knight to put an exclamation point on the series. Alex Killorn would add the empty netter and this hard fought series was over.
Big Cat blanks the Cats
As he has been all year, Vasilevskiy was Tampa’s most valuable player. He made many key saves in route to a blank scoresheet. One he made on Huberdeau without his goal stick, which is incredibly difficult to do. He played his angles very well forcing the Panthers to shoot wide many times, as well as his pinpoint movements on his slide overs.
After a blank scoresheet against the Panthers and closing out the series, the Lightning’s second round opponent has yet to be determined. The Carolina Hurricanes and the Nashville Predators will play their game 6 tomorrow. Carolina holds a 3-2 series lead and could close the series out in Nashville. If Carolina wins the next round could potentially start this weekend. This would be dependent on if the league waits for the North division series between Montreal ad Toronto. If Nashville wins and forces a game 7, the likely start time for the next series regardless of anything would be early next week.
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