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Heading To The Conference Finals

They say the most dangerous animal is a wounded one. As the Tampa Bay Lightning prepared to meet the Florida Panthers in Game 4, they knew the visitors were hurting. Down three games to none, the Panthers had their backs against the wall. Florida needs a win to prolong the series, the Lightning need a win to go back to the Conference Finals for the sixth time in the last eight seasons. 

Florida coach Andrew Burnette showed some of those wounds by throwing his lines in a blender. Joe Thornton made his series debut among those changes. So, would it work for the wounded Panthers?

Opening Look

After five minutes in the first period, the Panthers had the first five shots on goal. Everyone in the building knew Florida was going to start hard in this game. That happens when you are attempting to stave off elimination. About halfway through the period, Anthony Cirelli was coming in on Panther goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. Cirelli crashed into Bobrovsky and was whistled for goalie interference. The game’s first penalty giving Florida the first power play of the game. 

Didn’t matter as the Panther’s power play didn’t even muster a shot on net. Was this going to be the best shot from the team facing playoff elimination? To their credit, the Panthers weren’t about to go away quietly. As the period came to a scoreless end, the visitors had outshot the home team by a 17 to 3 margin. As hard as Florida was working to get the game’s first goal but they were facing a brick wall by the name of Andrei Vasilevskiy.

If the Lightning were intending to punch their ticket for a third consecutive trip to the Conference Finals, they would need to get at least one goal.

Another Brick in the Wall

The second period saw the Panthers with about 30 seconds remaining on a power play. All seven shots on this powerless play were saved by Vasilevskiy. After killing that Florida penalty, the Lightning were awarded a power play chance of their own. The Lightning did their best imitation of Florida’s first power play by not even getting a shot on goal. No question that as this game went on, the intensity level increased. The previously noted wounded team played as if they wanted to play in a Game 5. 

Then with a little over 11 minutes in the period, former Lightning Carter Verhaege snapped a shot past Vasilevskiy. Unfortunately, he didn’t beat either post as the shot rang off both posts. Then the Lightning came down on a chip and chase. The puck ended on Mikhail Sergachev’s stick who blasted a shot which was tipped in by Alex Killorn. This gave the Lightning the first goal of the game. Florida challenged the goal saying the puck hit the net once Tampa had the puck in the offensive zone. This video review took longer than a review of the original Zapruder film. No goal. Still a scoreless tie. 

After a TV timeout, it appeared the Lightning scored again. But the goal was reviewed and showed a hand pass by Anthony Cirelli to Nikita Kucherov before he wristed it past Bobrovsky. Another challenge, another disallowed Lightning goal. Period is ended like it started, a 0-0 game. 

Game 5 or Going to the Conference Finals

After two periods, Florida out shot Tampa, 34 to 15. A friend texted me and asked why the shots were so low for the Lightning. I replied that it was hard to shoot from your defensive zone.  So far in this series, the Lightning have owned the third. Outscoring the Panthers 6-0 in the first three games. That’s what they would have to do to close this series out. Both teams entered the final regulation period determined to put a goal on the board. Both goalies equally determined to maintain their shutout. 

Then 6:16 into the period a goal every bit as fluky as the two disallowed goals, Pat Maroon seemed to tip a rebound off a Zach Bogosian shot off Bobrovsky‘s head and it trickled in for the first goal of the game. Now we were going to see the wounded Panthers. Truly facing elimination in the face for the final minutes of Game 4. How would they respond? 

After the Lightning goal, Florida took a couple of penalties. Despite good zone time and a couple of good scoring chances, the game remained 1-0. Once the clock showed five minutes remaining, the desperation began showing on the Panthers side. Florida pulled Bobrovsky with just under two minutes while peppering the Lightning goal with shots. The ones that were blocked were saved by Vasilevskiy. Then with a little over two minutes left in the game, clinging to a one goal lead, Tampa’s Ondrej Palat was called for a delay of game penalty. Here is where the Panthers had their last gasp. The Lightning penalty killers killed this big penalty and as he came out of the box, Palat scored an empty netter for the final goal. 

Three Stars

First Star – Andrei Vasilevskiy – Saved all 49 shots he faced in this game and the last 88 shots he faced in this series. 


Second Star – Pat Maroon – Game winning goal and 2 hits.


Third Star – Sergei Bobrovsky – Saved 24 of 25 shots he faced, should have been enough for most teams to win except for the other goalie.  


Up Next 

Rest and relaxation. At least for a few days to heal some wounds of their own. Obviously, heading to their 6th Conference Finals in 8 seasons. They will face the winner of the Carolina-New York Ranger series. Let’s hope for some triple overtime games and a seven game series.  

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