Home ice advantage was on the line Monday night as the Lightning and Panthers battled in the regular season finale at the BB&T Center in Sunrise. Already missing Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos, the Lightning were without Victor Hedman, Ondrej Palat, Barclay Goodrow and Ryan McDonagh in this game. The in state rivals will meet in a much anticipated first round playoff matchup for the first time ever in 2021. After Monday’s 4-0 Panthers shutout, we now know the playoffs will open in Sunrise with Florida having home ice advantage.
Power play struggles early and often
The Lightning went on the power play early in the first period. Just 51 seconds in, Mathieu Joseph took a scary high stick from Carter Verhaeghe. Joseph headed to the locker room bleeding from his face but would return in the period. The play on the ice did not result in a penalty, however, it was reviewed and correctly called a double minor on Verhaeghe.
The injury ravaged Tampa Bay power play unit was unable to muster any real threat in the first half of the double minor. Then, just 14 seconds into the second minor, Mikhail Sergachev was called for interference, killing the power play chance. It was more of the same just minutes later when the Lightning benefited from another Panthers penalty. Radko Gudas went off the ice for roughing at 6:42. Already without Steven Stamkos and of course, Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman missed his second consecutive game due to injury. The absence of one of the league’s top power play scorers hurt the Lightning early on as another chance came and went without a real threat.
Florida opened the scoring as MacKenzie Weegar converted from the slot at 15:19. The game remained 1-0 going into the first intermission.
Panthers add shorthanded goal and Verhaeghe haunts again
The Lightning power play went back to work midway through the second period. Still unable to create any chances, insult was added to injury by way of Juho Lammiko. After an Andrei Vasilevskiy turnover, Lammiko took the puck behind the Tampa Bay net and converted a shorthanded wraparound to put Florida up 2-0.
Tampa Bay started the final frame on another power play and, again, did not get anything going. The Panthers created a 2 on 1 in transition moments after the penalty expired. That’s when a former Bolt made his old teammates pay again. Carter Verhaeghe buried a wrist shot past Vasilevskiy to put Florida ahead 3-0. Then, Alex Wennberg capped off the scoring with his 17th goal of the season at the 14:07 mark.
Home ice advantage: Panthers
The regular season came to a merciful end for Tampa Bay as the banged up Lightning limp into the postseason. With Monday’s defeat, its third in a row, the Lightning secured the 3rd seed in the Central Division. This means the first round series with the Panthers will see Florida have home ice advantage. With dates and time still to be announced, we now know the series will open at the BB&T Center for games 1 and 2 and a possible 5 and 7.
Tampa Bay will hope for an extended break before postseason play starts in an attempt to heal the wounds of a banged up hockey club looking to defend its Stanley Cup Championship.
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