May 24th, 2024

Panthers outshine Lightning 6-1, advance to second round

By Alanis Thames, The Associated Press on April 29, 2024.

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) – Sergei Bobrovsky made 31 saves, Aleksander Barkov and Carter Verhaeghe each had two goals and an assist, and the Florida Panthers beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 6-1 in Game 5 on Monday night to clinch their first-round series and advance in the NHL playoffs.

Niko Mikkola had a goal and an assist, Evan Rodrigues also scored and Matthew Tkachuk had two assists for the Panthers, who won a playoff series against Tampa Bay for the first time in franchise history and clinched a post-season series at home for only the fourth time.

Florida bested Boston and Philadelphia on home ice in the first two rounds of the 1996 playoffs, then eliminated Carolina at home in last season’s Eastern Conference final en route to their second Stanley Cup final appearance.

Victor Hedman scored for the Lightning, which was eliminated in the first round for the second straight year after reaching the Final three straight years. Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 33 shots.

Barkov gave Florida a 2-0 lead when he pounced on a rebound for a short-handed goal – his first of the playoffs – at 7:22 of the second period. He added another at 8:54 of a four-goal third to restore the Panthers’ two-goal cushion after Hedman got the Lightning on the board 59 seconds after Barkov’s first goal.

The Panthers had 22 shots on goal in the second, which is the second-most in a single period of a playoff game in franchise history. Florida had 23 shots in the third period of a playoff win against Pittsburgh in 1996.

Verhaeghe opened scoring for the Panthers with a four-on-four goal just 45 seconds into the second period. Verhaeghe grabbed his own rebound and wristed a shot past Vasilevskiy.

Rodrigues added a score for good measure with less than six minutes left to play on a wrist shot that was his first goal of the playoffs, and Verhaeghe scored an empty-netter with just under four minutes to play to stretch his franchise-record goals total to 20. Mikkola added another empty-netter nearly three minutes later.

Anthony Cirelli appeared to have scored Tampa Bay’s first goal when he tapped a loose puck past Bobrovsky with seven minutes left in the first period. The goal was overturned, however, after the Panthers challenged for goaltender interference. Former Panther Anthony Duclair’s right skate made contact with Bobrovsky as he was trying to make the save.

The Lightning had another goal waved off in the second period when Mikhail Sergachev appeared to tie it on a long-range shot from the blue line. The goal was immediately waved off because of goaltender interference by Cirelli, and upheld after a failed Tampa Bay challenge.

The Lightning’s NHL-best power play during the regular season was inconsistent in this first round. Tampa Bay had two man-advantages in the first 10 minutes of the opening period – Florida killed them both off – and finished the game 0 for 3.

AP NHL playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://www.apnews.com/hub/NHL

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