TAMPA | We all expected to see a close series between the regular season champions and the two-time Stanley Cup champions. Unless there is a surprising change, we will have the right to a one-sided confrontation.
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Led by a four-point performance from Nikita Kucherov yesterday afternoon at Amalie Arena, the Lightning defeated the Panthers 5-1 to take a comfortable 3-0 lead in the Atlantic Division Finals.
The way the Lightning have fared in the playoffs in recent years, it’s safe to say the carrots are ripe for Andrew Brunette’s team. To survive this round of playoffs, they will have to beat the Lightning four times in a row. Mission impossible considering the Lightning haven’t lost back-to-back series since being swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2019.
Also, this is the fifth time in their history that Lightning has forged a three-win lead. These series have never stretched beyond six games (2015, against the Canadian).
A goal that hurts
In the first half, the Panthers finally managed to score a goal with a one-man lead. However, it was his failure to do so later in the game that was likely the game changer.
Finding himself facing an empty net, Jonathan Huberdeau saw his shot deflected off Ryan McDonagh’s post. Just over a minute later, Steven Stamkos made it 3-1.
“The puck is not rolling for us, Huberdeau indicated, at the end of this setback. Normally, it’s an easy target. This time it wasn’t like that and they scored at the other end of the track.”
“After all the chances we had during this superior numbers, that goal hurt us,” agreed Sam Reinhart.
This shot blocked by McDonagh is one of 19 that Rayo players have positioned themselves against. It is no longer easy to beat Andrei Vasilevskiy. If he also has to beat his teammates, the Panthers have not left the inn.
The Panthers, who led the league with an average of 4.11 goals per game in the regular season, have been limited to one goal per game since the start of this battle in Florida. They will have to find a solution quickly, otherwise they will be on vacation tonight.
WHAT WE NOTICE
Finally a goal for the massive attack
It took nine games and 25 missed chances for the Panthers to finally manage to score a power play goal. Sam Reinhart ended the Panthers’ drought by accepting an excellent relief from Jonathan Huberdeau. Unfortunately for the Visitors, they were unable to capitalize on their other two massive attacks.
At the end of every practice, Corey Perry zealously strives to perfect his game in front of the opposing net. Once again, yesterday, it was worth it. The former Canadiens player scored a third goal in as many games in this series. Once again by deflecting a teammate’s shot.
Led by the third line
While we all expected to see Aleksander Barkov’s trio or Sam Bennett’s unit pull the reins for the Panthers, it was Eetu Luostarinen’s who dictated the pace of the first half. During that matchup, six of the visitors’ eight shots came from this line: Maxim Mamin and Sam Reinhart tested Andrei Vasilevskiy three times each.
Hedman in two stages
Victor Hedman did not start the match up to the level of the player he is. He made some unusual turnovers. One of them allowed Mamin to escape. Fortunately for the defender and Rayo, Andrei Vasilevskiy had the last laugh. However, the tall Swede rallied deftly in the final 40 minutes. He blocked four shots, one of which was a game-winning goal, and set the stage for his team’s third goal.
The Lightning engine once again acted as such. He participated in four of his five goals, confirming Rayo’s victory behind an empty goal.
Despite giving up five shots on goal, he was on the ice for four of his opponents and barely played for .500 in the faceoff circle.
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