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Lightning sweep Panthers, who were shut down by Vasilevskiy

Lightning sweep Panthers, who were baffled by Vasilevskiy

TAMPA, FL - MAY 23: Andrei Vasilevskiy #88 of the Tampa Bay Lightning makes a save against Radko Gudas #7 of the Florida Panthers during the first period in Game Four of the Second Round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 23, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)

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The (repeat) defending champion Lightning didn’t just advance against the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Panthers. With a 2-0 win in Game 4, the Lightning completed a sweep of the Panthers.

Remarkably, according to Sportsnet, it’s the first time a Jon Cooper team pulled off a sweep (at least at the NHL level).

Speaking of firsts, this marks the first time the Panthers were shut out since the Lightning ended their 2020-21 season.

Too little, too late -- but Florida shows some fight

For what it’s worth, the Panthers looked more like the Panthers than any other time during these playoffs (including a surprisingly tight series vs. the Capitals). It was just too little, too late.

That was especially true during the first period. While the Lightning did well to limit the Panthers’ high-danger chances, it’s tough to fault the sheer volume of Florida’s early efforts.

In elimination situations, Andrei Vasilevskiy’s been incredible. Really, Vasilevskiy’s been stellar all series long. Heading into Game 4, Vasilevskiy only allowed a Panthers goal per game, generating a splendid .971 save percentage. Those numbers will climb after Vasilevskiy pitched a 49-save shutout.

After completing the sweep, Steven Stamkos opined that Vasilevskiy was “the first, second, and third” star of this one. Hard to argue.

Two Lightning goals disallowed after reviews in Game 4

During the second period, it seemed like the Lightning took a 1-0 lead against the Panthers on two occasions. Both goals were eventually negated by the video review process.

For what it’s worth, both calls appeared correct.

Still, you can understand Lightning (and, really, hockey) fans if they grew restless during the 8-9 minute goal review that negated an Alex Killorn tally.

Not long after, it looked like Nikita Kucherov burned the Panthers once again to give the Lightning a 1-0 lead. Instead, a review determined that Anthony Cirelli sent a hand pass Kucherov’s way to set up a would-be goal.

Entering the third period, Florida created a lot of chances. They likely thought that they “deserved” more than their zero goals through 40 minutes. Considering those reviews, the Lightning would’ve been reasonable in feeling the same way.

Lightning complete sweep by outlasting Panthers in third period of Game 4

A lesser team might’ve flinched after seeing two goals disallowed in short order. We all know that the Bolts aren’t a lesser team.

Eventually, the Lightning broke through. It was an odd one credited to Patrick Maroon.

The Panthers got a little sloppy late, taking two penalties in the third period alone. While the Panthers’ PK stepped up, it bled precious time off the clock.

Ondrej Palat sent a puck over the glass late in the third, setting up a chance for Florida’s man advantage to save its season. Instead, that unit failed once again, and Palat iced the Lightning sweep with a 2-0 empty-netter.

Plenty picked the Lightning to win this series against the Panthers, yet few expected it to end in a sweep. While the Lightning themselves can attest to the wisdom of not overreacting to a sweep, the Panthers must feel some real regrets after Game 4. Scoring just three goals in a playoff series will do that to you.

And, for all the Panthers achieved, they’ll face challenges to coming back stronger. Claude Giroux won’t be easy to bring back. Joe Thornton might have played his last NHL game. And Jonathan Huberdeau’s $5.9M bargain deal (bad playoffs or not) runs out after the 2022-23 season.

They’ll face a lot of questions after they couldn’t answer the key one: “How do we score against Andrei Vasilevskiy?”