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Lightning take commanding 3-0 series lead against Panthers

lightning east final

TAMPA, FL - MAY 22: Members of the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrate a win over the Florida Panthers during the third period in Game Three of the Second Round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 22, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)

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The Florida Panthers were the NHL’s best team in the regular season, the highest scoring team in nearly 30 years, and had the look of a bonafide Stanley Cup Contender.

Now they find themselves facing the prospect of being swept out of the Second Round.

They dropped a 5-1 decision to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday, giving the Lightning a commanding 3-0 series lead and pushing the Panthers to the brink of elimination.

It has been a stunning turn for the Panthers offense as they have managed just three goals in the first three games of the series. That comes after their offense became the first team since 1995-96 to average more than four goals per game over an 82-game regular season. Now they can not generate anything. Even more discouraging on Sunday was that the Panthers offense seemed completely lost and inept all the way into the third period knowing what sort of deficit they would be facing.

Even during their First Round series win against Washington the Panthers did not look right. They lost two of the first three games of the series, were mostly outplayed, and were just inches away from being down in a 3-1 hole. They needed two overtime wins and three comeback wins just to get through the Capitals.

They were going to have to be better against a superior Lightning team to have a chance of advancing. They have not been better, and are paying the price against a team that has championship pedigree. The power play has been a mess all postseason, and the offense as a whole just can not get going in any situation.

This is also happening against a Lightning team that has played this entire series to this point without one of its best players in Brayden Point. That has not mattered to the defending back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions who continue to find ways to win games and lock opponents down.

It is also helpful that starting goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy has returned to his elite level after a slow start to the playoffs.

The Lightning now have a chance to complete the sweep on Monday night.

If they do advance it will be their sixth trip to the Eastern Conference Finals in the past eight seasons.