TAMPA — Andrei Vasilevskiy was locked in once again, something that has become typical for the Tampa Bay Lightning goalie when he has a chance to close out a series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
As a result, that made things a little easier for the Lightning as they swept the Florida Panthers with a 2-0 win in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Second Round at Amalie Arena on Monday.
“When a goaltender gives you a chance to win, it comes in a variety of ways, and tonight it was he wasn’t letting anything in,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said.
With Vasilevskiy on his way to making 49 saves for his NHL record sixth shutout in a series-clinching win, the Lightning knew scoring one goal might be enough. And despite being badly outshot and having two goals disallowed in the second period, Tampa Bay stuck with it and got the goal it needed when Pat Maroon batted in a rebound 6:16 into the third.
Ondrej Palat added an empty-net goal at 19:37 for the 2-0 final.
“We didn’t want to waste that game that he played,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “Obviously, we knew they were going to push, and they did. They played outstanding. Obviously threw a lot of pucks on net, and there he was, ‘Vasy,’ like he always is in these big games.”
In Vasilevskiy’s past seven series-clinching wins, he has allowed one goal, coming in Tampa Bay’s 2-1 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 7 of the first round this postseason. Prior to that, he had five straight shutouts in those situations, a run that began with a 2-0 victory against the Dallas Stars in Game 6 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final and continued against the Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes, New York Islanders and Montreal Canadiens last season when Tampa Bay repeated as Cup champions.
On Monday, Vasilevskiy stopped everything the Panthers threw at him, including back-to-back left pad saves on Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov at the right post with 1:58 remaining and Florida on a 6-on-4.
“It’s pretty impressive,” Lightning forward Alex Killorn said. “I think when we look back and we’re older, that’s going to be something that stays there for a long time. It’s pretty cool to play with a player that I think will go down as one of the best goalies that’s ever played the game. That’s how you gauge players, is how they perform in big-time games, and he’s been nothing but tremendous in these games.”
Florida led the NHL in scoring at 4.11 goals per game during the regular season but managed just three goals in four games against Tampa Bay.
Vasilevskiy credited the success defensively to his teammates, who blocked 18 shots in Game 4 and 77 in the series.
“It’s obviously not just me,” Vasilevskiy said. “I’m just trying to do my job as best as I can. You saw all four games, I thought we just played fearless.”
The Lightning also had to be persistent.
Killorn deflected in Mikhail Sergachev‘s point shot 8:44 into the second, but the goal was reversed after Panthers coach Andrew Brunette successfully challenged the play for a missed game stoppage. Then, Nikita Kucherov appeared to score from the left circle following a face-off win by Anthony Cirelli at 10:32. However, that goal was also reversed after Brunette succefully challenged again for a hand pass on Cirelli.
So Tampa Bay naturally looked up to the giant video scoreboard after Maroon batted the rebound of Zach Bogosian‘s shot from right point down and in off the back of goalie Sergei Bobrovsky in the third period. That one didn’t require a review, though.
“When you hit a little bit of adversity there with the netting and with the face-off play, we talked about it,” Maroon said. “We just got to stick with it. We were in a good position going into the third period, a 0-0 game. We still had an opportunity to win. We just had to find a way to squeak one by him, and we did. Obviously, it was an ugly goal, but that’s playoff hockey for you.”
The Lightning have become experts at playoff hockey over the past three seasons. With its 10th straight postseason series win, Tampa Bay is now eight victories away from becoming the first team to win the Stanley Cup in three consecutive seasons since the New York Islanders won four straight championships from 1980-83.
Those Islanders (19 from 1980-84) and the Montreal Canadiens (13 from 1976-1980) are the only teams to have won more than 10 consecutive playoff series.
Next for Tampa Bay will be the winner of the other Eastern Conference Second Round series between the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers. While waiting for that series to end, the Lightning will get some much-needed rest and take a little time to appreciate what they’ve accomplished.
Cooper called it “remarkable, mind-boggling,” before noting that Maroon, who won the Stanley Cup with the St. Louis Blues in 2019, has won 14 consecutive series.
“But hopefully we’re not done with that streak” Cooper said. “But it’s pretty cool tonight to sit back and marvel at it.”