SUNRISE, Fla.- (AP) — Chris Driedger stopped 30 shots to record his third shutout of the season, Juho Lammikko scored a short-handed goal, and the Florida Panthers secured home-ice advantage for the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs with a 4-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in the regular season finale for both clubs on Monday night.
Driedger made his first start in six games.
“I kind of just show up … the guys played fantastic defensively tonight,” Driedger said. “I feel good. I was seeing the puck. Couple of breakaways I just felt solid on. I had good depth. But overall, just an incredible effort by the guys.”
The Lightning started three Black forwards in their regular-season finale against the Florida Panthers on Monday night, a rarity in NHL history — if not an absolute first. Walcott, Mathieu Joseph and Gemel Smith were out together for the opening face-off and didn’t know they would be starting together until just minutes before game time.
Walcott was making his NHL debut, Smith was in his fifth game of the season and Joseph has been in the lineup for all 56 Tampa Bay games in 2020-21.
“It was great man, a step in the right direction,” Joseph said. “It was fun to have some progress and it was great to see and I was glad I was part of it.”
Carter Verhaeghe scored a goal in his first game back from injury, and Alex Wennberg and MacKenzie Weegar also scored goals for the Panthers. Keith Yandle had an assist and recorded his 600th NHL point.
The Panthers enter the playoffs on a seven-game winning streak.
“It’s a fresh start. It’s whole new ballgame,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We should be excited about the way the season went for us in a lot of ways.”
Andrei Vasilevskiy made 26 stops for the Lightning.
The teams will meet in the first round of the playoffs, the first instance of the Sunshine State rivals going head-to-head in the postseason. The NHL has not announced when that series will begin.
“The goal every year is to make the playoffs. In an unprecedented year playing within the division, it’s tough,” coach Jon Cooper said. “I’ve been part of series when we won with home ice and lost with home ice. The players will lock horns and we’ll go from there.”
Leading 1-0, Lammikko’s short-handed goal put the Panthers ahead 2-0 at 8:23 of the second. Vasilevskiy nonchalantly played the puck behind the net, and Lammikko hustled over and tucked the puck behind Vasilevskiy’s left skate on a wraparound.
Verhaeghe stretched the Panthers lead to 3-0 on his shot from the right circle 2:27 into the third. Verhaeghe returned after missing 13 games with an upper-body injury.
Wennberg tipped in a shot from Radko Gudas with 5:53 left to make the score 4-0.
Weegar gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead when he fired a shot from the slot that went high into the net with 4:41 left in the first period.
Florida played without forward Jonathan Huberdeau for the first time this season, after he was a late scratch with an upper-body injury and was listed as day-to-day. Huberdeau had 20 goals and 41 assists for Florida this season, his fourth consecutive year with at least 20 scores.
According to Quenneville, Huberdeau “He’s fine. He had a small virus today, that’s all. Nothing.”
It was, by far, the best regular season in Florida history. The Panthers had the best point percentage in team history, best home record and best road record. It was also the first time they won the regular-season series against the Lightning in four years; Florida has won the in-state series 14 times, Tampa Bay eight times and the clubs have split their regular-season meetings four times.
This was the eighth full season on the Tampa Bay bench for Lightning coach Cooper. He’s responsible for eight of Tampa Bay’s 10 best regular season records — and no team in the NHL has had a better record in the last five seasons combined than the reigning Stanley Cup champions.
Florida defenseman Yandle’s consecutive-game streak is now at 12 seasons and counting; he appeared in all 56 games this season and has played in 922 straight going back to March 2009, the second-longest such run in NHL history. He is 42 games shy of tying Doug Jarvis’ NHL record.
Frank Vatrano and Alex Wennberg were the other 56-game performers for Florida this season.
Tampa Bay had five players appear in all 56 games — Joseph, Brayden Point, Mikhail Sergachev, Yanni Gourde and Alex Killorn. Pat Maroon was in line to but was suspended for Monday’s game by the NHL for his actions in Saturday’s overheated contest with the Panthers. Ondrej Palat and Barclay Goodrow also missed games for the first time this season, both scratches.
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