TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Andrei Vasilevskiy wrapped up a series with a Game 6 shutout for the second straight time, stopping 29 shots in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 4-0 victory over the Florida Panthers on Wednesday night.
Vasilevskiy also shut out the Dallas Stars last year to win the Stanley Cup.
The Lightning advanced to face the Carolina-Nashville winner in the second round.
Steven Stamkos scored his third goal of the series and Pat Maroon added his first. Brayden Point added his fourth of the series in the third period and Alex Killorn had an empty-net goal with 1:42 left.
Rookie Spencer Knight, back in net for Florida after his strong playoff debut in Game 5, finished with 20 saves.
Tampa Bay advanced to the second round for the fifth time in the past seven years, showing they know what it takes to win and advance in postseason, improving to 9-0 in the next game following a playoff loss dating back to last season.
“It was 60 minutes of just sure will and compete,’’ Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “To win in this league, that’s what you need. When you make the playoffs, you need it from everybody. The players gave it. They get all the credit in the world. They stayed in the fight, they worked their tails off, they were rewarded for it.
“To close teams out, especially one as talented and well-coached as Florida was, you don’t want to risk going to Game 7. That’s a hell of a team over there, but the boys played like champions today.’’
The Panthers haven’t won a playoff series since the 1996 Eastern Conference Finals.
“Obviously, I’m disappointed,’’ said Florida forward Jonathan Huberdeau, who finished the series with 10 points. “I thought we had our chances in the series. Could’ve went either way. Early we were down 2-0, it could’ve went the other way. You want to win. You play hockey to win.’’
The Lightning grabbed the early lead when Tyler Johnson raced past Anton Stralman to negate an icing call, picked up the puck behind the net to feed a backhand pass in front. After the puck initially bounced, Maroon was able to get a whack at in the air to backhand it past Knight at 6:16 of the first period.
The Lightning had to kill off two power-play chances in the second period to protect the one-goal lead before Florida’s Sam Bennett took an undisciplined penalty at 12:53. Bennett, who took a costly penalty in Game 1 that led to the tying goal that resulted in a suspension for Game 2, put Lightning defenseman David Savard in a headlock and then ripped his helmet off. The roughing penalty led to Tampa Bay’s second power-play chance of the game and second goal.
In a familiar looking play, Nikita Kucherov fed the puck up high to Victor Hedman who one-touched a pass over to Stamkos at the left circle for a one-timer at 13:27 of the second period.
“We came in confident,’’ Stamkos said. “We know how to win in these situations. We fed off an amazing crowd, and we got the job done. It was almost just a clinical game in terms of executing the game plan. It was fun to be part of.’’
Point put it away at 14:36 of the third, dancing around MacKenzie Weegar down low and drawing Knight to the ice before tucking the puck around the goaltenders left pad, putting the final touches on a Lightning victory that stood out for all the ways a team with championship pedigree performing in all the small details that often lead to the final result.
“That’s what it takes to win,’’ Cooper said. “Because of the effort, and the energy, it’s draining what you go through, the war of attrition. And in the end, it’s the compete level that gets you there. And you can’t let it go because if you get out-willed in a game, you’re probably not going to win. Our boys would not let that happen tonight.’’
GOODROW GOOD TO GO
Tampa Bay forward Barclay Goodrow returned to the lineup for his first game of the playoffs. Goodrow, acquired at the trade deadline in 2020 and a key part of Tampa Bay’s third line last season en route to a Stanley Cup championship, suffered an undisclosed upper-body injury May 8 against Florida.
YANDLE SITS AGAIN
Florida defenseman Keith Yandle, who owns the second longest consecutive games played streak in NHL regular-season history at 922, sat out for the third time in the past four games. Yandle had also appeared in 57 consecutive playoff games before being a healthy scratch for Game 3. He has dressed for the three home games in the series.
HITTING THE MARK
Tampa Bay D Victor Hedman and RW Nikita Kucherov both finished the series with eight assists to tie the franchise playoff record for most assists in a postseason series. The mark was originally set by Kucherov against the New York Islanders in the 2020 Eastern Conference Finals.
Kucherov also set a franchise record with 11 points in the series, beating his own mark of 10 set against New Jersey in the opening round of the 2018 playoffs.
Seven of Hedman’s assists came on the power play. Only two players have recorded more power-play assists in a single series since the stat was tracked starting in 1933-34: Paul Coffey with Detroit in 1993 and Mario Lemieux with Pittsburgh in 1992.