The Tampa Bay Lightning looked strong against the Florida Panthers in their final game before the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Last year, the Tampa Bay Lightning coasted into the Stanley Cup Playoffs and it cost them, as they got swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Naturally, the team wanted to come into the playoffs with more momentum this season.
The novel coronavirus pandemic threw a monkey wrench into those plans, but in their final tuneup before the postseason, the Lightning looked strong in an exhibition game against the Florida Panthers, besting them 5-0.
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After a sloppy first few minutes, the Bolts got down to business. Their first goal was a surgical strike from Brayden Point following a feed from Ondrej Palat. Nikita Kucherov earned the secondary assist after stealing the puck from Lucas Wallmark on the forecheck.
Point got his second goal of the first period after getting a nice feed from Kevin Shattenkirk and speeding past the Panthers defense. The Lightning were strong and relentless in the first period, using their skill and speed to get a big lead.
What’s even more encouraging is Tampa didn’t take it easy after the first period. That was a huge mistake the Lightning made in Game 1 of last year’s series against the Blue Jackets. They kept the pressure on in the second period, with Nikita Kucherov and Luke Schenn each adding goals.
Tampa came into the game with some concerns about their penalty kill, as they finished 14th in the league in PK% during the regular season. Against the vaunted Panthers power play, which finished 10th in the league, the Lightning allowed just three scoring chances and created one, according to Natural Stat Trick.
On the other end of special teams, Tampa’s power play was firing on all cylinders, as Kucherov’s second-period goal was of the power-play variety. There wasn’t as much movement as there usually is, but that can be chalked up to it being an exhibition game.
Vasilevskiy looked sharp in net, as he kept the game scoreless while the Lightning found their legs early in the first period. He made several impressive saves. Curtis McElhinney didn’t play at all, which is a bit surprising. Hopefully, he’s alright and he’ll be able to back up the Vezina Trophy finalist in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Should he be unable to go, Scott Wedgewood backed up Vasilevskiy against the Panthers.
I think the Lightning allowed a few too many chances in the middle of the ice that were a bit too close to the net, but if you consider they were playing without Norris Trophy finalist Victor Hedman, it’s nothing to worry too much about.
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The Lightning needed to come into the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs with momentum. Though the pandemic changed those plans, their outing against the Panthers went about as well as it could have gone. If the Lightning have learned their lessons from last year’s pain and apply them to this year’s postseason, it wouldn’t be surprising if they emerge from the chaos of the postseason as the Stanley Cup champions.