Lightning avenge Regular-Season struggles against Florida Panthers with 4-2 First-Round Playoff series win

Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) celebrates his goal against the Florida Panthers during the second period in Game 6 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series Wednesday, May 26, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. Courtesy: (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

Wednesday night, the Tampa Bay Lightning set out on their quest for a second consecutive Stanley Cup title with a 4-0 win against the Florida Panthers at the Amalie Arena, closing out the series 4-2 in Game 6. 

Just two years after Tampa Bay’s historic first-round collapse against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the returning Stanley Cup Champions were matched with a tough opponent in the Panthers, a team that had their number all season long before meeting in the first round.

Labeled the “Battle of Florida,” the two scrappy teams were division rivals for the entire 2020-2021 season and managed to clinch the 2nd and 3rd overall seeds locking them in a battle for the books.

Fans had been waiting for such a series ever since the teams took the ice back in the mid-90s but never met in the postseason due to rankings and divisional conflict matchups. 

But if this series taught fans anything: it’s that the regular season doesn’t matter if you can’t make it happen in the postseason when it counts. 

“Before the playoffs, we were one of the contenders,” Panthers centre and captain Aleksander Barkov said. “We played really good hockey during the regular season. We showed everyone what we were capable of. We played really good hockey in the playoffs. I know we didn’t win games, but we played pretty good 5-on-5 hockey. We had a lot of chances. We just couldn’t win games. That’s the point of hockey; you’ve got to win games. We only won two, but you’ve got to win four.”

That statement couldn’t be any more true. While any fan in the league would be remiss if they did not admire the tenacity the Panthers showed all season long.

The six-game series was one for the record books as both teams put up over one hundred shots in the series, and Tampa even netting a franchise record 24 goals in the series—19 of which came in the first four games. 

Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said it was the team’s “best effort by far” in the postseason after the win.

“Our team played extremely well tonight,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “We have the best goalie in the world. He shut the door. The penalty kill was great. The power play got one. It was just a 60-minute effort. That’s what it takes to close out series, especially against good teams. It was great to be part of that effort tonight.” 

As stated earlier, the Panthers had the Lightning’s number all season long, but a slew of rocky postseason starts from the two veteran goaltenders on the squad severely squandered their chances late in the series.

In Game 6, the Florida Panthers turned yet again to the 20-year-old, former first-round selection in the 2019 NHL Draft, Spencer Knight, to right the team’s course. But it wouldn’t be enough, even with a phenomenal 36-save night.

The future is bright for the Cats, but they failed to steal the Lightning’s thunder en route to their second consecutive Cup win. 

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