The Tampa Bay Lightning entered a mini-crisis in April.
They were crushed 5-0 in their first playoff game and trailed the Toronto Maple Leafs 1-0, 2-1, 3-2 in the first round. They trailed the Leafs 3-2 in Game 6.
They lost key forward Brayden Point before facing the No. 1 overall Florida Panthers.
None of this matters. The Lightning cruised into the third round on Monday night with a sweep of the Panthers and stay on the pace to win a third straight Stanley Cup. They reached the third round for the sixth time in eight seasons.
The 2-0 victory was not easy. They were badly shot and had two goals disallowed (due to missed stoppage time, with over eight minutes overdue) before Pat Maroon got a good one in the third period.
“We all looked at the monitors right away and realized it was good,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos told reporters. “Another big goal from Patty. He seems to find those moments and that’s the beauty of our team is that everyone contributes.”
The Lightning will face the series winner Carolina Hurricanes-New York Rangers. Here’s why you should never count Tampa Bay:
Andrei Vasilevskiy bounced back: He wasn’t a Vezina Trophy finalist for the first time since 2017. And he allowed at least three goals in his first six playoff games. But he was brilliant as usual in the decisive Game 7 games against the Maple Leafs, then held the Panthers to three goals on 105 shots in games 1-3. He overcame that with a 49-save shutout in Game 4 to give him six shutouts in the last seven deciding games.
“We didn’t want to spoil this Vasi performance,” Stamkos said. “What an effort on his part tonight.”
They all come out: The Lightning blocked 26 shots in Game 7 against the Leafs and 24 in Game 2 against the Panthers. A handful of players went into the coaching room in that second game and came back.
“The whole series is about constant blocked shots, sacrifices and guys breaking their bones to stop the puck,” Vasilevskiy said.
Congratulations to Julien BriseBois: The Lightning lost their entire third line this offseason. It took a while to round up their bottom six deep, but Corey Perry was a solid off-season pick-up. He has five playoff goals. Trade deadline picks Brandon Hagel and Nick Paul each had a game-winning goal in the playoffs.
Championship pedigree: It’s not just the core that have won back-to-back cups. Maroon has won three in a row, including one with St. Louis. Perry won with Anaheim and went to the Finals the past two years with Dallas and Montreal. Coach Jon Cooper, who led the team on their six trips to the third round, knows how to make adjustments. That’s why the Lightning are 17-0 after a playoff loss.
Nazem Kadri comes out on top for the Avalanche
The St. Louis Blues were unhappy with Nazem Kadri of the Colorado Avalanche after two incidents in two years eliminated their players.
After the latest, an inadvertent collision with Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington, Kadri also received social media threats that implicated the NHL and police.
“Unfortunately, I’ve been dealing with this for a long time,” he told TNT. “It’s sad to say, but it’s just the fact. I’m just starting to put it in the rear view mirror. It’s a big deal. I try to pretend it’s not and I trying to move on.”
Monday night, that’s exactly what he did and hurt the Blues with his goalscoring touch.
Kadri scored the first playoff hat trick of his career against Blues goaltender Ville Husso as the Avalanche beat the Blues 6-3 to take a 3-1 lead in the Conference second-round series from West.
He put the Blues ahead 2-1 with an odd run and made the “I can’t hear you” gesture.
Kadri later incurred the wrath of the Blues when he checked Perron. Pavel Buchnevich and Perron chased him, getting penalties. Kadri scored just after the 5-on-3 power play expired.
“For me, I’m going to take all the hits I can, convert to the power play,” he said.
The third goal came in the third period and he added an assist on an empty net by Mikko Rantanen.
“Some of these messages I received don’t reflect all St. Louis fans, but for the haters, this was for them,” he said.
Kadri was suspended for eight games in the 2021 playoffs for an illegal hit on Blues defenseman Justin Faulk. But this season, he suffered no incidents as he scored a career-high 87 points. He will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Florida Panthers fail
The Panthers were aggressive at the trade deadline, adding Claude Giroux and Ben Chiarot to a deep core. Both are unrestricted free agents. The same goes for Mason Marchment, Noel Acciari and Joe Thornton. Thornton, like Giroux, joined the Panthers because he believed they were giving him his best shot at winning his first Stanley Cup. Thornton, 42, appeared in Game 4 for the first time in these playoffs. Could this be his last game in the NHL?
Monday’s game was the first time the Panthers were shut out this season. The season’s top scoring team ranked 14th in the playoffs in offense. A confusing 1-for-31 power play performance was a big factor.
“I think we’re closer than ever, but we’ve been swept away and we need to take it to another level,” Panthers interim coach Andrew Brunette told reporters.
Carolina Hurricanes vs. New York Rangers, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN. The Hurricanes lead 2-1.
Calgary Flames at Edmonton Oilers, 9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN. The Oilers lead 2-1.