Top-seeded Florida Panthers’ season ends after sweep by Tampa Bay Lightning

The Florida Panthers were swept out of the NHL postseason when they hosted the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-0 in Game 4 of their second-round Stanley Cup playoff series on Monday.

Florida was the NHL’s highest-ranked team to make the playoffs after winning the franchise’s first Presidents’ Trophy title with a 122-point campaign. The Panthers are now the first Presidents’ Trophy winners to be swept out of a playoff series since the Lightning were ousted by Columbus in the first round in 2019.

“It’s a tough pill to swallow,” said Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad. “Being swept is tough. It hurts. It stings. There’s no doubt about it.”

Game 4 was scoreless for most of the time until third-half left winger Patrick Maroon put a Zach Bogosian point shot past Sergei Bobrovsky. Ondrej Palat added an empty net in the last minute to seal Florida’s fate.

The Panthers built their historic regular season on offensive success, setting the NHL’s pace thanks to their enviable offensive prowess with average goals (4.11 goals per game). They have not been ruled out once in 82 games. The last time Florida didn’t score in a game before Monday was Game 6 of their first-round series against Tampa last spring.

But all that firepower failed Florida when it mattered most.

The Panthers stumbled past Washington in the first round and won in six games, but required several comebacks to do so. That effort would not be enough against reigning two-time cup winners Tampa Bay.

Florida did not score more than one goal in any of their four games against Tampa Bay. All of the Panthers’ top performers went away empty handed. Jonathan Huberdeau was one of four scorers with over 30 goals in the Panthers’ regular season and led the team with 115 points. He only added two assists against Tampa. Aleksander Barkov and Claude Giroux each had an assist. Sam Reinhart had a lone goal, and it was the only one Florida scored on the power play all postseason.

The Panthers finished their postseason 1:31 man-advanced.

“Special teams were an issue for me,” said interim coach Andrew Brunette. “I take a lot of blame for the power play, that was my fault. Should be better, must be better.

Andrei Vasilevskiy was spectacular at the net for Tampa Bay, yielding just three goals in four games. He made 49 saves Monday night.

In his last seven straight winning games, Vasilevskiy has made 199 saves from 200 shots and hit six shutouts.

Also impressive was that Tampa ended its win against Florida without top forward Brayden Point, who has been out through injury since Game 6 of the Lightning’s first-round series against Toronto.

“They’re Stanley Cup winners for a reason,” said Brunette. “[They grew] from a top-flight offensive team and stuck with it. We aspire to be her.”

However, Bobrovsky repeatedly gave the Panthers chances to rebound, not just in Game 4 but throughout the series. He recorded a solid .908 SV% in the first three games and saved 23 shots to avoid elimination on Monday.

The Panthers just couldn’t help him.

“I think it was our best game of the series,” Barkov said of Game 4. “But it wasn’t enough.”

Florida even caught a few breaks, disallowing two Tampa goals in the second period.

The first check lasted over 10 minutes as the NHL’s Situation Room in Toronto tried to determine if the puck had hit the net in front of Lightning forward Alex Killorn’s ice-breaking goal. Eventually it was decided that the puck had left the court. No goal for Tampa Bay.

The second check came just a few minutes later. Nikita Kucherov snapped a wrister past Bobrovsky, but Florida challenged a hand pass from Anthony Cirelli. It took less than two minutes for the verdict to come down – no goal.

The Panthers couldn’t come up with goals of their own, and now they have a long spring and summer ahead of them to examine what has derailed their postseason.

“I love this team,” said Brunette, whose own future in Florida is still in flux. “Of course [come back] but those aren’t really my choices. I love this team, I love the group, I believe in it. I believe in you.”

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