Nothing doing for Panthers vs. Bolts

by Gary Shelton on May 24, 2022

in general

Vasilevskiy got help from teammates such as Sergachev./JEFFREY S. KING

Tuesday, 4 a.m.

The best shot of the Florida Panthers meant nothing. The President's Cup meant nothing. Two goals that were disallowed by the officials meant nothing.

It all meant nothing to the Panthers, basically, because that's what goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy gave up.

Vasy was at his best Monday night when the Bolts kicked the Panthers to the curb, winning a 2-0 game and taking their series 4-0. Vasilevskiy had his sixth shutout in seven close out games (he has allowed one goal in another). He stopped 49 shots -- 20 more than in any of his previous playoff shutouts.

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Maroon (14) celebrates with Bogosian./JEFFREY S. KING

The Bolts will now go to their sixth Eastern Conference finals in eight seasons to face either Carolina or the New York Rangers.

"I’m not so sure there is much more I can say about him," said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. "Funny how the playoffs are. Five games into the Toronto series and you’re asking all these questions about 'what’s wrong with Vasilevskiy.'  It's shocking to me.

"There was never a doubt in our locker room. A goalie’s job, if you want to be elite, is to give your team a chance to win. You look at Grant Fuhr. He may let in five, but he gives his team a chance to win. Tonight, he wasn’t letting anything in. We’ve seen that time and time again. He gives you a chance to win. The other side can be a little demoralized when you look at him and you don’t feel like you can score."

The Panthers know the feeling. The highest scoring team in the NHL this year managed just three goals in four games. Vasilevskiy blocked 151 shots in the series.

Palat cinches the game with empty-netter./JEFFREY S. KING

"If you would have told me that at the outset, I probably would have laughed at you," Cooper said. "We came in with a plan. You’ve got to sacrifice so much. The guys are playing a game almost like they have not won a Stanley Cup and they’re chasing it for the first time."

Monday night was hardly the Lightning's best game of the series. They managed just three shots the first period, and much of the game was a half-court contest in Florida's end. But the Bolts did block 18 more shots -- giving them 77 in the four games.

"Guys tried to block shots with faces and ankles and teeth," Vasilevskiy said. "It was an unbelievable performance."

The Bolts seemed to score twice in the second period, once when Alex Killorn tipped Mikhail Sergachev's shot in the net an another when Nikita Kucherov scored off a pass by Anthony Cirelli on the face-off. But the officials ruled the puck had hit the mesh netting before Sergachev's shot and that Cirelli used his hand to direct the puck to Kucherov.

"You think -- ‘Is this going to be one of those games?'" Steven Stamkos said.

But the Bolts don't rattle easily, do they? They gathered themselves and played their sixth straight game without giving up a goal in the third period.

Pat Maroon scored the winning goal six and a half minutes into the third period. With 23 second left, Ondrej Palat sealed it with an empty netter.

Just before Palat's goal, he served a two-minute penalty that the Bolts killed off for knocking the puck over the wall.

"You make your own breaks," Cooper said. "It that last penalty kill didn’t personify what is going on in this series, nothing did."

The Bolts will get a few days off before the Eastern Conference final. Carolina leads the Rangers 2-1 in their best-of-seven series. 

Cirelli denied by Panthers' Bobrovky./JEFFREY S. KING

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