Panthers looking to put away Lightning on home ice

The Florida Panthers are one win from eliminating the Tampa Bay Lightning from the playoffs for the first time in the franchises’ histories.

The Lightning won the rivals’ two previous playoff encounters in 2021 and 2022.

Though Florida leads the best-of-seven series 3-1 — with Game 5 set for the Panthers’ home ice in Sunrise on Monday — the leaders are not overconfident.

That’s especially true after Tampa Bay’s 6-3 home win on Saturday in the Eastern Conference first-round series.

“We don’t expect an easy game (on Monday),” Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad said. “It’s going to be the same difficulty level it has been this entire series.”

Indeed, the battle has been intense between the goalies — Florida’s Sergei Bobrovsky and Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy. They have combined to win three Vezina Trophy awards — two by Bobrovsky — and their talents have been on full display in this series.

Panthers broadcasters swear Bobrovsky has made some of the best saves in franchise history in this series, and he has stopped 18 high-danger shots overall.

But Vasilevskiy, despite being down 3-1, has stopped an amazing 28 high-danger shots as per

Vasilevskiy has historically been a great playoff netminder. In fact, he has a .926 save percentage in elimination games.

As a team, Tampa Bay is 8-5 in elimination games, and that’s the third-highest winning percentage in NHL history.

Another key in Game 5 could be Tampa Bay’s power play, which led the NHL with a 28.6 success rate in the regular season. In this series, however, the Lightning is down to 23.5 percent.

Florida penalty-killers Ryan Lomberg (illness) and Sam Bennett (upper body) have been ruled out for Monday’s game.

But not to worry, according to the Panthers.

“It takes depth to win in the playoffs,” Ekblad said. “We have proven we have that depth.”

It remains to be seen if Tampa Bay can take advantage of those absences for Florida.

“The odds aren’t great down 3-zip,” Tampa Bay star Steven Stamkos acknowledged after Saturday’s win. “Three-one, they’re a little better.

“Hopefully, after our next game, it’s 3-2, and the odds are better. That’s how we’re taking it.”

The Lightning got a boost in Game 4 when defenseman Mikhail Sergachev returned from a knee injury that had kept him out since February. He missed a total of 34 games.

Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman, though, said it’s not just about personnel. It’s about attitude.

“We came out with the fire we needed (in Game 4),” Hedman said. “(The Panthers) pushed back (with three goals in the second period), but we had a tremendous third. We deserved to win.”

The Panthers blamed their poor start for the loss as they fell behind 3-0 in the first period.

“You can’t give up three goals in the first,” Panthers forward Carter Verhaeghe said. “We made a valiant effort to come back, but it wasn’t enough.”

The Panthers had held the Lightning to just 2.33 goals per game in the first three games of this series.

Now that the series has returned to Sunrise, the Panthers want to get back to that type of defense.

“It’s predicated on pressure,” Ekblad said. “That’s obvious when you watch it. We’ve improved since last year, and our defensive pressure has been a big part of this series.”

–Field Level Media