Do you want to start with the penalty, the pass or the pinpoint shot?
Steven Stamkos’ power-play goal late in the second period of Game 6 on Wednesday at Amalie Arena was the backbreaker for the Panthers and helped lift the Lightning into the second round of the playoffs for the eighth time in franchise history.
But nothing is ever that simple, not even the goal itself. For the win was the result of the Lightning’s best overall game of the series, and Stamkos’ one-timer was merely the final flourish in a three-part sequence.
It started with a bad penalty taken by Florida’s Sam Bennett, who put David Savard in a headlock after the Tampa Bay defenseman stood him up just inside the Lightning blue line. Bennett removed Savard’s helmet, possibly trying to put Savard in a situation where he would have to leave the ice or retrieve his helmet (or be called for a penalty), but the gambit backfired when Bennett was penalized for roughing.
Victor Hedman, who quarterbacks the Lightning power play from the point, was slightly off with his passes in Game 5, just missing Stamkos’ and Nikita Kucherov’s wheelhouses in the two circles. But after receiving a pass from Kucherov high above the circles, he put the puck right on Stamkos’ stick.
And Stamkos, who had missed high and wide several times from the left circle earlier in the game, perfectly placed his one-timer into the top corner of the net, beating goaltender Spencer Knight high on the stick side.
Stamkos’ first power-play goal of the series (and third overall) could not have come at a better time for the Lightning. Or a worse one for the Panthers.
Here is how we graded the Lightning’s performance in their 4-0 win in Game 6:
While the Lightning’s biggest stars (Stamkos, Kucherov, Hedman, center Brayden Point and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy) stepped up in the moment, the winning goal was produced by Tampa Bay’s fourth line.
The line created some chances earlier in the series and — with Ross Colton back alongside Tyler Johnson and Pat Maroon with Barclay Goodrow returning to the third line — found the back of the net early in Game 6.
Johnson, who gives the line speed and skill to go along with the heavy game of Maroon, set up his linemate by getting in deep on the forecheck and centering a pass from below the goal line. After defenseman Mackenzie Weegar tipped the puck into the air, Maroon knocked it into the net just over six minutes into the game.
It was the only goal the Lightning would need.
Second to none
Knight was all the talk after the Panthers’ Game 5 win, but Vasilevskiy reminded everyone Wednesday why he remains the best goalie in the league.
Vasilevskiy played his finest game of the series, stopping all 29 shots he faced to record his second career postseason shutout. He improved to 9-0 in games following a loss over the past two postseasons.
The game was closer than the final margin suggested, one or two goals separating the teams until the final five-plus minutes. Florida had a lot of great scoring looks — off the rush, cycling the puck, crashing the net — and Tampa Bay needed Vasilevskiy to be at his best.
He was calm and well-positioned as always, and used his legs when he needed to make athletic stops. After a turnover by Jan Rutta in the Tampa Bay zone in the first period, Vailevskiy made a right leg save on a dangerous chance from Frank Vatrano from low in the right circle, then stopped Anton Stralman’s follow-up shot. During a second-period penalty kill, Vasilevskiy made a save on Patric Hornqvist from in close, losing his stick in the process, then recovered to make a pad save.
There were questions about Hedman’s health entering the series, with a report that he had been playing with an injury for more than a month after falling awkwardly into the boards during a late-March game and would need offseason surgery.
While he wasn’t as dominant as during last postseason, when he won the Conn Smythe Trophy, Hedman still had a strong series and was outstanding in Game 6.
He moved well all over the ice, blocking shots, jumping on loose pucks and shutting down scoring opportunities. And that was just in the defensive zone. He assisted on Stamkos’ goal, set up a Goodrow backdoor chance and stick-handled through the Panthers’ entire defense during an early second-period rush.
He finished the series with eight assists (tying Kucherov’s franchise record for most in a playoff series), including seven power-play assists, eight blocks and four hits while averaging 23:13 of ice time.
Point is one of the catalysts of the Lightning’s speed game, returning deep into the defensive zone to retrieve pucks, then leading rushes up the ice, backing up defensemen with his skating ability or give-and-go passes with Kucherov.
But of his five points in the first five games, only two came at even strength.
We saw the Point we all remembered on his spectacular third-period goal, as he skated with speed into the offensive zone, took a backhand pass from Kucherov after Erik Cernak banked the puck off the boards into open space, then split two defenders, patiently holding the puck to get Knight on the ice before cutting back and putting the puck around his skate and into the net.
Goals don’t get much prettier.
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