TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Andrei Vasilevskiy had 49 saves and the Tampa Bay Lightning completed a four-game sweep of the Florida Panthers with a 2-0 victory Monday night that sent the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions back to the Eastern Conference final for the sixth time in eight years.
Pat Maroon snapped a scoreless tie, batting Zach Bogosian’s shot down behind Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky before the puck trickled into the net a little over six minutes into the third period. Ondrej Palat added an empty-net goal with 22 seconds left.
Vasilevskiy won his sixth straight game, a streak that began with the Lightning facing a 3-2 series deficit in the opening round. It was his sixth shutout in his last seven series-clinching wins.
The reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner limited the high-scoring Panthers, who averaged a NHL-best 4.11 goals while compiling the league’s best record during the regular season, to just three goals in four games.
The Lightning joined the New York Islanders and Montreal Canadiens as the only franchises to win at least 10 consecutive playoff series. Their bid to become the first team in 40 years to capture three straight Stanley Cup titles will continue in the East final against either the Carolina Hurricanes or New York Rangers.
The defending champs persevered Monday night despite having goals by Alex Killorn and Nikita Kucherov waved off within a 48-second span of the second period — the first after Florida coach Andrew Brunette challenged and a lengthy replay review determined Palat lifted the puck out of play along the boards before Mikhail Sergachev fired a shot that Killorn tipped past Bobrovsky.
Less than a minute later, Tampa Bay appeared to take the lead again only to have replay confirm Anthony Cirelli won a faceoff in the left circle with a hand pass that Kucherov rifled through Bobrovsky.
The Panthers became the first Presidents' Trophy winners to be swept by a defending Stanley Cup champion in the playoffs since Edmonton breezed past Calgary on its way to another title in 1988.
Vasilevskiy, who entered Monday night having given up one goal in each of his previous four games, has allowed one goal total in his last seven series-clinching wins.
NOTES: The Panthers outshot the Lightning 17-3 in the first period and 34-15 through the second. ... Florida C Joe Thornton played for the first time this postseason. It was the 42-year-old, six-time All-Star’s 187th career playoff game — second-most among active NHL players. ... C Brayden Point (lower body) remained sidelined for the Lightning. He hasn’t played since being injured during the Lightning’s opening-round Game 7 victory over Toronto.
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Associated Press staff, The Canadian Press