This is a great time to be a hockey fan in Florida. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers are not only making the playoffs, but both squads clinched their playoff berths with time to spare.
The Lightning and Panthers both secured their trip to the postseason on Tuesday with 7-4 victories against Chicago and Nashville respectively. For Tampa Bay, the playoff berth is hardly a shock given that they are the defending champions, though it is certainly worth giving them credit for getting this far despite missing Nikita Kucherov all season and, more recently, playing without Steven Stamkos. That’s two of the best players in the game not in the lineup. Imagine Edmonton without Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl and you get an appreciation for just how deep the Lightning are.
Even without Kucherov and Stamkos, Tampa Bay still has Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat leading the offense, one of the league’s top defenseman in Victor Hedman, and a Vezina Trophy contender in Andrei Vasilevskiy. If Stamkos and Kucherov are healthy for the playoffs then Tampa Bay will be one of the teams to beat.
Florida didn’t enter the 2020-21 campaign with the same kind of prestige, but the Panthers have certainly put things together this season. Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov have been an ideal 1-2 combo, MacKenzie Weegar is emerging as a great defenseman, and the additions of Patric Hornqvist, Carter Verhaeghe, and Anthony Duclair for the 2020-21 campaign have gone a long way towards rounding the team out. The Panthers haven’t won a playoff series since 1996 and they’ve rarely made the postseason over that span. Their future looks far brighter than that past.
And yet, one of those stories could come to an abrupt end because it’s entirely feasible Florida and Tampa Bay will face off in the first round. That would make for an exciting series to say the least.
WASHINGTON 1 NY ISLANDERS 0
Vitek Vanecek only needed to make 18 saves to earn the shutout. It was his second career perfect game. He’s 18-9-3 with a 2.68 GAA and .910 save percentage in 32 games.
Jordan Eberle fired three shots on Vanecek. All the same, Eberle was held off the scoresheet for a third straight contest.
Daniel Sprong scored the only goal of the game. He’s up to 10 goals and 17 points in 36 contests.
Dmitry Orlov assisted on Sprong’s marker. Orlov has seven goals and 16 points in 44 games.
Ilya Sorokin saved 32 of 33 shots last night. He has a 12-6-1 record, 2.19 GAA, and .918 save percentage in 19 starts.
NEW JERSEY 6 PHILADELPHIA 4
Claude Giroux scored a goal for the Flyers. He’s up to 14 goals and 36 points in 47 contests.
Brian Elliott stopped 21 of 26 Devils shots. He dropped to 13-7-2 with a 2.98 GAA and .892 save percentage in 26 games.
Pavel Zacha netted a goal and registered an assist for New Jersey. That gives him 12 goals and 28 points in 43 games.
New Jersey also got a goal and an assist from Connor Carrick. Those were his first two points in six games in 2020-21.
Mackenzie Blackwood turned aside 26 of 30 shots last night. He has a 10-16-4 record, 3.12 GAA, and .900 save percentage in 30 starts.
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NY RANGERS 3 BUFFALO 1
The Sabres’ lone goal was scored by Sam Reinhart. It was his 22nd goal and 36th point in 48 contests.
Alexis Lafreniere netted the game-winning goal. He has 10 goals and 18 points in 50 games.
Mika Zibanejad also found the back of the net for the Rangers. That gives him 20 goals and 46 points in 50 games.
Igor Shesterkin kicked out 36 of 37 shots on Tuesday. The only goal he did allow was scored during a Sabres power play.
At the other end of the ice, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen saved 38 of 41 shots. He has gotten into two NHL games so far and he had to face at least 40 shots in both contests.
BOSTON 3 PITTSBURGH 1
Brad Marchand accounted for the game-winning goal. He’s up to 26 goals and 58 points in 46 contests.
David Krejci contributed a goal and an assist for the Bruins. That gives him seven goals and 32 points in 44 games.
Tuukka Rask turned aside 25 of 26 shots on Tuesday. He’s won four of his last five starts.
Jeff Carter netted the Penguins’ goal. He has three goals and four points in eight contests since being acquired by Pittsburgh.
Tristan Jarry kicked out 28 of 31 Bruins shots. He surrendered two goals on nine shots in the third period.
COLUMBUS 1 DETROIT 0 (SO)
Thomas Greiss stopped all 33 Blue Jackets shots in regulation time. The fact that he still didn’t win is a microcosm of this season. While Greiss has certainly had rough patches this season, in starts where he’s allowed two or fewer goals he has a 3-5-4 record this season, which speaks to how his efforts have been largely wasted during the times when he has been playing well.
That’s not to say that Elvis Merzlikins didn’t deserve this win though. He had to stop 41 shots in regulation time and was then perfect in two shootout rounds. He has a 7-12-3 record, 2.80 GAA, and .916 save percentage in 25 games.
Troy Stecher recorded a game-high six shots. The Red Wings defenseman has three goals and 11 points in 40 contests.
Patrik Laine found the back of the net in the shootout for Columbus. In regulation time though, he’s been held off the scoresheet in six straight games.
TAMPA BAY 7 CHICAGO 4
Despite there being 11 goals in this game, Tampa Bay’s Alex Killorn was the only multi-goal scorer with two. He has 14 goals and 30 points in 49 contests.
Brayden Point scored a goal and registered two assists for the Lightning. He has 21 goals and 45 points in 49 contests.
Patrick Kane assisted on two of the Blackhawks’ four goals. He’s up to 15 goals and 60 points in 49 contests.
Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 36 of 40 shots last night. Chicago outshot Tampa Bay 18-11 in the first period, but thanks in part to Vasilevskiy’s efforts, the Lightning held a 3-2 lead going into the intermission.
FLORIDA 7 NASHVILLE 4
Jonathan Huberdeau led the charge for Florida with two goals and three assists. He has 18 goals and 57 points in 51 contests.
Aleksander Barkov scored twice and recorded an assist for the Panthers. He’s up to 24 goals and 52 points in 45 games.
Sam Bennett assisted on three of the Panthers’ seven goals. That gives him eight goals and 22 points in 45 games.
Ryan Ellis scored a pair of goals for Nashville. He has five goals and 15 points in 31 games.
Although Juuse Saros allowed six goals in this game, he did face an unreasonable 55 shots. The Predators goaltender was bombarded with 21 shots in each of the first and second periods. It is worth noting though that his worst period was the third frame when he surrendered three goals on 12 shots.
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CAROLINA 5 DALLAS 1
Sebastian Aho scored the game-winning goal and registered two assists. He has 21 goals and 49 points in 49 games.
Jordan Staal also came up big for Carolina with two goals and an assist. That gives him 16 goals and 37 points in 47 contests.
Jason Robertson netted the Stars’ lone goal. It was his 15th goal and 40th point in 44 games.
Anton Khudobin stopped 25 of 30 shots last night. Two of the goals he surrendered were scored during Carolina power plays.
Alex Nedeljkovic saved 27 of 28 Stars shots. He has a 13-4-3 record, 1.94 GAA, and .932 save percentage in 20 starts.