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Panthers blank Lightning 4-0 to clinch second place finish in Central Division

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CD60 posts shutout in return to the Cats’ net

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Florida Panthers Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Panthers finished the 2020-21 regular season with a convincing 4-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning to wrap up second place in the hodgepodge Discover Central Division,

Chris Driedger stopped all 30 Lightning shots in his first game action since April 26. It was the pending UFA’s third shutout of the season. Rust? What rust?

MacKenzie Weegar opened the scoring 15;19 into the first period when he relieved Mason Marchment, who was sent ahead into the offensive zone by Juho Lammikko, of the puck and fired a shot from the high slot over Andrei Vasilevskiy’s blocker.

Lammikko would put the Panthers in prime position for the win with an unassisted shorthanded goal at the 8:23 mark of the second. The young Finn went a long way to chase down a dump-in that ended up below the Lightning goal line while the Bolts were changing. Vasilevskiy, who must have thought Lammikko was one of his teammates or just didn’t hear him approaching, bounced the puck off the boards for a pick-up and paid dearly for his lack of attention when Lammikko stuffed a wraparound into the net.

Carter Verhaeghe, playing in his game in a month, grew the lead to three 2:27 into the third when he decided to shoot on a 2-on-1 break with Weegar and solved Vasilevskiy blocker-side again with a bullet wrister from the top of the right circle. Assists on Verhaeghe’s 18th goal went to Anthony Duclair and Aleksander Barkov.

The red-hot Panthers completed the scoring with 5:53 left in the game. After taking a pass from Keith Yandle, Radko Gudas let go of a hard, low shot from center point and Alex Wennberg got a piece of it with his blade to guide it past Vasilevskiy. The secondary helper was Yandle’s 600th NHL point. Sonk!

Kudos to the Panthers, who easily swept the two-game set at BB&T Center to finish four points ahead of the Lightning and earn home-ice advantage when the teams play each other in the first round of the impending Stanley Cup Playoffs, The Cats went 5-2-1 against the Stanley Cup champs this season. Florida finished the campaign with a franchise-best .705 winning percentage. That translates to 115.6 points over an 82-game schedule. What an incredible job by Bill Zito and the front office, the coaching staff, and the players. Thanks for an unforgettable regular season. On to the playoffs!

Shock & Awe

  • In addition to finishing with the best point percentage in team history, the Panthers also posted its best home and road record. It was the first time they won the regular-season series against the Lightning in four years.
  • Keith Yandle became the 10th American-born defenseman to hit the 600-point mark. It took Yandle 1,032 games to accomplish the feat. He finished the season with 27 points and is now 43 games shy of breaking Doug Jarvis’ NHL record for most consecutive games played.
  • The Bolts opened the game with an all-Black forward line consisting of Mathieu Joseph, Gemel Smith and Daniel Walcott, who was making his NHL debut.
  • Kevin Connauton played in his first game in a month and gave the rookie Walcott a pummeling. The veteran defenseman played 11:08 and registered one shot on goal.
  • Aleksander Barkov finished his Hart-worthy campaign on a four-game point streak. Barkov led the Cats with 26 goals and amassed 58 points in 50 games.
  • The last time Tampa Bay lost consecutive games by four or more goals was October 31-November 1, 2007.
  • For the other side of the regular season finale, plug in to Raw Charge.

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