Lightning discharge Panthers from playoff race with 4-0 shutout win

Ben Bishop stops all 34 shots to pull the plug on Cats' season.

Well, you can stop all the scoreboard watching. The Florida Panthers were blanked 4-0 by the Tampa Bay Lightning last night, finally bring their unlikely bid for a playoff spot to an end. Even if the Cats would have won the game, wins by Boston and Detroit would have eliminated them anyways.

Steven Stamkos scored twice in the second period and Ben Bishop turned aside all 34 of the Panther shots he faced to power the Lightning to its 48th win, which clinched home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs with the positive result.

After a scoreless first period that saw each time register seven shots on goal, the Bolts would take advantage of their only power-play opportunity of the game to open the scoring at 6:10 of the second.

With Tomas Kopecky (why is this guy still in the lineup?) off for tripping, Stamkos took a circle-to-circle pass from Tyler Johnson and hammered the puck past Roberto Luongo to snap a seven-game drought. Nikita Nesterov drew the second assist on the man-advantage marker.

Stamkos struck again just under five minutes later for his second of the night and forty-second of the season. This time, the dangerous sniper scored from the opposite circle with a beautiful wrist shot, after taking a feed from Ryan Callahan, that beat Luongo up high.

The Panthers shook off the outburst and kept putting pressure on Bishop, but Tampa Bay's keeper would refuse to yield, making one of his best stops on Dave Bolland's bid on the doorstep late in stanza, denying poor Brandon Pirri a rare helper.

The visiting Bolts put the game away early in the final frame. After a taking crisp pass from Stamkos, Callahan worked his way wide of defenseman Alex Petrovic and released a shot that Luongo got a piece of, but couldn't keep from dribbling in the net.

Florida came close to finally solving Bishop with seven minutes to go, but Jonathan Huberdeau couldn't stuff Aaron Ekblad's carom off the backboards over the goal line.

Johnson completed the scoring with 1:47 left in the game by punching in the rebound of Jonathan Drouin's wraparound attempt. Game, set and match for the Lightning and another year without a playoff appearance for the Panthers.

Odds & Sods

  • Steven Stamkos' two goals gave the deadly forward 18 in last 17 outings against Florida. The Lightning have gone 14-2-1 in those games.
  • Jaromir Jagr and Willie Mitchell led the Panthers with five shots on goal apiece while Scottie Upshall dished out a game-high six hits.
  • Roberto Luongo finished with 18 saves as the Cats limited the Bolts to just 22 shots on goal. In addition to outshooting Tampa Bay, Florida outhit them 32-23. Unfortunately, none of that mattered on the scoreboard.
  • The Panthers were shutout for the fourth time this year to finish the season series against its geographic rival with a 1-2-1 record.
  • The Lightning killed off all four of Florida's power-play attempts. Two of those chances came with the game still scoreless.
  • Not to be overly negative or piss anyone off this morning, but it's game's like last night's (Panthers still mathematically alive, cross-state rival in the building, Saturday night) that make me wonder about the viability of hockey in this market. Only 11,072 people show up? Come on South Florida, you can, and must, start doing better than that. Don't want to hear the litany of reasons and excuses anymore, I know them all and trust me, I get it, but.... Next season, it's time to put the past in the past or there might not be a future. I'm not that old, but I'm old enough to have seen teams like the California Golden Seals, Cleveland Barons, Atlanta Flames and Colorado Rockies with my own eyes; in addition to the more-recent and more familiar franchise departures in the 90's of Minnesota, Hartford, Winnipeg and Quebec, and then of course, Atlanta failure 2.0. As unlikely as it may seem to some of you, it happens. How ever you can do it, be a part of not letting that happen here. Okay, preachy-time is over.
  • For more on the deciding game in this year's Battle of Florida, check out visit our sparky friends over at Raw Charge.
  • Everyone have a great Easter! Panthers and Canadiens later today, keep it here for coverage.