Lightning serving up a lesson to state-rival Panthers

Tampa Bay has put on a masterclass of winning hockey in the postseason, pushing the Presidents' Trophy Panthers to the brink with three consecutive wins.

Video Transcript

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: You mentioned expectations, expectations changing, the expectations shouldn't have changed with regard to the Tampa Bay Lightning. After a seven game squeaker over the Toronto Maple Leafs, they have taken the Florida Panthers to the woodshed through three games. They have a 3-0 series lead, they've done it without Brayden Point.

They have shown-- basically, these three games have been a demonstration on how to win playoff games in the National Hockey League. I mean, it hasn't been overwhelming from an offensive standpoint. It hasn't been Vasilevskiy just completely robbing the Panthers of any chance they can get. It's just been full team dynamic, smart two-way play, commitment to blocking shots, doing the things that you don't necessarily want to do through 82 games.

I mean, this has been, really, a clinic on how to win playoff games. And to think that the Lightning came in as an underdog versus the Leafs, and now an underdog versus the Florida Panthers, I mean, the Tampa Bay Lightning, despite being two-time defending champions of the Stanley Cup, were the moneymakers it seems, this year, in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Do you have any reason to suggest that the Lightning won't just get an extended break here where they can fully commit themselves to the next two, three weeks, and in pursuit of a third Stanley Cup? Or does Florida have a chance of getting back into this, and maybe pushing them to six or seven games, or maybe even winning the series?

JULIAN MCKENZIE: I don't see anything in this Florida Panthers team that tells me that they're going to come back and win this series. I would be happy to be wrong, but I just don't see it. After that game two-- so you remember how that game two ended with that very late goal. I think Ross Colton scores it. After that power play opportunity for the Florida Panthers, they put five guys out.

It's as best as the power play had looked all postseason, but they still don't get a goal. And then the Lightning kind of score that goal just to kind of put the dagger in it. That was a game that the Panthers really needed to win.

Like, that just made me think, man, the Lightning are just inevitable. This is a team that in the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs we were talking about how tired they looked, and the run of going through consecutive Stanley Cup runs, and the toll it could put on a team. And then they still edge out a win in a grueling series in a seven game series.

So we're thinking, all right, man, the Leafs took a lot out of them. The Florida Panthers kind of woke up the giant that they are. This is the Lightning at their most dominant at this point as far as we've seen. And I think with the way that the Panthers have just-- like, that goal in game two, that loss, that loss I think really hurt them.

Because I think they thought they could win that game and even the series, and the fact that the Lightning were able to come away from sunrise with two wins and then on the way home. I think that sucked a lot of life out of those Panthers. And I know Jonathan Huberdeau said, hey, you know, it's 3-0. Who cares. We can come back.

I don't know, man. I understand when you have your back against the wall you're at your most desperate moments. You do what you can to come back, and you try to take it one game at a time. But the Tampa Bay Lightning have shown throughout their cup run, and they've shown throughout this particular run here, they have the killer instinct and they are capable of burying teams when they have the opportunity to do so.

That's what so many of these other teams in the NHL lack. The Tampa-- and I'm not sure how you quantify it. There's no-- when you're looking through free agents and players to add, there's no rating that says, OK, killer instinct meter for GM's to pick up on. They just have it. They're just able to make that work.

And you talk about having a break. If they find a way to sweep the Florida Panthers, if there's one team that could benefit from having days off in this year's Stanley Cup playoffs after getting the job done early, it's the Tampa Bay Lightning. A team that could use all the rest and recuperation that they could get if they want to make this a successful playoff run.

I am stunned at how the Florida Panthers have not really put up much resistance. Or at the very least they've tried but it just hasn't worked. The Tampa Bay Lightning are just kind of cruising right now. The Panthers can still get a win, but I have a hard time seeing the Tampa Bay Lightning blowing this series at this point.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: Yeah, it would be almost impossible to fathom really, with the way the Tampa Bay Lightning are just so professional about how they go about it. And I think the physical toll, the taxing nature of the Stanley Cup playoffs, I think that it was something to consider from the very start. We've been talking about it a little bit. How the Leafs might have to make them ask questions of themselves early in that series and so on and so forth.

And I think in that game too, when Ross Colton or before Ross Colton scored that winner, which again is another example of how they're just so opportunistic, this team. They just wait for their time, and then they come through in their time. But prior to that goal, I mean, it was like a parade to the trainer's table.

Like, blocked shot after blocked shot. All these guys sacrificing themselves in order to prevent Florida from getting back into that game. And you look at that, and you look at all these guys so banged up and you're thinking, they can't do this again. Like, it's not possible to keep doing this and keep going on this way.

And yet they get that goal late in that game after all that sacrifice that deflates Florida more than they could ever be deflated themselves by the exhaustion that might be seeping in. It gives them life. And all of a sudden they're up 3-0. They have a chance to close out at home, and that incentive of having maybe a week off to recuperate with only two more rounds to go on the path to a third straight Stanley Cup.

I mean, this is shaping up perfectly for them if they can get it done. And it is shocking how Florida hasn't answered the bell in these playoffs.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: Nope.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: Presidents Trophy, 128 points. They were so, so good. They were stymied and flummoxed, and they couldn't figure out a way to get through Washington, at least efficiently. They finally did. And now they have the same problem. Maybe the roadmap was set out for Tampa Bay to follow from the Washington Capitals, and they've used it to the best of their ability.

I mean, Sasha Barkov has not been good. Jonathan Huberdeau has not been good. The important players for Florida have not stepped up, and everyone steps up for the Tampa Bay Lightning. And that in itself is the difference in this series.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: Yeah. Just pretty much since this first playoff series against Washington something felt off about the Florida Panthers. There's something about how this team has gone about the playoffs. Where they didn't look as dominant as we thought they would look.

I mean, it's natural for teams of-- whether you're a favorite or not, to come across some adversity in the postseason. But I think a lot of people expected-- myself included, expected them to make short work of the capitals, and they let them hang around. And considering how the battle of Florida went the last time these two teams played in the playoffs contrast to now, it's a stunning turn of events to see that they just have not been able to get anything to work.

And at this point if they do, it may come, like, a little too late essentially. Which would be a shame. Because the Florida Panthers put together the best possible team in their history. They went around for the first time since 1996, the year they were able to go to that final, and it could all come crashing-- and Andrew Brunette, the guy who had to take over from Joel Quenneville after he resigns through controversial circumstances.

And still is it not only able to keep the ship afloat, but helps them be a present trophy winning team. And now he's up for a Jack Adams. And now he doesn't-- it doesn't seem as if he's got the right recipe for trying to match up to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

I could understand if the Lightning were able to edge out like a six or seven game series win over the Panthers, and it's a tough grind the whole way. But the fact that-- look, we're doing this podcast on a holiday Monday. By the time people listen to this podcast, the Panthers might be done.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: Could be [INAUDIBLE]. Yep.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: This is stunning for them. Like, a team getting-- I mean, the Tampa Bay Lightning know all about getting swept as a Presidents' Trophy team, but this would be stunning for the Florida Panthers to-- and I understand Tampa is as good as they are. But to not show any fight in a series where I think a lot of people expected them to show fight, that'd be pretty shocking.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: Yeah. And clearly Carter Verhaeghe's banged up. I wonder if he's not the only one. I mean, Aaron Ekblad, too, is probably not 100% after rushing back from injury. But Sasha Barkov has looked very, very mediocre in this series. And he should be one of, if not the strongest force, honestly, with Brayden Point out.

Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos are-- you know, they're great players, but more offensive. Taking their opportunities type of guys. Sasha Barkov is a guy who at his best can completely dictate what happens in a shift. And we haven't seen that from Barkov yet. We haven't seen the historical left wing production from Jonathan Huberdeau.

Sergei Bobrovsky has been clearly not as good as Andrei Vasilevskiy. Not terrible, but not great. Like, it just hasn't come together the way it did throughout the entire regular season when this team was never reduced to 1 or even 0 goals. And they always seem to put up 4 or 5. We just haven't seen that same type of offense from them, even from the start of these playoffs.

Which tells you that maybe they were a bit of a paper tiger in some ways. Or a paper Panther, I guess. But they don't seem to have the stuff that the Lightning have shown over these last three years.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: I mean, no one really does, but I still think it's surprising--

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: No one really does, you're right.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: --that the Panthers just have folded like a deck of cards. Like a house of cards, I guess. It's-- and I get it. There's still a lot of series to be played. They have to take things one at a time. If you were to tell me that the Lightning would have a 3-0 stranglehold on the Panthers I'd be like what happened. This is a surprising result.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: And what happened, I think, is something that they couldn't overcome, which was that Ross Colton goal. Clearly gave him a 2-0 advantage, but losing twice on home ice in the way that they did, tough to come back from. And they had an extra day to get ready for game three, but they weren't any better, that being the Florida Panthers.

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