By no means depend out the two-time defending champions

The Tampa Bay Lightning went right into a mini-slump in April.

They have been crushed 5-0 of their first playoff recreation and trailed the Toronto Maple Leafs 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 within the first spherical. They trailed the Leafs 3-2 in Game 6.

They misplaced key ahead Brayden Point earlier than dealing with the No. 1 total Florida Panthers.

None of that issues. The Lightning soared into the third spherical on Monday night time with a sweep of the Panthers and stay on tempo to win a 3rd consecutive Stanley Cup. They reached the third spherical for the sixth time in eight seasons.

The 2-0 victory wasn’t straightforward. They have been badly outshot and had two objectives taken away (from missed stoppage of performs) earlier than Pat Maroon bought one within the third interval.

The Lightning will face the winner of the Carolina Hurricanes-New York Rangers sequence. Here’s why it’s best to by no means depend Tampa Bay out:

Andrei Vasilevskiy has rebounded: He wasn’t a finalist for the Vezina Trophy for the primary time since 2017. And he gave up not less than three objectives in his first six playoff video games. But he was his normal sensible self in clinching video games in Game 7 in opposition to the Maple Leafs, then held the Panthers to 3 objectives on 105 pictures in Games 1-3. He topped that with a 49-save shutout in Game 4 to offer him six shutouts within the final seven clinching video games.

Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy makes a save from Florida Panthers center Sam Reinhart during the second period of Game 4.

Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy makes a save from Florida Panthers middle Sam Reinhart through the second interval of Game 4.

They’re going all out: The Lightning blocked 26 pictures in Game 7 in opposition to the Leafs and 24 in Game 2 in opposition to the Panthers. A handful of gamers went to the trainers room in that second recreation and got here again.

Kudos to Julien BriseBois: The Lightning misplaced their complete third line within the offseason. It took some time to reassemble their backside six depth, however Corey Perry was a strong offseason pickup. He has 5 playoff objectives. Trade deadline pickups Brandon Hagel and Nick Paul every has had a game-winning playoff objective.

Championship pedigree: It’s not simply the core that gained the back-to-back Cups. Maroon has gained three in a row, together with one with St. Louis. Perry gained with Anaheim, plus went to the Final the previous two years with Dallas and Montreal. Coach Jon Cooper, who has led the crew by way of its six journeys to the third spherical, is aware of make changes. It’s why the Lightning are 17-0 following a playoff loss.

Florida Panthers come up quick

The Panthers have been aggressive on the commerce deadline, including Claude Giroux and Ben Chiarot to a deep core. Both are unrestricted free brokers. So are Mason Marchment, Noel Acciari and Joe Thornton. Thornton, like Giroux, joined the Panthers as a result of he thought they gave him his greatest likelihood at successful his first Stanley Cup. Thornton, 42, suited up in Game 4 for the primary time in these playoffs. Could this be his closing NHL recreation?

Tuesday’s video games

Carolina Hurricanes at New York Rangers, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN. Hurricanes lead 2-1.

Calgary Flames at Edmonton Oilers, 9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN. Oilers lead 2-1.

This article initially appeared on USA TODAY: NHL playoffs: Lightning sweep into third spherical vs. Panthers

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