The Game 5 win was another demonstration in championship-level hockey by the Bolts. The Lightning scored the opening goal at 4:06 of the second period, Brayden Point connecting on the power play in a series where special teams again proved to be a difference-maker for the Bolts. Tampa Bay defended expertly, players selling out to disrupt scoring attempts or get their bodies in front of shots, the Bolts blocking 22 shots, their most in the playoffs this year.
Their depth was once again on display, the line of Pat Maroon, Tyler Johnson and Ross Colton creating dangerous scoring chances all night and getting rewarded with their insurance goal at 9:04 of the third when Ross Colton sniped a shot from the right dot, beating Carolina goalie Alex Nedeljkovic to the short side to extend the lead to 2-0.
And Andre Vasilevskiy was brilliant once again in net, stopping all 29 shots he faced to record his second shutout of this postseason and third of his career, all three coming in potential series-clinching victories.
"We've got four lines and all the D and great goaltending," Point said. "We just feel confident. But this is not the end goal, there's still so much work to be done. We can't get too high here. We've got to have some good practice days and wait for our next opponent."
Tampa Bay will play the winner of the Boston-New York Islanders series in the Semifinals, the Isles currently holding a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven with Game 6 scheduled for Wednesday at the Nassau Coliseum.
The Lightning will hold home-ice advantage for that series, whichever team emerges.
"We didn't want to come back to Tampa and play another game (in the Second Round)," Mikhail Sergachev said, describing the team's mentality entering Game 5. "Wanted to close them down.
1. THE SAVE-SCORE SEQUENCE
Tampa Bay and Carolina played to a draw through the first 20 minutes of Game 5, the fourth time neither team was able to find the back of the net in the opening period.
The Lightning drew a power play at 3:08 of the second when Jani Hakanpaa was whistled for interfering with Pat Maroon with the Bolts in the offensive zone and the fourth line applying pressure to the Carolina net like it did all night.
The Bolts had an opportunity to break through on a power play that entered Game 5 connecting at a 41.2 percent rate.
But it was Carolina that nearly snuck one in to go in front.
Nikita Kucherov tried to keep a puck in at the blue line on the power play but had his pass intercepted by Jordan Staal, starting a shorthanded 2-on-1 break the other way with Vincent Trocheck.
As Staal reached the blue line and drew the lone Lightning defender Victor Hedman his way, he slipped a pass that got through Hedman onto the back post for the onrushing Trocheck.
It looked like a sure goal.
Except it wasn't.
Because the Lightning have Andrei Vasilevskiy in net.
Video: TBL@CAR, Gm5: Vasilevskiy robs Trocheck
The Big Cat read the play, slid over to his left and got his glove on the shot as he was falling forward, pawing it away for an unreal denial that might have been his best save of the playoffs.
Heck, you could put that one up amongst the best saves he's had in his career.
"Sometimes a mistake is going to happen," Vasilevskiy said, explaining the play. "That was one of them. I just tried to play like a regular 2-on-1, tried to get across as fast as possible. The guy actually, he made a good shot. I don't know, I just tried to react to it. It was kind of awkward, knuckleball."
The Lightning power play continued.
Vasilevskiy's save came at 3:18 of the second period.
At 4:06, the Lightning put one in the back of the net.
After just hopping over the boards, Alex Killorn got to a puck on the o-zone side of the blue line and outfought Trocheck to get past the initial wave of the penalty kill. With a two-on-one of their own, Killorn fed Brayden Point on the back post. Point had all kinds of time and space, enough to receive the pass on his backhand, switch it to his forehand and then move back to the backhand to roof a shot over Nedeljkovic and put the Lightning in front 1-0.
Video: TBL@CAR, Gm5: Point opens scoring with PPG
"You want it on your forehand," Point said on the goal that would end up being the game-winner. "Killer makes a great play to battle and just get it over to me. You get it on your backhand, I just tried to make a play. I go to the forehand and the goalie's got me. I think I moved to the backhand. You never know, I think it's just kind of reaction. Lucky enough it goes in."
The Lightning scored the opening goal in four of the five Second Round contests.
They won all four when doing so.
Two of the Lightning's clutch playoff performers made sure they would score it in Game 5.
"They're both big-time players and they made big-time plays," head coach Jon Cooper said.
Video: TBL@CAR, Gm5: Colton nets goal from the circle
2. "THE FOURTH LINE"
Jon Cooper doesn't like to label his forward lines because he feels they all contribute to the team's success and numbering them automatically assesses them a ranking of importance that is unfair.
Because if you were ranking lines' effectiveness in Game 5, the fourth line was probably the first line for the Bolts.
The trio of Pat Maroon, Tyler Johnson and Ross Colton was a problem for Carolina, one they could not contain.
Buoyed by the game-tying goal they combined for in Game 4, the Johnson line continued to create dangerous chances for the Lightning throughout Tuesday's tilt in Raleigh, despite each member of the unit only getting a little under eight minutes of ice time.
Colton hit a post early in the contest. Then Johnson sped past a defender in the neutral zone to get free and centered a puck for Maroon in the crease, Maroon getting his blade on the pass and lifting it just a couple inches over the crossbar, a near miss that nearly provided the Lightning with the opening goal late in the first.
In the third period, that unit continued to buzz the Carolina net and tilted the ice back in Tampa Bay's favor after the Hurricanes built off their surge at the end of the second period and carried it into the third.
And they were finally rewarded for their effort when Colton scored the insurance tally that sent the Lightning through to the final four.
"First of all, Johnny was using his speed," Cooper said, describing the impact of the Johnson line. "He wanted the puck. He was commanding it. Patty boy, they call him the Big Rig for a reason. He's a load to handle down low. When you get into these man-to-man situations, if you can win your battles, that was a big point of emphasis the last few games was to make sure that puck stayed below the goal line as long as we could. And then Ross is, the kid's got a shot, he can skate. He's just a good blend on that line. I think they were trying to find an identity, and I think they found it. You get the confidence, and you have the confidence to play them. It was a matchup game early, and I didn't really care about the matchups. There was one time they looked at me and said, 'Are we going?' And I'm like, 'Damn, right you're going. Trust yourself,' and they did and scored a huge goal for us."
Point said the Lightning fed off the energy the fourth line provided.
"I think it was all game they were doing that," he said. "They were creating chances for us and going to the net hard and playing good defense and blocking shots and owning the puck down low. Our team definitely fed off that. It takes everyone in the playoffs and everyone has their moments, and tonight they were great. But they've been great all series and they've been great all playoffs."
Colton has scored three goals and recorded four points this postseason, this after netting nine goals in 30 games during his rookie season. The moment hasn't been overwhelming for the 24 year old playing in his first playoffs. He's continued to perform the same way he did in the regular season when he was a revelation for the Lightning, earning a starting spot for the remainder of the season once he was inserted in the lineup. Colton scored in his second-consecutive Game 5 in Carolina.
He said his confidence comes from his linemates as well as the veteran leaders in the Lightning locker room that have aided him along his path.
"You kind of have a calming feeling when you're out there on the ice with them because if you just put yourself in the right spot, these guys are so elite they're going to put the puck on your stick," Colton said. "It's just a calming presence out there because they're always doing the right thing. Credit to everyone in the locker room who's made it special for me and I'm just looking forward to the rest of these playoffs for sure."
Video: TBL@CAR, Gm5: Vasilevskiy records shutout in Game 5
3. ELITE COMPANY
Andrei Vasilevskiy was the major difference for the Lightning in the Second Round versus Carolina.
He was the same against Florida in the First Round.
Where both of the Lightning's first two opponents dealt with goaltending decisions throughout each series, the Bolts had complete faith Vasilevskiy could get the job done. It was his net no matter what.
That wasn't the case for Florida or Carolina. The Panthers started Sergei Bobrovsky, turned to Chris Driedger, interchanged both through the first four contests, then called upon rookie Spencer Knight in Games 5 and 6, the goaltending shuffling clearly doing no good for either Bobrovsky's or Driedger's confidence.
In the Second Round, the Hurricanes got solid starts from Alex Nedeljkovic in Games 1 and 2, but their rookie netminder let up a soft goal in each that allowed the Lightning to prevail in both. The Canes went with Petr Mrazek in Game 3, and he stole a game to get them their only win in the series. But Mrazek got exposed by the Lightning in their 6-4 win in Game 4, and the Hurricanes went back in Game 5 to Nedeljkovic, who was really good in net in a do-or-die scenario.
But not as good as Vasilevskiy.
While the opponent couldn't figure out who should start in goal, the Lightning had the luxury of handing the keys to Vasilevskiy and letting him do his thing.
And like he's done so often throughout his career, he delivered in spectacular fashion.
Vasilevskiy was perfect in Game 5, stopping all 29 shots Carolina sent his way, including the big-time stop on Trocheck with the game still deadlocked. Vasilevskiy became the first NHL goalie to record his first three playoff shutouts in three-straight series-clinching games. Vasilevskiy shut out Dallas in Game 6 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final to lead the Lightning to their second championship in franchise history. He blanked Florida in Game 6 of the First Round to advance. And he backstopped the Lightning to another round with his performance in Game 5 on Tuesday.
"It's pretty awesome to have three shutouts in elimination games," Vasilevskiy said after the victory. "I didn't know that to be honest. Just a great effort by the whole team. In all these three shutout elimination games, we had such great effort. I'll help them out a little bit, but they help me more. Just a great team effort by our guys."
Vasilevskiy finished the Second Round with a 4-1 record, a .940 save percentage and a 1.77 goals-against average in five starts. Carolina was only able to score on him twice in three contests at PNC Arena, neither of those at 5-on-5. The Canes scored a power-play goal in Game 1 and a 6-on-5 extra attacker goal at the end of Game 2.
Otherwise, Vasilevskiy was perfect in Raleigh.
As the teams went through the handshake line, Carolina head coach Rod Brind'Amour stopped for a extended chat with Vasilevskiy. Following the game, Brind'Amour divulged what he told the Big Cat.
"I've been around a long time. That's kind of what I said. I've seen a lot of goalies that were good, but he's as good as anyone that I've ever seen," Brind'Amour said. "I go back to Dominik Hasek and how he affects the team the way they can play. He makes it look easy. Dominik Hasek made it look hard. We had a lot of great looks tonight, and they looked like nothing because he was in the right place or whatever. That's what I told him."