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Burns: 3 Things we learned from sweeping the Panthers

Beat writer Bryan Burns recaps the Lightning's 5-2 win over the Panthers

by Bryan Burns / TampaBayLightning.com

Tampa Bay certainly quieted all its cynics who wondered loudly whether the team's goal scoring had suddenly dried up.

Quieted rather emphatically too.

The Lightning put up five goals in back-to-back nights to upend the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-4 at AMALIE Arena Saturday before tallying another win a day later, pulling away from the Florida Panthers 5-2 in Sunrise Sunday.

The Bolts have now swept four of their seven back-to-back sets this season.

And in the process, the Lightning completed a perfect 4-0-0 mark against the in-state rival Panthers in the regular season.

Tampa Bay's blip when it dropped two-straight games earlier in the week in an otherwise remarkable season was just that: a blip.

The Lightning move 12 points clear of the rest of the NHL atop the standings and get a crack at the Western Conference leading Calgary Flames, second overall in the League, on Tuesday at AMALIE Arena.

But before that heavyweight showdown, let's examine how the Lightning's dominance over the Panthers continued.

Video: TBL@FLA: Callahan nets backhand on breakaway

1. RIVALRY? WHAT RIVALRY?
Three seasons ago when the Florida Panthers qualified for the playoffs for just the second time in 15 seasons, many observers felt the up-and-coming Panthers were on the verge of developing into a regular playoff participant. The idea of a Sunshine State postseason showdown between the Bolts and Cats would ratchet the rivalry to another level, they thought.

Only Florida failed to make the playoffs in the two seasons that followed and are on the outside looking in again this season, now nine points out of the second wild card.

And the Lightning have controlled the series since, winning nine of the 12 meetings, Sunday's win included.

Tampa Bay swept all four games from Florida this season, outscoring the Panthers 18-10. The Lightning have won six in a row over Florida dating back to last season. Eight of the last nine contests have gone in favor of the Bolts.

Not much of a rivalry it would seem.

Sure, a couple of the wins this season were close. The Lightning needed a shootout to overcome the Panthers on Opening Night 2-1. And Brayden Point would supply the overtime game-winning goal as the Bolts rallied from a three-goal deficit to prevail in their previous visit to Sunrise.

But the Lightning, of late anyway, seem to always find a way to win against Florida.

And that potential playoff matchup will have to wait at least one more season it would seem.

Video: TBL@FLA: Kucherov bags PPG for his second goal

2. GOOD ON GOOD
Florida's power play was touted as the hottest in the NHL going into Sunday's contest. Since November 1, the Panthers had clicked on 30.3 percent of their man-advantage opportunities, ranking first in the NHL over that span.

The Lightning penalty kill, meanwhile has been good all season and really good of late. Since the bye week, it had only given up one power-play goal over 17 times shorthanded in six games. The unit ranked second in the League overall at 84.7 percent.

That battle of good on good would play a key role in determining a winner Sunday.

That battle emphatically went in favor of the Lightning.

Florida pressured the Tampa Bay net on its first power play and nearly scored when Mike Hoffman got open on the edge of the slot and fired a shot that Louis Domingue slid over just in time to turn aside. The Panthers were never able to sustain that momentum over their next three power plays, however, the Bolts' kill getting stronger as the game progressed. Florida's second power play lasted only a few seconds as a penalty to Brayden Point negated a Lightning power play a little over 20 seconds in.

Florida's last two power plays came with the Panthers trying to either tie the game or get back into it. Trailing 2-1, the Panthers earned a late second period man-advantage. The Lightning killed the penalty, and seconds later, as Point exited the box, Ryan Callahan got behind the Cats to backhand a shot over Reimer on a breakaway to extend the lead to two goals.

Down 4-2 in the third period, Florida again got an opening back into the game when Nikita Kucherov was sent to the box for unsportsmanlike conduct with eight minutes to go. The Bolts penalty kill didn't surrender a shot on the ensuing power play, and once Kucherov stepped out of the box, a Lightning win seemed inevitable.

The Lightning penalty kill improved to 85 percent on the season, only one-tenth of a percentage point behind Arizona (85.1%) for the League's top spot.

Conversely, Tampa Bay's NHL-best power-play unit tacked on a pair of goals in the third period to put the game out of the reach, the Lightning handily winning the special-teams portion of the game.

Tweet from @TBLightning: With tonight���s victory, Louis Domingue has won his 10th-straight game to establish a #Bolts franchise record for most consecutive wins by a goaltender.9 ��� Vasilevskiy (Oct. 9-30, 2017)9 ��� Grahame (Nov. 14 ��� Dec. 10, 2005)8 ��� Khabibulin (Feb. 23 ��� Mar. 6, 2004)#GoBolts pic.twitter.com/y6LfkxEEzE

3. BEST GOALIE TANDEM IN THE LEAGUE GOES TO…
Hard to name a better tandem right now than Tampa Bay's Andrei Vasilevskiy and Louis Domingue.

Vasilevskiy missed a month of the season with a fractured left foot or would probably be at or near the top of the league standings for all goalie categories. As it stands, Vasilevskiy ranks fourth for save percentage (.926), tied for second for shutouts (4) and tied for sixth for wins (22). And he's getting better as the season progresses: three of his four shutouts have come in his last 11 starts. Sprinkled throughout have been some of the most spectacular saves any goalie has made in the League this season.

Meanwhile, all Domingue has done in backing up Vasilevskiy is put up an 18-4-0 record, including another victory Sunday over the Panthers on 25-of-27 saves. Domingue ranks 14th himself in the League for wins. And after downing the Cats, he earned his 10th win in a row, setting a new Lightning franchise record for consecutive wins in decisions, surpassing the previous mark of nine-straight wins by Vasilevskiy last season and John Grahame in 2005-06.

No other NHL team has two goals in the top 14 in the League for wins.

No other NHL team has a goalie tandem quite like Vasilevskiy and Domingue.

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