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Panthers Secure Victory in Game 5, Lightning Eliminated

Aleksander Barkov and Carter Verhaeghe each scored two goals and added an assist as the Florida Panthers defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 6-1 in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference First Round at Amerant Bank Arena on Monday. This victory eliminated the Lightning from the playoffs.

The Panthers will face the Boston Bruins in the second round, as the Bruins defeated Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 7.

“Being in a playoff series against your biggest rival is amazing and a lot of fun,” said Florida forward Matthew Tkachuk. “Winning it for the first time as part of this team makes it even more special. We’re likely facing another major rival next, so we’ll keep our intensity high.”

Niko Mikkola contributed a goal and an assist, while Evan Rodrigues also netted a goal for the Panthers, the top seed from the Atlantic Division. Tkachuk assisted twice, and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky saved 31 shots.

NHL Florida vs Tampa

“Each series is unique, and this team is exceptional,” noted Bobrovsky. “We are committed to our game plan, and everyone delivered. We have a strong bond and care deeply for each other.”

The Lightning, who were the first wild card team from the East, had their lone goal scored by Victor Hedman. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy made 33 saves.

After reaching the Stanley Cup Final three times in a row from 2020-2022 and winning twice, Tampa Bay has now been ousted in the first round for the second consecutive season.

“Some might think Tampa Bay just got outplayed badly,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “But those who understand hockey know it wasn’t that simple. Many things didn’t go our way tonight and throughout the series. We’ve been lucky before, but this time, luck wasn’t on our side.”

Tampa Bay initially took a 1-0 lead in the first period with a shot from Anthony Cirelli, but it was disallowed for goalie interference after Florida’s challenge.

NHL Playoff Schedule

Verhaeghe put the Panthers ahead 1-0 early in the second period, following up his own shot that Vasilevskiy initially stopped. Barkov increased the lead to 2-0 with a short-handed goal, capitalizing on a rebound from Aaron Ekblad’s shot.

Hedman reduced the deficit to 2-1 shortly after with a slap shot.

Another goal by Mikhail Sergachev for Tampa Bay was called off for goalie interference on Cirelli. Despite a challenge from Tampa Bay, the call stood after a video review.

“It looked one way to us, but after the review and consultation with officials in Toronto, it stood,” Cirelli stated. “It was out of our hands. We had to keep fighting for another chance.”

Barkov extended Florida’s lead to 3-1 in the third period by tipping in a blocked puck. Rodrigues then made it 4-1, and Verhaeghe scored an empty-net goal to bring it to 5-1. Mikkola also scored into an empty net, sealing the 6-1 victory.

Florida had been eliminated by Tampa Bay in their previous playoff meetings in 2021 and 2022.

“It’s satisfying to finally overcome them,” Verhaeghe expressed, who joined the Panthers after winning the Stanley Cup with the Lightning in 2020.

Significant team changes, including hiring coach Paul Maurice and acquiring Tkachuk, were made after Florida’s sweep by Tampa Bay in the second round of 2022.

“When you consistently lose to a team in the playoffs, especially at home, it drives you to surpass them,” Barkov remarked. “We respect their past success. There’s much we can learn from them. Beating them now feels incredible.”

Maurice, new to the team’s playoff history with Tampa Bay, recognized the difference in this series.

“I’m proud of the players for overcoming previous disappointments,” Maurice said. “Critical players like Barkov and Bobrovsky, who face a lot of pressure as the captain and top goaltender, performed excellently throughout the series.”

NOTES: Verhaeghe has scored in five consecutive playoff games, a record he now shares with Barkov (2021) and Jason Woolley (1996) for the longest streak by a Panther. Florida has never lost a series-clinching game when scoring first, boasting a 7-0 record. Barkov is the fifth Panther to score a short-handed playoff goal, and the only one besides Bill Lindsay in 1996 to do so in a potential series-clinching game.
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