Florida Panthers defenseman MacKenzie Weegar (52) and Tampa Bay Lightning center Anthony Cirelli (71) go for the puck during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, May 10, 2021, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Tampa Bay Lightning End Regular Season on Low Note

Injuries added up, but it’s still a tough scene. The Tampa Bay Lightning finished the season with a 4-0 loss to the Florida Panthers. They also end it on a three-game losing streak.

No, this season is not a disappointment. There are still the Stanley Cup Playoffs to be played. Just a frustrating moment if you are the Lightning.

The Lightning finish with a record of (36-15-3), enough for 75 points and a third-place finish in the Central Division. The Bolts now prepare to play the Panthers in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. This guarantees a minimum of six-consecutive games against each other and as many as nine.

Lightning Playoff Preparation

Health is Needed–To Have a Chance

The Bolts team that took the ice for the last few games of the season will out of the playoffs very fast. A healthy roster still does not guarantee a date with the winner of the Hurricanes-Predators series.

A healthy defense still struggled to back goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. In six games against the Panthers, Vasy had a 3.36 goals against average and a save percentage of .898. Against everyone else, his GAA is 2.03, and his save percentage was .930.

The Bolts need to put energy into a defensive plan tailored to stopping the Panthers’ tough offense. The Cats exploited a lot of wide-open shots that should be covered, and they are given a lot of time in the Lightning’s zone. Defenseman Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh have been absent the last few games and both are crucial on defense. Having them back makes the series competitive again.

For offense? Get everyone back. That is really it. Fortunately for the Bolts, forwards Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov were both skating in practice without no-contact jerseys. Both should be back for the playoffs, giving the Bolts all three of their top forwards: Stamkos, Kuch and Brayden Point.

Having all their firepower should be enough to pull out a series win in seven games.

No Home-Ice Advantage

The Bolts are heading right back to Sunrise to play Games one and two at BB&T Center. They will also be back there for games five and seven. The Bolts finished 1-3 at that arena this season. They split the first series at the start of the year but were blown out in the last two games to end the year.

The Bolts aren’t alone in getting knocked around in Sunrise, as the Panthers lost only five games in regulation at home all year–three losses in overtime go along with those.

The start of the playoffs is yet to be determined. It was originally set for May 11, but the regular season was pushed back to make up games missed due to COVID-19 (primarily the Vancouver Canucks, who already missed the playoffs).

But whenever the start date arrives, the Bolts hope to be healthy, and they need to figure out the new plan if they want to stay on the road to defending the Stanley Cup.

About Harrison Smajovits

Harrison is a sports coordinator at ESPN 98.1 FM/850 AM WRUF. He served as a beat writer for Florida Gators football for the 2019 and 2020 seasons. He also contributes to WRUF's Gainesville Sports Center segments and makes appearances on the Clash on Harp on Sports. Harrison has been a content writer for WRUF since January 2019 as well.

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