Panthers face challenge of back-to-back on brink of sweep
While acknowledging the Tampa Bay Lightning are showing why they are back-to-back Stanley Cup champions, the Florida Panthers know the have only themselves to blame for going down 3-0 in the second round.
It could be pop country artist Kane Brown’s fault if their series ends less than a week before it started.
An arena conflict in Tampa with Brown’s concert forced Games 3 and 4 to be played back to back. After the Lightning won 5-1 Sunday, the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Panthers are on the brink of getting swept out of the playoffs with no time to regroup before Game 4 on Monday night (7 p.m. EDT, TNT).
“You get another chance,” Florida coach Andrew Brunette said. “We’re a good team when the backs are against the wall and it looks bleak, so hopefully we can find some energy and some passion and some joy out of that. It’s more frustration than joy right now.”
There’s little joy in the prospect of facing elimination, especially for the NHL’s best regular-season team that looked like it found a groove coming back to beat Washington in the first round. It’s been all Tampa Bay since, with Florida scoring a total of three goals through three games.
Credit reigning playoff MVP goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy and his Lightning teammates who are blocking shots, but for whatever reason the situation is dire for the Panthers. Only four teams in league history have come back to win a best-of-seven series when trailing 3-0.
Players hope the quick turnaround is a benefit because there’s no time to dwell on the unlikelihood of a comeback.
“We’ll wake up, new day and we can do it,” top winger Jonathan Huberdeau said. “We know we can do it. We have that kind of team. We have resilience. We showed it all year, so why not do it right now?”
The Lightning have dominated in nearly every facet of the game even without injured No. 1 center Brayden Point.
“They have more will and more desire than we do,” Brunette said. “They’re a tough team to come back on. And we kind of fell behind here this whole series and we haven’t found that extra gear from behind, which we found all year. But you have to play one game to bring it home and keep it alive.”
The Panthers had an NHL-best 29 comeback victories during the regular season. They also won four or more consecutive games seven times, including 13 in a row down the stretch.
That streak ended with a loss to Tampa Bay, which is on the verge of reaching the Eastern Conference final for a fourth time in five seasons.
“As these series go on, everybody’s getting banged up,” coach Jon Cooper said. “And so you want the rest. We got the rest for a couple days, and now there is no rest. The only thing is, it’s the same for both teams.”
AVALANCHE at BLUES, Colorado leads 2-1 (9:30 p.m., TNT)
Injuries continue to play a role in the rugged series out west between Colorado and St. Louis.
The Avalanche lost speedy defenseman Samuel Girard for the remainder of the playoffs with a broken sternum caused by a hit from Ivan Barbashev, and the Blues will be without goalie Jordan Binnington for the rest of this series after he was injured in a collision with Nazem Kadri.
“Any time you lose a guy, your team’s going to be upset about it,” Blues coach Craig Berube said. “It’s just more motivation.”
Jack Johnson, Kurtis MacDermid and Ryan Murray are Colorado’s options to replace Girard, a testament to general manager Joe Sakic building blue line depth for when it matters most.
Ville Husso figures to start — again — for St. Louis after being their No. 1 in net to begin the playoffs before he was replaced by Binnington. The team has also recalled Charlie Lindgren, who went 5-0-0 with a 1.22 goals-against average and .958 save percentage in five appearances during the season.
For now, it appears to be Husso’s net, and the Blues are fine with that.
“He’s just a kid who seems pretty unflappable,” defenseman Robert Bortuzzo said. “As a team, we know what we’ve got back there. We’re very comfortable.”
AP Sports Writer Fred Goodall in Tampa and freelance writer David Solomon in St. Louis contributed.
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
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