Lightning vs. Hurricanes: 5 Things to know about their Second Round series

Lightning vs. Hurricanes: 5 Things to know about their Second Round series
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The Second Round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs began on Saturday. Today, we preview the matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Carolina Hurricanes.

LIGHTNING VS. HURRICANESseries livestream link

Game 1Sun. May 30: Lightning at Hurricanes, 5 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 2: Tues. June 1: Lightning at Hurricanes, 7:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 3: Thurs. June 3: Hurricanes at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (USA Network)
Game 4: Sat. June 5: Hurricanes at Lightning, 4 p.m. ET (USA Network)
*Game 5: Tues. June 8: Lightning at Hurricanes TBD
*Game 6: Thurs. June 10: Hurricanes at Lightning TBD
*Game 7: Sat. June 12: Lightning at Hurricanes TBD

1. Defending champion vs. rising upstarts

On paper, the Lightning and Hurricanes look really close — you can easily make an argument for both teams.

But from a sheer reputation and experience standpoint, the Lightning tower over the Hurricanes. Maybe that explains why the Hurricanes tweeted out an amusing but maybe not acting-like-you’ve-been-there tweet after eliminating the Predators:

Of course, the Lightning are defending Stanley Cup champions, while the Hurricanes won their sole Cup during that wild and woolly 2005-06 season.

It’s foolish to act like the Hurricanes could pass for an unproven team even along the lines of that 2005-06 bunch. They’ve made the playoffs three seasons in a row, won the competitive Central Division title remarkably comfortably, and even made it to the 2019 Eastern Conference Final.

Still, it seems like they’ve stumbled every time they’ve attempted to take that next step from very good to a truly great contender. Just look at those last two series against the Bruins as growing pains, particularly Carolina getting swept in that 2019 Eastern Conference Final.

When you break down the Lightning vs. the Hurricanes by their biggest/best-on-best matchups, you can boil quite a few of those arguments to many believing just a bit more in the more established Bolts. Maybe advancing past the Lightning in the Second Round would finally convince remaining doubters that the Hurricanes are for real?

Plenty having been waiting a while for this breakthrough.

2. Nikita Kucherov is still Nikita Kucherov

Heading into the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, it was perfectly reasonable to question whether Kucherov could jump right into action after missing the entire regular season.

Maybe rust is overrated?

Through that six-game series against the Panthers, Kucherov scored three goals and eight assist for 11 points. He absolutely roasted the Cats on the power play, generating seven PPP.

Aside from an injury scare during that series, Kucherov looked every bit the Kucherov who narrowly missed winning a Conn Smythe last year, and easily won the 2018-19 Hart Trophy.

Few teams could even dream of going strength vs. strength vs. the Lightning, yet you don’t need to destroy all logic to imagine the Hurricanes pulling that off. That said, Kucherov tilts the scales, giving the Lightning’s absolute best that nudge over some brilliant Hurricanes players, including a dynamite top line of Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, and Andrei Svechnikov.

3. Deadly Lightning power play vs. Hurricanes’ ‘power kill’

The 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs won’t provide the sort of sample sizes to make sweeping generalizations, especially only as the Second Round begins.

That said, those early playoff numbers capture one of the key battles of this series: the Lightning’s lethal power play (40% success rate this postseason) vs. the Hurricanes’ penalty kill (88.5% in playoffs).

It’s tempting to paint this as hockey’s answer to the irresistible force vs. the immovable object.

Merely picture the Lightning’s power play talent, and you don’t need to tax your imagination to understand why they’re so deadly. Kucherov and Steven Stamkos have carved up penalty kill units for years. Victor Hedman and Brayden Point give the Bolts additional weapons that make things sometime seem unfair.

For all of the Panthers’ strengths, they weren’t nearly as well-equipped to make a top power play unit uncomfortable like the Hurricanes could vs. the Lightning. For one thing, Carolina’s PK is sometimes referred to as a “power kill” because of its ability to create shorthanded chances.

Most importantly, that unit is adept at limiting chances from the most dangerous areas of the ice. Consider this peak at their PK defense, via Hockey Viz:

4. Bigger names on defense, in net aren’t guaranteed to be better

Ask most hockey fans in a do-or-die situation, and they’d probably pick Andrei Vasilevskiy as their goalie in this series, and Victor Hedman if they were drafting defensemen. When we look back at this Lightning-Hurricanes Second Round series, those could easily be sound assumptions.

But the gap might end up being smaller than people realize — and new stars may be truly established on a mainstream level.

Saying that Dougie Hamilton could very well be as good as (or even better than) Victor Hedman might sound like an insult. Instead, it’s meant to underscore how outstanding Hamilton has been. Year by year, Hamilton’s gradually earned more Norris Trophy consideration, but there are some whose opinions of the defensemen feel as ancient as a Renaissance painting.

Sometimes people need to be convinced on the grand scale of the playoffs. That’s fine, just don’t be surprised.

Consider how Hamilton’s game holds up on a side-by-side comparison via Evolving Hockey over multiple seasons:

Perhaps the most surprising development could end up being that Alex Nedeljkovic might be able to more-or-less hang with possible Vezina winner Andrei Vasilevskiy.

While Hamilton’s delivered for years, there’s no denying that Nedeljkovic is largely unproven. Nedeljkovic, 25, only has 29 regular-season and six playoff games under his belt. Vasilevskiy’s been a workhorse whose numbers have maintained under big-time pressure.

But you can’t totally dismiss that Nedeljkovic has done what’s asked of a goalie: simply perform when given the opportunity. He went 15-5-3 with a .932 save percentage during the regular season, and maintained much of that brilliance during the playoffs (.922 save percentage, didn’t waver over repeated overtime challenges).

Again, if it’s one or the other, you’re probably choosing Hedman over Hamilton, and especially Vasilevskiy over Nedeljkovic. In the end, it could end up being close, or even end going Carolina’s way.

5. Prediction: Lightning in 7

Could the Hurricanes cement their true contender status by eliminating the Lightning? They certainly could.

But the Lightning are the defending champions for a reason, and it’s easy to forget that they didn’t have Kucherov until the First Round. Their best are just a slight bit better, and it’s easier to trust Vasilevskiy in net.

Also: the Lightning might be a bit more rested going into this series vs. the Hurricanes. Nashville forced Carolina into OT in four straight playoff games, including two double-OT contests. Tampa Bay went to OT once, and Ryan Lomberg ended that in less than six minutes.

With stars like Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, and Alex Ovechkin failing to make the Second Round, hockey fans don’t always get to see “juggernaut” matchups. Hurricanes – Lightning is the sort of series fans clamor for heading into a season, so savor this.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Panthers rally, top Golden Knights 3-2 in OT of Game 3 of Stanley Cup final

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    Sam Navarro/USA TODAY Sports

    SUNRISE, Fla. — Carter Verhaeghe scored 4:27 into overtime and the Florida Panthers pulled off some more postseason dramatics to beat the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday night.

    Matthew Tkachuk tied it with 2:13 left in the third period for the Panthers, who got the franchise’s first title-series game win in seven tries. Florida had to fend off a power play to start overtime, and Verhaeghe got the winner from the slot to get the Panthers within 2-1 in the series.

    Game 4 is Saturday night.

    Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 25 shots for Florida. Adin Hill made 20 saves for Vegas, but got beat on the only shot that came his way in overtime.

    Brandon Montour also scored for Florida, which pulled Bobrovsky down 2-1 late in the third for the extra attacker and Tkachuk — who left for parts of the first and second periods after taking a big hit — made that move pay off when he tied the game.

    His goal breathed life into a very nervous building. But the Panthers were furious — and replays showed they had a case — when Gustav Forsling was sent to the box with 11.2 seconds remaining for tripping. Florida survived that scare, and a few minutes later, had life in the series again.

    The odds are still long, but the Panthers at least have a bit more statistical hope now. Of the previous 55 teams to trail 2-1 at this point of the Stanley Cup Final, 11 have actually rallied to hoist the trophy.

    It’s improbable, sure. So are the Panthers, who were the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, were down 3-1 to Boston in Round 1, were 133 seconds away from trailing this series 3-0 — and now have tons of reasons for optimism.

    Jonathan Marchessault and Mark Stone each had power-play goals for Vegas.

    Marchessault’s goal was his 13th in his last 13 playoff games, his fourth of this series and his third with the man advantage.

    As if all that wasn’t enough, there was a little history in there as well. Vegas joined the 1980 New York Islanders as the only team with at least two power-play goals in three consecutive games in the Cup final. And Marchessault became the third player in the last 35 years to score in each of the first three games of a title series — joining Steve Yzerman in 1997 with Detroit and Jake Guentzel with Pittsburgh in 2017.

    But it wasn’t enough to give Vegas a 3-0 lead in the series.


    Before Thursday, Florida’s last home game in the title series was June 10, 1996, when Uwe Krupp scored in the third overtime for a 1-0 win as Colorado finished off a four-game sweep of the Panthers for the Cup. … Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was in the crowd, as was NBA great Charles Barkley, and former Dolphins star Dan Marino was the celebrity drummer to welcome the Panthers onto the ice.

    Blackhawks, Athanasiou agree to 2-year, $8.5 million contract

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    Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports
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    CHICAGO — The rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks locked in one of their top scorers, agreeing to a two-year, $8.5 million contract with forward Andreas Athanasiou on Thursday.

    The 28-year-old Athanasiou tied for the team lead with 20 goals and ranked third with 40 points in his first season with Chicago. He matched career highs with four game-winning goals and three power-play goals.

    The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Athanasiou has 125 goals and 111 assists in 459 games with the Detroit Red Wings (2015-20), Edmonton Oilers (2020), Los Angeles Kings (2020-22) and Blackhawks.

    Chicago went 26-49-7 and finished last in the Central Division. The Blackhawks dealt Patrick Kane to the New York Rangers prior to the trade deadline and announced in April they would not re-sign Jonathan Toews, parting with two players who led them to Stanley Cups in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

    Florida Panthers in familiar territory, backs to the wall once again down 0-2 in Stanley Cup Final

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    Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sport

    SUNRISE, Fla. — The Panthers need a miracle. Again.

    Such is the story of Florida’s season, and it makes all the sense in the world that the plot has reappeared in the Stanley Cup Final. The Panthers needed a furious late-season push just to get into the playoffs as the lowest seed, then needed to win three consecutive elimination games to oust a record-setting Boston team in Round 1.

    And now, another huge challenge awaits. Down 2-0 in the title series to the Vegas Golden Knights, the Panthers return to home ice on Thursday night looking to spark one more epic turnaround and get right back in the hunt for hockey’s biggest prize.

    “Desperation and winning a game,” Florida veteran Marc Staal said. “We’ve approached every game in the playoffs the same way. We just try to take it – like everyone says – one at a time. But our backs are against the wall, obviously. We’re down by two. But we’re coming home. Love our team, love our resiliency. We’re going to go out and give our best effort and play our best game tomorrow and go from there.”

    To say the odds are stacked high against the Panthers is a bit of an understatement.

    – They’ve beaten Vegas in four of 12 all-time meetings between the franchises. And now they’ve got to beat them in four of the next five games to win the Cup.

    – They’ve been outscored 10-2 in the last four periods against Vegas.

    Matthew Tkachuk has two more misconduct penalties (three) than he has points (one, a goal) in the series.

    – Former Panthers Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith have as many goals so far in the series (four) as all the current Panthers do in the series, combined.

    – Vegas hasn’t dropped four out of five games since going 1-2-2 to start a six-game road swing that began in late January.

    – Teams that start a Stanley Cup Final with two home wins have won the Cup 38 times in 41 past instances.

    But by now, Florida’s penchant for pulling off the improbable is well-known. Almost expected, really.

    “Of course, we’ve had three really tough series,” Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said. “Boston is a good example. We were down, we found a way, we started playing a little better, we found a way to come back and get out of there. Same thing here – we’ve just got to work a little harder, work a little smarter and find a way to win games.”

    They’ve done it before.

    There was the 6-0-1 stretch late in the season to hold off Pittsburgh for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. The winning three elimination games against a Boston team that had the best regular season in NHL history in Round 1; Game 5 there was on the road in overtime, Game 6 required a rally late in the third period to erase a 5-4 deficit and Game 7 was another road OT victory. There was a four-overtime win at Carolina in the East final, setting the table for a sweep where the Panthers got four one-goal wins and allowed only six goals.

    They’ve given up 12 goals in two games against Vegas. And it’s not all on Sergei Bobrovsky, either. Panthers coach Paul Maurice found it funny that it was considered a surprise to some that Bobrovsky – who carried Florida to the final round – will remain the starter for Game 3.

    “He was outstanding in Game 1,” Maurice said. “And he was as good as our team was in Game 2.”

    The message was simple: Everyone has to be better. The Panthers have a history of rising to those moments.

    “We never lose doubt in this room,” Florida forward Ryan Lomberg said. “Obviously, they’re a good team. They got here for a reason. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. It’s kind of the theme of our whole year is we make it tough. Whether we wanted it this way or not, it’s this way, so we’ve got to play the hand we’re dealt now.”

    NOTES: Maurice said he expects D Radko Gudas, who left Game 2 injured, to play in Game 3. Forward Eetu Luostarinen will remain out. Maurice declined to offer specifics on Luostarinen’s injury, but quipped “he’s a good human.” … Thursday will be Florida’s first Stanley Cup Final game on home ice in FLA Live Arena. The Panthers’ 1996 final appearance was at a long-demolished arena in Miami.

    Flyers trade Pride-night boycott defenseman Provorov in 3-team deal

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    PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Flyers have traded Ivan Provorov, sending away the defenseman who boycotted the team’s Pride night as part of a three-team trade that included the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Los Angeles Kings.

    The seventh overall pick of the 2015 draft, the 26-year-old Provorov lands in Columbus and is set to enter the fifth season of a $40.5 million, six-year contract. He was the centerpiece Tuesday of the first major move under new Flyers’ leadership.

    There were plenty of moving parts in the three-team deal.

    — Philadelphia traded Provorov and forward Hayden Hodgson to Los Angeles in exchange for goalie Cal Petersen, defenseman Sean Walker, defenseman Helge Grans and the Kings’ 2024 second-round pick. The Kings lost in the first round of the playoffs.

    — Columbus acquired defenseman Kevin Connauton from Philadelphia in exchange for a 2023 first-round pick (22nd overall) and a conditional second-round pick in either the 2024 or 2025 NHL Draft. Columbus acquired Provorov from Los Angeles in exchange for Connauton.

    The Flyers already hold the No. 7 pick in this season’s draft and now also have the 23rd pick as they start accumulating key assets for long-range success in what is expected to be a deep draft.

    Flyers general manager Danny Briere had said no player was untouchable after the Flyers missed the playoffs for the third straight season and went to work with the Stanley Cup Final still underway. The Flyers named broadcaster Keith Jones team president last month and he is still working the Final for TNT. But it’s clear the overdue rebuild is underway for a franchise that hasn’t won a Stanley Cup in 48 years.

    “We felt that the picks and the direction that we wanted to go in, it was really enticing, very exciting,” Briere said. “We have a chance to really start building the team the way we wanted. The right way.”

    Briere said the Flyers are “open for business” this summer and that included potentially listening to offers for No. 1 goalie Carter Hart. Coach John Tortorella, Briere and Jones have all tempered offseason expectations for any fan looking for a quick fix. The trio all insist the Flyers have a cohesive plan for the future.

    Provorov had 65 goals and 217 points in 532 career games with the Flyers. The Russian was widely criticized in January when he cited his Russian Orthodox religion as the reason he did not participate in pregame warmups when the Flyers wore Pride-themed jerseys and used sticks wrapped in rainbow Pride tape.

    “I respect everybody’s choices,” Provorov said after the game. “My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion.”

    Now, he’s traded during Pride month.

    Briere said the backlash over Pride night had nothing to do with trading Provorov.

    The Blue Jackets, who missed the playoffs this season, were ready to take a flier on a defenseman seemingly with many productive years ahead.

    “Improving our blue line has been a priority for us and acquiring Ivan gives us an established left-shot defenseman who is still a young player with his best seasons in front of him,” Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. “He immediately improves our group on defense as he is durable, has great skill, skates well, is an excellent passer with an accurate shot and can effectively play at both ends of the ice.”

    Provorov said at the end of the season he wasn’t necessarily happy the Flyers planned to rebuild but understood the decision. Briere declined to say if Provorov wanted out of Philadelphia.

    “I wouldn’t say it’s the most positive news you can hear, but there’s a bright future here, and there’s a lot of great players that can keep growing,” Provorov said in April. “Obviously, it depends on how quick everybody gets better and how quickly the team game gets better. I think that’s what determines the length of the rebuild.”

    Turns out, the potential success out of the haul the Flyers got for Provorov just may determine the length of the rebuild.