NHL Rink Wrap: Lightning sweep Panthers; Kadri pushes Blues to brink

NHL Rink Wrap: Lightning sweep Panthers; Kadri pushes Blues to brink
Vasilevskiy (L) Photo by Mark LoMoglio/NHLI via Getty Images; Kadri (R) Photo by Scott Rovak/NHLI via Getty Images

• The Presidents’ Trophy-winning Panthers have been eliminated from the playoffs, as the Lightning completed a sweep in Game 4. Andrei Vasilevskiy had, uh, a lot to do with it.

Via the Associated Press: the NHL and St. Louis police were looking into threats made toward Nazem Kadri following the Jordan Binnington collision heading into Game 4. To put things mildly, Kadri was a huge factor in Game 4, even beyond a spiteful hat trick.

• Speaking of goalie collisions, Milan Lucic didn’t face supplemental discipline for hitting Oilers goalie Mike Smith.

• Adam Gretz looks over the biggest surprises of 2021-22 in the latest PHT Power Rankings.

Game 4: Tampa Bay Lightning 2, Florida Panthers 0 (TBL wins series 4-0)

There are a lot of ways to summarize how explosive the Florida Panthers’ offense was in 2021-22. One way: no one shut them out … until the Lightning did so to sweep the Panthers in Game 4 on Monday.

While there were stretches of these playoffs (against both the Capitals and Lightning) where the Panthers didn’t look like that locomotive team, the effort was mostly there in Game 4. Tampa Bay slowed Florida, sure, but this feels like one might have expected the Cats to look against postseason competition.

For all the volume the Panthers sent Andrei Vasilevskiy’s way, none of it mattered. Scroll for more on Vasilevskiy in the 3 Stars section. The short version, though: he made a 49-save shutout.

All series long, the Panthers only managed three goals through four games. Chances are, Sergei Bobrovsky allowed a tough goal or two. But how much can you blame Bob when he’s receiving zero goal support?

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 Second Round schedule, TV info]

Ultimately, the Panthers remain the team with the least power-play goals of any team during this postseason: one, on 31 attempts. The Stars fell in the First Round, and they scored more (2-for-24).

Over a small sample size, you can sometimes lose track of how bad luck can derail a series. Not every element of the Panthers’ playoff play should inspire concern.

Yet, there are gnawing questions. Why not try loading up with Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov sooner? Should it have taken until Game 4 to give Joe Thornton and his big body a chance? Did Andrew Brunette experiment enough to get more out of that power play?

Most hauntingly, the Panthers couldn’t win a single game against the Lightning, even with Tampa Bay lacking Brayden Point. Claude Giroux‘s the sort of rental you can only make so many times (especially with the cupboard largely bare of first-rounders). Jonathan Huberdeau will only be a bargain ($5.9 million cap hit) for one more season.

While this core is fairly young, you don’t always know when you had your best chance. The Panthers shouldn’t panic, but they’re justified in carrying some huge regrets from this Lightning sweep.

Game 4: Colorado Avalanche 6, St. Louis Blues 3 (COL leads 3-1)

Heading into Game 4, Nazem Kadri — and how the Blues/their fans reacted to Kadri — was a big focus. Yet, in a team sport like hockey, on-ice play doesn’t always reflect the buzziest stories.

This one did.

Heading into the first intermission, David Perron‘s goal put St. Louis up 1-0. Then a stunning second period truly overwhelmed the senses.

In less than a five-minute span, the Avalanche scored four consecutive goals. Kadri motioned to Blues fans on each goal, and inspired some violent on-ice reactions. For a stretch, the Blues really let Game 4 get away from them, and the Avalanche took advantage.

To their credit, the Blues surged back into the second period to make it close. Yet, a Kadri hat trick goal was the dagger. Whether Perron (or Pavel Buchnevich) face a suspension or not, the Blues now face the prospect of another quick elimination at the hands of the Avalanche.

Might be wise for them to focus more on stopping Nazem Kadri, rather than going after him. Just a thought.

Three Stars from Monday’s NHL playoff games

1a: Nazem Kadri, Avalanche

Another night where it’s tough to say who had the absolute best performance of the night (in a good way). Nazem Kadri and Andrei Vasilevskiy both put together sensational games. Both the pest-star and brick wall goalie have also made big impacts beyond Game 4 in their respective series.

Under all that scrutiny (and the stress of facing threats, often racist, for colliding with a goalie), Kadri tormented the Blues and their fans in Game 4. Impressively, Kadri made an impact even beyond collecting his first career playoff hat trick. He also grabbed an assist on Mikko Rantanen‘s empty-netter.

Blues players like David Perron and Pavel Buchnevich lost their cool toward Kadri. In doing so, Kadri drew penalties. Frankly, it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising if supplemental discipline comes from that. (Perron was part of at least two very dangerous incidents.)

After the best regular season of his career, Nazem Kadri is showing that he can be a premium playoff performer. Maybe this will quiet some of the criticisms from previous playoff suspensions?

(Then again, as Game 4 showed us, a lot more could happen between the Blues and Avalanche before this series wraps up.)

1b. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Lightning

Don’t blame someone if they call Andrei Vasilevskiy “The Closer.”

Again, the Lightning deserve credit as a team for limiting the highest of high-danger chances. But a 49-save shutout is still impressive work by Andrei Vasilevskiy.

While this is a nightly award, take a step back and consider Vasilevskiy’s knack for stifling the Panthers. He allowed just three goals over those four games, finishing with a .981 save percentage (three goals allowed on 153 shots faced).

Goalies like Vasilevskiy can sometimes make you look worse than you really are.

3. Valeri Nichushkin (and Bowen Byram), Avalanche

There’s a real argument that David Perron earned 3 Star recognition with two goals. Perron scored the 1-0 goal for an early lead, and helped the Blues rally during the zany second period.

But Perron losing his cool helped the Avalanche build the sort of lead that made that rally fall short.

Both Bowen Byram and Valeri Nichushkin collected two assists in Blues – Avalanche Game 4. Each player put up eye-popping underlying numbers to boot.

Not every team has the luxury to win playoff games when players like Cale Makar and Nathan MacKinnon aren’t scoring. Kadri, Byram, Nichushkin, and others helped Colorado win on a relatively quiet night for those go-to players.

TUESDAY’S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Game 4 (CAR leads 2-1): Hurricanes at Rangers, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN, SNE, SNO, SNP, TVA Sports)
Game 4 (EDM leads 2-1)Flames at Oilers, 9:30 p.m. ET (Sportsnet, CBC, TVA Sports, ESPN)

PHT’s 2022 Stanley Cup previews
Avalanche vs. Blues

Lightning vs. Panthers
Makar, McDavid lead Conn Smythe watch after First Round
NHL Second Round predictions
Storylines for the NHL’s Second Round

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