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Game 6: Panthers see season end at hands of Lightning

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Game 6 lightning panthers
The Tampa Bay Lightning celebrate a first-period goal against the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center on Monday. Wednesday, the Lighting ended its series by beating the Panthers in Game 6, ending Florida’s season. // Photo by Roger Topalian, 21st Century Photography (561) 488-0000

Before Game 6 began on Wednesday night, the large scoreboard at Amalie Arena had a message from the Tampa Bay Lightning to Florida Panthers: ‘It’s time to end them.’

Andrei Vasilevskiy took said message to heart.

The Tampa Bay goalie was superb on Wednesday night, throwing back everything he saw he made 29 saves to beat the Panthers and send them packing for the summer with a 4-0 victory.

”We needed to get that first one,” coach Joel Quenneville lammented. “We had some great looks, some great opportunities and some didn’t even get on net and those were the best quality chances we had. He was great tonight. … We weren’t able to crack him tonight. Hey, that’s a really good hockey team. A great hockey team. We learned how hard it is to win in the first round. It’s the hardest round ever.”

Tampa Bay won the first-ever Sunshine State Showdown series 4-2 and the defending Stanley Cup champions advance to the second round to face either Carolina or Nashville.

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The Panthers, after one of their best regular seasons in franchise history, are done after one round.

Florida has not won a single playoff series since beating the Penguins in the 1996 Eastern Conference finals. The Panthers are 0-6 in Stanley Cup playoff series since — and that’s not counting last year’s play-in loss to the Islanders.

Spencer Knight, the rookie Florida goalie making just his sixth NHL start, played an admirable game in making 20 saves. He gave the Panthers a chance.

They just did not capitalize on it — and the Lightning have Vasilevskiy to thank for that.

”Right now it is tough to analyze our last game,” Sasha Barkov said. “He’s a great goalie, one of the best goalies in the league if not the best. To score on him, you have to get more guys to the net or shoot better. Stuff like that. Easy shots on him are not going in.

“I’m really proud of every guy in our room. Hell of a regular season, we played good hockey. We didn’t win more than two games in the playoffs, but we played good hockey. Credit to Tampa, too.”

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