SUNRISE (CBSMiami) - The best regular season in Florida Panthers' history came to a crushing end in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. For the second consecutive year, the Cats were eliminated by the Lightning in Tampa.
Strides were made this season but being swept out of the playoffs stings.
The Panthers had the best offense the NHL has seen in more than 25 years in the regular season. But against Tampa and their world-class goalie they were held to just three goals in four games, including being shut out for the first time this season.
Between the Lightning blocking shots and the Panthers' stars not producing it was a stunning turn of events in the series. The last time the Panthers were shut out before Game 4's elimination game, 2-0, was last year's Game 6 in Tampa which sent them home for the summer.
Stars Can't Shine
Jonathan Huberdeau had an epic regular season with a franchise-record 115 points. But in the playoffs, he scored just one goal in 10 games and did not make an offensive impact. Longtime teammate and team captain Alexander Barkov was unable to produce much more, scoring just two goals. In the playoffs, you need your best players to rise to the occasion and unfortunately, not due to a lack of effort, the Panthers stars were unable to come up big.
Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky played his best hockey in his three years as a Panther in the playoffs. He made big saves at key times to keep the Panthers in just about every game they played. Bobrovsky was calm and controlled in the net.
The first thing that needs to happen is the Panthers need to nail down their coaching situation. Andrew Brunette took over early in the season and had the interim tag all the way through. He is a finalist for coach of the year.
Decisions need to be made if roster moves are necessary to win in the playoffs.
The Panthers are likely to come back with mostly the same group but there are always changes. Two big situations to watch are Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar. Both had their best offensive seasons, are key parts of the team's fabric, and both have one year left on their contracts. The Panthers can run it back with them and let the chips fall where they may. They can also try to sign one or both this offseason. Or, if the team doesn't feel a contract is possible, a trade is a possibility.
Would the Panthers be okay with losing a player to free agency or would they make the early decision and get something back for a player? Tough calls to make and it's worth watching those situations.
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