NHL Stanley Cup Final Game Night: 9-28-20 Lightning v Stars

Validation.

TB-2
DAL-0

Tampa Bay Wins the Series 4-2
Tampa Bay Wins the Stanley Cup

Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped all 22 shots he faced for his first shutout victory of the playoffs. He didn't have a ton of work in this game as the team in front of him played a defensive masterpiece, but when Dallas mounted their push late it never felt in doubt that Vasilevskiy would slam the door shut.

First Period
12:23 TB Point (14), (Kucherov, Hedman)(PP)

Second Period
7:01 TB Coleman (5), (Paquette, Maroon)

Third Period
NO SCORING

Victor Hedman, Brayden Point, and Vasilevskiy were the game's three stars.

Victor Hedman, rightfully, was the Conn Smythe award winner, and frankly may be the best player on earth right now.

The Lightning were a little timid to start this game and got an early power play and gave up a pretty good shorthanded chance that was like smelling salts for the team and woke them up, and from that point on the Tampa Bay Lightning painted a defensive masterpiece. Just no other way to put it. Dallas' fatigue played a part, but the Lightning played their hardest and most defensively responsible game en route to holding Dallas to just eight shots through 40 minutes and 22 for the whole contest. And then the score effects kicked in and they needed the saves, Vasilevskiy was more than up to the task. Offensively the team didn't generate a ton of chances. They got their opening goal on the power play with Brayden Point following his own shot for a rebound goal and Coleman's insurance goal came off a great mid air pick by Pat Maroon that led to a beauty pass to the one timer dished out by Cedric Paquette. That was all they needed, and they knew it.

For the Lightning, it's validation of a great era in team history and the completion of unfinished business that goes back as far as the team's near miss at a championship against Chicago a half decade ago. In professional sports, championships seal a team's place in history. Nothing else does it. And after three near misses and last year's frustration against Columbus, this Lightning team finally sealed its place in history by securing the franchise's second Stanley Cup.

My biggest plaudits got to Julien BriseBois. A year ago I wrote that it gave me no pleasure to state that the easy road for a salary cup stung club to overcome the kind of implosion they had against Columbus was simply to axe the coach. It was a much harder, if not impossible, seeming road to reshape a roster to add the size, jam, and character the team needed to get over the hump. But, unbelievably, BriseBois did it. Getting Pat Maroon. Snagging Shattenkirk and Bogosian off the scrap heap. Biting the bullet and paying the price to acquire Coleman and Goodrow despite some of the criticism that came along with those deals. The really great thing about BriseBois proved this season is that I believe it means the Lightning should be able to win multiple Cups now. It seems just as impossible, with impending cap hell coming, for BriseBois to rebuild the depth around his core and chase another championship. But, honestly, he just did it once. Who can say with a straight face he cannot do it again?

The coaching staff under Jon Cooper generally pressed all the right buttons and made it darned easy on the fan base as the team never had to elimination game on the way to the trophy. There was really only one moment when I thought he made some demonstrably questionable coaching decisions putting the Cirelli line against the Bergeron line early in the Bruins series, but beyond that the decision-making and adjustments made every First Intermission were impeccable. Even tonight, the guts to insert a rookie, Alexander Volkov, into the game. Wow. And he rewarded the decision by drawing the penalty on Point's GWG. Let's cut to the chase: if you win a championship getting through coaching warlocks like John Tortorella and Barry Trotz and do so never having to face elimination in a game, you can coach. All questions answered.

And the players... how good is this team having won a Cup in dominating fashion even with Steven Stamkos, his generation's second best goal scorer, only being available for half a period? Just wow. Point and Kucherov will get all of the kudos they deserve as two of the greatest players in the league, but if there's one big advantage to bubble hockey it's that the Tampa Bay Lightning got a fit, healthy, and rested Ondrej Palat. And, Ondrej Palat was a MAN in this tournament. Likewise the "third" line of Goodrow, Gourde, and Coleman. Gourde, in particular, showed incredible position flexibility to move into the center spot full time and was, in my mind, the heart and soul engine of the team in this run.

On the backline, as I said, Victor Hedman may be the best hockey player in the world right now. He and Vasilevskiy are the two biggest reasons I think the Lightning are set up to win more Cups in the future, salary cap or no salary cap. And Ryan McDonagh was a warrior and a stone cold hitman in the Stanley Cup Final. They led by example and the rest of the defensive corps followed.

There will be those in the northern hockey media establishment who want to asterisk this title for Tampa Bay because it didn't come with the 82 game grind of the regular season as a precursor and it didn't come with the travel associated with a normal tournament. I don't disagree this title may have been slightly easier than in a normal year, but only a fool would say that this was in any way, shape, or form easy. Just the fact the naysayers are expending energy to try to denigrate the Lightning's accomplishment is, in its own way, exemplary of the fact the Lightning took something of obvious value away from the hockey blue bloods. Tough. Live with it. Tampa Bay is the best organization in the NHL and one of the best markets and fan bases in the league to boot.

I'd like to conclude with a tip of the hat to website co-founders Chad Schnarr and Tim Bennett. We started this website during the 2004-2005 lockout and it's been about a 15 year grind to get to this point. There were 12 Bolt Prospects Alumni in the lineup tonight and one current Bolt Prospect as well as a coach who I watched from the stands in the Norfolk Scope before he was even a gleam in Lightning fans' eyes. In many ways, this era of Lightning hockey has first and foremost been the culmination of a decade of drafting and development excellence, and it's been a pleasure to and a joy to cover these players over the years and to share it with our team here.

Volkov had 1 hit in 9:34. Drew the penalty that led to the GWG and had good speed and fresh legs on the fourth line. A gutsy insertion into the lineup that paid off by Cooper's staff.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Stanley Cup Final Game Night: 9-27-20 Stars v Lightning

Lightning see a chance to get the trophy momentarily slip through their fingers.

DAL-3
TB-2 (2OT)

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 3 goals on 33 shots for the loss. Tough way to lose as he saw very little action most of Overtime and then was left to fend for himself to try to stop two rebound chances one on one in front with Perry.

First Period
17:52 DAL Perry (4), (Seguin, Oleksiak)

Second Period
4:37 TB Palat (11), (Kucherov, Point)

Third Period
3:38 TB Sergachev (3), (Point)
13:15 DAL Pavelski (13), (Heiskanen, Seguin)

Overtime
NO SCORING

Double Overtime
9:23 DAL Perry (5), (Klingberg)

Brayden Point was the game's third star.

Weird game. Just a weird, weird game. The Lightning had the puck for most of the contest and were first on loose pucks most of the contest but Dallas' defensive zone coverage held up under the pressure and didn't surrender a lot of high quality chances. And, Dallas being Dallas, they were opportunistically looking to poach counters and get greasy goals off rebounds and tips in front. The eyeball test says Tampa Bay deserved to win that game but the fancy stats reveal they just weren't able to work themselves into enough quality chances to unlock the winner. Still, frustrating to see they had a Third Period lead and couldn't make it stick.

Dallas looks dead on their feet, but so did the Isles after G5 and it ended up being the Lightning who looked like skating zombies in G6 of that series, so we'll have to see what the next contest has for the Lightning. They're clearly the better team in this series, but now that you're down to one or two games left to go in the season, chance and luck play a more outsized role.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Stanley Cup Final Game Night: 9-25-20 Lightning v Stars

Justice.

TB-5
DAL-4 (OT)

Tampa Bay Leads the Series 3-1

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 4 goals on 30 shots for the win. Not his prettiest game. Not his best game. But there were a couple of moments of pure unvarnished Vasilarceny that gave the Lightning the chance to stay in this game and eventually take the win.

First Period
7:17 DAL Klingberg (4), (Lindell)
18:28 DAL Pavelski (11), (Benn, Radulov)
19:27 TB Point (12), (Palat, Shattenkirk)

Second Period
2:08 TB Point (13), (Killorn, Kucherov)(PP)
8:26 DAL Perry (3), (Seguin, Janmark)
18:54 TB Gourde (7), (Kucherov, Sergachev)(PP)

Third Period
6:41 TB Killorn (5), (Sergachev, Cirelli)
11:35 DAL Pavelski (12), (Seguin, Heiskanen)

Overtime
6:34 TB Shattenkirk (3), (Hedman, Maroon)(PP)

Alex Killorn and Kevin Shattenkirk were the game's first and second stars.

It was a gritty, resilient effort by the Lightning who at times in this game fell victim to to some poor puck luck, some self-inflicted wounds of their own making, and some terrible officiating. Don't let anyone (at NBCSN) tell you different.

The Lightning again dominated much of this game and again Dallas had a witch's brew of puck luck and opportunism that could've put the Lightning on the road to ruin. They staked themselves to a 2-0 lead with an opening marker that came on their third goal of the series where a blocked shot rebounded right back to the stick of the shooter for an immediate follow-up chance on an unset Vasilevskiy. And then they got a short developing 2-on-1 goal where Rutta failed to identify the 2-on-1 and did effectively nothing to cut the pass over. All against the run of play. A lesser team might've sagged. Brayden Point made Anton Khudobin look like a road cone on a breakaway with under a minute to play in the First Period and then had a masterful mid air tip-in goal on the power play early in the Second Period to erase the early deficit.

Dallas came back and quickly re-established a 3-2 lead on a Seguin breakaway where Vasilevskiy got pulled out of position and the puck got left in the crease for Perry to tap home. Again, a lesser team sags. The Lightning kept working and eventually got a power play opportunity where Yanni Gourde got some puck luck where a shot pass accidentally spiked off a Dallas skate straight to him for a half naked net with Khudobin out of position. 3-3.

Alex Killorn subsequently got the Lightning their first lead of the night at 4-3 early in the Third Period on a bit of a howler with Khudobin way deep in his net and off his angle. But, again, Dallas quickly answered less than five minutes later with more puck luck as a Pavelski shot went off Vasilevskiy's stick, off Shattenkirk, and in. Again, a lesser team sags. The Lightning just grab their lunch pails and get back to work.

And then, all the foolishness at the end of the Third Period happened. The Lightning, poised to spring a 2-on-1 with Brayden Point screaming into the rush saw it go by the boards when Perry "hooked" him in the tender bits and he fell to the ice. Cowardly NHL officials called Perry for "hooking" and Point for "embellishment" so as to avoid giving the Lightning a late power play that might decide the game. The correct call was "spearing" and Perry should've been gone for five and should be suspended tomorrow for G6. But, it's a cowardly league that thinks it's more important to have manufactured parity than to legislate on-ice attempted castration out of the game. But I digress... and we moved to 4-on-4.

Right off the faceoff in Overtime, Sergachev took a holding call on a breakaway to give Dallas a 55 second 4-on-3 man advantage. On its face, there's nothing wrong with that call, except the context where you had Brayden Point sitting in the box still icing down his family jewels because you called him for "embellishment" rather than make a call that might sway the game. Hmmmm, might giving a team a 4-on-3 have been a bigger gift than a regular 5-on-4 power play? Refer to how many 4-on-3 PP's on regular season OT go for that answer. A lesser team gets unfocused and lets anger take over. The Lightning buckle down and make the kill.

Less than three minutes later Jamie Benn Russian leg swept Tyler Johnson hard. Grabbed him with the free hand. Used his leg to leverage Johnson's legs out from under him. A dangerous looking play, and truly a stupid play under the circumstances as the refs dodged a major bullet when Dallas didn't score on the 4-on-3. You knew they'd be looking to make it up to Tampa Bay given the original botched "embellishment" on Point that started all the nonsense. Benn invited the call. The refs took him up on the invitation. Dallas (and certain bitter jerks at NBCSN) can cry all they want to about it, but at the end of the day they were handed a golden ticket on a 4-on-3 power play and their man advantage unit couldn't cash. Kevin Shattenkirk did on the resulting 5-on-4 power play. And that, boys and girls, is called justice.

Which brings us to Ed Olczyk. Sniffer of Matt Barzal's jock. Criticizer of every big save Andrei Vasilevskiy makes. Dude who looked like his favorite race horse had to be put down and made into glue right after Nikita Kucherov's GWG with eight seconds left in the Isles series. Why does Ed Olczyk hate the Lightning? Is it the 10-0 pasting the Lightning gave him when he was coaching the Pens back in the day? Is he just channeling his inner Mike Milbury, who had he not been bounced from the bubble for misogynist old-mannery would've been no-doubt filling Olczyk's role as NBCSN's designated Lightning hater as a multi-decade grudge holder against Phil Esposito and, ergo, the team Espo breathed life into? Did he get the bitterness by osmosis from ex-NBCSN co-worker Jeremy Roenick, who cried a river of tears after G7 of the 2004 ECF when the Lightning finally broke the back of "The Legend of Keith Primeau?" Or is that where ex-Flyer Keith Jones' animosity comes from? Either way, whatever possessed Ed Olczyk to try to act like the penalty on Benn was some kind of gross outrage, it just showed what we've known about Olczyk all along in these playoffs. Even the biggest skeptics I know now see it. Your bias is showing, "Edzo." Maybe you should join your buddy Milbury and leave the bubble, too. Because, heck, tomorrow might be a rough, rough night for you, champ. Almost like getting smashed 10-0 all over again.

And Doc Emrick, who signs off on behalf of Dimitry Afanasenkov, Andrei Zyuzin, Bob Beers, and the mighty Duke of Earl, it's admirable you try to defend your co-worker. However, even you, in your person, woman, man, camera, TV state of mind know what happened tonight, and you couldn't paint over it. Shame on you for carrying Olczyk's water.

Maybe we should thank Edzo. It's hard to imagine he'll top the foolishness we saw in Overtime tonight. So we'll get our rightful NBCSN bashing out of the way here in G4, and let the rest of the series be about this Lightning team that, contrary to what you might hear from some at NBCSN, doesn't quit or "go invisible" and just grabs their lunch pail and thus far has risen to the challenge again and again this postseason.

Tomorrow night.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Stanley Cup Final Game Night: 9-23-20 Lightning v Stars

Tampa Bay takes control of the series with a decisive G3 win.

TB-5
DAL-2

Tampa Bay Leads the Series 2-1

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 2 goals on 24 shots for the victory. Had to make a lot of big saves in the First Period while the team struggled with its puck management and then didn't have to do a lot the rest of the way. Sure would love the big cat to smell the trophy and just hulk up in these upcoming back to back games.

First Period
5:33 TB Kucherov (7), (unassisted)
6:58 TB Stamkos (1), (Hedman, Rutta)
11:19 DAL Dickinson (2), (Hintz)(SH)

Second Period
0:54 TB Hedman (10), (Cirelli, Palat)(PP)
12:02 TB Point (11), (Kucherov, Hedman)
18:55 TB Palat (10), (Point, Shattenkirk)

Third Period
6:49 DAL Heiskanen (6), (Pavelski, Cogliano)

Victor Hedman, Brayden Point, and Nikita Kucherov were the game's three stars.

Really a tale of two games. The Lightning, despite leading 2-1 after the First Period, really played a really scary bad opening frame where they struggled with puck management and gave Dallas way too many chances. I don't know if that's a wrinkle that Bowness threw in for this game that the Lightning had to respond to or simply the fact Dallas' skating takes some adjusting to, but it was bad. Lots of mishandles of the puck and throwing it into dangerous areas of the rink and feeding the Stars forecheck. And that's maybe the lesson of the night: if you manage the puck Dallas is somewhat toothless offensively. They live off turning mistakes into counters with their speed. Not entirely different than the Isles in some respects except they're much faster and don't have a dynamic player like Barzal who can really take over a rush.

To their credit, I think the coaching staff has been dynamite at making adjustments at the First Intermission in these playoffs and the middle frame of this game was some of the best hockey the Lightning have played in this postseason. It helped that the Lightning started it with a couple of power plays and dug out a goal and got some momentum, but it was the play at 5v5 that was special. The Lightning back pressure from the forwards was just suffocating and Dallas kept turning it over and feeding the Lightning forecheck over and over again. And, unlike Dallas, the Lightning have a lot of skill players who know how to capitalize on opportunities. Coming into this series I felt that, other than the Lightning's wild card advantages (Hedman and Vasilveskiy) the quality of their finishers and ability to put up goals is tough for a team like Dallas to keep up with. The Lightning top line, in particular, has been too much for Dallas to handle thus far.

It was great to see Steven Stamkos get into this series and uplift the team with a goal. I doubt we see him again in these playoffs after re-injuring himself, but he owed it to himself and his teammates to give it a go and with a big goal in this game he potentially got his name on the Cup the honest way.

Things potentially escalate quickly from here with G4 and G5 back to back on Friday and Saturday. The Lightning have a lot of momentum now and after chasing Khudobin I thought the Stars' push in the Third Period looked anemic. I don't want to say they look defeated and I fully expect their Spartan 300 effort in G4, but the seed of doubt got planted in their minds tonight in a way the Lightning failed to do when they had Dallas on the ropes in G2. So now, it's a matter of sticking to the lessons learned through the first three games. Stay out of the box. Don't feed Dallas' forecheck and get on their own, and they'll remain in the driver's seat in this series.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Stanley Cup Final Game Night: 9-21-20 Stars v Lightning

Lightning strike early, hang on late to even series.

DAL-2
TB-3

Series Tied 1-1

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 2 goals on 29 shots for the victory. Arguably he won the game for the Lightning late in the Second Period when he allowed them to go into the intermission up 3-1 despite a flurry of scoring chances against on the penalty kill. He keeps showing flashes. I keep waiting for him to put it all together on one of those unconsciously ridiculous good streaks.

First Period
11:23 TB Point (10), (Kucherov, Hedman)(PP)
14:22 TB Palat (9), (Kucherov, Hedman)(PP)
15:16 TB Shattenkirk (2), (Coleman, Cirelli)

Second Period
14:43 DAL Pavelski (10), (Klingberg, Radulov)(PP)

Third Period
5:27 DAL Janmark (1), (Klingberg, Radulov)

Victor Hedman and Nikita Kucherov were the game's first and second stars.

Way better energy from the Lightning tonight having shaken off their Islanders series hangover late in Game One, and between their improved intensity level and some minor strategic tweaks to counter what Bowness sprung on the Lightning in Game One the team got off to a great start drawing some penalties they cashed in on and generally owning the puck at 5v5 for the first 34 minutes of play. Cedric Paquette rang a post that could've made it 4-0 and ended the night early, but the Lightning saw that and a few other great chances to really psychologically wound the Stars go by the boards before getting themselves in penalty trouble late in the Second Period and allowing the Stars to swing the momentum a bit. The Third Period was hardly mistake-free, but to the Lightning's credit they did play a pretty 50/50 final 20 to eventually take the W and even the series.

Still lots of work to do against a spirited Dallas team that still has a lot of belief, but there's some seeds in the last four periods that you can see possibly growing into a winning formula for the Lightning. At 5v5, they're unlocking Dallas offensively in a way the Stars aren't used to. In particular, they had no answer for Kucherov and his line tonight, but really all the top three lines had their moments. Special teams remains one colossal adventure in both phases, PP and PK, but tonight they got a lot better and quicker puck movement from their top-PP unit and that makes all the difference. Without Stamkos, they can't have the plodding pace. They've got to zip it around fast if they want to make it work. And they need to stay out of the box. Their PK numbers may not be that atrocious, but they don't pass the eye test and Dallas got 12 SOG's on the PP tonight and only 17 at even strength. Stay out of the box.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Stanley Cup Final Game Night: 9-19-20 Stars v Lightning

Lightning succumb to a hangover in Game One.

DAL-4
TB-1

Dallas Leads the Series 1-0

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 3 goals on 19 shots for the loss. One of those you'd like to see him get, although I don't think it's the howler it's been made out to be because it was a rebound off a shot block and he was partially screened by the shot blocker. He played excellent for a long stretch in the Second Period when the team was coming unglued at the seams and nearly kept them in competitive position. Can he be better? Yes. Was the the reason they lost tonight? No.

First Period
5:40 DAL Hanley (1), (Hintz)
12:32 TB Gourde (6), (Coleman, Goodrow)

Second Period
12:30 DAL Oleksiak (5), (Radulov, Heiskanen)
19:32 DAL Kiviranta (5), (Lindell, Klingberg)

Third Period
18:42 DAL Dickinson (1), (Comeau, Janmark )(EN)

I said after Game Six of the ECF the Lightning would have to figure out how to manufacture a win or two early in this series because I expected a hangover from the Islanders series. The team looked dead on its feet in Game Six against New York and they carried that fatigue through much of the first 40 minutes of tonight's contest. They might've still had themselves in a position to steal this one but for a perplexing set of decisions by Brayden Point to eat the puck rather than move it in the corner and Zach Bogosian to stop playing and chase Point's checker leading to Dallas' first goal and there's Dallas' third goal which came off a bit of puck luck with a blocked shot ricocheting right back to the shooter late in the Second Period. As it was, the Lightning just didn't look themselves through two period's tonight, which was disappointing albeit not unexpected. Rick Bowness had his team ready to defend what the Lightning like to do in the neutral zone in the First Period, which greatly aided the team's tepid start, and then they got in penalty trouble in the Second Period which really doomed any chance to regain momentum in the middle third of the game.

The silver lining is that the Lightning finally found their form in the Third Period, granted through a hellacious dose of score effects, and ended up outshooting Dallas 22-1 in the final frame as the Stars went into the equivalent of a NFL prevent defense. As bad as they played through 40 minutes the Lightning were surprisingly close in expected goals after two periods and by the end of the Third Period Money Puck's "deserve to win-o'meter" spun nearly 3:1 the Lightning's way. In other words, this began to look and feel a lot like the Game One loss in the Boston series where the Lightning found their form in a failed comeback and eventually went on to win four straight to send Boston to the golf course. So, I suspect we're going to see the real Lightning team the rest of this series and the Islanders series hangover will be gone the rest of the way. That's the good news. I think the Lightning will start showing themselves to be the superior 5v5 team from here on out. The bad news is that the Lightning power play and penalty kill continues to look wildly inconsistent and generally a liability against their opponents. They had multiple chances in the Third Period to claw to within a goal and really put the flop sweat on Bowness' brow, but lacked the right combination of puck movement to unlock Khudobin. That and fatigue remain my biggest concerns in this series, even in spite of the Game One loss.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Eastern Conference Final Game Night: 9-17-20 Lightning v Islanders

Lightning survive and advance to the Stanley Cup Final in another marathon squeaker.

TB-2
NYI-1 (OT)

Tampa Bay Wins the Series 4-2

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 1 goal on 27 shots for the victory. His one goal allowed was a bit of a horrible overplay on the Toews wraparound goal and I had a horrible feeling in my gut the adage about soft goals being the margin might come true again tonight. He redeemed himself several times tonight, none more prominent than a shorthanded breakaway by Brock Nelson after he picked Tyler Johnson's pocket. (Naturally, NBCSN proceeded to spend the next minute criticizing his technique on the breakaway stop... because NBCSN).

First Period
4:15 NYI Toews (2), (Lee, Barzal)
6:26 TB Hedman (9), (Cernak, Kucherov)

Second Period
NO SCORING

Third Period
NO SCORING

Overtime
13:18 TB Cirelli (3), (Goodrow, Killorn)

Anthony Cirelli and Nikita Kucherov were the game's first and third stars.

Tonight's script paralleled the Game Five script, but the actors played their roles differently. The Lightning were dominant again through the first thirty minutes of regulation, but again surrendered the opening goal and again had to claw back to even. From there, things got a little pear shaped. The Islanders started a Spartan 300 push midway through the Second Period and carried the balance of play for huge swaths of the remainder of that period and the Third Period. Put simply, the Lightning looked like a team that had hit the wall from an energy standpoint and that they were running on fumes. Their puck management started to slide a little and they started to routinely find themselves second to loose pucks for the first time in this series. To their immense credit, after getting the game into Overtime, they found their reserve fuel tank and played the game pretty evenly up until a gloriously little simple centering feed in tight by Barclay Goodrow to Anthony Cirelli who banked the puck in off the far post and off the back of Varlamov's pad to clinch the Lightning's third Eastern Conference Championship.

Before moving on to the Dallas Stars in the Stanley Cup Final, a little reflection on some of the team's performances to this point. Nikita Kucherov tonight tied Brad Richards' Lightning record for points in a playoff season with 26. Richards was a deadly right point option for the Lightning in the '04 playoffs, but with the Lightning power play being pretty subpar this postseason, Kucherov's had to make hay more at 5v5. His linemates Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat have also cloaked themselves in glory as have the Goodrow/Gourde/Coleman line which have been by far and away the Lightning's two most reliable lines. But, with all due respect to the forwards, the engine of this Lightning playoff run has been Victor Hedman and this deep, deep Lightning defensive corps. Victor Hedman is closing in on an almost unattainable NHL postseason goals record for defensemen set by Paul Coffey in the Edmonton Oilers' glory years. Hedman is so good he's fueled a renaissance for the career of Zach Bogosian while the Lightning roll seven deep in defensemen who have been excellent in supporting the play offensively and really giving the Lightning their possession advantage all postseason. And then there's Andrei Vasilevskiy. Here's the thing: Vasilevskiy's sitting on a .930+ save percentage and has made more than his fair share of big situational saves in these playoffs. And, yet, we know the Big Cat has another gear. He has yet to record a shutout in this playoff campaign and he has yet to post one of those long, crazy 100+ minutes hockey where he just puts the deflector shields up over the net and leaves them up. With the Lightning starting to feel the weight of an NHL record number of overtime minutes they've played this season, the Lightning need their hole cards like Hedman to be their hole cards. And, perhaps, their biggest hole card of all is their young netminder who perpetually looks on the cusp of legendary greatness. Is now the time?

On paper, the Lightning should be the favorites against a Bishop-less Stars team. And yet, the Stars come into this series with a rest and energy advantage and the Lightning are really going to have to figure out how to manufacture a couple of early wins in this series as they try to work off their hangover from this Islanders series. Will Steven Stamkos make his postseason debut? Gosh I hope so. The Lightning need all the bodies they can get right now and the power play has been in desperate need of Stamkos' abilities for some time. It would also give Cooper a backstop in case lingering injuries to Brayden Point and now Anthony Cirelli, who took a big knock tonight, start to weigh on them in the Final. The biggest thing for the Lightning, though, is to unlock Anton Khudobin and remind him... dude, you're Anton Khudobin. He has a great defensive team playing in front of him, but that team is feeding right now off of Khudobin riding a hot streak. If the Lightning can knock him around early in this series and plant a little seed of doubt in the young Stars' minds, all the better. The fancy stats tell a story that the Lightning should win this series, but they told a similar tale to the Vegas Knights, too. So, rest up Lightning, because your marathon has just begun in the quest to validate the fantastic team that has been built in Tampa Bay over the last decade.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Eastern Conference Final Game Night: 9-15-20 Islanders v Lightning

Lightning fan on chance to eliminate the Islanders.

NYI-2
TB-1 (2OT)

Tampa Bay Leads the Series 3-2

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 2 goals on 24 shots for the loss. Made one immense stop on a short Barzal breakaway in the first OT. Deserved more goal support than he got tonight.

First Period
15:41 NYI Pulock (2), (Leddy, Barzal)(PP)

Second Period
4:00 TB Hedman (8), (Coleman, Schenn)

Third Period
NO SCORING

Overtime
NO SCORING

Second Overtime
12:30 NYI Eberle (5), (Lee)

Victor Hedman was the game's third star.

For the second time in this series, a brain cramp by a veteran defenseman prolongs the series. Tonight it was Shattenkirk fanning on a point shot resulting in the Islanders' winning 2-on-1 in Double Overtime. That's really frustrating in a game where the Lightning dominated possession and had the lion's share of the scoring chances to lose it on a play like that. The Lightning held the Islanders to 16 shots in regulation. Expected goals were dominated by the Lightning, especially in the two Overtimes. It's a sick feeling knowing Dallas is just sitting back as the beneficiaries of the extra effort these two teams are expending. Hopefully the Lightning get Brayden Point back healthy for Game Six to close this one out because fatigue would be one of those things that could tilt a potential SCF series that the Lightning should be favored in over to the Stars.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Eastern Conference Final Game Day: 9-13-20 Lightning v Islanders

Top line puts the Lightning on the brink of advancing to the Stanley Cup Final.

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NYI-1

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 1 goal on 27 shots for the win. Tough game for Vasilevskiy mentally because he had exactly squat to do for 30 minutes and then suddenly the game went into overdrive and he had to make several key situational saves.

First Period
NO SCORING

Second Period
11:27 NYI Nelson (9), (Bailey)
11:42 TB Coleman (4), (Gourde, Vasilevskiy)
11:54 TB Palat (8), (Kucherov, Point)

Third Period
3:33 TB Point (9), (Palat, Kucherov)
17:36 TB Maroon (1), (Gourde, Paquette)(EN)

Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat, and Nikita Kucherov were the game's three stars.

This game scarier than maybe it should've been, but ultimately it went to plan. The Lightning dominated the play for the first half an hour of hockey and probably deserved to have about a 2-0 lead but couldn't find the back of the net. Brock Nelson struck for the first goal and it felt for a second (and only a second) like the hockey gods were going to betray the Lightning, but two quick response goals from Coleman and Palat and the Lightning were on their way. The team's skill level really showed through with the long aerial pass from Gourde to Coleman for the breakaway and the sweet deke finish and then a pretty filthy three way passing play on Palat's goal. The top line had another pretty filthy passing play on the rush for the goal early in the Third Period and that was all the Lightning needed.

The Lightning were just the better team today both at even strength and in all situations. The shot totals show it. The possession stats show it. The xG fancy stats show it. The Islanders have thrown their best punches in these past three games and really I would argue the Lightning are a Ryan McDonagh hand grenade pass from ending this in a sweep. As it is, they'll try to finish this series off on Tuesday. Hopefully Brayden Point feels well enough to go again and some Lightning players who I thought looked a little bushed for parts of this game like Victor Hedman get some good rest. With Dallas being up 3-1 in the WCF it behooves the Lightning to end this Tuesday just in case Dallas does the same tomorrow.

The Lightning being 62% on draws doesn't stink. Great to see.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Eastern Conference Final Game Night: 9-11-20 Lightning v Islanders

Lightning let the Islanders slip the noose.

TB-3
NYI-5

Tampa Bay Leads the Series 2-1

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 4 goals on 35 shots for the loss. Bum luck on the first goal where his pad strap came undone and he was out there having to play basically on one leg. He probably wants the Beauvillier goal back that snuck under his arm, but I can't get too mad given the coverage bust there.

First Period
12:58 NYI Clutterbuck (Pulock, Martin)
16:31 TB Sergachev (2), (Gourde)

Second Period
11:50 NYI Pelech (1), (Pageau, Barzal)
13:50 NYI Beauvillier (9), (Nelson, Toews)

Third Period
2:32 TB Palat (7), (Kucherov, Sergachev)(PP)
12:04 TB Johnson (4), (Cernak, Verhaeghe)
16:35 NYI Nelson (8), (Beauvillier, Bailey)
19:24 NYI Pageau (8), (Bailey)(EN)

Mikhail Sergachev was the game's second star.

Despite having Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point out with injury and Alex Killorn out due to suspension and despite brain cramping their way to a two goal Third Period deficit, the Lightning had this game and this series in the palm of their hands and they let the Islanders off the hook. I'm so incredibly frustrated with this one. The Lightning, despite having two rookies in the lineup and missing their Conn Smythe contender Point, had the possession advantage in this game and for the life of me looked like they had the Islanders on the ropes most of the Third Period and were ready to put the Islanders on the canvas for good. They were first on pucks. They were the aggressor on the forecheck. But, my goodness, they let the Islanders off the hook with unforced turnovers and errors all night and you'll never in your life see a more egregious turnover than that hand grenade pass Ryan McDonagh threw poor Barclay Goodrow to hand this game to the Islanders and give them a lifeline in a series it felt like the Lightning were about to take an insurmountable lead in. There's more blame than that to go around. An awfully soft clear attempt by Mitchell Stephens after a fine PK that led to the Islanders' second goal that gets a rookie busted down to the AHL in normal times. A coverage bust between Shattenkirk and McDonagh in a 4-on-4 situation leaving Beauvillier wide open on the Islanders' third goal. Nikita Kucherov target shooting a point shot into a shot blockers shin pads on the empty netter after the Lightning got a good faceoff win and looked setup to make a push for the tying goal. It's just frustrating. You expect a mistake like that from the rookie Stephens, perhaps, but a veteran like McDonagh can't make the kind of bonehead plays he made tonight. Can't happen. And it's not as if it's a hard work beating talent scenario. The Lightning outworked the Islanders tonight. The possession stats show about a 3:2 disparity in shot attempts, but the Lightning just kept gifting the Isles cheap scoring chances on dumb plays.

Man I'm salty. This should be a 3-0 series lead right now. So annoying.

Silver lining: Alex Killorn is coming back next game and if I had to guess there's a pretty sizable chance Brayden Point will be back for Game Five. And, even without those pieces in the lineup, I think tonight really underscored the talent disparity between the two teams. If the Lightning continue to work as hard as they have been and clean up some of the idiocy we witnessed tonight they'll likely have the Isles down on the canvas by this time Sunday night.

Stephens was -2 with 2 penalty minutes, 1 shot, 3 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 11:07. Where he did shine, despite his goat horns on the second Isles goal, was in going 82% on 11 draws to spearhead an evening where the team overall hit 58% in the circles. You hate to see all that squandered by brain cramps (talking about the whole team now, not just Stephens).

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

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