Lightning get caught up in a little moment and squander a big chance.
Eastern Conference Finals
Series Tied 3-3
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 4 goals on 33 shots for the loss. He might want the second goal he allowed back on the long shot by Letang, although he was screened a little. As I said in the last game, even though Bishop has the gold standard Game Seven road win in MSG last season, I think you have to ride or die with Vasilevskiy until the end of this series, even if Bishop magically becomes healthy in the next two days. I think the young man is even keeled enough to handle the moment. He's been in a similar spot with Ufa in the KHL playoffs a couple of years ago, and didn't hurt his stock in the big moment at all, even though his club fell to eventual champs Magnitgorsk.
18:46 PIT Kessel(9), (Crosby, Malkin)(PP)
7:40 PIT Letang(2), (Sheary, Bonino)
19:34 PIT Crosby(6), (Hornqvist)
5:30 TB Boyle(4), (unassisted)
12:43 TB Boyle(5), (Koekkoek, Drouin)
17:52 PIT Rust(3), (Kunitz, Maatta)
19:06 PIT Bonino(3), (Lovejoy)
Brian Boyle was the game's second star. He's become the team's de facto captain, in my eyes, in this playoff run and shown a ton of leadership along the way. He had the big moment embarrassing Abdelkader in the Detroit series, which I thought was an emotional turning point in that series, and he continues to chip in meaningful goals along the way. I say this in all affection... he's become a bootleg version of Dave Andreychuk. He's not quite as good on faceoffs or on the power play as Dave was in 2004, but he's been just about as good in the leadership aspect for this team.
The Lightning are going to be kicking themselves for the next 40-some hours, if not longer, over the way they mishandled their emotions and their energy level tonight when adversity came. I thought they had a positive, but measured start to the game. They were finding space in the neutral zone and generating good rushes and chances and although they weren't shooting enough for my taste, they looked to be in decent shape because they were getting opportunities. Then they turned a 3-on-2 into an apparent Jonathan Drouin goal and it appeared like the party was going to be on... until replay overturned the goal on an offside call...
Let's get the replay thing out of the way up front. The wave off of the goal did not cost the Lightning this game. The way the Lightning managed their emotions and their intensity level after the wave off of the goal probably cost them this game. Was the video evidence really conclusive enough to overturn the call on the ice? The refs seemed to think so. Is the enforcement of the rule through replay, as currently implemented, a ridiculous one that runs counter to the spirit of the rule and the stated goal of the league to increase scoring? Absolutely. Drouin and the Lightning gained no competitive advantage from the fact the tip of his front skate was over the blue line while the heel was in the air, and his whole back skate was clearly behind the line albeit in the air. By the spirit of the rule, that should've been a goal and the league needs to liberalize how linesmen call it next season and beyond. By the letter of the rule, though, it was what it was. And, it was out of the Lightning's control.
What was in the Lightning's control, however, was their reaction to the wave off, and while the Penguins ratcheted up their intensity level little by little after their reprieve the Lightning seemed to sag for the next 35 minutes of the game. Was I fond of the interference call on Stralman that formed the first half of the 5-on-3 that eventually gave Pittsburgh the 1-0 lead? No. I don't think it's Stralman's fault Kuhnhackl whiffed on picking up the puck of a pass in the neutral zone. Am I a fan of the delay of game call on Hedman where he cleared a puck the full length of the ice on a PK over the boards? No. That rule, in particular, is a stupid one and no player is deliberately clearing a puck 200 feet over the glass on a PK. Common sense should tell us all that, but that rule has been put in by the league to artificially create offense by giving away more power plays and two-man advantages such as what happened tonight. If I were king of the hockey universe, that rule would take a prompt dirt nap, but again, it was what it was. The Lightning couldn't control that, but they could control how they responded to it.
It took the Lightning around 35 minutes to hit double digits in shots on goal in this game, and unlike Game Five, it wasn't like they were taking a ton of shots and getting them blocked. Possession means everything in this series and the team simply didn't work hard enough to generate possession and pressure. That was why they lost the game. The Penguins built the three goal lead at the end of the Second Period when Crosby caught Stralman flat footed at the end of the period and split through the defense for the dagger goal. As I've written many times, in pro hockey a three goal deficit after 40 minutes is a death sentence seemingly 99% of the time. They showed some pride to ratchet up the intensity and cut the lead to 3-2 in the Third Period, but as we've seen over and over again in this sport, getting the second goal is do-able but getting the third goal and eventually the fourth to win is nearly impossible. You cannot let a game get away like that through two periods and realistically think you can get back.
There should be no panic. The Lightning were in this situation a year ago against the Rangers, and although past performance is no guarantee of future results, the Lightning should at least be able to lean on that experience for some emotional stability Thursday night. Bottom line, it's going to come down to which team outworks the other and goaltending. It's just that simple. The team in front of Vasilevskiy have to take care of the front end of the equation and I think he's earned the trust of the organization to know that he'll handle the rest. No panic. No hand wringing. There are 26 other teams in the league, and might be a 27th by the end of tomorrow night, who would kill to be in the position the Lightning are in. Win a game and go to the Stanley Cup Final. If I told you Steven Stamkos would miss the playoffs with a blood clot, Anton Stralman would miss the first two rounds with a broken leg, and Ben Bishop would be wheeled off early in Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals with an apparent nasty high ankle sprain, you'd all have taken that deal every day of the week and twice on Sundays and so would I. So, really, it's ok. They just have to bring their best effort to the rink Thursday, and that's entirely do-able.
Slater Koekkoek had a helper and 1 shot, 2 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 12:58. Pierre McGuire was swooning over the Hedman Lite rear guard on the NBCSN broadcast as he continues to eat into veteran Matt Carle's ice time. While McGuire's attention may be annoying to some of us and mildly creepy to others, it was deserved. As I wrote after the last game, his skating ability and athleticism is made for this opponent and Carle's, frankly, isn't. Hopefully, the experience he's gaining now signals he will finally be a regular in Tampa Bay next season because we've waited for over a year now for Koekkoek to ascend and displace some of the stop gaps that have been forming the lower reaches of the team's NHL defense corps.
Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.