First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.
Dwayne Roloson allowed 1 goal on 15 shots for the victory. He was outstanding, because the Flyers did have some quality chances despite the low shot totals.
PHI Hartnell (6), (Voracek, Timmonen)(PP), 9:34
TB Bergeron (3), (Stamkos, Lecavalier)(PP), 7:41
TB Connolly (3), (Moore, Kubina), 2:30
Brett Connolly, Roloson, and Martin St. Louis were the game's three stars.
Unfortunately, a very good defensive effort by a team missing Victor Hedman and Mattias Ohlund is going to be overshadowed by a meta-controversy about the Philadelphia Flyers' refusal to advance the puck when the Lightning deployed the 1-3-1 in the first period of this game. That's nothing new, though. The Flyers did that a little last year and so did the Buffalo Sabres.
What was new was the level of vitriol expressed by Versus ice-level reporter Pierre McGuire, the play-by-play crew, and studio analyst Mike Milbury. I can't ever recall in my life seeing such irresponsible, slanted, unprofessional, biased "journalism" from anyone holding a microphone. These guys, tonight, went so far over the line I think NBC Sports would be right to suspend them. They made Bob Errey in last year's Penguins series look like Walter Cronkite.
Personally, I don't think the media or the league front office ought to be legislating what coaching tactics can and can't be used. I also think it ought to be made clear, as Guy Boucher often does, that the Lightning use the 1-3-1 on a situational basis. Sometimes they send a 2 man forecheck. Sometimes they do other things. See, there's things called tactics and strategies in sports, and Guy Boucher went into a game against a team that just scored a ton of goals against Winnipeg down 2 of his top-4 defensemen. So, rather than offer his team up as a lamb to the slaughter, he used tactics and strategies (the 1-3-1). And, in the process of trying to protest those tactics and strategies, Peter Laviolette shot himself in the foot by sitting on the puck and robbing his team of any offensive flow. The Lightning subsequently held the Flyers to 15 shots, and the hilarious thing is they barely used the 1-3-1 after the first period.
So, let me ask a question. Should Guy Boucher be "ashamed" as the Versus crew proclaimed as they denounced his strategy and tactics, or should he be given credit for adopting tactics and strategies that held a high-scoring opponent to 15 shots on goal when 2 of the team's top-4 d-men were on the shelf? He got 2 points in the standings, and he gets through another few days to hopefully get Hedman, and eventually Ohlund, back into the lineup. To me, that's not something you condemn. You praise that.
But not Versus' crew and Mike Milbury. Oh no. They absolutely lost their minds in an avalanche of hyperbole and unprofessionalism that just got worse and worse and more disrespectful as the night went on. It wasn't enough for McGuire and Milbury to harp ad nauseam about the Lightning's "cowardice" for not sending a forechecker in after the stalling Flyers. No, McGuire took it several steps further, proclaiming every player in the NHL on Twitter had denounced the Lightning's 1-3-1 (surely all Caps players). Milbury took it even further proclaiming that the 1-3-1 was going to destroy the game and that the league had to legislate against it (nevermind the fact that the Lightning's series against the Bruins had some of the best ratings and most compelling hockey in recent memory despite the fact it pitted a trap-oriented Bruins team against Boucher's 1-3-1). Even that was just the tip of the iceberg of the insanity that hid in the disguise of hockey journalism tonight.
Back in the studio, Milbury decided to deploy circular logic (which would happen again later in the Versus broadcast), to proclaim the 1-3-1 was a useless system because of the Lightning's goals against the past two seasons. Fine, Mike. If it's a useless system, then you don't need to worry about it because ineffective systems don't stay in the league very long, do they? So why act like you're having a coronary on national TV if it doesn't work? Right? (Of course, the answer is that it has worked on every level Guy Boucher has used it. He won a QMJHL title with Drummondville, made it to the AHL Finals with Hamilton, and was 1 game from the Stanley Cup Finals last year with the Lightning. Milbury knows this, but that didn't stop him from taking to the air with a point he knows is, ultimately, without merit.)
Then McGuire and the announcers (and later Milbury, reiterating the point), proclaimed that surely the Lightning's star players had to be unhappy playing in Boucher's system and that surely no player outside of Tampa would want to come play for the Lightning (except, of course, high-scoring defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron who they pointed out later in the broadcast played for 1-3-1 lovin', pinko, sport wreckin' Guy Boucher with Hamilton of the AHL). More to the point, though, last year CBC did their annual poll of players and a funny thing happened: Boucher managed to walk the tightrope of finishing 4th as the coach players would most like to play for while at the same time being named the league's 3rd most demanding coach. If you want to sum up the dichotomy of being considered a very demanding coach and yet still having players want to play for you in a word, the word your looking for is "respect," Pierre. How dare you try to tell anyone that the Lightning's stars or any other players, for that matter, don't want to play for Guy Boucher. Certainly none of the facts seem to support that assertion. At all.
Thankfully, Milbury ended his disgraceful night in the second intermission with a feigned act of disgust at the Lightning's 1-3-1 system where he "walked off" the set. The deeply ironic thing is that his simulated act of unprofessionalism really only underlined the fact that the bulk of his actions up to that point were the genuine item.
The final two straws, for me, came in the third period when McGuire, perhaps sensing Laviolette had actually shot himself in the foot with his response to the 1-3-1, proclaimed that the Lightning's "thoroughbreds" (their star players) were incapable of "running free" having been "bridled" (or some other horse-terminology nonsense) by having used the 1-3-1 in the first period and early in the second period. True to form, Steven Stamkos and Vincent Lecavalier subsequently assisted on the game-tying goal and they, along with eventual 3rd star Marty St. Louis, went on to dominate much of the third period while pressing for the winner. (Side note: thank goodness Pierre McGuire wasn't named the Lightning's GM when that awful rumor was floating around a couple years ago.) But, the really sickening one was Ed Olczyk's accusation that Martin St. Louis took a dive behind the net after clearly being interfered with by Kimmo Timonen of the Flyers. Timonen put his stick between St. Louis' legs, threw Marty to the ice, and darned near sat on him with the puck at the opposite end of the offensive zone, and Olczyk claims "embellishment?" In what universe? You're talking about one of the most honest, hard working, respected players in the game. You're talking about a class act who has won multiple sportsmanship awards for his play. And you have the gaul, in light of overwhelming video evidence, to claim he embellished? Which part? The part where the stick got shoved between his legs, where he got tossed to the ice, or where he got held to the ice? Which was fake, "Eddie O?"
Another interesting part of Versus' broadcast was their decision to have McGuire interview Laviolette on the bench and ask him a horribly biased leading question about whether what Laviolette did was to "send a message to the league" about the Lightning's 1-3-1 system. To Laviolette's credit (I actually like that guy) he didn't take the bait. To the detriment of Versus' credibility, they did not interview Boucher, nor did they have the guts to interview any of the Lightning's players after the assertion that none of them wanted to play the 1-3-1 for Boucher. I hope, for the sake of McGuire and Versus, that wasn't an act of cowardice. I hope they asked for the interview and the Lightning PR staff just said "no." If not, though (and I wonder, given the outlandish way they acted throughout the broadcast tonight), and Versus just completely abdicated their responsibility to have an interview that would give some balance and perspective, then shame on them. Shame on them, and I'm dead serious, they ought to be suspended.
Deep in my heart, I always knew where the Lightning stood with the hockey media and the hockey establishment, but it takes a night like tonight to really put it all in total perspective. I hope the Lightning organization and Lightning fan base really soaks in this drummed up controversy and understands it for what it is. The Tampa Bay Lightning is the NHL's counterculture. It's the league's crazy experiment that was set up to fail and only by the efforts of honest men with big hearts, like Phil Esposito, managed to become successful and prove the power of the sport despite the corruption of the league and the media ("We'll give Miami John Vanbiesbrouck in his prime, but the Lightning get stuck with Wendell Young at the end of his career, that's fair!"). As I've said many times, you could do an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary on this franchise (if Barry Melrose and his cronies would allow it, and they won't), and it would be award winning. The Tampa Bay Lightning franchise and fan base, no matter how many times they get knocked down, refuse to lay down, and it really, really, deep down, pisses the establishment off.
Lightning fans should remember this isn't the first time a Lightning coaching staff has been mocked and ridiculed. The Lightning have become the home of innovation in the NHL, and not too long ago a trap-oriented league was scoffing at John Tortorella and Craig Ramsay for their "Safe is Death" system. They smugly looked down their noses at the Lightning and attacked Tampa Bay's viability as a hockey market. They said Martin St. Louis was too small, Vincent Lecavalier was too lazy, and John Tortorella was, well, John Tortorella. To paraphrase Gandhi, first they ignored the Lightning, then they laughed at the Lightning, then they fought the Lightning, and then the Lightning won a Stanley Cup.
The same thing is happening here. In the post-lockout world half the teams in the NHL have adopted a more wide open style that has a lineage that can be traced, to a degree, back to that 2004 Cup team. But Tampa Bay, being an incubator of innovation of this league, has already moved onto the next thing with Boucher, and his multi-layered bag of tactics and strategies that includes the 1-3-1. First they ignored it. Then they laughed at it. Now, after it came within an eyelash of winning a Stanley Cup, they're fighting it. What remains is for the Lightning to win.
That's how you shut the hockey establishment the hell up. That's how you become accepted, right before you move on to innovating all over again. In 2004, the same expert analysts who were laughing at the Lightning's "Safe is Death System" were the same ones getting arthritis in their elbows trying to pat "too small" Martin St. Louis on the back getting laryngitis praising Tortorella and Ramsay for their brilliance. Nothing brings out the shameless hypocrisy and front-running nature of the hockey establishment quite like winning. So, from here on out, there's nothing left to do for this Lightning organization and fan base but accept that there's only one option.
We are the Oakland Raiders of the NHL. No, we don't have convicts on our roster (in fact, I expect everyone in the organization to act with superhuman levels of class in spite of the outrageous garbage that occurred tonight), but we are the outsiders in this league, and we'll never be invited to the Sunday dinner table at the Bettman residence. Respect comes one way, and one way only for Tampa Bay, and I hope Jeff Vinik now realizes this, and that it galvanizes him, Steve Yzerman, Coach Boucher, and everyone else working at the Forum moving forward. In the words of the man himself, may he rest in peace: Just. Win. Baby. It's us against the world. And, I like our odds.
Brett Connolly, of course, had the game winning goal tonight and was +1 with 1 shot in 12:20. He had a golden opportunity to end it in regulation that he fanned on, but with the chips down in overtime, he rectified the situation. He's not quite there yet, but he definitely does have that extra it-factor you need from a big-time offensive player.
Blair Jones had 2 shots in 3:52. With a tight game, he wasn't getting much ice time, but he was useful in the spare number of shifts he got.
Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.