Tampa Bay Lightning
The night it all came together...
Eastern Conference Semifinals
Tampa Bay Wins the Series 4-2
Ben Bishop allowed 1 goal on 19 shots for the victory, with the lone goal coming off a play where a puck took a goofy hop off the glass. He didn't have a ton of work, but he continued to make the key saves when he needed to. The national press just realized Bishop is no fluke. It's no small thing to out-duel the presumptive MVP, Carey Price, in a 7-game series. Did he get some lucky, horseshoe breaks? Sure. But you make your own luck, and Bishop was the MVP of this Montreal series.
15:35 TB Kucherov (5), (Palat)
5:12 TB Stamkos (3), (Killorn, Carle)
18:56 TB Palat (3), (Kucherov, Stralman)(PP)
15:03 MTL Pacioretty (5), (Gallagher)
17:59 TB Kucherov (6), (unassisted)(EN)
After muddling through much of the first dozen games of this playoff season, tonight the Lightning finally figured out how to translate their regular season style to a successful 60 minute hockey game. You could see it coming in their 5-on-5 play in Montreal in Game Five, and once the Johnson line worked their way into scoring the opening goal in the First Period, the Lightning were fully off and running. The Lightning completely dominated the Habs from there on out. Outshot them. Outchanced them. Outhit them. They even did a number on Montreal in the faceoff circles after struggling mightily in that department for most of the series. All in all, it was the first time in these playoffs that the Lightning played a full game of Lightning hockey, which points to the tremendous potential of this club. Even struggling to figure out postseason hockey, the Lightning had the talent to advance within 1 game of the Eastern Conference Finals. Tonight, all the pieces fell into place.
Moreover, the Lightning have filled in some important gaps in their game from the regular season, and may be be finally reaching their full potential as a team. That should be terrifying to the rest of the league, considering that the Lightning still managed to put up a 100+ point season and lead the league in goals even without a functional power play and without a really strong ability to close out close games in the Third Period. The Lightning got 7 goals on the power play in the Montreal series, and starting late in the Detroit series they started to really look more comfortable and efficient protecting Third Period leads and playing a more simple 200 foot game.
Oh, and after being MIA in the Detroit series, all of a sudden Kucherov is fully on track and Stamkos is getting on track. Yikes.
Credit BP member Bolthed with the following paraphrased point from the BP chat room, which I think strikes the right tone, post game: I hope Coach Cooper stood up in front of his team after the game and said something along the lines of the following...
"Boys, congratulations for advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals. It hasn't always been easy, and it darn sure hasn't always been pretty. But, you've worked hard and you've learned and gotten a little strong, bit by bit, along the way. Tonight, you finally put it all together, and I'm proud of you guys for that. But, you know what? Now there are no more excuses. Now that you've proven you can put it all together it's on you guys to play at that same level every game from here on out. You can do it. You've shown you can do it. You had the talent, and now you've got the experience. Anything less and you're cheating yourselves."
And at that point, I hope he asked Stamkos and Hedman to stand up in front of the team and talk about 2011, and guys like Stralman and Boyle about their experience with the Rangers, and what it feels like to come that close to winning it all. Once you get this deep in the playoffs and are one of the final four teams, you're in the rarefied air of an event that may never come in your life again. You only get so many kicks at the can and only so many real chances to get your name on the Stanley Cup.
Capitalize it, and as Tim Taylor said in 2004, your team will walk together forever. When you lose though, like the Lightning did in 2011 in Game Seven against Boston by such a slim margin, it's the kind of thing you take to your grave. As a fan, I'll never get over 2011 and how close the Lightning were to advancing and probably winning their second Stanley Cup. Maybe it's a sign of my lack of an adequate social life, but there's not a day over the last 4 years I haven't thought about it and wished they could've gotten those couple of more goals they needed to advance and how that would've changed the legacy of that team and the franchise. I can only imagine what the players like Stamkos and Hedman who were in that room and shed blood, sweat, and tears with that team feel. They have to understand the fierce urgency of this moment and impart that wisdom on their teammates who haven't experienced a deep run like this at the NHL level before. When you get this far, you've got to win it all. You've got to. You've got to sell out mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually for every single shift of every single game, because you don't want to cheat yourselves and you don't want to find yourself looking back and regretting what might have been. For the next 4-6 weeks (hopefully), the Lightning will put everything of themselves toward this singular goal. It'll be grueling. It'll be nerve wracking. It'll galvanize a city behind the team that wears their jersey and shares their community. And that, folks, is what makes the Stanley Cup Playoffs the most unique and exciting experience in all of professional sports.
Jonathan Marchessault had 1 shot and 1 hit in 11:15 in his NHL playoff debut. Credit the coaching staff for monitoring how well Marchessault was practicing and for having the guts to insert him in the lineup in such a big spot. He didn't score tonight, but he made smart plays with the puck and was poised defensively in a way the younger forwards haven't always been in these playoffs.
Nikita Nesterov had 1 shot and 1 hit in 6:19. He had some anxious moments in his own end in the First Period. That's been the trade off with Nesterov. You get some possession advantages, but he looks a little hairy at times in his own third. Hence the lower ice time.
Eastern Conference Semifinals
Tampa Bay Leads the Series 3-2
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 29 shots for the loss. He played well tonight and still hasn't had back-to-back clunkers all season long. He gave the team a chance tonight, along with his friends posts and crossbars.
9:01 MTL Smith-Pelly (1), (Mitchell, Petry)
9:27 TB Stamkos (2), (Stralman, Killorn)
15:53 MTL Parenteau (1), (Subban)
Bishop was the game's third star.
The Lightning played a better game than they did in Game Three and Game Four, particularly in the First and Third Periods, but still haven't played like they're capable of. The possession and shots really grinded to a halt in the Second Period and they need to have the puck more if they want to win this series. They also should feel fortunate they got the benefit of 2 posts and a crossbar hit by Montreal on the PP, but all in all they nearly did what they needed to to seal the capper on the road and only a couple of small mistakes really cost them. First, on the Pelly goal, you had a really ill-advised pass in the neutral zone by Carle compounded by poor positioning by Sustr. Little things. You had Morrow staring at an open net with plenty of time a little later on and he golfs it directly into Price's pad. Rushed it. Little things. And, the real kicker of the night, Stamkos has the puck on his blade with all the time in the world to make a play with it in his defensive zone and he throws it blindly up the wall to Subban for what turns into the GWG. Panicked needlessly. Little things. They cleaned up a lot from Game Four, but they need to still clean up that last little bit more for Game Six.
On a side note, the referees fingerprints were all over this game. All over it. Tampa Bay didn't get a power play all game long even though you had Johnson getting tackled the first shift of the game and Bishop getting crosschecked in the chest in the Second Period on two clear Montreal infractions. So what did the refs do? Even it up! Make it 4-on-4! Call a baloney embellishment call on Johnson and then call a baloney roughing call on Hedman in a post-whistle scrum. That's what the refs did, because they didn't want to award the Lightning a single PP after seeing the Lightning score 6 PP goals in the previous 3 games. It was obvious. They practically put it on a billboard after that gobsmacking call against Johnson to start the game. And it continued throughout the game as you had one instance where Callahan nearly got the jersey ripped off him like he'd been mauled by a tiger and then the final shift of the game where Stamkos got tackled by Subban and laid on until the final horn. Right. In. Front. Of. The. Official. That's why I'm not going to get too mad, because it was practically 7-on-5 tonight and the Lightning still nearly manufactured the victory. It's just sad you know going into a game like this in Montreal, you're going to have to beat the team in front of you AND the officials. And it's obvious. It's SO Montreal.
If I was a betting man, the Lightning are going to beat the life out of Montreal in Game Six. We'll see how it plays out, but Pacioretty tried to also maul Tyler Johnson at the final buzzer in the scrum that broke out when Subban was still trying to pin Stamkos for the 3 count WWE style. The Lightning finally let out a little emotion tonight, and I think this team plays better when it's angry/revenge-minded. Just my guess. Montreal made it personal again with their shenanigans at the buzzer.
Nikita Nesterov was +1 with 2 penalty minutes, 2 shots and 3 hits in 12:13. Some of his defensive zone play tonight, frankly, was hairy. Effective, but hairy. You wouldn't show tape of those plays in an instructional video. He also got a key shift late in the game as the Lightning were trying to tie the game up, and I don't think he exactly cloaked himself in glory with some of his decision-making with the puck in the neutral zone. Tough spot for a rookie to find himself in.
Goaltending finally gives out.
Eastern Conference Semifinals
Tampa Bay Leads the Series 3-1
Ben Bishop allowed 3 goals on 14 shots for the loss before giving way to Andrei Vasilevskiy, who allowed 3 on 26 shots the rest of the way. Bishop allowed 1 soft goal off his glove (again), which ended up being the GWG. It was wise to get him out and get a rest at that point with the team down 3-0. You're going to have 1-2 stinkers even in a successful playoff season, and the silver lining in those games is you get to give your workhorse goaltender a breather. Vasilevskiy showed significant signs of rust by allowing a softie on his 2nd goal allowed and giving out a bad rebound that led to his 3rd goal allowed. He got better as the game went along, but there's certainly no goaltending controversy in Tampa Bay after that showing.
2:44 MTL Markov (1), (Subban, Pacioretty)
8:43 MTL Pacioretty (4), (Gilbert)(SH)
5:08 MTL Desharnais (1), (Weise, Galchenyuk)
9:39 MTL Petry (2), (Galchenyuk, Subban)(PP)
9:54 MTL Gallagher (3), (Pacioretty, Plekanec)
12:26 TB Kucherov (4), (Palat, Stralman)(PP)
0:17 TB Palat (2), (Johnson, Stamkos)(PP)
4:52 MTL Prust (1), (Eller, Parenteau)
There's a lot of blustering and posturing by Subban and the Habs that's going to get replayed on a loop by the media to try to drum up interest in a 3-1 series. Don't take the bait and panic. The Lightning didn't play well the past 2 nights, but you have to take the magnitude of tonight's 6-2 loss with a little grain of salt given that 3 of the last 4 goals allowed were purely on the netminders. The negatives didn't so much come from effort, for me, but the mental lapses in positioning that led to the first 2 goals. When Bishop allowed the softie, that put the team down 3-0 and that was all she wrote. So, those mental lapses are correctable and you have to proceed under the assumption Bishop isn't going to wet the bet like that twice in a row. He hasn't all season long. You try to take the handful of silver linings out of this game that you can, too. Bishop got some much needed rest after carrying the team on his back for much of the first 10 games of the playoffs. The power play went 2-for-3 and is starting to look respectable in this series. Drouin got some much needed seasoning in garbage time. So, there's some glass half full things to look at.
Have the Lightning elected the easy road for closing out this series? No. This thing may get a little hairy now considering Montreal's going to be a crazy barn on Saturday. But, it was crazy the first two games of the series, too. If they're feeling apprehension, they shouldn't, because they've been through this gauntlet before. They just need to concentrate on getting the first goal, tightening up the positioning lapses, and hope that Bishop shakes off tonight's performance with the same ease he usually shakes off his stinkers. If they do, they'll be ok. Calm needs to be the word of the hour, for sure.
And Tyler Johnson drove the get away car...
Eastern Conference Semifinals
Tampa Bay Leads the Series 3-0
Ben Bishop allowed just 1 goal on 31 shots for the victory. As has been the case throughout the series, he's been the best player on the ice. He's outdueling the best goaltender on the planet by continually beating Price in these tight games, carrying over from some of the regular season matchups, and he's the only reason the Lightning are one win away from the Eastern Conference Finals.
12:00 TB Killorn (3), (Stamkos)
10:03 MTL Gallagher (2), (Gilbert, Pateryn)
19:58 TB Johnson (8), (Hedman, Palat)
Tyler Johnson and Ben Bishop were the game's first and second stars.
For as dramatic and amazing a finish as that game had, I can't help but be disappointed with the effort we saw from the Lightning tonight. Having staked themselves to a 2-0 series lead in Montreal, they showed the proper urgency in the First Period to build a 1-0 lead on a beautiful Stamkos/Killorn give and go. That was fantastic.
The ensuing 39 minutes and 58.9 seconds of hockey, for the most part, was steaming hot garbage.
The Lightning played like a Junior A team in front of Bishop, with a complete lack of aggression and urgency dotted with the periodic idiotic turnover. They'd be lucky to win a dog show with the epic sandbaggery that we saw tonight, and only Bishop gave them a chance to win. Even after Gallagher poked home the equalizer, the Lightning's response was fairly awful, right up until the last 2 shifts of the game, when it appeared Cooper and the coaching staff must've opened up some particularly noxious smelling salts and waved them under the noses of the the team's top two lines. Stamkos' line set the tone with a great forechecking shift to wear down the Habs, and then fresh off the bench the Johnson line mustered a quick rush that ended with a sharp centering pass from Hedman getting tapped home with 1.1 seconds left to play. What a theft. I'm almost embarrassed to call it a win.
If you asked me about Matt Carle's execution on defense tonight, I'd tell you I was all for it.
Now the Lightning get to go for the series sweep against a stunned Canadiens team tomorrow night. Between Montreal's dysfunctional PP, their lack of scoring talent, and Bishop's excellence, Tampa Bay has a good chance of advancing in the next 22 hours. What happens afterwards is difficult to feel positive about, though. We haven't seen the Lightning play their best game yet. Not even close. We've seen 20 good minutes of hockey here and there, but nothing near the kind of 60 minute effort it will take to win the East against Washington or the Rangers. Were I Cooper, I'd smack the first player who tried to celebrate about that dumpster fire that was passed off as an effort tonight and challenge this team to close out this series the right way against Montreal in Game Four. It's time to stop relying on Bishop, a little luck, and a lot of hope to back into winning hockey games and play an assertive, dominant 60 minute hockey game that tells the world this team is a serious championship contender and not just the best of a weak gaggle of Atlantic Division pretenders.
When the levees broke...
Eastern Conference Semifinals
Tampa Bay Leads the Series 2-0
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 29 shots for the victory. As in Game One, he held the Lightning in the game early in the First Period long enough for them to gain their equilibrium and eventually trounce the Habs.
7:20 MTL Petry (1), (Mitchell, Prust)
19:36 TB Filppula (2), (Hedman, Killorn)(PP)
8:06 TB Stamkos (1), (Garrison, Coburn)
12:29 TB Kucherov (2), (Johnson, Stamkos)(PP)
19:46 TB Hedman (1), (Killorn, Filppula)(PP)
6:37 TB Kucherov (3), (Johnson, Stamkos)(PP)
11:06 MTL Gilbert (2), (Emelin, Smith-Pelly)
16:05 TB Brown (1), (Filppula, Boyle)
That, folks, was one of the most satisfying playoff victories in Lightning history. The team, again, struggled to get any momentum to start the First Period with a combination of early penalties, poor passing, and faceoff impotence costing them possession. Again, though, they weathered that storm fairly well, only falling down 1-0, before Filppula's semi-soft power play goal toward the end of the frame. Montreal absolutely outplayed Tampa Bay in the First Period, and just like in Game One they absolutely blew their opportunity to land a knockout punch early. What happened thereafter was the stuff of stories and legends.
You see, the Lightning had already removed one item from their to-do list on Filppula's PP goal, but they proceeded to get everything knocked off from there. Stamkos scored on a very strong breakaway move on a nice long pass from Garrison to get that monkey off his back. Kucherov got a pair of PP goals to underline that the floodgates have indeed opened for him after Game One. His 2 goals, along with a Hedman PP tally, formed a chain of 4 goals on 4 consecutive PP shots for the Lightning as the absolutely embarrassed Carey Price, the NHL's presumptive MVP. To rub salt in the wound, the Lightning got the equivalent of a human victory cigar in the form of J.T. Brown scoring a tip in goal.
Teams that take a 2-0 lead on the road to start a series have an 80% chance of moving on, historically. I like those odds. I like the idea of avenging what happened last season even more. The Lightning have a chance to show the same cold blooded lack of mercy Montreal showed them last year in Game Three when the scene turned north after Tampa Bay fell behind 0-2 on the road. A quick goal by the Tampa Bay Lightning early in Game Three may lead to Montreal's resolve evaporating altogether. Time to step on their throats, Tampa Bay Lightning. Remember, the playoffs are a war of attrition. Advance as quickly as you can. Stay as healthy as you can. Conserve as much energy as you can. Let the other two teams kill each other in a long battle in the other Semifinal. Lay in wait for the Eastern Conference Finals. The opportunity for that scenario to play out is sitting there for the taking for the Lightning, starting with a strong opening 10 minutes at home in Game Three.