Tampa Bay Lightning
Halfway to the mountaintop...
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
Tampa Bay Wins the Series 4-1
Ben Bishop stopped all 28 shots he faced for the shutout and the issuance of even more U of Maine Justice in a closeout game. He had 1-2 timely saves early in the game and one big time larceny on Boychuk to preserve his SO, but otherwise it was an afternoon of light work for Bish. His homework for the ECF: come out sharper for Game One, as he looked a little off in Game One of both the DET and NYI series, and the Lightning can't afford to spot any opponent a game here on out.
13:49 TB Hedman(3), (unassisted)
18:41 TB Boyle(3), (Carle, Paquette)
4:22 TB Hedman(4), (Drouin, Johnson)(PP)
4:40 TB Kucherov(9), (Killorn)
The Lightning took the Islanders' heart in OT wins in Game Three and Game Four and today they did a clinical job of taking their playoff lives. Sensing the advantage, the Lightning finally played an excellent First Period for the first time in the series to build the 2-0 lead. In the Second Period, they leveraged the power play to get the all important 3 goal advantage after 40 minutes. And, just to discourage the Isles from any thought of a comeback, Kucherov bagged the breakaway early in the Third Period to allow the Lightning to cruise to the Eastern Conference Finals.
For the first time ever, the Lightning are in the NHL's final four teams in back to back years. In other words, today they officially became elite.
Speaking of which... Victor Hedman's only roadblock to competing for Norris Trophies has been his inability to establish himself as a legit sniper from the point. In this series, he started to show the ability to find the range. If that continues and carries over into next season, he'll challenge the likes of Doughty and Karlsson and lay legit claim to being the league's best defenseman. And, he's learning how to lug the hefty minutes every game that those Norris-caliber defensemen often do for their teams, as well.
Now the Lightning get some crucial time off to rest as they await their next opponent. I'm not going to sugar coat this: the Lightning just cleared the JV side of the bracket in the Eastern Conference. The heavy lifting is definitely to come. However, you can only play the opponents on the schedule and the Lightning disposed of both of DET and NYI quickly, as a legitimate contender should have. It's a far cry from last season where the Lightning had already played 13 of a possible 14 games at this point of the playoff season.
Who do I root for between WAS and PIT on the other side of the bracket? An earthquake or other natural disaster. Frankly, I can't stand either one of them and the national hockey media will do their best to put the machine behind whichever one of Ovechkin or Crosby advances. Six/one half dozen. Either way the Lightning need to start getting Brown, Stralman, and Stamkos back if they're going to advance to the Stanley Cup Final, so protracted, bloody multi-overtime games between the Pens and Caps, and the extra time they would afford the Lightning, might be the best result of all.
Slater Koekkoek had 1 hit in 9:49. He's clearly supplanted Nesterov in the every day lineup for the team.
Luke Witkowski had 1 hit in 4:17.
Smash. And. Grab.
Eastern Conference Semifinals
Tampa Bay Leads the Series 3-1
Ben Bishop allowed 1 goal on 28 shots for the victory. As with Game Three, Bishop made the key saves necessary for the Lightning to keep contact at 1 goal down and execute the perfect road smash and grab.
4:20 NYI Okposo(2), (Kulemin, Nielsen)(PP)
7:49 TB Kucherov(8), (Johnson)
1:34 TB Garrison(1), (Sustr, Palat)
Jason Garrison and Ben Bishop were the game's first and third stars.
The Lightning used guile and a dash of luck to get away with an extremely flat performance tonight and take a stranglehold advantage in the series. After a good initial push in the First Period the Islanders received a power play on a questionable exchange in a goalmouth scrum, and once Okposo scored on the ensuing power play the Islanders carried the bulk of the play thereafter. Mind you, the Isles didn't generate a ton of chances with their possession advantage, but they made it very difficult for the Lightning to break out of their own end and they were very stingy with the scoring chances. However, when the Isles had a chance to put the game away, such as their First Period 4 minute power play or Tavares and Okposo's 2-on-1 chance, they couldn't build the 2 goal advantage. When you allow a team as skilled as Tampa Bay to maintain contact on the scoreboard, you invite the smash and grab. Kucherov only needed a sliver of daylight to tie the game in the Third Period, and once they got it to the end of regulation tied, they simply believed they were going to win it. It was obvious, and they blew the Isles off the ice early in OT with a masterful shift punctuated by Garrison's point bomb for the winner.
Garrison played a great rebound game after looking like the dog's breakfast in Game Three. Perhaps the bizarre domino effect of Carle's minutes coming back into the lineup.
Isles fans are going to complain about the missed high sticking call on Garrison late in the Third Period. Rightfully so. But, then again, the refs completely changed the momentum of the game early on when Bishop got cross checked in the back of the head at the bottom of a scrum and only Blunden got a call in the resulting melee. Cooper's complaint about soft starts by the Lightning are valid, but I'd also point out I'm a little sick of seeing the momentum shift early in games because of ticky tack or uneven officiating. So, Isles fans can whine all they want, but they've been the beneficiary of poor officiating quite often in this series, too.
Sunday afternoon, the Lightning need to finish this. There's a chance Pittsburgh may close out the other side of the bracket early, and you don't want to put the team at any disadvantage in terms of energy or additional injuries. I expect (hope) the Lightning have learned a lesson and blow the Isles off the rink in the First Period and discourage the Islanders from hanging around any longer.
Slater Koekkoek had 1 shot in 10:17.
Luke Witkowski was +1 in 2:14 of ice time. He extended a clear invitation to any Isles player who wanted to dance. None wanted to take him up on it.
Hit me with your best shot...
Eastern Conference Semifinals
Tampa Bay Leads the Series 2-1
Ben Bishop allowed 4 goals on 39 shots for the win. He was the victim of some very sloppy play by his defense tonight, and while his stat line is not impressive on its face, it included about a half dozen ten bell saves in key moments of the game that allowed the Lightning to maintain contact and eventually steal the win.
7:55 NYI Bailey(1), (Kulemin, Hamonic)
19:47 TB Callahan(1), (Killorn, Filppula)(PP)
8:10 TB Hedman(2), (Johnson)
14:50 NYI Leddy(1), (Clutterbuck, Cizikas)
2:27 NYI Bailey(2), (Hickey, Prince)(PP)
3:25 TB Namestnikov(1), (Filppula, Killorn)
11:23 NYI Clutterbuck(2), (Cizikas)
19:21 TB Kucherov(7), (Drouin, Hedman)
2:48 TB Boyle(2), (Hedman, Callahan)
The Islanders made it pretty clear going into this game they were determined to transform this series into a street fight rather than a hockey exhibition. After being dominated for much of the last 90 minutes of hockey in Game One and Game Two in Tampa Bay, the Islanders were busy splicing up hype videos glorifying Erik Condra's concussion (classy) and trying to start scrums in pregame warmups (Hamonic running into Boyle). There was no equivocating about the night's agenda: the Islanders were going to try to pound the skill out of the Lightning. And, to be honest, they nearly succeeded. In the First Period, Jonathan Drouin made an ill advised attempt to cut to the center of the ice that led to a bone-jarring hit by Hickey that put Jonathan Drouin into the quiet room until deep into the Third Period. With Drouin out and the Lightning playing a skeleton crew of 10 forwards and about 4.5 NHL caliber defensemen, the Isles fourth line waged a night-long campaign to pummel the Lightning into turnovers and mistakes. Back and forth they fought, with the Lightning amazingly answering Bailey's second goal of the night with a Namestnikov equalizer on the very next shift in the Third Period. But, eventually it all took a toll that put the team into a 4-3 hole midway through the Third Period after Jason Garrison (who had an awful case of the yips all game long) threw away a puck off of Cizikas' skate on what became a perfect centering feed to Cal Clutterbuck for what appeared to be the winning goal.
And then, out of the locker room, young Jonathan Drouin strode forth like a boss... the stuff of legend.
With the extra attacker pulled and under one minute to play, Drouin (who also absorbed a pretty nasty high stick that drew blood from his nose after returning midway through the Third Period) swooped down the left wing boards probing for a sliver of a crease through the Islander defense. Then, at the moment of truth, he found Nikita Kucherov (the finisher of #ThatLine) dead center of the slot. Bang. Bang. In the blink of an eye the Islanders' perfectly laid plans were obliterated by a player who they thought they had buried less than two periods earlier. And, the indignity was just beginning...
Recall that revenge is a dish best served cold (an old Klingon proverb, as the late great Ricardo Montalban would remind us).
Early in overtime, Brian Boyle crushed Thomas Hickey at the Isles blueline, forcing a turnover that eventually led to a 3-on-2 rush. The puck found the trailer, Victor Hedman, who in Hedman-esque fashion missed the net. The bounce found Boyle at the side of an open cage. Kisses to Travis Hamonic. Drive home safely, everybody. Lightning lead the series 2-1.
Was it artful? No. The Lightning's puck management was terrible in this game, and for a wide swath of the Third Period it looked like the Islanders' plan to pull the Lightning's collective punk card was going to work. But both the Lightning and Jonathan Drouin ultimately proved tonight that if you take a shot at them, you best not miss. And, you'd better be sure you kill them, or they're fully capable of rising back up and taking you out. That's the resilience of a team that, over the last calendar year, has been in a lot tougher spots and faced a lot deeper adversity than what they faced in that SUV showroom in Brooklyn tonight.
Now the series rolls onto Game Four, where a fragile young Islanders team that isn't overly skilled to begin with will have to manufacture a win to stay viable in the series. They just gave the Lightning their best shot and were less than a minute from victory before getting absolutely humiliated by the two tormentors (Drouin and Boyle) they probably least expected and least wanted to have the satisfaction. The Lightning, on the other hand, have already accomplished their mission in Brooklyn. They've wrestled home ice back from the Islanders and they move into Game Four playing with a heaping stack of the house's chips. Advantage: Lightning. They have a golden opportunity to apply the right pressure to end this series quickly while Stralman, Brown, and Stamkos continue to get healthier by the day and the Caps and Penguins continue to kill each other in protracted, bloody warfare on the other side of the Eastern Conference bracket. For a Lightning team that pretty much did everything the hard way in last year's postseason en route to a painful loss in six games in the Stanley Cup Final, this is a chance to set all their ducks in a row in nearly perfect fashion and give themselves the best possible strategic chance to win it all this year.
Matt Taormina played 2:43. He got 4 shifts all game. I'm not sure he got one after a glorious turnover that nearly ended up in the back of his own net. I'd expect to see him out of the lineup in Game Four.
Slater Koekkoek was +1 with 2 penalty minutes, 3 shots, and 1 blocked shot in 11:35. With Taormina and Nesterov hardly cloaking themselves in glory tonight, the coaching staff gave Koekkoek a little extra responsibility. And, with the exception of one really awful turnover in the Third Period on a failed breakout pass, he handled it pretty well, including some penalty kill time. Perhaps a silver lining of Stralman breaking his leg and Carle getting nicked up will be that Koekkoek plays enough to get a higher level of comfort from the coaching staff to feed him some minutes. Athletically, he's far better equipped to handle it than a lot of the other options available.
Lightning begin to establish their dominance.
Eastern Conference Semifinals
Series Tied 1-1
Ben Bishop allowed 1 goal on 20 shots for the victory. He didn't face a lot of good chances, but he made the key situational saves as he rebounded from that fragrant performance in Game One. It's not at all surprising he played well in a rebound game.
6:03 TB Johnson(3), (Palat, Hedman)
11:55 TB Drouin(1), (Filppula)
15:15 NYI Kulemin(1), (Hickey, Quine)(PP)
11:59 TB Hedman(1), (Johnson, Drouin)(PP)
17:42 TB Johnson(4), (Garrison)(EN)
Game One begged the question of what this series will look like once Bishop and the Lightning tighten up their game, and Game Two answered that question: pure dominance. The young Islanders, probably lacking the playoff experience to see the gathering dark clouds, ultimately had no clue what was about to hit them. The Lightning forechecked them like crazy, with speed that just tormented the Islanders D all game long as they gave away turnovers and lost 50/50 pucks en masse. The only thing that saved the Islanders from complete humiliation was the Lightning becoming the victim of some ticky tack calls in the First and Second Periods that yielded the Islanders' only goal on the Kulemin deflection of Hockey's point shot. Other than that, the Islanders barely got a sniff all game long and that's amazing considering that, with Matt Carle out, the Lightning were down to about 4-1/2 NHL caliber defensemen. That didn't matter, though, with the Lightning in the Isles end all game long.
On a tangential note: if you want to see what this series probably boils down to, go ahead and split screen how the Isles played protecting a multi-goal lead in Game One (turtle shelling) and how the Lightning played protecting a multi-goal lead in Game Two (pushing like crazy for the 3 goal advantage). One of these teams knows how to win in the playoffs and the other hasn't been in these situations. School's in session.
Oh, and Greiss is mortal. Drouin's goal was pretty soft, and I think we're about to see a reversion to the mean for Greiss. That's to say, I think he's a competent goalie, but if the Isles are expecting him to steal multiple wins to wrestle this series away from Bishop and the Lightning, that's probably a bridge too far for him to cross.
Now the series moves on to Brooklyn where the Lightning just need to get 1 of 2 games to get home ice and control of the series back. At this hour, given how dominant the Lightning have looked over the past about 90 minutes of hockey, that seems like a low bar to clear.
Matt Taormina was +1 in 5:31 of ice time.
Slater Koekkoek was +1 with 1 shot in 6:47 of ice time. He nearly got the kill shot goal in the Third Period, but overall he and Taormina simply weren't going to see the ice much in this game unless the Lightning really, really had broken it open.
Soft goals doom Lightning in Game One.
Eastern Conference Semifinals
Islanders Lead the Series 1-0
Ben Bishop allowed 4 goals on 13 shots for the loss before being pulled in the Second Period. Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped all 8 shots he faced the rest of the way, with the benefit of a couple of posts. Bishop's poor performance was the difference in this game, as two of his goals allowed were of the soft variety. His first goal allowed to Hamonic was about as soft and bad a goal as you'll see an NHL netminder allow, and it deflated the Lightning's early momentum. As you'll recall, Bishop looked off balance in Game One of the Detroit series, too. I said it then and I'll say it now: Bishop doesn't tend to have back-to-back stinkers, so there's no need to panic, in my opinion.
3:05 TB Palat(2), (Drouin, Namestnikov)
5:44 NYI Hamonic(1), (Quine, Tavares)
17:28 NYI Prince(2), (Strome, Nelson)
19:57 NYI Prince(3), (Strome, Nelson)
8:59 NYI Tavares(6), (Okposo, Nielsen)(PP)
7:41 TB Kucherov(6), (Carle, Hedman)
17:28 TB Filppula(1), (Killorn, Garrison)
19:05 NYI Clutterbuck(1), (Cizikas, DeHaan)(EN)
Nikita Kucherov was the game's third star.
Soft goals often end up being the margin of victory in a game, and tonight was no difference. Take those out of the equation tonight, and this game is a toss up the Lightning quite possibly win because of their overall possession advantage. A lot is going to be made about "rust" because of the Lightning's layoff since the Detroit series, but that's lazy journalism and ignores the fact the Lightning absolutely dominated the early going in this contest, had a 1 goal lead, and missed a couple of golden opportunities to push that lead to 2-0 on chances by Killorn and Palat. A lot will also be made about the hit on Condra by Cizikas that appeared to leave Condra concussed, but to me the emotional turning point of the game absolutely was that snow cone Bishop allowed to Hamonic. A shot fired from a bad angle off the boards trickling through your goaltender is incredibly demoralizing. You just can't allow that goal in the playoffs. Period. The fact the Lightning followed it up with two brain dead coverage efforts on the next two goals didn't help matters, but if you had to put your finger on anything, you'd have to put it on Bishop's play tonight. If Ben Bishop plays like himself the rest of this series, I've got to say, I still like Tampa Bay's chances.
Game Two obviously takes on added importance for the Lightning. Fortunately, I thought their response in the Third Period of Game One was excellent. I thought they showed some very good habits while the Islanders showed some pretty awful habits turtling a bit in the final frame. That sort of thing tends to have a little carry over, so if I was a betting man I might place some currency behind the Lightning having an excellent start in Game Two and ultimately sending this series to Brooklyn tied up.
Bishop single handedly sends Detroit to the golf course.
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
Tampa Bay Wins the Series 4-1
Ben Bishop sparkled, stopping all 34 shots he faced for the series clinching shutout victory. He carried his teammates tonight, and administered elite-level U of Maine Justice.
18:17 TB Killorn(3), (Callahan)
Bishop and Alex Killorn were the game's first and third stars, respectively.
Man, was this ever an important win. The Lightning looked gassed tonight, and with nagging injuries to the likes of Tyler Johnson stacking on top of more serious injuries to Brown, Stamkos, and Stralman, the team just was completely lacking in energy tonight with the exception of one or two players like Jonathan Drouin. As the game winded on and they squandered a bevy of power play opportunities in the First and Second Period, it was clear Bishop was going to have to steal the win, and he ultimately did. A Mrazek turnover behind his cage was picked off by a hustling Ryan Callahan, and the Lightning sent the Red Wings home for the second straight year. Burn the tape of everything but that goal and the handshake line, and lets move on.
On the other side of the Atlantic Division playoff bracket you have to sincerely hope that the Islanders and Panthers choose to kill each other in a bloody murder-suicide that lasts the span of the full seven games. Let the bodies hit the floor, please. Do I ultimately have a preference between the two? Well, I might slightly prefer to play the Islanders because Florida has the more established netminder in Luongo, but the Isles have the better overall depth and high-end scorers so it's a near wash. A healthy, energetic Lightning team has a very good chance of advancing against either one, though, and that's why Bishop's heroics tonight were so important.
Lightning snatch a deserved victory from the jaws of defeat.
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
Tampa Bay Leads the Series 3-1
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 28 shots for the victory. Four games into the series he's been the model of consistency, allowing 2 goals in each contest. It makes it easy for the team in front of him: manufacture 3 goals and you're probably going to the pay window.
5:41 TB Kucherov(4), (Johnson, Drouin)(PP)
10:31 TB Kucherov(5), (Drouin, Garrison)(PP)
14:53 DET Helm(1), (Glendening, Smith)
19:50 DET Nyquist(1), Sheahan(1)
17:01 TB Palat(1), (Drouin, Kucherov)(PP)
The Lightning responded to their flat Game Three performance with a very strong forechecking effort right out of the gate that continued for most of the first 40 minutes of the game, abbreviated only by the occasional penalty kill. Bottom line: when the Lightning are on the forecheck Detroit has no chance. Their defense can't handle Tampa Bay's speed and they have a tendency to give the puck away pretty easily under duress. The Lightning could've very easily had a 3 or 4 goal lead two thirds of the way through the Second Period when things got unnecessarily sideways.
Detroit got their first goal on a play I don't want to outright label luck, because it required some hand-eye coordination for Glendening to bunt the puck out of mid-air in front of the net, but it certainly was a low percentage play. It wasn't the kind of play where you feel too upset at your defense because the score was borderline an act of puck luck. Still, it put Detroit in position for the smash and grab, which they nearly executed when a bad Garrison turnover along the wall late in the period resulted in an inexcusable goal by Nyquist to tie the game. It was just a soft effort by the entire crew on the ice at a critical moment to gift Detroit the opportunity to knot the series.
Much of the remainder of the Third Period became an exercise of survival for the Lightning, as they got extremely tight and their breakout passing completely betrayed them. Unable to move the puck up ice, Detroit kept possession and faceoffs deep in the Lightning third and developed chances and eventually a key penalty midway in the period where Larkin nearly scored a backhand goal that hit flush off Bishop's horseshoe. As if sensing they had been given a reprieve, the Lightning forecheck bounced back to life for about a 5 minute span, eventually drawing the critical cross checking penalty on Ericsson that let to Palat's game winning goal. And, with that, the Lightning opportunistically put themselves on the brink of advancing quickly out of the opening round.
Three power play goals. Bask in it. And, bask in the chemistry developing between Jonathan Drouin and Nikita Kucherov. Drouin was particularly instrumental in the final two goals as he went across the grain back into the slot for a Kucherov one-timer on the Lightning's second goal and then through the seam to a cutting Palat for the deflection on the winner. For those who have hammered us at Bolt Prospects about our advocacy of Drouin's skill set: now you see what he's capable of.
Visioning exercise: close your eyes and imagine Steven Stamkos drifting to the open spot at the far post with Kucherov and Drouin creating pressure points at the near circle and slot area on that power play. Nice, right?
On a tangential note: how satisfying was it that Justin Abdelkader took the call that put the Wings down early in the First Period? Dare I say, it was finger licking good?
Now, if you're the Lightning, you can't afford to fall asleep for Game Five. Finish this and get some time off and hope the Isles and Panthers kill each other on the other side of the bracket. Save the wear and tear of a couple of games and conserve that energy for bigger moments in this postseason run.
Matt Taormina with 1 shot in 2:39 of ice time. If you blinked you missed him tonight.
Lightning never get their legs under them in wasted Game Three opportunity.
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
Tampa Bay Leads the Series 2-1
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 30 shots for the loss. He gave his club a chance, but they simply did nothing in front of him offensively for about 95% of the game.
12:42 DET Athanasiou(1), (Tatar, Andersson)
17:22 DET Zetterberg(1), (unassisted)
16 shots on goal just isn't good enough at any level. Period. The Lightning did an excellent job of weathering any big immediate push by Detroit in the First Period, even killing off a 5-on-3 power play, but the last 40 minutes of hockey were embarrassingly flat hockey by the Lightning. They got into penalty trouble with some stupid/selfish penalties in the Second Period, lost the momentum, and never recovered. Even the meek little push they put in for the Third Period wasn't much because the Wings just packed it in and blocked all of the Lightning's shots coming from the points. Petr Mrazek probably hasn't had a shutout that easy in his entire life, let alone one in an NHL playoff game.
The Lightning did send a message with a big line scrum at the end of the game. Hopefully that injects some life into them for Game Four. They desperately need to get back on the maniacal forecheck they displayed at home in Game One and Game Two. If they do that, Detroit's defense doesn't appear to be mobile enough to handle it. If they don't, this will be a tie series and the Lightning will be in for a long, hard slog.
The only highlight of the night? Watching Justin Abdelkader get exposed as the king-sized coward he is. Locked up with Brian Boyle in the postgame scrum and challenged repeatedly to drop the gloves, Abdelkader proved what we all suspected: he's all chicken and no nuggets. He's a real tough guy when a guy's pinned to the ice with his back to him, but when he had to face down an opponent like a man, he showed he's nothing of the sort.
Lightning coming alive in the postseason.
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
Tampa Bay Leads the Series 2-0
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 32 shots for the victory. Bishop looked much more confident and under control in Game Two and the Lightning played a much tighter game in front of him defensively. That bodes really well for the rest of the series.
15:17 TB Kucherov(3), (Hedman, Johnson)(PP)
3:30 DET Larkin(1), (Ericsson, Kronwall)
6:46 TB Boyle(1), (Drouin, Coburn)
4:27 DET Richards(1), (Green, Tatar)(PP)
6:32 TB Johnson(1), (Killorn)
14:48 TB Johnson(2), (Kucherov, Garrison)
17:16 TB Killorn(2), (Carle, Killorn)(EN)
Somewhere in the course of this game a sneaking suspicion of mine that I've had all year was confirmed: the Lightning were sandbagging it most of the regular season. Deliberately? No. But it was clear they were sleepwalking through quite a few games and weren't playing with the same intensity Lightning fans were used to. It's human nature when you get within 2 wins of hoisting the Cup. I suspect now that they've been bit by the bug, it's hard to get up for anything but playoff hockey, but now that the postseason is here? My goodness. The Lightning have ratcheted everything up tenfold, and it's electric right now.
The First Period of this game was an absolute squash for the Lightning. The game could've easily been 4-0 after the opening frame after the Lightning hit two posts and a crossbar to go along with Kucherov's 5-on-3 PP goal. The defense was tighter. The breakouts were clean. The forecheck was swarming. For goodness sake, the power play even looked lethal with some of the best puck movement we've seen all season.
Detroit was lucky to even be in the game in the Second Period when a momentary lapse gave Larkin the tying goal after a saggy power play to start the middle frame. Still, and somewhat incredibly, the Lightning just didn't sag and got right back on their forecheck. And, even though the refs had a spate of (questionable) calls against the Lightning in the Second Period, the penalty kill was incredibly stout and they eventually pulled back ahead on a pretty no-look pass by Drouin to the trailer on a 3-on-2. Drouin played even better in Game Two than he did in Game One, and he was arguably the most dangerous Lightning forward in Game One to begin with. The puck is starting to follow him around the rink, which is the mark of a star player. It's kind of amazing he doesn't have a goal yet given the ridiculous number of scoring chances he's created already in the series, and he's playing a rugged-to-the-point-of-maniacal style of game. It's like they extracted some of Marchessault's crazy/angry and injected into Drouin, and it's pretty fun to watch.
Eventually Detroit equalized the game at 2-2 with Richards scoring through a screen on the PP after another Lightning penalty. Tampa Bay ended up surrendering 5 power play opportunities on the night, and that's 2-3 more than they should feel comfortable with against a power play as good as Detroit's. Mind you, a few of those calls were of dubious quality. Specifically, the Killorn holding call to start the contest and the Boyle interference call toward the end of the Second Period were gobsmacking. The latter was so bad Pierre McGuire on the NBCSN broadcast even went so far as to sarcastically remark it was... "unique." Indeed it was. Now, mind you, the officiating was bad at both ends and the refs probably did miss an accidental high stick by Hedman on Datsyuk in the corner in the Second Period that knocked out Datsyuk's teeth. In general, I'd say the refs have called the series so bizarrely to this point that they've fostered an environment of lawlessness that led to the shenanigans you saw at the final horn.
Ultimately the Lightning deserved the win tonight and they eventually got it on a pair of well crafted goals by Tyler Johnson and his linemates. Alex Killorn added the remote control goal off the boards in his own end into the empty net to rub salt into the wound. I just thought the Lightning were just far quicker to loose pucks than Detroit tonight, which led to another night with a high volume of scoring chances, and in the process they showed tighter defense and their goaltending settled down nicely. That's a good recipe for success, and the team has to be on a high tonight considering they've only trailed for a whopping 5:22 of this series so far. There needs to be some caution, though: the old timers will tell you it's not a series until a team wins a road game in a series. The Lightning did what they were supposed to do by holding serve at Amalie to start the Quarterfinals, but it was a homer series during the regular season and the Lightning have to know they've got a tough task still ahead of them in Detroit. At some point they'll need to pick off a game up there, in all likelihood, and it'll take a heavy lift to get that done. Hopefully they can ride that momentum into Game Three and get it right away with a view toward shortening the series and lessening the effects of potential attrition on an already thinly stretched roster.
Then close your eyes and imagine what happens when/if Stamkos and Stralman can work their way back into the lineup.
Now, about that thing that happened at the end of the game...
For those who didn't see it there was a scrum at the end of the contest that kicked off when noted thug Andrej Sustr (he reps his gang, the G-G-G-raffes) got into a little shoving match in front of Bishop's cage. No big deal. The teams piled up in a scrum. Again, no big deal. That happens a zillion times in the playoffs. Guys were pulling guys off the pile and pairing off. Same old song. Then Justin Abdelkader lost his damned mind, rolled onto Mike Blunden's back while Blunden was pinned to the ice at the bottom of the pile, and started throwing about a half dozen big right hands to the back of Blunden's head. Blunden, prone and defenseless on the ice because he was pinned with his back to Abdelkader, ended up with nine stitches for cuts that either happened within the pile or from his face hitting the ice while he was getting punched in the back of the head. In any event, he was bleeding like a stuck pig by the time the refs pulled Abdelkader up off of him on a play that was just flat out an assault. Abdelkader completely, absolutely, 100% snapped. If it's the regular season, that's a suspension. No doubt in my mind. In the playoffs? I doubt he'll get more than the whopping game misconduct he got with 50-some seconds left in a game his team was losing by 3 goals (big punishment there, NHL). The guy's a dirty player, and if the league won't do something about him I hope the Lightning have a big lead in the Third Period of the closeout game and Blunden gets his chance for a little sweet revenge, because the guy has had it coming since last season. He's involved in so many sketchy plays that end up with injuries to opposing players, and he needs to answer for it. And, if it goes down like that, I'm certain whoever does settle up with Abdelkader will get a few thank you cards from other team's players too.
Mirror Jon Cooper and the Lightning manufacture a key Game One win.
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
Tampa Bay Leads the Series 1-0
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 36 shots for the victory. The stat line looks good, but Bishop did not look comfortable in this game. That's actually a hopeful sign for this series. Bishop had a bit of a shaky performance and the Lightning still managed to get a big win. You have to figure Bishop will find his form and settle down.
6:23 TB Kucherov(1), (Johnson, Killorn)
2:11 DET Green(1), (DeKeyser, Tatar)
4:07 DET Abdelkader(1), (Quincey)
9:29 TB Kucherov(2), (Coburn, Nesterov)
8:52 TB Killorn(1), (Johnson, Kucherov)
Let's recap: the Lightning came into this game sans Stamkos and Stralman with some question marks about the health of Johnson. Ben Bishop looked uncomfortable all night long. Detroit got the benefit of some puck luck on at least one goal and, I would argue, of the officiating in the game, as well. The Lightning still fought through it and got the win. If you believe puck luck balances out and that Bishop will find his form (I won't blow smoke that the officiating against an Original Six team will ever even out for Tampa Bay in this league) there's a lot to be hopeful about as the Lightning look to survive and advance deeper into these playoffs where, hopefully, some healthy reinforcements await.
It was not without blemishes. The defensive coverage tonight was poor and the Lightning continue to retreat off their blueline against the rush far too easily without Stralman. Detroit got a ton of good scoring chances that they outright blew tonight. Needless to say, the Lightning need to tighten up defensively. And, they need to improve their discipline against a Detroit team that needs their dangerous power play to score goals to win. Grit and guts were a good enough spackle tonight, though.
Credit to Mirror Universe Jon Cooper for some excellent line combinations and player usage tonight. You know it was Mirror Universe Jon Cooper because he's growing a goatee... and because Jonathan Drouin started the game... and because Jonathan Drouin played 17:39... and because Jonathan Drouin saw key shifts late in the Third Period of a 1-goal game. Really, it wasn't that difficult a choice for Mirror Jon Cooper to make, because Drouin played a whale of a game. You can ding him for being a little overspirited physically tonight and in jumping offside on the Hedman goal that was overturned on replay, but you can also make a strong argument he was the best player on the ice tonight. He was creating chances and he was playing with an absolutely nasty edge to his game. That's some of the best hockey Jonathan's played in a Lightning uniform, bar none. It's enough to make you wonder what this team could look like if it can stay alive long enough to get Stamkos and Stralman back. It could be the most potent lineup the Lightning have ever iced if Mirror Jon Cooper can keep regular Jon Cooper stuffed in the mirror universe.
And, of course, credit to the Lightning for not sagging after Hedman's 3-on-2 goal was disallowed. That was a real maturity-testing moment, and they passed with flying colors as they surged like crazy after that play. Not only did they get the Killorn goal, but they also should've had the insurance marker with Coburn banging one off the crossbar staring at an open cage. When you consider they could've easily had 3 goals over a span of about a 5 minute span in the Third Period, you realize Detroit should probably feel a little lucky too that they hung into the game.
Side note: there's a big difference in quality between the was Mrazek was playing at this time last year and Jimmy Howard this year, and if the Lightning can keep the pressure up, it should mean the goals flow a little easier for Tampa Bay.
Another side note: I hate Justin Abdelkader, and I hope all the bad things in life happen to him and only him.