Lightning lives after almost dying in third

by Gary Shelton on May 21, 2016 · 0 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Lightning

Tyler Johnson is flipped as he tries to score. Johnson scored the winning goal./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Tyler Johnson is flipped as he tries to score. Johnson scored the winning goal./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Saturday, 5:45 a.m.

Give up one goal, and it's a nuisance. Yeah, Andrei Vasilveskiy lost his shutout. But that's why heaven invented 4-0 leads. What's the worry?

Give up a second goal, and it's a dilemma. Here come those dangerous Penguins again, scoring as quickly as a sneeze. Still, it's going to be okay. Right?

Give up a third goal, and the palms get sweaty and the blood pressure soars. They couldn't blow a 4-0 lead, couldn't they? They couldn't return to life and then die right before your eyes, could they? And why won't that clock move?

And so you have a decision to make. Is the Lightning all right again now that it has turned the Eastern Conference Finals into a best-of-three series? Or is it still chasing the Pittsburgh Penguins? Was the way to celebrate Friday night's result with a cheer, or with a sigh of relief? What does this game leave you with: New life or near death?

Or maybe both.

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Vasilevskiy made fans nervous when he let in three in the third./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Vasilevskiy made fans nervous when he let in three in the third./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

“The one thing on the bench was it doesn't matter how you get there,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “So whether you're up 4-0, it becomes 4-3, or you're down 3-0 and you go ahead 4-3, it doesn't matter. You're still winning. So you've got to play like that.

“Ultimately, the goal is to win the hockey game, and when you wake up in the morning, it's not how they came back and made it a game.

Ultimately, the series is 2-2. I thought we deserved to win that hockey game.”

This was the typical good-news, bad-news, try-to-figure-this-team-out Tampa Bay Lightning. By nature, they are contrarians. When you finally decide they are pretty good, they will be outskated, outhit and outscored. But when you finally think the ride is over, they will thrill you once again.

Lose a player? Big deal. Lose a game? So what? Back up to the edge of the cliff? Who cares? The Lightning are an impossible team to figure out.

At it turns out, that goes for the Penguins, too.

“Did I think that Johnny's goal was going to end up being the game winner?” Cooper said. “No, I didn't. But you have to play the game all the way through. And I thought they caught a couple breaks, and then they get the power play. Pretty much thought we killed that off, and they make a good play to get the rebound. But I really thought -- I didn't think we ever lost control of the game.

And give Pittsburgh credit. They played loose. They played hard, and they tried to make a game of it, which they did. But I never, ever was sitting there saying this game's in trouble for us.”

Ryan Callahan's tip-in scored for the the Lightning 27 seconds in./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Ryan Callahan's tip-in scored for the the Lightning 27 seconds in./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

It was impressive the way the Lightning played for two periods, scoring four goals on 30 shots. Ryan Callahan scored. Andrej Sustr scored. Jonathan Drouin scored. Tyler Johnson, the guy with the bloody mouth, scored. The guy selling popcorn scored.

But Tampa Bay had only seven more shots in the third period, when the Penguins turned the game into a highlight film. The Penguins' third goal, by Chris Kunitz, came with 6:52 to go. It was the second straight game the Bolts have given up three in the third period.

By this time, the folks in the stands figured the sky was falling and the water was rising and dark clouds were gathering. Blowing a four-goal lead would have been a collapse of historical significance.

So what has to happen from here? The Bolts have win their one remaining game at home. They have to win one of two in Pittsburgh. That's it. They have to expose young goaltender Matt Murray. They have to fight the Penguins' crowd. They have to contain Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel.

“I know it's going to be a high paced game, nothing we haven't seen before, I don't think,” said Victor Hedman. “We're just going to go in there and play like we did in Game 1. Obviously, we played with a lot of energy and played a good road game, obviously.

Sustr scored his first goal o fthe playoffs for Lighting./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Sustr scored his first goal o the playoffs for Lighting./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

"The bottom line is get a good rest tonight and make sure we refocus and get ready for a tough game.”

Of course, it would help if the Bolts scored quickly again. This time, it took 27 seconds before Ryan Callahan scored. Three more goals followed over the next two periods. It is clear that the Bolts play better with a lead than without one.

“That's the start we needed,” Callahan said. “You can't sit here and say, oh, you're -- you want your team to make a push. You want them to say, okay, let's make a stand. We got embarrassed at home in Game 3, let's make a stand.

And you can't ask for anything more than Callahan scoring the first shift. 27 seconds in, everybody -- I don't think anybody sat down yet.

“You can just -- the energy in the building after we scored, it just pushed us, and we carried that through. I can't say enough about Ryan Callahan and his positive effect on our team.”

Pittsburgh has had 162 shots in the four games. The Lightning has to find a way to slow that down. Tampa Bay has to play better on the power play (despite one goal Friday night). It would help, perhaps, if Ben Bishop would return.

Also, if it could kind of, you know, skip the third period, it would help.

Victor Hedman had three goals for the Lightning./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Victor Hedman had three goals for the Lightning./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

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