Defense has to show up for Lightning to win

by Gary Shelton on May 26, 2016 · 1 comment

in general, Tampa Bay Lightning

Hedman has to take charge of the Penguins../TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Hedman has to take charge of the Penguins../TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Thursday, 6 a.m.

There for a while, Victor Hedman was the Ice Linebacker.

He was fast, and he was large, and never seemed to make a mistake. He skated, and the opponents got the dickens out of his way. He single-handedly made a mortal out of John Tavares. For the second straight year, there was talk that if things turned out the right way, he could be MVP of the playoffs.

Tuesday night, he was minus four. He had not been minus-four all season long.

There for a while, Anton Stralman was the homecoming warrior.

It has been five games since Stralman came back from his broken leg. For the Lightning, that seemed like wonderful news, a reunion with Hedman just in time to slow down the sizzling offense of the Penguins. He was a smart, heady player who used his position perfectly.

Four of his five games back, however, he has been in minus numbers.

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Pittsburgh has humbled most of the Lightning defenders, exposed them and left them bare. The Penguins have averaged more than 38 shots a game — six more than Detroit and 11 more than the Islanders – in this series. Yeah, you can blame goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, but not for all of it. The Penguins have been too swift, too skilled.

In six games, they have 19 goals. They look deep, talented, dangerous. The Lightning, by comparison, looks slow, muddled. It's nothing like the regular-season team that was tied for fourth in fewest goals allowed.

Stralman has palyed in only five games since returning.

Stralman has played in only five games since returning./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

"We kind of pride ourselves on being a pretty darn good defensive team," Cooper said. "I don't know how we finished at the end of the year, but I'm pretty sure we were in the top five all year. And aside from a couple of these games here, we've kind of been like that in the playoffs.

"It's tough to go through a whole playoff run and just give up one or two goals every single night.  Have we probably given up more chances than we'd ever like to? You have to tip your hat to them too. We're down to the Final Four, and we're heading to Game 7. You have two pretty darn good teams going at it, but if we want to advance, playing 'D' is going to have to be our mandate."

Tonight, what happens? Hint: The Rays cannot afford to give up another three goals or another 38 shots. They cannot give Sidney Crosby space, and they cannot give Evgeni Malkin time, and they cannot give Phil Kessel room to breathe.

This is playoff hockey. You cannot give the opponent four goals a game (as the Lightning has in the last four games).

Think back to the history of the Lightning in game sevens. They've been in six of them, and they've won five. But in all six they've played, they given up no more than two goals. Three times, they've won by shutout.

For Hedman, for Stralman, it is time to retake a bit of their reputations. You could say that for Braydon Coburn and Jason Garrison, and for Andrej Sustr and Matt Carle as well.

Oh, it would help if others chipped in. Tyler Johnson was minus four as well. J.T. Brown and Cedric Paquette need to be irritants again. Brian Boyle needs to remind Crosby what brand of after shave he is wearing.

I know, I know. More than not, you like this Lightning team. They've been scrappy and spunky and resilient all season long. But all of us know that the Lightning isn't likely to win by scoring six goals. Maybe Nikita Kucherov gets one. Maybe Jonathan Drouin. Maybe Johnson. But who else?

So let's agree on that. The Lightning, if everything goes just right, may get three goals.

That means you have to hold Pittsburgh to two. That's going to be a chore, isn't it?

If it was easy, everyone would play for the Stanley Cup.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Howard Powders May 26, 2016 at 12:13 pm

AV seems to be giving up at least three goals a game. This won’t be good enough tonight. We need him to play the best game of his life, giving up one or two goals max. Pray for a miracle from AV and the defense!

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