Step 11: Fast start, stubborn finish leads Bolts

by Gary Shelton on May 20, 2018 · 0 comments

in general

Ryan Callahan scores in a scramble./STEVEN MUNCIE

Ryan Callahan scores in a scramble./STEVEN MUNCIE

Sunday, 4 a.m.

You can talk about the goal scorers if you will, and their velocity, and their suddenness. And certainly, they had a great deal to do with the latest victory by the Tampa Bay Lightning.

You can talk about the resolve if you wish, and the pluck, and the fire, and the will. Certainly, that has a great deal to do with the Lightning leading 3-2 in their playoff series against the Washington Caps, a series the Bolts trailed 2-0, oh, about five minutes ago.

Or, if you wish, you can talk about the final 90 seconds of Saturday night's victory, when one of the strengths of the Lightning emerged.

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Cedric Paquette Celebrates after scoring 19 seconds into the 1st period./STEVEN MUNCIE

Cedric Paquette Celebrates after scoring 19 seconds into the 1st period./STEVEN MUNCIE

The Bolts were on the ropes, if you want to know the truth. Washington had come back from a 3-0 deficit to trail 3-2, and the Caps were peppering shots at Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Which is when the new defenders of the South emerged. For the last two games, they are the reason that the Lightning has ended an onslaught still standing.

Steven Stamkos trips Orlov./STEVEN MUNCIE

Steven Stamkos trips Orlov./STEVEN MUNCIE

The Caps' Alex Ovechkin shot, and Dan Girardi blocked it. John Carlson shot again, and Andrei Vasileskiy gloved  it. And again, this time by Evgeny Kuznetsov,  and Victor Hedman blocked it.

In that scramble, you could see much of what makes the Lightning special. It is focus. It is resiliency. It is sacrifice. It is willingness to absorb a bit of punishment.

These days, those items are as big a strength as a balanced roster, as a talented fourth line, as a resilient Lightning team. Tampa Bay won its third straight game, and it can close out the series on Monday night in Washington.

For the first two games of the series, the Lightning defenders simply watched as the puck slithered past them. No more. This is an active, interested, urgent defense, and it seems to take shots by the Caps seriously. Oh, Vasilevskiy was

Andrei Vasilevskiy played well again./STEVEN MUNCIE

Andrei Vasilevskiy played well again./STEVEN MUNCIE

good again, stopping 28 of 30 shots, but he didn't have to be as otherworldly as he had been in Game Four.

The Bolts blocked 19 shots and had 24 hits in the game.

We’ve got to continue to look at things here," said defenseman Ryan McDonagh. "Overall, our best game in the series, but still they made us defend a lot and kind of picked us apart as that game continued into the neutral zone in the second and third. We’ve got to try to find ways to slow them down and get the pucks out of their hands. No doubt that we'll have a lot of positive things to look at here. This group is well aware that we haven't accomplished anything yet."

Remember that sickening feeling you felt after two games? The Bolts lost two straight, badly, and it seemed the Caps owned them. Washington looked too big, too fast, too desperate for a Lightning team that was still thinking about its series against Boston. It was the reason the Bolts won their last four against Boston and their last three against New Jersey.

Anton Stralman and Washington's Alex Ovechkin fight for the pick./STEVEN MUNCIE

Anton Stralman and Washington's Alex Ovechkin fight for the puck./STEVEN MUNCIE

"We had to change the way we played," Cooper said. "Game one was game one, and we were a little disappointed how that turned out. We thought Game Two, we'll get that one. And we were worse."

Now, however, it has won three straight, and it regained its focus. Oh, the Caps are a good team, and the third periods of both Game Four and Game Five has belonged to them. But the Bolts have blocked the right shot, or made the right hit, and they have won both.

Tampa Bay took a 1-0 lead only 19 seconds into the game on a goal by Cedric Paquette. Ondrej Palat scored with 9:04 in the first period, and Ryan Callahan made it 3-0 33 seconds into the second period. It was only Callahan's second goal of the series, only Paquette's first.

"They’re one of our lines," Cooper said, smiling as he avoided the term "fourth

Washington's Kempny keeps Anthony Cirelli down./STEVEN MUNCIE

Washington's Kempny keeps Anthony Cirelli down./STEVEN MUNCIE

line, "That's what it is. They’re a good one. They play a winning role for our team and they inspire our group. They pull our team into the fight. That’s what they do.

"You can look in the box score and say 'Those guys don’t have a ton of points.' They have heavy hands.  They check. They’re on the right side of pucks. One of the luxuries we have is that it doesn't matter who  we put them out against. They’re dependable."

Think about it. Think about someone with as a hard a shot as Ovechkin, and your goal is to put your body in the way and absorb the hit.

Alex Killorn moves the puck../STEVEN MUNCIE

Alex Killorn moves the puck../STEVEN MUNCIE

“Luckily it hit me right in the cheek," Girardi said. "I have a little padding there. It’s a thing in the game. You have to block that shot.You have to eat those."

Callahan continued to play his gritty, chippy game against Washington. One of those who saw it was teammates Ryan McDonagh.

"You're always going to get 110 percent every shift throughout the whole game," McDonagh said. "He's going to sacrifice himself, take hits, block shots and do whatever he can to chip in offensively and make plays when they're there. And he's got that ability. I've seen it a thousand times, but it's great to see him continue to play courageously like that and sacrifice his body and be physical and take blocked shots. Great example for our lineup, and our guys like it when he plays that way."

Callahan doesn't score much, but his winner was big Saturday night,

“I think you have to contribute as much as you can," Callahan said. "When you're matched up against a line like (Ovechkin’s), your main focus is to keep the puck

Steven Stamkos didn't score for once./STEVEN MUNCIE

Steven Stamkos didn't score for once./STEVEN MUNCIE

out of the net. To have success, you need to have all lines contributing in different ways. Would we like to be on the scoresheet more than we have been in these playoffs? Absolutely, but when you're not, you have to do other things to help the team win."

Playing physical? That's easy.

"It's not hard," Callahan said. "Twenty-three other guys in that room would do the same thing. Obviously throughout the playoffs, there's bruises, but this is the time of year you play for. This is what it's all about. You hear all the stories when playoffs are done what guys play through, so it is what it is.  It's what it's all about."

The teams play Monday night at 8 p.m. in Washington. If the Caps win, they come home on Wednesday night for Game Seven.

Brayden Point and Opik slip while trying to get to the puck./STEVEN MUNCIE

Brayden Point and Opik slip while trying to get to the puck./STEVEN MUNCIE

 

 

 

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