Believing in the Lightning isn’t always easy

by Gary Shelton on May 18, 2016 · 0 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Lightning

Herman faces another key match-up against Crosby./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Hedman faces another key match-up against Crosby./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Wednesday, 6 a.m.

Funny thing, faith. It fades in an out of tune like an AM radio signal.

A team plays well, and the ride feels good, and you cannot contain yourself. Why, this team is terrific. This season is terrific. Your arms cannot spread wide enough to hold all of them.

Why, there is Ben Bishop and Nikita Kucherov and Jonathan Drouin and Victor Hedman and Brian Boyle and Alex Killorn and Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson and all the rest of them, right down to your plucky little Matt Carle. They win, and the writers compose sonnets to them. They win, and they are the stuff of song.

Ah, but if they lose, the trip seems bumpy, and you cannot help but see all the hazards in the road. They are too slow and the defense has cracks and the net leaks and the power play fizzles and

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what was Cooper thinking? And furthermore, Matt Carle? They lose, and you cannot believe that you ever thought they would win. Also, boo.

Kucherov leads the NHL in scoring./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Kucherov leads the NHL in scoring./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

As for me?

I believe.

I believe, because I have seen their resiliency. I have felt the sense of foreboding, as if this wasn't going to be their night, and them skating right past all of the doubts.

I believe, because I have seen them be shut out by Detroit. Looking back, that doesn't seem like a big problem. But at the time, the Lightning was 2-1 and Detroit was home and Justin Abdelkader was taking scalps.  I saw the Bolts win that series in five games.

I believe, because I have seen the team be out skated by the Islanders in their opener, with New York chasing Ben Bishop off the ice. I wondered about New York's speed. And I saw the Bolts win four straight games.

I believe, because I have seen their resiliency. I saw them shut out against Detroit in Game Three and drubbed by the Islanders in Game One to come back to win both series with ease. And so they Bolts lost one of two games in Pittsburgh. Big deal. Did you think it was going to be a sweep?

I believe, because I think Bishop will be back by Game Four at the latest, and perhaps by Game Three. Oh, no offense to Andrei Vasilevskiy, who played well enough to win Monday night. But to glance back over one's shoulder and see the lanky presence of Bishop is to gain some confidence. He has been the best part of is team. I still think this team needs him to win. Soon, it will have him.

I believe, because I think Anton Stralman will get better and better. Stralman had some rust to him on Monday night. But if he can eat up 20 minutes, then Carle and Andrej Sustr can play a more manageable number of minutes. It's crucial, because the Penguins can speed past a defenseman who isn't quite on his game.

Stamos might return to the Lightning any day.

Stamkos might return to the Lightning any day.

I believe, because I think Steven Stamkos should be back any day. If the Bolts lost in Game Three, I would certainly look for him by Game Four. Of course, the team has to have a plan for Stamkos, doesn't it? He won't move a Triplet off of that line. He won't move Drouin (although, if Stamkos is in shape, he'd be marvelous with a puck-handler like Drouin). The thing is, though, Stamkos can take on the minutes he's prepared for, and he can play on the power play, and his presence will have a wonderful effect on his teammates.

I believe, because I think Kucherov is due. Tyler Johnson, too. The Penguins are a great offensive team, but they'll give up some chances. Tampa Bay simply has to take care of them.

I believe, because I believe Jonathan Drouin has been reborn as a star. He is so fast, so talented, that it is hard to believe the Lightning ever thought it was a good idea not to give him a lot of ice time. Sure, he's better now. But he didn't walk out as woeful and come back as wonderful.

I believe, because the Lightning has been here before. It sounds cliched, I know, but as each round has gone in this playoff, I have begun to believe the team is drawing something from last year's playoffs.

I believe, because I like the small parts of this hockey team. I like Boyle, and I like Cedric Paquette, and I like J.T. Brown. I like Alex Killorn, and Ryan Callahan, and Jason Garrison. It's an easy team to like, long on effort if a bit shorter than last year on sizzle.

I believe, because I believe in Ben Bishop. A year ago, a lot of us wondered if he was marking time for Vasilevskiy. But the closer you watch Bishop, the better he looks. He's a competitive cuss. He'll get past this leg injury.

I believe, because I believe the defense can protect either goalie.  No, they aren't the '85 Bears. They allow too many breakaways. But they're gritty, and they've shut down other good offenses.

I believe, because I believe in Jon Cooper. Look, Steve Yzerman knew he had something in Cooper. It's the reason he dumped Guy Boucher before Boucher really deserved it.

I believe, because I doubted them when they lost Stralman and when they lost Stamkos and when the played the Wings and when they played the Islanders and when they lost Bishop and when they temporarily lot Tyler Johnson. I doubted them before this series began.

I believe because others are doubting, and I'm a contrarian. It is trendy to doubt. It is fashionable to question.

I believe.

Check with me tomorrow.

Cooper has his team within three wins of another Final.

Cooper has his team within three wins of another Final.

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