Lightning believes it has one more surprise in them

by Gary Shelton on May 25, 2016 · 1 comment

in general, Tampa Bay Lightning

Brian Boyle tries to control Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby.

Brian Boyle tries to control Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby.

Wednesday, 6 a.m.

Sometime in the first period, you doubted. Didn't you?

Sometime in the second, you questioned. Admit it.

Sometime before the night was over, you considered giving up, didn't you. The Lightning looked that lethargic, and the Penguins looked that spirited, and there for a while, you looked for the white flag. You considered negotiating a conditional surrender.

Me, too.

Silly us.

By now, was should know that the Tampa Bay Lightning is a collection of contrarians. They will convince onlookers they have conquered this

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Tyler Johnson has played despite his battered lip.

Tyler Johnson has played despite his battered lip.

game called hockey, and everything is brass bands and little cars driving in formation. And as soon as we become convinced they are pretty darn good, they fall on their collective noses.

It is then that they are their most vulnerable. As soon as fans stand to cheer, the puck will go between their legs. They will have a period like the first one Tuesday night, when they managed four shots. Or the second, when they managed seven. At such moments, it is easy to wonder whatever the Lightning is doing in hockey's final four with a lineup filled with fourth-liners and minor-leaguers.

When we think they will zig, they zag. When we think they will be awesome, they are awful. When we think they control the scoreboard, it lands on them.

Well, guess what?

Thursday night, it will be time — once again — for the good Lightning.

Kucherov battles to get free of Pens.

Kucherov battles to get free of Pens.

Never mind that the game is in Pittsburgh, where the Penguins were 26-11-4 this year. Never mind how this team looks like a very good hockey team's highlights when Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have room to skate. The Lightning will be good on Thursday because they were bad on Tuesday. It's a warped battle plan, but for the Bolts, it seems to work. So don't dismiss their chances.

Have you been paying attention? The Lightning has a gift for fooling its followers. Some of us spent most of the late season doubting, and much of the Red Wings' series wondering. We shook our heads during the Islanders series, and we've been rolling our eyes throughout much of the Penguins series. This team doesn't blind you with its talent. It grinds and pushes and finds a way. It sneaks up on us all.

Now, all it has to do is manage it one more time.

“We have one game to get to the Stanley Cup Finals,” said forward Ryan Callahan.

What a great opportunity,” said forward Brian Boyle, who scored both Lightning goals. “This is a terrific chance to do something.”

Yeah, yeah. You can spend all day debating why the Lightning couldn't have worked a closeout victory into its evening on Tuesday. The Bolts skated slowly, and in the first period, they had one shot for every Beatle. They had only seven more during the second.

Even afterward, as the Lightning tried to talk its way into confidence about how they were just one win away and, wow, they sure were terrific in that third period when the Penguins handed them a goal, it was easy to doubt. Tampa Bay hasn't won the style points in this series.

True, the Bolts did find a little life in the third period, when Pittsburgh was trying to play prevent defense. The Bolts spent a lot of time talking about that third period, when they had 19 shots and acted like someone had stuck the electrical plug back into the socket. But teams tend to be overly careful when they have a 3-0 lead.

J.T. Brown and Ryan Callaham make the going tough for Crosby.

J.T. Brown and Ryan Callaham make the going tough for Crosby.

So what does the Lightning have to do to win Game Seven.

One: It has to go back to Ben Bishop. Look, Vasilevskiy has done all right in this series. But the Lightning get a lift from the sight of Bishop in goal. With Bishop, the rock, in net, every Lightning player is aware that he will still the charge of the Penguins.

Two: The Lightning defense has to be better. That was a strength of the Bolts this year, and Anton Stralman has returned. But the Bolts have given up 19 goals (just over three a game) in this series. By contrast, it gave up eight to the Red Wings and 11 to the Islanders (both in one fewer game). They've given up 230 shots, more than 38 a game. They gave up 160 shots to Detroit (32 a game) and 137 to the Islanders (a little over 27 per game). They have given up more breakaways.

Three: Score early. The Lightning are a much better team with a lead. Every team is like that, but the Lighting seem more so. They love to front-run.

Four: Get the Triplets going. In those moments that Ondrej Palat is darting, and Tyler Johnson is dashing, and Nikita Kucherov is dazzling, the Lightning looks dangerous. It wouldn't hurt if Jonathan Drouin could find the net, either.

Five: Is a power play too much to ask?

The truth? There are plenty of reasons to doubt. The Penguins are a very good team. When they play their A game, they're probably better than the Bolts. But Tampa Bay has a will, a chemistry, that offsets some of the skill.

Me? I wouldn't be shocked if the the Lightning won.

Because most of us would agree they will not.

Vasilevskiy had his two-game winnning streak snapped.

Vasilevskiy had his two-game winnning streak snapped.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Cecil DeBald May 25, 2016 at 12:54 pm

I hope you’re right, Gary….or wrong….

Go Bolts!

Cecil

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