Lightning salvages season with another win

by Gary Shelton on May 9, 2016 · 0 comments

in general

Bishop knows how to close out a series./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Bishop knows how to close out a series./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Monday, 6 a.m.

No matter how this season ends, the images will be with us awhile. The Tampa Bay Lightning has made sure of that.

They are resilient enough, and injury-proof enough, and Islander-whine proof enough. They are opportunistic enough, and experienced enough, and battle-tested enough. They are smart enough, and skilled enough, and confident enough.

And, once again, they are one of the final four teams standing in the National Hockey League.

It was a sputtering regular season, a scratchy record, an out-of-tune radio. The Lightning looked at this season through blurry eyes, as if

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Victor Hedman's presence was huge in closing out the Islanders

Victor Hedman's presence was huge in closing out the Islanders./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

hung over for too long from the last season. They coasted for too long. They ached for too long. They searched for the net for too long.

But look at them now. They have salvaged their year. They have given you your memories. After all of it, they have proven to be a most likable team. The success that came after the expectations have done that for them.

Look at Victor Hedman, and the way he prowls the ice. He is a linebacker out there, incredibly big, incredibly fast. He is Derrick Brooks. He is Hardy Nickerson. Put it this way: If he had not scored a goal Sunday, he still would have been a dominant figure in the Lightning's 4-0 victory over the New York Islanders. And he scored twice.

“He's big, and he has a big butt,” joked goaltender Ben Bishop. “He skates so fast. He covers so much ice.”

Boyle left the Islanders muttering about him in defeat./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Boyle left the Islanders muttering about him in defeat./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

He is also durable. He played more than 27 minutes on Sunday, which is about average for him. He is the rock. It was largely Hedman who was responsible for shutting out John Tavares for four games. Hedman can do that. He can make an offensive threat just another skater on the ice. And he loves the playoffs. There is something about it that stirs his soul. You watch him and you think that no matter who is hurt, there is plenty left.

“You want to peak during the playoffs,” he said. “I want to play my best.”

Look at Bishop. He is impossibly large for a goalie, but he is as nimble as a dancer. And he's more competitive than you know.

This was Bishop's fifth attempt at closing out an opponent in the last two playoffs. He's thrown four shutouts. He's stopped 133 of 134 shots. It doesn't matter how dangerous the breakaway is; he always makes you think he has the advantage.

Drouin finds the going tough against New York./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Drouin finds the going tough against New York./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

“I think we learned last year we had a couple series where we had chances to close them out at home and we kind of let them slip,” Bishop said. “We really wanted to take pride in closing teams out this year.”

Look at Jon Cooper. These are Cooper's Troopers, after all.

Compared to this season, last year was a moonlight skate. This year had injuries (Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Stralham, Stamkos). It had slumps. It had Stamkos' contract and Jonathan Drouin's walk-out). It had fewer goals to spread around.

Still, Cooper has kept his team believing. Even when the world thought the injuries would be too much for the Lightning, he kept his voice even and confident. He has always planned for tomorrow. Usually, it's been a good plan.

Look at Nikita Kucherov. Granted, Kooch is no slouch. He scored 30 times in the regular season. But come the playoffs, Kooch has been a star.

He has scored nine times, most in the playoffs, with another on Sunday. He is fast, and he is relentless. Bishop will tell you that he is smart. Forward Tyler Johnson will tell you he is dedicated.

Look at Brian Boyle. Boyle is a grinder. He isn't one of those players who leaves you talking about his dazzling talent.
But Boyle brings it every shift. For him, this will be his third straight finals. There is a reason. Boyle is what they call a bricklayer. He's the kind of gritty player that most great teams have. And guess what? He'll find your net at the darndest times.

Look at Tyler Johnson. Look at Palat. Look at Cedric Paquette and Jason Garrison and Alex Killorn and Drouin and Ryan Callahan and Val Filppula and all the rest.

This is a team. Together, they exceed the sum of their parts. Together, they are better than you would think.

Look at them.

As it turns out, they are something to see.

Nikita Kucherov scored his league-leading ninth goal./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Nikita Kucherov scored his league-leading ninth goal./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

 

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