Resilient Lightning surge back to beat Chicago

by Gary Shelton on June 6, 2015 · 0 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Lightning

Vasilevskiy saves Bolts, may have to again./ANDREW J. KRAMER

Vasilevskiy saves Bolts, may have to again/ANDREW J. KRAMER

Saturday, 11:53 p.m.


Say this for the players of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

They can take a punch.

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Playing the vaunted Chicago Blackhawks? No sweat.

Giving up another two goals in another two minutes? This time, it just ticked them off.

Losing the winningest goaltender in the NHL? Hey, they have another one.

And so it goes with the most resilient team in hockey. At times they look to be at their worst, at times they seem cut and bleeding and about to seek a safe way out of these playoffs, and darned if the Lightning are not at their best. There is something about this team that likes a standing eight-count. There is something about them that likes the look of blood in the water. In times of trouble, they are fairly terrific.

It was that way Saturday night, when the Lightning came back from a deficit, came back from a disappointing defeat and came back from losing their goaltender to capture a 4-3 win over the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Look, this team may not win the title this year. But you cannot fault the fight they have shown. They were down 3-2 against Detroit and came back and won. Montreal had seized the momentum in their series, and the Lightning won. The Rangers had history on their side in Game 7 in Madison Square Garden, and the Lightning won that. They are a Rocky of a hockey team, the Comeback Kids of the ice.

Take Saturday night. So many things seemed to be going against them. You can start with the Blackhawks, who are going for their third Stanley Cup in six years. It is a dynamic team that knows a thing or two about winning itself.

Yet, there is a certain stubbornness about this Lightning team, an ability to address its shortcomings and fix them on the fly. It is an admirable quality. This team never seems to panic, never seems to take consecutive punches.

In Game 2, for instance, the Lightning was concerned about its secondary scoring. Viola. Here came goals by Cedric Paquette (who has turned into quite the defenseman in this series), who scored his second goal of the playoffs. And here came Jason Garrison, who scored his second goal.

Also, the Lightning was missing its Triplets line, who had only three goals in the last five games, and two of those were in defeat. Viola. Nikita Kucherov and Tyler Johnson both scored.

Then there was the backup goaltender. Oh, Andrei Vasilevskiy had shown such promise this year, but really, he was only 7-5. In the playoffs, he had only two relief performances, and neither of those was awe-inspiring. He had a 5.33 goals against average. He had only an .878 save percentage.

But Vasileveskiy came on for Bishop, left when Bishop returned, and then came on again. He stopped all five shots in the same time period the Blackhawks had made their Game 1 comeback.

A one goal lead? Against Chicago? In the Stanley Cup Finals? Was it nervous time?

“Yes, a little bit,'' Vasilevskiy said. “But after the first couple of shots, I felt better. I kept my head in the game.''

There is a possibility, of course, that Bishop is out for a while. He didn't talk after the game, and coach Jon Cooper wouldn't address his goaltender situation. But the Bolts sound confident in their young Russian.

We have great belief in him,'' said defenseman Anton Stralman. “Every time he has played, he's been a beast.''

“You know what,'' said captain Steven Stamkos. “Usually in a situation like that, you tighten up. You feel for him getting thrown in there. But he made a pretty good save on (Brad) Richards on the power play. He made another one. We have confidence in that kid.''

Yes, Stralman said. The team would be confident even if Vasilevskiy starts.

"The one thing about Vasilevskiy   I know we have two unbelievably capable goaltenders,'' Cooper said. “ When Bish had to leave, there wasn't an ounce of stress on anybody on our bench, including myself.  I mean, the kid proved it when he went in.  He was great.''

"Still, losing Bishop would hurt. Remember last year, when the Bolts were swept in Montreal without him?

"It’s impressive, there’s no question,'' said teammate Ryan Callahan. “To come in in a situation like that with that much time left in a one-goal game, I don’t know if I could have done that at his age.”

"I guess it's kind of rare you see that, but it does happen.'' said defenseman Jason Garrison.  “When it happens, you got to make sure you go out there and support the goalie coming in.

"He made some big saves for us.  Goalies are usually very mentally focused, even if they're on the bench.  So, you know, it seemed the same way.  He came in there and, you know, did his thing.

"If he has to start, we feel confident. I mean, you know, they're both here for a reason.  We just got to make sure that we communicate with Vasi if that's the case, support him as much as possible. He's going to go in there, if he is, he's going to do a job for us.  We're not worried about it.''

Again, the Blackhawks are no walk in the park. They are 7-1 at home for a reason. They've had some bounce back this post-season, too.

But the more you see of this Lightning team, the more you know whatever doubts you have are misplaced. Yes, they may lose this series.

They will not, however, back up.

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