Step 8: Bolts measure up to Boston’s muscle…again

by Gary Shelton on May 7, 2018 · 8 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Lightning

Andrei Vasilevskiy blocks a shot attempt by Bergeron./STEVEN MUNCIE

Andrei Vasilevskiy blocks a shot attempt by Bergeron./STEVEN MUNCIE

Monday, 4 a.m.

Well, that was easier than expected.

The big, bad Boston Bruins -- feared in the deep, savage in the dark -- proved to be no problem at all for the Tampa Bay Lightning in their second-round playoff series.

Just like that, their muscles were no problem, and their teeth weren't that long, and their tongues were no more than a minor distraction. All the snarling and snapping that went with three straight regular-season wins were just the sounds of purring in the distance.

Next?

The Lightning beat the Bruins at their own game, being more physical, being more efficient passing, and scoring the clutch goals throughout the series. In the end, the Bruins were a bunch of Gentle Bens, fading in the night.

And the reason?

Well, in the realm of amusement, think about this. The Bruins contributed to their own demise.

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Jon Cooper C\celebrates after the Lightning wins the series against Boston./STEVEN MUNCIE

Jon Cooper celebrates after the Lightning wins the series against Boston./STEVEN MUNCIE

"I guess i can say it now," Lightning coach Jon Cooper admitted. "Boston set the bar for us. We played them three times late in the year. The first two times we played them, they literally manhandled us. The games were close. The second was here and it was men among boys.

Yanni Gourde and Brad Marchand exchange words./STEVEN MUNCIE

Yanni Gourde and Brad Marchand exchange words./STEVEN MUNCIE

"We knew if we were going to go anywhere when we  made the playoffs that we had to be as good as Boston. It happened. We beat them 4-0 (in their final regular-season matchup) and it gave us a lot of confidence. They set a bar for us to be better. We carried that through into this playoff round. I'll be honest. Credit the Boston Bruins for a lot of this because they made us a better hockey team.by waxing us during the regular season.We wanted to match them and we did."

True, it didn't feel like a 4-1 series win. But the Bolts kept at it, playing the right way, working and grinding. Consider this: The Bolts scored 17 goals in the series ... by 12 different players. It's a testament to their team balance.

Boston's Zdeno Chara gives Steven Stamkos a shove./STEVEN MUNCIE

Boston's Zdeno Chara gives Steven Stamkos a shove./STEVEN MUNCIE

"You can’t say it enough," captain Steve Stamkos said. "You need depth when you trying to shut dow the bigger guys who can put the puck in the net."

But it wasn't just balance. The Bolts did not allow a five-on-five goal in the last three games of the series. That helps.

"When we were in  trouble and people questioned how we played D, it was because we turned the puck over," Cooper said. "When you don't turn the puck over, usually good things happen. With our team, they made 100 percent buy in not to turn it over.

"When you’re not doing it, when you're not fueling the other team’s offense and you're always keeping them having to go 200 feet -- ultimately that was the

Brayden Point high fives teammates after scoring./Steven Muncie

Brayden Point high fives teammates after scoring./Steven Muncie

difference. We’ve always been a four-line team. You can’t say who’s your fourth and who’s your first. Everyone’s contributing at their own skill set."

But these were the Bruins, right? A team that was bigger, and supposedly tougher, a team that was able to knock the Bolts off of the puck and skate free.

Well, not so much. Boston hadn't lost four straight since early November.

"Maybe it surprised them a little," Stamkos said. "That was something that was talked about before this series. We had to amp up the physicality. We know we have the players. You look at Paquette and Kunitz and Callahan. Everyone was

Steven Stamkos says the defensive commitment paid off./STEVEN MUNCIE

Steven Stamkos says the defensive commitment paid off./STEVEN MUNCIE

involved. No one was shying away from anything. There is a reason you beat a team of that calibre four straight times."

Oh, the finale was close. Boston jumped to a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal by David Krejci, a lead that held until the second period was halfway over.

But Brayden Point, so maligned in Game One (he was minus five), scored to tie the game with 10:43. And a period later, J.T. Miller gave Tampa Bay a 2-1 lead on a nifty power play.

According to Miller, the play was for him to take a pass from Nikita Kucherov and immediately give it back. Then Kucherov would find him for the shot.

J.T. Miller Celebrates After Scoring in the 2nd./STEVEN MUNCIE

J.T. Miller Celebrates After Scoring in the 2nd./STEVEN MUNCIE

After that, the team had to survive one last-power play from the Bruins. They did, with Andrei Vasilevskiy making a brilliant save on David Pastrnak with 1:34 to play.

Anton Stralman scored an empty netter at the end for the victory.

"We had that long layover and, for whatever reason, we just came out flat," Stamkos said. "It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing to get beat handily  like that. I think it woke us up a little bit. I think Pointer’s line -- the way they responded after that first game -- was pretty inspiring for our team.  We knew that (Boston) line was going to be extremely dangerous.

"The last three games. I don't  know if they had a five on five goal (they didn't). . that shows the commitment we had to defending. We chose to play the right way, which is how you beat a team like that four straight games."

Dan Girardi moves the puck./STEVEN MUNCIE

Dan Girardi moves the puck./STEVEN MUNCIE

The Bolts' Miller was regretful after knocking Boston forward David Backes from the game.

"I kind of eased up at the last second cause I know he doesn't know I'm coming," Miller said. "I was sick to my stomach when I saw him not being able to use his legs there for a little bit. I hope he's ok. I'm going to acknowledge that. I don't play dirty. I don't target heads. I hope people know that, and I have a lot of respect for him. Obviously, I grew up as a teenager watching that guy play, so I really hope he's ok and it sucks to see him on the ice like that. I'm just trying to play physical thinking I'm a physical player. I was amped up, and it turned into a gross feeling when you see he wasn't moving too well. I hope he's alright."

Tampa Bay is in the Final Four for the third time in four years.

The Bolts now move to the Eastern Conference Final, where they will play against either Washington or Pittsburgh. The Caps lead the series 3-2.

It was as impressive a series as the Lightning has won since it beat Calgary for the Stanley Cup Finals. The Bolts changed their style of play to match Boston's, sharpened their own defensive attack and won four straight over a team that had handled it easily.

The amazing thing is this: The Bolts are only halfway to the Stanley Cup. They have two more series to win before they can lift the Cup.

Stay tuned, won't you?

Cedric Paquette sends Acciari into his bench./STEVEN MUNCIE

Cedric Paquette sends Acciari into his bench./STEVEN MUNCIE

 

 

 

 

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Larry Beller May 8, 2018 at 8:09 am

The Lighting showed us all that their resolve is greater than we thought. I can’t see them letting up now. They know nothing has been won yet but the Stanley Cup is there for the taking if they can win 2 more series. What has worked so far will continue to work for them but they have to bring that same intensity to each series and I’m betting they will.

The Lighting have depth, team speed and now toughness and tenacity. Those qualities will make them very hard to beat.

Reply

Gary Shelton May 8, 2018 at 8:53 am

Hard to lick this team, huh?

Reply

Jim Willson May 7, 2018 at 1:03 pm

Great column. Hockey is now my favorite sport…was on the edge of my seat for most of the series.

Reply

Gary Shelton May 7, 2018 at 9:28 pm

Two more to go. I love the hockey playoffs.

Reply

Bill MYERS May 7, 2018 at 8:38 am

I would like to add that I hope the Bolts can sustain that level of hard play against the next team they meet. If Coach Cooper can keep this team playing to the level they have been so far then the next 8 wins will be there and so will The Cup!

Reply

Gary Shelton May 7, 2018 at 9:43 am

I’ve wondered that too. The Bolts have a chip against Boston. But can they get up to the same level for a series against Washington. I agree. That team that played Boston could win it all. That team that played, say, Carolina could not.

Reply

Bill MYERS May 7, 2018 at 8:28 am

8 down… 8 more to go! GO BOLTS!

Reply

Gary Shelton May 7, 2018 at 9:43 am

It’s amazing. All this, and they’re only halfway. Tough sport to win it all.

Reply

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