The Lightning is going to the Stanley Cup Finals!

by Gary Shelton on May 30, 2015 · 0 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Lightning

The bigger the game, the better Bishop seems to play./JEFFREY S. KING

The bigger the game, the better Bishop seems to play/JEFFREY S. KING

Saturday, 12:07 a.m.

Hello, Lord Stanley.

It's us again. You remember, don't you? We're the fans with suntans, the fans with mosquito bites. We're the fans with lovebugs in the grill of the Zamboni. We're the fans who yell “score, ya'll.''

We're the fans of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

And we're back.

How you've been, Stan? It's been a while, hasn't it? Eleven years, if you're

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counting. But just like last time, this team has gotten here with smart coaching, superb goaltending and a team so young it still gets into the movies for half-price. Only this time, the names are Cooper, Bishop and Stamkos and Johnson and Palat and Killorn and Kucherov. Last time, it was Tortorella and Khabibulin and St. Louis and Lecavalier and Richards and Fedotenko.

It doesn't matter, really. Faces change, but moments feel the same. Tampa Bay is going to play for another title, its first since the Rays made the World Series in 2008. Start spreading the news.

Oh, wait. That's what they say in New York, isn't it? And bully for the Rangers. They finished second. For all their talk about how the Rangers didn't lose Game Sevens, well, as Cooper kept pointing out, they hadn't played the Lightning. Turns out, who cares what happened when the world was watching black-and-white TV? This is a team built for now.

Odd, but this team seemed to fuel itself on doubts. Remember the first series of the post-season, when it fell behind the Detroit Red Wings and had to dig its way out? It did. Remember the second series, when it took a big lead against Montreal and then looked like it was on its heels trying to hold on? It did. Remember this series, when the Rangers were scoring goals in gobs, and the Lightning had to find a way to stop the bleeding. It did.

This is the most stubborn team ever. It invites you to doubt them, and then it dispels those doubts. Or it makes you praise them, and then it dispels that praise. You want to talk about history? This team's history started about the Ghostbuster years. And they ain't afraid of no ghosts.

"We've just kind of got that group,'' Cooper said. “I don't know if we're so young and dumb and don't know any better.

"But you walk into that room, and I've watched this team get pushed against the wall, when you watch this team give up five, and five, and seven the other night.  But they just answer the challenge.  Every time we as a staff go in and challenge them, they respond.

"And they're such a fun team to coach because they can play the game in a multitude of ways.  You want to shoot it out, which our guys like to do, we can shoot it out.  We want to win, want to go to the Stanley Cup Final, then you have to play "D".  If you really want to do it, it's a choice.

"I look at the two games we've played in here, Game 5 and Game 7, and as a coach, I don't think we could have drawn it up any better. They made a choice.  Do you want to go to the Final or not?  And this is what happened.”
It happened again Friday night. The Lightning had given up 16 goals in its three previous home games. So, naturally, it threw a shutout. Goalie Ben Bishop was a skyscraper in this one with 22 saves, but the defense in front of him was good, too. Together, they turned the Tampa Bay end of the ice into quicksand.

"You shine the light bright on our guys, and they'll just put on sunglasses and walk right through it.  It's unreal how they respond, and it starts with our goaltender.  He gets    he's much maligned for giving up the goals he gave up in the end, but the two pivotal games that we've needed to win in this building, he shut the door.

"Then it goes right to Stammer, to Fil, and the triplets, and I look at the back end.  I look at Anton Stralman and Hedman, and I don't know.  I'm out of words.  I'm so really   I'm just so happy for them.  I'm really, genuinely happy for our players, and I know how much they've worked, how much they're probably sick of listening to me.  But this is a team that didn't play with each other, they played for each other, and that's why we're here.”

Rangers' goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was good himself for two periods. But early in the third, Alex Killorn scored a goal on a backhand shot. Then, 9 ½ minutes later, Ondrej Palat, on a nifty pass from Tyler Johnson, added an insurance goal, and the Lightning was on its way.

There were a lot of heroes for the Lightning, but none bigger than Bishop, who had worn doubts throughout the series. Again, he had given up five goals in three of the Lightning's last four.

The Lightning is now 9-0 when scoring first.

But this is going to be much of his legacy. He has now faced two games sevens, and he has thrown a shutout in both. Throw in the crucial game five against the Rangers, and he has shutouts in perhaps the three largest games of the post-season. He now has won 52 times in this season,  the most of any goalie in the NHL.

The Finals begin Wednesday night, with Game 2 set for Saturday. If Anaheim wins Game 7 in the West, the first two games will be in California. If Chicago wins, they would be in Tampa.

"Any time you can play for the Stanley Cup, it's pretty fulfilling,'' Bishop said. "We said after the game we haven't accomplished anything yet. You're four wins away. That''s probably going to be the hardest four wins of our careers.''

The Bolts were 2-0 this year against Anaheim, 1-1 against Chicago.

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