Step Nine: Lightning finally hits back in series

by Gary Shelton on May 16, 2018 · 2 comments

in general

Stamkos scored on the power play./CARMEN MANDATO

Stamkos scored on the power play./CARMEN MANDATO

 Wednesday, 4 a.m.

Finally, the Tampa Bay Lightning reminded their opponent -- and the rest of us --- just who they were.

Yeah, that was goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, the kid who won 44 gams this season.

And over there? That was captain Steven Stamkos, who still can snap off a laser beam every now and then.

There? That was Nikita Kucherov, the blossoming star.

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Kucherov found the net early in the win./CARMEN MANDATO

Kucherov found the net early in the win./CARMEN MANDATO

There? That was Victor Hedman, the linebacker who keeps scoring.

And over there? That was Brayden Point, the guy from the all-star break.

The rest of those guys? Those were the Lightning, the team that was AWOL for the first two games of their playoff series. Together, those Bolts finally swung back, staved off embarrassment and threatened to make this a series, after all.

Point scored the backbreaker goal./CARMEN MANDATO

Point scored the backbreaker goal./CARMEN MANDATO

It didn't look like it for two games, as the Caps bullied the Bolts and won both games fairly easily. Tampa Bay had little push back in either of the games, and with a return home, the Caps looked like a team that could mercy-kill the Lightning fairly easily.

But this team has had a bit of resilience for much of the season, and they finally challenged the open ice of the Caps. It re-introduced from the puck drop. They jumped to a 3-0 lead on goals by Stamkos, Kucherov and Hedman, then withstood a late push by the Caps to win 4-2.

Washington still has a 2-1 advantage, and they're still at home. Still, the Bolts have a pulse. If they can win Thursday night, they can make the series a best-of-three with two games at home.

Hedman had a gaol and two assists../CARMEN MANDATO

Hedman had a gaol and two assists../CARMEN MANDATO

The Bolts were sharp in a lot of their game. Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy had a solid night with 36 saves. The penalty kill stopped all three Washington power plays. And the Lightning's power play scored twice.

“We believed all along," Stamkos said. "We knew we weren’t good enough (the first two games), and credit to them, they played really good hockey the first two games. We needed to make some adjustments. We did that. We worked on it. The coaching staff did a great job preparing us. And the players went out and did what we were told. We saw how good we could be in the previous rounds if we play the right way, and tonight for the most part, I thought we did that and got rewarded.”

Stamkos said the early going was important.

Vasilevskiy came back with a strong effort./CARMEN MANDATO

Vasilevskiy came back with a strong effort./JEFFREY S. KING

“We knew we had to weather the storm there," Stamkos said. "They were going to be excited coming back and playing in front of their fans. I thought the first five minutes, (Vasilevskiy) made some big saves and kind of settled down and got that power-play goal and got some confidence from there, moved it around really well. Obviously, nice to see that one go in. And then the PK, shutting down their power play and allows us to go out there and get another one. Special teams is huge this time of year. I can’t say enough about our penalty kill tonight and how it gave us momentum as well. It was a great effort.”

For the Bolts, grabbing an early lead was important. It was also big that Tampa Bay's stars took over the game.

“They’re top players because to get to this point, you need to make sure you have 97-plus points during an 82-game season," said Lightning coach Jon Cooper.

The Bolts shut out Ovechkin./CARMEN MANDATO

The Bolts shut out Ovechkin./CARMEN MANDATO

"And those guys were a big reason that we got to that point. When you get to the playoffs, really it’s the team. Usually, there’s a different hero every single night. That’s how we’ve advanced. And I don’t know who you’re grouping the top players, but you think of Kucherov and Stamkos, those guys leading the charge, when we’ve needed them in the big games, so say Game 4 in the Boston series, Game 4 in the Jersey series, Game 3 in the Washington series, those guys have delivered when we’ve needed them. Often times, that’s what those guys do. They come in when you need them.”

With each team winning on enemy ice, is it even important to have home ice advantage?

"Home-ice advantage is Game 7," Cooper said. "That’s what it is for me. If you’re going to advance in the playoffs, you have to win on the road at some point. But to me, it’s all about you get to play four games where you get the last change, but ultimately it comes down to Game 7. Other than that, I don’t think it matters where you play the games any other time. It could go 3 (games at one venue) 3 (games at the other venue). It all ends up being Game 7.”

Johnson had an assist on Point's goal./CARMEN MANDATO

Johnson had an assist on Point's goal./CARMEN MANDATO

There had been speculation about Vasilevskiy, who gave up 10 goals in five periods of the first two games. But he was solid in net this time for his ninth win of the playoffs.

“We didn’t do a good job in front of him, so it was big," said defender Anton Stralman. "He played great. I think he liked the fact that we played a good team game and good structure and made his life a little bit easier.”

It was a crucial win for the Bolts. Had they fallen behind 3-0, any talk of a comeback would have sounded hollow. But now the Bolts are one game away from tying the series.

“It was huge," defenseman Victor Hedman said. "We knew we had to come in here and win hockey games. I like the way we responded tonight. Our start in the

Stralman helped an improved defesnsive effort./CARMEN MANDATO

Stralman helped an improved defensive effort./CARMEN MANDATO

first period was really good and obviously our start in the second was where we kind of set the tone. Very happy with the way we played from start to finish, but we can’t pat ourselves on the shoulder. We’ve got a lot of work to do. It’s just one game. Win this one tonight and refocus for tomorrow.”

It made a statement, however, that the Bolts' top players lifted them over Washington. Stamkos, Kucherov, Hedman, Point and Vasilevskiy were the team's all-stars (Hedman did not play due to injury) this season.

“We’re obviously put into positions to produce and we put that pressure on ourselves to lead the way every night," Hedman said. "I think we’ve got a tremendous group in that locker room. Everyone knows their role. They know what to expect every night. It’s not just us, it’s a team game. Obviously, we’re put in positions to produce and be effective offensively. Tonight we were. But it goes the same for us. We can’t be satisfied with one game. We’ve got to keep doing that. It’s a team game. We need everyone to be successful.”

Game 4 is Thursday night at 8 p.m. in Washington. The teams are assured of a game five Saturday night in Tampa.

McDonagh blacked four shots for the Lightning./CARMEN MANDATO

McDonagh blacked four shots for the Lightning./CARMEN MANDATO












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