Bolts take 2-0 lead over Panthers

by Gary Shelton on May 19, 2021

in general

Ryan McDonagh has been solid on defense./TIM WIRT

Wednesday, 4 a.m.

This is where they live. This is what they do.

The game is down to the marrow by now, and the Tampa Bay Lightning is clinging to a one goal lead, but the opposition has a power play. That oponent -- the Florida Panthers this time -- is a high-energy bunch in a desperation mode.

And the Bolts, as comfortable as a man in a hammock, close the door.

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There is something to playing hockey in its key moments. That is the best part of this Lighting team, that grit hidden beneath the talent, those expectations that the game will eventually go their way. In such moments, the regular-season no longer matters, and the home ice no longer matters.

Will matters. Determination matters. The Lightning matters.

The Bolts won again Tuesday night, slamming the door on the Panthers in a 3-1 win that looked awfully similar to last year's playoffs (which the Bolts won). The Bolts know how to close out games like this.

"We’ve been here before," said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. "If you want to have a long run and give yourself a chance, there are going to be times that you have to win  a 5-4 game and times you have to win a 2-1 game. We’ve been here before. I thought the guys did a great job of shutting it down."

The Panthers had closed out the regular season with two easy wins over Tampa Bay. But that was when the team was incomplete because of injury. Now, they seem to be whole again.

"Anytime you start on the road, the goal is to get one win," said captain Steven Stamkos, who scored the game's first goal. "When you get the first win, you get greedy. This was more indicative of a playoff-style game. You have to defend hard. Vasy was huge. The penalty kill was huge."

The Bolts' penalty kill stopped all three Panthers' power plays, two of them in the third period.

"Our penalty kill had to come up huge down the stretch," said defenseman Ryan McDonagh. "We’ve got a lot of confidence in all the guys who go out there. a big confidence boost to come through there an keep the puck out the net."

McDonagh has been a big part of that, Cooper said.

“He’s been a stud," Cooper said. "No way around it. It all starts in the defensive zone. He’s a selfless player. He sacrifices his body all the time. He was a monster back there. He’s a Stanley Cup champion for a reason. "

Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 32 of 33 shots. He has victories in six of his last seven postseason starts going back to last postseason. He is now 35-22 in the post-season.

The First Round series between the Lightning and Panthers shifts to Tampa’s Amalie Arena Thursday for Game 3 of the best-of-seven series, with puck drop scheduled for 6:30 p.m.


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