Bolts bounce back to take 3-1 series lead

by Gary Shelton on May 23, 2021

in general

Killorn scored two goals and had two assists./CHUCK MULLER

Sunday, 4 a.m.

Say this for the Tampa Bay Lightning. As a unit, it can take a punch.

No, no. No one is talking about the Panthers' dropping all pretense of playing hockey and turning into the goon squad at the end. That was a product of desperation, irritation and a bit of embarassment.

No, the point is that an opponent has to be careful about beating the Lightning. It might just make it mad.

The Bolts seized control of their playoff series on Saturday afternoon against the Florida Panthers. They won 6-2 to take a 3-1 lead, meaning the Panthers would have to win three straight games to take the series.

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The Bolts gave up 41 shots on Saturday, but in the third period, they held the Panthers to just seven.

The Panthers sweeping three straight is going to be difficult. The Bolts don't seem to lose two in a row in recent playoffs. Of course, by the late stages, the Panthers' baser instincts had taken over.

Consider: A year ago, the Bolts lost seven game in their run to the Stanley Cup. Every time -- every time -- they came back to win the next game. It's a resilient bunch.

Which kind of makes it easy to understand that the Bolts came back after an self-inflicted, overtime loss to Florida on Thursday night. The Lightning absorbed the best shot from Florida -- 41 shots, seven power plays -- and still won.

"That was a tough loss the last game for sure," said Alex Killorn. "This is a veteran group. we realize in these playoffs there's going to be ups and downs. It’s how to you handle the adversity. There are still things we can do better. We can be better -- even after the results."

Bolts coach Jon Cooper seemed frustrated by the turn of the game and the officiating. Late in the game, both Nikita Kucherov and Mikhail Sergachev were injured on plays far from the puck, leaving fans howling.

Cooper suggested that the hockey game "ended in the second period and it became something different."

He went on.

"When you're being told 'don’t do anything stupid, we’re going to get you' and the other team is getting rewarded for it. I don’t get it," Cooper said. "It’s frustrating. People are come to watch a good hockey game and liberties are being taken. We’re not angels out there, far from it. I’ll give our guys credit for sticking with it. battling through embellishments and non call after non-call.

“There's nothing wrong with message-sending and tone-setting. It’s awesome. Let’s do it in the parameters of the game. If it’s not controlled, things like that happen and you have superstars lying on the ice hurt."

In the end, it was all worth it for the Lightning.

"We came here to win a hockey game and we did," Cooper said. "We gamed it out. We’ve got better in us. We know that. We've won three; we still have to get another one. We have to be better with our emotions and not get caught up in the antics that were going on in the game."

The oddity of the sport was evident early. The Bolts were clearly outplayed in the first period, but led 3-1. They scored three times on their first six shots.

"We didn’t play our best in the first," defenseman Victor Hedman said. "Vasy made some big saves to keep us in the game. After that, we began to bear down. That second period was very good until we ran into some penalty problems."

Vasilevskiy played his best game of the series. He had given up 11 goals in three games, but he gave up only two power-play goals in the 41 shots he faced.

"I tried to play my game and didn’t think about any outcome," Vasilevskiy said. "We have to win one more. There a good team. We have to give them our best."

The Bolts got two goals from Alex Killorn. Also scoring for Tampa Bay were Anthony Cirelli, Yanni Gourde, Ondrej Palat and Kucherov.

Tampa Bay can close out the series Monday night in a game against the Panthers in Sunrise. The puck is scheduled to drop at 8 p.m.

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