One of the strengths of the Tampa Bay Lightning for a long time has been resiliency in the face of adversity. When Anton Stralman went down to a fracture in his leg, many thought the chance of success for the Bolts in the postseason was slim. When it was revealed Steven Stamkos would undergo surgery for a blood clot, pundits around the league all but wrote off the Lightning.
Then, during Game 2 against the Detroit Red Wings, J.T. Brown sustained an upper body injury that kept him out for the entire second round series against the New York Islanders. Surely, that would mean the end was near, right?
Through it all, the Bolts continued to show their resiliency with support of guys like Nikita Kucherov, Jonathan Drouin and Ben Bishop and eventually moved on to the Eastern Conference Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Perhaps now more than ever, though, that resiliency in the face of adversity will be tested.
All within the first period, we saw Ben Bishop and Tyler Johnson both go down to apparent leg injuries - Tyler Johnson eventually came back, but Bishop was carried off the ice on a stretcher in obvious pain and frustration.
Few players have proved to be more important for the Lightning than Ben Bishop (.938 SV%, 1.89 GAA, 2 SO) during this postseason. If he is unable to return for the long term, it will be a tough (but certainly not impossible) series against a very offensively talented Pittsburgh Penguins squad. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Andrei Vasilevskiy will have to continue to play their asses off and show that resiliency that fans have come to love.
This game proved early in the first period that it would be physical. At 2:50, Ryan Callahan was called on a five-minute boarding major. As he and Kris Letang skated in toward the corner boards, Callahan lined him up and delivered a heavy hit directly to his numbers. Though he was not ejected from the game, you can bet that the NHL Department of Player Safety will at least give it a look, if not suspend him.
The ensuing five-minute power play was a big test for the Lightning penalty kill unit, but they were able to escape without any goals against.
Despite the bad luck during the first period, the Lightning were able to carry a 1-0 lead into the first intermission. Alex Killorn skated past Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta and speed in on a partial breakaway. He then took a shot, which slipped through young goaltender Matt Murray's five hole. The goal, scored at 18:46, was assisted by Victor Hedman.
The second period was more of the same solid defensive play from the Bolts while they were able to pad the lead a little bit.
With Pens forward Evgeni Malkin called early in the period for a hook, the Lightning power play struck for a goal. Valtteri Filppula took a shot from the point toward goaltender Matt Murray, who gave up a juicy rebound. Ondrej Palat was there to pick up the rebound, and he flipped it into a nearly empty net on the backhand for the ever elusive power play goal at 2:33.
The two teams exchanged scoring chances throughout the second period until Drouin scored his second goal of the playoffs at 18:25. With the Lightning busting up the ice on a 3-on-1, Ondrej Palat fed Drouin a beautiful saucer pass that ended up getting lodged in the back of the net.
Only 40 seconds later, however, Pittsburgh forward Patric Hornqvist helped to chip away at the lead. Braydon Coburn parked himself in front of goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, setting himself up to defend against a shot. Unfortunately, Vasilevskiy's line of sight was screened and Hornqvist was able to fire a shot far side over his shoulder to make it 3-1.
In the third period, the Penguins put on an intense push to tie the score, but Vasilevskiy proved to be a wall for the Bolts in stopping 16 shots.
The Lightning and Penguins face off again in Game 2 on Monday at 8 p.m.
- After the game, head coach Jon Cooper commented that tests on goaltender Ben Bishop indicated no structural damage.
- Victor Hedman played 27:41, leading all skaters in ice time.
- Kris Letang had 27:34 of ice time.
- The Bolts went 1/2 on the power play, while the Penguins went 1/4.
- The Lightning blocked 20 shot attempts.
- Shots were 35 to 20, in favor of the Penguins.