After defeating the Florida Panthers in Game One of their series, members of the Tampa Bay Lightning spoke with the media about the game. Braydon Point’s absence was a big topic, as was the ability of Corey Perry to step in on the power play.
Their responses have been edited for clarity.
Ryan McDonagh and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare
Did the Bellemare goal result from a set play?
[Bellemare]: We work on different plays. We kind of switch it up and it paid off.
[Bellemare]: It’s fun to be able to help the team offensively at times. Our line especially. Last series we kind of had to manage when we were on the ice. Tonight it was more about trying to build momentum for the team whenever we were out there. Corey [Perry] got a big goal and my goal was just kind of a simple play. It’s more credit to the coach to put us in an offensive face-off.
The sick moves of Kucherov
[McDonagh]: He can carry us into the fight a little there and makes everyone around him better. He likes to do it on his own at times to and try to take over in his ways. An all-world play on the set-up to Perrs to get us on the board. We’ve seen it time and time again, the guy just loves playing playoff hockey and stepping up for our team when we need him.
Vasilevskiy’s saves when they were down 1-0
[McDonagh]: He was just steady the whole game. He’s so dialed in with his preparation, his focus. We try and do as best of a job we can in front of him, letting him see the puck. We’re trying to take a little more emphasis on shot-blocking and taking pride in being tough to play against in front of out net, not allowing those second and third whacks at it. I think we’re all just feeding off of his energy, his focus, and his determination and never giving up on a puck.
The change from managing minutes to creating momentum for the School Bus Line
[Bellemare]: Last series they played more of a three-line game. This one I don’t think the coach was ready to follow any of that. Not controlling the change [having the last line change], he gave us the confidence right from the get-go, and we tried to give it back by just playing hard. From that point he knows we’re checked in. We didn’t try to do anything special, mostly tried to bring the puck deep. Any time we’re over there, they’re not in our zone, right? We can create and maybe [get a] shot so the next line can be set up. I thought tonight, slowly but slowly it got better and better for our line.
Shutting it down despite the injuries
[McDonagh]: Some early adversity with us as far as not having Pointer [Brayden Point] for Game One. There’s going to be times throughout any series where guys are out for a bit with injuries and taking nicks and bumps. We’re used to it now at this point. Fortunately or unfortunately you gotta roll with it. We don’t change out game plan because of who is out there. Coaches do a great job preparing us. We practice all of the situations so guys should know where they’re at, where they’re supposed to be, and what’s expected of them. It’s that next-man-up mentality and we go out and do our jobs.
Was there a feeling out process in this game?
[McDonagh]: No, it’s two teams that are pretty aware of each other. I don’t know if there needs to be a feeling out. We saw them pretty late in the regular season. It’s two teams that know what their strengths are. It’s a matter of controlling the momentum when it’s on your side and not get hurt when they’re surging against us. Really just focusing on your plays and puck management when the puck’s on your stick. Just advancing it, keep it going, get it 200 feet and get our forechecking going because that’s one of our best strengths we feel.
Corey Perry and Nikita Kucherov
What was going through your mind when you saw the play develop?
[Perry]: [Laughs] That’s a world class play, a hell of a play. Inside out on the d-man, slides it over and the goalie’s in the corner. I guess I just shake my head sometimes.
Nikita - can you describe the play from your point of view?
[Kucherov]: Well, I...oh my god, that’s too loud [laughter]. They were on a rush and I saw two forwards in our zone. Vasy [Andrei Vasilevskiy] made a nice save and I grabbed the puck and saw we had the man-advantage. I tried to go around the “D” and make plays and Perrs did a good job of driving to the back post.
What were you doing well on the power play?
[Kucherov]: It definitely sucks to not have Pointer here, but we got Perrs in there. He’s a hall of famer and knows what he’s doing. He saw what Pointer did through the year and he’s really good down there. We didn’t really change anything. Just stick to the plan and execution was the key.
How proud were you of the defensive effort?
[Perry]: It starts in our own zone. That’s how we’re going to be effective, that’s how we’ll have a chance to win. That third period, guys blocked shots. We played north, we got the puck out, we didn’t turn the puck over. We plugged the middle of the ice. It’s a system that’s worked and we continue to put that plan in place. We just have to go out and execute it.
How Vasilevskiy played
[Kucherov]: Vasy is always there. He’s our best player, playoff, regular season. He brings 100% effort every single game and everybody’s trying to take his energy and bring it to their game. He’s a leader and when he makes those saves the bench is fired up and everybody gets excited. He’s our best player.
Was it a feeling out kind of game?
[Perry]: No. I thought it was a playoff game. You look at the blocked shots, you look at what we did in our own zone. They can’t be physical if we move the puck north, and get it out of our zone quickly. I think we executed our game plan and we did a good job in that.
Bellemare’s goal - set up play?
[Perry]: We have different things we do at different times. Different plays, different set ups and that’s one that worked.
That was...effortless. I’ve always said about Kuch that he knows what the guy he’s going up against is going to do before they do. He made that one look easy.
How much do plays like that lift up others on the team?
It’s a 1-0 game and the second period is dwindling down. For us to get that goal, special teams have been a big part of these playoffs so far, that was another big play. It gives us a little boost going in after the second all tied up. Now it’s a twenty minute game and we won the period.
The Maroon Line
Match-ups are different, teams are different. We’re pretty familiar with this team. We’ve played them a ton over the last couple of years. Every single night we dress 20 NHL hockey players and they all contribute in different ways. They understand that from game-to-game roles may change but everybody knows we don’t win without each other. I think we have a pretty selfless group and guys know they may only get 8-10 minutes a night and some guys know they’ll get 22. It’s when you’re out there, what are you doing with that time. When you’re on the bench what are you doing? Are you lifting the group up? We’ve had a really good group in that regard.
As for tonight, we go 11 forwards so naturally some guys are going to get some more ice, but we trust those guys. They showed their worth tonight. I know at times in the Toronto series, it didn’t feel like it but there was also just monstrous amount of penalties and special teams in that. I think that’s what makes our group special, everybody’s pulling for each other and when they get an opportunity they pull through for ya.
Concern for Erik Cernak after the block shot?
There is always concern, but I don’t have any factual stats on how he is. We’ll have to wait on that.
How important was Vasilevskiy?
It’s the saves you make, at the biggest times. Vas seems to do that. I know in the Toronto series he gave up more than he wants at times, but look at the saves he makes at the times we need them. That’s, to me, what great goaltenders do and they give you the chance to win a hockey game and that’s what our guy did again tonight.
Proud of the way they closed out the game?
It’s commitment. We talk about having the passion to win a hockey game and you have to be committed. Go down the list: [Cal] Foote’s block, [Mikhail] Sergachev’s block, Cernak’s block, Killer’s [Alex Killorn]. You just go down the list of this. I find out tonight that McDonagh’s one of the all-time leading playoff shot blockers. That’s commitment. You need that to win a game. The goaltender will tell you that. That’s clearly what’s helped us out the last couple of games.
How much did Perry help the power play in Point’s absence?
Perrs has jumped into that spot before so it’s not like he’s unfamiliar. Let’s be honest, we miss a guy like Brayden Point, but if you’re going to have the success we’ve had over the years, and I said this this morning, whether you’re missing [Steven] Stamkos for a long period of time, or we missed [Barclay] Goodrow for a long period time, or Kuch, or whoever it is, this group has found a way to fill in the gaps and they did that tonight. Whether Pointer is available or not we continue to do it.
Is it important for Kucherov to step up (when Point is out)?
I think it’s unfair to put anything on one player and say “this guy has to step up or this guy has to step up”. The team, this is a team game. Coaches have to step up. Everybody does. That’s what you do. I’ve never seen you start a year with 20 guys and those are the only 20 guys that play. Your organization has to be deep, everybody has to be on the same page. Does it help when your marquee guys have the games they do? For sure, but those guys only play 20 of the 60 [minutes]. Everybody else has got to play minutes too. I think it’s a collaborative effort is getting us as far as we are right now.