There have been a lot of special playoff moments over the last two years. However, this has got to be one of the guttiest and hard-nosed wins the Lightning have pulled off in the past 10 series. Regardless of expectations, the amount of fight, grit and determination this team showed is absolutely incredible. Battered and beaten all night from sacrificing to block shots, they held it together and somehow someway found a way to win. The Lightning just keep proving how special of a group they are.
A flawless Road Period
With all the talk about the lack of intensity in game one, especially from the Panthers, you knew that Florida was going to come out with a sense of urgency. And they did. From the start it was very clear that the game was going to be tighter and more hard-checking. To the Panthers credit they had a good amount of the possession early on in the game. However, the Lightning managed it incredibly well. They were able to keep the Panthers to outside and limit high danger chances. Similar to game one they bought time by being extremely dedicated to their defensive structure. Then when giving the opportunity they took advantage.
At 11:29 of the first, Brandon Montour took a hooking penalty to send the Bolts to the powerplay. For Florida it was a recipe for disaster as Tampa Bay scored three powerplay goals in game one. And once again, the Lightning would strike. Steven Stamkos found some space along the far wall and sent the puck towards the net. In front was Corey Perry who sent a sweet a deflection past Sergei Bobrovsky to give the Bolts a 1-0 lead. The Lightning would continue to maintain they’re excellent defense structure throughout the rest of period and headed to the locker room with their lead intact.
Giving up the Lead
With a 1-0 lead in the second period the Lightning continued to frustrate the panthers. There were long stretches were one could hear a pin drop inside FLA Live Arena because the Panthers could get nothing going. On the flip side however, the Panthers also played very well defensively. Although the Lightning did have some chances, Bobrovsky was there to shut them down. However with all the depth scoring that Florida has, the Panthers were bound to break through and they did. Just under two minutes to go in the second, Eetu Luostarinen fired a shot off the rush that would trickle through Andrei Vasilevksiy and into the back of the net.
Finally it seemed like the Panthers had life. This would be compounded by a Lightning penalty late in the period. If not for a incredible save by Vasilevskiy on Anthony Duclair in the final minute, it would’ve been 2-1 Florida heading into the third. However the Bolts were able to hang on and get to the intermission tied at one.
Their Resiliency is Special
It’s no secret how the Lightning have gone on this extended run of success in the playoffs. Their commitment to defense is one of if not the main reason for all it. For a team that has so much offensive skill, committing to defense is what makes them special. And with that comes the understand that sacrificing one’s body in order to block shots is a necessity. The Lightning out blocked the Panthers 24-14. However it came with its drawbacks. Four separate players had to miss shifts due to “bumps and bruises” that came from blocking shots. Steven Stamkos took one on the hand and went down the tunnel twice in the third period. Brandon Hagel had to limp off the ice and be helped back towards the tunnel. Erik Cernak, after missing over half of game one after taking a puck to the back, took one off the face. Yet they fought through it all as all four would come back and continue to push onward.
With over a minute left of powerplay time in the third period the Panther started to build momentum. Even though their special teams have been an extreme weakness they were able to push the play for the majority of the first half of the third. Despite this, the Lightning were able to keep them at bay. However there were few deciding moments in the third that would ultimately decide the outcome of the game. At 8:44, Florida took a too many men penalty. Although Tampa Bay failed to score it turned the momentum in their favor as they started to generate some chances. Then it would be the Lightning’s turn to come up with a massive kill. Wit just over three to go Stamkos was called for tripping. Tampa Bay’s penalty killers were stuck in the one for over 90 seconds, but were able to hang on. Then came the incredible.
With under a minute Vasilevksiy made a huge save on Montour and the Lightning were able to work it out of the zone. In the final 15 seconds Tampa Bay was able to posses the puck in the offensive zone. Ondrej Palat wrapped the puck around the boards and behind the net. Then Nikita Kucherov on a beautiful backhand feed found Ross Colton all alone in front. With less than four seconds left Ross Colton snapped it over the shoulder of Bobrovsky to send the Lightning home victorious. It easily goes down as one of the most incredible plays in Lightning playoff history.
The Lightning will take their 2-0 series back to Tampa Bay for a back-to-back set on Sunday and Monday. Both teams will have two days off for rest and travel. The Lightning now only have to win two out of the next five to clinch a spot in the Eastern Conference Finally for the seventh time in the last nine years. Truly the work of a dynasty.
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