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Unlikely contributors have Lightning on brink of Stanley Cup Finals

Cedric Paquette
Photo by Wayne Masut

The Tampa Bay Lightning may not have a storied tradition like many other NHL teams, however, they have been one of the league’s best in recent years.

Early success has been key for Tampa Bay during the playoffs and it helped again in Game 5. However, it came courtesy of some unlikely men in the team’s 3-2 victory over the Washington Capitals on Saturday night at Amalie Arena in Tampa, FL.

First period goals by Cedric Paquette, his first of the playoffs, and Ondrej Palat put Washington in an early 2-0 hole. Palat (six goals, six assists) ranks fourth on the team in playoff points, behind Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Brayden Point.

The bigger story was head coach Jon Cooper going with the Checking Line of Paquette, Chris Kunitz, and Ryan Callahan to start the game. Washington had dominated the 5-0n-5 play entering Thursday’s game — the Bolts’ starting trio seemed to put a strangle-hold on the Capitals’ starting line of Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Tom Wilson in Game 5.

“You can always look in the box score before tonight and say that those guys don’t have a ton of points,” Cooper said after his team moved one game closer to a trip to the Stanley Cup Final. “What those guys bring to our team is inspiring. They’re heavy, they check, they’re on the right side of pucks and one of the luxuries we have is that no matter who we put them out against they’re dependable and that’s what makes them valuable.”

Inspired is exactly how the Bolts looked on Saturday night. After losing Game 1 to the Boston Bruins, the Lightning stormed back for four consecutive wins. Now, the Bolts are in position to win four straight after losing Games 1 and 2. Cooper wasn’t the only one who felt the added energy. Kunitz recognized the visiting team seemed to be caught off guard.

“It didn’t even look like Holtby was ready for him to shoot it,” Kunitz said of Paquette’s goal. “Obviously that’s a big bonus for our line to go out there and contribute, get everybody into it.”

Everyone has a plan until…

Physical play, aggressive forechecks, and composure were key in preventing the Capitals from getting any momentum. That, and, another solid outing from Andrei Vasilevskiy in net.

“We feel like that’s something, we put them under pressure and they can’t do the things they want,” Kunitz said of his team’s performance. “Late in the game obviously we were sitting back, second and third our goaltender was our best player.”

The benefit of getting out to an early lead is that you don’t have to play as aggressive — that’s no secret. It was also no secret that the Lightning were playing very conservative hockey during the final 40 minutes of Game 5.

“They’re good, when they have space,” Anton Stralman said of the Capitals. “I thought in the second and third period we gave them too much space, we backed off way too much. We lost the forecheck a little bit and we started to give up the red line.”

Ultimately, the Lightning will head to Washington one win away from a birth in the Stanley Cup Final. However, nobody in the Tampa Bay locker room has lost focus of how hard it is to get there.

“We have a lot of unfinished business,” Ryan Callahan said after recording a goal and an assist. “This isn’t even close to being over. This last game is definitely the hardest and against a very, very good Washington team. To go in their building and try and close them out is gonna be tough.”

Bolts Notes

Stamkos entered Game 5 with power-play goals in four straight games, and goals in six of his last seven games. He also held a six-game point-scoring streak, which is a career long for him. His next point will put him in a tie with Vincent Lecavalier for third on the franchise list for playoff points scored.

Paquette, playing in his 15th game of the playoffs, put Tampa Bay on the board just :19 into the game. Only two of the Bolts’ forwards have yet to record a goal in these playoffs — Kunitz (15 games) and Cory Conacher (two games). Tampa Bay has scored 19 first period goals during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Lightning are 11-0 this postseason when scoring three or more goals. They have won 15 consecutive playoff games when reaching the three-goal mark. They are also 0-4 during these playoffs when they don’t light the lamp three times.

Our Three  Stars

1st Star: Callahan (one goal, one assist)

2nd Star: Vasilevskiy: (28 saves)

3rd Star: Paquette (one goal)

Up Next

The series shifts to D.C for Game 6. The Lightning will earn a trip to the Stanley Cup Final with a win at Capital One Arena on Monday night.


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