Singer Meat Loaf once sang, Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad. The Tampa Bay Lightning took those words to heart over the last four days and took two out of three games. Their victim? The surprising Chicago Blackhawks. The Lightning beat the Blackhawks to take the rubber match in this three game set by a score of 6-3.
Preseason predictions did not have the Blackhawks even sniffing for a playoff spot in this crazy Covid NHL season. Those same prognostications had the Lightning not only with having a reservation for the playoffs but many picked them to be the cream of the newly formed Central Division.
Not only has Chicago surprised by clinging to the fourth (and final playoff spot) place in the division. This three game match has certainly shocked the Lightning with just how close these games turned out to be.
Game one was one tenth of a second from going to a shootout last Thursday when Victor Hedman scored the game winning goal. No such last fraction of a second of heroics in game two but it did go to a shootout where the Blackhawks scored one goal and their backup goalie, Malcolm Subban didn’t allow a single goal for the Chicago win.
This third game started out about as horrible as could be for the Lightning. They began with some jump as they spent some time in the Blackhawks zone but with nothing to show for it. At 10:51 of the first period, Philipp Kurashev opened the scoring by flipping the puck over a sprawled out Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Less than five minutes later, Chicago took a two goal lead when Mattias Janmark put one in off a beautiful feed from Dominick Kubalik. At this point, the Lightning were playing flat and frustrated. Getting out of their zone seems to be too big a task for them. The initial frame comes to an end with the Blackhawks leading 2-0.
Period Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad
The second of three periods began with the Lightning in a two goal hole. This Blackhawk team wasn’t the same team that the Lightning beat up in the first two games of the season. They won those two games in the middle of the January by a combined score of 10-3. With two OT games and a shootout, this series has become a nail biter.
To keep this game close, the Lightning needed an answer to Chicago’s goals. Tampa had to kill a penalty at the start of the period and just as the kill was official, the Blackhawks scored a goal to go up 3-0. Pius Suter took a pass from Janmark to put Chicago in cruise control. They may need a mechanic as it didn’t last. Forty seconds after the last Blackhawk goal, the Lightning on a power play opportunity scored their first goal of the game. Ondrej Palat blasted a shot just under the bar to put Tampa on the board. Hedman and Steven Stamkos asssisted and the momentum was beginning to shift. A whole 23 seconds later, Yanni Gourde took a shot then immediately jumped on the rebound snapping home another Lightning goal. Erik Cernak earned the helper on this one,
The second period was indeed beginning to look promising. Three minutes later while on another power play, Hedman slapped a blistering shot past Chicago goalie Kevin Lankinen to tie the game at three. Now we got a game like the first two games. With a little over three minutes remaining in this period, Gourde scored his second of the game on yet another power play to give the Lightning a 4-3 lead heading into the third period.
Now Don’t be Sad, ‘Cause Two out of Three Ain’t Bad
Heading into the final frame, the Lightning with a precarious one goal lead. Tampa has to hold firm because they had to know Chicago was going to come out strong. Tightly played and going back and forth, the Lightning had to kill off a Ryan McDonagh slashing penalty at 9:51 of the third. After the successful penalty kill, the Lightning began to step it up in the offensive zone. Running their patented cycle to work for grade A scoring chances, they finally scored the insurance goal when Alex Killorn snapped one past Lankinen. Up 5-3 with four minutes to go.
All that is needed is to play out the string. With a little less than three minutes remaining in the game, Pat Maroon put in a goal off a rebound of a Gourde shot to make the final score 6-3. Lightning take two out of three, all on the road. Have to be happy with the results, though this is definitely not the same team Tampa beat in the first two games of this season.
In this crazy seat of the pants NHL season, without Wild Card playoff slots, the first four teams in the division go to the postseason. If the season ended today, the Lightning would face the Blackhawks. I bet to a man, the Lightning players are hoping they see the January version and not the version they just played.
Further Down Up The Road
Tampa had everything it could take playing this team in these three games. Perhaps, it shows the parity in the NHL. I think it shows what a team can do if they begin to believe in themselves. From Chicago’s standpoint, they were nobody’s pre-season favorites, Yet they are in the hunt for the playoffs. From Tampa’s perspective, this series was harder than they expected. Yet, they rose to the challenge.
They were down three goals with a little less than half the game remaining and they put up six goals without allowing another from Chicago. When they played like the team that believed all last postseason, they controlled this game. Their power play scored four goals in five chances. Their penalty kill units allowed one goal in four chances. They outhit, out blocked and out shot these young ‘Hawks.
Chicago gave it their all but probably the best takeaway for them was to realize that it takes a Herculean effort to beat the defending Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
FIRST STAR: Yanni Gourde – Two Goals, Two Assists
SECOND STAR: Ondrej Palat – One Goal, One Assist
THIRD STAR: Victor Hedman – One Goal, One Assist
Lightning flies to Detroit to take on the Red Wings on Tuesday followed up with the final game of this six game road trip for Tampa on Thursday. Both games scheduled to start at 7:30 pm.
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