Lightning on the brink of tragedy... or opportunity.
Stanley Cup Final
Chicago Leads the Series 3-2
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 27 shots for the loss. The really sad thing about tonight is that, after four days of rest, I thought Bishop looked as healthy and as sharp as he has since early in the ECF. His rebound control was spot on and he looked pretty solid. Unfortunately, all of that was marred by his inexplicable decision to leave his cage and failure to communicate with Victor Hedman that led to an easy skate in goal for Patrick Sharp. I think Bishop was guilty of being a little over-exuberant and trying to do too much, and the end result was a de facto soft goal that ended up being like so many other soft goals... the margin of losing.
6:11 CHI Sharp (5), (Teravainen, Toews)
10:53 TB Filppula (4), (Garrison, Stralman)
2:00 CHI Vermette (4), (Versteeg)
Victor Hedman was the game's third star.
Give credit to Chicago. Ben Bishop wasn't the only one to benefit from the extra day of rest between Game Four and Game Five and they came out strong and put together their best opening 10 minutes of the entire series. The Lightning would have weathered it were it not for the Bishop mishap, but in the end the Blackhawks probably did deserve a lead for their work heading into the First Intermission. Part of the Lightning's problem in that First Period, mind you, was an awkward play where Nikita Kucherov tripped over Corey Crawford diving in front of his net on a puckhandling gaffe of his own, which sent Kucherov head/shoulder first into the crossbar and out of the game. Severity now becomes the question with Kucherov: it is a shoulder, collarbone, or concussion situation? Just when we might finally moving on from Goalie Gate we may be heading into 48 hours of Kuchie Kontroversy. The line juggling that ensued meant the team really had to struggle to find some continuity and get their legs back under them.
Fortunately, the team showed some resiliency and came out strong in the Second Period, eventually letting Bishop off the hook (somewhat) when a Jason Garrison cross ice pass was swept home by Valtteri Filppula. Can I just underscore how bad Corey Crawford was on that goal, for a moment. Sweet merciful Jesus, you could've timed his ability to get from his right post to his left post with a sun dial. The guy's got really slow feet, and even had to push twice just to get over to his left post extremely late. Bear in mind, the pass deflected off a Blackhawks stick and Filppula also fumbled it before he got it on frame for the goal. I cannot believe the Lightning are struggling this much with a guy with feet that slow after defeating the likes of Mrazek, Price, and Lundqvist earlier in the playoffs. Yes, I get there are injury factors at play, but the Lightning have to know this guy can't move worth a damn laterally. Instead, they've been suckered into this fool's bet of moving pucks back to their points and trying to pound them through two and sometimes three Chicago shot blockers, which creates loose pucks Chicago then collects and either deposits out of the zone or uses to trigger a counter. Just like with Mrazek, the Lightning have got to get Crawford moving laterally (Mrazek because he would get too aggressive and lose his angles and Crawford because he's a statue).
The Third Period was a shared trauma that I may end up taking to my grave. That was horrible. Two minutes into it, Jason Garrison got caught on the wrong side of the puck at the Chicago blueline leading to a partial breakaway. Jonathan Drouin did a good job using his speed to cut off the angle while Garrison did well to recover from behind and shut off the initial chance, but it resulted in a busted play that netted Vermette's game winner. Garrison, quite frankly, did not cloak himself in glory on the defensive side of the puck tonight either with several turnovers and even falling down inexplicably while trying to skate the puck out of his own zone.
The remaining 18 minutes of the Third Period were, basically, a clinic. What Chicago did to Tampa Bay to close Game Five is what Tampa Bay should have done to Chicago to close out Game One. And, indeed, it may turn out that Tampa Bay's failure to do so in Game One comes back to haunt them. In any event, Chicago played a brilliantly structured game to build a wall at their blueline, force the Lightning to chip the puck in or turn it over, and they pounced on obvious counterattack opportunities that resulted in order to get pucks behind the Lightning defense on the forecheck and generate pressure of their own. In the end, the Lightning went out meekly, without much of a push at trying to tie the game.
That leads to the question of the hour that seems to be on a lot of Lightning fan's minds: are the Lightning done in Game Six? Right now Jon Cooper's got a lot of Jedi mind tricks to play to make sure that question doesn't seep into the Lightning locker room. This team looked deader than a door nail in the Detroit series after dropping Game Five, and they were playing nowhere near as well against the Red Wings early in that series as they have early in this Chicago series. We should also point out that the Lightning's '04 Cup team also did it the hard way by defeating Calgary on the road in Game Six before their eventual Cup triumph in Game Seven on home ice. This isn't done, by any stretch, especially with a healthier Ben Bishop back between the pipes. But, it begins with the six inches of gray matter between each Lightning players' ears. Know this: there's still 28 other teams in the NHL that wish they were in Tampa Bay's position of just having to win two games in a row to take a Stanley Cup. If they treat Game Six as a negative thing to be feared, then it'll become a fait accompli. If they treat it as an opportunity to be relished, then they've got a chance to live to fight another (Game Seven) day.