Lightning snatch a deserved victory from the jaws of defeat.
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
Tampa Bay Leads the Series 3-1
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 28 shots for the victory. Four games into the series he's been the model of consistency, allowing 2 goals in each contest. It makes it easy for the team in front of him: manufacture 3 goals and you're probably going to the pay window.
5:41 TB Kucherov(4), (Johnson, Drouin)(PP)
10:31 TB Kucherov(5), (Drouin, Garrison)(PP)
14:53 DET Helm(1), (Glendening, Smith)
19:50 DET Nyquist(1), Sheahan(1)
17:01 TB Palat(1), (Drouin, Kucherov)(PP)
Nikita Kucherov and Jonathan Drouin were the game's first and second stars.
The Lightning responded to their flat Game Three performance with a very strong forechecking effort right out of the gate that continued for most of the first 40 minutes of the game, abbreviated only by the occasional penalty kill. Bottom line: when the Lightning are on the forecheck Detroit has no chance. Their defense can't handle Tampa Bay's speed and they have a tendency to give the puck away pretty easily under duress. The Lightning could've very easily had a 3 or 4 goal lead two thirds of the way through the Second Period when things got unnecessarily sideways.
Detroit got their first goal on a play I don't want to outright label luck, because it required some hand-eye coordination for Glendening to bunt the puck out of mid-air in front of the net, but it certainly was a low percentage play. It wasn't the kind of play where you feel too upset at your defense because the score was borderline an act of puck luck. Still, it put Detroit in position for the smash and grab, which they nearly executed when a bad Garrison turnover along the wall late in the period resulted in an inexcusable goal by Nyquist to tie the game. It was just a soft effort by the entire crew on the ice at a critical moment to gift Detroit the opportunity to knot the series.
Much of the remainder of the Third Period became an exercise of survival for the Lightning, as they got extremely tight and their breakout passing completely betrayed them. Unable to move the puck up ice, Detroit kept possession and faceoffs deep in the Lightning third and developed chances and eventually a key penalty midway in the period where Larkin nearly scored a backhand goal that hit flush off Bishop's horseshoe. As if sensing they had been given a reprieve, the Lightning forecheck bounced back to life for about a 5 minute span, eventually drawing the critical cross checking penalty on Ericsson that let to Palat's game winning goal. And, with that, the Lightning opportunistically put themselves on the brink of advancing quickly out of the opening round.
Three power play goals. Bask in it. And, bask in the chemistry developing between Jonathan Drouin and Nikita Kucherov. Drouin was particularly instrumental in the final two goals as he went across the grain back into the slot for a Kucherov one-timer on the Lightning's second goal and then through the seam to a cutting Palat for the deflection on the winner. For those who have hammered us at Bolt Prospects about our advocacy of Drouin's skill set: now you see what he's capable of.
Visioning exercise: close your eyes and imagine Steven Stamkos drifting to the open spot at the far post with Kucherov and Drouin creating pressure points at the near circle and slot area on that power play. Nice, right?
On a tangential note: how satisfying was it that Justin Abdelkader took the call that put the Wings down early in the First Period? Dare I say, it was finger licking good?
Now, if you're the Lightning, you can't afford to fall asleep for Game Five. Finish this and get some time off and hope the Isles and Panthers kill each other on the other side of the bracket. Save the wear and tear of a couple of games and conserve that energy for bigger moments in this postseason run.
Matt Taormina with 1 shot in 2:39 of ice time. If you blinked you missed him tonight.
Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.