Lightning coming alive in the postseason.
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
Tampa Bay Leads the Series 2-0
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 32 shots for the victory. Bishop looked much more confident and under control in Game Two and the Lightning played a much tighter game in front of him defensively. That bodes really well for the rest of the series.
15:17 TB Kucherov(3), (Hedman, Johnson)(PP)
3:30 DET Larkin(1), (Ericsson, Kronwall)
6:46 TB Boyle(1), (Drouin, Coburn)
4:27 DET Richards(1), (Green, Tatar)(PP)
6:32 TB Johnson(1), (Killorn)
14:48 TB Johnson(2), (Kucherov, Garrison)
17:16 TB Killorn(2), (Carle, Killorn)(EN)
Somewhere in the course of this game a sneaking suspicion of mine that I've had all year was confirmed: the Lightning were sandbagging it most of the regular season. Deliberately? No. But it was clear they were sleepwalking through quite a few games and weren't playing with the same intensity Lightning fans were used to. It's human nature when you get within 2 wins of hoisting the Cup. I suspect now that they've been bit by the bug, it's hard to get up for anything but playoff hockey, but now that the postseason is here? My goodness. The Lightning have ratcheted everything up tenfold, and it's electric right now.
The First Period of this game was an absolute squash for the Lightning. The game could've easily been 4-0 after the opening frame after the Lightning hit two posts and a crossbar to go along with Kucherov's 5-on-3 PP goal. The defense was tighter. The breakouts were clean. The forecheck was swarming. For goodness sake, the power play even looked lethal with some of the best puck movement we've seen all season.
Detroit was lucky to even be in the game in the Second Period when a momentary lapse gave Larkin the tying goal after a saggy power play to start the middle frame. Still, and somewhat incredibly, the Lightning just didn't sag and got right back on their forecheck. And, even though the refs had a spate of (questionable) calls against the Lightning in the Second Period, the penalty kill was incredibly stout and they eventually pulled back ahead on a pretty no-look pass by Drouin to the trailer on a 3-on-2. Drouin played even better in Game Two than he did in Game One, and he was arguably the most dangerous Lightning forward in Game One to begin with. The puck is starting to follow him around the rink, which is the mark of a star player. It's kind of amazing he doesn't have a goal yet given the ridiculous number of scoring chances he's created already in the series, and he's playing a rugged-to-the-point-of-maniacal style of game. It's like they extracted some of Marchessault's crazy/angry and injected into Drouin, and it's pretty fun to watch.
Eventually Detroit equalized the game at 2-2 with Richards scoring through a screen on the PP after another Lightning penalty. Tampa Bay ended up surrendering 5 power play opportunities on the night, and that's 2-3 more than they should feel comfortable with against a power play as good as Detroit's. Mind you, a few of those calls were of dubious quality. Specifically, the Killorn holding call to start the contest and the Boyle interference call toward the end of the Second Period were gobsmacking. The latter was so bad Pierre McGuire on the NBCSN broadcast even went so far as to sarcastically remark it was... "unique." Indeed it was. Now, mind you, the officiating was bad at both ends and the refs probably did miss an accidental high stick by Hedman on Datsyuk in the corner in the Second Period that knocked out Datsyuk's teeth. In general, I'd say the refs have called the series so bizarrely to this point that they've fostered an environment of lawlessness that led to the shenanigans you saw at the final horn.
Ultimately the Lightning deserved the win tonight and they eventually got it on a pair of well crafted goals by Tyler Johnson and his linemates. Alex Killorn added the remote control goal off the boards in his own end into the empty net to rub salt into the wound. I just thought the Lightning were just far quicker to loose pucks than Detroit tonight, which led to another night with a high volume of scoring chances, and in the process they showed tighter defense and their goaltending settled down nicely. That's a good recipe for success, and the team has to be on a high tonight considering they've only trailed for a whopping 5:22 of this series so far. There needs to be some caution, though: the old timers will tell you it's not a series until a team wins a road game in a series. The Lightning did what they were supposed to do by holding serve at Amalie to start the Quarterfinals, but it was a homer series during the regular season and the Lightning have to know they've got a tough task still ahead of them in Detroit. At some point they'll need to pick off a game up there, in all likelihood, and it'll take a heavy lift to get that done. Hopefully they can ride that momentum into Game Three and get it right away with a view toward shortening the series and lessening the effects of potential attrition on an already thinly stretched roster.
Then close your eyes and imagine what happens when/if Stamkos and Stralman can work their way back into the lineup.
Now, about that thing that happened at the end of the game...
For those who didn't see it there was a scrum at the end of the contest that kicked off when noted thug Andrej Sustr (he reps his gang, the G-G-G-raffes) got into a little shoving match in front of Bishop's cage. No big deal. The teams piled up in a scrum. Again, no big deal. That happens a zillion times in the playoffs. Guys were pulling guys off the pile and pairing off. Same old song. Then Justin Abdelkader lost his damned mind, rolled onto Mike Blunden's back while Blunden was pinned to the ice at the bottom of the pile, and started throwing about a half dozen big right hands to the back of Blunden's head. Blunden, prone and defenseless on the ice because he was pinned with his back to Abdelkader, ended up with nine stitches for cuts that either happened within the pile or from his face hitting the ice while he was getting punched in the back of the head. In any event, he was bleeding like a stuck pig by the time the refs pulled Abdelkader up off of him on a play that was just flat out an assault. Abdelkader completely, absolutely, 100% snapped. If it's the regular season, that's a suspension. No doubt in my mind. In the playoffs? I doubt he'll get more than the whopping game misconduct he got with 50-some seconds left in a game his team was losing by 3 goals (big punishment there, NHL). The guy's a dirty player, and if the league won't do something about him I hope the Lightning have a big lead in the Third Period of the closeout game and Blunden gets his chance for a little sweet revenge, because the guy has had it coming since last season. He's involved in so many sketchy plays that end up with injuries to opposing players, and he needs to answer for it. And, if it goes down like that, I'm certain whoever does settle up with Abdelkader will get a few thank you cards from other team's players too.