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Content regarding the Tampa Bay Lightning organization.

NHL Playoff Game Night: 5-23-18 Capitals at Lightning

Soul searching time in the Lightning organization.

Eastern Conference Final

WSH-4
TB-0

Washington Wins the Series 4-3

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 3 goals on 22 shots for the loss. None of the three goals he allowed were soft, but in this moment he's got to make a big situational save on at least one of the Burakovsky breakaways to give his team a chance. This will be an interesting offseason for Andrei, who is renowned for his work ethic. He had an amazing first half, a subpar second half, and an uneven playoffs. It was altogether more good than bad, but I would think he's going to focusing on improving his consistency and some other minor fixes to his game like making sure he stays more upright when he goes down in the butterfly and making sure he consistently pushes out to cut down the angle on shooters.

First Period
1:02 WSH Ovechkin (12), (Kuznetsov, Wilson)

Second Period
8:59 WSH Burakovsky (1), (unassisted)
16:31 WSH Burakovsky (2), (Carlson)

Third Period
16:17 WSH Backstrom (4), (unassisted)

The simplistic thing to do would be to look at the 4-0 score tonight and say the team didn't show up. I already see some national talking heads doing just that on social media. The fact of the matter is that the Lightning were the victim of the cruel hand of the hockey gods at one of the most inopportune moments imaginable. They outshot the Caps 29-23 and I suspect outchanced them by a greater margin. Did they surrender a goal very early in the game? Sure. But that wasn't because of a flat start. Tip your cap to Ovechkin for being a sniper who can pound that shot off the rush without a ton of room to do so. And then tip your cap to Holtby for being able to hold out wave after wave of Lightning chances, even when Holtby himself had no clue where the puck actually was. The greatest frustration of all came in the Second Period, though, when I thought the team had clearly outplayed the Caps only to see Victor Hedman hit a post and Yanni Gourde whiff in front of a wide open net. A freak play by Dan Girardi having to drop a puck that was shot into his body in the neutral zone leading to one breakaway and then a bad defensive pair change leading to a second, and the game was over after two periods even though the Lightning had carried the balance of play. A three goal deficit is a death sentence in pro hockey after two frames, and especially so against a Barry Trotz coached trapping team. Another simplistic reading would be that the Lightning didn't put up a fight in the Third Period. The fact of the matter is you've got a better chance of slaying a Sasquatch than you do clawing back goals when you're that far behind playing against that trap.

What's the lesson we take from all this? Sometimes hockey's unfair. Just like life. More to the point, though, the Lightning actually no-showed Games One, Two, and Six of this series and had to have Vasilevskiy thieve Game Four for them. When you get to this stage of the season against the quality of teams you face in these moments, you can't spot teams games. A veteran laden team like the Lightning, with all their experience, should've known better. But, they mentally sagged after the triumph of slaying rival Boston in the previous rounds, and then checked out after fighting back to put Washington on the brink. These are painful breakdowns in leadership and mental discipline these players are going to have to live with the rest of their lives.

The Lightning organization now finds itself at a bit of a crossroads. It was the best of times, having been to the Eastern Conference Final or further three of the past four season, but it was also the worst of times having come up dry in the pursuit of a championship. Critical questions need to be asked throughout the building on Channelside, beginning with the question of whether this team is in danger of lapsing into the kind of "elite mediocrity" teams like the Caps and Sharks have been trapped in for what seems like a decade. No one can deny that Tampa Bay is a model franchise built to have more deep playoff runs well into the foreseeable future. But, are they constructed to win championships? Are some of the mainstay players on the roster now tainted with the stench of multiple postseason failures to get all the way over the hump? The coaching staff?

I'm not advocating a complete overhaul by any means. I suspect we will shortly learn that certain players like Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov who seemingly underperformed over the past few weeks have been hiding significant injuries that have to be weighed in the overall evaluation. But, at the end of the day, this Lightning organization is stocked to the gills with good young players in Syracuse and the junior ranks. A strategic and surgical scrambling of the roster to replace some of those crusty, stale mainstays with exciting new blood is a necessity both from a hockey and a financial standpoint. It's coming. It needs to happen. To put it bluntly, the window is closing on a lot of players who have been cornerstones of the past half decade here, and it shut completely on a few others. Harsh but true.

One other thing I want to mention tonight, only because it irks me for its parallels to the 2011 series against Boston. It frustrates me to no end that the referees made a decision over the past two or three games to completely swallow their whistles. Just as in 2011, it's as if they made a conscious decision that because Tampa Bay's power play was so lethal and therefore each power play had an outsized chance of impacting the outcome of the games that they just weren't going to call anything. "Letting the boys decide it," is an act of moral cowardice by the refs, and despite their thinking that they aren't making a choice by electing to swallow their whistles they are, in fact, choosing to disadvantage the team with the better power play. We saw Yanni Gourde get cross checked in the nose in the First Period in a scrum. No call. We saw Washington play with seven skaters on the ice for a while in the First Period. No call. We saw copious quantities of clutching and grabbing throughout this series that reached epidemic proportions in the first 40 minutes of this game. No calls. I'm not going to sit here and tell you the Lightning also didn't commit infractions that could've been called and weren't because of what the refs chose to do. But the fact of the matter is the Lightning outpossessed Washington by huge proportions for wide swaths of the First and Second Periods, most notably the first five minutes of the Second Period, and there's no way in hell Washington didn't commit a penalty in those spaces of time. A team like Tampa Bay is constructed for possession and to accrue the benefits from that possession that come in the form of, among other things, increased power play time. The decision by the refs, which is a gutless calculation designed to proclaim they didn't favor one team over another, favored the team built for clutching and grabbing that is better built for counter attacking (the Caps) over the possession-oriented team (the Lightning). And that's wrong. It was in 2011 and it is still wrong now.

Anthony Cirelli had 1 hit and was 33% on 6 draws in 13:03. He's become a solid, valuable player for this team and he's still a boy among men. He's got a lot to do to develop a pro body and to work on improving his burst and acceleration so he can dig down and find a top gear when he needs it. He's really smart and has a great work ethic, though, and he should be one of the future leaders of this team.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Playoff Game Night: 5-21-18 Lightning at Capitals

Desperate Caps outlast Lightning to push series to the limit.

Eastern Conference Final

TB-0
WSH-3

Series Tied 3-3

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 2 goals on 33 shots for the loss.

First Period
NO SCORING

Second Period
15:12 WSH Oshie (6), (Backstrom, Kuznetsov)(PP)

Third Period
10:02 WSH Smith-Pelly (4), (Stephenson, Beagle)
19:10 WSH Oshie (7), (Backstrom)(EN)

At the end of the day, the Caps were the more desperate team with their backs against the wall and it showed in their physical intensity and resolve. The Lightning now have a choice to make. This team had two cracks at eliminating Pittsburgh two years ago and they couldn't get it done. This time they've got Game Seven at home and they've played two less games than the Capitals have in these playoffs and one would argue it will be hard for the Caps to replicate the level of intensity they displayed in Game Six. To me, it really comes down to whether the Lightning make the decision to dig their heels in, focus on the task, and get it done. They should be the fitter team, and the 82 game slog of the regular season was all to give them this opportunity for the fans to have their backs in a critical elimination. They just have to step up and play their best game on Wednesday and they'll be fine.

Anthony Cirelli was scoreless in 13:30. I wonder if he has some kind of nagging injury or the team is just sheltering him because he's taken very few draws the past couple of games.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Playoff Game Night: 5-19-18 Capitals at Lightning

Tampa Bay's lower lines author a Game Five triumph.

Eastern Conference Final

WSH-2
TB-3

Tampa Bay Leads the Series 3-2

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 2 goals on 30 shots for the victory. When the time game to make the big situational saves at the end of the game, he was there. You can't help but wonder if 20 years from now we're going to look back at this series as one of the defining mileposts of a special career.

First Period
0:19 TB Paquette (1), (Callahan)
9:04 TB Palat (6), (Kucherov)

Second Period
0:33 TB Callahan (2), (Stralman, Kunitz)
4:21 WSH Kuznetsov (11), (Niskanen, Oshie)

Third Period
18:24 WSH Ovechkin (11), (Carlson, Eller)

Ryan Callahan, Cedric Paquette, and Vasilevskiy were the game's three stars.

My man, Ceddy P. The Dump Truck. Nineteen seconds into the game he blisters a centering feed past Holtby and the Lightning just turned in the First Period of First Periods from there. The Lightning came to the rink prepared to do what it took to take control of this series from the opening puck drop and they could've easily been up 4-0 in the opening frame and a lot of that had to do with the quality and dominance of the team's third and fourth lines. You're not seeing the sustained pressure from the Stamkos and Point lines, but the Cirelli and Paquette lines have been fantastic. It's pretty amazing to see, less than two weeks away from Boston blowhard Jack Edwards implying Paquette was the worst player in the NHL, Dump Truck and his line actually beating the mighty Ovechkin line. Yeah, Ovechkin got his garbage time goal with the extra attacker on tonight, but he went shotless for what seemed like the first 15 minutes of his 20+ minutes of ice time.

Washington will hang their hat on the fact they clawed back a couple of goals in the final two periods while they were chasing the game with score effects. They'll have a little momentum facing elimination in Game Six, but they'll also have to contend with copious ghosts of playoff disappointments past, too. Meanwhile, the veteran-laden Tampa Bay Lightning are now just a single win from the Stanley Cup Final, and over the past three games they've shown a certain savvy to do just what it takes to get the win and keep it moving. If I'm Coach Cooper, I'm feeling pretty good about that group of guys being within eyesight of the finish line to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. Pretty good, indeed.

Anthony Cirelli had 1 hit and 1 blocked shot in 11:46. He was good on the forecheck tonight, helping the Lightning generate pressure and keeping the Caps 200 feet from Vasilevskiy's net.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Playoff Game Night: 5-17-18 Lightning at Capitals

Vasilarceniy in Washington.

Eastern Conference Final

TB-4
WSH-2

Series Tied 2-2

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 2 goals on 38 shots for the victory. He might want that second goal he allowed to Kuznetsov back that leaked through his five hole, but in a game where the team was outshot 38-20 it took a Herculean effort by the young netminder to steal the W. Pure Vasilarceniy. He pulled the heist, drove the getaway car, and set up the Swiss bank account to stash the loot, too.

First Period
4:28 WSH Orlov (2), (Oshie, Niskanen)
5:38 TB Point (7), (Gourde, Johnson)
8:32 TB Stamkos (7), (Point, Miller)(PP)

Second Period
5:18 WSH Kuznetsov (10), (Ovechkin, Wilson)

Third Period
11:57 TB Killorn (5), (Palat, Sergachev)
19:58 TB Cirelli (2), (unassisted)(EN)

Vasilevskiy and Brayden Point were the game's first and second stars. Vasilevskiy should've been stars one through twenty tonight.

The Lightning did just about everything wrong they could do at times tonight and still found a way to battle through adversity and grind out an incredibly important win. They surrendered the early goal to put themselves in a lot of trouble with Washington's 1-1-3 trap looming, but soon thereafter got the benefit of a horrible Kempny turnover that allowed Point to equalize. After earning the lead with a PP that came off of strong 5v5 play the team got behind the eight ball with a string of three straight PK's at the end of the First Period that completely sapped the team's legs and contributed to one of the worst Second Periods the team could put on the ice, which carried over deep into the Third Period. There, almost halfway through the frame, the team dug deep and strung together three or four strong shifts to earn another power play and they got the eventual game winner just after the expiration of the minor. Then it was bite, claw, and scratch for every shot block and to clog up every passing lane as the team did what it took to protect their fragile lead and get it over the finish line.

On a tangent, how about that Lightning penalty kill? They went 4 for 4 tonight under extreme pressure in a tight game. Obviously Vasiy led the way in that effort, but the grit and the want-to of that unit after a luckluster regular season statistically is just fantastic to see. Keep it up.

One other note on the officiating in this series: the Caps are getting away with almost an early 90's amount of clutching and grabbing and interference. That's not even my issue, though. It's the playoffs and you've got to fight through the muggings sometimes because the refs simply aren't going to call it like a regular season game. I get it. My issue tonight was TJ Oshie clearly diving after skating over Victor Hedman's stick blade in a laughably obvious delayed reaction that would make a soccer player blush at its transparent phoniness. Yanni Gourde was initially called for the trip even though he never made contact with Oshie before he went down. So what did the refs do? They went to replay... to throw Hedman in the box instead of Gourde to hurt the Lightning by robbing them of their best defenseman on a key PK. Luckily the Lightning made the kill, so it didn't cost them at that point in the game, but let's be clear about what we witnessed tonight. That's not a reviewable play. The league literally made a protocol up on the fly to disadvantage the Tampa Bay Lightning in a critical Eastern Conference Final playoff game. And, hell, if you're going to review that play at least call it correctly for the dive it was. Oshie pulled the exact same routine in the Third Period on a play that went completely uncalled and frankly he should've gotten a stand-alone two minute minor for diving in that moment. In both cases, the slightest tap of a stick on the shin pads and the guy just goes dead weight and tumbles head first down toward the ice like he got shot by an assassin. It's disgusting to watch, and it's disgusting that the league went out of their way and outside of the boundaries of the rulebook to find a way to try to reward the Caps for it. It's a complete joke.

Now the Lightning have equalized the series and turned it into a three game series where the team will have home ice advantage. Obviously Game Five is going to be critical. The Lightning must make sure they stay at evens and get on their forecheck and they must make the Caps chase the game. If they do, they've got this.

Anthony Cirelli had the EN goal and was +1 with 1 shot, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 13:49. He was also 50% on six draws. Made some big defensive plays in the Third Period and just continues to do the work on both sides of the puck.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Playoff Game Night: 5-15-18 Lightning at Capitals

Lightning plant the seeds of belief in Game Three.

Eastern Conference Final

TB-4
WSH-2

Washington Leads the Series 2-1

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 2 goals on 38 shots for the victory. He made key situational saves when required and looked like a rock in the net. That's a fantastic response after Game Two's debacle. Washington may well regret letting Andrei climb into this series in this game.

First Period
13:53 TB Stamkos (6), (Hedman, Point)(PP)

Second Period
1:50 TB Kucherov (7), (Hedman, Stamkos)(PP)
3:37 TB Hedman (1), (Kucherov, Palat)
10:31 WSH Connolly (4), (Stephenson, Niskanen)
16:03 TB Point (6), (Johnson, Coburn)

Third Period
16:58 WSH Kuznetsov (9), (Oshie, Eller)

Vasilevskiy, Victor Hedman, and Nikita Kucherov were the game's three stars.

After two games of charging stubbornly into the teeth of Washington's 1-1-3 trap (it helps when you're not immediately chasing the game by surrendering the first goal), the Lightning finally wised up tonight and managed the puck much better within the 10 feet around each blueline to limit odd man rushes and speed rushes against and take a possession advantage through the first 40 minutes of this game. Washington may have gotten more shots on the shot board (especially in the Third Period when score effects took hold) but the Lightning had the puck more and in dangerous positions in the Washington zone more and they absolutely deserved the win tonight. Helping create that advantage was a series of tweaks along the top three lines that included moving Palat onto the Stamkos line, moving Gourde onto the Point line, and moving Miller onto the Cirelli line. With the exception of some scary defensive zone issues that still seem to crop up with the Stamkos line, it all worked with the Paquette line still doing fantastic work against the Ovechkin line. So, the Lightning threw in some wrinkles, found a formula, and now have a foothold in this series.

I kind of expect Washington to put Backstrom in for Game Four knowing that the winner of Game Four will be the odds-on favorite to win the series. If the Lightning can steal it, I think they're in the cat bird seat while shrinking the series to a three game series where they have the home ice advantage. It's going to take a colossal effort to get it done, though. Washington will understand the gravity of the moment and know full well that dropping Game Four brings all the demons of playoff failures past to the forefront. They're going to play urgent. The Lightning have to match their intensity, their resolve, and their focus. If they do, I believe the Lightning have the depth and quality to pull this out and get the series level.

Anthony Cirelli was -1 with 1 shot, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 12:12. He was also 50% on 8 draws. With Miller and Killorn as linemates, his line takes on a heavier and more checking minded role than with Gourde on his wing. What you like is Cirelli has the versatility to play both styles.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Playoff Game Night: 5-13-18 Capitals at Lightning

Lightning humiliated and on the ropes.

Eastern Conference Final

WSH-6
TB-2

Washington Leads the Series 2-0

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 6 goals on 37 shots for the loss. The soul-crushing soft goal with 3 seconds to go in the Second Period led to the team's unraveling. So, Vasilevskiy's got a lot of soul searching to do between now and Tuesday, along with the rest of the team top to bottom.

First Period
0:28 WSH Wilson (3), (Niskanen, Kuznetsov)
7:08 TB Point (5), (Stamkos, Hedman)(PP)
10:22 TB Stamkos (5), (Kucherov, Point)(PP)

Second Period
2:50 WSH Smith-Pelly (3), (Chiasson, Carlson)
18:58 WSH Eller (5), (Vrana)
19:57 WSH Kuznetsov (8), (Ovechkin, Eller)(PP)

Third Period
3:34 WSH Ovechkin (10), (Kuznetsov, Wilson)
12:57 WSH Connolly (3), (Eller, Carlson)

It's as if this team left their collective brains and poise in the Boston series. All of the focus and commitment to detail and to playing a physical game has been replaced by a complete haze. The energy was there tonight, but it was misplaced somehow. The coaching staff made a great tweak putting the Paquette line on the Ovechkin line that the advanced stats say was a winning decision, only to see the other three lines get outplayed by what should be, on paper, a matchup advantage for the Lightning. They seem bewildered by the Caps 1-1-3 neutral zone trap and unwilling or unable to do what it takes to get through some of the Caps clutching and grabbing. It's a total failure up and down the lineup and the coaching staff at this point.

Should they throw in the towel? No. I've seen this team come back from dropping the first two games at home against this very same franchise in 2003. It's not a lost cause. But this team's got to find its resolve and its poise to get a foothold in this series in Game Three first before all hope is lost. Get something to hang your hat on at 5v5 and go from there.

Anthony Cirelli was -1 with 1 shot and was 50% on 10 draws in 11:10.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Playoff Game Night: 5-11-18 Capitals at Lightning

Flat as a pancake Lightning spot Washington Game One.

Eastern Conference Final

WSH-4
TB-2

Washington Leads the Series 1-0

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 4 goals on 27 shots for the loss before giving way to Louis Domingue, who stopped all 7 shots he faced. Rather than focusing on Vasilevskiy's down night, I'm going to give a lot of credit to Domingue for coming in and making 2-3 key situational saves to help the Lightning win the Third Period and maybe climb into this series.

First Period
7:28 WSH Kempny (1), (Kuznetsov, Carlson)
19:54 WSH Ovechkin (9), (Kuznetsov, Oshie)(PP)

Second Period
2:40 WSH Beagle (2), (Connolly, Orlov)
6:42 WSH Eller (4), (Oshie, Ovechkin)

Third Period
3:45 TB Stamkos (4), (Kucherov, Hedman)(PP)
13:03 TB Palat (5), (Johnson, Stralman)

That was 40 minutes of embarrassingly flat hockey. Frankly, it's inexcusable at this time of year and whatever parades this team thought they were getting after vanquishing Boston just got cancelled. Yes, the team had a big momentum swing at the end of the First Period where a Kucherov breakaway goal was negated by a too many men penalty that swung to an Ovechkin power play goal three seconds later. That whole sequence just shows you the lack of mental sharpness and intensity that branded tonight's outing a failure from the word jump. You fail to make a clean line change and then compound the issue by losing a draw cleanly and then fail to cover a very dangerous shooter off that draw to allow a goal with under 10 seconds to go in the period. They know better and I expect them to do better, but now they've got to hope spotting the Capitals this one doesn't come back to bite them in the rear end.

The good news is the team did reach down and gut out an effort in the Third Period that they won 2-0 where they outshot the Caps 11-7 after falling behind on the shot board a laughable 25-10 through two periods. Hopefully that little bit of momentum (aided by some great stops by Louis Domingue) translates to another big backs-against-the-wall Game Two encounter similar to what they did against the Bruins.

Anthony Cirelli had 1 shot, 2 hits, and 2 blocked shots in 11:57. He was also 45% on 11 draws.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Playoff Game Day: 5-6-18 Bruins at Lightning

Lightning stay the course and finish off the Bruins.

Eastern Conference Semifinals

BOS-1
TB-3

Tampa Bay Wins the Series 4-1

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 1 goal on 28 shots for the victory. Didn't face a ton of quality chances until Boston made their late push to equalize and in those moments Andrei was huge.

First Period
19:12 BOS Krejci (3), (McAvoy, Bergeron)(PP)

Second Period
10:43 TB Point (4), (unassisted)
14:00 TB Miller (2), (Kucherov, Stamkos)(PP)

Third Period
18:31 TB Stralman (1), (Hedman)(EN)

Vasilevskiy, J.T. Miller, and Brayden Point were the game's three stars.

What a series by the Tampa Bay Lightning as the exorcised the demons of the past quarter century to humiliate the Bruins in five games. After a horrible result in Game One, Brayden Point's line rebounded to outplay the Bruins' top line and help lead the Lightning into the Eastern Conference Finals. Today, the Lightning showed the maturity to stay the course at 5v5 after a hard luck late power play goal allowed in the First Period. The Lightning kept up the pressure and it was ultimately Point that unlocked Rask and Ondrej Palat who later drew the penalty that led to J.T. Miller's game winning power play goal. Those two players, Point and Palat, had amazing series and played some of the best 200 foot hockey you'll ever see in your life.

Now the Lightning await the winner of the Caps/Penguins series. Who am I rooting for in that encounter? A natural disaster that swallows up both teams, of course.

Anthony Cirelli had 2 hits and 1 blocked shot in 13:22. He was also 42% on 19 draws. The Lightning won 55% as a team today and that was a tremendous factor in their ability to win this series overall. They punched well above their weight class in the circles.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Playoff Game Night: 5-4-18 Lightning at Bruins

Lightning weather the storm, rain down the thunder on Boston in OT.

Eastern Conference Semifinals

TB-4
BOS-3 (OT)

Tampa Bay Leads the Series 3-1

Andrei Vasilevsiy allowed 3 goals on 32 shots for the OT victory. Still don't think we've seen the full array of what he's capable of, and maybe that should give us all some comfort. He's due to get hot any time now.

First Period
4:36 TB Point (3), (unassisted)
9:53 TB Kucherov (6), (Hedman, Stamkos)(PP)
15:28 BOS Pastrnak (6), (Krug, Marchand)(PP)

Second Period
2:04 BOS Bergeron (5), (Krug)(PP)

Third Period
6:36 BOS Bergeron (6), (Marchand)(SH)
12:56 TB Stamkos (3), (Miller)

Overtime
3:18 TB Girardi (2), (Killorn, Gourde)

Dan Girardi was the game's first star.

You had to know Boston was going to play desperate in this one and give the Lightning their best punch. This wasn't the Picasso that Game Three was. There were times (the Second Period) when it hardly qualified as Dogs Playing Poker. In the end, though, the Lightning grinded out a playoff road win by any means necessary, and they overcame a fair measure of adversity along the way to get there. The First Period was surprisingly flat for the Bruins, going down 2-0 early in what really appeared to be an extension of Game Three with the Lightning's speed running afoul of Boston at even strength. Boston's expected best punch didn't come until the Second Period when they outshot Tampa Bay 14-4 and eventually equalized the game. That period may have been Boston's best of this series, outside of the debacle in the Third Period in Tampa in Game One. Tampa Bay got back on their horse in the Third Period only to surrender a lead goal to the Bruins shorthanded. Things looked bleak until a borderline play by Kucherov on the forecheck created a turnover that the slumbering Steven Stamkos blistered past Rask on the one-timer, and we were headed to Overtime. In the extra session, Tampa Bay was under heavy duress early with Boston knowing they needed a quick winner with Krug out injured (ankle/foot) and down to 5 d-men. They weathered a couple of tough shifts by Boston and then started to apply some forecheck of their own to manufacture a greasy goal by Dan Girardi, of all people, and the Lightning are on the precipice of advancing to the Eastern Conference Final (and retiring, mercifully, Rene Rancourt forever).

Boston's faithful will surely flog the fact that Stamkos' goal resulted from an uncalled hold by Nikita Kucherov on the forecheck. Yes, it could've been a call. So could the hook that was put on Kucherov on a breakaway late in the Third Period, as well. I'm amazed that the national hockey media and fans are somehow surprised at the phenomenon of refs swallowing their whistles in the final ten minutes of playoff games. It's only been that way since the dawn of time.

And, to be blunt, nobody from Boston or their water carriers on Bruins Pravda (NBCSN) has the right to lecture anyone about officiating or justice when they continue to look the other way when Brad Marchand does things like he did tonight with an uncalled low bridge hit on Ryan Callahan that he followed up by licking Ryan Callahan on the nose in a resulting scrum. This is a player who, you'll recall, bit a linesman in Game Two. So do you get to lecture us about officiating or justice? Um, no. Brad Marchand should've been suspended after Game Two and he should've been kicked out of the game in Game Four. Point blank. And, if he was wearing a Lightning jersey and not vice versa, we all know he probably would have been. The league, its officials, the national media, and Bruins fans continue to coddle this psychopath and if he played in most any other city in the league he'd have been Sean Avery'ed a long time ago.

Game Five the Lightning have a glorious opportunity to complete the impressive task of getting through the first two rounds in just 10 games, minimizing attrition and maximizing the conservation of energy that will be needed for the heavy lifting yet to come. And, in Tampa Bay, Jon Cooper will have the opportunity to play with the shiny new toy he was given in Boston now that he'll have last change. Specifically, he knows he can spot the Point line against the Krejci line on and off throughout the game and anytime that matchup came up in Game Three and Game Four the Point line absolutely dominated the matchup and created several goals. Between that and the very real possibility Krug isn't coming back in this series, Sunday has an opportunity to be quite a day in Lightning history.

P.S. Did you see those two laser one-timer goals, Lightning fans? Stop with the hand-wringing about Kucherov and Stamkos. They're going to be fine.

Anthony Cirelli was +1 with 2 hits and 1 blocked shot in 12:35. He was also 36% on 11 draws.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Playoff Game Night: 5-2-18 Lightning at Bruins

Eye opening victory from a resolute Lightning team puts Bruins on their heels.

Eastern Conference Semifinals

TB-4
BOS-1

Tampa Bay Leads the Series 2-1

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 1 goal on 29 shots for the victory. He didn't have a ton of work, but when a handful of key situational saves were needed he sure as heck made them. He's starting to climb into this series now and assert himself.

First Period
1:47 TB Palat (3), (Johnson, Stralman)
3:19 TB Palat (4), (Hedman, Girardi)
14:12 BOS Bergeron (4), (Pastrnak, Nash)(PP)
16:43 TB Cirelli (1), (Gourde, McDonagh)

Second Period
NO SCORING

Third Period
19:18 TB Stamkos (2), (Miller, Hedman)(PP)(EN)

Ondrej Palat, Vasilevskiy, and Ryan McDonagh were the game's three stars.

That was eye opening. Certainly not what I expected. There was a lot made about the scene shifting to Boston and the Bruins' ability to get the Bergeron line away from the checking of the Point line. It backfired, because the Point line feasted early and often against the Krejci line. It was such a squash Boston had to eventually concede the matchup and move the Bergeron line back on the Point line. It's the only threesome that the Bruins have that skate well enough to nullify what that line does. The problem is, if those two lines cancel the Lightning clearly have the depth advantage. Even with the top Stamkos line lacking effectiveness, the third and fourth lines have a clear quality advantage thus far in the series. And there's the conundrum for the Bruins. Couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of guys.

The other big takeaway from the night was the Lightning really coming into their own defensively as 5-man units. Boston couldn't even get through the neutral zone at key moments of the game and the Lightning were super efficient at moving the puck out of their own zone. Some Bruins fans were even booing their team in frustration as the Lightning continued to choke the life out of their attack. The Bruins coaching staff will make adjustments to get through the neutral zone better, but what you saw tonight was a stunning display of offensive power from a team that didn't do much of that the second half of the regular season.

The Lightning just accomplished what they came to do in Boston. Now they're playing with the house's money going into Game Four. Steal that one and they've got a shot to shorten this series, surprisingly, and set themselves up in a really nice position moving forward. Expect Boston's best shot, though, so Vasilevskiy's going to need to be big for the Lightning to pull the next encounter out.

Anthony Cirelli had his first NHL playoff goal and was +1 with 5 shots in 11:44. He was also 17% on 6 draws. Should've had a second goal after being pulled down chasing a loose puck on a break with an empty net in front of him. He was excellent tonight, even filling some extra shifts with Cedric Paquette serving an extended penalty for a fight.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

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