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Burns: 3 Things from forcing a Game 7

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

Game seven.

Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper said they’re two of the greatest words in sport when put next to each other.

On Wednesday, Tampa will get to experience the grandeur for itself.

With their backs against the wall, the Lightning found another level with their play. And finally found a way to put the puck past Detroit goalie Petr Mrazek.

Tampa Bay sprinted out to a 3-0 lead, remained calm as Detroit made its inevitable comeback and celebrated wildly when Cedric Paquette lifted the puck over a Red Wings skater from behind his own blue line and watched it admiringly as it slid toward its target at the back of the net, like a golfer rolling a 50-foot putt at the Masters up and down a hill before depositing the ball into the bottom of the cup.

Game 7 is Wednesday.

Puck drop is 7:30 p.m.

Three Things from Game 6 ahead.

1. DESPERATION LEADS TO DETERMINATION

Cooper was asked after Monday’s 5-2 win if he knew his team had the desire within to pull out a win with the season on the line in front of a Joe Louis Arena crowd smelling blood.

“You believe they have it, but I guess until they show you, you don’t really know for sure,” Cooper answered. “But, clearly, they showed us tonight in a hostile environment.”

Facing elimination and the prospect of an early exit from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Lightning erased Game 5’s disappointing performance from their memory banks and entered Game 6 with a renewed purpose.

Two wins in three days -- one at home, one on the road -- became the singular focus.

“I felt like our team gave 100 percent effort tonight,” Tyler Johnson said. “It was a good showing by our team, desperation hockey.”

The Lightning attacked from the opening puck drop. They fought through Detroit’s relentless neutral zone pressure, shoving and clawing to get free. They beat the Red Wings to loose pucks, sprawled out on the ice to break up scoring chances and poked the puck away from the Wings at just the right moment.

They showed a hunger heretofore unseen this season.

They’ll need to do it all over again Wednesday night.

“I think we can still learn a little bit from this game, but at the same time, it’s going to be pretty much the same thing in Game 7,” Johnson said. “…Whoever wants it more is going to get it.”

2. JOHNNY ON THE SPOT

Tyler Johnson has been, arguably, the Bolts’ most consistent performer all season. Playing his third season in the NHL, Johnson tied team captain Steven Stamkos for the Lightning regular season scoring lead with 72 points. Johnson’s 29 goals were tied for second-most on the team, his 43 assists behind only linemate Ondrej Palat (47).

But, Johnson saved his best for the postseason.

In three separate games during the First Round series, Johnson has scored two goals. In two of the three, he provided the game-winning goal. He leads all skaters in the series with six goals total and, overall, has been the best player on the ice each time out.

“He’s an All-Star player. He shows why every night,” Lightning goalie Ben Bishop said. “There’s no coincidence he made the All-Star Game. It seems like he gets better every game.”

Getting the first goal in Game 6 was key to how the game would play out. The team that scored first in the opening round series won four out of five times entering Monday.

Make it five out of six after Johnson started the scoring for the Lightning and helped the Bolts force a Game 7 with a 5-2 victory.

“The first goal changes the game,” Johnson said. “It changes the way you can play. It changes the structure and the system, so to get the first goal was something we talked about. Luckily, we were able to do that.”

The first goal certainly changed the game Monday night, but Johnson has also changed the series for the Lightning.

And the Bolts are lucky to have him.

3. KUCH’D

Detroit fans like to chant “You got Kronwall’d” whenever Niklas Kronwall lays a big hit on an opposing player.

Nikita Kucherov got Kronwall’d when the defenseman viciously laid him out late in the second period, popping Kucherov’s helmet off 10 feet behind in the process, an attack the league will review later this afternoon.

The Red Wings, though, found out what it’s like to get Kuch’d Monday night.

Up until Game 6, Kucherov had struggled to make much of an impact in the series with just one point, an assist in Game 2.

The Lightning season on the line, however, Kucherov came through with his finest postseason performance to date, the Russian playing an integral role in the first three Lightning goals to help the Bolts build an insurmountable lead.

On the opening score, Kucherov stood at Detroit’s blue line with his back to goal to receive a well-placed stretch pass from Victor Hedman. Spotting Johnson streaking to his left, Kucherov backhanded the puck perfectly into Johnson’s path to allow the All-Star to race easily past Kronwall and score just 3:47 into the first period.

On the second goal, Kucherov got the puck along the right boards and skated into the Detroit zone toward the middle of the ice. With Kronwall backing off in front having to respect Kucherov’s speed, the right winger dropped the puck behind for Stamkos. While Stamkos centered for Jason Garrison, Kucherov continued his run toward goal to keep Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson engaged, creating a clear path for Garrison to shoot past Mrazek.

Finally, Kucherov’s nifty poke check of Brendan Smith and dish to Ondrej Palat at the Bolts’ blue line started a break the other way that resulted in Johnson’s second goal of the evening and goal number three for the Lightning.

Even after getting assaulted by Kronwall, Kucherov didn’t let it affect his play. He left the game briefly to get checked out in the locker room and came back out on the ice in the third to help the Bolts preserve the victory.

Kronwall may have had a brief moment of satisfaction from his hard hit.

Kucherov got the last laugh.

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