Game 4 in Tampa Bay’s First Round series against Detroit ended with a massive Lightning pile-up in a corner of the Joe Louis Arena rink, a stunned, silent home crowd watching helplessly as the only noise in the building came from the wild celebration on the ice.
Nearly 30 minutes earlier, that outcome would have been incomprehensible.
The Lightning were nearly left for dead, down 2-0 and less than six to go in regulation, grade-A scoring chances few and far between. But Tyler Johnson ignited the attack, Ondrej Palat tied the game and Johnson ended it with his fourth goal of the series.
The Lightning return home for Game 5 Saturday, but before moving ahead, let’s take one last look at the dramatic, come-from-behind victory.
1. CARDIAC KIDS
Despite an inability to put anything past Red Wings goalie Petr Mrazek for nearly three games in Detroit, there was never a sense amongst the players and coaches the situation was hopeless as the third period clock wound toward zero.
The Lightning entered these Stanley Cup Playoffs as the highest-scoring team in the National Hockey League, setting a franchise record with 259 goals in the process. The feeling was, eventually, a goal would come.
And once one went into the back of the net, more would surely follow.
“On the bench, the guys were never really down, even though it was 2-0 and we weren’t getting chances,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “It was a really positive vibe on the bench with everybody.”
Once Johnson raced past Darren Helm and snuck a shot inside the near post and Mrazek, the Bolts sensed Detroit tightening and took advantage.
“For us, it’s about the character in this room,” defenseman Victor Hedman said. “It’s unbelievable. I’m never surprised to see us turnaround like that. We’ve been doing that all year. It looked different with five minutes left in the game, but for us it’s about keep going and you never know.
With the score suddenly tied 2-2 heading into overtime, the Lightning could smell blood in the water and went in for the kill, Johnson providing the deadly blow with his game-winner 2:25 into the extra frame.
“We had momentum on our side,” Johnson said. “We knew that. We knew it was just going to be a one-goal game. Whoever scores the next one wins. Obviously, it’s a lot of pressure. We have a lot of character and leadership on this team that I think we did pretty good under it.”
2. GLENDENING’S ABSENCE OPENS THE DOOR
With the final horn getting perilously closer and closer and the Lightning just trying to put something on the board to keep home alive, Detroit fourth-line center Luke Glendening checked Johnson hard from behind, which enraged Hedman, who immediately sought retribution. During the melee that ensued, Glendening hurt the thumb on his right hand and had to exit the game to get stitches.
Glendening no longer on the ice, the Lightning suddenly found more room to maneuver, and the Triplets went to work. Previously, Glendening, along with Landon Ferraro and Drew Miller, had held the trio in check through nearly two games.
“There’s not a lot of guys out there like the Glendenings,” Cooper said. “He’s done a heck of a job on our guys, and to lose a player that plays an extremely important role for them, you look back now because we came back to win the game so potentially it was a huge factor. But he’s a good player for them, and so there’s no question it had an effect.”
Johnson scored 2:02 after Ferraro (serving Glendening’s penalty) and Hedman were sent to the box. Ondrej Palat tallied the tying goal 1:17 after Johnson’s score.
“(The Triplets) just had a vibe going when that first one went in, and for (Glendening) not to be around, I’m sure there was a little bit of an effect,” Cooper said.
Following the game, Glendening said he’ll be back for Game 5.
“I’ve watched him in the minors, I watched him play when (Grand Rapids) unfortunately beat us [Syracuse] in the Calder Cup, and he’s, I don’t know how to describe, he’s just extremely responsible player,” Cooper said.
3. UNFINISHED BUSINESS
Following the game, the Lightning took a little bit of time to celebrate the improbable victory. There were smiles in every stall in the locker room. The postgame victory music blared a little louder from the speakers.
But, the players also understood that Thursday night’s comeback means nothing if they come out flat again in Game 5 and fall at home.
The win masked the fact the Lightning’s suddenly moribund offense again found little room to attack in Detroit and was nearly shut out for a third-straight time at the Joe.
“I think during the game and during the series, there’s momentum swings, and I think we gained a lot of momentum, a lot of confidence from this win,” Lightning defenseman Jason Garrison said following his first game in nearly a month. “But it’s definitely not over. The series is kind of where it started. So, just got to kind of go over this and enjoy it but as soon as we get to Florida got to prepare ourselves for Game 5.”
The series certainly turned with Johnson’s overtime game-winner, but, ultimately, the Lightning are still tied 2-2 in the First Round series and need to win two out of the next three games to finish the job.
“It’s always nice when you’re 2-2 instead of 3-1. That’s a big shift there,” Johnson said. “I think especially going back in front of our crowd now, it’s a best of three, we have home ice again. We love playing in front of them. We’re excited.”