The Tampa Bay Lightning opened their Second Round playoff series against the Canadiens the same way they left last season’s First Rounder: with commentators talking about what should and shouldn’t be a goal.
In 2014, it was a disallowed Lightning score on a goaltender interference call that garnered headlines.
Friday, Nikita Kucherov provided two points of discussion, scoring in the first overtime but having it taken away because of another interference call and then tallying again in the second OT amid post-game claims of offside on Valtteri Filppula.
Whatever your take, the fact remains: the Lightning hold a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series and have won six straight against the Canadiens following a 2-1 double overtime victory in Game 1.
The Lightning will go for another win in Montreal on Sunday before returning to Amalie Arena for back-to-backs Wednesday and Thursday.
Why were the Bolts able to grab the opening game in the series? Three big reasons coming up.
1. A YEAR LATER
During last season’s playoff debacle, Montreal was the beneficiary of a dubious goaltender interference call against Alex Killorn that took away Ryan Callahan’s go-ahead goal late in the second period of Game 3.
The Lightning thought the goal should have counted. It didn’t, and the inexperienced Bolts never recovered from the blown call. Montreal went on to win the game 3-2 on its way to a four-game sweep of the Bolts.
“We didn’t come back from that until late in the game,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “That clearly had an effect on our team.”
Friday, a similar situation occurred in Game 1 of Tampa Bay’s Second Round playoff series.
Same opponent. Same arena. Same goalie. Same end of the ice even.
Nikita Kucherov appeared to score the game-winner at 2:55 of the first overtime when he put a rebound from his own blocked breakaway attempt past Habs goalie Carey Price. The goal was disallowed on the ice and, after review, was confirmed no goal as Kucherov was deemed to have pushed Price’s pad with his stick, not allowing Price to make a save attempt on the second try.
This time, the Bolts got over the perceived injustice – which, on replay, appeared to have been the correct call – continued fighting and finally got the winning goal nearly 20 minutes later, Kucherov again providing the ammunition.
Tampa Bay grew up from last season’s questionable call. They learned officials aren’t going to be correct 100 percent of the time.
How a team responds after a controversial ruling is almost as important as the call itself.
“It was a little bit of shell-shocked for us last year where tonight it was just another play in the hockey game,” Cooper said. “We were still in the hockey game, and that’s the way the guys saw it.”
2. ENERGIZER BUNNIES
After playing an emotionally-draining Game 7 two nights earlier, a welcome conclusion to a physically exhausting First Round series against Detroit, the Lightning should have been skating on fumes by the time the fifth period began in Montreal.
Eighty minutes of fast-paced, end-to-end action still hadn’t produced a winner.
Yet, as the Lightning started the second overtime, their energy level never dipped, which Valtteri Filppula demonstrated on Kucherov’s game-winner.
Filppula beat Montreal’s Greg Pateryn to a spot along the boards and dispossessed the defenseman of the puck before centering to an open Kucherov between the circles.
Montreal had four days of rest between beating Ottawa in Game 6 of the opening round and hosting the Lightning, but you wouldn’t know it by watching how the two teams skated in the game’s closing minutes.
“Yeah we played two days ago, but I think at that point, both teams are equally tired though,” Lightning center Brian Boyle said. “We’ve got a tremendous amount of depth. We use our guys throughout the series and throughout the year, so everyone contributes.
“At that point, it’s more a battle of will.”
The Lightning have been battle tested of late, having come back from a three-games-to-two deficit to the Red Wings by winning Game 6 in front of a raucous Detroit crowd and persevering in a tight Game 7 at home.
With the way the Bolts are playing currently, going 80-plus minutes in Montreal wasn’t going to slow them down. It merely galvanized them to keep fighting.
“The fifth period was as fast as the first,” Cooper said. “You didn’t see guys pulling up. The only difference for me is the shifts got shorter. But other than that, it was a fast game.”
3. JOHNNY BRAVO
How good has Tyler Johnson been for the Tampa Bay Lightning during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs?
Johnson continued his torrid postseason scoring pace in Montreal, picking up where he left off in the Detroit series. With no score early in the third period, the 5-foot-8 Johnson parked himself in front of the Habs goal, boxing out 6-foot-2 Montreal defenseman Tom Gilbert for positioning. As Matt Carle one-timed a carom off the boards toward goal, Johnson brought his stick down to meet the puck and redirected it past Price to give Tampa Bay the lead.
Johnson scored his seventh goal of the postseason, the most in the NHL.
A lot has been written during the playoffs about Steven Stamkos’ goal-scoring drought, which has reached nine goals going back to the regular season.
But with Johnson picking up the slack, Stamkos’ lack of scoring hasn’t been an issue.
And once Stamkos gets back on track, look out.