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Burns: 3 things we learned from getting one step closer to Eastern Conference Champs

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

The Tampa Bay Lightning are just one win away from reaching their second Stanley Cup Final in franchise history.

They’ll have two opportunities to get that victory, the first coming at Amalie Arena in Tuesday’s Game 6.

The Lightning put together one of their most complete defensive performances not just of the postseason, but all season. Once the Bolts put the first goal on the scoreboard and added a second in the second period, they locked New York’s high-flying offense up the rest of the way, preventing the Rangers from gaining any momentum in the final period.

In truth, the Lightning never gave up a Grade-A scoring chance the entire night, allowing goalie Ben Bishop to stop all 26 shots sent his way and earn the second shutout of his playoff career.

So what changed between Game 4 and Game 5? How were the Lightning able to blank a team that had scored five goals in each of the previous two games against them?

Three Things the Lightning got right in Madison Square Garden on Sunday.

1. TIDYING UP

One of the Lightning’s major issues while giving up 10 goals combined in Games 3 and 4 was an inability to clear the crease in front of Bishop, allowing the Rangers to get second and third chance rebound opportunities, which they were able to capitalize on rather efficiently.

Four of the Rangers’ last 10 goals entering Game 5 came via the rebound.

In the off day between Game 4 and Game 5, the Lightning were adamant about their need to keep traffic away from Bishop and prevent any loose-change goals. They couldn’t allow guys like Chris Kreider, who put in two rebounds through the first four games, to set up shop without paying the price.

On Sunday, the Lightning went out and executed their no-easy-goals game plan. Bishop’s shutout wasn’t entirely a result of his stellar play. It was a collective effort that started with Bishop and trickled all the way down to the last guy off the bench.

“We made sure (Bishop) saw the pucks and our forwards did a really good job blocking a lot of good opportunities they had,” defenseman Anton Stralman said. “When you play like that, you get some energy from that.’

New York got off 26 shots to Tampa Bay’s 22, but many of the Rangers opportunities were one-and-done.

“We needed to get back to the basics and then the last game, we gave up the most scoring chances that we have all year,” Bolts captain Steven Stamkos said. “After the game we were like we played a great second period, we just didn’t get our bounces, but I think once we watched the tape, we realized that we didn’t play very well defensively. We needed a better game, and we had that tonight.”

2. BLOCK PARTY

When the Rangers were able to get a shot off in Game 5, there was usually a Tampa Bay player standing in the way to prevent the puck from reaching Bishop.

The Lightning blocked 24 shots on Sunday, by far their most through five Eastern Conference Final games.

By comparison, in Games 3 and 4, when the Lightning allowed 10 goals, they had just 22 blocked shots combined.

Lightning center Brian Boyle led the way with five blocks. Ondrej Palat and Matt Carle, who returned to the lineup after missing most of Game 3 and all of Game 4 with an undisclosed injury, each had four. The Bolts were determined to focus on their own net before thinking about the Rangers’.

“Our game is defensive-first,” Stralman said. “I know you guys haven’t seen a lot of it, but we definitely stepped our game up tonight. We took care of our own end before we went on offense, and that’s when we play our best. We made sure (Bishop) saw pucks. Our forwards did a great job blocking some big-time shots from the points. Overall, I thought we did a great job outnumbering in the corners, winning a lot of battles and, under pressure, we didn’t complicate things too much.”

Twelve of the Lightning’s 18 skaters recorded at least one blocked shot.

The only time in the ECF the Bolts came close to putting up the same blocked shot numbers came in Games 1 and 2 when they had 17 in each. The Lightning dominated Game 2, winning 6-2. They dropped Game 1 but only gave up two goals.

“We weren’t happy with the last couple games with the amount of scoring chances we were giving up,” Bishop said. “We looked at it and we talked about it. I thought we did a better job tonight. Guys (were) coming up huge with blocked shots at the end.”

3.SPECIAL TEAMS BEING SPECIAL

Head coach Jon Cooper said the key to winning Game 5 was his team’s penalty kill, which had been exposed in recent games but rebounded to shut down each of the Rangers’ four power plays on Sunday.

The Lightning took two penalties each in the first and second periods but didn’t allow New York to gain momentum from any of them. The Bolts gave up just four shots total throughout all four power plays, including one shot each on back-to-back power plays in the second.

After the Bolts killed off Andrej Sustr’s tripping penalty midway through the second, they came down and scored less than two minutes later, Stralman, still somewhat gassed from his extended penalty-kill shift, banking a stretch pass off the right boards to Stamkos at the Rangers’ blue line, and Stamkos sending the puck into the middle of the Rangers’ zone for Valtteri Filppula, who beat Lundqvist with a wrist shot to the far post.

“I can’t say enough about how good the PK was tonight, especially in the second when we killed two or three straight,” defenseman Victor Hedman said. “That gave us a lot of momentum. Our penalty kill needed to be a difference tonight.”

The Lightning had given up two power play goals in each of the three previous matches entering Game 5. They were persistent in not letting the Rangers continue their special teams success.

“When we can win the special team war, you give yourself a better chance to win,” Cooper said. “I really thought it kind of sucked a little bit of the momentum away from them, and we scored right after that. It was almost like we popped the bubble a little bit, and I thought we got stronger after that. It was a huge effort by our penalty kill. They get that first one, who knows how this game turns out. I thought that was the turning point in the second period when we killed off those penalties.”

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