The Tampa Bay Lightning merely wanted to leave New York Tuesday with a split from the opening two games of the Eastern Conference Final with the Rangers.
They got it, emphatically, with a six-goal outburst in a convincing win over the Rangers.
Tyler Johnson recorded the first hat trick in Lightning playoff history and is just one goal shy of tying Brad Richards (2004) and Ruslan Fedotenko (2004) for most goals in a single postseason (12).
Alex Killorn quietly continues to have a superb playoffs, scoring twice for his fourth and fifth goals of the postseason. And Ben Bishop made 35 saves for his 9th playoff victory, tied for most in the NHL.
A lot went right for the Lightning in Game 2.
The three biggest?
1. HEDMAN’S FALL-BACK PLAN
If Victor Hedman ever grows tired of being one of the top defensemen in the National Hockey League, the 6-foot-6 Swede could always start a second career as a goaltender.
His save late in the second period Monday with the Lightning clinging to a one-goal lead was, arguably, the most important play of Game 2.
Soon after New York scored its second goal to cut into the Bolts advantage, the Rangers were in position to level the score. Lightning goalie Ben Bishop got caught behind the net and dispossessed of the puck, leaving the net wide open.
From the crease, the Rangers’ James Sheppard took the puck and had a chance for an easy goal with Bishop unable to get to the front of the net. But, Hedman had the presence of mind to slide in front of the goal, blocking Sheppard’s shot with his body while Anton Stralman swooped in to clear the loose puck out of the blue paint.
The Lightning were able to go into the locker room and catch their breath still up 3-2. When they returned to the ice for the third period, they dominated the Rangers over the final 20 minutes.
“For us to come out of that second period with the lead was huge because New York kind of had a little vibe going there,” Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper said. “But you have to do those things to win hockey games.”
When the score was 3-2 and the Rangers were buzzing, the feeling was whoever scored the next goal was going to win the game.
Hedman kept New York from getting the game-changing goal in a spot where the Rangers probably should have scored.
Hedman’s impromptu goalie act was the save of the game.
And it also saved the game.
2. POWER SURGE
Remember when the Lightning power play struggled to score during the opening round series against Detroit?
Yeah, me either.
All the talk early in the playoffs centered around Tampa Bay’s inability to put the puck in the net on the power play. Aside from a 2-for-4 effort in Game 2, the Lightning’s power play was shut out during the Detroit series, tallying just twice in 30 opportunities (6.7 percent).
Since then, the Lightning power play has rebounded to score 11 goals in its last 30 opportunities (36.7 percent). The Bolts have tallied a power-play goal in five of their last seven playoff games.
In Game 2, that proficiency continued. Tyler Johnson gave the Lightning the lead for good with his power-play snipe midway through the opening period. Steven Stamkos sealed the win with a power-play tip in the crease at 6:28 of the final period, and Alex Killorn added a late tally on the Bolts final power play of the game.
Overall, the Lightning were 3-for-6 on the power play in Game 2.
Stamkos said the only thing that’s changed from the beginning of the playoffs to the present on the power play is the unit’s confidence.
“When things are going well, you’re feeling good about yourselves,” Stamkos said. “You’re willing to make some plays. When it’s not going well, you’re holding the stick a little too hard, you’re forcing plays. We’re getting pucks to the net. I mean, look at the goals we scored today. Two of them were shots, one a tip, one a rebound. Sometimes it’s nice to get rewarded like that and you feel good about yourselves and it’s nice to take advantage of the opportunities.”
3. LIGHTNING RESILIENCY
Tampa Bay’s continued ability to rebound from subpar outings has been a theme all season.
The Lightning showed it again in Game 2.
After a flat effort in the series opener, one in which the Lightning were outplayed through two periods before starting to resemble themselves in the third, Cooper said the Bolts played like “it was Game 53” of the regular season rather than the first match of the Eastern Conference Final.
In Game 2, the Lightning put together a performance more befitting the occasion.
“I think that’s a good characteristic to have,” Stamkos said. “I guess on one side, you don’t want to be having to play too many of those games where you have a poor performance and have to rebound, but it’s going to happen in the playoffs and whenever it has, we’ve found a way to come back and not only play a good game but win more importantly. We did that tonight. It wasn’t pretty at times but this group is focused.”
Stamkos said the Lightning learned from their mistakes in Game 1 and focused on correcting them to go back home with the series tied.
It’s a trait that’s served the Lightning well during the 2014-15 season and one that, fortunately for Bolts fans, has carried over into the postseason.