The Tampa Bay Lightning have made a habit of responding in pressure situations during these Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Faced with the prospect of potentially being one of just five NHL teams all-time to lose a playoff series after jumping out to a three-games-to-none lead, the Lightning took care of business at home in Game 6 and played their best game of the postseason according to forward Ondrej Palat.
The Lightning move on to the Eastern Conference Final for the second time in five seasons.
But, before gearing up for another series, this one either against the Rangers or the Capitals, let’s take one last look at how the Lightning closed out the Canadiens.
1. WE RALLY WITH CALLY
Inside the Tampa Bay Lightning locker room following the Game 6 win, Ryan Callahan’s jersey hung in front of his stall.
Callahan was forced to miss the series clincher after undergoing an emergency appendectomy the night before. Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said before the game Callahan was “extremely doubtful” to play but wouldn’t rule him completely out, even with the game coming less than 24 hours following surgery, because with Ryan Callahan, you learn to expect the unexpected.
Once it was clear he wouldn’t be pulling a Willis Reed, the Lightning did not want Game 5 in Montreal to be the final game of the season for Callahan.
“Cally’s been a warrior for us since he’s been here,” Bolts captain Steven Stamkos said. “We miss him out there for sure, but we had his name up on the board before the game as a little inspiration and guys stepped up.”
Callahan was a “big topic of discussion before the game” according to Cooper.
“It was almost a rallying cry for the guys,” he said.
Cooper suggested before Game 6 Callahan could be back in days, not weeks. With the Lightning winning Game 6 and unlikely to play again until the weekend, Tuesday’s game might be the only one Callahan ends up missing.
2. GAME 6 OR GAME 7?
The Lightning approached Tuesday’s match as if it were a do-or-die, winner-take-all scenario. The team had no intentions of getting on a plane and flying back to Montreal for a Game 7.
So they treated Game 6 like it was the final match in the series.
“This was our Game 7,” Stamkos said. “We talked about that. We were talking and referring to it as Game 7. We just kept looking back at the way we played, especially in the later half of the Game 7 against Detroit, we wanted that same mentality, and we had it.”
The Lightning felt like they had to win Tuesday night. In previous playoff games they had to win – Game 6 and 7 in the Detroit series – they responded with superlative performances.
Montreal Game 6 was more of the same.
Cooper said he could tell the Bolts were going to be at their best in Game 6 while watching their demeanor in the Bell Centre locker room following Game 5.
“I knew as we went on in Game 5 and the way we played in that third period, I know we give up that goal late, but (Carey) Price had to make some big-time saves,” Cooper said. “We were on them, and I just felt our game was changing. Looking in the players’ eyes after that game, it was just a calm went over me. I knew these guys were going to roll. The way we practiced, we needed the break. The two days were big for us, so to get the rest, have the practice we had the day before and to have the focus that went on, it was, I can’t sit here and say I predicted this was going to happen but it was a confidence about this game I didn’t feel in any of the five games before.”
3. BIG BEN
Like the rest of his teammates, Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop saved his greatest work for when it mattered most.
Bishop came into Game 6 confident, ready to put an end to the series and move on to the Eastern Conference Final. He distributed the puck expertly. He didn’t allow many second-chance opportunities on rebounds.
And, most importantly, he kept the Canadiens off the scoreboard until the Lightning had built a comfortable 3-0 advantage and held it late into the final period.
In previous must-win games, Bishop stopped a combined 53 of 55 shots to beat Detroit in Games 6 and 7 of the First Round series. His 31-save performance in Game 7 was the first shutout of his NHL playoff career.
“We really learned that our goalie steps up in big-time situations and when you look at how this series transpired, the longer a series goes on, it seems Ben gets better and better and better,” Cooper said.
Bishop tried to downplay the significance of his performance in the locker room following the game but did allow himself to revel in the excitement of the team’s current Stanley Cup Playoffs run.
“It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “It’s not too different from the regular season, obviously, you’ve got to go out there and stop the puck, whether it’s the preseason, the regular season or the postseason. When you’ve got a team in front of you that’s doing a good job like we did tonight, that makes it easier on me. But it’s a lot of fun, especially in front of these fans and even on the road, it’s just as much fun when the fans are all over you. I’m enjoying it.”