The Bolts are darn near unstoppable in the extra sessions.
Tampa Bay won its second-straight overtime game in Brooklyn on Friday, Jason Garrison’s one-time blast from just beyond the right circle traveling through a couple screens and past New York goaltender Thomas Greiss to give the Lightning a 2-1 victory in Game 4 and a three-games-to-one lead in the Second Round series against the Islanders.
The Lightning have won five overtime playoff games in a row going back to last season’s Stanley Cup run.
They also swept both games in Brooklyn to pull to within one game of making a return trip to the Eastern Conference Final.
The Lightning found different ways to win at the Barclays Center despite not playing their best in either contest. Tuesday in Game 3, they matched the Islanders goal for goal before scoring late in regulation to tie and early in overtime to prevail in a high-scoring affair.
In Game 4, scoring chances were few and far between, but the Lightning bided their time, kept the Islanders from building on a one-goal lead, capitalized on a rare chance from the circles on Nikita Kucherov’s game-tying goal and won it on a shot from distance.
The Lightning can close the series Sunday in Game 5 at Amalie Arena (3 p.m. puck drop).
We’ll look at how the Bolts were able to take a commanding lead in the series in today’s 3 Things.
1. ANOTHER NIGHT, A NEW HERO
While Tampa Bay’s playoff superstars like Ben Bishop, Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson, etc. have come through for the Lightning over and over again in this series, there’s also been an unsung player who steps up each night to make a difference in the game.
In Game 3, Brian Boyle made his impact felt after delivering a hit to Thomas Hickey along the blue line to spark an attack in the zone and finished the scoring chance by potting a rebound past Greiss to complete the Bolts’ comeback.
On Friday, it was Jason Garrison’s turn to play the hero role for the Lightning.
“We just get contributions from everybody,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “(Tuesday), it was the Boyle line that bailed us out one more time. (Friday), it was a defenseman that bails us out.”
With the Islanders clogging the slot all game after the Lightning carved them up in Game 3, the Bolts’ chances of winning the game from a shot in close deteriorated.
Enter Garrison, who has a rocket of a shot and used it to one-time a puck from just inside the blue line through a pair of Islanders and past Greiss for a long-range game-winner.
“There’s another guy that’s an unsung hero for us,” Cooper said about Garrison. “He plays monster minutes, and Hedman and Coburn have gotten a lot of press for going against Tavares’ line but Sustr and Garrison have been against them quite a bit as well. You need a collective effort to defend against those guys. But he’s got a bomb back there. It’s just a point of getting him the puck in a spot where he can shoot. He scored 16 goals in this league one year, and it’s because you give him an opportunity to shoot a puck like that, he can do it.”
Garrison scored his first goal of the 2016 postseason and first goal by a Lightning defenseman not named Victor Hedman in these playoffs.
It couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.
“It’s a nice feeling,” he said. “I think any goal in the playoffs is big, so obviously an overtime one is definitely a sigh of relief.
But the goal wasn’t just about Garrison either; it was a collective effort from a Lightning squad that works as well as a team as any outfit in the league. The forecheck kept the puck in the zone where the Bolts were able to cycle it around. Andrej Sustr got the puck at the left point and slid it over to Garrison to his right, putting the puck right in Garrison’s wheelhouse.
“Sustr made a poised play on the blue line, able to find me and kind of was able to find the back of the net,” Garrison said. “It’s a pretty simple play, but it was effective.”
2. REFUSE TO LOSE
No matter the predicament this Tampa Bay team has found itself in this season, the Lightning continue to persevere.
Like Game 3, the Lightning were outplayed in the first period of Game 4. The Islanders, desperate not to lose twice in a row at home, came out flying from the opening puck drop and were able to take advantage of a first-period power play to go into the first intermission up 1-0.
The Lightning’s chances to tie the game were few and far between. The Islanders limited the amount of offensive zone time for the Bolts and made a concerted effort to jam the slot with bodies and force the Bolts to shoot from the outside.
As the second period expired without a goal and time ticked off the third period clock, it looked like the Lightning might never score in Game 4. But, on the Lightning bench, it was just business as usual.
“I don’t think there’s any panic,” Lightning right wing Ryan Callahan said. “I think that’s a big thing for us. That experience last year going to the Finals really helped this group. I think last game might have shown it even more when we were trailing three times in that game and we still find a way and there’s no panic on the bench and we just continue to go out there and work. We know we’ll get those opportunities eventually with the amount of skill we have, and hopefully one of them goes again. Tonight’s no different.”
That opportunity presented itself when Tyler Johnson took possession of the puck below the goal line and spotted Nikita Kucherov standing on the left dot. Johnson’s pinpoint pass hit Kucherov in a shooting position, and Kucherov was able to sneak a one-timer into the sliver of space between Greiss and the near post to tie the game.
Once the Lightning were able to level the score, it seemed inevitable they would find a way to win, their playoff experience and the Islanders’ lack thereof contributing to that belief.
“You want that attitude, you just don’t want to have to rely on the fact that you can come back every night,” Cooper said. “We’ve been fortunate here to pull out a couple games. Aside from the first period, it was anybody’s game after that. But we’ve got to be better. We know we didn’t leave our best on the table here and were extremely fortunate to get out of here with two wins and now we can’t take for granted we’re going home.”
Here’s guessing the Lightning, having been through these playoff wars before, will be ready for whatever the Islanders throw at them Sunday in an elimination Game 5 for New York.
3. A DIFFERENT MENTALITY IN OVERTIME
The Lightning and the Islanders were able to combine for just two goals through 60 minutes of Game 4, so when regulation expired with a tie game, there was a feeling it might take more than just one overtime to determine a winner.
Instead, it took a little more than 90 seconds.
For the second-straight game, the Lightning scored a tying goal in the third period to send the contest to overtime and won the game soon after in the extra frame. In Game 3, the Bolts needed just 2:48 before Brian Boyle found the back of the net. On Friday, Jason Garrison tallied his game-winner 1:34 into overtime.
So why have the Lightning been able to close out these overtime sessions in quick fashion?
“I think just a good forecheck and we were able to maintain pressure in the zone,” Garrison said. “Overtimes can go either way. I think you just try to keep it simple, and any shot’s a good shot.”
In each game, the Bolts have built on their momentum from the end of the third period and used it to jump on the Islanders at the start of overtime.
Now, if only they could find that same mentality at the start of the first period.