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Burns: Three things we learned from a 2-0 lead

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

For just the fourth time in their 23-year history, the Tampa Bay Lightning are up two games to none to start a playoff series.

The Lightning swept both home games to open the series following Friday night’s 5-2 pull-away victory over the Detroit Red Wings.

The Bolts followed the same formula they used to win Game 1: score the opening goal, withstand the inevitable push back from the Red Wings and dominate the third period to win convincingly.

Tampa Bay owns all the momentum as the series switches venues to Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena, where the Lightning went 2-1 during last year’s First Round playoff series. They’ve also won four in a row over the Red Wings in the playoffs dating back to last season’s series.

The Lightning have confidence going into the Joe knowing it’s a place they’ve had playoff success in the past.

“I truly believe that been there done that helps,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “I think when you’ve been put in these situations before you’re just better prepared.”

The Lightning expect to face a desperate Detroit team when they take the ice for Game 3 on Sunday. So far the Bolts have been able to deal with everything the Red Wings have thrown at them through the first two games of the series and counterpunch effectively.

Will the Bolts score the knockout in Detroit?

Three Things we learned from a 2-0 series lead ahead.

1. ALEX KILLORN DOES A GREAT ONDREJ PALAT IMPRESSION

With the announcement Lightning captain and leading scorer Steven Stamkos would be lost for one to three month during the playoff run, the Bolts had a huge gap to fill in their offensive attack.

Stamkos put up 36 goals for the Lightning this season, his second-straight year and fifth time in eight seasons with at least 35 goals.

To even out the scoring among the top lines, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper decided to move Ondrej Palat off the Triplets line and pair him up with Valtteri Filppula and Jonathan Drouin and rotate Alex Killorn onto the Triplets line.

So far, the line switcharoo has greatly benefitted the Bolts.

Killorn, who was a top Lightning performer last postseason and one of their steadiest, most consistent players this regular season, has taken his game to another level playing with Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov. Killorn’s incredible hand-eye coordination was on full display in Game 1 when he scored the game-winner by crashing the net and knocking Johnson’s centering feed out of the air with the shaft of his stick and past Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard, a goal reminiscent of his behind-the-back, bouncing, near-post redirect in Game 1 of last season’s Stanley Cup Final.

Killorn continued to produce points in Game 2, scoring an empty-net goal and adding an assist for his second-straight multi-point game in the series.

The rest of his Triplets linemates have been just as productive.

Tyler Johnson led the 2015 Playoffs for goals (13) and was tied with Chicago’s Patrick Kane for the scoring lead (23 points).

This postseason, he’s picked up right where he left off.

Johnson scored twice in Game 2, including the game-winner at 6:32 of the third period when Killorn wrapped around the net and sent a puck into the blue paint for Johnson to jam home. He again leads the playoffs for scoring currently with six points and matched a franchise record set by Vincent Lecavalier on May 17, 2011 at Boston for most points in a postseason game after registering four points (2 goals, 2 assists) in Game 2.

And who’s right behind Johnson among the NHL’s playoff scoring leaders?

The third component to that lethal line, Nikita Kucherov, who has five points through two games and is tied for the league lead for playoff goals after netting his third of the series a little more than 15 minutes into the opening period of Game 2.

Combined, the Killorn-Johnson-Kucherov line has accounted for seven of the Lightning’s eight goals and 15 points through two games of the Detroit series.

“You’re happy they’ve scored seven of our eight goals. You’re ecstatic. The problem is they’ve scored seven of our eight goals,” Cooper said. “We’re going to have to get some secondary scoring. Not that we haven’t had our chances. Drouin hits the crossbar, Coburn’s hit the crossbar. We had our chances in the first period last night, but ultimately guys are going to have to score. In saying that, they’re kind of at a record-setting pace here, which you know is probably not going to hold up the whole series, but they’ve proven that they’re playoff players, all three of them.”

The Lightning’s new-found amended Triplets line is looking every bit as dangerous as last year’s Triplets line that was regarded as the top line in the NHL playoffs.

“Johnson and Kucherov definitely have chemistry. They’ve played together for a while. And I think me and Palat sort of bring a similar aspect, so I think changing me for Palat kind of keeps that chemistry going,” Killorn said when asked how he’s been able to connect so seamlessly with Johnson and Kucherov. “It’s one of those things where it’s been working so far so we want to keep going.”

2. THE RED WINGS ARE FRUSTRATED

Lightning forward Valtteri Filppula was asked if he expects to face an angry Detroit team Sunday in Game 3.

His response?

“I think they’ve been pretty angry so far.”

The Red Wings came a bit unglued at the conclusion of Game 2. With the Lightning up 5-2 and the result well in hand, a melee broke out in front of the Bolts’ goal as frustration bubbled over, players from both teams piling on top of one another to get into the middle of the fracas. At one point, Detroit’s Justin Abdelkader was on top of the Bolts’ Mike Blunden from behind and wildly punching the defenseless Blunden in the face. Blunden would need nine stitches following the game to repair the damage Abdelkader had inflicted on him. But even with his face bruised and bloodied, Blunden continued chirping at Abdelkader as he made his way to the bench, a sign the Bolts aren’t about to back down from a Detroit team that clearly wants to turn up the physicality in an attempt to gain any kind of foothold in the series.

“It’s been a rough one. It’s been playoff hockey,” Blunden said. “I’m sure people have enjoyed watching. It’s been fun.”

Detroit will be in an even fouler mood for Game 3. The Lightning say they’re ready.

So far, they’ve been able to handle everything the Red Wings have thrown at them.

Including fists

“We haven’t really accomplished anything yet,” defenseman Matt Carle said. “We really just held serve there winning our two home games. We can expect a new level of desperation from them (Sunday), so we’re going to be ready for that and try to match that.”

3. LIGHTNING LOSE BROWN INDEFINITELY

Tampa Bay was dealt another significant injury blow when J.T. Brown was lost for most of Game 2.

Brown slid down onto the ice to block a first-period shot and was in immediate discomfort when he rose to his feet. Brown stayed on the ice for a few more seconds until he could skate off to the bench, where he was met by head athletic trainer Tom Mulligan.

Mulligan checked on Brown and then the two headed back to the locker room. During the first intermission, the Lightning announced Brown would miss the rest of the game with an upper-body injury.

Talking to reporters on Saturday before the team departed for Detroit, Cooper said Brown was out indefinitely and would miss at least the rest of the Detroit series.

“That’s a tough loss for us,” Cooper said. “But right in the mantra of the Stamkos’ and the Stralman’s, let’s just keep this playoff ride going and make sure that was not J.T. Brown’s last game of the playoffs.”

Brown entered the playoffs in a bit of a scoring slump, registering just two points (both assists) since the beginning of March. But in February, he scored three goals and had six points in his most productive month of the season.

Plus, the intangibles he brings to the table -- hitting, speed, hustle, penalty killing, agitating – will be sorely missed as the Detroit series moves forward.

“This is our third playoffs together, and if you’re going to pull that unsung hero tag, he’s definitely at the top of that list. He might not light the scoreboard up with points, but you’re not going to find too many bigger gamers than J.T. Brown.”

The hope is Brown can return by the Second Round if the Lightning can get past the Red Wings.

“He’ll be out for the series,” Cooper said. “It’s hard to sit here and say he’s going to come back in this series.”

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