For the second year in a row, the Tampa Bay Lightning have advanced to the Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
And for the second-straight season, it’s the Detroit Red Wings who fell victim to the Bolts.
Alex Killorn has scored a number of important goals during his Lightning career – read: Game 7 of last year’s Eastern Conference Final – and he added another game-winning tally to his lengthening resume on Thursday. Killorn broke a 58-minute-long scoreless deadlock in Game 5 by reading Ryan Callahan’s jump on a Petr Mrazek pass from behind the goal, boxing out a defenseman at the edge of the blue paint and tipping Callahan’s centering feed into the Red Wings’ net, a goal that sparked a 1:43-long celebration inside Amalie Arena.
With the Bolts finally on the board, it was up to Ben Bishop to preserve the win, and the Lightning back stop made two more of his 34 total saves down the stretch with Detroit unleashing its full arsenal at him.
The Lightning will play either the Florida Panthers or the New York Islanders in the Second Round of the 2016 playoffs and will have a few days off before doing so.
The Bolts didn’t play their best on Thursday, but they did just enough to pull through. We’ll look at how they were able to overcome a Red Wings team determined to take the series back to Detroit in today’s 3 Things.
1. BEN BISHOP WAS FIRST, SECOND AND THIRD STAR IN GAME 5
Make no mistake: Without Ben Bishop’s Game 5 heroics, the Tampa Bay Lightning are sitting on a plane right now, making the two-and-a-half journey up to Detroit for Game 6.
The Lightning can thank Big Ben for the couple days of rest.
Bishop has been the model of consistency this season. He allowed two or fewer goals in 41 of his 60 starts in the regular season. His 2.06 goals-against average led the NHL and tied a franchise record. He was selected to the NHL All-Star Game for the first time.
That consistency has only strengthened in the postseason.
Bishop put the Lightning in a position to win every game. Through the first four games of the Detroit series, he gave up just two goals in each. With a chance to clinch the series on Thursday, Bishop provided his best effort of the series, and possibly the season, stopping all 34 shots to blank the Red Wings, his fourth career playoff shutout and third playoff shutout in a clinching game.
“He’s been great for us all series,” Lightning winger Alex Killorn said. “It’s such a confidence booster when you have a guy like that back there.”
Of the 34 saves Bishop was forced to make, at least 10 were against Grade-A scoring chances. The Red Wings had breakaways, like when offensively-gifted rookie Dylan Larkin got behind the Lightning defense with the puck on his stick.
Bishop made the save.
The Red Wings had three breakaways alone in the second period, Larkin, Riley Sheahan and Darren Helm all getting an opportunity.
Bishop made the saves.
The Red Wings produced tips at the net, like when Henrik Zetterberg got his blade on Tomas Tatar’s point shot and redirected the puck between his legs.
Bishop made the save.
The Lightning goalie had blistering slap shots smack him around the neck.
No matter, Bishop made the save.
Detroit had a 5-on-3 power play in the first period, like Game 3, but couldn’t capitalize on it because…
Bishop made the save.
You got the sense it was going to take something truly remarkable to beat Bishop in Game 5.
The remarkable never came for the Red Wings.
Bishop kept the Lightning in the game long enough for Killorn to finally break the deadlock with his late third-period goal. And then, finally with the lead, Bishop shut the door again as Detroit threw everything they had at him over the final minute-plus.
“You always want your goalie to keep you in it,” Killorn said. “I think tonight was an instance where he might have won us the game.”
Lightning right wing Ryan Callahan hadn’t recorded a point in the series coming into Game 5, but his impact on the ice was far greater than any numbers on the scoresheet.
Callahan anchored the Lightning’s shutdown line along with Cedric Paquette and J.T. Brown and then Vladislav Namestnikov once Brown was lost for the series with an upper-body injury. Callahan’s line was responsible for matching up against Detroit’s top offensive threats and neutralizing them.
They were also tasked with matching and eclipsing the physicality Detroit brought to the series as well as bringing an infectious energy that would carry through the rest of the Lightning roster.
Job well done
Callahan made a couple key plays late in the third period to send the Lightning on to the Second Round.
With the game still scoreless and less than two minutes remaining in regulation, Callahan dumped the puck behind the Detroit goal and then sprinted after it. Red Wings goalie Petr Mrazek came out to play the puck but, perhaps bothered by the sight of Callahan bearing down on him, flubbed his pass along the boards for Jonathan Ericsson.
Callahan was waiting to pounce on the gaffe, beating Ericsson to the puck and immediately whipping a pass in front of the net for Alex Killorn, who got inside position on Niklas Kronwall and redirected the puck into the net.
“Cally makes a good read,” Killorn said of the game-winning play. “Once I see Cally kind of get the puck, I’m just going to the net, hoping he can find me. He makes a great play.”
Callahan wasn’t done, however.
With Detroit pushing over the final 90-plus seconds to equalize and save their season, Callahan was called upon again to make a big play. The Red Wings had a 6-on-4 advantage as Mrazek was pulled from the net and Jason Garrison was hit with a late cross-checking penalty. On the final faceoff of the game, Detroit’s Luke Glendening won the draw and sent the puck behind for Mike Green. From the edge of the circle, Green ripped a slap shot toward goal.
Green had scored on a slap shot from distance earlier in the series.
Callahan stuck his left leg out to make sure the Green’s desperation shot never made it to Ben Bishop’s net.
“Cally makes a great play to get me the puck at the end to score the goal, and he makes a huge block at the other end,” Killorn said. “He was huge tonight.”
For Callahan, it was just another night at the office for the tireless worker who has continually shown he’ll do anything humanly possible to make sure his team is victorious.
“Put anybody in that situation and they’re going to do the same thing,” Callahan replied modestly. “That’s the beauty about our lineup: No matter who’s out there, they’re willing to sacrifice themselves to try to get the win.”
3. REST FOR THE WEARY
Sure, the Lightning were delighted to put a dogged Detroit team in the rear-view mirror Thursday and move on to the Second Round of the playoffs for the second-straight season.
But more than anything, the Bolts needed to win Game 5 to end the series early and get a few days of rest while they wait for their future opponent – the Panthers or Islanders – to complete their series.
And, at this point in the season, any additional rest one can get is undoubtedly welcome.
“I’m not going to complain,” Bishop joked following the game.
Having some down time will allow guys to recover from a highly-physical series. In his postgame press conference, Cooper alluded to “something running through the team” that forced Tyler Johnson to the bench for portions of Game 5. A couple extra days off will hopefully allow that something to run its course before the Lightning have to take the ice again.
Plus, with each passing day, players with longer-term injuries and ailments like Anton Stralman, J.T. Brown and Steven Stamkos are closer to getting back.
“We’ve got to get healthy,” Cooper said. “That’s what we’ve got to do. We snuck one out tonight, but if we’re going to go any farther than this, we need to get healthy and we need to play a heck of a lot better.”
Last season, the Lightning, up three-games-to-none in a Second Round series with Montreal, had a chance to sweep but let the Canadiens hang around for a couple more games, ultimately putting them away in Game 6. The Bolts would go on to play 26 games in the postseason, and by the time they reached the Stanley Cup Final, ailments to Johnson (wrist) and Bishop (groin) kept them from their full potential.
Perhaps had they been able to complete the sweep against Montreal, the toll of so many playoff games wouldn’t have been as great and they would have had more in the tank for the Cup Final against the Blackhawks.
It’s all speculation now and who knows if anything would have changed, but it certainly wouldn’t have hurt to have more rest.
The Lightning will revel in it these next few days before getting back to work and preparing for another grinding series.