The Tampa Bay Lightning showed resolve and mental toughness to rally from a 3-2 series deficit in the Eastern Conference First Round. The Lightning struggled at times against the Detroit Red Wings, but they never folded in their best-of-7 series and the personnel moves the team made over the last two years came up big in a Game 7 win Wednesday.
The Lightning advanced to the second round for the first time since 2011 and will play the Montreal Canadiens in a rematch from the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Canadiens swept the Lightning in first round last year.
Here are five reasons the Lightning advanced:
Despite winning 40 games during the regular season and finishing as a Vezina Trophy finalist in 2013-2014, Bishop was arguably the Lightning's biggest question mark going into the postseason. After five games, Bishop, a playoff rookie, hadn't done anything to lose the series but he hadn't stood out like Detroit's Petr Mrazek, who had shutouts in Game 3 and Game 5. But with the series on the line, the 6-foot-6 goalie stood tall with 31 saves in the Lightning's 2-0 win in Game 7. For the series Bishop had a 1.87 goals-against average and .922 save percentage.
"I know a lot of people were questioning him, this being his first playoffs, this being his first Game 7," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. "Well, now it's not. Now he has a shutout in his first Game 7. He's been arguably the best player for us the last couple of seasons, so we have a lot of confidence in him, and we've got to keep that going."
2. "The Triplets"
Tyler Johnson got most of the headlines, and rightfully so, for scoring six goals in the series, but Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat also came through with big performances. Kucherov had three assists in a 5-2 win in Game 6 and was plus-5 in the seven games. Palat took on more of a defensive role but had the game-tying goal in Game 4 that led to a 3-2 overtime win to tie the series at 2-2. But it was Johnson who carried the team offensively and scored two goals in Game 6 with the Lightning facing elimination on the road.
"There just seems to be guys that have that 'it' factor," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "You go through [Johnson's] past, a kid that always gets kind of passed over. He had to fight through that his whole life and I think that's driven him from when he was young. But I don't think it's a coincidence that you look at his mantle and see the amount of trophies he has on there."
3. Player acquisitions
Defenseman Braydon Coburn was acquired prior to the 2015 NHL Trade Deadline and scored the winning goal in Game 7. Forward Ryan Callahan, who was acquired prior to the deadline in 2014, assisted on Coburn's goal. Defenseman Anton Stralman, who signed a free-agent contract with the Lightning last July 1, scored the empty-net goal in Game 7. Tampa Bay vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman made moves that weren't always popular with the fans, especially trading forward Martin St. Louis for Callahan, but his vision came together at the perfect time.
"Playoffs are a different animal altogether," Coburn said. "We're coming in and what you did in the regular season doesn't mean a whole lot right now. We're focused on Montreal; they've got a great team there; they've obviously got an excellent goaltender, and they play well in front of him. We have a lot of confidence in this room right now, and we're excited to get started."
4. Penalty kill
The Red Wings had the best power play in the NHL during the regular season but were 5-for-27 (18.5 percent) during the series and 1-for-10 in the final two games. It wasn't a failure of Detroit to get shots on goal but the puck wouldn't bounce in the net. Lightning forwards Brian Boyle and Cedric Paquette stepped up their game on the penalty-kill unit as the series went on.
"We had the opportunities, we had the chances on the power play," Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg said. "But they didn't go in. We'd have a rebound and could get a stick on it or a deflection would go wide. We didn't get the breaks and that's what happened."
The Lightning never held a lead in the series until the final buzzer sounded in Game 7. They faced an elimination game on the road in Game 6. Stamkos did not score a goal in the series. The highest-scoring team in the regular season was shut out by a 23-year-old goaltender in his first playoffs … twice. But none of that matters now. It seems like Tampa Bay survived this series more than it actually won it, but survival is a hallmark of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The goal is to advance and the Lightning achieved that goal.
"This sure does make us feel better about ourselves," Cooper said. "We have found a way to make the playoffs, we did find a way to win a round, and we did find a way when our backs were against the wall to win three out of four games down the stretch to win a series."
Author: Corey Long | NHL.com Correspondent