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Mishkin's Extra Shift: Bolts incredible run comes to an end

by Dave Mishkin / Tampa Bay Lightning

Congratulations to the Chicago Blackhawks for winning the Stanley Cup. With a chance to clinch the Cup at home for the first time since 1938, the ‘Hawks, as they did in Game Five, played very well defensively in front of goaltender Corey Crawford. As for Crawford, like in Games Four and Five, he provided his team with key saves at key times. And, in another recurring theme that haunted the Lightning in the final three games of the series, they couldn’t catch a break with any puck luck.

One had a feeling, especially as the game remained scoreless deep into the second period, that the team which scored first would have a big advantage. The ‘Hawks were able to get that goal with under three minutes left in the second period. The tally came at the end of a dominant stretch for the ‘Hawks, which began about halfway through the second period.

For the first 30 minutes, though, the Lightning were the more dangerous team in five-on-five play. The ‘Hawks did have two first period power plays on which they were very dangerous. Chicago recorded six shots during those two man advantages – and Ben Bishop made several terrific saves on those penalty kills to keep the game scoreless. But five-on-five play was a different story. Even though the Bolts only managed four shots on net in the first period, they generated several excellent scoring chances. Steven Stamkos broke in on a two-on-one and clanged his shot off the crossbar. In the opening frame, the Lightning also had open net chances for Alex Killorn, Cedric Paquette (shorthanded) and Jason Garrison. In each instance, however, either the shot went wide or was just disrupted by a Blackhawk stick.

In the first half of the second period, the Lightning continued to create chances. Anton Stralman couldn’t handle a cross ice pass and, as a result, couldn’t finish another open net look. Stamkos had a breakaway, but couldn’t lift the puck over Crawford’s left pad. He then put the rebound off the post – again.

The Blackhawks didn’t have a shot on goal for the first half of the second, but they changed the game’s narrative in the second half of the frame. They enjoyed some long puck possession shifts in the offensive zone and ended up with several offensive zone faceoffs. They continually won those faceoffs, creating more puck possession and zone time. The ‘Hawks put 10 shots on net in the second half of the period – one of those gave them the all-important first goal. After the Lightning failed the get the puck in deep to the Chicago end, the ‘Hawks countered off the rush. Patrick Kane slid a pass to Duncan Keith at the center point. Keith walked to the slot and fired a shot. Bishop made the save, but no Lightning player got to the rebound. Keith followed his own initial shot and put the rebound in the net. It was a coverage miscue by the Lightning – and Keith made them pay.

With the lead, the ‘Hawks settled into the lockdown mode that served them well in the third period of Game Five. They continued to block lots of shots, cleared rebounds away from trouble areas and whenever they could, worked the puck down behind the Lightning net. Still, the Lightning made a push. The Bolts attempted 30 shots in the third period alone (and had 60 for the game). But the ‘Hawks made it hard for the Lightning to get into the dangerous scoring areas for those attempts. Many of the open looks that were available earlier in the game didn’t exist after the ‘Hawks grabbed the lead.

The second Chicago goal came with just over five minutes left and started with another bad break for the Lightning. As Braydon Coburn attempted a shot, his stick broke. As a result, the ‘Hawks were able to counter on a three-on-two, which they executed perfectly. Brad Richards set up Kane for a one-timer into an open side of the net.

The Lightning fought to the final buzzer, getting some good looks during a late power play. But, as Jon Cooper stated afterwards, the Lightning simply couldn’t find a way to get a goal.

Chicago played its two best defensive games in the final two games of the series. In Game Six, the ‘Hawks blocked 25 of those 60 Lightning shot attempts. Had the Lightning been able to convert on some of those early chances, the game might have unfolded differently, since the ‘Hawks would have had to chase the game. But the Lightning’s failure to finish a play – either because of a Crawford save, a bad bounce or a post hit – proved to be very costly.

In the near future, I’ll have a column recapping this series and another looking at the Lightning season as a whole. But before wrapping up, here are a couple of takeaways.

- For most of the playoffs, the Lightning were able to stay relatively healthy. Not so in the Final. Ben Bishop tore his groin in Game Two and Tyler Johnson suffered a broken wrist early in the series. It’s amazing how well Bishop played given his injury. Johnson, unfortunately, was clearly affected. It’s a shame that the viewing audience didn’t get a chance to watch Johnson playing at 100%, because for most of the postseason, he was arguably the best player in the entire league. But these key injuries are a reminder of why the Stanley Cup is such a hard trophy to win.

- One thing we heard from the ‘Hawks throughout the series – and Joel Quenneville mentioned this too in his postgame comments after Game Six – was how well the Lightning checked. The ‘Hawks were very impressed with how the Lightning defended in this series – and they should be impressed. The Bolts held the ‘Hawks to two goals or less in five of the six games. Of course, the ‘Hawks also defended well – and the Lightning were held to one goal or less in each of their four losses. Still, if the Lightning can incorporate that type of defending into their game on a regular basis, they are going to be even more of a handful for the opposition. The Lightning’s game evolved through these playoffs and that’s an exciting thought for Lightning fans already looking forward to next season.

Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):

Keith’s winning goal.

Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):

1. Duncan Keith – Blackhawks. GWG. Six shots.

2. Corey Crawford – Blackhawks. 25-save shutout.

3. Steven Stamkos – Lightning. Best player for the Bolts. Hit two posts, had breakaway and landed team-high eight hits.

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