After Game Four, the second consecutive contest in which the Lightning allowed five goals, players and coaches agreed that the team needed to tighten up defensively. In his morning press session before Game Five, Jon Cooper stated that the Bolts needed to judge their game not on how many scoring chances they generated, but by how many scoring chances they gave up. Their commitment to defensive was on display throughout Game Five – and was a big reason why they were able to take a 3-2 lead in the series.
Throughout the game, the Lightning defended well without the puck. But for much of the first half of the game, they did struggle with their puck management. Early on, the Rangers jumped on some Lightning turnovers and had counter looks. Ben Bishop made stops on a couple of odd-man rushes to keep the game scoreless. The Bolts also had puck management issues in clearing their own zone. As a result, the Rangers, in those first 30 minutes, had a lot of offensive zone time. Despite not having the puck much during that time, the Lightning didn’t allow the Rangers many scoring chances. They took away shooting lanes, blocked lots of shots and cleared away rebounds from dangerous areas.
The Lightning also had to kill four penalties in during the first 32 minutes of the game – and were very effective in keeping the Rangers off the board. New York had produced six power play goals in the last three games, but the Rangers managed only four shots on goal during their power play opportunities in Game Five. Shortly after the Lightning had killed off back-to-back penalties in the second period, they broke the scoreless tie. Anton Stralman, who had been stuck out on the ice for an extended shift, made a terrific pass to Steven Stamkos at the New York blue line. Stralman banked the puck off the boards, so that it eluded a Ranger defender standing between Stralman and Stamkos. The puck caromed right to Stamkos’ stick and he skated into the offensive zone on a three-on-two. He set up Valtteri Filppula in the slot and Filppula wristed a shot past Henrik Lundqvist’s stick to give the Lightning the lead at 13:29 of the period.
The goal seemed to help the Lightning’s puck management issues and they enjoyed some longer offensive zone shifts for the rest of the period. The Filppula goal was the Lightinng’s fifth shot of the period – and ninth of the game. In the final 6:31 of the second, the Lightning amassed six more shots. Those six shots came consecutively – the last of those was Stamkos’ tap-in power play goal, which extended the Lightning’s lead to 2-0 at 18:22. After Filppula’s goal, the Rangers only put three shots on Bishop for the rest of the period – and those three came in a flurry on the shift after the Stamkos goal.
Up 2-0 entering the third, the Lightning played a solid, defensive final 20 minutes. They chipped pucks out of dangerous areas. They blocked 10 more shots (and finished with 24 blocks in the game). They again limited dangerous scoring chances. And they repeatedly forced the Rangers to carry the puck 200 feet up ice. As Stamkos stated after the game, this third period, from the defensive standpoint, rivaled the team’s third period performance in the clinching Game Six win over Montreal.
What makes the Lightning’s effort even more impressive is that they did it without a full bench. Braydon Coburn didn’t play after the first period. Cooper told reporters after the game that Coburn was ill. Also, after blocking a shot in the first period, Cedric Paquette had to leave the ice for a while. He returned and played some in the second period, but finished with only eight total shifts and 5:43 TOI. So in that tremendous third period, the Lightning only used 16 skaters.
There weren’t a lot of breakdowns for the Bolts in this game. But when they occurred, Bishop made the saves. He looked sharp from the onset and rebounded well from the last two games. He finished with 26 saves to earn his second shutout of the postseason.
The Lightning have pushed the Rangers to the brink and know they’ll see the Rangers’ best in Game Six. New York is 8-1 in its past nine elimination games over the past two seasons. Which means the Lightning will also need to produce their best if they want to close out the series.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Filppula’s goal, which broke the scoreless tie.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
1.Ben Bishop – Lightning. 26-save shutout.
2.Anton Stralman – Lightning. Assist.
3.Victor Hedman – Lightning. Team-high 24:04 TOI.