There were a number of things that happened to the Lightning in this game that would normally spell defeat. They surrendered tie-breaking killer goals in the final second of the first period and the final minute of the second. They allowed the game’s first goal and fell behind by scores of 2-0 and 3-2. And they had to rally against a Pittsburgh team that was committed to playing good, hard defense in front of Marc-Andre Fleury. The Pens blocked 22 shots in the game. But as they have shown us throughout the playoffs, the Lightning are a resilient bunch. Two second period goals on successive shots erased the first deficit. Nikita Kucherov tied the score at three with 3:16 remaining in the third. And in the opening minute of overtime, Jason Garrison put his shot off Tyler Johnson’s back into the net.
The Lightning started Game Five very well. Pittsburgh’s forecheck, which has given the Lightning problems during the series (and would do so again at different points in the second and third periods), was fairly quiet in the first. The Lightning enjoyed most of the puck possession and generated some excellent early scoring chances. But the Penguins did a terrific job of getting into the way of Lightning shot attempts. Despite the fact that the Bolts attempted 21 shots in the first, only four were on net. The Penguins blocked 12 and five others missed the net. Two of those shots on goal were Grade-A chances – a Ryan Callahan partial breakaway and an in-alone look for Jonathan Drouin – but Fleury denied both of those opportunities.
The Lightning didn’t make many mistakes with the puck in the first, but they committed a costly error in the closing seconds. Similar to the late stages of the second period in Game Three, the Lightning had the puck in the offensive zone, but attempted to drop it to the point. The Pens stole it and countered. Brian Dumoulin buried the rebound of a Bryan Rust shot with less than a second remaining.
Not surprisingly, the goal buoyed the Penguins, who began the second period by applying heavy pressure in the Lightning end. In those early minutes, the Lightning repeatedly turned pucks over and the Pens continued to build momentum. That formula has worked well for the Penguins during the series and has allowed them to control play for long stretches. They posted the first six shots of the period (and first eight shot attempts). At 1:30 of the frame, Patric Hornqvist added to their lead when he tapped in a loose puck at the side of the crease.
It took the Lightning about five minutes before they began pushing back. They put together a couple of good puck possession offensive zone shifts, then generated some scoring chances of their own. Drouin had two excellent looks and ended up drawing a penalty on Kris Letang. On the ensuing Lightning power play, Fleury made his best save of the night, a lunging right pad stop on Tyler Johnson. Still, the Lightning had effectively ended the Pittsburgh surge.
While the Penguins did not have much five-on-five puck possession during this portion of the second period, they did receive a power play at 11:02 of the frame. Andrei Vasilevskiy made a crucial save on Phil Kessel during the Pittsburgh power play, keeping the deficit at 2-0. In the final seconds of the penalty kill, the Lightning worked the puck into the offensive zone. Valtteri Filppula and Andrej Sustr did well to maintain possession as the penalty expired. Then, Sustr slid the puck around the boards to Alex Killorn, who had just come off the Lightning bench. Killorn wired a shot from the left circle over Fleury’s right shoulder, getting the Lightning on the board. Just 70 seconds later, Sustr made another good play in the offensive zone. Off the rush, he forced the puck to Vladdy Namestnikov, who set up Kucherov for an open one-timer in the slot. Kucherov tied the game with 5:35 left in the second.
But the Lightning didn’t finish the period well. The Penguins immediately pushed back after the Kucherov goal and had the run of play for the rest of the period. Turnovers and an inability to win puck battles plagued the Lightning. The Pens posted the final five shots of the period, including Chris Kunitz’s rebound goal at 19:10. That gave Pittsburgh a 3-2 lead heading into the third.
The second period was a period of momentum swings. Of their 13 second period shots, the Pens had six in a row to start the frame and five in a row to end it. (Their other two came on their lone second period power play.) In between those 11 Pittsburgh shots, the Lightning outshot the Pens, 9-2. During their respective surges, both teams netted two goals.
Similar to the second, the third period also had momentum swings. The Lightning had some early jump, thanks to a good pinch by Slater Koekkoek. Koekkoek drew a four-minute high-sticking penalty on Olli Maatta and kept the puck moving in the offensive zone. Before the Penguins touched the puck, Ondrej Palat put a shot off the post.
But the Lightning couldn’t score on the power play, which ended prematurely when Johnson was assessed an interference minor. For much of the middle of the third, the Penguins dictated play. But they couldn’t add to their lead. Vasilevskiy made 12 third period stops, including a save on a Kunitz point-blank chance. That save, with 4:18 left, kept the Lightning deficit at one. Moments later, Callahan nearly scored from the left circle, but his shot nicked off the jersey of Fleury and banked off the far side goal post. Still, the Lightning got the tying goal on the next shift. Johnson put a backhander on net from the left circle. Kucherov grabbed the rebound, skated behind the net and swept in a wrap-around before Fleury could get over to the other post.
Unlike the first two periods, the Lightning got through the final minute of the third unscathed. In overtime, after enduring a shift in their own end, the Lightning moved the puck out to the neutral zone, Sustr carried it to the Pittsburgh end and slid it behind the net. There, Johnson won a puck battle and retrieved it for Palat. The Bolts worked it around the offensive zone to Garrison, who stepped to the left circle. His shot might have been going wide, but it nicked off the jersey of Johnson (who had established a net front presence) and caromed into the net.
In Game Six of last year’s Eastern Conference Final, the Lightning couldn’t clinch the series at home after grabbing a 3-2 lead over the New York Rangers. Facing elimination, the Rangers played a fantastic game. The Bolts have to expect the same from the Penguins on Tuesday.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Johnson’s OT goal
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
1.Nikita Kucherov – Lightning. Two goals and assist.
2.Andrej Sustr – Lightning. Assist. Plus two.
3.Chris Kunitz – Penguins. Goal and assist.