Well, how about that comeback? Down 2-0 in Game Four with less than five and a half minutes left in the third period, in jeopardy of falling behind three games to one in the series, the Lightning rattled off two goals in a 1:17 span to tie the game and then won it in overtime. Words don’t do justice to the significance of this rally, which helped the Lightning tie the series at two games apiece. But I’ll try.
The Lightning knew they needed to play better than they did on Tuesday in Game Three – and their first period was quite good. They did well to get pucks deep into the Detroit zone, forechecked effectively and generated some good looks. But they couldn’t solve Petr Mrazek, who made a terrific pad stop on Alex Killorn and a superb glove save on Valtteri Filppula. At the other end, the Lightning surrendered two early two-on-one rushes (Ben Bishop made saves on both attempts), then settled in defensively and played a solid period. Their puck management was crisp and most of the period was spent in the offensive zone. The Red Wings did put some pressure on the Lightning when they received a late first period power play, but didn’t score. For the first time the series, the first period ended in a scoreless tie.
In Games One and Three, the Red Wings took the lead and never trailed. Always structured defensively, they are even more suffocating when they get the lead. So the first goal was going to be an important one – and the Red Wings got it again. After not making any major d-zone miscues in the first, the Lightning had one early in the second. A pass from Braydon Coburn to Matt Carle rolled past Carle’s stick. The Wings pounced on the puck and executed a tie-tac-toe passing play. Gus Nyquist finished the sequence with a tap-in goal. The goal galvanized the Wings, who carried play for most of the rest of the period. They had a chance to add to their lead when they received a five-on-three power play shortly thereafter, but the Bishop made several key saves and the Bolts killed off both infractions. Eventually, though, the Wings added to their lead with a lucky bounce. Joakim Andersson’s rising shot hit Bishop’s blocker and popped into the air. In his attempt to bat the puck to the corner, he accidently batted it backwards and the puck bounced into the net. In the closing minutes of the period, the Lightning pushed hard to get a goal, but Mrazek made a number of tough saves to preserve the 2-0 lead.
During our radio broadcast, Phil Esposito commented that if the Lightning could just score one goal on Mrazek, the floodgates might open. But for much of the third period, the Lightning struggled just to get pucks to the net. The Wings were clamping things down defensively, continuing to defend expertly. Until those final minutes, the Red Wings even had the better scoring chances, including a point blank look for Drew Miller, but Bishop kept the deficit at two goals. Then, as a four-on-four was winding down, the Lightning got that goal. Tyler Johnson sped across the Detroit line, knifed in front and roofed his shot over Mrazek. The bubble had burst. On the next shift for the Triplets, Palat and Johnson teamed up on another play off the rush. Palat carried the puck into the offensive zone and wired a puck to Johnson skating down the right wing. As Johnson carried the puck to the corner, Palat went to the front of the net. Johnson put the puck on his stick for a tap-in goal to tie the score.
The Triplets had their fingerprints on the OT winner, too. Palat skated out of the defensive zone and Danny DeKeyser stepped up to check him at center ice. He wedged Palat against the boards, but Palat maneuvered the puck forward and Victor Hedman joined the attack to create a two-on-one. Hedman’s cross-ice pass to Johnson deflected off Mrazek’s stick blade right to Johnson, who finished into an open net.
Mike Babcock has called the Triplets one of the best lines in the league. With the Lightning staring squarely at a 3-1 series deficit, the Triplets took over this game and willed the Bolts to their most important victory so far this year.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Johnson’s first goal, which sparked the comeback.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
1.Tyler Johnson – Lightning. Two goals, including GWG in OT, and assist.
2.Ondrej Palat – Lightning. Goal and assist.
3.Ben Bishop – Lightning. 22 saves. Key saves on five-on-three and in third period.