The day after Tyler Johnson’s dramatic, last-second goal to win Game 3 and give Tampa Bay a three-games-to-none lead in its Second Round series, the general sentiment in the Lightning locker room is the Bolts need to play with more purpose in Game 4 to close out what is sure to be a desperate Montreal team.
The Lightning were lucky to escape Wednesday with a victory. After scoring the opening goal 12 minutes into the game, the Bolts went into a defensive shell, a “52-minute prevent defense” head coach Jon Cooper called it following the game.
The Bolts kept a stranglehold on the Habs until Brendan Gallagher tucked a puck underneath Ben Bishop’s right leg pad with less than 10 minutes to go on a rebound to level the score.
Following that goal, the Lightning played much better, particularly in the last few minutes, culminated by one incredible final rush that resulted in Johnson’s buzzer-beater with 1.1 seconds to go in regulation.
The Lightning didn’t practice Thursday ahead of Game 4 but had a team meeting where they watched video from the night before and talked about what needs to improve.
“We looked at the video today and could tell it wasn’t our best game yesterday,” Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. “Our desperation level wasn’t high enough. Obviously we need to improve that tonight. We know they’re going to come out the same way they did yesterday. It’s going to be a tough game, but, if we’re able to turn things around and play to our strengths, I like our chances.”
Of the players in the Lightning locker room available to talk to the media Thursday morning, all three – Hedman, Jason Garrison and Ondrej Palat – said the Bolts need to play with more poise on the puck in Game 4.
“I think we were throwing pucks away way too easy, Hedman said. “Last night, I think we were playing into their structure a little bit too much. We have to make calmer plays with the puck. I think we need to play faster defensively too, not throwing pucks away, outnumbering them quicker and not letting them play fast.”
Palat said the Lightning need to match Montreal’s intensity, something they didn’t do for large portions of Game 3.
“We need to play with more desperation,” he said. “We need to play with higher energy and execute better.”
Tonight’s Game 4 will be a good test for the Lightning to see if they’ve developed the go-for-the-jugular mentality needed to survive and advance in the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs.
They have the Canadiens wobbling, having won eight straight against the Habs including last night’s gut-wrenching finish.
Now is the time to deliver the knockout blow.
“Our killer instinct needs to be really high tonight,” Garrison said. “This is the toughest game is the closing out game. We’ve got to make sure we come in there and play a full 60 minutes of our style of hockey and have that killer instinct.”
Garrison said if you give a team any glimmer of hope, it can come back to haunt you in the playoffs.
“You’ve seen it happen before,” he said. “I think when you’re in a situation like this, you don’t want to give anybody life. That’s our focus coming into tonight.”
Cooper said besides the obvious of advancing to the next round, there are a number of advantages to closing out a team in four games.
“Rest, practice, mental rest, there’s a ton of reasons why,” he said. “You get to sit down and watch two teams beat each other up for a while and you’re at home. I guess those are advantages, but, I’ll tell you, that’s not one thing that’s been spoken in our room. It’s still a race to four. We’re a little closer than they are, but we’re still not there yet. Before you can get your rest, you’ve got to win the fourth one.”
HEADS UP HEDMAN
On the final play of Game 3, Victor Hedman said he thought about shooting initially until he saw Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov go down to the ice and Tyler Johnson setting up in front of the goal.
“I had no clue about the time to be honest with you,” Hedman said. “I knew it was less than 30 seconds left when I jumped on the ice… I was just trying to put it in an area for (Johnson). He scored seven goals before that for a reason.”
Cooper said Hedman’s game has mirrored that of the entire team for much of the season: if Hedman’s playing well, so too are the Lightning.
“There’s a lot of times I can just watch Victor’s game and he can dictate a lot of the way our team plays because that’s how much of an impact he has,” Cooper said. “Victor’s really showing a propensity to jump into the big moment at the big times. You kind of want that in your go-to guy, and he’s become a go-to guy for us.”
Hedman set up Johnson for another game-winning goal in Game 4 of the First Round series against Detroit when he led a 3-on-1 in overtime and found Johnson on the back post. In the postseason, Hedman has assisted on five goals, just one behind Steven Stamkos’ team-leading six, and scored one himself.
“It’s a blessing to have him back there and be able to throw him over the boards all the time because he can play against all the big lines, but to have that ability to beat guys up ice, jump in plays and make them, it can a lot of times put teams on their heels,” Cooper said.