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Dennis: Commitment to defense sparked Lightning

by Adam Kimelman

For additional insight into the Eastern Conference Final, has enlisted the help of Chris Dennis to break down the Tampa Bay Lightning. Dennis will be checking in throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Dennis spent 10 seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, including the past two as an assistant coach under Randy Carlyle and Peter Horachek. Prior to that he was the Maple Leafs' video coach for eight seasons.

After allowing five goals in consecutive games of the Eastern Conference Final, the Tampa Bay Lightning were committed to being better defensively in Game 5 against the New York Rangers on Sunday.

And in their 2-0 shutout, the Lightning accomplished that goal, according to Chris Dennis. The Lightning allowed 26 shots on goal and blocked 24 shots.

"You could tell they really committed defensively [Sunday] night," Dennis said. "And you could see from the first period the shots were 6-4 [for Tampa Bay] and as the game went on it got a little better for Tampa but they obviously were very committed defensively last night. ... You can look at their blocked shots last night, I think they had double what the Rangers did [24-11]. You can just see that real commitment to team defense. When you commit like that, you've got some game breakers that can score offensively, they don't need a lot of time and space. And you've got your goalie playing well. That's usually a recipe for success."

Anchoring that effort was goaltender Ben Bishop, who had his second shutout of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Bishop allowed 10 goals on 52 shots in Games 3 and 4 of the series, but has shown a propensity for stepping up in big games, like Games 6 and 7 in the first round against the Detroit Red Wings and Game 6 of the second round against the Montreal Canadiens.

Game 5 against the Rangers was another example of that big-game tenacity.

"I think he's always been highly thought of as a goalie," Dennis said. "But until you've done it in the playoffs and proven yourself there's always going to be that question mark. There's been a couple games that have been a little more high scoring, and it's easy to look at the goalie as the last line of defense. If he's off just a little bit there's no recovery from that; it's in your net. I think his level of consistency has gotten better as the playoffs have gone on. Getting scored on five times in the previous two games didn't sit well with him. And he stepped up and proved it and was a big difference in the game [Sunday] night."

Another part of the strong defensive effort was an improved penalty kill, which allowed two power-play goals in each of the past two games. The penalty kill was tested early in Game 5 but the Lightning were able to kill off all four penalties in the first two periods.

"They were able to weather the storm on some penalties early," Dennis said. "Before they scored their first goal they had just killed off their fourth penalty. They did a good job. I'm sure that wasn't in their game plan to take penalties like that early. I don't know if they changed anything but they obviously did a solid job and Bishop was good for them."

Offensively the Lightning got another big contribution from captain Steven Stamkos. He assisted on Valtteri Filppula's goal and then scored on the power play. After being held to one goal in his first 11 playoff games, he has six goals in his past seven games. And in five games against the Rangers he has four goals and three assists.

Part of Stamkos' outburst came after he was moved from center to right wing.

"It changes up their look," Dennis said. "It's a different dynamic, it changes where he's getting the puck. Filppula's goal last night was a prime example of what putting him on the wing does and changes for Tampa. It gives teams a bit of a different look. And obviously you can't say it hasn't worked. The numbers are showing it."

With a 3-2 lead in the best-of-7 series, the Lightning can advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2004 with a win in Game 6 on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

"It comes down to a couple things," Dennis said. "But first and foremost you have to match the desperation, or try and match the desperation, the New York Rangers are going to play with. This is their season on the line. They went to the Stanley Cup Final last season. They're a good team, outstanding goalie and they're going to give you everything they have for the next game, and if it goes to seven the next two games.

"So can you match that intensity? Can you get up for the game? You say it's an easy thing to do but it's another level that a team that's on the verge of elimination brings to the game. So you have to be able to match that. At this point in the playoffs you need special players to do special things. They got that from Stamkos last night and the last few games. Obviously Tyler Johnson has been a huge part of that. They're going to need Bishop to help close it out. I think they're capable of doing it. Can they do it? It's going to be really tough. I think it's going to be a heck of a game."


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