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Lightning answer challenge, as usual, in Game 2

by Dan Rosen

TAMPA -- This is what the Tampa Bay Lightning do.

They fight back. They respond. They answer all the questions after a Game 1 loss about if they're good enough, strong enough, and most important, experienced enough. They do all of it while keeping an air of confidence that suggests cockiness but isn't. It's more swagger than anything else, and it comes from their extremely positive and somewhat brash coach.

They do it all, and then they go out and win Game 2 as if they knew they were going to all along, as if they planned it this way.

It happened in the Eastern Conference First Round. It happened in the conference final. It happened again on the NHL's biggest stage Saturday.

The Lightning beat the Chicago Blackhawks 4-3 at Amalie Arena to improve to 4-0 with 21 goals in Game 2s in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. More important, they tied the Stanley Cup Final at 1-1.

Tampa Bay is 1-3 in Game 1, but so what.

"We had pushback [Saturday]," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "It's one of the things about this team … you challenge them and they seem to fight back pretty well. It was great."

For the Lightning, the best part about the win, other than the fact that it tied the best-of-7 series, of course, is how they did it through the circumstances they faced. There were three times in Game 2 that the Lightning could have wilted under pressure; they instead got stronger.

The first time occurred in the second period, when in a span of 2:16 the Lightning's 1-0 lead turned into a 2-1 deficit. That happened in a span of 1:58 in the third period of Game 1, and it was the difference in a 2-1 loss.

This time, the Lightning got a goal by Nikita Kucherov on a deflection of Jason Garrison's shot-pass from the left point to tie the game at 6:52; it came 92 seconds after Chicago took the lead on Teuvo Teravainen's power-play goal.

"What happened to us the other night was a lesson learned," Cooper said. "It's the first time that it happened to us in the playoffs. So what are we going to do about that? Put in that position again, what do you do?

"We had the 1-0 lead. There go the two quick goals. It's 2-1. Our guys wouldn't be denied."

Just as they did in Game 1, the Lightning carried a one-goal lead into the third period. Again, they lost the lead, this time early, at 3:38, on Brent Seabrook's goal.

The Lightning lost their 1-0 lead at 13:28 of the third period in Game 1. They gave up another goal 118 seconds later and lost the game.

Cooper and his players spoke immediately after Game 1, and for the past two days, about how they lost the lead and the game because they sat back. They wanted another chance to prove they were better than that.

They did.

Shortly after giving up the lead, Tampa Bay drew back-to-back penalties on Chicago forward Patrick Sharp. They cashed in on the second power play when Garrison's shot hit the stick of Chicago forward Andrew Desjardins and got past goalie Corey Crawford at 8:49.

Garrison's goal was the second of the game from a player outside of Tampa Bay's top-six forward group. Cedric Paquette scored in the first period, putting an exclamation point on his second straight thorough defeat of Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews in the matchup battle.

Cedric Paquette
Center - TBL
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 0 | PTS: 2
SOG: 12 | +/-: -5
Prior to Game 2, only 10 of Tampa Bay's 56 goals in the playoffs had come from players outside the top-six forwards. Secondary scoring isn't a problem until it finally is. It became one in Game 1, when Chicago got its two goals from third-liners. The Lightning eliminated the concern in Game 2.

What they also did was finish the third period strong.

The Lightning had all of two shots on goal, but it wasn't because they sat back. Far from it. They pushed, they got the puck in deep. They made the Blackhawks go the full length of the ice, not just half the sheet, as they did in Game 1. They held Chicago to five shots after taking the lead.

"I do think we learned our lesson," Stamkos said. "We definitely didn't sit back. I know they tied it up earlier than they did last time, but even before that we were trying to keep pressure on them, keep the puck.

"I think we were able to use Game 1 as some motivation going into the third to know that we wanted to finish this one off and make a series out of it."

Oh, but wait, there was some chaos mixed in there, the kind that can ruin a team if it's not mentally sharp, if it's not confident.

Shockingly, backup goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy was in net when Garrison scored; he replaced starter Ben Bishop at the start of the power play. It began a situation that led to Bishop coming back in after Garrison scored, only to leave again 3 1/2 minutes later.

Was he injured? Was he sick? The players say they didn't know, and they still didn't after the game. Stamkos said he didn't even realize Vasilevskiy was in goal until the public address announcer said it. Cooper wouldn't address the issue in his postgame press conference.

It didn't deter the Lightning. They didn't stray from their plan, the one it seems they had in place all along.

Lose Game 1, face the pressure, answer the questions, stay confident, stay brash, respond.

On to Chicago for Game 3 on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports), confidence intact.

"Looking forward to the challenge," Stamkos said, trying to hold back his smile.


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